Rylie rested her chin on the side of the table as she tried to balance the unlit cigarette.
The dream she had the night before was tormenting her and she couldn't get it out of her head.
Rylie opened the door to the small diner, and warmth immediately hit her, flooding into her body, and taking away the icy feeling left behind by the snowy night.
She unwrapped the fuzzy scarf around her neck, and hooked it on the coat hanger. She then shed her coat, and snow-chunked mittens.
"Marie, I would love a cup of hot chocolate." she smiled at the waitress behind the counter, and walked over to the stool.
That was the diner she regularly hung out at in the big city. She had been living in New York for a couple years, and staying in the apartment with Summer and Ashton. She had nowhere else. She had no job; no friends; Summer and Ashton were even tired of her laziness. She was never going to go anywhere in life, so she plastered a fake smile on her face, and dealt with it.
Rylie turned around, and her eyes grew wide.
"Rylie Higgins?" Luke got up from his place at the booth, and walked over to her. His face was bewildered.
Rylie gulped. She had hoped she would never see him again. "Luke..." she breathed out, and turned back around to watch Marie place the small cup in front of her.
Luke sat down beside her, and watched her take a sip. "H-how are you doing?" His voice was deeper, and the corners of his lips lifted up in a small smile.
Rylie glanced at them, remembering how much she loved those lips. His lips ring was gone, but his lips were still a light shade of pink, and they still held so much love behind them.
"I'm...grand." Rylie lifted her cup up to her lips, but stopped, and looked back at Luke. "How are you?"
Luke smiled at the stained table beneath him. "I'm-"
The bell at the top of the door chimed as another person entered the unpopular diner.
"Luke!" the tall woman with the rosy cheeks, and long blonde hair smiled brightly at Luke. She stepped towards him.
Luke glanced at Rylie quickly before getting up, and embracing the woman in a hug. He pulled away, his hands still on her hips, and brought his lips to hers.
They smiled through the kiss, and Luke pulled away. He looked so lovingly at her. Rylie practically saw the hearts flutter in his pupils.
Rylie cleared her throat, and Luke looked down at her. "Rylie...this is my..." he paused and gulped awkwardly, "wife, Leann."
Leann smiled warmly, and Rylie rolled her eyes. It was her fault. She had told him to move on. She had lied and said she didn't love him. She had allowed him to have a great life, while hers fell apart. When she had seen him, she thought it was a second chance. Maybe they could start over; get their life back on track. That was obviously not the case.
Was it a vision into the future? Was Rylie really going nowhere? The dream had troubled her all morning, and she found herself outside the hotel staring at an old man on the bench next to her smoking a cigarette.
She blurted out so quickly that her mind hadn't registered it. "Can I have a cigarette?"
The old man looked at her and laughed as he pulled a carton out of his pocket, and flipped the cap up, grabbing one, and handing it to her.
Rylie examined it in her hands, and shook her head as the man offered his lighter. She got up, and headed back up to her room. Now she was breathing in the fresh air of the small balcony outside her room, and contemplated the cigarette as she balanced it on the plastic table.
Rylie had never even touched a cigarette, and she felt so dirty thinking about smoking one. What was so bad about it? Her life was a wreck, so why not? She had nothing to lose.
She pulled a lighter out of her jacket pocket, already knowing she would need it. She picked up the cigarette, and held it between two fingers. That was how you do it, right? She shrugged, and watched a flame erupt out of the small device, and burn away the excess of the end of the cig.
Rylie held it up to her lips, and willed herself to do it. She sucked on the small, circular killer, and immediately coughed roughly. It was hard to intake breath, but she felt a warm, almost calming feeling seep into her lungs. Rylie leaned back in her seat, and smiled, noticing all of her worries somehow evaporate into the air. Now she knew why so many people smoked; it was a temporary stress reliever; a small vacation from the harsh world.
Rylie took another drag of the cigarette, it being easier this time, and she watched the smoke escape her lips, and mesh with the blue sky. She brought her feet up to the table, and set them gently on the table, enjoying the relief.
She heard the beeping initiating the door had been opened, and Katie instantly started blabbing about her adventures.
"I went shopping!" she heard Katie yell from inside the room, and bags upon bags were thrown on her bed.
Rylie listened as footsteps shuffled towards her, and slid open the glass doors.
"Since when did you start smoking?" Katie crossed her arms, and stood beside her, looking down disapprovingly.
"Right now..." Rylie answered before she took another drag.
"Cigarettes kill, you know?" Katie nodded matter-of-factly.
Rylie looked up at her sister, and squinted in the bright light. She blew the dark smoke inside her mouth at her sister, and Katie grimaced as she waved her hand back and forth.
"I will die...just not today." Rylie said.
Katie snatched the cigarette from her hand, and threw it viciously on the ground. She brought her furry moccasin harshly down onto it, crushing the tiny item, obliterating it to pieces.
"Hey!" Rylie yelled at her sister as she crinkled her nose in disgust.
"If you're so depressed, get off your ass and do something!" Katie complained. She let out a frustrated sigh, and left the balcony.
She was right. Rylie needed to do something healthier than sit and smoke a cancer-filled stick. Where would she go? What would she do? She was in an unknown place filled with people she didn't want to see.
All Rylie wanted to do was see Michael. She wanted to be able to give him a hug, and feel his muscles tighten at her touch. She wanted to see him smile at her with that lively smile that made her feel good inside.
Rylie got up, and walked into the room, right over to the bedside table where every hotel kept a Yellow Pages.
She placed herself on the bed as she turned on the lamp, and scanned through the pages. She traced her finger down the C's, and it landed exactly where she planned. Daryl and Karen Clifford. There was their phone number and address, if they were still living in that place.
It was a brilliant idea to go see Michael's creator, and talk to them. She could understand their pain, and maybe she wouldn't feel so alone.
Rylie shook her head at the ridiculous idea. They would slam the door in her face, knowing she was the girl who killed their beloved son.
As stupid the idea was, Rylie was so tempted to. She had decided to go, but maybe she would get lucky, and it would be someone else's house. Maybe they had decided to move because of all the teenage girls stalking their lawn.
Rylie grabbed her bag from her bed, and nodded a goodbye at a distracted Katie scrolling through her bags of stuff.
It took two taxis to get to the house, but there Rylie was. She stood in front of it, and looked around at the surprisingly small and unkempt house. The concrete walls were low and stained from the age. The door that Rylie stared at was made of a cheap, dark wood that cracked in unexpected places.
She had to do this. She had to have at least one answer to her many questions. Did Michael's parents blame her for his death? Rylie had to take that one chance to find out. She knocked twice, and waited nervously for the door to open.
A blond head peeked from behind the door, and looked at Rylie. She widened the door, showing her entire body. She was short and stubby, with blonde hair and Michael's green eyes. There were still tears running from her splotched face as she smiled weakly.
"Hi, I'm-"Rylie started, but was interrupted.
"You're the girl from Mikey's funeral." Michael's mom stated.
"Um..." Rylie looked down at the dirty bricks beneath her, and gulped. "My name is Rylie..." she held out her hand, and surprisingly, the woman shook it.
Rylie looked back up and smiled at her. She hovered back and forth awkwardly. She hadn't expected to get this far. What next?
Karen sighed. "It's a little messy, but would you like to come in?" she tried to smile, but her face was too sad to even lift the corners of her mouth.
Rylie nodded appreciatively, and crossed the threshold into the home. It was messy. Boxes adorned the entire space, and clusters of nick-knacks were spread across the floor.
"Would you like something to drink? Tea? Water?" Karen asked, motioning her into the kitchen.
"Um...water would actually be really nice." Rylie smiled, glancing around the small room that she assumed was the living room, referring to the couch and TV.
Karen led her into the kitchen, and pointed to a nearby chair for her to sit at. "Sorry for the mess. We're in the process of moving." she said, placing a glass of water in front of Rylie, and sitting down across from her. She placed her hands together on the table, and watched Rylie intently take a sip.
"It's fine." Rylie tugged at her sweater anxiously feeling like she was being interrogated. She knew why they were moving; to get away from that house full of memories.
"So...I'm guessing my Michael brings you here." she sniffed, and rubbed her eyes with her sleeve.
"Yes...ma'am, " Rylie rubbed her palms against her pants leg, trying to wipe off the clamminess. "I wanted to talk about...everything. Like the little incident yesterday."
"Yes, I would love some answers." Karen nodded. She straightened her hunched shoulders, and waited for Rylie to say something.
Rylie was expecting her to be sobbing the entire time, but for a woman who had just lost her son, she was well put together. Rylie looked around the cramped kitchen, and tried to picture a little Michael tugging at his mom's skirt as she stirred something on the oven. She tried to picture the whole atmosphere more happy, and welcoming. Instead, it held such a silence in the air, making everything seem more gloomy. She tried to imagine Karen alive with a smile upon her face, and her green eyes glowing. Instead, she looked just as lifeless as Michael, like all the happiness had been ripped from her body. Her face seemed incapable of smiling, and her blonde hair streaked with gray splotches.
"Ask away." Rylie simply said.
Karen nodded. "I'm just so confused. You said you slept with my son, but it seemed yesterday that you and Luke had something going on. What was Michael to you?"
Rylie dreaded that question, and didn't know how to explain it to Karen without sounding like a complete slut. "I-Luke and I were together until he did something very bad to me. I left the tour, and after a few days, Michael came to visit me. He was a great friend, an-and I was so lonely..." Rylie burst into a fit of tears. "I'm so sorry I killed him!" she shuttered at her shame, and feared to look up at Karen.
"Oh, sweetheart, don't blame yourself!" Karen touched Rylie's shoulder. "This is most certainly not your fault!"
"I threw myself at him...and-" Rylie gasped for breath, and she held her face in her hands.
"Things happen for a reason." Karen sighed. "I don't know the reason for his death, but I do know you should not blame yourself."
Rylie looked up as the black tears rolled down her cheeks. "Really?"
Karen smiled finally, and even though the smile never touched her heart, it made her feel better.
"Do you think I could...maybe see his room?" Rylie asked sheepishly, feeling like she might impose. She was just so curious.
"Of course." Karen nodded, and got up, motioning for her to follow. She took Rylie down a short hallway, and stopped in front of the door.
"I'll let you be alone. I cried so much in this room lately, and I understand you need privacy." Karen touched Rylie's shoulder before leaving her to stand looking at his door. She was about to enter where he grew up; before she even existed in his mind.
Rylie opened the door, and glanced around the small, but sufficient room. She smiled at the posters of rock bands on the wall, and the large amount of music equipment in the corner. That was Michael.
The room had dark blue walls, and a shaggy beige carpet. There was just enough space for a bed, a dresser, and a desk, but it was stuffed with other things.
Rylie shut the door gently, and walked around the cramped space. Karen must have not started packing this room, yet. She smiled as she traced her eyes over the action figures on a shelf. She didn't want to be invasive, but she opened his drawers, and glanced in. There was some clothes crammed in one, his underwear in one, and the very last drawer had some baseball cards, a box of condoms, and a plastic bag filled with weed.
Rylie laughed at the teenager Michael was. It was only a few months he didn't occupy that room, so Rylie didn't want to know why he needed so many condoms. Nevertheless, boys will be boys.
She sighed and walked over to the guitar on a stand, and picked up a notebook beside it. She flipped through the pages, realizing they were songs. She read one, and it was actually really good.
"Mind if I take this, Michael?" she laughed at herself as she stuffed it in her bag. "I will maybe tweak these, and make sure they become hits." she wondered if Michael heard her. Was he there with her? She would never know.
Curiosity brought Rylie to his closet, and she grabbed the first t-shirt she saw. She pulled it off the hanger, and held it up to her nose, smelling that familiar scent of driftwood and apricots.
Still holding it close to her chest, Rylie walked over, and sat at the edge of his bed. His gray comforter was smooth beneath her.
"Michael..." Rylie called out, not expecting an answer. It was so hard being in his room, knowing he could never be in it again. It was the first and last time Rylie would see it. She pictured Luke and her going to Australia, and Michael invited her over. Michael showed her his room, and told her to disregard the messiness as she watched him pull dirty clothes off the floor. That would never happen.
"Michael, I'm sorry..."Rylie felt her eyes watering, and the tears coming. "I'm sorry all this has happened. I'm sorry I will never see you again."
She glanced over at his desk, and saw a picture of him with Luke and Calum. They looked so young, so alive. Michael's smile was so bright. He was genuinely happy, and now...
"If I could go back in time, if I could just change-" Rylie shook her head, spilling hopeless words. She watched teardrops fall on Michael's shirt.
She was so heartbroken. She had lost everyone, and she couldn't get them back. Karen's words played in her mind. Everything happens for a reason. What reason would do this to Michael? What lesson can be learned from his death? It was all a cruel joke.
Rylie wiped her eyes, so sick of feeling so down. She wanted to get better, she wanted everything to go back to normal, but it couldn't. She wanted to go back on that tour, and kiss Luke. She wanted to stay up late talking with Niall or Michael. She wanted to play in the snow with Luke, and tell him she loved him. She wanted to just go back before she found out about the song, and pretend nothing happened. If only time travel was possible, she wouldn't be in so much pain.
Rylie was thinking so selfishly. She thought she was in pain. What about Michael? What about Luke? Michael must have been in pain every time he saw her and Luke together. He must be in pain knowing she needs him and he can't be there. At least he wasn't miserable towards the end. At least it was fast and painless.
And Luke. Rylie couldn't imagine the guilt he had been feeling when she found out about what he did. He was heartbroken, and to top it off, he had to hear from somebody that his best friend was gone. When his heart was piecing back together at that funeral, Rylie broke it again, telling him she didn't love him. It was a lie, but nevertheless, she spoke the words.
So many people were in pain just like Rylie, and she thought she deserved happiness. She thought she needed a miracle. Everyone was falling apart; not just her. Rylie had been thinking so selfishly, and she needed to get over herself.
Rylie got up, and fixed the comforter before wiping her eyes again, and taking a last glance around the room.
"Goodbye Michael..." she said to the ceiling.