chapter 4 || ryder
I lean against the wall closest to the door, scrolling through Instagram on my phone while I wait for Kai. She may be my best friend, but she can be such an idiot sometimes. She should’ve just left Jack to be an asshole. But it’s Kai, we’re talking about. She’s always the first one to defend everyone, everyone except herself, that is. It’s always been that way, even when we were kids.
Sometimes, I truly wonder why I’m friends with her. But it’s those little moments that make me glad that she’s here with me. She makes the good times better and the bad times bearable. Just like Emma did, except Kai’s been doing it for much longer.
She walks out the door, swinging her bag over her shoulder, her face an odd mix of satisfaction and dullness. She doesn’t notice me as she walks by, probably because I’ve become one with the giant plastic tree that was right next to the door.
Putting my phone away in my pocket, I take long strides and fall in step with her. “Verdict?” I ask.
She stops in the middle of the hallway, looking at me. “Suspension for the rest of the year. But, whatever. Jack needed his ass to be handed to him.” Her green eyes twinkle with an amusement that wouldn’t have been there 6 months ago. She may have acted all badass and bitchy even then, but she would never get into a fight. If she even got in a little trouble, she would’ve flipped her shit. Losing Emma turned on a switch in both of us, and I don’t think it’s the good one.
Kai and I were already close, but Emma was the glue that bonded us together tighter. She was the spark of light in our rather dull lives. We built each other off of one another. By her leaving, we all came crumbling down.
Like Humpty Dumpty who had a great fall.
“What did he even say that made you so angry?” I ask. Although I was there, I didn’t hear what Jack said, but knowing him, it was probably pretty bad. It was Jack we’re talking about, for fuck’s sake. He had the balls to ask my girlfriend “out” while he knew very well that I was dating her. I wanted nothing more than to attack him, but Emma, always the peacekeeper, convinced me not too.
I’m not a violent person, I’ve never been. But when someone messes with my girls, friends, or family, all hell will break loose.
Kai looks at me uneasily, making me automatically think the worst. “Don’t attack him, ’cuz I already did, but he said that Em was a slut who deserved to die.” My hand curls into a fist, understanding exactly what Kai did and why; wishing I had helped her instead of watching from the sidelines.
How dare that jackass say that about her? Emma was the furthest thing from a slut. She was the one who wanted more from a relationship than just sex.
Don’t do this Ry. You’re better than this, Emma’s voice warns me. She isn’t here anymore, at least not physically, but she’s constantly the angel on my shoulder. The voice of reason. Without that voice, I probably would’ve done something stupid.
I close my eyes and force my breathing to go back to normal and uncurl my fists. “Thanks for punching him, Kai.” If she hadn’t, I would’ve. “He needed his ass handed to him a long time ago. Better late than never.” I scoff. Jack has no right to say that. Just because she said no to him, and was staying loyal to me, doesn’t mean he can get away saying shit like this.
Kai brushes her strawberry-blonde hair out of her face and her eyes dart around the room. “Look, Ryder, I have to go home, okay? You gotta stay here and finish the school year out.” I jolt out of my mind, where I was killing Jack in every way possible. I hit the realization that she wouldn’t be here for these last 2 days.
That I gotta face everybody. Alone.
First, a girlfriend who killed herself and now, a best friend who got herself suspended and is considered a psychopath.
“I’m gonna be all alone,” I whine, partly joking and partly being serious. I’m terrified of being alone, as stupid as it sounds, at least not after everything.
Kai slaps her palm on my shoulder, letting it rest there. “Ry, you’ll be fine. You’re Mr. Popular Soccer Jock.” She gives me a slight smile. “I really do have to go. Like now. But I’ll see you after school?” As much as she hates being here and facing everyone, she’d do it if I needed her too. Just like I would do for her.
“Yeah,” I respond, my palms getting sweaty just thinking about what’s in store for me. Kai turns around and walks out the door, while I turn the other way and walk head first back into hell.
I twirl my pencil around my fingers, not listening to a word my history teacher was saying. All I want right now is my headphones and maybe some brownies; comfort food.
“Mrs. Johnson,” the overhead announcement calls.
She turns around to face the intercom, rolling her eyes. “Yes?” Mrs. Johnson replies slightly annoyed, stopping in the middle of her lecture. She hates when the intercom goes off when she’s trying to teach. Says it “disrupts the flow of knowledge”.
“Could you please send Ryder Jensen to the main office?”
“He’s on his way.” The intercom beeps off, and Mrs. Johnson goes right back to teaching. I pick my bag up from the floor and swing it over my shoulder, the snickering of my soccer friends clear, even in the noise we call a teacher’s voice. I turn around to glare at them, walking out the door and flipping them off through the small window on the door.
I make my way to the office as slow as possible, every bad thing I’ve done recently crossing my mind. I’ve drunk alcohol underage, but not on school property. I didn’t attack Jack, that was Kai, and she already got in trouble. I did copy homework recently, but that isn’t a major concern, at least I hope.
What the fuck did I do that I don’t remember?
Apparently, slow as possible, isn’t slow at all, because I reached the office within the same minute that I left the classroom.
I take in a deep breath and walk through the heavy double doors leading into the main office. Into the lion’s den we go.
“Mr. Jensen?” the secretary asks me. I nod, my nerves not letting me talk. “Mrs. Smith, the counselor wants to talk to you for a minute.” I breathe a sigh of relief. Counselors can’t get you into trouble. I can’t get into trouble. Not only would my Mom kill me, but I would be kicked off the soccer team. Soccer is the one thing that’s currently keeping me sane.
I knock on Mrs. Smith’s door. “You wanted to see me?” I ask from the doorway.
“Ah, yes! Ryder, come on in. Make yourself at home.”
Well shit. I’ve learned that whenever the counselor tells you to “make yourself at home,” it means you’re gonna be here a while. At least I got out of history, which is a step up from the shitty day I’ve had.
I sit on the big brown couch, the dim lights making it look orange. She sits in the chair in front of me, crossing one leg over the other. I’ve been to enough of these meetings to know that they mean business.
“So, Ryder. Tell me. How are you?”
Here we go again. It’s always the same with these people. The same questions, the same tactics to try and get into your mind. I hate it. They give you this fake sympathy, hell everyone does. They all want to know how you’re doing, yet they never expect an honest answer. “I’m good, Mrs. Smith,” I say, sweetly, putting on the act I put for all the adults in my life.
She scribbles something down on her pad. What she could be writing down with that much, only God knows. “And how are you coping with the death of your girlfriend, Emma?”
I resist the urge to scoff. If I had a nickel for every time someone asked if how I was coping with her death I’d be able to buy a small country. “I’m doing okay.” If you consider a drinking yourself senseless an okay coping mechanism, sure.
Mrs. Smith writes something on her pad again. I shift uncomfortably in my seat, her eyes watching my every move. “Have you had any bad thoughts, recently? Like hurting yourself or hurting others?”
Yeah. I want to kill Jack for what he said, but I would never act on it. “Nope.” I short answer her, leaving no room for her to analyze me.
She leans forward, resting her hands on her chin. “Ryder, I’m here to listen to you. Whatever you say is confidential.”
Do I tell her how Kai and I have been coping with Emma’s absence? Or do I give her another generic answer? Kai and I need help, and we both know it. But we don’t want to stop. Stopping means facing the pain, facing the truth.
And I don’t know if I want to do that just yet.
So I don’t say anything.
After being let out from the lion’s den, I ended up skipping the last period of the day and started to walk. I know I told Kai that I would come over later, but honestly, I think I just need a little time to myself.
I walk to the park, with All Time Low blaring through my headphones. I bop my head along, silently mouthing the words. All Time Low is one of my favorite bands, always has been. There’s just something about their music that’s comforting.
Reaching the park, I drop my backpack off by a bench, and climb to the top of the monkey bars, letting my feet dangle over the edge. The monkey bars we’re my thing, ever since elementary school. And once I grew out of them, it became my place where I went to think.
I brought Emma here once after an argument. She said that she barely knew me, and she was right. She told me everything about herself, while I had hardly said a word about myself. So, I took her here, to my safe space. We climbed up top the monkey bars and I told her my insecurities and struggles. She sat and listened to me spill my guts, not once judging me.
Why did Emma kill herself? Why couldn’t I save her? I was supposed to save her. I was supposed to be there for her. She was there for me every fucking time. She was hurting and I didn’t even see it.
I didn’t even see it.
My hands itch for a bottle, the thoughts inside my head getting louder and louder as each second passes.
And I know exactly who would have one.