Chapter 1: Lindy

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

-The rain trickled down Friedlinde Baum¶s car window, almost at the same rate the tears did down her face. As the car came to a stop, she smoothed out her black dress. This was the last time she was going to see Riley, after all, and she wanted to look her best for her deceased partner. It was September 1999. Lindy had just turned five, after her late birthday in August. She was swinging, high above the mountain tops ± or at least, that¶s what it seemed to her. Her mother was chattering nonstop with some lady whom Lindy had never seen before. Suddenly, she was facedown in the sandbox, the gravely taste of the sand overtaking her tongue. But Lindy didn¶t cry ± she never did. She merely got angry. Curling her fists, she got up to take a whack at whoever had made her feel the pain of the newly formed scrape on her elbow. There was a boy, not much taller than her, standing there, with glasses that resembled that of a magical character in a book that Lindy¶s mother read to her. She growled at him, ³Why would you push me?! I could beat you to a pulp, you know!´ Without missing a beat, the boy replied, ³My name¶s Riley. What¶s yours?´ Lindy shook her head and walked towards the Church, not quite sure if she was ready to face this yet. Not that she had a choice. With her magnificently towering height, she didn¶t have a tough time throwing on black flats, therefore giving her the ease of walking through the muddy grass. Her mother though, did not have the same pleasure. After many explicit words and a bold decision to walk barefoot, they finally made it across the green grass that led to Riley¶s funeral. To August 2003. Lindy¶s ninth birthday. Her mother had granted her the honor of having a moonbounce in the backyard. The kids jumped around, falling down constantly. Riley, as he had been for the past four years, was also there. As he and Lindy jumped around, suddenly, Lindy felt his hand grasp her arm and drag her down to the latex ground. Riley somehow fell on top of her, hitting his head on hers, causing both of them much misery. They

lay there for a little bit and finally Riley faced her. Suddenly, Lindy felt his chapped lips against hers and she pushed him off. ³Ew!!!´ she screamed, ³Riley! Why would you do that?!´ He hadn¶t been able to answer and simply ran away, leaving Lindy astonished and feeling as if her innocence had been taken. There he was. Riley Williams. Looking as handsome as ever, if Lindy Baum did say so herself. He may have been one year older than her, but she could still see the playful look on his face, although he was cold. He had always been the immature one, who loved to take risks and break the rules. It was why Lindy had fallen in love with him. Lindy took her seat for the eulogies. Surprisingly enough, the tears had stopped, and her eyes, known for being large, were as wide as ever. Riley would tell her everyday that it was her eyes that had hypnotized him into loving her; she could never explain to him all the reasons she loved him. It seemed to her quite funny how God worked; taking the lives of the innocent like Riley, but leaving terrible serial killers on the earth to do as they pleased. She knew Riley¶s death was not deserved, just as well as she knew that there was nothing that could have stopped it. July 2007. Riley was fourteen, leaving Lindy behind as seemingly two years younger, just as always. She was awaiting teenhood to finally approach her in the long one month away. They sat side-by-side on the brick wall around their middle school. Riley was going to high school in the fall, leaving Lindy behind. Lindy swung her legs, as they watched the Independence Day fireworks that their city was known for. She was just barely maturing, whereas Riley had seemed to sprout several feet overnight. He put one arm around her, nonchalantly, and she leaned into him. They were not officially ³going steady,´ as their fellow classmates called it, but there was definitely a spark. Lindy wasn¶t sure what Riley¶s sister, Aimee, had meant when she overheard her talking on the phone by it, but she almost definitely knew that whatever it was, her and Riley had one.

Suddenly, Lindy heard her name, awakening her from her trance. Riley had always loved her short attention-span; Lindy was always day dreaming. He liked to call her his ³little ADD girl.´ It seemed that Lindy had missed two eulogies and it was her turn to go up to the podium and say a few words about Riley. She had been his girlfriend and his best friend, so it seemed only right that she be one of the eulogists. As Aimee stepped down, Lindy went up, a soaking paper in her hands. As she opened her mouth to speak, the paper suddenly didn¶t seem to say quite what she wanted. She looked up at the attendees and began to improvise, something she had always been good at. ³Riley Williams was my one true friend. He was with me as the best friend, the fall guy, and finally, as the boyfriend«´ It was May 2008. Riley and Lindy had begun to distance from each other, leaving both as the epitome of heartbreak. But just as he always did, Riley knew how to fix the problem. Lindy was sitting in the swing made for two in the backyard. It was where her and Riley would sit in cool evenings, huddled in two, maybe three blankets and just talk about their lives and futures. She heard the doorbell ring and made her way to the front door. Purple daisies, just sitting there on the ground. She opened the piece of paper squeezed in between two flowers and read: Dear Friedlinde Baum, You stole my heart, so I stole you daisies. Forever Yours, Riley Williams ³« he loved to make me laugh and he made me feel as if I was truly beautiful. He was my everything. I know he is in a better place now«´

She couldn¶t even remember the date for this one. They had hopped the fence near his house (although she had needed his help for that one) and headed to the local bowling alley. He held her hand as she rolled the ball down the lane for the first time in her life. She couldn¶t describe the tingles she felt when he touched her; it was almost electric to her. When she only hit one pin down, she turned around, as down as ever, and saw Riley chuckling at her bad beginner¶s luck. Inches away from him, she put her hands on her hips and said, ³Don¶t laugh at me, Mister! I could seriously hurt you, you know! I am German, after all!´ she joked. His face had gone serious by that point, and his arms were around her ± a perfect fit. ³Even if you were a Nazi, I would love you,´ he whispered into her right ear. The coolness of his breath made her slightly shiver. She remembered looking into his eyes, but quickly darting them away. Without a response, she had grabbed the bowling ball to try her luck at the game again. ³I will always love him. He will always be my Riles and forever he¶ll remain in my heart.´ She stepped down from the podium and looked around at the women wiping their tears with crumpled tissues and men looking at the ceiling, obviously holding back their own tears. It seemed to her that Riley had not only touched her life, but a thousand others. But then again, why should that surprise her?

Chapter 2: Aimee

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Aimee¶s camera chirped as she went through pictures from years ago. The hollowness in the pit of her stomach ached even more now that the funeral was over. There were pictures of her and Riley playing with his Hot Wheels and even some of him giving in to her will and playing with her Barbies. She smiled at every single one and remembered the memories. Aimee stopped when she came across one of her and Riley on the top of a mountain trail. ³Riley, I can¶t keep going« this trail is literally the bane of my existence!´ Aimee whined. Riley looked at her with an indifferent stare and shrugged. ³Sucks balls for you, doesn¶t it?´ he replied. She glared at him and continued to lug uphill. After about an hour and a half of walking, they finally reached the top. Aimee remembered her jaw dropping in awe. She looked over at Riley and he too could not keep his eyes off the amazing view. ³The ocean« it¶s so gorgeous,´ Aimee finally murmured. ³I know« I guess this is what all those outdoors-y people mean when they say that nature is beautiful.´ ³I guess so, Ri. I guess so.´ Even to the day, Aimee could remember the ocean, just as blue as Riley¶s eyes. It was really the one thing her and Riley had in common. She could list out the differences between them for days ± he loved dogs, she loved cats. He was tall, she was short. He loved sports, she would rather stay home and read. He went for girls with personality, she went for boys with looks. In the end, though, they were still brother and sister. They would, of course, fight, but they¶d still be best friends through it all. At seventeen, Aimee was only a year older than Riley. He told her everything and she was responsible, in part, for his and Lindy¶s relationship. She had

always liked Lindy, ever since she¶d tagged along to one of their playdates. She knew that they were blind to the electricity between them ever since Riley was twelve and Lindy was eleven. At thirteen, she could have written a love story about the connection they had ± the only problem being that they could not see it. She had given countless speeches to Riley about making a move, but the response level was low. Finally, after months of persuasion, she had convinced him to do something about her. ³Well, how does she make you feel, Riley?!´ ³I don¶t know! How is she supposed to make me feel, Aimee?! She¶s pretty fun to hang out with, I guess, but I can¶t think of anything else«´ he trailed off. Riley being Riley was always quick to speak, but slow to think. ³Riley! You gotta give me more than that! Does she make your palms sweat or your heart beat faster? What about when you hug her, does that make you happy?´ ³Aimee« if my palms sweat, she would think I¶m disgusting and how would I know if my heart is beating faster, I don¶t feel my pulse every second of the day! I don¶t really hug her to know if it makes me happy« I¶m sure it does, since she¶s my friend, right?´ Aimee glared at him and shook her head. Walking away, she muttered to herself, ³Spoken like a true boy.´ Aimee lay sprawled on her bed and closed her eyes. She was always full of thoughts and her mind was never cleared; especially now. Memories of Riley filled the brim, as well as different emotions. She was, of course, sad, but she was also angry with God for taking him away ± surviving without him was going to be a hard task indeed. She was selfish in this point, but Aimee felt extremely self-righteous. An even weirder emotion she had was happiness. She could not quite place the origin of the feeling, but it could have been selflessness. Riley could be happy as ever right now, laying on a cloud in heaven, having grapes fed to him. It was possible. And with that

happy thought, Aimee dozed off into dreams of her own, a world where Riley still lived, and she took back her last words to him. ³WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!´ Aimee exploded, throwing books and other small objects she could find directly at Riley. ³I thought you would want to know if he likes you or not!´ he said, trying to defend himself, while also dodging random objects thrown his way. ³I like the element of SURPRISE, Riley! Jesus, can¶t you mind your own freaking business?! I hate you! You have this perfect life with the perfect relationship, so stop messing with my crappy life! Get out!!! Now!´ she had yelled. And just as she had asked, Riley left. For good.

Chapter 3: Asher

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Asher skipped stones in the nearby pond, containing his tears as best as possible. Riley had taught him how to skip the stones for what seemed like miles. Riley. Asher¶s best friend. The one who died in a hit-and-run accident. It was strange to even think that Asher would never see Riley again. It seemed like yesterday that Asher had moved next door to Riley. ³Come on, Asher, help me unpack. This stuff doesn¶t get out of boxes on its own, you know!´ Mrs. Goldman scolded her ten-year-old son. Asher ignored his mother¶s ³lecture,´ as he called them, and caught sight of a boy that seemed to be only a little bit younger than him. He was in the driveway next door, only a few feet away, so Asher mustered up the courage to introduce himself. ³Hi, I¶m Asher and I am ten-years-old. Who are you?´ Asher said, trying his best to be polite, like his mother always taught him to be. ³Hi Asher. My name¶s Riley and I¶m only eight, but I guess we can be friends!´ Asher half smiled at the memory of the start of the most amazing friendship of his life. Words could simply not explain how much he and Riley had done together; hopped fences, gotten arrested for the first time, talked about every girl in the book, and everything else best friends could possibly do. He hadn¶t cried« yet. He knew Riley was up there somewhere and he didn¶t want Riley to be laughing at him even in heaven. He remembered Riley¶s bizarre last words to him. ³Hey, I¶m going out, Ash. I was just wondering if you wanted to come, since we haven¶t hung out in a while,´ Riley had said over the phone. ³Naw man, I can¶t,´ Asher said, a bit disappointed that he couldn¶t even if he wanted to. He missed Riley and their friendship, but his mother had him on house arrest for fighting with his sisters« again.

³Alright, dude. I seriously miss you man. And I love you, bro. I just wanted to let you know. Talk to you later,´ Riley had nonchalantly said. Before Asher could respond, Riley had hung up, leaving Asher¶s mouth wide open. Riley never spoke like that« but then again, Riley had done weird things in the past. Asher shook it off and went back to ³doing his homework.´ Had Riley known? Or was it really just a coincidence? Of course, Asher would never know, but it was one of those things he could think about in place of crying. The memories were all Asher had to live on. So, he remembered the best and worst times he¶d had with Riley. ³Are you sure this is a good idea?´ Riley said, fidgeting with everything he could find in the store. Asher groaned. Riley was eleven and boy could he be a wimp sometimes. ³Don¶t worry, I¶ve done it before, there¶s no way we can get caught!´ Asher tried to convince Riley. Riley sighed and nodded his head. He picked up a leather wallet and Asher chose to grab a necklace for his new girlfriend of the month. They both successfully hid their souvenirs in their jackets and walked out, with no expression whatsoever. That¶s when the alarms rang. One hour later, the two boys were in the county jail office. ³I told you it was a bad idea!´ Riley whispered loudly to Asher. ³Well, we almost got away with it, but you gave it away by crying when the security guards asked us to check our pockets!´ Asher retorted.

As if going to jail weren¶t bad enough, their mothers coming to pick them up was the worst of it. Asher¶s mother screamed explicitly in Hebrew, while Riley¶s mother just shook her head and cursed herself for being a terrible mother. And yet, the boys smiled; it was so worth it.

Chapter 4: Delaney

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Delaney had gone to the funeral. She had sat with her best friend, Aimee, and comforted her as best as she could have. Delaney had barely known Riley ± what she had known of him was through almost daily visits to the Williams residence. Yet, there was one memory that she simply could not forget about. ³TAG! You¶re it!´ Delaney screamed tapping Riley. Aimee had suggested that Riley be included in their game so they would have at least three players ± every kid knew that tag was not fun with only two people. Delaney and Aimee were eleven and Riley was ten. The Williams house was not huge, but it was quite a size, making it perfect for tag indoors on a rainy day. Aimee and Riley¶s mother had left for a few minutes to buy groceries, so that the kids could eat dinner that night. Delaney was on top of the world that one game. She was swift as ever and could dodge any attempts to make her ³it.´ In front of the fireplace, she pulled a quick fake and dodged Riley, but Riley could not stop his feet. He had flown headfirst into the fireplace, which was thankfully off. He had hit his head on the marble before landing in the logs and did not move. Delaney had frozen ± this was her fault. Aimee came around to where they were and looked at Riley with an expression of pure horror. ³B-b-blood!!!´ she had stuttered than screamed. Delaney hadn¶t noticed it before, but then she saw the dark red liquid spilling out of Riley¶s head at, what seemed to be, a very quick pace. Delaney squirmed and Aimee rushed to the telephone, calling her mother. In about ten minutes, there were two ambulances, a firetruck, a police officer¶s car, and an extremely worried mother. Riley was stabilized but Delaney overheard the police officer say that if the call had come any later, Riley would have been in a coma.

Delaney still couldn¶t describe the feeling that sentence had given her. If the call had come any later, Delaney would have been a killer ± like one of those people who get electrocuted. Somehow, the day after when Riley came to, he had forgiven Delaney in an instant. ³Lane!´ her mother called. ³Come eat something, you haven¶t eaten since before the funeral!´ She called back, ³Not hungry, mom. Later, I¶m busy.´ ³You know Delaney Roberts, I miss you when you were younger. You were such a good child, always listening to your mother. God knows what adolescence has done to you. If only I was graced with a child like, I don¶t know, Aimee. I¶m sure she«´ But Lane had already immersed her eyes into the ceiling to another memory. ³Hello?´ Lane answered to the unknown number that had called her. ³Hi Delaney, it¶s Riley, Aimee¶s brother,´ a voice replied. ³It¶s almost Aimee¶s birthday and I wanted to throw her a surprise party. I thought you¶d be interested in helping out.´ Delaney had completely forgotten that Aimee¶s fifteenth birthday was coming up. She had been so overwhelmed with school that remembering birthdays was simply not an option. ³Of course I want to help, Riley. What can I do?´ For ten days Lane and Riley had meticulously planned every detail of the surprise party, from the guest list to the food to how they were going to surprise the most paranoid girl on the face of the earth. And when the day came, Delaney remembered Aimee¶s face ± the planning had been worth it. It was the closest Delaney had gotten to Riley and although she could not remember much of it, she did remember that Riley could have potentially

become a close friend of hers, had God graced him more time to live. But of course He hadn¶t, and they hadn¶t really talked since. She would maybe never know, but for now, she could live the might-have-been through Aimee.

Chapter 5: Talia
³Talia Rose! The phone¶s for you!´

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³Mom! Why do you insist on calling me that, when my name is just Tally!´ Tally Hayes groaned. ³Fine, µjust Tally,¶ Asher¶s calling,´ her mother responded with an ³I-don¶tcare´ tone. Tally picked up the phone in her room and smiled when she heard Asher¶s voice. ³Hey Talls,´ was the first thing he said. He was the only person that called her that, or at least, the only one she allowed to call her that. At five foot eight, Talia Hayes all but hovered over every single boy she had an interest in. It was almost unbearable, but sometimes, the height was advantageous. ³Hey Ash,´ she said, smiling. ³How are you?´ ³Terrible. I need to talk to someone. And since my number one choice is six feet under, I was thinking you might be just as good of a pick.´ Once upon a time, around 1998, Tally had been a friend of Riley¶s. Their fathers were best friends, but when Riley and Aimee¶s father disappeared one day, they had all lost touch. Only in 2009 did Tally really reconnect, but that was when she had met Asher. ³Mom, why do you always insist on visiting our old house every freaking Christmas?´ Tally had whined. ³Because memories, sometimes, are all you have!´ her mother replied. At that, the car jerked from slamming the brakes. ³Can¶t you drive, mother?!´

³Talia Rose, this boy just came out of nowhere! What did you want me to do?!´ her mother exclaimed, exasperated. When Tally looked up, she saw a boy, a little short for his age, but definitely handsome. He looked like a deer caught in headlights, but Tally unbuckled her seatbelt and got out to greet him. Her sociable nature was what made her so amiable to many. ³Are you okay? I¶m sorry, my mother drives like a monkey on marijuana sometimes!´ Tally joked. ³I¶m fine and so are you,´ he replied with a wink and sheepish grin on his face. Tally would have maybe even considered it if the boy wasn¶t at least five inches shorter than her. Instead, she pretended to not notice and asked, ³Which house do you live in?´ He pointed to the one that was next to her old house. ³Oh, so who lives in this one?´ she asked, pointing to the home of her childhood. ³My best friend Riley,´ Asher replied with a half-smile. ³I¶m Asher« and you are?´ ³Talia Hayes. Call me Tally. I used to know a Riley,´ she said with a chuckle. ³That would be the biggest coincidence of my life, wouldn¶t it?´ Indeed it was. Her mother had jumped for joy at the sight of an old friend and almost tackled the family. Tally had shyly smiled at Aimee and Riley, whom at one point were supposedly inseparable from her. Not that she could remember for her life.

Although Tally had spent the entire day with the Williams family, she only remained in touch with Asher. He had quickly become her best friend and a non-stop texting buddy. ³Sure thing, Ash. Vent away,´ she said, smiling a little at her best friend¶s intact humor after all he had been through. ³I don¶t need to vent. I just want to ask you a question. How come I wasn¶t the one who got hit by that car and Riley was? What makes me deserve to live and lets him die? Answer that, Talia. I need to know.´ It was the first time Talia had ever heard Asher Elan Goldman cry.

Chapter 6: Lindy

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³Friedlinde, it¶s been four days. Please eat something! You can¶t live off that chocolate milk crap any longer.´ ³First of all, Mom, you know I hate it when you call me Friedlinde. And for the last time, I¶m not hungry,´ Lindy Baum replied with no emotion in her voice. ³Not eating isn¶t going to make him come back, you know.´ ³I know,´ Lindy whispered, so that only she could hear the two words. ³My feet are cold, Ri. Do we seriously have to be doing this?´ It was December 2008 and Riley had begged her to dangle her feet in the pool next to his. It was one of his sudden urges that Lindy never did understand. But then again, there were thousands of things she couldn¶t understand about Riley ± it was what made him so different from every other guy. ³Well you don¶t have to« I mean, you can go inside anytime you want. I¶ll just stay alone, really, it¶s fine Lindy,´ he innocently said, instantly pulling her into a guilt trip. He was good at making her feel like she had done something wrong. ³No, whatever, it¶s fine, I want to stay and be with you,´ she said with a slight smile. Not a day went by where she didn¶t feel ecstatic that her boyfriend was Riley Williams, the most amazing guy in the universe. ³Hey Lindy, can I ask you something without you accusing me of being a jinx and stuff?´ The question took Lindy by surprise, but she didn¶t see how she could refuse. ³Sure, Ri. Promise.´

³What would you do if I died?´ Lindy, again, was taken aback. She chuckled a little. ³What¶s up with you Riley? Why are you being so philosophical today?´ ³Are you going to answer the question, Lindy?´ ³I« I don¶t know,´ was all she could possibly say. She had gone red in the face and was already halfway to the door when Riley called out. ³I¶m sorry. I shouldn¶t have asked you. Forget I asked. Please stay.´ For the first time in four days, Lindy smiled. ³I guess now you know Riley« I¶d starve myself,´ Lindy whispered, truly believing for a nanosecond that Riley was there, listening.

Chapter 7: Aimee

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Aimee took up new hobbies to clear her mind of Riley, but also keep him near her heart. She took up basketball, Riley¶s favorite sport, although she was a bit short. She began to take art, since Riley had once asked her if someday she could draw a portrait of him. Yet, nothing could make Aimee happy again. She tried her best to be herself and stay healthy. If Riley was in a better place, she shouldn¶t be selfish and wish him to stay more than his time permitted. Right? Maybe it was right, but Aimee had never done the right thing. She had, for God¶s sake, thrown heavy dictionaries at Riley the last time she had seen him. A piercing cut of remorse entered her stomach. Riley. He was gone. This wasn¶t just a field trip. Her little brother was never going to come back. Aimee held back the tears and tried to laugh it off. Aimee was five-years-old and Riley was four. Their mother had suddenly gone through a sentimental phase and decided to take them all to get a family portrait ± what better way to decorate a home? Aimee and Riley showed their strong hatred towards the idea many times before their appointment, but nothing could have stopped their mother. Their father had just left them and their mother was basically a psychopath. When the time came, the photographer made Aimee wear the itchiest dress of her life and dressed Riley in a suit at least three sizes too big for him. They had taken at least thirty photographs in every single pose imaginable, but Aimee remembered how bearable Riley had made it. ³I really don¶t want to do this at all,´ Aimee almost incomprehensibly said through her teeth, while bearing a big smile. ³Me either, but when I¶m about to throw a fit, I think about how mom¶s going to burn all the pictures when she finds out there¶s a piece of spinach in her teeth,´ Riley said, with a wink and a smile.

It had made her day and definitely made for an amazing memory. Aimee wasn¶t the only one to have memories with Riley, though. Riley had an impact on almost every single person he met. He was lovable and made no enemies. Sometimes, she was jealous of Riley¶s amazing personality and envied his amount of friends. But he was her brother and she of all people knew he deserved the love. It was then that she remembered Lindy. She had heard through the grapevine that Lindy hadn¶t been going to school and had taken up being home schooled, due to depression. But Aimee never believed rumors easily and decided to drive to Lindy¶s to check up on her. ³Oh my God, oh my God, Riley!´ Aimee had shrieked. ³I know Mimi, you just got your freaking license! Time to drive me around constantly,´ Riley had said, with a huge grin on his face. He had called her Mimi when he had learned to speak because, for some odd reason, he couldn¶t pronounce ³Aimee.´ Riley had taken it upon himself to call her Mimi whenever he could ± not only because he liked the nickname, but because it always bothered her. ³First, stop calling me that, second, no way! My car, my rules now!´ Aimee smiled. ³Will you at least take me to Lindy¶s sometimes?´ ³Fine. But that¶s it!´ After that, she had only gotten to drive him a few times, before the accident. For the first time ever, she was going to see Lindy without Riley. She got out of the car and took a deep breath, ringing the doorbell.

Chapter 8: Lindy

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³Friedlinde! Someone¶s here to see you!´ Lindy heard her mother call. Lindy was too exhausted to snap at her mother for calling her that stupid name again, due to lack of sleep. Not only had Lindy not eaten, but she had also not slept in the four days. She dizzily walked down the stairs, grabbing on to the railings. To her surprise, Aimee was at the door. She had, of course, known Aimee, but had barely ever talked to her. ³Hi«´ Lindy said, not quite sure what to say to her deceased boyfriend¶s sister. ³Hey Lindy. Mind if I come in and talk to you?´ It had happened only once before. Lindy had been waiting for Riley to come out of the shower when she was twelve and he was thirteen. She had knocked on Aimee¶s door shyly, and almost ran away, when Aimee opened the door. ³Hi«?´ Aimee had awkwardly said. Lindy looked down at Aimee, being an inch taller already, and smiled shyly. ³I need your help. It¶s about Riley.´ Aimee had taken her through the steps of telling Riley how she felt about him at least twenty times before Riley came out of the shower. Everyone always teased him about taking forever in the shower, but this time, Lindy was glad. ³Riley« we need to talk,´ Lindy had said. In the end, Lindy was the one to have asked Riley out, but the story was told differently to the world. Lindy supposed it was because Riley needed to keep his manliness intact, and she didn¶t mind, as she had her femininity to upkeep.

³Not at all, Aimee. Come in.´ Lindy sat at the foot of the bed, while Aimee spun around in the desk chair. ³I hear you¶re being home schooled. I thought only anti-social people didn¶t go to school,´ Aimee joked, with a smile. ³I¶m just taking a break. I need to get used to going to school without him there.´ ³Lucky for you, I have to get used to not seeing him every moment of my life. ³I wasn¶t aware this was a competition,´ Lindy said, with a cranky tone of voice. ³I¶m sorry« I haven¶t eaten in awhile, and a girl like me needs her food.´ ³It¶s okay. I heard that one, too. I know you loved him a lot, but not eating isn¶t going to make him come back,´ Aimee sympathized as best as she could. ³Yeah, where have I heard that before,´ Lindy smiled. ³I just came to make sure that you know I¶m here for you. You¶ll always be like family to me, no matter what, even if Riley¶s gone.´ ³I know,´ was all Lindy said after a minute.

Chapter 9: Ms. Williams

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It was soon discovered that only a mother could truly feel the full pain of losing her child. Ms. Williams found herself looking at any remains of her son she had left ± articles of clothing, pictures, even the colors of his room. ³Come on baby, push! This is our son! He¶s going to be beautiful, I can feel it!´ her husband had encouraged. At that point, though, the pain was enough to want to shoot him in the face. She was sweating and constricting the blood circulation of her husband¶s hand, but it was all worth it when she held the seven pounds and seven ounces Riley Landon Williams was born. When she held him in her arms, and looked down at the baby¶s face, she clearly saw a person she knew ± her. The tears streamed down Ms. Williams¶s face. She held Riley¶s favorite jacket to her face and breathed in the scent of her passed son. ³I will always love and miss you, Ri,´ she whispered, more so to herself than to the imaginary Riley she saw in front of her. Her and Riley had taken a mother-son trip to the movie theater, leaving Aimee with Delaney. They were going to watch ³The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,´ one of Riley¶s favorite books as a child. Soon enough, Riley was bawling with fear of the green creature that was on the screen. No one had mentioned how fearful The Grinch seemed to be. She had comforted Riley, hugging him, and telling him ³It¶s all going to be alright,´ for two and a half hours ± the longest of her life. She would have done anything to feel her son¶s hug again. Anything.

Chapter 10: Asher

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It was funny how Tally could always just listen to him, and the sound of her breathing would make him feel better. The only person who ever answered his vents was Riley, but that would never happen again. ³I know you can¶t answer me Tally. But I am never going to hear his laugh again. I¶ve called his cell phone five times, just to hear his freaking voice, Tally. His damned voice,´ Asher ranted. Only a few months back, Asher had been venting to Riley. ³She flirts with me and stuff, I think! But why won¶t she go out with me?!´ Asher had said. ³I don¶t know man, but it¶s not fair to you. I¶m here for you, man.´ The memory made Asher cry more, which made him even more inaudible. Tally kept listening, but Asher was sure of it that Tally could not understand his deep conversation. For hours, he talked about death and how unfair everything had been for the past few days. How nothing seemed to matter anymore, now that Riley was dead. He listened to the one time Tally talked, reassuring herself more than anyone, that he was not going to kill himself. It went on until 3 A.M. Finally, Asher fell asleep to the sound of his own voice.

Chapter 11: Mr. Williams

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

When he had met his future wife in college, Robert Williams had been amused to find that they had the same last name. When they got married, it made life much easier for everyone to not worry about any name changes. When they had divorced, it hadn¶t been very confusing for the children, since their last names were still the same as their mother. The downfall of the pouring rain that night was hard enough to almost hurt. Robert Williams walked almost ten miles. His car had been towed before, but there was no stopping this trip. There was a video Robert always watched. He had kept it with him after he left his family. It was a video of him holding Riley and Aimee¶s hands, spinning in a circle, playing ³Ring Around the Rosey.´ He had played it with them at least ten times that day, before he had finally escaped the repetitive havoc of children. It was the only memory he could keep of his children laughing. The laughter was music to his ears. Yet, it always made him wonder if Riley and Aimee even remembered him. He liked to think they did. Finally, he got to the point of pressure he expected ± walking up the steps of the porch. He took in a deep breath and rang the doorbell. After seconds, the door opened. His ex-wife looked at him and barely whispered something that he only heard because he expected it. ³Bobby..."

Chapter 12: Ms. Williams

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Claire Williams could not believe her eyes. The man that she had once loved, once breathed for had returned. When the split second of memory came back, the anger overtook her. All of a sudden, her hand came down on his cheek with a side-splitting noise. The pain had made his eyes water and his cheeks red, but he looked at her and smiled. ³You never changed, did you Claire Bear?´ ³Oh my gosh, this is the sixth time he¶s left flowers at my door,´ Claire had whined to her best friend over the phone. Robert Williams was basically stalking her and making her incredibly uncomfortable. ³I think you¶re going to give in Claire. He¶s pretty cute, you know,´ her best friend had replied. Claire, of course, had immediately hung up on her. When people disagreed with her, she had a tendency to overreact. Suddenly, Claire Williams¶s windows cracked and she let out a high-pitched shriek. She looked down and saw Robert standing there, with a sheepish grin on his face. ³It works so much better in the movies,´ he had said with a chuckle. ³Go away!´ she had screamed. But he hadn¶t budged. And he didn¶t for two years. Finally, Claire gave in, and it was true love. Sure it was a cliché story, but it was true, and that was really what mattered to Claire. In the end, he had gotten her. ³You sure did,´ Claire had responded, with a glare. ³Remember that kid we had together, Riley? Yeah, he¶s dead now. Hope you¶re happy.´ Robert¶s face had suddenly gone serious and Claire wasn¶t sure if she had a mistake, or if she had gotten what she wanted. ³I know, Claire. That¶s why I¶m here.´

Claire could only look at him, the tears burning in her eyes. She willed them to not fall; she didn¶t want to seem weak in front of the man who had shown her what love was and then abruptly left. Claire had half a mind right there to slam the door on his face and never see him again. But the other half screamed louder and said, ³He could come back to you!´ She moved aside and motioned for him to come in. ³Thank you, Claire.´ ³For what?´ ³Letting me back in.´

Chapter 13: Aimee

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Aimee vaguely recognized the man at the door. No one had noticed her peeking out and checking to see whom her mother was talking to. But when Aimee¶s mind registered the fact that the man was her birth father, her face became red with anger. When her mom came in after hearing a crash and saw Aimee on the ground with shards of mirror around her and a broken alarm clock, she shouldn¶t have been surprised. Aimee knew she shouldn¶t have been causing her mother grief. It was terrible of her, after all the things that were already happening one after another. Riley¶s death, her ex-husband¶s return ± she knew it was unfair of her, but she did it anyway. ³What in God¶s name are you doing, Aimee!´ ³Why is he back? Why the hell is he coming back now, after all this time? Why can¶t he just stay out?´ she poured out the rhetorical questions, speaking almost too fast for coherence. ³Aimee, we have to listen to him. He might ± ³ ³Just shut up!´ Aimee interrupted. ³He left you, Mom! You can¶t possibly forgive him now!´ ³Why not?´

After Aimee had washed up and swept up the glass, she had walked downstairs, trying to be as civilized as possible. ³Aimee«´ her dad barely breathed. ³Hello Robert,´ Aimee replied, a grim look on her face. ³I heard about Riley,´ he squirmed uneasily.

She looked down, but immediately looked back up, trying to hide her moment of weakness. ³I¶m sorry,´ he finally said what she had been waiting for. ³For what? Leaving us out of nowhere, or not being here for anything?´ ³I didn¶t want to leave, Aimee. I wanted to stay for you, Riley, and your mother, but the circumstances ± ³ ³Riley needed you. But of course, you would only come back after he dies. What, scared of karma now?´ ³Aimee!´ her mother scolded. ³Come on Riley, run faster!´ They were barely four and five, but they were running through the woods area behind their house as fast as they could, with no shoes on. ³Ow, Aimee, my feet hurt!´ Riley had whined, with bleeding feet. ³Come on, if you wanna scare Mommy and Daddy, you have to run faster!´ she commanded. Finally, after they hid, they giggled when they heard their parents¶ calls. They smirked when they saw neighbors looking for them. They realized how wrong they were when they saw the police. When they finally came out with a ³gotchya!´ they had been in deep trouble. Especially from their dad. He had lectured them on how deeply disappointed he was in them for doing what they had done. That¶s why it had been most surprising when he had left only a month later.

³No, Claire, she¶s right,´ her father had said, surprising her to the point of speechlessness. ³I hate you,´ she finally whispered, a minute later, running back upstairs, the tears streaming back down her red cheeks.

Chapter 14: Talia

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

It was still raining harder than ever. Just another thing Talia couldn¶t control about the world around her. It was hard to fall asleep to calming rain when the same could not be said of her mind. If she could, she would bring Riley back to life. Only for selfish purposes. The thought of this made Tally feel even worse. The fact that Asher was going through his own personal hell made her feel almost as bad. The math final was only a day away, and Tally knew nothing. Studying was a drag, so when she got a call in the evening, she gladly pried her eyes away from the review work and quickly picked up. ³Tally?´the voice on the other end spoke. ³Um, yes« who is this?´ ³It¶s Riley. I¶m worried about Asher.´ Tally had worried herself sick, hearing about Asher¶s venture to a party the other night and how he had not returned. He had told his mother he was going to sleepover at his friend¶s house, so no one in the family was worried, but Riley¶s anxiety outshined his calmness. In the end, he had fallen asleep on the side of a road, and Riley and Tally had dragged him back home. The memory made Tally clench her fists, until the blood flow stopped in them. Asher had long fallen asleep, tiring himself out from the tears. He had left Tally stunned. The words Asher had spoken ± the ones she could grasp, at least ± were so full of anger and melancholy. Both had apparently transferred into her. He just had to die. Couldn¶t bear staying alive. Couldn¶t just stay home this one day and not get hit by a damn car.

Her own thoughts had made her feel despicable, had made her loathe herself. Yet, they had made her feel released and free. It wasn¶t fair to blame Riley for dying, but then she couldn¶t blame anyone. And that was one thing she could not live with ± she had to blame someone for Asher¶s pain, otherwise she¶d blame herself. And that would make her even more selfish than her thoughts could possibly handle. If only Tally could stop time in its tracks. Then maybe her mind could be at peace and she wouldn¶t have to think of Riley Wiliams¶s own selfishness in dying. The only way she could think of the situation. Only an hour later did Tally learn the hard way that controlling one¶s thoughts required more effort than possibly anything else in the world. And until one could do that, sleep was impossible.

Chapter 16: Asher

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Sleep was almost impossible for Asher. He had awoken by seven in the morning, panting and sweating harder than he did after a basketball tournament. The dreams were always the same. He had consented to hanging out with Riley, instead of doing his work. He called Riley back, claiming he could do his work later, and put on his purple jacket, heading out to wait for Riley to come by. Two minutes later, they were out walking to the grocery store for a Hershey¶s bar, or two. As they were crossing the street, a beat up Toyota Corolla came out rushing at over ninety miles per hour. Before Asher had time to think, the car struck him and Riley, and they both flew over the windshield. The last thing he always saw before waking up was Riley¶s bloodied body, laying face-down on the ground with no pulse whatsoever. It was the fourth time he¶d had the dream, and the fourth time he¶d gotten only four hours of sleep. He lethargically got out of his bed and prepared for the long day ahead of him at school. School had become even harder to bear with. Posters were stuck all around the halls with Riley¶s smiling face on them, preaching about the grief counselors who were to be at school all month. Asher himself hadn¶t gone to seen one, but most of his and Riley¶s mutual friends had gone, truly believing it would help with the pain. Asher was skeptical about everything, though. It wasn¶t strange, since his father was a call-in investigator for departments around the world. So, it surprised everyone when Asher decided to walk in and try the counselor out. He would do anything for the nightmares to go away. The images of Riley¶s battered body haunted him through the day. If this counselor would make the blood go away, then what was there to lose?

The woman was wearing bright red lipstick and had strangely small lips that seemed to be pursed inward, as if she was afraid the lipstick would fall off. ³Hello,´ she spoke with a kind voice and gave Asher a closed-mouthed smile, tilting her head to the left a bit. ³Hi,´ Asher awkwardly responded, not quite sure what he was supposed to do, feeling foolish of trying it in the first place. ³I suppose you are here to deal with the grief of Riley Williams, correct?´ ³Yeah« he was my best friend,´ Asher quietly said, trying his best not to sound rude, or even apathetic. ³How do you feel right now about the situation, then?´ she asked, once again seemingly sympathetic. Her hands were folded onto her lap, and her body seemed to be leaning toward him. ³I« I¶m sad about it. I¶m losing sleep over it« how am I supposed to feel?´ he demanded, as the redness of anger spread throughout his cheeks. She stayed quiet for a minute, or two, and then spoke again quietly, ³It¶s okay to be angry. It is okay to hate everything around you. It¶s all normal.´ Asher broke down crying, a habit that he seemed to have developed lately. ³I dream about it« I dream that I¶m there with him, and I dream about the car hitting him, and it hurts so bad, oh God,´ he rambled and incoherently said through the tears. The counselor was still looking into his eyes, as if she could see his soul through them. ³That¶s normal, too. That¶s how your brain deals with grief.´

³How do I make it stop? How do I make it just all go away?´ he mumbled through tears. ³You take your mind off of it and you do new things. You move on. That¶s the only thing you can do, Asher,´ the woman carefully responded. ³I can¶t, don¶t you get it? I just can¶t,´ he rose his voice, wiping the tears from his cheeks. After an awkward pause and more sympathetic glances from the counselor, he got out of his seat and finally said, ³Thank you. You really helped me. I¶ll try my best to move on.´ She smiled her close-mouthed smile and waved to him, as he walked out of the room. In reality, Asher knew her advice would never help him. If moving on were that easy, he¶d have done it already. The nightmare of his best friend would be with him forever, apparently.

Chapter 15: Lindy

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

It had been three days since Riley¶s death. Not a piece of food had entered Lindy¶s stomach. But the pain of hunger felt better than the pain of grief. She had lost all energy and could not leave her bed. Her mother¶s pleas seemed to be far from her, and it almost felt as if life itself were suffocating her. The weight dropped quickly, something she didn¶t expect to happen. The frailty of her body became apparent within thirty-six hours. The dehydration had caused her body to lose all color. Closing her eyes seemed to be like a battle with death at all times. Then at one point, it became a true, all-out war. The light came closer and closer, and Lindy did not dodge it, nor did she move toward it. She let it come near and let it overtake her entire being. She began to walk across the tunnel of light, seeing her beloved Riley at the end of the tunnel, that seemed to never end. ³Riley,´ she whispered, somehow regaining the lost strength. ³No, Lindy, it¶s not your time. Go back. I need you be alive, I need you to eat. It¶s not your time.´ ³Riley, I need to be with you« don¶t you want me here?´ ³Of course I do, Lindy. But I can¶t screw with fate. I might be a rebel, but even I can¶t do that much,´ he said with a wink. Lindy couldn¶t help but to smile through her tears. She knew he was right. ³One last moment, please« I love you Riley Williams.´ ³I love you too Lindy Baum. Go back, go eat. You look like crap, not going to lie,´ he chuckled.

She would have slapped him lightly, if he were close, but she just laughed through the salty tears. ³Goodbye,´ he spoke, with a tenderness to his voice that Lindy could not help but obey. ³Bye Ri,´ she whispered. Her eyelids fluttered open, as she saw her worried mother panicking. ³Hi Mom,´ Lindy croaked out. ³I thought you were going to leave me forever, Friedlinde! What the heck is wrong with you! Can¶t you be civil and eat?!´ ³Don¶t call me Friedlinde, Mother,´ Lindy groaned, mustering up her energy to get up and take the sandwich out of her mom¶s hands. As she graciously munched, her mother stared in awe at the sudden change in character, but didn¶t question. The experience was Lindy¶s own ± she was never going to tell anyone about her true last moments with her love. All that mattered was that it had made her regain happiness, as if he was alive and once more in her arms.

Chapter 17: Delaney

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Delaney had heard that grieving and sadness, among other things, could break up a friendship, and it often did. But she never believed that it could happen to Aimee and herself ± they had seemed unbreakable, with a bond that lasted forever. Delaney had come over to work on homework. It was advised for Aimee to keep working and not lose sight of her future because of Riley¶s death, so things were to go on as normal. As Delaney bit into her cherry lollipop, she could feel Aimee¶s death stares. ³What?´ she mumbled through a mouthful. ³You¶re disgusting,´ Aimee grimaced. ³Whatever,´ Delaney smiled a toothy smile, with the pieces of the sucker still in her mouth. ³You know, Laney, I¶m not trying to be mean, but I don¶t think I can pay much attention to my work while you¶re here. Maybe you should go home,´ Aimee slowly said, as if trying to carefully choose her words. Fifteen minutes later, Delaney was laying on her bed staring at the ceiling. She was holding back the tears ± she was always the first to cry. Aimee hadn¶t told her anything lately. The night before, she hadn¶t answered any of Delaney¶s texts. Then today, she merely said something or another about her father returning, but quickly changed the subject to homework. She was losing Aimee. And fast. The fact that she couldn¶t do anything about it hurt even more than that fact. The ³What if¶s´ sporadically ran through her mind, continuously. What What What What if if if if Riley hadn¶t died? Delaney had died instead? Aimee had died instead? Riley and Aimee hadn¶t been so close?

Delaney reflexively wiped the first tear that came out of her eyes and sat up. Who was she to care about the stupid friendship, anyways? She wasn¶t going to try anymore ± Aimee could find a new best friend. Riley may have died, but that didn¶t make Delaney a murderer and Aimee had no reason to treat her as one. She was, as she always said, officially done.

Chapter 18: Ms. Williams

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

It struck Claire how many lives could shatter in a minute. How many people in the world died every second. How many tears a human being could possibly release in a day, without even dehydrating. Words were unspoken after Aimee threw a fit. The man she had once loved with all her heart sat there in silence, as if they were two strangers who had never shared passion and heat. Claire finally took the first step in breaking the silence. ³So, how did you hear?´ ³I actually saw it on the news,´ he replied, a little awkwardly. ³Oh, I didn¶t know Riley made it up there. He always did want to be on TV,´ Claire smiled. Robert nodded, and Claire guessed he was uneasy. She didn¶t want to ask any life and death questions, but so many ran through her mind. ³What made you come back« after the funeral, I mean?´ Claire asked, afraid of angering him. ³I have one kid left, now. I thought that maybe if I keep in close touch with her, it¶ll make up for missing so much of Riley¶s life.´ Claire nodded, though inside her mind pounded and shrieked, calling him nasty things. ³She¶ll forgive you. She always did love you more,´ Claire chuckled. ³I know it doesn¶t mean anything, but I promise you that I am sorry. I shouldn¶t have left you guys like that. I shouldn¶t have left you like that. It was the biggest mistake I ever made.´

³I¶m sorry that it took you so long. I forgive you, but don¶t expect any mending to happen. You can¶t recreate a family from the ground up, so what makes you think you can when we¶re even lower than that?´

Chapter 19: Aimee

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

It was considerably a good habit. She always tried to make herself do work, so why not give her little brother a memorial service? She began to think of empty places and who to invite. ³Aimee, I don¶t get it, where¶d Daddy go?´ Riley spoke through tears. ³I think he¶s just on vacation, Ri,´ Aimee tried to hold her own tears back. ³Are you sure? Mommy seems confused,´ he had dubiously said. He was four, and it was his job to question everyone until they were sick of him. Aimee had felt so old and mature ± she was the one mending her brother¶s broken heart now. If she could go back to that day, she would. Holding her brother¶s heart in her hands had felt so powerful, so mature. This memorial service had to be the best ± nothing else would do Riley justice.

Chapter 20: Asher

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

It had become too much to handle. He kept his balance right, but he staggered only slightly ± but even that much could have killed him without hope. He stood on the ledge of his parents¶ balcony. They were out somewhere, and he had planned this out to an extent. He couldn¶t take it anymore. He needed Riley to live, and now that Riley was gone, Asher found no reason to keep going. The thoughts in his mind were racing, as if on NASCAR. Everything seemed to pound through his brain, screaming ³Memories don¶t return.´ Everything around him was degrading, falling to pieces ± devastation was not something he could handle. Falling off that balcony would give him another chance to be with his best friend, to relive the good times. It was going to be perfect. Until he heard her voice. ³What are you doing, Asher?!´ Luckily for Aimee, Asher fell backwards and on top of her. ³Ow,´ they simultaneously said. ³Aimee? What are you doing here?´ Asher asked, dumbfounded. ³I was coming over to invite you to Riley¶s memorial service, but no one answered the door, and it was unlocked, so I let myself in. Thankfully, too. What the hell were you doing up there?´ ³Nothing. It doesn¶t matter.´ ³He wouldn¶t have wanted you to do it. He would want you to live,´ Aimee had said to him, so bluntly, that it almost stabbed him through the heart.

Asher could only nod. It was hard to live life, but he had to. ³I don¶t want to leave you here, so you have to come over,´ she ordered, with a smile. He nodded, redeeming the little dignity he had left. Aimee had been like an older sister to him. He couldn¶t leave her and all the other people. The epiphany was mind-blowing. He was going to make Riley proud.

Chapter 21: Lindy

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Lindy had always heard about life-changing experiences, never really had one. It was strange to consider that the ³dream´ had been one of those stories she always heard about on the news. She ate healthily, and her relationship with her mother even grew stronger. She had collected a box full of Riley¶s things that he had left around her house ± she assumed that Riley¶s mother would want them back for memories. She hummed in the car, as her mother drove her to the Williams¶s house. It was always going to be weird with no Riley around, but Lindy saw no reason that her and Aimee could not be friends. As she lugged the heavy box to the door, she took in a deep breath. No matter how she seemed on the outside, her insides still pounded, as if her organs were going to explode or digest themselves. When she finally rung the doorbell and saw Claire Williams, she smiled, explaining her reasoning. Riley¶s mother nodded with a smile that seemed almost painful. Lindy didn¶t blame her, but it was hard not to be offended at all. After the second denial of going inside the house, for fear that memories would overtake her, she saw Aimee come down the stairs with Asher right behind her. She smiled at the two, remembering how Riley had always said that Asher was going to be his Best Man at their wedding. ³Hi guys,´ Lindy offered a small wave. She still wasn¶t sure how to handle human contact with people who felt exactly the same way as her. ³Hey Lind, I was just thinking about you,´ Aimee started, ³you have to come to Riley¶s memorial that I¶m holding Saturday night!´ Lindy hesitantly nodded, ³Uh, yeah, sure!´

Lindy supposed Aimee passed off the hesitance as shyness, when in reality, Lindy wasn¶t quite sure how to handle a memorial ceremony. It required talking about the dead person, and Lindy was trying her best to forget and to tune out all memories. But all Lindy could do at that point was nod and smile ± something Riley had taught her well.

Chapter 22: Aimee

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Surprisingly, planning the whole event had not been too hard. She had gotten most people invited either over the phone or in person, and she had remembered her and Riley¶s old clubhouse when they were younger. ³Are you sure we can use this place, Aimee?´ Riley had asked, unsure of the legality of what they were doing. ³It¶s an abandoned shed, sure we can! No one needs it!´ Ever since that day, they had went every week for a year, sometimes with their friends. They had made clubhouse rules and put a lounge chair in there, as well. They had named it the Rimee Club. Aimee chuckled at the name ± they had definitely not been the most creative of children. The shed, to the day, was still abandoned, luckily. She had worked for a few days to clean it out, and had even found her and Riley¶s old ³Rimee Club´ sign, that had bird poop all over it. She smiled at the memories of her little brother arguing, so that he could write it. She had asked everyone to write a little note about Riley ± it could be long or short, she just wanted everyone to share his memories. It was Friday night, and she was still studiously working on hers. It had turned out to not fulfill her idea of a speech about twenty-four times. Trees were dying on her account, yet Riley¶s ghost was still not satisfied with her memories. Finally, at four in the morning, she fell asleep, writing the last word to her tribute to her deceased little brother.

Chapter 23: Delaney

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

Aimee had called her and gone forth with an awkward conversation. Delaney had been told to meet her at a shed, or something, for a memorial service. Laney knew that they were going to be okay ± she just didn¶t like the part in between. It was Friday night, and she had to pick out what to wear to the memorial. She also had to say a little bit about Riley, although she had barely known him. She still wasn¶t sure what she was going to say, but she decided to wear a white dress, with a black floral design on it. It was funny how she could focus more on the fashion-side than speaking for her best friend¶s little brother. It almost made her feel selfish. As she sat down at her desk, it was 9:00PM. In thirty minutes, she had written a little note about Riley - it didn¶t mean much, but she had tried. It was as if, because Riley¶s death had made her lose Aimee, she was spiteful against him. It almost made her feel like a terrible person. Yet, it didn¶t. Delaney fell asleep early that night, all ready to get to the memorial by ten.

Chapter 24: Asher

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

He was the second to get there, after Aimee. She seemed tired, dark bags under her eyes. ³Hi,´ Asher softly spoke. He got a smile in return from his best friend¶s sister. When she smiled, she almost looked like him ± it made Asher nostalgic. In due time, everyone had gotten there. Even Riley¶s parents had showed up, with their own speeches ready. By the time they started, it was 10:45. It was hard to pay attention these days. Asher could barely listen to one sound for more than a few seconds. Somehow, he kept himself listening to Aimee, as she spoke: ³Hi everyone. We¶re all here in memory of Riley,´ she said, the tears already welling up in her eyes. ³I asked all of you to prepare a little something to say for him, so« who wants to go first?´ Looking around, no one rose their hand, so Asher stood up. ³I¶ll do it,´ he said, walking to the black and white picture of Riley that Aimee had set up as the ³podium´ area. As Asher got up there, his knees slightly wobbled. He hadn¶t realized how personal it would be to speak to the group. ³Riley Williams was my best friend. My go-to man. He was basically my soul brother. I don¶t know where I would be today, without him. Ever since we were little, he¶s metaphorically held my hand through all the girl troubles and all the friend troubles I had.´ Asher looked around, everyone staring at him. It was more of a cautious stare, than a sympathetic. He knew they were afraid that he would blow up any second. That his inner-core would explode, and the pieces would be right in front of their viewing.

³I still remember the first thought I had when he told me he was only eight. What a little kid, how am I going to be friends with him? He¶s two years younger than me. But Riley was so mature, he seemed older than me. He was like my older brother, at times, holding me down when I couldn¶t control myself. He taught me what a best friend is. I am still wondering how I¶ll survive without him,´ Asher continued, as his voice broke. The tears began to crawl up from his heart to his eyes. His five-minute time was almost up, so he began to close his speech. If the tears came, he wouldn¶t be able to, so he quickly spoke, ³And now my wingman is gone. I have no partner in crime. Riley Williams, I loved you. You were the best friend I could ever ask for, and I¶m always going to miss you. I¶m sorry we could never live together, like we planned,´ Asher gasped out, walking to his sitting area, Aimee comforting him with a hug. It was over, and Riley was definitely gone. And God, did that hurt more than anything in the world, the realization of that.

Chapter 25: Aimee

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

As Aimee got up there, she took a deep breath. She didn¶t expect to not cry during her little speech about Riley ± on the contrary, she expected to bawl her eyes out. It was hard to stay strong when your own little brother had just died, after all. ³Hi everyone,´ Aimee¶s voice quivered, as she began to speak. ³I guess if I had to give myself a label for Riley and my relationship, we were siblings. Obviously. But, the thing is, we were more than that. Riley was like my best friend, the one person I could go to when the rest of the world walked out.´ She thought it would get easier when she got into the hang of it. But it didn¶t. She guessed that it never did. It would always hurt. ³I always hear about siblings that basically hate each other. They never talk again after they move out. I always wondered how that could happen. Riley and I were like two peas in a pod ± inseparable. So, when he died, it wasn¶t fair to me. It wasn¶t fair. I actually loved my brother, and the reward I got was him dying,´ Aimee began to cry. The room was death silent, except for the whimpers of her cry. The silence lasted only a few seconds, but it was long enough for the world to turn upside down and back around. ³I¶m trying to move on, I promise. I know Riley would have wanted me to. God, would he be mad right now that I¶m still hung up over this. He always said I was a drama queen, and I guess I am. All I know for sure is that I miss him. That I love him. The only thing is, I lost him. So, am I not a sister anymore, or am I Riley Williams¶ sister forever?´ She couldn¶t go on after that. The weeping had taken over her speech ± words became incoherent. But then again, words had become useless long ago.

Chapter 26: Ms. Williams

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

At first, Claire would have never spoken in front of Riley¶s friends ± not in a million years. But Aimee¶s adamant pleas had convinced her otherwise ± disappointing the one child she had left was probably not in her best interest. The thought hit her that once you reached adulthood, crying in front of teenagers was frowned upon. You were supposed to be strong, no matter what. But what if that was the last thing you could do? What if being strong meant pushing away the only release you had left? ³There are some moments, especially when I wake up, where I think that my Riley is still alive. Sometimes, late at night, I¶ll wake up because I thought I heard him next door, and that I need to check up on him. Every single time it happens, it¶s like an incessant reminder that my son is dead.´ So far, so good. The lump in her throat had formed long ago, but it had basically become permanent. Everyone was crying, except for her and her ex-husband. It almost made her angry that he wasn¶t, only because it made her realize that he had left her and her family. He shouldn¶t have been there ± he was a stranger. ³I never had a moment where I didn¶t love Riles. He was so sweet, so caring, so perfect. Losing him was like losing a large chunk of my heart ± one that I won¶t ever get back. I hope my sweetie is in the paradise that he deserves to be. I hope that all his pain is taken away. I know that he¶s watching over all of us right now. Our sweet and perfect guardian angel.´ It was at that moment she realized she was going to have a breakdown. It was also at that moment that she realized what the two words break and down meant together ± she was breaking closer to the ground than ever, and it hurt more than anything.

Chapter 27: Delaney

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When Delaney showed up, she had a speech in hand. Listening to her comrades¶ speeches had definitely put her writing into a death-coma. She knew it wasn¶t a competition, but she had barely known the kid. What was she supposed to say? ³Um, so I guess I should start off with how Riley was basically just my best friend¶s little brother to me. God, that sounds terrible,´ she chuckled, sounding like a nervous wreck already. Public speaking wasn¶t really her strong point. The room silently stared at her; it was true that silence sometimes screamed louder than words. At that point, her voice could not make it over the raging noises. ³I¶m partly the reason he split his head when he was younger. The only time I talked to him after that was to throw my best friend her surprise party. Riley« Riley really loved his sister and friends. I could tell, that day. He had this kind of shine in his eyes when Aimee walked in. Like, her happiness was his drug,´ Delaney barely choked out. She could see Aimee¶s eyes glazing over. The tears had literally run out ± a feat that Delaney had not thought possible. ³I¶m going to miss Riley¶s smiling face every single day. I¶m so sorry, Aimee. I really am,´ Delaney apologized, as the water welled down her face. In the next three seconds, Delaney had suddenly gone from the speech to hugging Aimee for a prolonged amount of time. The worst was over ± they were all going to get through this.

Chapter 28: Mr. Williams

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Robert was overwhelmed ± all the thoughts about the son he had never really gotten to know. From the sound of it, his son had grown up to affect everyone he met. Much better than Robert could be in a million years. It was a strange feeling to be envious of your deceased son. The thought of it made it seem depressing, but in reality, Robert really looked up to his child. Robert licked his dry lips, and began to speak, ³Hi guys. I¶m not sure if all of you know me« but I¶m Riley¶s biological father.´ He paused for a second to look at everyone¶s facial expressions. Some were clearly surprised, while others contained their feelings. One in particular showed anger ± Riley¶s best friend, Asher. Robert didn¶t hesitate to make the assumption that Riley had told Asher his father was a crook who left his children to make himself a better life. Then again, he really wasn¶t much better than that. ³What I remember of Riley is holding his little body when he was just born ± he was so tiny. I remember looking at him and going, µWow, my son is going to be perfect when he grows up.¶ I¶m proud to say that I was right. Not that I can say from first-hand experience, but from what all of you have said, he was truly kind.´ Some of the facial expressions relaxed; some still seemed firm. As if he did not deserve to stand up there and speak about the son he hadn¶t seen in over ten years. But who was to say that he did? ³I have this one memory of him that I try to hold on as tight as possible to. He was in preschool, a little less than a year before I left. Around Father¶s Day, he made me this card, and his teacher helped him write µI love you, Dad¶ inside. I still have it,´ he slowly spoke, taking out the card from his

pocket. It was crumpled from being stuffed in his pocket, as well as yellowed from age. Robert began to cry. The tears were not merely of sadness, but of regret. Of jealousy. He was jealous of all the people that had made the right choices and gotten to know such an amiable person. It had been so long that Robert had forgotten why he had ever left. Why had he broken up a family? He had done one of the evilest deeds possible and taken away two little children¶s happiness and sense of togetherness. He was the true villain in the story, shedding black tears of misfortune. ³I should have never left,´ he softly finished, going back to his secluded spot on the ground. It was the next realization that struck him; every action had a reaction. What if he had stayed and not peeled the glue off his family? What if that one decision could have saved Riley¶s life? What if he was responsible for his own son¶s death?

Chapter 29: Talia

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When Talia walked up for her turn, she flashed a quick smile at Asher. He gave her a sad half-smile back, but it was better than nothing. ³Well, me and Riley weren¶t best friends, but we were best friends to the same person. So, I guess it counts for something,´ Talia started, without a thought. Public speaking wasn¶t difficult for her, even memorial speeches, so she wrote up a quick speech the night before. ³When we were really little, like before we can even remember, we were great friends. Our families hung out everyday, and we went on random camping trips together. I can barely remember it, but I remember that Riley, Aimee, and I would always go on trails together and take toothy grinning pictures at the top,´ she continued with a chuckle. The room was attentive, tears on everyone¶s faces. It was inevitable ± everyone was going to cry. But Talia hadn¶t yet. Did that make her evil? ³When I saw Riley again after the longest time, it was weird. We were kind of connected by this old bond, but we didn¶t rekindle our best friendship. Now, I wish we had ± it would make for less regrets. But what I know is that Riley was an amazing person and he touched the hearts of so many,´ Talia did the opposite of what everyone was doing and smiled. ³What¶s wrong with me,´ she thought. Her smile was loudly echoing throughout the room. She was an idiot. How could she be smiling so stupidly right then? ³Even though I didn¶t know him all that well as his older self, I¶m going to miss him so much. He was always there for everyone. Not many people can say that about themselves. Riley Williams will always be in our hearts,´ she ended, still smiling. All eyes were on her ± some seemed patronizing. Possibly the person who hated her the most right then was herself.

³I am such an idiot,´ she whispered to herself as she walked back to her seat. ³No, you¶re not,´ Asher responded with a wink.

Chapter 30: Lindy

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Friedlinde Baum carefully stood up and slowly walked to the gorgeous picture of Riley. To Lindy, he was perfect, flaws and all. Before she spoke, she softly touched her fingers down the picture. Maybe Riley would feel it in Heaven. ³Hi everyone,´ Lindy uncomfortably began. She honestly had no idea what to say. She didn¶t want to repeat her eulogy, but then again, what choice did she have? ³When I first met Riley, he pushed me off a swing. When I first kissed him, or rather, he kissed me, we were in a moonbounce for my birthday. When I asked him out, sorry Riley, spoiled the secret, it was at his house. And now, I¶m in the one place we don¶t have memories. So, I guess this is our new memory,´ Lindy began to ramble. Her breathing became short ± there was not enough oxygen to share in the room at that point. ³He was definitely my boyfriend, but he was also my best friend. Not a lot of people can say that, I realize it now. Riley, I could tell him anything, and he would never judge me. He wasn¶t like any other boy I ever met, to be honest. He cared about me, for real. It wasn¶t just a façade to get with me, he wanted to be with me,´ Lindy paused for a breath. All eyes were on her. She was in the spotlight. She had always been in Riley¶s spotlight. ³I never in a million years thought I would experience true love before I went to college. But Riley, he proved me wrong. He always did. He was always right, even when I didn¶t want him to be. I couldn¶t believe how perfect he was ± perfect for me, at least,´ she kept going on. God, she felt so superficial. She was stating the obvious. What more could she do? ³He made me feel on top of the world, though. He would have brought me the moon if I had asked. The trouble with him was, if I ever got mad at him, and I needed a best friend to turn to, it was impossible ± they were both the same person,´ she chuckled. Her large eyes wandered across the room once

more, as if searching for Riley¶s familiar face. But sadly, they looked to no avail. ³Once upon a time, Riley and I were a real-life fairytale. But now, we¶re a true tragedy,´ she enunciated. She had always been a quick speaker ± it sometimes annoyed Riley who could never understand what she was saying. Tears did not leave anyone¶s eyes alone. There were tears of regret, of jealousy, of misfortune, of love, of grief, but most of all there were tears of missing a boy who had, at one point, impacted each and every one of them.

Chapter 31: Riley

3/9/2010 10:28:00 PM

It was a funny thing, death. One moment you could be breathing to your fullest potential, and the next you would be gone. Gone somewhere no one really knows about. I didn¶t do anything wrong ± I crossed the street. No jaywalking, or anything. The beat up Honda was unexpected. I was a deer caught in the headlights. I wish I could tell you what happened those long and painful nanoseconds. I don¶t remember the impact. I can¶t recollect the driver zooming past my lifeless body in drunken panic. I do remember the flash ± stories said it would be white, but mine was red. Red like blood. And what I saw ± it hurt. It pushed me to live ± I tried. I really did. Lindy¶s face ± she was beautiful, as always. I always thought that was the perfect word to describe her. Beautiful. Next to her was everyone else; Asher, Aimee, Mom. The memories rushed at me like a river ± it frightened me. I pushed it away ± I was so happy alive. How was I supposed to marry Lindy? Support my mother? Find my biological father someday? Throw Asher a bachelor party? Yet still, the red color overtook me. Until everything was darkened. And I knew right then that I was nonexistent ± a mere lifeless body.

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