I tried texting Ryker the night before I was due back that my parents had agreed to allow him to stay at Christmas but he wasn’t answering. He might have gone to bed early, it was 9:00 pm.
“I have something else to tell you about Ryker,” I told my parents honestly. “I like him.”
“Does he know?” my father asks cautiously.
He probably didn’t want some straight guy going ape-shit on his kid for liking him.
“Yeah, and he likes me, too,” I reply nervously.
“Just respect and boundaries and all that,” he replies.
“I know, dad. You’re still okay with him staying for Christmas?” I continue.
“Well, he shouldn’t be spending Christmas alone,” my mother replies.
Ryker had spent the last three Christmases alone, I think he had forgotten it was a time for family, honestly.
“Yes, it’s fine,” my father replies.
We made the drive back from Lexington to Blue Hill the next morning. I was worried because Ryker still wasn’t answering my texts. I had said I was going to be back at 11:00 am at 8:00 am that morning, he was normally up between then and 9:30 am but even by the time I’d arrived he hadn’t texted me back.
We pulled up to Copper Cove at 10:55 am, I got out and pulled my suitcase and bag out of the trunk of my parents’ car and set them on the sidewalk. They got out of the car and hugged me goodbye.
“We’ll see you in a few weeks for Christmas, okay?” my father replies patting my back.
“Of course,” I reply.
My mother hugs me.
“Love you, honey,” she replies kissing my cheek.
“Love you, too,” I bid.
They get back in the car and I wave them off. I look around the front of the school to see if Ryker is waiting somewhere for me. But I only see other students milling around in their friend groups, maybe he wanted to stay out of sight of Julian, Greg and Kristen just in case. He was probably in his room. I carried my bags back to my room on the third floor and made the climb up to the seventh floor where Ryker’s room was.
I walked down the hall to his room, I expected it to be unlocked, he knew I was coming back today. I grabbed the doorknob and tried to turn it but it halted, it was locked.
“Ryker, you in there?” I called out.
It was silent. Where was he? I went back down the stairs and out towards the school building where the music room was. I walked past the gym and climbed the stairs to the hall where all the private music rooms were all were open and empty except for the last one. I went to it and slide open the door. Mr. Yaw was inside tuning the instruments.
“Porter, you’re back. What are you doing here?” he greets me.
“Have you seen Ryker? He hasn’t been answering my texts since last night and he’s not in his room or here,” I reply.
“He’s out in the field last I saw. He’s been there since breakfast. I don’t know how he’s not cold,” he replies.
“Field?” I question.
“I’ll show you,” he replies.
He leads me out of the room across the hall to the classrooms that flanked the outside of the building and had windows where you could see the field, cafeteria, and dorms. He pointed out into the snowy field where Ryker was laying almost completely still in the middle of the snow.
“He’s been there for how long?” I ask.
“Since nine at least, that’s when I saw him,” he replies.
The sun was shining and it was fairly warm despite us getting three snowfalls in the past week, most of it had melted.
“Did anything happen while I was gone?” I ask.
“Not that I know of. He was excited you were coming home last night when I talked to him at eight last night,” he answers.
“Thank you,” I reply taking the nearest stairs down to the first floor and out to the field of snow.
I burst through the first-floor door and into the snow. I can see my breath when I breathe. I make my way across the field to Ryker. I sink a few centimeters into the snow with every step. He has his headphones over his ears so he probably can’t hear my approach. I kneel down beside him, the snow soaking through my jeans. One of his eyes is covered by his hair but I can see some coloring peeking out from under it. I reach over and move his hair over a bit so I can see the black eye in better detail. This is when he opens his eyes.
I think he was surprised to see me. He probably didn’t realize what time it was even though the sun was directly over us. He sits up slowly and I hug him. I’ve missed him this whole week and this certainly wasn’t what I was expecting to come back to. He had obviously missed me too because he returned the hug quickly almost pushing me to the ground. He took off his headphones after and sat back so I could sit up.
“I missed you,” he whispered leaning his head against my arm.
“What happened to your eye?” I asked reaching over to take his chin turning it towards me so I could get a better look.
“Julian,” he replied sadly.
“Does it hurt?” I ask quietly.
“Sort of,” he replies removing his glasses.
“We should get you out of the snow, Mr. Yaw says you’ve been out here for at least two hours,” I reply quietly standing up.
I offer him a hand and he hesitates but takes it. Once up we walk back to his dorm room, he unlocks it. The backs of his clothes are soaked. Once inside his room, he takes off his sweater and shirt to change and I spot a bruise on his rib area, too.
I take his glasses from him and he stops just standing there half-dressed in his jeans.
“What’s the whole story?” I ask.
He looks up at me, I’m probably just blurry to him without his glasses.
“He came back late last night and jumped me in the stairwell. He called me a freak, said he’d get Maya back, and said that you were only with me because you felt sorry for me,” he replies quietly.
I cup his face in my hands and lift it so I can see into his green eyes.
“You know that’s not true, right?” I reply.
He doesn’t answer.
I lean in still holding his glasses in one of my hands to kiss him.
“I care about you,” I murmur in his ear.
His hands reach up and grasp my wrists.
“You are beautiful and you are not crazy. You play amazing music and you are a genuine, kind person. You are forgiving towards people who have made mistakes. I promise you I’m not going anywhere either,” I continue.
I gently place his glasses back on his face so he can see me properly. His eyes focus back on me. He reaches up and places a hand on my cheek. He looks into my eyes as if searching for the deception I might be trying to hide but there is none.
He stands up on his tiptoes and kisses me. I wrap my arms around him and pick him up. He pulls back eventually to take a breath, resting his hands on my shoulders.
“I want to show you something,” I whisper lowering him a bit so his forehead touches mine.
“What is it?” he asks giving a hint of a smile.
I set him down and move past him to the keyboard in his room. One thing I had been doing regularly for the past week was practicing. Hilana had a piano at her house because her father played and I practiced for an hour a day on top of all the time I’d spent with Ryker practicing in the past months.
Hilana helped me pick a song to play for Ryker when got back. We picked “May I” by Trading Yesterday. I sit down at the piano and start slowly.
And there you stand opened heart, opened doors. Full of life with the world that’s wanting more. But I can see when the lights, start to fade. The day is done and your smile has gone away. Let me raise you up. Let me be your love. May I hold you, as you fall to sleep? When the world is closing in and you can’t breathe? May I love you? May I be your shield? When no one can be found? May I lay you down?
I go through the rest of the song with Ryker standing beside me listening. All of his lessons had paid off. I finished.
“I did that, I taught you,” he states quietly like he can’t believe it.
I turn so I’m facing him, “You did,” I reply earnestly.
“Maybe you should enter the talent show,” he murmurs.
“Talent show?” I question.
“Mr. Yaw mentioned it a few months back but I didn’t know if you were really learning from me so I decided to wait a bit to see how it worked out. It’s not till March. I can never perform because I can’t concentrate in such crowded settings,” he explains.
“I know what I want to play,” I start suddenly.
“What?” he asks.
“The Flares” by The Script,” I answer.
“We should start practicing for it then,” he replies.
He smiled and I leaned in and kissed him.
“You know that I love though, right?” I ask nervously again pulling back a bit.
“Yes,” he answers quietly. “And I, love you,” he whispers in my ear.