chapter 24 || ryder
“Today, we’re going to switch it up a bit,” Jayden says, glancing at his clipboard. “We’re going to focus more on the happy memories. Before you guys arrived to camp, you were told to bring a picture and an object that reminded you of your loved one, correct?”
I nod, remembering all the objects I could’ve brought. The plastic ring, her scrunchie, the necklace I gave her for our 6-month anniversary.
“Sweet. Go get them really quick and come back here.” We stand up, Callie and Kai heading towards their cabin while Hayden, Zach, and I head the opposite. In the spirit of making amends, I have one other person to fix things with.
I jog up beside Hayden. “Hey Hayden,” I say, falling in step with him.
“Ryder,” he says curtly, without looking at me. Understandably so. I did tell him to fuck off and fuck you in so many words.
“Look, man, I’m really sorry about the other day. It wasn’t fair of me to go off on you when I was dealing with my own shit,” I sigh. I still don’t like him and I still don’t want him with Kai, but if she likes him, then I’ll try my best. It’s what friends do.
He scoffs. “Yeah, no kidding.”
“Kai is my best friend and I care about her more than anyone else in the world. And we hardly know you. I was just trying to protect her,” I say.
“You, know, I get it. I’m the same way about my sisters.” He flinches slightly. “Just sister now, I guess.” He grows silent for a moment, the loss of his twin hitting him. He opens the door to our cabin, heading in with me trailing behind him.
“So we cool?” I ask.
“Yeah, we cool,” Hayden agrees before heading to his side of the room, leaving the conversation at that. Alright, maybe I tolerating him is the more achievable goal.
I go over to my own side, opening the backpack on my bed. I pull out a pink stuffed elephant, no bigger than my arm. Looking at it reminds me of one of the greatest days of my life.
But it’s also a reminder of everything I lost too.
Sighing, I tuck the animal underneath my arm, zipping the bag up and tossing it on the floor.
As I head back to the group, I think about what Kai mentioned yesterday, about Callie. I mean, she’s pretty and nice and overall just amazing, but she’s just a friend. Of all the people to start anew with, Callie is a great option. Just not for me.
When I reach, I watch as Callie and Kai talk, a smile plastered across Kai’s face, the type of smile where it reaches her eyes. I haven’t seen that smile in a long time. I lean against the tree, watching as she takes a strand of her hair, twirling it around her finger as she chuckles softly at something Callie says.
Callie turns around and spots me, her face lighting up.
“Ryder! Don’t stand there like a weirdo, come here!” she shouts, chuckling a little. I push myself off the tree, walking over to where they’re sitting.
“I wasn’t being a weirdo,” I say, ruffling Kai’s hair a bit before sitting down next to her. She swats my hand away, mumbling something incoherent.
“Yeah, totally, normal just watch others all the time. Not weird at all,” Callie says.
“Exactly, thank you,” I say, looking over at Kai. Her smile is gone and she’s staring intently at the ground. I nudge her sightly and she looks up at me. “You okay?” I ask softly.
“Yeah. Didn’t sleep well last night,” she replies, rubbing her eyes and looking away from me.
Before I can pry further, Jayden starts to explain today’s activity.
“As I said earlier, today we will focus on our happier memories of our loved ones. Often times when we lose someone, we tend to forget about our happy moments and our memories are clouded with our pain and grief.” Jayden looks around the group, glancing at our faces for a brief moment. “For today’s activity, we’ll each go around sharing our memory associated with our object. Later, depending on how the time goes, we’ll talk about our pictures.”
We nod our heads, looking at one another, waiting to see who will be the brave soul to be vulnerable first. No matter how many times we do it, it’s difficult to talk about the loss of people we once knew.
When no one says anything, I pipe up. “I can go,” I say, clearing my throat. I hold up the stuffed elephant a little for everyone to see, adjusting in my hands slightly so that it’s pink, glittery trunk is facing me.
“This is Sir Freshums Daniels the third, Danny for short.” I let out a small chuckle, remembering when Emma got this. “I won Danny for Emma on our third date at the bowling alley. Well, I guess it was more the arcade that was in the bowling alley. As we were walking out, her eye caught on this stupid pink elephant that was right on top of all the other stuffed animals and she dragged me by the arm to go check it out.
“I complained because my mom was gonna be there any second to pick us up but she insisted that we at least try once. And she did, a few times, failing each attempt. She told me that they were rigged and no one could beat it, but damn the look on her face made me forgot about leaving on time, so I took it as a challenge. 15 minutes and 20 bucks later, I got it out of the machine. And she kissed me, forgetting her rules on PDA. That was our 2nd real kiss.”
I look at the elephant in front of me, everything from the night rushing back. Her words of encouragement after I kept on losing, her laugh when I cussed out the machine, the smile on her face when I handed it to her. The way she kissed me in front of all those people. The way she pondered his name when I asked, before announcing it in a shitty British accent, almost as if she was knighting him.
“I remember her telling me about your heroic act of bravery, saving Danny from the machine,” Kai says. I look up at her, her eyes soft and her smile sad as she looks at the elephant in my hands.
“That’s beautiful, Ryder,” Callie says, placing a hand on my knee.
“Yeah,” I say. Too bad Emma will never hold Danny again. Now he’s mine, simply just a memento of one of the best days of my life.
“He’s adorable. I see why her eye caught on it,” Zach adds quietly. I look up at him and smile. He and Emma would’ve been such good friends. I wish they could’ve met.
“Zach, would you like to share next?” Jayden asks, taking an opportunity.
“Not really, but okay I guess.” He holds up his object, a thin, green rectangle. “This is the first video game that my uncle and I played together. We spent the whole day playing. We ordered pizza and that’s how I spent my 15th birthday. It wasn’t much, but to me, it was everything. It was the first time my uncle acted like how he was before he got me. We almost beat the game before he died.”
“I love that game. When we go back home, we could play together?” Hayden offers. Zach’s face becomes stoic, and Hayden rushes to add, “We don’t have too man, no worries.”
Zach thinks for a moment before looking at him with a small smile on his face. “I think it’d be good. I haven’t played since he died, but I think he’d want me to finish it.”
I think of the jigsaw puzzle Emma and I started together, less than a week before she died. It was one of those rare moments after her mother’s death where she seemed excited to do something with me.
I wonder if she was genuinely excited or she was just faking it to make me happy. I told her that I felt her slipping away, that she never wanted to do anything with me anymore. She promised me that she wasn’t, that she was still with me and she loved me.
I didn’t realize how far away she was until she was gone.
The puzzle is sitting exactly where it was 6 months ago, not a single piece has been touched since she left that day. Maybe it’s time to complete it. For Emma.
More importantly, for me.