Comfortably Numb

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Chapter 4

"H-hi dad! You're looking... great...Did pop help with your braids this morning? They look awesome." Arrow let a tiny giggle slip out, and then immediately slapped her hand across her face.

Her dad raised an eyebrow."You really think it's wise to comment on it right now?" He rumbled. Arrow sucked her bottom lip into her mouth and shrugged. I gulped, and tried to shimmy to the side, unnoticed. Unfortunately, that just drew both of their eyes to me. Mr. Cardinal ran his eyes up and down, brows furrowed.

"Who are you?" His voice was thick and deep, and radiated authority. With his full attention on me, my heartbeat couldn't steady. I gulped again, trying to suppress the shaking.

"I-I-I-I-I-"

"This is my friend, Andy. She's the new girl I was telling you guys about." Her dad stared at me for a moment, and then turned his eyes back to Arrow. I stood there awkwardly as they seemed to have a silent conversation. After a moment, his gaze found me again.

"It's nice to meet you, Andy. I'm Arrow's dad, Ben Cardinal." I expected him to offer me his hand, but thankfully he didn't. He just smiled at me instead. I offered him a weak one in return. His grin was so wide most of his teeth were visible- the gleam of white made me uneasy for reasons I couldn't understand.

"N-nice to meet y-you t-to, sir. Y-your d-daughter is v-v-very w-won-wonderful." He kept studying me for a minute. "I can't say I agree with you at this particular moment, I'm afraid." He raised his eyebrow at his daughter, and she offered him an awkward smile.

Without warning, he whirled around, straightening his back and lifting his head as if to make himself appear taller. The image of a loving father melted away, and now he seemed like a protector. As broad as he was tall, standing in his shadow had me feeling tiny. I turned to glance at Arrow in confusion; her lip was pulled up in disgust and she was glaring at something beyond her father- something I couldn't see from my height.

"Cardinal." The voice was familiar, but I couldn't place it with a face.

"Eric" Mr. Cardinal growled. I leaned to the side, peering around his wide frame. Standing across the hall was Mr. Daemente, my chemistry teacher as well as the reason for my fainting spell the other day. He looked my way, and gave me what seemed to be a devious smirk. Fear danced down my spine. I brushed it off, and jumped back behind Arrow's dad. The second I was hidden from his view again I felt protected, safe.

"You look positively blue, Cardinal. Missing your son?" Mr. Cardinal clenched his fists.

"I don't see how that could possibly be your business."

"Oh, I beg to differ" teased Mr. Daemente, "After all, he is one of my students." Arrow's dad took a step forward, and then seemed to think better of it.

"Then your only thoughts about him should be school related. Do not think about any of my children, or their friends," he glanced over his shoulder at me, "in regards to anything other than their school work. Do I make myself clear, Eric?" The threat hadn't been spoken outright, but everyone present could feel its existence.

"Crystal."

"Good" There was an awkward silence as we all waited for the other to make their next move. Mr. Daemente cleared his throat.

"Shouldn't you girls be in class? It's after 9. Do I need to give you detention?" Mr. Cardinal practically growled.

"They're on their way now." He turned to half face Arrow and I. I was extremely aware that his massive frame was still hiding me from Mr. Daemente's view
"Go directly to class. Tell them I was speaking with the both of you, and if your teacher has any issues with that, he can give me a call."

Arrow nodded, and reached up to kiss her dad on the cheek. I glanced at the floor and waited. After a second, Arrow took a step around me and started to walk away, obviously waiting on me. I stepped around Mr. Cardinal to follow her, but his booming voice stopped me in my tracks.

"It was nice meeting you, Andy. I'm glad my daughter finally has a friend." I glanced over my shoulder at him, and gave him a small smile.

"N-nice meeting you t-to, sir" He smiled at me, then turned back to Mr. Daemente. His face grew cold as he did.

"Come on, Andy. We're late" I followed quietly behind Arrow, listening for... something. Just as we rounded the corner I heard her dad murmur something, too low for me to make out, and then we were too far away.

When we reached the classroom door, Arrow knocked enthusiastically. I raised my eyebrow at her, but before she could do anything more than beam at me, the door swung open. I ducked beneath my hair as I noticed everyone looking curiously at us. Our teacher stood in front of the door, arms folded, waiting for an explanation for our tardiness. Arrow smiled at him and strutted right in. I followed reluctantly. We made it to our seats before he called out to us.

"Ladies?"

"Yes sir?" said Arrow innocently. He sighed.

"Why are you late?" Arrow beamed at me, mouthed 'Watch his face', then turned to face him. I, confusedly, did the same.

"My dad was just talking to us. He was saying something about a meeting with some teacher about harassment issues...?" She trailed off, and our teacher's face dropped. He gulped, then quickly nodded.

"Fine, uh" he cleared his throat, "Just fine. Don't ugh... Don't let it happen again, please." Arrow smiled at him, then turned back to me and shot me a wink. I allowed the corner of my mouth to drift up, and then sank into my chair, completely ignoring the lesson and drifting into my thoughts.

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"Andy!" I paused with my hand on the handle of Blake's car. I turned around to see who had called my name and gave a brief smile at the sight of Arrow sprinting over. She stopped beside me, and wiped her forehead with the back of her hand. "Phew! You're speedy!" She cheered. I gave her a weak smile and a shrug.

"Anyway...Glad I caught you. Dad wanted me to invite you to dinner tonight. So whaddaya say?" I rolled my lip between my teeth. Dinner at her place? But wouldn't that be... risky? I worried my lip and struggled with what to do. Before I could come to a decision, Blake's door opened and he hopped out.

"You want a ride or something, Arrow?" Blake crooned. She smirked at him and tossed her hair over her shoulder.

"Aw Blakey, thanks for the offer, but I was actually asking your sister over for dinner tonight. But you're more than welcome to come too if you want! We can have lots of fun together if you know what I mean..." She winked at him, and I bit my lip to stifle my giggle.

Blake laughed, and pulled open his car door again. "No thanks, I'm good. I've got some work to do. Andy, I'll see you later." And then he reversed out of the parking spot, so fast that I barely had time to move out of the way of the mirror. I scowled at him as he sped out of the parking lot, not at all concerned with that fact that I had decided I wasn't going to dinner.

"So I guess that's a yes?" Arrow laughed, and then reached down to grab my bag from me. I sighed and wiped my hands down my face. I guess I'm going to Arrow's for dinner.

I climbed into Arrow's Volkswagen Beetle. The cute compact car rumbled beneath me as Arrow started it up, and sped from the parking lot.

Within minutes, I realised that I never wanted her to drive me anywhere ever again. She had to be the world's worst driver. She whipped around corners without slowing down at all, sped way over the speed limit, didn't check her blind spot, swerved between other vehicles without a comfortable amount of space, and slammed on the brakes way too hard at the absolute last second. I gripped the dashboard, praying for my life as the car shuddered for the billionth time beneath us.

"Sorry! I don't know why it always does that for me! I swear we're almost there though!" She looked over at me and smiled.

"R-ROAD! E-EYES!" I screamed out, begging for her to focus on the street in front of us.

I might have been a little more relaxed about her looking at me, if she were a better driver-or if we weren't in the middle of the forest! We were surrounded by trees, and she was looking at me! She rolled her eyes at me, but thankfully turned the right way around. We rolled over something, and the car shuddered again. I slammed my eyes shut, and went back to praying.

Please God, don't let me die in this car with this insane woman. You owe me more than this. Please don't let everything I've survived so far be the highlight of my life. Please don't let me die here, like this. If I survive this, I swear I'll—

"We're here!" My eyes flew open, and in the blink of an eye I was out of the car, kissing the ground. I pressed my face to the solid ground and thanked every deity I could think of for getting me out of the death trap alive.

Thank you, thank you, thank you! Praise the Lord I'm alive!

"Oh really, I'm not that bad of a driver! You act like I almost killed you!" I shot a glare at her, and opened my mouth to inform her that, yes, she almost had killed me, multiple times in fact, but was cut off by a deep rumbling voice.

"I bet you tried your best to, though." I felt my face flush in embarrassment, and slowly lifted my head to look at the speaker. I hadn't realized that there was anyone else around to see that.

A boy about my age stood at the top of a set of white porch steps, smiling brightly at Arrow. He was tall, muscled to perfection, and absolutely gorgeous. He had long black dreadlocks and beautiful blue eyes that sparkled with laughter. He was wearing a pair of khaki shorts and his shirt was off, revealing a detailed tattoo of a wolf with its head raised to a moon.

I stood as I heard Arrow scoff.

"I'm a wonderful driver, thank you very much, Rowan." She spat out. He smirked at her, his eyes shining. I looked over him again, realizing that this is the boy that Arrow has been moaning about non stop since our first meeting.

"Suuuuure you are Air, sure you are." Arrow started walking towards the house, and I followed silently behind her.

We paused at the base of the stairs, me to admire the house, and her to glare at Rowan. The house was absolutely gorgeous. It was made of grey stone, and there were so many windows. There were flowers and trees everywhere, and the pathway was crunchy gravel. The door looked like oak: hand-carved, painstakingly beautiful, dark oak.

"When did you even get back?" Arrow growled.

"About an hour ago. Why? Did you miss me?" Rowan winked at her, and Arrow narrowed her eyes at him.

"I was actually enjoying the break, idiot. Does that mean my brother's back, too?" Rowan nodded, and then moved to the side to let us pass. Arrow stormed past him, shouting for her dad as she went. I moved to follow her, but Rowan stepped in front of me.

"Who are you?" I gulped and looked at my feet.

"A-Andy" I glanced up at Rowan and immediately looked back at my feet. He looked annoyed. Suddenly, he stepped to the side. I glanced at him again, but he seemed deep in thought.

"Go on in. Arrow's looking for you, I'm sure." Then he took off towards the trees. I watched him go for a second, and then went quietly into the front entrance.

Walking into the house, it was like walking into a bomb site. Bags of boy's clothing littered the hall, shoes were strung carelessly around, and there were several books and boxes left haphazardly around the room- and worst of all—people. There were people of all shapes and sizes littering the entire house- or what I could see of it.

"Andy!" My head whipped around, and I breathed out a sigh of relief at the sight of Arrow. She smiled apologetically at me, and gestured for me to follow her. As I walked through the house behind her, people became extremely quiet. I risked a glance around me to see that each and every one of them was staring at me and whispering to their neighbour. Finally, we made it up the stairs and into what I assumed was Arrow's room.

She slammed the door behind me and slumped against it. I glanced around the room. It suited her perfectly. Everything was messy, but it was an organized mess. The walls were dark green, and she had hundreds of pictures taped up. I recognized some bands, a few movie posters, and then, with a start, I recognized ballet snapshots. I gulped at faces that I couldn't possibly forget, and had to force myself to not scream as the memories threatened to drag me under.

"I'm so sorry about that, my brother and his friends just got back from a... trip... and everyone in the... neighbourhood... came to welcome them back. I had no idea they were coming back today, otherwise I swear I wouldn't have asked you to come over! I mean, I don't regret that you're here, I'm really really glad you are, honest! I just.. I know how you feel about people, and there are so many here, I know you're nervous. I can take you home if you'd like, but I'd really like it if you'd stay! I'm sure that they're all going to leave any minute now, and it'll all be OK, I swear! But if you really want I can dr—" I cut her off with a wave of my hand. She paused in her rant and I sighed. I didn't really want to stay, especially with their eyes boring into me from the glistening posters, but I could see how much it meant to her that I stayed for dinner. Closing my eyes, I shoved the box I stuffed my feelings into further into the dark hole I kept it in and made my decision.

"H-how long until d-dinner?" Her face exploded in a massive grin, and she moved as if to hug me. She stopped herself before she reached me though, noticing how I flinched.

"I'm so glad you're going to stay! I promise I'll make sure everyone's gone! In fact, I'm gonna go do that now! Be right back, just.. just stay here." She flew from the room, closing the door behind her.

I tried desperately to ignore the eyes burning into me, telling myself that they're just posters- they can't possibly be looking at me. But I just couldn't ignore it forever. After a few minutes, I turned to study the dancers that were frozen in the middle of a lift. Staring silently at the poster, I felt myself drifting into the past.

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"Left foot slides back, right stays in place. Arms up. Smile. Twirl, twirl, lift. And pose. Good."
Her cane ricocheted against the wooden floor as she twirled away from us, towards the mirror. She hit it twice more and we fell from our positions.
Backs straight, arms at our sides, feet together. We held our breath as she spun again.

"Excellent progress, my dears. You've definitely been practicing, I can tell. Now show me the opening number for Swan Lake. Five, six, seven, eight..."

———————

"Andy?" I shook myself out of my memories, and focused back on the posters. I blinked, and then turned to look at Arrow, standing to my left.

"They're beautiful, right?" I shot her a confused look.

She nodded at the poster I had just been studying.
"Lila McKinnely and Jason Baymont. Beautiful, right? They're the best dancers in the world, or they were. They disappeared a little over a year ago, no one knows what happened really. It's so tragic, she was only 17 years old and he was 19... They're my heroes though. She was the most beautiful ballerina... Every time she moved she looked like she was floating, so fluid, so... graceful. I can't understand how she did it... She's amazing..." I gulped, forcing the tears down. I will not cry.i will not cry. I will not cry! Arrow sighed.

"Anyways... Pop's kicked everybody out. He wanted to apologize for the bombardment. He's really excited to meet you though! We can go down now if you want" She hadn't even finished her sentence and I was already out of her suffocating room. I couldn't escape fast enough. She followed me out of the room, and then we walked downstairs, her nattering on about something I wasn't quite listening to – I was too focused on not collapsing from the relief of finally forcing the bad thoughts back into their box deep within me.
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