Dear Emma

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chapter 6 || ryder

I walk home, bracing myself for the hell I’m about to face.

I shouldn’t have ditched school, at least not without telling my mom. I shouldn’t have drunk alcohol and I should’ve got help for both Kai and me.

Lot’s of should’ve’s.

But it’s in the past now. I can’t change it, no matter how much I wish I could. If I could, I would’ve saved Emma and then neither of us would be in this situation.

I know what Mrs. Steele was thinking when they were looking for us - they thought I did something like what Emma did. And I don’t blame them, because, maybe I would’ve.

I don’t know. Maybe I wouldn’t have.

I walk through the front door, greeted by my mother running to hug me, kissing me all over.

“Mom,” I groan, “I’m fine, okay?”

She pulls away and holds my face in her hands. “Don’t you ever go out and do something like that again mister.”

I nod, shifting my gaze to the side. She looks at me for a bit; studying me before she sighs deeply and walks away. I watch her walk away from me, the image of her eyes full of pain burned into my mind.

I head to my room, shutting the door behind me. Tossing my backpack to the side, I curl up on the giant bean bag shoved in the corner of my room and grab the bottle of spiked Gatorade, turning on some music.

Ironic, isn’t it?

Less than half an hour ago, I was disgusted by my drinking habit, but I can’t seem to shake it. It’s a source of comfort. It replaces the void that Emma left me with.

False happiness; which is better than no happiness.

There’s a soft knock on my door, followed by a softer voice. “Ry? Can I come in?”

“Yeah,” I call out, shoving the Gatorade back where it belongs. My little sister Alex walks in, almost cowering in the shadows. “Hey, Turtle. Come ’ere.” I motion for her to come closer. She keeps her head down the whole time she makes her way to me.

I open my arms up to her, telling her to come and take a seat on the bean bag. Despite what people think, Alex and I are close. Most people my age think it’s weird, seeing how they aren’t close with their siblings, but it’s never been a problem for the two of us.

We sit there in silence, letting the music on my phone play on in the background. “Are you okay?” Alex asks, looking up at me.

Am I okay? Most definitely not. Am I gonna tell her that? Absolutely not. “Yeah, I’m okay Turtle.”

She shifts in her spot to see my face without having to bend her neck. “I’m 11, butthead. You can tell me the truth.” Damn. I never knew my little sis was this observant.

“When did you become such a smart kid, huh?” I asked, ruffling her hair, knowing that it’d bug her. She swats my hand away and reaches up to fix it.

“I’ve always been smarter than you, Ry.”

She speaks the truth. I don’t like that, so I retaliate. “Oh yeah? Well, I’ll always be stronger than you,” I say, tickling her. If there’s one thing Alex hates the most, it’s being tickled.

“Ryder! Stop it!” she yells, gasping for air in between laughs.

“Say I’m the best brother ever first!”

“Okay, okay!” she gives in, “You’re the best brother ever!” she says, finishing laughing.

“And don’t you forget that.” I give her a wink, removing my hands from her waist and running them through my own hair.

“I won’t, don’t worry,” Alex reassures me before becoming quiet all of a sudden: thinking. “You never did answer my question.”

Damn her for being so persistent.

“Well, I’ll be okay. Eventually.” I hope, I want to add but I don’t.

Alex nods in response, scooting back into her original spot. “I don’t want to lose you,” Alex whispers so softly I thought I didn’t even hear it.

Shit. Is this really what I’m doing to my baby sister? Am I really that bad off that she has to remind me that I can’t do what Emma did? That if I did, I would destroy her?

“You won’t ever lose me. I promise, Alex.” I swore that I would never let anything hurt her, especially not me. If I knew I hurt my baby sister, I would never forgive myself.

“Good,” she replies with a satisfied grunt.

We sit there, holding each other on the big bean bag shoved in the corner, listening to All The Stars by Ed Sheeran play in the background.

I’m sitting on the stairs that lead into the kitchen, eavesdropping on my Mom who’s talking to Kai’s mom. “Ashley, do you really think that this is what’s best for them?” I listen closely because you never know what tea might be spilled. Although I don’t think it’s tea this time. Call it a gut feeling.

“Yeah, of course. I’ll talk to him. Yep. Thank you, Ash,” my Mom says, hanging up the phone. I can only imagine that they were talking about me or Kai; I mean who else would they talk about in such a solemn tone?

Guess there’s only one way to find out for sure.

I saunter into the kitchen, acting as if I haven’t heard anything. “Hey Mom,” I say, opening the fridge and grabbing a Coke. I crack it open and take a long drink, a nice change from all the vodka I’ve been shoving down my throat.

“Hey honey,” she replies in a tired voice. “I need to talk to you real quick.”

And there it is. The infamous line. The words that always result in hell breaking loose.

I set my drink down on the counter, resting my elbows and leaning forward, waiting. She walks closer, standing on the opposing side. Shit’s getting serious.

“Ryder, I know how much Emma’s death affected you. And honestly, I thought you were doing better. It’s been 6 months already and although I don’t expect you to be completely okay like you used to, I truly thought there was an improvement.” She pauses and takes a deep breath. “And I realized today that I was wrong. You’re not okay. And I’m sorry I haven’t seen how much pain you’re in. But honey, drinking isn’t the answer.”

Oh. Fuck.

How the hell does she know about that? I never said a word and I’m sure Kai hasn’t either. I’ve hidden the bottles in my room well too. So how does she know?

And then it hits me. Momma S could’ve seen the empty bottles beside us earlier. And she is my mom’s best friend.

I don’t say anything in fear of saying something that would expose me more. And what could I possibly say? Lie and tell her that I’m doing just fine, just for her to catch me in the lie and be even more pissed? I’ll pass, thanks.

“So I talked to Ashley, and-” she fidgets around a bit, a habit she has whenever she’s nervous, “-we think that maybe it might help you and Kai out if you guys attended a grief camp for teens over the summer,” she finishes.

I stay silent for a few moments, processing what she said. “You want to send me away?” I finally asked, making sure I interpreted correctly.

“Ry, it’s not like that. We think it’d be good for the two of you. They can help you in ways we can’t.”

I run my hands through my hair and over my face, not believing the words that came out of her mouth. “Mom, I- why?” I stutter.

“Ry, you may not see it, and it may not be the same, but you’re killing yourself. You and Kai both. I refuse to sit back and watch when I could be doing something,” she says, taking my hand in hers. I rip it away, not wanting her affection at the moment.

I know she isn’t giving up on me, but that’s what it feels like. It feels like she doesn’t want to deal with this anymore. Quite frankly, I can’t blame her, but it hurts all the same.

I take a deep breath, pushing all the anger down. “Does Kai know yet?”

“Ashley said that she was going to, so most likely.” If I know Kai, she would not have taken it well; worse then me probably.

“I’m gonna go find her,” I say, taking my house keys and heading toward the door.

“Ryder!” she calls out from behind me, but it’s too late. I’ve already walked out the door.

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