I woke up and Ryker’s green eyes were staring back at me. I shifted so I was leaning on an elbow. He looked tired. Like he hadn’t gotten a proper night’s sleep.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
His eyes shifted away from direct contact with mine. He rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling.
“I just…had a nightmare,” he replied rubbing his eyes, like he was trying to rub away whatever he’d seen in dreamland.
I reached out and touched his hand.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I ask quietly.
He intertwined his fingers with mine, studying how his hand fit in mine as if it were an interesting concept.
“She was on fire,” he mumbled.
“Who?” I asked softly.
“My mother,” he croaked, seeming to have to drag his voice out of the depths of whatever dark place his mind was in.
“She’s dead. She’s not in pain anymore,” I whisper quietly.
I saw something shift in his eyes.
“My father still is though, without her,” he continues.
“It wasn’t your fault, you were just a kid,” I state.
I moved, placing my other hand on his forehead to move his bangs.
No one should have the weight of someone’s life in their hands, especially some confused ten-year-old boy who didn’t even understand his power at the time. He didn’t crash the car. He was just a witness.
“What time is it?” he questions glancing back up at me.
“Nine,” I answer, moving on.
“Can we go get breakfast?” he asks quietly.
“Sure, where are we going?” I ask rubbing the back of his hand with my thumb.
“I want pretzel sticks,” he states honestly.
At least he was being honest about something, and at least he was eating.
“I guess we’re going to Dairy Queen,” I reply.
“No ice cream though,” he continues.
“It’s too cold and early anyway,” I reply quietly.
He releases my hand and rolls over to sit up on the edge of the bed. I get up too. We both get dressed and leave a note for my parents that we should be back with the car by 10:30 to go to Hilana’s for the movie.
We drive to the Dairy Queen and go through the drive-thru. Ryker gets a burger, pretzel sticks and a shake. I get a burger, fries, and a sprite. We find a quiet parking lot to sit in and enjoy our breakfast. I steal a part of Ryker’s pretzel stick by biting the end off as he takes a bite.
“Hey!” he states shaking some of the giant salt pieces loose.
I smile, chew, and swallow the pretzel piece.
We throw our trash out, and drive around a bit until Hilana texts us that she’s up at 10:15 am. We drive back to my parents’ house, drop off the keys and car and start the walk to Hilana’s house. We arrive by 10:45 am and Hilana answers the door. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since Boxing Day.
She lets us inside and leads us through the house to the giant theatre room. There are a few couches surrounding a big projection screen.
Hilana’s little brother, Liam, comes bounding into the semi-dark room holding Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer in VCR, (Video Cassette Recording).
“Can I watch Rudolph?” he asks.
I smile and I can see Ryker has already tuned in to his life song, he tilts his head in mild interest.
Hilana looks at us.
“Sure,” Ryker replies kneeling down to the boy’s height.
Hilana smiles at him, she walks over to them and takes the tape gently from Liam.
“Want to put in?” she asks Liam.
“Yeah!” he replies.
She leads Liam to the back room where all the machines and playing equipment is.
Ryker stands back up.
“That was nice of you,” I state.
“Yeah,” he replies glancing at me.
We walk over to one of the main couches directly in front of the screen and sit down. Maybe Ryker remembered relating to Rudolph as a child because he was an outcast among the reindeer until he was asked to lead Santa’s sleigh because of his red glowing nose, he only had hopes of ever being that important to people or even just someone back than probably.
We watched young Rudolph prance around attempting to fit in and being rejected by the other reindeer even when he wore a fake black nose to hide his glowing red one. Feeling dejected he wandered off by himself.
Liam sat on the edge of the couch excited, he loved this movie, I was pretty sure for the two months surrounding Christmas that was all he watched was Rudolph. The whole thing was only about fifty minutes long but he sat entranced through the whole thing. It was the stillest and quietest I’d ever seen him be.
At the end, as if the characters in the movie could hear him, Liam clapped and smiled brightly. I think Ryker liked making Liam happy, seeing as he hadn’t had the most pleasant childhood, he didn’t want to take something as simple as watching a movie away from him, especially when it made him so happy.
At the end of the movie, Ryker excused himself to go to the bathroom. Hilana and I went out to the kitchen to get some more chips and popcorn and to pick out the next movie. We were scrolling through the ones we could rent on YouTube and fell down the rabbit hole of music videos instead. We came across the song Ryker was playing when I first walked into the music room on the day I met him.
Hilana hit play and the song played through the laptop’s speakers into the tiny back room of the theatre. The images of soldiers and their family members and the video of band flashed across the screen.
I heard a floorboard squeak and looked up to see Ryker in the backroom’s doorway. He gave a sad smile, he was holding his glasses in his hands and there was a sheen over his eyes.
I got up and went over to him.
“You okay?” I asked him barely loud enough to hear.
He sniffed and brought his sweater sleeve over his eyes.
“Yeah,” he replies putting his glasses back on and focusing his eyes on me.
“You sure?” I question.
“Porter,” he whispers, like a mild warning.
I’d never really seen him push me away before. We picked a movie and sat down but Ryker sat down a little further away from me and almost seemed lost during the movie, he was looking at the screen but I wasn’t sure he was actually paying attention to it.
It was 3:00 pm by the time the movie finished. We dressed to leave in the foyer of Hilana’s house. Ryker said he’d wait outside when he was ready.
He stepped outside and I glanced out their front window.
“Is he okay?” Hilana asks.
“Is it my song?” she continues.
“No, it’s not you,” I reply.
“Porter?” she questions.
I stop and look at her.
“Talk to him,” she continues putting a reassuring hand on my shoulder.
“Yeah, I will,” I reply pulling on my gloves and beanie.
“I’ll see you at the fireworks tomorrow,” she says giving me a hug.
“Yeah, see you,” I say hugging her.
I exit the house, Ryker is standing at the end of the path from their house to the sidewalk. I can see his breath escape his body as he looks up at the cloudy gray sky. I approach him.
“Are we okay?” I ask.
He turns back to me.
“It’s not you,” he replies quietly looking down at the ground and kicking some snow.
“It’s just, I can’t stop thinking about the fire, her burning. If she’s at peace or happy, I guess?” he continues. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, just talk to me. Losing someone, especially, a parent is painful. Shutting people out isn’t going to make it any better though,” I continue.
He nods and reaches out taking my hand.
“If you’re still worried about what she thinks of you, she’s dead, her opinion of you can’t be changed,” I say.
He nods looking at my hand.
“We should get home, it’s cold,” I reply quietly.
I take a step out onto the sidewalk and he follows holding my hand.
“Porter,” he spoke.
I stopped and turned back.
“Thank you, I’ve never really had anyone I could talk about my mother with,” he says quietly.
“Of course, we’re there for each other,” I reply.
He reached up on his tiptoes and kissed me lightly on the lips. He smiled sheepishly when he pulled away.
“Let’s go,” he said quietly and we set off in the direction of my house as dusk started to set in.