Dear Emma

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chapter 8 || ryder

The ride to the camp with Kai and her parents is mostly silent. Kai has her own headphones plugged into her phone, diligently watching a movie next to me while her parents converse quietly in the front.

Meanwhile, my headphones are plugged in and this new band Kodaline is playing. I’m staring out the window, letting the words wash over me as the scenery passes by.

“I lay in tears in bed all night; alone without you by my side. If you loved me, why’d you leave me?” the song plays.

I’ve never related to anything more.

The night that Emma killed herself, all I did was shed tears of pain and anger, missing her so much that I ached.

I don’t think I’ve ever cried as much as I did that night in my life.

We were young, yeah, but I loved her with all my heart. I saw us getting married and having kids. I saw us fighting then making up because we couldn’t stand to be without each other. I saw us baking cookies and making a mess. I saw us cuddling and watching movies together with our kids.

I saw us together until the end of time.

I never once saw that cut short. Maybe if we broke up it would hurt less because then at least we’d have the chance of trying again. But she’s just straight up gone.

And I won’t ever see her again.

“Hey,” Kai says, tapping me on the shoulder, bringing me out of my trance. “You okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Why?” I remove one of the headphones out of my ear

“You’re crying,” she simply states with a look of sadness across her face.

I quickly wipe my face, getting rid of the wetness.

Kai gives my shoulder a supporting squeeze before asking, “Were you thinking about her?”

I nod my head, looking away from Kai. It’s always her nowadays. Maybe if she died another way it wouldn’t hurt as much. But she chose to end her life. Most people don’t get the choice if they want to die or not, but she did. She had her entire life ahead of her and she threw it away.

We drive further in silence, finally pulling up past a sign that reads “Camp Peacelake”. If this is how cheesy the rest of the camp is going to be, I don’t know how I’ll manage.

“Okay, kids. Here we are,” Momma S says, letting herself out of the car and walking around back.

I shift my body so that I’m facing Kai. “You ready for this?” I ask.

“As ready as I’ll ever be I guess,” Kai responds, grabbing my hand and giving it a slight squeeze.

I take in a deep breath before walking out of the car, instantly hit with the smell of the woods. Despite all the time I spend outdoors due to soccer, I’ve never been one for actual outdoor activities like camping.

Kai and I walk around to the back of the car where her parents finished unloading our bags.

“Well, this is where we part, I guess,” Momma S says, clapping her hands together. “I know neither of you wants to be here, but please try to keep an open mind.”

“Yeah, mom. We’ll try,” Kai says, giving each of her parents a hug.

We have to try. For Emma. For us.

Everyone at the camp is gathered in what seems to be the main hall. We were told to come here for room assignments. There’s a good amount of kids here, all ranging in age, although there are only a handful of teens that look the same age as me.

“Welcome to Camp Peacelake!” the lady in the front says. “Teens, if you’d go over there to Alice-” she points to another lady in the corner of the room -“she’ll be able to help you settle in.” I grab my stuff, walking over the corner where Alice is. The lady continues talking, directing each age group to a different spot.

When we get to Alice, she tells us to keep our stuff here and head out to the big tree out in front, where the rest of group 3 should be.

I turn to Kai, about to ask her if she needs any help when I notice that she’s opening and closing her hand into a fist. “You okay?”

“I’m fine.”

“Yeah, your nervous habit of opening and closing your fist repeatedly is a sure-fire sign that you’re fine,” I deadpan, rolling my eyes.

“Asshole. I’m just -, I don’t know.” She sighs, rubbing the back of her neck.

I wrap my arm around her shoulder, pulling her in close. “You’ll be okay. Promise.” We walk over to the tree, my arm still around her shoulder.

We stand by the tree where everyone else is and I look around to see who I’m going to be spending the next couple weeks with. There’s this one really lanky kid in the corner, his hair on the longer side and messy as if he hasn’t been out of bed in weeks. Besides him is an extremely tiny girl, her long blonde hair reaching just past midback. Standing across the lanky kid and leaning against the tree is a boy about my height wearing a hoodie even in the warm June air.

A group of misfits.

We’re all standing in an awkward, silent, circle, waiting on more instructions, before a man in his mid-twenties comes our way, carrying a stack of books.

“This is Group 3, right?” he asks, getting nods from all of us. “Great! Well, take a seat and we’ll start.” He places his clipboard and the stack of books on the ground next to him as all of us adjust ourselves to the ground. “Alright, so today is just the first day, so we’ll do some icebreakers before we give you room assignments. Who wants to start us off with your name and something about yourself?”

No one says a word. Guess no one wants to be the brave one.

“That’s okay, I can start. I’m Jayden. I’m 22 and I’m a major in psychology. I came to this same camp when I was 15, right after my brother killed himself at 18. After that, my parent’s mostly zoned out and barely took care of themselves, much less me, so they sent me here that summer. As cheesy as it sounds, this camp really did save my life,” he says, with a grim look on his face as he talks about his past.

Jayden points to the lanky kid beside me, gesturing him to go next.

“Um, well. I’m Zack. I’m here because my uncle who’s been raising me died in a car crash,” the kid says in a quiet voice, so quiet that I barely heard him. He looks like the type of kid who’d break if you touched him even the slightest bit.

The girl with the long blonde hair goes next. “I’m Callie and I like to draw.” I would’ve guessed that she’d be one of the most popular girls at school because she is gorgeous. But then again, people are almost never what they seem like.

“Hayden,” the hoodie boy says. “I play football.” I glance at him quickly, automatically seeing the football player build. Football players are built differently than soccer players, so it’s easy to spot the difference. Soccer players are usually lean while the football jocks have more muscle on them.

When it’s my turn, I keep it short and simple. “I’m Ryder and I play soccer,” I say, not ready to give out more information to why I’m here like Zack did.

I turn my head over to Kai, noticing her playing with her hands in her lap. “Kai and I don’t want to be here.” That was a little harsh. I mean, I don’t think anyone truly wants to be here, but you don’t see us making a big deal out of it.

“Hey, well, that’s okay,” Jayden starts, “When I first came here, I didn’t want to be here either, but it does get easier.” I steal a look over at Kai, watching her almost tune out of what he’s saying. I give her a little nudge and a look, which I hope she realizes means “you promised me that you’ll try.” She glares at me before turning to give Jayden her attention.

“Everyday, you’ll all have activities- which aren’t as lame as you may think- mixed in with group therapy, free time, and you’ll have an individual session with one of our trained psychologists,” Jayden explains.

Everyone sits still, watching Jayden as he continues to speak about the camp. I tune out briefly, looking around the camp. There’s a lake a little further away than the main building with plenty of trees surrounding us from all sides. There aren’t any fences or anything keeping us locked here, so there potentially is a risk of losing a kid.

“Oh, and one last thing before I let you guys go,” Jayden reaches over to the stack of books and passes it around the circle, “You’ll be keeping daily journals starting today,” he says, met by groans from everyone.

“What are we even supposed to write?” Hayden asks. Most of us mumble in agreement.

“Anything you want. You don’t have to share what you write, but journaling your feelings or thoughts really makes you feel free. It takes off a burden.”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes, and I can tell Kai is doing the same. I don’t want to write in a dumb journal about my feelings. I want Emma back, but clearly, that won’t happen now, so the next best thing I can have is getting the fuck over it.

I tune into what Jayden is saying as everyone around me ruffles the papers in their notebook. “To get you guys used to the feel of journaling, I’d like you to write down any and every word that comes to mind. Don’t overthink it, just write it.”

I stare at the blank paper for a moment before all the words come tumbling out of my head an onto the paper.

Emma. Depressed. Suicide. Failure. Vodka. Alone. Gone.

I look long and hard at the words on the paper, suddenly feeling all this rage bubble inside me. I quickly slam the notebook shut and look back up into the circle.

“That’s all for now. Dinner is in an hour so you have some time to get to know your roommate. I’m in the counselors’ cabin, which is next to the dining hall, in case you need anything. My door is always open and my ear is always ready to listen.” Jayden gives us a sad-ish smile. I bet he feels sorry for all us.

With that, he gives us our cabin numbers and directs us to where we go. The other 2 boys, Zack and Hayden make their way to the cabin that we all share. I hang back, waiting for Kai to get her stuff ready.

“Hey,” Kai says, walking over to my spot leaning up against the tree. “I don’t know if I can do this, Ry.”

“You can. For me, for Em, for your family.”

“Ry,” she sighs, running her hand through her hair.

“Hey, you got this. We’re gonna get better. You and I both know that how we were dealing with Em’s death wasn’t okay. We’re gonna be okay.” I pull her into a hug, resting my head on top of hers.

“Okay,” Kai whispers into my shirt. “We can do this. Just a couple weeks, right?”

“Yep. Now, go get to know your roomie. I’ll see you at dinner,” I say, letting her go. Kai nods and bends over to get her bag to leave. I do the same, walking in the opposite direction.

Time to see exactly who I get to live with for the next couple of weeks.

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