Even though I now consider her a close friend, I still hold her an arm's length from me- fear that holds me in it's deathgrip every night keeps me from letting her in.
The first Friday after the snow sticks, Arrow hops in my car with a wide, nervous smile. I wave out the window at her brother and Rowan before pulling carefully out of my parking spot. I know from experience that Arrow won't stay silent for long.
"Hey Andy?" She speaks up as we turn onto the street. I nod in her direction as I start accelerating so she knows I'm listening.
"I know we normally go to my house after school but I was wondering..." She trails off and I glance over at her briefly in concern. She's biting her lip and fiddling with the straps of her backpack that's strewn across her lap.
"W-what?" I warily question. She sighs.
"Maybe we could do something different tonight?" I frown and flick my eyes back at her before turning my attention back to the road.
"L-like w-what?" My voice is breathy, fear starting to close up my throat. I try to push it down, trying to convince myself that just because she wants to do something DIFFERENT that doesn't mean BAD.
"Like... maybe we could go to your house?"
My car swerves to the left before I quickly correct the steering wheel. The car approaching us in the opposite direction honks at me and I wave in apology and then slow to a stop on the side of the road.
My heart is beating uncontrollably and there's a lump in my throat that's making breathing very difficult.
"M-my h-h-h-h-house?" I squeak. Arrow winces.
"It was just a suggestion. I didn't really mean anything by it. I was just- I was just thinking out loud. Really, I'm fine if you want to go to my house. I was just— just being crazy." She cuts herself off, yanking on her hair. I swallow past the lump and find myself leaning my forehead on the steering wheel.
Why would Arrow want to go to my house? Her house has an amazing entertainment room, a beautiful kitchen full of delicious food almost all the time, and an Olympic sized pool in the backyard! My house has.... nothing. It isn't anything special, not anywhere near hers.
Maybe she wants you to let her into your life...
My subconscious whispers to me. Panic and pain spikes in me as images of the last person that was a part of my life dance through my mind. I feel tears stinging at my eyes and screw them shut tightly, fighting once again with the box I store my emotions in.
"Andy... I'm sorry. We can just go to my house, it's fine." She's whimpering beside me. Her words break through my panic, and the surprise provided by the reminder that she's here with me is enough to help me win the fight against my emotions. I sniff, suck in a deep breath, and then sit up. I can see Arrow out of the corner of my eye. She has her hands wrapped around her chest, and she's got her head tucked down.
I glance over my shoulder and see that the Beast is parked behind us. I can see Ryker and Rowan in the front seats, and now that I know they're there, I feel myself needing to move, to get away from all of these people that I'm going to hurt so deeply- likely sooner rather than later.
Wordlessly, I pull back onto the road and head in the direction of Arrow's home. She sits as still as a statue the entire ride, and no words pass between us. By the time I pull to a stop in her driveway, I can see her shoulders shaking, trying to suppress sobs. My heart aches, but I can't find the words to comfort her.
"A-Arrow..." I breathe finally. She barely looks up at me and I feel my own chest kick in a barely contained sob.
"I'm... I'm s-sorry." She nods and pushes herself out of the car. When she's standing outside of the vehicle, she leans down so she can see me, My heart hurts stronger as I see the tear tracks decorating her cheeks.
"It's fine Andy. I get it. I'm sorry I keep pushing you when it's so clear you aren't ready or willing to give me anything more. I just..." She pauses to wipe her arm over her face. "I just consider you my best friend. And I just realized I don't really know much about you, or your life before you moved here." My eyes flick shut once again in pain.
"It's fine" She continues, "I just wanted to spend some more time with you without Ryker and Rowan running in and joining us. It's stupid." I hear her sniff and when I flick my eyes open she's wiping her face dry once again.
My jaw clenches, words I can't say pushing at the tip of my tongue.
"It's fine. I'll see you later." She pushes the car door shut and spins on her heel. My mind screams out for her, but I can't open my mouth to make the words come out.
"You're not coming in?" Ryker's voice startles me a minute later. I flick my eyes over to him. He's opened my door, and he's leaning down so his head is barely a few centimeters from mine. He's frowning, and my chest kicks again in pain at the thought that he's probably going to be more upset with me soon because of my treatment of his sister.
I suck in a breath before gently shaking my head. His eyes dart past me, and I know that he's tracing the path Arrow took to get inside, or even possibly staring at her back at the door. He turns back to me with a deeper frown.
"Is everything OK?" He whispers. My jaw ticks again, more words fighting to escape. Instead, I shake my head again. Sadness floats through me. I sigh and scrub my hand over my face.
"C-c-can I g-g-go now please?" I whisper, eyes forward. I feel Ryker shift beside me and fight the urge to turn towards him.
A deep sigh falls from his lips, and a second later my door is closed gently. I put my car in reverse and start backing up to turn around. As I drive away, I can feel Ryker's eyes on me once again.
Twenty minutes later I pull into my garage and stumble into my house. For the first time since I moved in, I examine the place I call my home.
The walls are beige; a blank, numb colour that reflects the personality I present. There are no photos, no decorative designs, and definitely no mirrors. There is a window on either side of the heavy front door, and the curtains that hang there look like something out of the seventies; Blake chose them, just so no one could see inside the house.
The foyer opens into the large living room on the left, and the massive kitchen on the right.
I sigh as I survey the living room—there is obviously no living going on here. It is an empty room. Blake had told me to decorate it when we moved in, and left everything for me to do. I hadn't done anything, hoping that if I left it long enough he would cave and make this HIS home; I had left enough marks in my life, I didn't want to spread my explosives anymore than I had to. I walk around the carpeted room, brushing my fingers along the empty walls. Once I've touched them all, I turn and head to the kitchen.
It has more things than the living room, but not by much. The fridge had been here when we moved in, as had the microwave. There is a single cup in the sink, but other than that there is no evidence that anybody has ever stepped foot in here either. All of the appliances gleam in their respective places, and the floors sparkle as if they are freshly waxed. They probably have been, for all I know. The walls, still beige, again have no pictures or decorations. There are no knick knacks anywhere and the only thing on the counters is the coffee maker. There is a beaten up old table, with four chairs that I have never sat in. There are curtains on the windows, a perfect match for the ones around the front door.
This house looks like a showroom. There is no evidence that we lived here—that I lived here. Before that seemed like a good thing... A precaution to protect my brother in the event that history repeats itself.
Blake had told me when we bought the place that I could decorate it however I wanted. I didn't want people to know that I lived here. If nobody knew I lived here, there would be less pain in the future.
And yet, for the first time, the house feels... empty.
I walk through the lower level, examining the kitchen, living room, bathroom, and the space meant for an office thinking how each one looked so empty and lonely. Normally this didn't bother me, but for some reason... I feel like my choice to leave this house cold is a bad one. And as I think more about it, I realize that this house is not my home. My home is so far away, locked in a place I can't return to. And that is reflected in every missing piece of furniture, in every blank wall, in every speck of beige paint. I walk back through each room multiple times. Pain spikes through my chest and I collapse onto the carpet of the would-be living room.
Pain that I thought I'd be sparing Blake ricochets through my own chest. I sit in the middle of the empty room and let my mind flick to my home, and all the things I'd left behind.
An hour later, I end up in my room. I realize with a shock that this room is the only room, except for Blake's of course, that anyone had actually put any effort into. I'd painted this room, a deep dark blue that reminds me of the sky just before the sun moves close enough to start it lightening. I have furniture in here; a twin bed with a comforter the same colour as the walls, a small wooden nightstand, a matching wooden dresser that has some of my clothes hanging out of it. I have a small collection and books strewn over the top of the dresser.
I step into the room fully and fall heavily onto my bed. My ceiling is painted the same dark blue, but there's also glow in the dark stars winking down at me. Each one had been painted with care to match up to the actual sky, and the almost black background makes the constellations stand out perfectly. Reaching up, I pretend that I'm not reaching for the ceiling, but instead the sky.
I let my eyes drift shut and my hand fall back to my side. Sobs wrack my chest once again and I let them- memories of my past life, my past home, my past friends scratching their way through me.
The next morning I hop off my treadmill and dash up the stairs. I shower as quickly as I can and search my room for my favourite plaid shirt. After searching my laundry basket, under my bed, all of my drawers, and the bathroom I give up, making a mental note to ask Blake if he's seen it the next time I see him. I dress in a baggy pair of jeans and three layers of shirts. Then I make my bed, straighten my nick nacks and take two deep steadying breaths before heading out to the garage.
I reach Arrow's house before I'm ready.
Sitting in my car, shaking like a leaf, I think again about the decision I had reached while running this morning. Resolve settles in my spine, straightening it, as I remember the tear streaks down Arrow's face.
I glance at the clock and nearly smack myself as I realize it reads 7:21. I then actually smack myself as I realize that it's also Saturday, and likely no one is awake.
Feeling stupid for forgetting that some people actually sleep, I start my car back up. But before I can reverse out of my spot and head back home where I could revel in my stupidity, my passenger door flies open. I jump, whirling around in shock. Leaning into my car, squishing in, is a frowning Mr. Cardinal. My heart skitters as he simply stares at me for a minute.
"Where are you going?" I shrug, shaking. He smiles at me then, and I gulp, gripping the steering wheel tighter.
"Arrow said we shouldn't be expecting you anytime soon..." I shrug and look down at my hands, ashamed. "I'm glad she's wrong about more than just her driving abilities." He laughs. I sigh and fiddle with the leather of my steering wheel. When I say nothing, he sighs and pulls back from my car.
"Well you might as well come in, you're already here." I whip around to look at him head on.
He smiles at me again, carefully swings my door shut, and then heads towards his front door, whistling. I sit in my car for another minute, debating with myself about whether I should follow him or not, and just staring at my hands on the wheel. Finally, with a groan, I turn the key, pull myself out of the car and trudge towards the porch where Arrow's dad is waiting for me, just watching.
"What are you doing up this early on a Saturday?" He questions when I reach the porch. I shrug and scuff my shoes on the wood. He sighs after a moment, and swings the front door open. He leads me in and directs me to the kitchen. He reaches for the coffee pot on the counter.
"Listen Kid," he starts, turning to face me, "I can tell that you've been through some stuff. I can also tell from the look on your face that you aren't ready to talk about it." I give the best smile I can, which is harder than I thought it would be. He returns it before continuing.
"Now with that said, I want you to know that this is a safe place. No one is going to force you to explain your story, or make you push boundaries you aren't comfortable with. But... If you do want to talk, you can talk to any one of us. We are all pretty good with listening, even though I know it seems like some of us are better at the talking part of life," He smiles at me, obviously referring to his husband and daughter. "I do think you need to talk to someone about whatever it is you're running from. I won't push you to talk to me, but from what I've seen, and what my kids have told me I know you're holding onto something that's really hurting you."
My jaw clenches, but I push past it.
"W-what have y-you s-seen?" He sighs and gestures towards the nearest stool. I collapse onto it and he moves so he can sit across from me.
"When you first started coming around here, I noticed some stuff. Little things, stuff like the scars on your wrists and the way you don't like to be touched...I figure something happened, ." My heart hits my throat, I screw my eyes up and try to put into words my question.
"D-d-do... d-do you know w-what h-happened?" Pain is evident in my voice, and I can practically feel the pity radiating off of him.
"I don't know what demons you're facing, I just have a few rough guesses. I tried to talk to your brother about it, see if there was anything we could do to help you but... He's not exactly the easiest book to read. Ultimately, he told me you'd been through some things, but he refused to elaborate. I'm sure he meant that it was your story to tell." A sob breaks free from my chest in relief at his words. I sag onto the counter and take a couple of deep breaths.
I twist on the counter so I can see him. He looks like he's in pain.
"It kills me to see anyone suffering the way you so clearly are. Is there anything I can do to help?" I feel a tear slide down my face and splash against the counter. I sit up and wipe the drop from the counter with my arm.
"I-i'm OK." I whisper.
He purses his lips. "I won't push anymore, because I can see how uncomfortable this makes you, but please at least think about what I said." My shoulders drop in relief.
"Y-yessir." I close my eyes and force the lump in my throat further down. I hear Mr. Cardinal sigh, and then the coffee machine sputters. I open my eyes as he turns to grab two cups and the milk and sugar. He comes back and places one cup in front of me. I wrap my hands around it as he talks.
"The last thing I want to mention is that Blake also said that you haven't been sleeping, and I can tell from the circles under your eyes that it's even worse than he thinks. So I want to offer you a place here. We have plenty of room, and we have a top of the line security system," he smirks at me and shakes his head, "And we won't ask any questions if you ever show up looking for a warm bed or a hot meal. If you ever feel like you can't be home, or you don't want to be alone, or even if you just don't feel like driving back after you've been hanging out with my kids. You will always have a safe place here, Andromeda. No questions asked." Tears fill my eyes again, but this time I'm not quite sure why I'm fighting them back.
He offers me another warm smile. My breath catches again and I feel another sob break free of my chest.
My mind is at war, the urge to explain why I can't take him up on his offer battling against the jeopardy the truth would put him in. Half of me wants so badly to share, to lean on this man who radiates strength, kindness, and safety. But the other half of me is terrified- both that I may end up ruining him and his family, or worse that maybe the truth might be too much for them, might make them realize I'm not worth all of this effort.
In the end the fear wins out, and my secrets stay buried.
"T-thank you." I manage to speak and his smile grows.
"Anytime, Andy. My kids adore you, Vic loves you, you've brought my house back together in ways you can't even begin to understand. The least I can do is make sure you know how welcome you are." I give him a watery smile as the urge to cry builds higher. "T-thank you..." I breathe again. He nods and takes a sip of his coffee. I swirl my spoon around as I fight back my emotions.
"If you ever do want to tell your tale, I'd be happy to listen. But until you approach me, Andy, your business is your business. I won't ask for any information you don't want to share." He reiterates.
I smile at him the best I can, and take a deep gulp of my own coffee, hoping to wash away the memories this conversation caused with the burning liquid.
We sit together in silence from then on, both lost in thought.
Mr. Cardinal eventually pulls out his phone and starts messing around with it. I sip my coffee, the warmth leaching into my hands as I lose myself in my train of thought.