The rest of the weekend passes quickly. I went back over to Arrow's house on Sunday, and we watched movies. Arrow questioned me about staying the night the following weekend, and I made a noncommittal grunt. I have no intention of ever staying at their house. Between my nightly nightmares, the way I always wake up screaming, and the fact that I am still trying to make sure no monsters from my past can find me vulnerable around other people, a sleepover is completely out of the question.
Now it is Monday morning, and it is getting dangerously close to the time the bell is supposed to ring.
Arrow had texted me early this morning and told me she didn't need a ride, but now it is almost time for school to start and I can't see her anywhere. It is causing panic to start filling my gut- Had something happened to her? Had all I'd done to keep her out been burned down by a couple of hours at my house? Had he... had he come for me again and instead gotten her? Was she lying locked in the same hellhole I Had barely--
"Hey." I jump and a scream flies out of my mouth.
My heart is beating out of my chest. I turn around. Immediately, I calm down. Ryker is smiling apologetically at me.
"D-don't do that!" I exclaim. He runs his fingers through his hair and smiles wider at me, apologies still in his shining eyes.
"Sorry, I thought you heard me coming." I glare at him with pursed lips and shake my head. He leans against the side of my car, just a hair's breadth away from me. "What are you thinking so hard about?" I twist my lips between my teeth, not willing to give him an answer.
After a moment, he clears his throat and runs his fingers through his hair again with a sigh. I lick my lips without thinking about it. He swallows audibly before shaking himself and glancing around.
"Are you looking for my sister?" I nod and he smiles widely. He stands up and readjusts his backpack.
"Come on. I'll take you to them." Amusement is layered through his voice, which kind of confuses me.
I walk along a step behind him, and for some reason I find myself fighting the urge to reach forward and lace my fingers through his. He turns to smile down at me as we walk. For some reason I feel myself flushing, and he smiles wider as my cheeks burn bright. Thankfully he says nothing though and continues leading me into the school.
After walking for about five minutes, I hear low talking, and a few muffled laughs. When we turn the next corner there is a huge crowd of people blocking the hallway—all staring down the hallway in the same direction. I lift onto the tips of my toes to try to see over them, but unfortunately I am still too short.
I frown in annoyance that I can't see what's going on. I turn to ask Ryker what's happening, but my annoyance spikes up as I see him pursing his lips to stop a laugh. I raise my eyebrow at him and he completely loses it. His electrifying laugh booms throughout the hallway, throughout me; everybody whips around at once, open mouthed and wide eyed. As they stare, I feel more and more uncomfortable.
Ryker's laughter cuts off abruptly.
"What are you looking at?" He booms. "Shows over, get going!" I almost laugh myself as all at once everybody rushes to get out of the hallway, stumbling over themselves. Ryker glances down at me as soon as the last student is gone and drops his scowl into a smirk. He wiggles his eyebrows at me and I shake my head in amusement. The bell rings overhead, but we ignore it. Ryker smiles brighter at me again and waves down the hallway.
"This way, my l—" He cuts himself off suddenly by coughing. I stare at him, eyebrows furrowed, wondering what he was going to say before he cut himself off. He nods towards the end of the hallway, amusement dancing back into his eyes.
"This way, Andy" He chuckles again, "You're going to love this." At his slight chuckle, I'm reminded of his booming laugh a moment ago. I frown up at him.
"W-why were y-you laughing at me?" He smiles down at me again, eyes dancing.
"You just looked so cute; standing up on your tippy toes, stretching your neck out and trying desperately to see over their head's... you're absolutely adorable." My face burns again and I duck beneath my hair. After a moment of staring at my shoes, Ryker clears his throat and points to the end of the hall.
I follow his gesture and immediately feel amusement and confusion paint my face. Sitting in the middle of the hallway, tangled together with what looks like fishnets, are Arrow and Rowan. Rowan appears to be completely naked... and Arrow is wearing the shortest pair of shorts ever and a teeny tiny tank top—and a bright red face. Rowan is beaming like the cat that caught the canary on the other hand. We start walking towards them, and at the sounds of our footsteps, their heads snap up. Arrow grows impossibly redder, and Rowan's smile turns blinding.
"Hey Andy!" He waves enthusiastically, the netting they're trapped in flopping as he does.
"Rowan, stop screaming, you're going to make me deaf!" Arrow shrieks. Rowan rolls his eyes at her before looking back to me.
"Did Ryker get you to help us out of this mess?" He whisper-yells. Arrow glares at him before attempting to stand—although this doesn't work too well considering they are looped together in a mess of limbs and netting.
"W-what happened?" I question, laughter turning my voice lighter. Ryker starts laughing again. He rests his hand on the small of my back for a second and I jump at the feeling of electricity that dances up and down my back, focusing on the place where his hand rests. He pulls back and offers me an apologetic grin. I swallow, all traces of amusement gone and replaced by something I can't name...
"Prank gone wrong, unfortunately. Now, will you please help us get untangled?" I smirk at him, shaking my head.
" And w-w-where are y-your clothes?" Rowan beames at me, and Arrow glowers at him harder.
"I don't like wearing them. And Arrow was kind of caught in the middle of her own prank because she was distracted by my killer abs." Arrow smacks him on the shoulder as hard as she can.
"I was not!" He smirks at her. "You so were. Why else would you prank yourself?" She smiles at him sarcastically, and then mimics him with a high squeaky voice.
I smile and shake my head at them before turning to Ryker.
"A-are you going to help t-them?" He turns his head and smiles widely at me.
"Nope!" He cheers. I raise my eyebrow. He shrugs.
"They got themselves into this, I think they should figure it out themselves too."
"Ryker I swear to the Goddess if you don't get me out of here right now-" "Alright Alright! Calm down Arrow. I'll get you out." He rolls his eyes at me again before walking over and beginning to fiddle with the netting.
It takes him several moments to get them untangled but once he does Arrow stands and stomps away from Rowan. He also stands and I feel my cheeks burn brighter. I turn to focus on Arrow, making sure to keep him out of my line of sight.
"You need clothes, bro." Ryker laughs at Rowan. Out of the corner of my eye I see Rowan stretching and then start swinging his hips. I cover my face to stop the squeal of embarrassment. Arrow grumbles beside me and I hear her turn on her heel so she's facing away from the naked idiot.
"Cover yourself!" Booms Ryker. Rowan giggles, but after a moment he calls out to us that he's covered. We keep our eyes covered until Ryker also calls that it's safe, though. Then, because the bell for the first period has already rung, we decide to take the day off.
We decide to head to my house, because nobody is going to give us trouble for not being in school there. Arrow hops in my car and we lead the boys in the beast. When we get to my house we grab snacks and drinks from the kitchen before debating what to do next.
Finally I lead them into my room. It's really the only room- other than Blake's- with any type of furniture or entertainment. Rowan sits beside my dresser and Arrow stalks across the room. She sits as far from him as physically possible and I roll my eyes as she glares at him.
Ryker smiles at me and rests his butt against my dresser. I return his smile and walk over to my bed. I sit cross legged on my comforter and listen to the quiet bickering of Rowan and Arrow.
We sit in silence for a few minutes, and then Rowan sits up straight.
"Let's play would you rather!" Arrow groans and Ryker shakes his head at his best friend. I shrug, uncaring of what we do.
"OK Would you rather lick peanut butter off a hobo's foot or run naked through campus every day at lunch for the rest of the year?" I roll my eyes at him and Arrow throws her bottle of water at him. He laughs.
"Peanut butter." Ryker rumbles. I smile over at him and he shrugs. "The girls at school are always trying to get a look at my junk, I don't want them to actually have a chance to see it." He explains. My face flames at the mention of his junk. He winks at me and Rowan laughs.
"Dude that's why you run as fast as you can! The hobo's foot is going to be nasty! Maybe he doesn't even have shoes!" Ryker rolls his eyes.
"You never said we couldn't wash the foot first!" Rowan laughs. Arrow groans again beside me and when I turn she's still glowering at Rowan.
"Arrow?" I call. She drops her glare as soon as she turns away from Rowan. I smile at her and she returns it for a second.
"W-which would y-you pick?" I question. She rolls her eyes.
"Peanut butter for sure. The school year is barely half over. No way I'm running naked through campus every day for the rest of the year." I nod in agreement and she smiles at me again.
"Gah you guys are all a bunch of prudes!" Rowan complains. We all roll our eyes at him.
"Whatever Rowan. Would you rather eat the same thing for every meal for the rest of your life or eat only one meal that had someone else's poop mixed in and be able to eat whatever you want?" Ryker starts the next round.
Everyone laughs and the game continues on for several rounds. I even start getting into it, asking ridiculous questions to see the inner workings of their minds.
"Would you rather know HOW you die, or WHEN you die?" Arrow questions some time later. I swallow, my throat a massive lump all of a sudden.
"How I die" Rowan speaks up, "That way if it's doing something stupid I'll just avoid doing that until I have no other option but to do whatever it is."
"But what if it's someting like murder?" Arrow bites at him. He smirks at her.
"Well if it's murder I just have to avoid you for as long as possible." He teases. She rolls her eyes. "I wish I could murder you" she murmurs. Ryker clears his throat to pull their attention.
"I think I would want to know when I die." "And why?" Arrow questions. He smiles. "So I can do all the things I was too afraid to do before. Or say goodbye to everyone I care about." He shrugs. "I just think it's better to know when than how." I suck in a deep breath and all eyes turn to me. I shrug, unable to come up with words. Ryker furrows his eyebrows.
"Are you OK Andy?" I swallow past the lump in my throat and nod. Arrow speaks up from her spot on the floor.
"Which would you choose, Andy?" I glance down at my hands.
"W-when, I g-g-guess." My voice is so weak, I'm surprised they can hear it at all. I blink back my thoughts of death and regrets. When my eyes are clear again I glance up to see Ryker frowning in concern. I swallow once again and rake my hands through my hair. He glances away from me, obviously picking up that I wasn't going to say anything else.
"OK Would you rather give up all dairy products for the rest of your life or have taste buds on your butthole?"Rowan questions. I tune out of the game then.
I find myself tracing along the inside of my thigh. The action causes pain to spike over my leg, but I can't stop it. I'm lost in thought, remembering the person who will be my undoing.
My bed shifts and I blink in surprise.
Ryker has moved so he's sitting beside me on the bed instead of across from me on my dresser. His knee is pressed against mine, but instead of causing terror and disgust to run through me, the touch feels comforting. I swallow again and glance up his body from his knee to his face. Our eyes collide and the air in the room seems to disappear. I feel myself spinning, and only the connection between our eyes stops me from completely spiraling out. He breathes in and I feel myself copy him. He breaths out four beats later, and again I copy. We repeat this pattern until I feel myself slowly calming down. His lips turn up once my heartbeat slows and I take in another deep breath. I break the connection between us and glance around my room.
I can hear Arrow and Rowan talking quietly to themselves, but I can't make out what they're saying. They're still sitting across the room from each other, but Arrow is no longer glowering intensely at him. She looks happier, actually. Like she's enjoying their conversation. Rowan is smiling too, and I look away before they realize I'm staring at them.
I glance back up at Ryker and give him a weak smile.
'T-thanks..." I breathe. He smiles back at me and presses his knee tighter against mine for a second.
"No need." He whispers.
I glance at the clock on my nightstand and am shocked to see that somehow two hours have passed while I was distracted.
'A-are you guys h-hungry?" I question. Arrow jumps to her feet and smiles wide at me.
"Want to do something for lunch?" I nod and the boys pull themselves to standing as well. I sigh and stand up myself.
We all trek out of my room and head downstairs. We raid the kitchen, but there is nothing satisfying so we decide to head to their house for the rest of the afternoon.
I hop in the back of the beast and we speed off. I find myself relaxing the further we get from my house.
When we pull into their driveway, I hop out easily. I follow the twins and Rowan into the house and then beyond that into the kitchen. Arrow hands me a bottle of water and a bag of chips before turning and grabbing all the fixings for a sandwich.
After lunch, we head to the basement. Ryker and Rowan decide that they're going to teach me and Arrow how to play some video game on the playstation.
A couple of hours later, Mr. Cardinal floats down the stairs. He comes around the couch and sits down beside me. I'd dropped the controller a while ago, frustration at my character convincing me that video games just aren't for me. Arrow, Rowan and Ryker spin around after a second, sheepish smiles on their faces.
"Hey pop..." Ryker speaks up. He raises his eyebrow at him. He offers a wider smile and his pop shakes his head.
"Have you guys been here all day?" Arrow lowers her head.
"We went to Andy's place this morning.." Her pop shakes his head, a smile tugging at his lips.
"Why didn't you just ask if you could stay home today?" Amusement colors his voice. Arrow glances up at him.
"Well it wasn't planned..." Ryker speaks up. Mr. Cardinal laughs and stands up.
"Sure it wasn't. Anyways, dinner is almost ready. Andy staying or going?" I offer him a small smile.
"Staying?" I question. He smiles and nods before heading back towards the stairs. "What about me?" Rowan cries. He stops and snorts at him.
"Please as if you would willingly leave." He turns and leaves the room, humming as he goes.
"Well he's not wrong.." He muses before picking his controller back up. Ryker and Arrow snicker and I roll my eyes, a small smile tugging at my lips.
Ryker doesn't bother grabbing his controller again. Instead he comes over and sinks into the chair beside me.
"Did you have a good day?" He smiles at me. I sigh and think about the day. I grin at him after a second. His answering smile catches my breath, and I feel like he is struggling with the same problem I am.
After dinner, Ryker drives me home. Arrow decides to stay home, opting to have a shower over escorting me back. The ride is peaceful, although I find myself struggling to keep my eyes off of him. When we finally pull up outside my house, half of me is begging for me to press myself against him and the other half is loudly berating that half of me.
"Hey Andy?" I jump, forgetting where I am momentarily. I smile sheepishly at Ryker. He traces his bottom lip with his tongue and the weak half of me whimpers. I shake my head at my stupidity. I refocus on him and offer him a small smile so he knows I'm listening.
"Why did you seem so upset when Arrow asked if you'd rather know when you die or how you die?" I suck in a breath, not expecting him to ask me this. I flick my eyes back open, unaware I'd let them shut, and see he's biting his lip. I can practically feel the regret pouring off of him. I sigh and run my fingers through my hair.
I debate whether or not I should answer him. Eventually I decide to tell the truth, figuring it really can't cause that much harm.
"I a-already know h-h-how I'm gonna d-die." I whisper with a shrug. He frowns and opens his mouth like he's going to ask me something else. I give him a small, weak smile and tug the passenger door open.
"T-thanks for the r-ride." I breathe. He frowns at me for a second before offering me a small smile.
"Any time, Andy. I'd do anything to make your life easier." I blink at the seriousness in his voice, but can't find the words to question him.
I stare at him for another minute, my hand on the open door. Suddenly I shake myself out of my stupor and hop out of his car. He watches me as I enter the house and only after I'm safely inside with the door locked does he drive away.
I run up to my room and throw myself into my bed. I lay there for hours, just thinking about him and all of the things he makes me feel.
When I finally fall asleep, I still manage to wake up screaming.