Comfortably Numb

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Chapter 8

By the time we reach the house, my sobs have died down. Arrow's pop offers me a sad smile as we pull into the driveway. I'm thankful that he hasn't asked what happened because I honestly wouldn't be able to come up with an answer. I can't put into words what I am feeling, and I can't understand what has caused these emotions to even bubble up out of the locked box I stuff everything into.

The pain I'd been feeling in the car has died down as I cried and for that I am thankful. Tears are still streaming down my face, though, and it doesn't seem like they are going to stop any time soon.
Walking into the house. Mr. Cardinal directs us towards the kitchen.

"How do you girls feel about making cookies?" He calls over his shoulder. Arrow glances over at me. I shrug, tears still streaming. She sighs.

"Sounds like a great idea." She walks up behind her pop and helps pull ingredients out of the cabinets. I step into the kitchen fully and fumble with my bag, clearing my throat. Arrow turns so she can see me. I pull out my earbuds and she nods, understanding my question. I place the buds and my phone down on the nearest counter and head over to Mr. Cardinal.

"W-what can I d-do?" I breathe, sadness painting me blue. Mr. Cardinal smiles at me and hands me a bowl with the raw ingredients for chocolate chip cookies balanced inside.

"Mix these up?" I nod and head back to my claimed spot. I stuff my headphones into my ears and blast my running playlist as loud as I can.

I let my eyes drift shut for a second to gather myself up. I try to press my feelings down again, but my chest tightens as I do. I open my eyes and shake my head. I start on the cookies, moving in silence.

We work for two hours, moving quietly between each other. Every time I look up from my bowl the two Cardinal's are staring at me in concern. I ignore their looks and focus on my work. By the time my tears stop, the work is almost done. We have dozens and dozens of cookies and still a few more bowls of dough to roll out.

I sigh and tug my headphones out of my ears. It's eerily silent in the kitchen, something I am sure doesn't happen often. I glance over at Arrow and her pop, and once again they are already looking at me. Mr. Cardinal smiles weakly at me and I sigh in response.

"C-C-can I use the w-washroom?" I whisper. Mr. Cardinal nods enthusiastically and points in the right direction.

Once in the room I collapse onto the toilet seat. My head rests on my hands and I take a few deep breaths. I can hear Arrow and her pop talking quietly in the kitchen but I can't quite make out what they're saying. I know it's about me anyways, so I choose not to listen more intently.

After I've collected myself I wash my face and hands and tug my fingers through my hair to detangle it. The dark base of my roots tug at my emotions, reminding me that it's about time to dye it again. Content with my freshened up appearance I head back to the kitchen. Immediately, Arrow and her pop straighten up and start talking all at once.

"How are you feeling?"

"Are you ok?" I nod at them and go back to my bag. I stuff my headphones back in the front pocket and then stand back up. They're staring at me expectantly, and I'm not sure what to do to make them stop. My eyes drift beyond them to the counter where the cooled cookies rest.

"C-Can I have a c-cookie?" I whisper. Mr. Cardinal flits to the platter and rushes it over to me. I take one off the top and stuff it into my mouth to appease them that I'm ok. He smiles at me brightly and then glances over at his daughter.

"Well..." he sighs after another tense minute, "I'm just going to go get some chores done before I have to start dinner. Why don't you guys finish off these cookies?" Arrow nods and steals a cookie off the platter from his grasp.

"Sure pop.We got it." Mr Cardinal offers me another smile before setting the platter down onto the counter, grabbing an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie from the right of the pile, and leaves the kitchen humming. We listen to him leave and then Arrow sighs.

"Do you want to just put the rest of the dough in the fridge and go watch a movie?" I offer her a weak smile and nod. She beams at me. We work in silence, tidying up the mess we'd made. We make quick work of it and pull out the last batch of cookies from the oven when the timer goes off. Once the counters are gleaming we grab a couple of cookies each and head to the basement.

Arrow selects "Dodgeball" and settles into one of the chairs. I sink into the smaller couch that sits in the middle of the room.

"Andy?" Arrow speaks as the trailers start playing. I flick my eyes to her. She's turned in her chair with her legs thrown over the side facing me. I turn so she knows she has my attention.
"Are you doing ok?" I sigh and scrub my hands over my face.

I'm not sure how to answer that question. I mean, I KNOW what other people define as ok, and I know that I've been falling short of that definition for a very long time. But part of me wants to tell her I'm fine, to pretend that I'm not a dangerous mess meant to ruin everything, to lie and say I'm good.
But another part of me wants to tell her the truth. For the first time in a long time, I want someone to know what I'm thinking and to tell me that it's going to be ok, even though I know it won't be. Even though I know opening up to her is selfish and horrible and dangerous, part of me wants to.

I flick my eyes open, not having realized that I closed them, and see Arrow biting her lip. I sniff, feeling tears brimming behind my eyes once again. I blink them back, shake my head and lick my bottom lip.
"N-no... I d-d-don't t-think I am..." I breathe. She nods, eyes swimming. "Do you... Do you want to talk about it?" I feel my throat constrict. To talk about it... it would be too dangerous. She deserves more than that.

"N-no." I breathe. I run my fingers into my hair and close my eyes again. "N-no I d-d-don't." I flick my eyes back open to see her. She's frowning and her eyes are sparkling with unshed tears.

"I j-just... " i suck in a shaky breath. " I c-can't.." She nods after a minute and glances down to her lap.
"OK... well if you ever change your mind...." I let out a breath, my chest tightening. The weight of my secrets is tugging at me, but I can't let them escape. I tug at the seam of my jeans, and suck in another breath.

"T-thank you." I say finally. I feel her eyes snap to me, but I refuse to look up.

"For what?" A small laugh bubbles out of my throat, light and unamused.

I wave my hands in the direction of the kitchen.

"F-F-for so many things, but m-mostly for today." Arrow sighs and I can't help but look up at her. She's smiling.

"What else are friends for, Andy?" I give her a watery smile and she smiles wider at me. After a minute of just looking at each other she turns in her seat so she's facing the screen once again. I follow suit. The title screen is up and Arrow hits play.

The movie starts and eventually I find myself relaxing and the emotions I'd been battling to get back into their box eventually surrender.
Barely into the movie, the basement lights that Arrow had flicked off when the movie started are switched on. I glance in the direction of the stairs and feel my breath catch in my throat.

Ryker is standing just inside the room and he looks absolutely miserable. A small part of me whispers that I should go over to him and soften the lines of his forehead, run my fingers through his hair to straighten it up, press my hands to his chest and feel his heartbeat. I brush the feeling aside and shift my attention back to the screen.

"What are you guys watching?" Rowan asks, surprising me. I hadn't realized he was down here too. I flick my eyes back towards the door and see him standing beside Ryker.

"Dodgeball. Wanna join?" Arrow doesn't bother to turn from the screen.

"Is... Would that be ok?" Ryker asks. His voice is light and soft, misery twisting my gut into knots.
"Of course." Arrow glances over her shoulder at her brother before flicking her eyes back to me. "Right Andy?" My jaw clenches when I feel all three pairs of eyes on me. I swallow before nodding slowly. I can practically feel the breath that Ryker lets out in relief at my permission. I watch as the boys move silently around the room and settle into their spots. Rowan claims the other couch that's beside Arrow, and Ryker lowers himself into the chair to my right.

I sigh and tear my eyes off of him. I try to focus on the movie, but I can feel him staring at me. I bite my lip and glance at him out of the corner of my eye.
He is staring at me. He somehow looks impossibly sadder than he had from across the room. I resist the urge to ask him if he's ok and focus back on the movie. Someone has flicked the basement lights off again and I'm thankful for that because it limits how well he can see me, and how well I can see him.

We all sit in silence for several minutes, just watching the movie. I hadn't really been paying attention before the boys had joined us, and now with Ryker so close to me, I have absolutely no idea what is going on on the screen.

Rowan laughing breaks into my thoughts, and I jump.

I see Ryker lean closer to me from the corner of my eye. I glance towards him and feel my face flush. I furrow my eyebrows, unsure why I'm blushing. Ryker cocks his head to the left. I bite my lip and his eyes flick down before darting back to my eyes. I feel the floor fall out from under me like it had at lunch as our gazes lock. His eyes swirl, gold and chocolate brown mixing in the most enticing way. Something kicks in my chest and the air between us becomes thicker.

"Andy...." His voice startles me. It's husky, and rough in the deepest way. It crawls down my spine and settles in my stomach. I gulp.

"R-Ryker..." My voice is weak, but he hears me nonetheless. His eyes grow darker and my throat constricts more. He leans towards me unexpectedly and my heart skips a beat. I can feel myself gasping for air now, and panic is slowly pulling it's way into my heart.

"Ryker." Mr. Cardinal's voice echoes into the basement, and I nearly fall out of my chair from the fright it gives me. I rip my eyes from Ryker successfully and feel his eyes finally move from me. I refuse to look up from my lap, worried I might accidentally get lost in the trap of his eyes once again if I do.

Ryker clears his throat before I hear him shifting beside me.

"Yeah dad?" I shiver at the husky tone of his voice but otherwise don't react.

"Can I speak to you please?" Ryker sighs and stands out of his chair. I keep my eyes on my lap. He moves between the chair and the couch.

"I'll be back." He breathes. I find myself nodding without thought.

The rest of us sit in silence for a few more minutes. It's broken by a rumble of Arrow's stomach. I glance up at her and she offers me a weak smile.
"Guess I'm hungry..." She trails off. I nod in understanding.

"Your pop was working on dinner when we came in." Rowan rumbles. Arrow nods and stands with a sigh.
"We should probably go and see if he needs any help... Are you staying for dinner Andy?" I bite my lip. Should I stay?

Half of me is desperate to get out of here, embarrassment for my meltdown in front of her and fear of whatever is going on with Ryker egging me to turn down her offer and run home with my tail between my legs. But the other half... the other half doesn't want me to leave yet. The other half wants me to stay and not push these people further away than they have to be.

I glance up at Arrow and her face makes my decision. She is smiling at me, a hint of sadness still shining behind it. I remember what she did for me this afternoon, and I am compelled to stay.

"i-If it's ok..." Her smile grows wider at my agreement.

"Of course! I'll just let pop know!" She heads towards the stairs and Rowan follows behind her after swiping the remote and flicking off the projector. I follow him out of the basement.

I pause as we enter the kitchen, remembering Blake. He was probably expecting me for dinner... I should let him know... I pull out my phone, and send him a text.

Andy: Is it Ok that I stay at Arrow's for dinner?

His answer is almost immediate.

Blake: GR8

I roll my eyes at my brother's ridiculous texting lingo, and enter the kitchen. I freeze as soon as I'm in the room. Arrow and her pop are standing across from each other at the counter and they're both smiling impossibly wide. There's something in the air, and I can't quite place my finger on what's happening. I clear my throat and they each jump in surprise. Mr. Cardinal whirls to face me completely and his smile grows blinding. I offer him a weak smile and he shakes his head, smile lowering so it's still bright but no longer splitting his face in two.

"You're staying for dinner dear?" he asks. His voice is musical, sugary sweet I nod and he smiles brighter again for a second.

"Good. Good." he turns away from me and fumbles with a pair of oven mitts. Arrow walks around the counter and stops beside me. I look between the two of them, curious as to what is going on.... But I don't ask, and slowly they start talking amongst themselves about mindless things. I get lost in thought, a pair of swirling brown eyes moving through my mind.

"When's dinner?" Rowan enters the kitchen and leans against the counter beside Arrow. She groans.
"Don't you have your own home to get to?" She grumbles. Rowan shuffles closer to her.

"And miss these wonderful moments with you? You're insane."

Arrow grumbles and pushes away from the counter. She walks across the room and sinks onto the furthest stool from Rowan. Her pop chuckles and closes the oven door he'd been working in.

"Dinner's almost done....Ry can you set the table?" My heart stutters at his name and my eyes fly to the doorway of the kitchen. He is leaning against it with his arms folded across his chest. His hair is loose, and I have to stop myself from leaning closer to run my fingers through it. His eyes trace over me briefly before he turns to his pop and walks further into the kitchen. His dad follows him in and offers me a wide smile. I give a weak one back before turning back to the conversation.

"Pop, that's Arrow's job. Why isn't she doing it?" He whines. My lips tug up in amusement but I try to push it down as he flicks his eyes back to me. His own lips tug into a smile and I feel my chest squeeze in response.

"I've got a friend over, that's why!" Arrow whines back, mockingly. Rowan scoffs, offended.
"Aren't I considered a friend? Ryker's got me over!" Collectively, Mr. and Mr Cardinal and Arrow all snort.

"You're over here so much you have your own room. You are not a guest. This is only Andy's second time over here. She is still new enough to be considered a guest. When she is here every day, then Arrow will do her chores with her around. Until then, however, Ryker set the table." Arrow sticks her tongue out at Rowan and he returns it before walking over and sitting beside her, a few stools down. Ryker pulls out a stack of plates and a handful of cutlry before silently leaving the room.

"I am technically still a guest. I do have a home..." He grumbles. Arrow rolls her eyes at him, and pushes up from her stool. She walks past him and "accidentally" smacks her hand against the back of his head before walking over to me.

"Anyways... I hope that chicken Parm is alright. I don't really know what you like or don't like so I went with chicken as most people eat that..." Mr Cardinal calls from beside the oven. "T-that's f-ine. I love chicken.''He smiles at me, and then pulls the food out of the oven. He closes the door with his bum and nods in the direction of the dining room.
"After you." he shoos us out of the kitchen, and we all sink into chairs at the dining table.

I blatantly ignore the looks I can feel coming from Ryker all throughout the meal, and instead focus on my delicious chicken.

After dinner, Arrow, Rowan, and Ryker drive me home. It is a quiet drive, peaceful. I feel better than I had this morning, and I strongly suspect that it is because of the release of pressure provided by my ridiculously long cry that afternoon.

I enter the house without issue, and the rest of the night is normal. I fall asleep after laying restlessly in my bed for hours, awake from the same dream as usual, and spend the rest of the night sprinting for my life.

Arrow and the boys pick me up for school again the next day, and Blake waves from the safety of the house. Today seems like it is going to be almost exactly like the day before-hopefully without the mini breakdown I had had- but to my surprise, it isn't.

Today, instead of heading off to God only knows where, Ryker and Rowan stick with Arrow and me. They completely ignore the jocks calling their names, and snub all the girls that attempt to talk to them. It is kind of freaking me out, and it is definitely freaking Arrow out. She keeps glancing behind her at them, probably expecting them to have taken off. When we get to our lockers she snaps.

"What do you want?" They look taken aback.

"Can't we hang out with you guys?" Rowan smiles and bats his eyes at her. Ryker smirks at me, rolling his eyes at his friend's antics. My lungs ache with the need for air, but with him looking at me like that I can't remember how to breathe. Thankfully he looks away before I can pass out.

Arrow narrows her eyes.

"You haven't hung out with me at school since we were fourteen... What are you up to?" Rowan and Ryker share a look. I feel nervous... What did they have planned for us? I'm not sure that I want to know the answer to that question.

"Look, Arrow. We're sorry that we ditched you. But now... Honestly we just miss hanging out together. We've thought a lot about apologizing earlier, but we weren't sure that you would accept it. We were kind of hoping that you becoming friends with Andy might mean that you'd be more willing to forgive us..." Ryker apologizes. Arrow narrows her eyes at her twin, considering. Suddenly, she whirls to face me.

"I need to discuss your newfound interest in me with Andy. Please leave so we can talk about you." She glances over her shoulder at the guys. They stare at her, surprised; she shoos them with her hand and they back up to the other side of the hall. Once there, they lean against the wall, and cross their arms across their chests. Arrow turns back to me and rolls her eyes.

"They think I don't know that they can hear everything we're saying. I'm not that dumb" she rolls her eyes again and I smile, "Whatever, I honestly just wanted to boss them around. They can listen if they want," she pauses, and I notice the boys start walking back towards us. Arrow continues, "As long as they stay over there." They freeze, and I bite my lip to stop my laugh. She smirks at me, and then launches into a massive rant.

"So here's what I'm thinking... they are actually the worst because they ditched me so long ago and now when they've got someone new to help bridge the gap they created they're trying to snake their way back in. And they really caused me a lot of heartache and pain all these years, and now they just expect me to forgive and forget?" She pauses and rolls her eyes at me before fussing with her ponytail. "Although I do miss them, and I know that they have been putting in some effort in the last few weeks... I just don't want to get burned again, you know?" I nod and she bites her lip. I shrug my shoulders.

It doesn't really matter to me if they hang around us. It actually might be better for me if they were friends with Arrow again because if I ever have to pull away from her at least she wouldn't be alone....

"What do you think Andy?" She pulls me from my thoughts. I shrug again and she sighs.

"We can always do a trial period, and if they're just using me to get to you like I'm thinking they might be well.. I'll drop them like a hot potato and you can choose between us. Plus it would be easier to prank them if I knew where they were and what they were doing more... Although it might mean that they prank me more for the same reason... I'm torn. Do we let them hang out with us and just suck up the serious hit to our popularity? Because we are seriously way cooler than they are ....And it's a lot of hassle to let them be a part of our group... I'm thinking they don't really DESERVE to be our friends with the way they treated me..." She trails off and bites her lip.
I shrug again and look over her shoulder at the guys. They are sharing a sad look and I find myself feeling sorry for them.

"T-t-t-they seem r-really sorry..." I whisper to her and jut my chin in their direction. Arrow glances over her shoulder. She groans and turns back to look back at me.

"Goddess I'm so going to regret this... Fine. They can hang out with us."

The boys whoop and rush back across the hall. I give her a smile and she rolls her eyes, but she's smiling too and I can tell she's actually really happy about this.
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