I trudge up the stairs in search of Blake. I find him in the kitchen. He is stirring a pan of eggs in front of the stove wearing a pair of dress pants and a button up shirt. He smiles at me when I walk into the kitchen.
"Morning Andy." I nod at him and walk over to the table. I feel his eyes on me as I sink into the nearest chair.
"Everything OK?" He questions. I sigh and lean onto the table. He sighs and flicks the stovetop off.
"OK what's wrong?" He comes over with his pan of eggs and sits down across from me. I watch as he grabs forkfuls of egg straight from the pan. He glances up at me over his loaded fork, expectant. I sigh before fiddling with my fingers on the top of the old wooden table.
"A-Arrow wants m-me to come o-over today." He nods with a frown. I roll my eyes.
"So?" "T-today is D-December 7th...." He frowns for a second, then his eyes go wide as he understands.
"Oh..." I nod and lower my gaze back to the table. He lets out a sigh before I hear his fork clatter against his pan.
"Andy... I know this next week is going to be really hard for you, but I also know that being alone isn't going to make anything easier..." He pauses. When I glance up I see him pursing his lips at me.
Something is shifting behind his eyes, an emotion I can't name. It almost seems angry, but I don't know what I would have done to warrant that.
"Have you... have you told them anything?" I shake my head. He sighs again.
"Well I know I can't make you, but I think it might be good for you--" "I know B-Blake." I cut him off.
He purses his lips again.
"I'm just saying it might help to talk-" I stand up and head for the kitchen door.
"Andy!" He calls after me. I ignore him. "Fine." He calls. I stop walking at his tone, "I won't say anything more about it. But I do think you should go today."
"Because I don't want you to be alone. Because I know that if I leave for work, and you stay here you will barricade yourself in that basement and run until your legs give out. Because... Because I think Arrow and her family are good for you, even if you won't let them in. You've been smiling more, Andy. And you don't spend all of your time in your room or the basement anymore. And when you're with them... I'm not so worried about you." I heave in a deep breath and turn to look at him with tears in my eyes.
"B-Blake... What if I h-hurt them t-too?" He sighs and takes a step towards me. "Things are different this time. Even if he does get out, no one important will be hurt. He won't be able to do the same things again." I flick my eyes shut, my mind and stomach revolting at his blatant lie. He sighs.
"I think you should go to Arrow's. Heck, I'll even give you a ride if you hurry and get dressed. Just... don't go back to the basement today, please." I sigh and glance down at my hands again. I feel myself nod, and I walk up the stairs despite my reservations about going anywhere today.
I dress in a hurry. I can't find my thick beanie though, and after searching for a few minutes I reluctantly give up. I remember the few other things I've been missing, and remind myself to ask Blake when I get downstairs. I walk carefully down the stairs and tug my winter boots on. Blake isn't anywhere inside, but the garage door is ajar. I grab my purse from where I had sat it down while I pulled my boots on and leave the house. I lock the garage door behind me. Blake is waiting for me in his Jeep.
I pull myself in and buckle up.
He pulls out of the garage, tapping the key to shut it behind us. Once we're on the road I turn to him.
"H-hey I'm missing some c-clothes and things, y-you don't happen to h-have any of m-my stuff mixed in w-with yours, d-do you?" He frowns at me and then glances back at the road.
'I don't think so... What kind of stuff?" I shrug.
"L-little things. My f-favourite plaid s-shirt, some of my u-underwear and s-s-socks, my hat, a few o-other things...'' He shrugs.
"No I haven't seen any of that stuff. I'll keep an eye out though, maybe it got stuck to some of my stuff or something." I nod and we lapse into silence.
Twenty minutes later he pulls into the Cardinal's driveway. I hop out and walk up the walkway, careful of icy patches. Blake honks once I get to the porch and when I glance back at him he waves. I wave back before turning and knocking on the wooden door.
Nobody answers. I wait a few minutes before knocking again. Still no one comes. Finally, I reach out and try the handle. The door opens right away. I step inside, nervous at walking into someone else's home uninvited. Mr. Cardinal calls out to me from the kitchen, and I walk in as soon as I take my boots off.
"I wondered when you'd get the message and just come in." He's sat at the kitchen counter, nursing a mug of coffee. I give him a weak smile and he beams back at me.
"Want a drink?" He points to his mug. I shake my head. He smiles at me and gestures to the seat opposite him. Warily, I walk over and sink onto the offered stool.
"You know, you don't have to knock anymore. The doors always unlocked, and you're basically part of the family now. You might as well just walk in." I nod, not at all intending to drop my knocking habits.
He smiles at me again. We sit in silence for a moment before he sighs and jerks his head towards the back of the house.
"I assume you're looking for my children. They're in the basement. Go on down." I smile at him and hop off the stool, heading towards the basement.
As I get closer, the soft sound of thumping music reaches me. I descend the stairs to the crooning voice of Patrick Stump, nodding along to the beat.
When I reach the last step I recognize the song as "Irresistible". I turn the corner and stifle a gasp at the sight.
Ryker and Rowan are standing across from each other, both shirtless, and they're both striking out at the other impossibly fast. I glance around the basement, but Arrow is nowhere to be found. I walk further into the room, and the second I'm fully in the room Ryker drops his stance. Rowan slams a fist into his gut but Ryker barely flinches. Something inside of me twitches at the display of strength.
Ryker steps away from Rowan and waves a remote that he got from somewhere on his person. I'm not sure where, because I force myself to keep my eyes above his shoulders.
The music cuts out and then he turns to smile at me. Butterflies dance in my stomach but I push them away in favour of returning his smile. I wave at him and walk over to the couch. I sink into the comfortable cushion, and a minute later Ryker falls into the chair to my right. Rowan follows a second later, throwing himself onto the other couch.
"N-not wanting to k-k-keep beating the snot out of one another?" I question. Rowan snorts and Ryker offers me a wink.
"Nah, we'd much rather hang out with you." I flush inexplicably. He smiles wider.
"When did you get here?" Rowan questions. I turn to him and shrug. "M-maybe ten minutes a-ago?" He nods. "Arrow was waiting for you, I figured she'd have come down with you." I frown.
"S-she wasn't upstairs w-when I came in...." Rowan frowns and looks away from me.
A few minutes later, footsteps come pounding across the first floor, and a second later those same footsteps rip down the stairs. I turn to watch Arrow stumble around the corner. She smiles widely at me and straightens herself up.
"I didn't hear you come in!" I shrug as she dances over towards me. She's smiling widely, and there's something twinkling in her eyes. She throws herself into the chair not occupied by her brother.
"So what do you want to do today?" She practically sings. I furrow my eyebrows at her and flick my gaze to her brother. He smirks at me, understanding that I'm asking what the hell is going on with her.
"Arrow got an early Christmas present from dad." I nod at him and he chuckles. "He got her tickets to see some ballet-"
"Not some ballet!" She cuts him off. "La Bayadere! Performed by the Toronto branch of the Canadian Ballet Theatre!" She squeals and throws her arms around in a circle.
Memories jump out of the locked box in my chest.
"Places people! I want to see the Kingdom of the Shades from the top!" I smile over my shoulder at the other ladies as we fall in line for the 39th arabesque.
"Remember, straight lines, tall backs!" She knocks her heavy wooden cane against the floor and the piano starts immediately.
We move together, floating.
"Lift 2 and fill out the music!. Feet not knees Liddy! Feet Feet! Good. Lift the leg on one!.... Hold 9 10, 11.... Fill out your arms!"
The music ends with a soft trill. Our group is split down the middle, half of us on either side of the rehearsal space. I stay frozen with my arms tilted outwards, and my right leg outstretched backwards. I know from practice that the rest of the girls are in the same position.
"We'll stop there. Thank you Michael." We fall back into our relaxed positions, back straight and head's raised.
"Better. Now do it again." Her cane echoes off the ground once more and we dash back to our first positions.
I swallow and blink away the buried memory. Arrow is still gushing about her early christmas gift, but I can't hear the actual words past the echo in my mind.
"Andy?" Ryker's whisper reaches me. I whirl to face him, breaths shaky. He's frowning at me with his eyebrows furrowed. "Are you OK?" I swallow thickly and trace my eyes down his face, finding the intensity of his eyes to be too much. I nod after a second. His lips turn down further but he doesn't press the issue.
Instead, he turns and calls out to Arrow.
"OK I get it. You're going to see some show. Now can we please talk about something else?" He has just the right balance between annoyance and humour in his voice. His eyes fall back on me and I offer him a small grateful smile. He nods in return.
"What would you like to talk about then, Oh Mighty Ryker?" She growls at him. He smiles at me, causing my heart to skip a beat, before turning back to his sister.
"How about what you're going to get ME for christmas?"
This sparks an intense argument that completely draws everyone's attention away from Arrow's anxiety inducing gift. I smile and nod along, but the memory she'd dragged from me lingers in the back of my mind, twisting me into a ball of stress and sadness.
Hours later, when we finish our lunch in the kitchen, Ryker and Rowan are called away by Mr. Cardinal to do something. Arrow smiles at me and asks if I'd like to watch a movie. I agree readily, and we head back into the basement.
She sets the movie up, chattering mindlessly as I nod along. I'm not quite listening, paying more attention to my seat on the couch rather than her. She flicks the basement lights off and sinks into her normal chair.
I realize too late what movie she's picked.
The music swells and it tugs at me; I find myself unable to breathe. Arrow murmurs beside me, but her words are lost in the music.
Sparkling green eyes cut into me as he dances across the stage. His costume of white and gold shines under the stage lights, his crown a glittering beacon. He moves with such poise- confidence and strength in every movement. The swell of the music grows; a party I once had enjoyed. I watch as he spins, as he stretches and falls, as he celebrates his life on the stage. My heart cracks in my chest and silent tears begin falling. The music shifts slightly and without my permission my body snaps forward to the edge of my seat. He flees from the stage, and the scenery shifts.
I gasp for air as the pond appears, and the swans float past the shining prince. The sparkle of a tiara catches his eye, and he turns to shoo his buddies that have followed him away. My heart cracks again as the music changes, and my arms and legs tingle.
She dances onto stage in a gown of white and taps his shoulder. She folds to the floor. Music I have memorized barely reaches me. He lifts her by the hands and they move so she's standing in front of him, connected by the tight grip of their hands. The music twinkles as she lifts her leg and twirls. They move together seamlessly, the love between them obvious. Each spin sends another shockwave of pain to my chest. Every gentle lift a reminder of what I'd lost.
As Act II comes to a close, the lights start to dim.
My legs wobble under me as I push to my feet. A whimper I can't control falls past my lips as the faces I once recognized start to fade into darkness. My heart is bleeding now, and I cannot stay to watch the rest. I throw myself around the couch- simple movements I'd onced considered easy are somehow impossible now. Arrow follows after me as I stumble up the stairs- half blind from tears I can no longer feel.
I push into the hallway and Fumble with my boots. Hands wrap around my shoulders but I fling myself away. I hit the cold floor but barely feel it. My stomach rolls and I gag. I hear voices behind me, but I can't focus enough to figure out who it is or what they're saying.
Finally, blessedly, my boots slide onto my feet. I shove up from the ground and rip the front door out of my way. Someone screams something behind me, but I cannot listen. I step onto the porch and the wind whisks my hair from my face- still I don't feel it. Suddenly, my stomach flips again. I pause at the edge of the steps and lean over to the left side. My throat burns as I lose my lunch in the snow covered garden. My ears ring and I collapse to my knees while my stomach empties itself.
The second I finish, I push back to my feet. I wipe my face on the back of my hand and step forwards, intent on getting off the porch. Hands grab at my shoulders again, but I shake them off and start sprinting.
The snow falls around me as I run into the woods, determined to get as far away from the memories as I can. Green eyes flash out at me from the forest, but I shake my head and press on. It's just your imagination. I run until I'm completely lost, and by then my mind wins out over my body and I fall to my knees once again.
My jeans start sucking up water from the snow around me, but I feel nothing beyond the screaming pain from old scars. I wrap my arms around my chest, a weak attempt to hold myself together, and let my eyes drift shut for just a moment. The spinning white and gold of their costumes greets me and I let out a cold, broken sob. I collapse in on myself, buried memories bubbling to the surface, leaving me heartbroken and completely alone.
I spiral there in the snow until my fingers and toes become completely numb.
When the tears dry up, I pull myself to standing. I glance around me to see where I am. Circled around me are branches and massive tree trunks. I suck in a deep breath before heading towards the right, hopefully back to the road.
I find it after ten minutes of wandering. The walk home is bitter cold, the wind biting. I realize at some point that I've forgotten my jacket at Arrow's but the thought of turning back and facing them wins out against the cold. I burrow deeper into my sweater and keep walking in the direction of home.
The sun is long gone by the time I trudge into my driveway. I unlock the door and push myself inside. The house is silent, not a breath or a snore to be heard, so I figure that Blake is still gone. I press the door closed behind me and then lean against it. My legs give out once I stop putting pressure on them, so I slide down against the door.
I'm completely asleep before my butt hits the ground.