Comfortably Numb

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Chapter 13

When I turn onto my street, Arrow and Rowan stop bickering. The silence feels ominous; the weight of what I am about to do overbearing. I reach past Ryker to hit the button to open the garage door. He offers me a small smile while I turn into my driveway. The second I pull to a stop, Arrow and Rowan hop out.

My hands shake as I turn the car off and withdraw my keys.

"Hey." Ryker's voice shakes me from my thoughts. I turn to look at him.

"You know you don't have to do this. If you don't feel comfortable..."he trails off. I let my eyes flick shut and focus on my breathing.

He's willing to let you off the hook...My subconscious whispers.

I take another deep breath. It's just a house. I steel myself, straightening my spine. I glance over at Ryker who is still sitting next to me. He looks worried about me. I glance past him to Arrow and Rowan, who are standing at the bottom step, just waiting.

"It's j-just a h-house." I whisper. He frowns back at me for a second before nodding.

He slides out of my car, all grace and poise, and I follow after him. I walk slowly to the door, weaving past them until I get to the steps. I gulp and look back at my friends. Fear is pulling at me, but I shake it off. I shove my key in the door and turn it, but pause before I swing the door open.

I turn back to look at them all. Arrow is smiling, but I can see guilt behind her eyes. Ryker is frowning with his arms crossed across his chest. Rowan is standing beside him, scratching his arm. It almost looks like he's purposefully avoiding my eye. I shake my head and open my mouth, the strange need to explain a little before they see my home.

"S-s-sorry... it's just..." I pause, seeing Arrow's smile fall. She no doubt thinks I'm bailing. I gulp again and bite my lip before pressing on.

"I h-have a l-l-lot of issues, and I-I-I-I d-don't want any of y-you g-getting the wrong idea... M-M-My h-house...well it isn't the... f-fanciest... Keep it in m-mind that we only j-j-just moved in..." And before I can chicken out, I pull the door open.

The other three follow me silently, taking in the showroom I call a home. I nervously tear at my lips with my teeth, feeling naked, like I'm locked back in that—I stop the thought before it can fully form. This is different. This is just my house; nothing bad is going to come from me welcoming my friends into my house.

My friends... I realize with a start that these people are my friends. While I've been trying to keep them at a distance to protect them, they had each snuck their way into my heart. I feel myself start to tear up and I back away from them, so I can see all of them.

We're standing in the foyer, and they're all surveying the little they can see from the doorway. Arrow is in the front as she was the first to follow me inside. Ryker is behind her, a grimace on his face I can't quite understand. Rowan brings up the rear, and he offers me a small smile when he sees me looking. I wrap my arms around my midsection, the feelings I try so hard to control spinning uncomfortably.

My heart kicks as memories of my last friend mixes with the people standing in front of me. A tear falls and Ryker takes a step past his sister.

"Andy.. We can go home." He breathes. Arrow nods behind him, and Rowan smiles sadly at me. I shake my head and haul in a breath.

"N-no. I w-want to show you." I breathe. I turn and head towards the living room, wiping my eyes as I walk. I hear three sets of feet behind me.

The minute we step into the living room, each person sucks in a breath through their teeth. I nod and step further into the room. I brush my hand along the beige wall beside me, and I feel all their eyes settle on me.

"Is this really where you live?" Rowan breathes. Arrow gasps and smacks him. I turn so I can see them all. They're barely standing in the empty room, eyes wide.

"Yeah..." I breathe. I wrap my arms back around my stomach and look at the ground.

"Why isn't there any evidence people live here then?" Ryker hits him this time. I laugh and look around the room again.

"P-P-Probably because nobody d-does!" They frown at me all at once.

"What do you mean?" Ryker questions. I sigh and walk over to them. I offer him a small smile. "C-come on." They follow behind me again as I lead them past the rest of the empty rooms. Each room has them frowning deeper, but I say nothing.

When we reach the stairs I start climbing.

At the top, I turn to the furthest door. Blake had insisted I take the suite because it is deeper in the house. I figure he was trying to put himself between me and the front door. I stop in front of the plain white door, the same as every other one in the house. I place my hand on the handle and turn back to them. They are all frowning at me, but I smile.

"I l-l-live here." I breathe. I pull the door open before they can say anything else.

"Is this your room?" Questions Arrow as she steps inside. I nod and wave the other two in. Ryker hauls in a deep breath as he walks into my room. Rowan follows him and I pull up the rear. I tug the door shut behind me.

Arrow smiles at me as she picks up a thick book from my dresser.

"Pride and Prejudice?" I nod. My copy is well worn from multiple reads. She places it back down and reaches out to run her fingers over the deep dark blue of my wall. I step further into the room as Arrow touches the rest of my stuff from my dresser.

My heart kicks as she runs her fingers over the jewelry box I'd gotten for my 16th birthday but I say nothing.

"A-Arrow.." I call. She glances up at me and smiles. I sink onto my bed and wave her over. She frowns but comes towards me. I lay out on my back and stare at the ceiling. After a second, she sinks into the bed beside me, just far enough that we aren't touching.
"Stars?" She whispers. I turn to look at her and smile.

"You like the stars?" I nod and she smiles back at me, understanding why I have brought them up here. I don't live downstairs—nobody ever goes down there. My room, on the other hand, is a window into what I like; who I am. Arrow reaches up and traces the outline of the biggest constellation.
"Are these accurate?" She questions. I smile and nod.

She turns to smile at me before focusing back on the ceiling. I sit up and let my feet hit the floor beside me. Ryker is across from me, examining the collection of ducks. There's exactly 112 sitting on my dresser and floor. There's ducks of all shapes, colours, sizes and styles. Ryker runs his hand along the back of a wooden mallard that has one eye slightly bigger than the other. I shove down the shiver I feel pulling at my spine as he touches something so personal to me.

"You like ducks?" I shrug non committedly. He frowns and I sigh.

"They belonged to s-someone I really c-c-cared about..." I trail off, remembering the original owner of my collection. His smile, his laugh, the time he'd made me walk around the mall to every store to find anything with ducks on it... Pain spikes up my chest and I shake my head.

"H-he left them f-for me..." I stand up and grab the smallest duck. It's pink and when you squeeze it, it lets out a high pitched squeak. He'd loved that duck the most- It had been a gift from his parents, after he went through a faze of only responding to every question with "Duck!"

Ryker nods and looks down at the collection again. I swallow past the lump in my throat.

"I'm sorry.." He breathes. I look up from the duck in my hand to frown at him. His eyes are sad.

"W-why?" I breathe. He nods to the duck in my hand.

"It just seems like something happened to him..." I let my eyes drift shut. The duck in my hand squeaks as I squeeze it. After a second I let my eyes flick open.

"I-it's not your fault." He frowns at me and grabs the hand I have wrapped tightly around the duck. The pressure of his hand reminds me that I'm squishing it, and I release my tight grip.

"It might not be, but I can see you're hurting over it. So I'm sorry you're hurting." He stares at me, his minty breath hitting my face with every exhale because of how close he is. I gulp after a second and look down to our joined hands. I turn my hand so I am holding his, letting the duck fall to the ground.
"Thank you." I breathe.

He squeezes my hand again and I glance back at him. He smiles down at me, sadness still firmly behind his eyes. After another minute of just staring at each other I sigh and gently pull my hand from his grip. I stoop to collect the duck and place it back with it's friends.

"So what do you like? Other than the stars?" Rowan questions, drawing my attention. He is sitting beside Arrow now, and they're both looking at me. I shrug and sink onto the floor, crossing my legs. Ryker follows me a second later and his knee barely skims mine. Shivers dance up my spine but I push them away. Without looking I reach behind me and grab the biggest duck from the collection. It's a stuffed yellow duck that smells like taffeta and coffee and pine trees and home.

"I l-like to r-run.." I bite my lip. Arrow smiles at me, encouraging. I glance at Ryker and he's smiling softly at me too.

"M-my favourite c-colour's blue. And my f-favourite genre of m-music is hard r-rock. And I l-like you g-guys..." I suck in a breath at the last statement I made. It is just as true as the others, but I hadn't meant to say it.

"Andy.." Arrow calls for me. I glance up and she's smiling brightly at me.

"We like you too." A sob breaks out past my lips and I bite my bottom lip to stop anymore. I smile weakly without dropping my grip on my lip. Ryker moves beside me and when I flick my eyes in his direction he has his arms folded in his lap. He smiles brightly at me. I feel my heart kick, skipping a beat. I smile back at him and suck a deep breath in through my nose. I stare at him for a second more before I shake myself and turn back to the other two.

"D-do you want to see the b-basement?" The words are weak, but they smile and nod anyways. I drop the duck back onto the floor and push myself to standing. They lead the way out of my room, and I glance around one more time before following them out. I tug the door closed behind me and start back down the stairs.

We spend an hour in the basement. The guys start messing around with the equipment, goofing off. Arrow sits next to me and watches them.

"Hey Andy?" She whispers. I turn to her and smile. She smiles back.

"Thank you, for showing us this." I nod at her and lean back against the wall I'd sat beside.

"T-thanks for.. b-being my friend." I whisper in return. She smiles brighter.

"Anytime." She laughs. The guys look over to us before focusing back on their weird competition, that seems to just be who can use the workout equipment in the weirdest way.

After everyone gets bored with the competition, we head back to Arrow and Ryker's home. The rest of the day passes in a blur of joking around, watching movies and as always a hearty meal finishes it off.

When it is time to leave, I actually feel sad that the day has come to a close. I drive away feeling lighter than I have in two year's, and actually feel myself smiling even once my friends are long gone

*Unknown POV*

The guard pats me down with his hands. He brushes against all of me, checking for weapons or other contraband. I comply, eager to get this over with so I can get to the man I'm here to see.

"Go ahead." He grumbles, waving me through the gate. I walk calmly and follow the arrows on the floor until I get to the next station of guards. They take the paperwork the last guard gave me and wave me through their checkpoint. I smile then as I can see the glass wall that divides the visitation area.

I go to the furthest cubicle, our normal spot. He isn't here yet, but I know he will be any second. I sit down and look down at my hands while I wait.

He doesn't keep me waiting long.

I smile and glance up when his shadow falls on me. He's wearing the same khaki uniform as always, and he has his usual blank stare directed at me. I know from experience that once we start talking he'll get more excited, and I'll even get to see him smile.

He sinks into his chair and holds his chained hands up to the guard behind him. The guard unlocks the cuffs around his wrists before stepping back.

He picks the phone up and I do the same. We sit in silence for a long minute.

"Hello Master." I breathe. He nods at me and says nothing. I smile and lean closer to the glass.

"How are you doing?" He shrugs, cold indifference in his deep brown eyes. I lick my bottom lip and flick my eyes to the guard standing behind him. He is stationed against the wall, not listening to our conversation. I glance back at my Master and smile once again.

"She was dreaming about you again." His eyes light up and he shifts in his seat.

"She was?" I shiver at his silky voice. He only ever responds when we talk about her, but I push that thought aside.

"Yes Master. Every night this week." He smiles then, and it's like the sun coming out from behind the clouds.

"Good." He breathes. He twists the phone so it sits more comfortably in his grasp. "Good. Did you do what I asked?" I nod excitedly.

"Yes Master. I got it." He smiles wider. I tap my pocket and feel the weight of the pictures settle there. My arm twinges in pain, but I push it aside in favour of drinking up the sparkle of his smile.

We share a look, and I know he wants me to wait until after the visit is over to sneak them to him.

"I also got you something else." I breathe. He quirks his left eyebrow up at me. I smile.

"What is it?" I flick my eyes at his guard before turning my attention back to him.

"A gift." I breathe. His eyes narrow but he doesn't press more, knowing we're being watched. There's silence again for several long minutes, and I know he's thinking about her. I don't break his concentration, having learned that lesson a long time ago.

"Have you been interacting with her?" He questions, shocking me. I frown at the anger that's floating through his voice, wondering how he got to this question.

"No more than you've permitted, Master." He glowers at me for another second before accepting my words. He settles back into his chair.

"I have another job for you." "Yes?" I breathe. He nods at me and glances over his shoulder at the guard. He turns back to me.

"I need you to go get something for me."

"Anything master." He nods again.

"I need you to go back to my place and gather my notebooks. I think it's time we move onto the next phase." I nod enthusiastically.

"They're in my office. Touch nothing else. Once you've got them, come back. I'll explain the rest then."

"Of course Master. Anything for you."

"Times Up." The guard snaps unexpectedly. I protest, this visit being way too short. But my master hangs up the phone without complaint. He stares at me while the guard pats him down again and snaps the cuffs back into place.

The second the guard lets him stand up I focus on the weight of the pictures and her underwear I'd snagged the day before in my pocket. I imagine them disappearing from my pocket and appearing in his. The second I feel their weight disappear, and the accompanying pain, I flick my eyes back open. He is smiling at me again, and my breath catches. I smile back.

The guard prods him in the back with his nightstick, and my master starts walking away from me. Pain dances into my chest as he leaves my view, but I hold his smile in my mind to help me push past it.

I go back through the same sets of guards I had to before my visit to exit the prison. By the time I get out of there, the records of me are already being erased. My skin sizzles in pain as I push past my boundaries, but I ignore the pain it causes me.

I climb into my Jeep and drive away from the prison, away from my master, and away from my only source of happiness.
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