Comfortably Numb

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Chapter 9

First period flies by. I actually find myself paying attention for once, and the hour passes much quicker than it normally does.

Arrow walks me to my next class, and the boys follow behind us talking quietly. Arrow natters on mindlessly, and by the time we reach my classroom she's jumped through about fifteen different topics. I nod at her and enter the classroom, slinking silently towards my table. Throwing myself into the chair, I don't notice that Ryker has followed me until his chair slides out beside me. I sit quietly, pulling things out of my backpack while he gets settled in his seat.

After a moment, I feel like there are two spotlights burning a hole through the side of my face. I try to ignore it, but it is like my head has a mind of its own as I turn to look back at him. Ryker smiles at me and my heart stutters in my chest. My face burns, and I find myself looking down to my lap. Ryker's deep chuckle reminds me of melted chocolate; I never want him to stop laughing.

"Red's a nice colour on you." He rumbles. My face flames even more, but before I can reply Mr. Daemente sweeps dramatically into the room and steals my attention. He gets us all set up for the lab we need to do, and then sets us off to do our work in our pairs. Ryker and I work quietly for the first half hour, and then he starts asking questions.

"What's your brother's name?" I blink over at him for a second.

"Blake" He smiles at me over his beakers. I stare at him for a second, then shake myself and get back to work.

"What does he do?" I shrug non-committedly. I am not actually sure what he does now, I didn't ask. He used to be assistant manager of a grocery store, but now he could very well do anything.

"I see...Am I bothering you?" I glance up at him, and give him a weak smile as a reply. He laughs.

"I'll take that as a 'yes, but I'm too polite to say anything'." He beams at me and I shake my head.

"N-not bothering me. I-I-I'm just not good at c-conversation" I mumble. Ryker's eyes sparkle in amusement.

"Well it's a good thing that I am very good at conversation then" his voice drops lower; like he is trying to be sexy, "among other things if you know what I mean..."he wiggles his eyebrows, smirking at me. I stare at him for a second as his eyebrows do the worm across his forehead. Suddenly I start giggling. He smiles at me, gives one last wiggle, and then shakes his head at me as I dissolve into a fit of giggles.

"I like your laugh." My laughter subsides, and my cheeks begin to glow again. Suddenly, Mr. Daemente is looming between Ryker and I.

"If I were you, Mr. Cardinal, I'd be more concerned about getting my assignment done." He calls. I feel myself shrinking into my seat, feeling threatened. Ryker gloweres at our teacher.

"Our work is finished, Mr. D. I do believe that means we're allowed to speak, so long as we aren't disturbing anybody else." His voice is like ice, and it sends shivers dancing down my spine. I shake them off, confused. Mr. Daemente gives Ryker a brief dirty look before muttering, "keep it down" and striding off to his desk at the front of the room. I let out the breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding, and Ryker gives up glowering at him in favour of staring at me again.

"Arrow told me about what happened a little while ago." I raise my eyebrow and tilt my head in confusion.

"When Mr. Dickhead over there ran into you and wouldn't let you go?" I bite my lip and look down to my feet. I flinch as Ryker's large hand slides towards my knee. He freezes before he makes contact, seeing my flinch. I hear him sigh before he pushes his hand through his long black hair.. I follow the movement with my eyes, wondering why I feel so disappointed that he had stopped himself from touching me.

"I just want you to know that you can come to me with anything" he speaks softly, staring deep into my eyes, "You don't have to be afraid of me. I would never do anything to hurt you, Andy." I nod, telling him silently that I understand.

I know, I want to say. For some strange reason I don't understand I know you won't hurt me. But that's not what I'm worried about. I'm scared that it'll happen again. I'm terrified that I'll get close to you, and Arrow, and maybe even Rowan and then history will repeat itself and I don't know if I'll be able to handle that. I'm not worried that you'll hurt me; something is telling me that you're telling the truth. But I know for a fact that I'll hurt you. So I need to keep some distance.

I want to tell him all of this, but don't because then he would ask more questions—questions I can't answer.

The bell for lunch rings and I gather my things. I jump as I turn around, coming face to chest with Ryker. I move my eyes up along his steel chest, trace his rigid jaw and soft cushy looking lips, along his slightly crooked nose, until they collide with his eyes. He looks incredibly serious, but there is another emotion there, one I can't identify. His eyes flutter along my face before locking back onto my eyes.

"I want you to trust me, Andy. Do you think you ever will?" He probes. I let my eyes flick shut, fighting against the part of me that is screaming for me to take a step closer, while the other half is screaming for me to run as far as I can. I feel him staring at me, and I let out a sigh before looking up at him again.

"M-maybe someday, Ryker." The lie is that while I may one day trust him, he could never do the same for me. His eyes light up, and he turns the full force of his smile on me. I've never seen such a big grin, and the way it lights up his face is intoxicating. My head spins. I feel the corners of my lips turn up in return; his smile freezes for a moment as his eyes become slightly unfocused, and then his smile becomes impossibly bigger.

"I can live with that." He breathes, lifting his hand towards my cheek. He checks himself at the last second and runs his fingers through his hair again. We stand there, inches apart, for another moment before the spell is broken by someone grabbing my arm.

My breathing stops and the room closes in on me as I tear my arm from their grip, tripping as I whip myself backwards and straight into Ryker. He places his hands on my waist to steady me against his steel chest, and I shudder at the contact. I feel his chest rumble behind me, and feel myself go rigid. I force myself to ignore the electricity dancing along my hips and back, shoving away the freak out I can feel building, and focus on the person that grabbed me.

It was Mr. Daemente; I'm not too shocked that it was him, if I am being honest. I feel Ryker's chest rumble again, and notice Mr. Daemente stiffening. He glowers over my shoulder.

"The bell rang. Get out of my class." He growls. Ryker drops his hands from my hips, but for some reason I stay against his chest.

"We were just leaving" Ryker's lips are dripping poison. I chance a glance over my shoulder at him, but from my position all I can see is his clenching jaw. Mr. Daemente glowers at Ryker for another moment, and then turns and stalks from the room, practically ripping the door from the hinges as he goes. I relax briefly once he is gone, but the second that panic subsides, I am reminded of the man I am leaning against. I lurch forward, away from him.

Once there is enough distance between us for me to be able to breathe, I look through the curtain my hair creates at him. He is boring a hole through the chalkboard, likely imagining it is our teachers head instead. I stare at him, lost in thought. It is incredibly obvious that the entire Cardinal family dislikes my chemistry teacher, though I'm not sure why. I'm not his biggest fan either, but at least there are times that I can fake nice. It seems that every time one of the Cardinals comes in contact with the man there is nearly bloodshed. I ponder what could have happened to make them hate each other so much, but can't come up with anything. I bite my lip and take a step towards Ryker as my stomach growls. His head snaps to me the second I do, and his glower slides into a gentle smile.

"C-can we go t-t-t-t-t-" I sigh, annoyed with myself. I take a deep breath and start again.

"Do you want t-to go to lunch?" He nods his head enthusiastically, scoops up both of our bags and sweeps towards the door, pausing at the threshold. He nods for me to exit before him, and then yanks the classroom door shut behind us. He beams at me as I raise my eyebrow, and then we walk in peaceful silence towards the cafeteria.

When we get near my usual table, I have to stifle the bubble of laughter that threatens to burst forth. Ryker doesn't bother to hide his snickers however, and the two morons locked in a staring contest whip their heads in our direction. Arrow shoots me a look of complete annoyance, and I almost laugh again as I sink into the empty chair next to her. Ryker falls into the chair across from me, beside Rowan. When he finally manages to control his laughter, he locks eyes with Rowan and loses it again.

"Dude, how did you get that on?" He wheezes out between fits of laughter. I bite my lip to control my own laughter as I evaluate Rowan.

It seems that he had stolen Arrow's cardigan, which is at least three sizes too small. Somehow he has gotten the buttons to connect, though they are stretched to exhaustion and ready to pop at any moment, and the sleeves only come down to just below his elbows. The material looks like it is going to rip at any moment, and I am also curious as to how he had managed to get it on in the first place. I let the corners of my lips tilt upwards as Rowan's face splits in two in a shit eating grin.

"Do you think I've got styyyyle?" He sasses, snapping his fingers in a Z formation. I snort in amusement, and Arrow grumbles beside me. Ryker explodes in a new fit of laughter.

"Ooh babydoll, what's got your undies in a bunch? Just because I look better in this thing than you ever will doesn't mean you don't have a little of the old razzle dazzle. You just gotta let your inner light shine through!" Rowan exclaims.

Arrow turns to me. "I hate him." She bites out, and this time I can't stop the laughter. It bubbles out, rolling out from my stomach. Arrow frowns at me so I try to control myself, but Rowan draws my attention once again. He is holding a coke can in his left hand, pinkie extended elegantly. The top button of the sweater finally loses its strength and goes flying off of Rowan's chest. It flies over Arrow's head and I hear it ping against the floor a second later. Rowan's mouth falls open and he drops his can to finger the hole the button left.. My laughter twinkles on, and finally Arrow joins in, laughing at his cries of outrage at his destroyed cardigan.

The boys join us for lunch every day that week. They walk us to class, which isn't as weird as I thought it would be, considering it is their class too. Arrow and Rowan even start to have times where they wouldn't be fighting, which is impressive. Then, every day they would either drive me to my house, or we would go to their house and I would hang out with Arrow until dinner time and get a ride home after we ate. It had fallen into a mindless pattern, and I was starting to really enjoy being around the twins and Rowan. Even though I couldn't really be myself one hundred percent, I was smiling more- something Blake took great joy in pointing out.

One week later, we were all sitting around the Cardinal's dining room table. Mr. Cardinal had made a delicious spread of roast beef, mashed potatoes, yorkshire puddings and steamed carrots.

"Come on Dad!" Arrow whines. "I've been practicing! Nick even said I was getting better!" She is trying to convince her dad to give her her car keys back. Her father shakes his head and rolls his eyes.

"Oh well if Nick says you're doing better..." Arrow perks up, "He can keep helping you practice."

"Ugh come on!" She groans. She rakes her fingers through her hair.

"Besides I don't understand why you can't just keep riding with Ryker. You're going to the same place." Ryker nods in agreement with his dad, but Arrow glowers at him.

"He's why I WANT to drive myself again. He's always there! In the morning I wake up and BOOM Ryker. Go to school and he's in practically all of my classes. We eat every meal together, and hang out together after school. I don't have any time AWAY from him!" She folds her arms over her chest and glowers at her brother. He's sitting beside me, and Rowan is to her left. The two boys share a look before turning back to their food.

"I don't understand the problem?" Mr. Cardinal raises his eyebrows. I shake my head in amusement. The real reason she's so desperate to drive herself to school is the man sitting beside her, not her former wombmate. Ryker apparently shares my thoughts, because he speaks up.
"It's because of Rowan."
"HEY!" Arrow squeals.

Rowan rolls his eyes and grumbles to himself about impossible females.

"It's because I'm sick of you and your annoying habit of encroaching on all of my girl time with MY FRIEND!" Ryker shakes his head beside me.

"No, It's because Rowan caught you setting up your last prank for him and now you're out of ideas and he got you this morning with a couple beef bouillon cubes in your shower head and green jello powder on your towel." Arrow's face grows hot.

'Dad can't you see what I mean?" She whines at her father. He rolls his eyes and turns to smile at me. His eyes twinkle after a second and he turns to smirk at his daughter.

"OK that's enough. I'm sick of hearing the complaining. You can have your keys back-" She whoops, and his smirk grows wider. "IF-" She groans and he laughs before continuing. "If you can convince Andy to get in a car with you." My jaw falls open and beside me Ryker dissolves into a fit of laughter. Rowan joins him, and Mr. Cardinal shakes his head at their antics.

Arrow blinks at her father for a moment and then suddenly shrugs. The boys stop laughing immediately.

"What, no whining?" Ryker rumbles. Arrow smiles at him before turning to look at me.

"You'll get in a car with me, right?" I Bite my lip, nervous... I still hadn't forgotten my last car ride with her. Her eyes sparkle and she blinks rapidly at me. It feels like she's up to something, but I can't quite figure out what it is. After a few moments of silence, I cave to get them all to stop looking at me. I nod and Arrow whoops.

Ryker growls beside me, and I feel it dance down my spine. I twist so I can see him and feel my breath catch at the heated angry look he's burning into his plate.

"OK a deal's a deal..." Mr. Cardinal sounds shocked, no doubt because he's aware of how awful of a driver his daughter is, and how nervous I am in general. He pushes away from the table and leaves the room. He comes back a few minutes later with a set of keys. He pauses to look at me.

"Are you sure, Andy? I mean..." he flicks his eyes to his daughter, "She did hit a tree a couple of days ago..." I bite my lip and swallow the lump in my throat.

"Please, you make it sound worse than it was. I SKIMMED a SAPLING. The car barely had a scratch." Her words don't comfort me. I flick my eyes back towards her and she smiles, an attempt at reassuring me. My nerves bump up a notch at the nonchalant way she talks about her "accident", no matter how small.

"M-maybe... Maybe i-it's n-not so b-bad riding w-with Ryker?" I whisper at her. She frowns. Mr. Cardinal laughs and sinks back into his chair, pocketing the keys with a jingle.

"But Andy-" "Arrow." Her pop scolds. I glance between the two, feeling like I'm missing something. Arrow huffs after a minute and sinks back into her chair with her arms folded across her chest once more. I feel bad now, like I'm the reason she's stuck with her brother. I bite my lip and glance at her father.

"M-Mr. Cardinal..." I call. He glances up at me and smiles. I open my mouth to promise I will drive with Arrow, and that it's not a big deal, but he beats me to it.

"I'm keeping the keys until you willingly get in a vehicle with her in the driver's seat, Andy. I won't let her bully you into something you aren't comfortable with." I feel my face heat and I glance down at my plate.

"S-sorry.." I mumble. All eyes fall on me.

"What?" Arrow breathes. I glance up at her. She isn't pouting anymore, instead she looks confused. I shrug and look back down at my plate.

"S-sorry." I repeat. "I'm a scaredy cat and n-now you have to keep h-hanging out with your b-b-brother..." She sighs and I feel shifting across the table.

"Andy..." She calls for my attention. I glance up and she offers me a weak smile. "I'm not mad at you for being afraid to ride with me. I know I make even my dads nervous when I'm behind the wheel. I just... I'm sad we don't get more time together, just the two of us." I gulp, feeling like her disappointment is all my fault. I think of all the other ways I've let her down and feel my shoulders slump.

We finish the rest of dinner in silence. Afterwards, we all gather the dishes up and stack them into the dishwasher. Then it's time to go home. The four of us climb into Ryker's beast and we drive back to my place in relative quiet.

As we pull up to my house, Ryker clears his throat. I glance up and see him staring at me through the rearview mirror. I blush and look back down at my lap.

"I'm sorry we've been around so much..." He rumbles. I glance up and see him looking at his sister.

"We're going to try to give you guys room for yourselves from now on." Arrow glances over at me, brows furrowed.

"What do you mean?" "Well..." He runs his hands through his hair and glances at his best friend. "We can let you guys sit alone at lunch, and we don't have to hang out with you every day after school..." Sadness leaks into his voice. I find it reflecting in myself- I don't really want him to pull away from her, from us... But if that's what Arrow wants....

She sighs beside me. I turn to her and see she's frowning. "I don't want you guys to disappear... I just want SOME time with Andy to do girl things" She glances at me before turning back to her brother.
"How about a compromise?"
"What do you mean?" He questions.

"We can all hang out after school like we have been, expect on Fridays you guys will go and do your own thing, and Andy and I will do ours. Sound fair?" She flicks her eyes at me to see if I was OK with that, and I nod. I glance at Ryker in the mirror and he smiles for the first time since we'd left the house.

"Yeah sounds fair." Rowan sighs beside him. "I guess I'll agree too... Although I think I should be invited to girls night." Arrow rolls her eyes at him. I shake my head and reach for my door handle.
I feel a little better now, like I'm not totally ruining her life by refusing to get into a car she's driving.

I say my goodbyes and hop out, walking slowly up the rest of my driveway. I place my key in the lock but it whips open before I can turn it. Blake is standing on the other side of the door, a creepy smile stretched across his face. I frown at him and he steps to the side to let me into the house. I turn and wave one final time as the Beast slowly starts moving away from the house. Once they're out of sight, Blake pushes the door shut and bolts the lock. When he turns to face me once again, his smile is somehow wider.

"W-what?" I mumble. He wiggles his eyebrows at me and shimmies around. I roll my eyes.

"Guess what I did today!" He squeals. I widen my eyes at him and take a step back. He just keeps smiling at me, and then stuffs his left hand behind his back. I frown at him but he just wiggles some more.

" Come on guess! What did I do today?" I raise my eyebrows at him and wait. He is practically vibrating with excitement. Finally, he snaps.

"Fine! I'll tell you what I did today!" He dances around me and I feel genuine concern for his sanity. He rolls his eyes when I don't immediately respond.

"Close your eyes and hold out your hands!" He squeals. Wearily, I let my eyes drift shut. I hold my hands up, palms out. I wait and wait and wait, and just as I am about to let my frustration win out and open my eyes again something hits my palm.
"OK now!" He shrieks. I open my eyes slowly, and my jaw drops. I look between the object and his face a few times, excitement pulling at me. My eyes are wide and I feel my lips starting to tug up. He smiles wider at me again.

He nods, and I start jumping excitedly. He laughs at me and starts walking to the garage door.

"Come on then." He pulls the door open and I chase after him, keys tight in my grip. My breath catches the second I lay eyes on her.

My car, my beautiful car is sitting beside Blake's jeep. Her paint is a shiny black, and the hood gleams expectantly at me. I squeal and Blake laughs.I whip around the side of the car and pull the driver's side door open. I sink into the soft leather. Blake joins me a second later. I suck in a few deep breaths, the scent of leather, motor oil and cigarettes floating up to me.

"Got her shortly after you left this morning," Blake intrudes on my thoughts. "I've been bursting to show you all day." He runs his hand along the dashboard. "Dad sure did a good job restoring this...." I barely hear him, but nod my head.
This had been left to me for my sixteenth birthday, a gift from my late father. He'd restored it years before, and it had been locked away in a garage to wait for me after his death.

"S-she's road safe?" I breathe. Blake smiles at me and nods. I smile back at him and run my hands over the wheel. I hadn't gotten to drive it much, with everything that happened... But that was probably for the better. If I had, there would likely be more painful memories, things that would stop me from using the last thing my father ever gave me.

"B-blake?" I fold my hands around the steering wheel. I feel his eyes on me and turn to give him my best smile.

"Yeah?"

"T-thank y-you, I-I-I appreciate t-this... Y-you're t-the best b-b-brother in t-the world." He beams at me, and something behind his eyes shifts, but it's gone before I can figure out the source.

"Thanks, sis." He claps his hands together and pops his door open. He climbs out of the beautiful car and I reluctantly follow. I run my finger gently over the hood as I walk around the car to get back to the house. Blake smiles over his shoulder at me.

"Well...I'm going to go to bed." He pauses at the door to watch me looking at my car. "Night Andy." I turn to smile at him.

He leaves the garage without another word. I smile at my car again, and then my heart jumps. I run into the house to grab my phone out of my backpack. I whip it open and scroll to Arrow's name.

Andy: Tell your brother we won't be needing a ride to school tomorrow after all!

Arrow: What? Why? Did my dad change his mind about my keys?!

Andy: LOL no. I've got us another ride.

Arrow: What is it?

Andy: Surprise. Just tell your brother we don't need a ride tomorrow! Actually, tell him we don't need to ride in the Beast ever again!

Arrow: Lol, I'll tell him. Are you sure you don't want to tell me what's going on?

Andy: Night Row

Arrow: You're breaking my heart. Night Andy ;)

With that, I make sure the garage door is locked, hang my keys up beside Blake's, and drift upstairs to my room. Excitement is tugging at me, making it harder than usual to fall asleep. I am excited to show off my car tomorrow, and to see what Arrow and Ryker and Rowan think. I am excited to go to school even, which is a weird feeling.. Once I eventually fall asleep, my nightmares start as usual and before I am ready I find myself back in the basement once again.

I sprint until it is time to get ready for school. My thoughts keep flitting between the monsters of my past and excitement about the day ahead. And before I know it I am swiping my keys off their hook, swinging into my car and speeding off towards Arrow's with the wind in my hair, whipping through my open windows.
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