Dear Emma

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chapter 22 || ryder

After group, I hide out in my cabin. After the first half of the day, I just wanted to disappear for a while.

When Kai had her mini panic attack while trying to read, it took everything in me not to jump through the fire and hold her. Kai would never admit it, but after Emma died, she would get full-blown panic attacks. They’ve gotten better over the months, but they still happen occasionally.

I shut my eyes tight, running my hand through my hair and draping it over my forehead. I hear the door creak open, soft footsteps making their way toward me.

“Ryder?” I open my left eye, met with Zach’s face. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine, Zach. What’s up?”

“Well, it’s 5 minutes to 3, so,” he trails off, backing up towards his own bed.

I shoot up. “Shit, shit, shit shit shit,” I mutter, hunting for my swim trunks. I look up at Zach, who looks at me with slight fear in his eyes. “Thanks, Zach.” I offer a small smile.

He smiles back, sliding out of the ajar door. I go back to hunting, finding my trunks by the bed. When I reach down to grab it, something catches my eye. I bend down further to pick the paper up. Flipping it over, I scan the page. I see the name Sydney appear and automatically flip the paper back over. I fold the paper and place it on top of Hayden’s bed, realizing that it isn’t meant for me.

I slip on my flip flops and run out the door, slamming it shut behind me. With less than a minute to spare, I reach the dock where everyone else is standing around Jayden.

“Sorry,” I pant, slightly out of breath. I really need to get back into shape. I stopped playing soccer since Emma died, but I didn’t know how much I really let myself go.

Jayden gives me a small nod, acknowledging me, before he starts to talk. “Who here has never gone kayaking before?”

Zach raises his hand slowly, his eyes trained on his shoes

“Okay, Zach, wanna ride with me?” Jayden asks. Zach nods, still looking at his shoes. “The rest of you guys pair up, after I’m done talking. This is quite a big lake and it does attach to a river. There is also a small island off of the river. Be careful if you make your way there. The current does get really strong. It’s not hard to get lost, but if you do, it’s easy to find your way back. You guys are welcome to explore the lake, but meet back here in 2 hours. Now, you can pair off.”

I go towards Callie, but she’s already walking toward Hayden and Kai.

Hell no I’m not going with Hayden, I say to myself before picking up my pace. I reach the couple at the same time as Callie but before I can say anything, she beats me to the punch.

“Hayden, want to come with me?”

I feel my eyes go wide, realizing what that meant for me. I look at Callie with wide eyes, silently asking her what she’s doing. She gives me an innocent smile like she doesn’t know exactly what she’s doing.

“Uh, I…” he trails off, looking between Kai and Callie. Callie gives him a slight nudge. “Sure,” he finally says. He looks over at Kai one last time, shooting her an apologetic smile as Callie drags him toward her.

“Don’t worry Kai, I don’t want to steal Hayden from you.” Callie gives me a pointed look before dragging Hayden away toward the kayaks.

“Fix it,” she whispers to me before walking off. I roll my eyes in response.

I know I need to fix this, I just don’t know where to start.

I shift my weight from one foot to the other and my hand goes up to the back of my neck. “Hey,” I say awkwardly. Kai stares at my face for a few seconds before walking away towards the kayaks. I watch as she walks away, kicking at the dirt imagining it was my own face.

I take a deep breath and make myself one promise.

I’m going to fix this and I’m going to get Kai back.

~*~

We paddle in silence for the first hour. With Kai sitting in front of me, I let her choose which direction to go. She takes us towards the river and I start paddling alongside her.

Every few minutes, I tell myself that now’s the time but I chicken out. What if she doesn’t forgive me? What if she’s still mad? What if she doesn’t want me back?

I take a deep breath, taking in the cool air. The grass on the banks of the river is a bright green and the sky is awfully blue. It’s almost a picture-perfect day. All I have to do is talk to her. It’s simple, I’ve done it a billion times before. Just say her name.

I open my mouth, about to say her name, but she beats me too it.

“Where are we?” she asks, looking around, putting the paddle in her lap.

I do the same, searching for something familiar. “I’m not sure.”

“Amazing,” she deadpans, running her hand across her face. I sit there, not knowing what to do next.

“Should we make our way back?” I ask.

“How are we supposed to go back if we don’t know where the fuck we are?”

“I don’t know, just paddle?” I offer. Kai groans, shuffling around in her seat. I watch her as she attempts to get stand up, rocking the boat. “Kai, what are you doing.”

“Standing.”

“No shit, why are you standing?” I grip the sides tightly as she manages to get on her feet, twisting her body to see behind us.

“So I can see where we are.”

“Yeah, like that’s gonna work,” I mumble under my breath. “Kai, this isn’t going to work. We’re lost, okay?”

She moves her feet a full 180, tumbling forward into me. My hands shoot out to catch her, and her hands fall onto my shoulders. Her hair falls against her face, blood rushing to her head.

“Are you okay?” I ask, standing up as I push her up right.

“Yeah, thanks.” The boat rocks again, and I hold onto Kai’s arms tightly.

“Let’s go to the shore over there,” I point to the land a few yards away from us. “We can figure it out over there.”

We shuffle around, each of us trying to figure out how to sit down without tipping the boat the over. The boat rocks gently and we both stop for a moment. Kai leans to the right, so I step to my left, but she steps the same way as I do.

The boat rocks all the way over to the left, flipping us under the cool water. I swim out from underneath, coughing up water once I reach the surface.

“Kai!” I shout, looking around for her.

“Over here!” she calls back, sputtering water. I dive down again, forcing my eyes open, the water stinging my eyes. I see her legs floating across the kayak, and I make my way to her side.

“Help me push this over.” Her hands grip the underside of the kayak and mine do the same next to her.

I count down, and we flip the boat over. I toss the floating paddles inside and make my way to the back tip.

I give it a push toward the shore, using my legs as a motor. Kai abandons her spot on the side and joins me, shoving the kayak forward.

After a few minutes of swimming against the current, we reach the shore. I crawl onto the land, plopping down face to the sky.

“I told you it wouldn’t work,” I mumble, closing my eyes.

“Shut up.”

We lie in silence, the sun beating down on us. I listen to her breathing, the sound of the wind in the trees.

Just open your mouth. Just say the words. She’s your best friend, I remind myself.

“Kai.” I sit up and twist my body to face her. One of her eyes peeks open. “I’m sorry.”

“Ryder, I-”

“Wait. Let me finish first. I’m sorry that I lost my shit that day. I shouldn’t have yelled at you. I shouldn’t have said what I did.” I pull my knees to my chest and let my head hang. “I just wanted to look out for you. I couldn’t for Em, but I could for you.”

Kai doesn’t say anything for a moment. Sighing, she says, “Yeah, you’re right. You shouldn’t have done half the shit that you did, but you did. And that’s okay. You’re not the only one who made mistakes, Ry.”

“But,” I start, but she cuts me off.

“My turn.” She gives me a pointed look, and I shut my mouth. “I get where you’re coming from, I do. We are here for Emma, but we’re also here for ourselves, right?” I nod, agreeing with her. “I shouldn’t have brought your relationship into it or what happened after, but I should be allowed to heal, right? And Hayden helps with that. We don’t have alcohol here, but Hayden seems to be a pretty good distraction.”

Is he only a distraction or does she actually like him? I want to ask, but now isn’t the time. If I’m wrong, then it might turn out to be another fight, and I just got her back. I can’t lose her again.

“You weren’t completely wrong that day, you know?” I say, running my hands through my hair. “I guess, I was a bit jealous. She was my first girlfriend, but I thought she was the one. Obviously not though, can’t exactly marry a dead person,” I scoff, the idea of marrying a dead person is slightly amusing.

“You’ll find some else, Ry, I know you will. You’re a good guy.”

I smiling, looking over to see that she’s smiling too. “Did it hurt you to say that?”

“Only a little bit,” she chuckles, punching me in the arm.

I look out over the lake and see a family of ducks waddling through the water. “Emma would be happy for you. She’d be happy that you found someone.”

“She’d be happy for you too. She’d want you to move on. Especially with someone like Callie, she’s great.”

“Callie?” I ask bewildered. “Why her?”

“Come on, just because I wasn’t talking to you doesn’t mean I didn’t notice you. I saw that way you guys looked at each other.” Kai rolls her eyes, looking at me like I’m the dumbest person on the planet.

I laugh, shaking my head before giving her a shove. She topples sideways, falling down, and I laugh even harder, Kai joining in too.

I missed this more than anything. I never want to not have her in my life again, I don’t think I could handle it.

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