Numbed

Courtney has been hurt many times in her life. Her mom left when she was only 6 months old and her father disappeared the same night. Now Courney is seventeen and lives with her foster parents, Reagan and Ronnie.
Courney has never been loved by anyone. At school she is severely bullied with no friends or support. Courtney has lost all hope in ever finding someone who cares and has numbed all of her feelings in fear of being hurt again. When one day she meets Hunter, a new kid who just moved from Florida, he tries to reach out to her. Courtney ignores him, fearing to be hurt and abandoned again. But When everything Courtney knows becomes a lie and she is stuck in the middle of a web of secrets and mystery will Hunter be the only one there to help her? Hunter cares for Courtney as more than a friend, but does she realize the obvious? Can she save what she thought was lost? But most importantly can she love Hunter back, or will her feelings and emotions be forever numbed...

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14. Chapter 13

    I was being chased.  Through black streets I ran, clueless.  My pursuer was not a one person but everyone in a single being.  The face and complexion changed every second. From Gary, to Amanda, to Halock to Hunter, even to Tristan. My lungs had run dry from screaming. I kept running, only seeing a faint light in the distance, which was my only motivation.  Without warning the earth under me began to shake ferociously, making me fall to my knees.  The moment I fell the shifting character came up behind me and placed an arm around my neck, the other hand pulling my head back and locking me in place.  I saw the faces run past my vision, moving faster and faster.  Soon it just went back and forth between Hunter and Tristan. My dream self started to calm down when one last face appeared before my eyes. With red skin that seemed to fall of its face and eyes that seemed to house the underworld itself the face made me scream. It had claws that held me in place and fang-like teeth barred in my direction.  Spikes covered the head but it all didn't stop there, no, that would have been just too good.  Strapped to the monster's back were the dead bodies of my parents, Hunter, and Tristan. 
    "You see what happens when you trust?!  Pain only follows!" The monster yelled at me, "You will know pain no matter how hard you run!" I was turned around and had to face the horrid animal face to face. It pinned me down, choking me.   "Give up!" 
     "No!" I barely let it out from my throat, which was being made smaller and smaller by its pressing claws. The monster went to say something else when my dreams started to slowly sift into reality. The last thing I heard was a horrible wail from the creature that echoed through my mind like it was on replay.

     As I was brought back into reality, shaking and wet with sweat, I saw a slowly dying fire and two sleeping boys. Hunter lay there, his arm wrapped around me, still asleep with a frustrated look on his face like he was trying to solve a complicated question.  I removed my part of the blanket and got up soundlessly. Tristan was snoring loudly, curled up in a corner.  With quiet feet I tiptoed to the opening of the cave, passing the fire which was only a few sticks left that had a faint red glow.  It had stopped snowing and the world was covered in a blanket of white.  I could see my breath clearly in the air but ignored the cold.  I started to wonder why I cried, why I shook in fear; when I felt nothing. Closing my eyes I tried to think of the last time I had felt emotion.  It seemed as if it was too far back in the past to remember and my head hurt from the effort. I was so enveloped in my thoughts that I didn't realize that the snoring had stopped behind me.  
    "Hey, aren't you cold?" Tristan's voice startled me and I jumped up. "Oh, sorry, didn't mean to scare you!" 
    "Its fine, I just wanted some fresh air, that's all. It is a bit chilly isn't it," I replied, getting over my shock.  Tristan walked over and wrapped his blanket around my shoulders.   I was thankful for the warmth of him next to me but I couldn't shake the awkwardness of him being the same person who had hurt me. 
     "Are you ok?  This is probably a lot to take in" Tristan looked down at the ground with an ashamed face. I couldn't hold a grudge against someone who felt so badly for something they didn't even know they were doing. The truth was that he was still a little kid under the bulky form, still an innocent child. 
    "I'm doing fine," I said. When the guilty expression didn't leave Tristan's face I went on, "You don't have to be like that, you didn't know what you were doing. I have forgiven you, and Hunter has too, I'm sure of it"   A moment went by before Tristan looked up and smiled lightly in thanks. 
    "Are you two a thing?" He teased, trying to lighten the mood. A smile lit up my face and my cheeks got red, I supposed that my emotion at the moment was embarrassment.  
    "Well we're close friends, I...umm" I couldn't think of how to tell him that I didn't feel emotion and how that had stopped me from ever really having a relationship with another person. Tristan was smiling at my blushing face as if he'd won a prize by making my cheeks go red. 
    "OK" he drew out the word as he said it and looked away. Hunter made a grunt from behind us and I looked over my shoulder to see him curled up in the blanket. "Well, he, or any other guy, would be lucky to have you"  I could tell that Tristan was trying to be nice and make up for all those years, but it felt awkward sitting next to him like this. 
    A moment of silence passed before I abruptly changed the subject. "Do we have enough food for wherever we're going?" I asked, "Any chance you have a vehicle of some sort?"   
    "Sadly, we'll have to walk until we find a car, but if we get somewhere soon enough we should be able to get food” I stood up and looked at him. 
    "We should pack up now so that we can leave as soon as Hunter wakes up,” Tristan took up my offer and in a very short time we had stuffed energy bars and water bottles into a ragged old backpack from a corner. I was grateful that all these supplies had been there, as if knowing we would need them. The blankets wouldn't fit in the bad because of their bulkiness, so they would be wrapped around our shoulders as we walked.

    "This should be all we'll need" Tristan said, zipping up the backpack.

    "There's just one thing," I said, looking around the room trying to find what I was seeking, "guns" I swallowed.  The thought of me holding a gun, using a gun, made me nervous.  What if I turned out to be no better than them?

    "You are going to use a gun?"  Hunter's voice startled me and I whipped around to see him.  He was sitting up, looking at me with worried eyes, his hair a complete bedraggled mess.

    "I'll do what I have to do, Hunter," I replied quietly, but with a stern tone, "we have to save my parents, even if they abandoned me.  Halock will destroy us all and you know it"

    I turned back around to face Tristan, my face set and lips pressed together.  Tristan was staring at me like he didn't know who I was.

    "You?  Shoot somebody?" He sounded almost amused, "I just can't see it" Despite what he said though, he stood up and walked over to the cave wall.  He pulled out a rock, slowly and carefully, letting it fall to the ground when a gap was revealed.  I watched eagerly as he slid his hand in, pulling out a pistol.  Tristan held it out to me, the amused look still glinting in his eyes.

    "Thanks" I breathed, taking the weapon from his hand and positioning it in my own.

    "I'll teach you both how to use them" Tristan offered, pulling out two more pistols and one larger gun.  Hunter got up lazily, still muddled from sleep, and took a pistol, turning it in his hand.

    "The tool of a killer" He said under his breath, his eyes on the trigger.  I let out a deep breath.

    "Hunter!  We have to do this!  Just because you’re holding a weapon doesn't make you a killer!"  I shouted angrily, stepping towards him, fist clenched around the weapon in hand.

    "Courtney" Tristan warned, putting a hand on my shoulder, "calm down, he was just talking aloud" I pulled away, briskly.

    "We should get going.  Tristan, you lead" I ordered, taking a bag and slinging it over my shoulder.

    "But he's injured" Hunter protested, the pride that all men had getting the best of him.

    "He is also the only one who knows where Halock is!" I pointed out, not turning around to face them.

    Reluctantly, Hunter let Tristan take the lead and he fell in next to me.  We walked in silence for a while, the cold wind biting at us and the few snowflakes landing lightly on our eyelashes and noses.  My mind kept travelling back to my dream- the words of the creature.  "See what happens when you trust? Only pain follows!"   Had been I become too close to Hunter?  I tried to think of what these past weeks would have been without him-it was horrible.  All the times I had woken screaming and shaking from fear I couldn't feel He had been there to calm down my un-needed reactions.

     Mentally, I decided to be more careful, to keep my distance from everybody as I had done for so long.  I refused to think of ever getting close to anybody ever again.  If I let go-if I found a way to feel something- I wouldn't be able to stand getting hurt again.  Those months-those years-when I had been in physical and emotional pain were almost unthinkably horrid.  I remembered coiling up on my bed, in pain from one of Jack's, or Tristan's, beatings.  The hot tears that had rolled from my eyes as my mind had wrapped itself around all the things people said to me.

     Yet, I was always the person getting punished. Punished for the scars that were eventually found on my wrists.  Punished for letting my grades drop low; for lashing out at anyone who tried to talk me out of actions.  Until I had gone into my oblivion of painless, emotionless living.  Even then Reagan and Ronnie had worried for my well-being.   How when I cried it was silent and my face so blank that I seemed dead.  Over the years they got used to my new way of acting-like I didn't care and didn't return the 'I Love You's' at night.

     When Hunter came there had been a chance in my appearance, but what if I had changed on the inside.  That's what worried me.  The possibility that Hunter would have a power over me.

     A strong wind broke me out of my mindless walk and into the freezing reality.

    "Where are we going?" Hunter yelled up to Tristan, looking around in the white world.   It was strangely beautiful, really.  The white flakes had covered the trees and left them glittering like diamonds in the early morning light.  Even the ground we walked on, although thick and heavy with snow, seemed as if diamonds were hidden in every inch.

     "We're going to be stopping in a small town just a few miles from here," Tristan stopped and pointed to a sign that read

'Gitville, population 347, 10 miles' 
 

      "This is where my Grandpa hid the life-threatening satellite?  I asked, skeptical. 
      "Nah," Tristan looked back, his face set with an unreadable expression, "this is just where we can refuel and get a ride,"  
     "You mean we've wasted hours of walking in the wrong direction when we should have been going to confront Halock?!" Hunter exploded his eyes wide, full of astonishment and masked with anger.  
      "Not quite," Tristan tried to calm him, "Gitville is on the way to New York City, where the satellite is orbiting"
      "That makes sense," I considered, "New York is one of the biggest cities in the United States. If He was going to in fact pollute the entire world why not start above a highly populated area?"
     "Whatever, let’s just get moving. The faster we 'refuel' the faster we can get down to business," Hunter said in a sour tone.  I'd never seen Hunter so aggravated and it bothered me to see him so. His blonde hair was just as uncared for as mine and it was hanging low over his eyes, giving him a fearsome appearance.

    His lips, purple with cold, set in a tight line and eyes narrowed Hunter started walking forward. Tristan, his eyes searching my face for what I thought of this dramatic change in Hunter, and I didn't move along.
       "LET'S GO!" Hunter yelled when it occurred to him that we weren't following him. I sighed loudly and tore my eyes from my angry friend to Tristan who was looking just as confused as me. 
       "Has he ever been like this before?" Tristan asked as we both started walking, ever so slowly, towards Gitville. 
       "No, I've never seen him be anything but kind," I replied quietly, careful that Hunter wouldn't know that our conversation was revolved around him. "I can only imagine what happened to make him act like that," 
      "I'm not sure I'd want to know,"
      The only sound was the crunching of snow under our feet and the faint echo of a train rolling over tracks. I shuddered from the cold I could not feel and wrapped my jacket closer around me to warm my body. 
      "I'd offer you my jacket," Tristan looked over at me with a glint in his eye, "but I fear that I'm too selfish to do that just now," 
      "That's a pity," I laughed, "How dare you deny a girl shivering from cold!" My smile diminished when I looked up. Tristan, who a moment ago had been chuckling, had a face hard like stone as he looked forward. I followed his eyes to see Hunter with his head turned back, competing in this sudden staring competition.  But as soon as I realized this they both looked away, silent and awkward. 
       "This can't still be about the guns," I muttered to myself, feeling the weight of the weapon in my pocket. And men say that women are complicated.

~~~

      Blue lips; Hair in a crazy nest; faces red and numb; Clothes wrapped so tightly around our bodies that it was almost like another layer of skin.  That's what we looked like as we stumbled into the town of Gitville.  I immediately felt as if I had taken a step into a different time period.  The stores were small and not the updated chains like 'Target' or even 'Walmart' but individual ones such as "Potluck Produce" and "Summer Street Shoes"
      "Very Unique," Hunter chuckled, giving me a hint of his normal self. Without thinking I smiled and nodded; Tristan alone noticed the reaction at the two simple words.  
      "I think old-fashioned is the word" Tristan patted Hunter on the shoulder and stood next to him, his height making Hunter seem smaller.  Shrugging off his hand, Hunter went on walking, his mood swinging back.

     "Hunter," I said, but it was barely a whisper.  "Hunter!" I repeated, this time a bit louder.  He turned around slowly and my eyes met his challenging ones.

    "Yes?"  I saw his breath come out in a mist as he spoke.

    "What is the matter with you?"  I took a few steps towards him, "You've never been like this, not around me,"

    "So you think you know everything about me?  Why all of a sudden do I have to be so perfect?"

    "I never said you had to be; I just want to know what is going on,"

    "Go ask Tristan, the one who beat you, maybe he can give you an answer,"

    "That wasn't him, and you know it!" I defended Tristan, but it was more anger of being talked back to that kept me going, "At least HE is helping!"

     "Helping?!" Hunter bellowed, "Since when is taking a detour so that we can take showers helpful?"

     "Would you rather walk?!   Maybe you could carry me when the days of walking wear me out," I threw my hands up and gave him the 'Are you crazy?' look.

     "Oh no, your bully could do that just fine!"  Hunter's eyes narrowed down even further and he leaned in until our faces were almost touching.  "See?  You don't need me around when you have Mister Perfection.  He can shoot a gun, lift some heavy weights, and maybe even guide you to your parents.  What am I here for?"

     "Don't make this about Tristan!  You're the one acting like a three year old with a temper!  He, on the other hand, has been nothing but helpful since he . . . woke up!"

     "Courtney!"  I felt a large hand place itself on my shoulder.  I didn't want to stop; Hunter needed to be shown how unreasonable he was acting.

     "Stay out of this," Hunter snarled at Tristan, the one holding my shoulder, "This isn't about you,"

     "If I was listening correctly it was beginning to sound like it was,"

      The veins in Hunter's neck stood out as he took deep breaths and tried to keep calm.  "Where are we going?"  He finally asked, still looking as if he was mentally counting to ten.

     "I know someone who lives here; we'll be paying her a quick visit,"

     "Well then, "I looked away from them both, "why are we standing here?"

~~~

      "Miss Bradley?" Tristan greeted the old woman who opened the old wooden door.  Her long dress was a pale pink and reached down to her feet.  She was thin and tall, but frail, like the smallest of winds could blow her over.  Her eyes were a gentle grey and shone with recognition and delight at the sight of Tristan.

     "Oh Darling!" she put a hand up to her thin, smiling lips, "Come inside! Oh you must come inside!"  She beckoned us in and closed the door with a creak.  The warmth of the house seeped into my skin and I happily peeled off the jacket and took in a deep breath.  It smelled wonderful in here, candles were lit and a fire was going.  Wealthy was one word to describe Miss Bradley.   From the outside her house looked old fashioned like the rest of the town but inside it was warm and full of pleasant surroundings.  Pastel pictures hung on the wall, giving the entryway and living room, which were connected, a calming presence.  Cream-colored curtains and furniture were scattered around a T.V.

     A staircase led up on the left side of the room but underneath was a short hallway that must have led to the kitchen.   Smells of food, not desserts but real, filling food, wafted into the room like a gentle breeze.

     But all of this did not compare to the crackling fire that was burning in the fireplace.   I could feel my skin tingle in pleasure at the warmth and I closed my eyes.   My entire body started to regain its usual color and warmth the longer I sat there.  I could barely hear the chatter going on behind me as Tristan and Miss Bradley spoke of arrangements.

    "Courtney?"

    I opened my eyes and looked up to see Hunter standing above me; he too having taken off the bag and jacket.

     "What do you want?" I grumbled, turning back to the orange and yellow flames that danced above the logs.

     "I want to apologize," He sat down next to me, "I've been a real jerk,"

     "Yes you have," I agreed, still not opening my eyes, "But you haven't been forgiven.  Don't you see how bad Tristan already feels?  He's doing his best to make it up to me and you are making things difficult for us all,"

     "Excuse me?"  Hunter's voice was surprised and tinged with anger.   I knew I should have just said 'you're forgiven,' but here I had gone again, making things worse.  Yet, not that I had started, there was no use stopping.

     "What you said back there!" I hissed, opening my eyes and looking at the still red face of Hunter who had hair frozen stiff down in front of his eyes, "What if it had been you who had beat me, would you want to be treated that way?"

     "That's just it; I didn't! If making it up to you means being-" He cut himself off, trying to find the words.

     "Being what?" I fumed.

    "You know what? I'm not sorry; never was.  You were just as bad as me.  Did I really expect YOU to understand?  YOU of all people!"   Hunter stood up and moved to walk away.

    "What's that supposed to mean?"

    "Courtney, you know exactly what it means," He whispered, walking away.

    He was right; I knew what he meant.   My lack of emotion, my numbed heart.  Tears threatened my eyes, although I didn't feel sad.  All I felt was the growing anger that had lived inside me forever.  I couldn't change; Hunter would just have to learn that.  

     I was able to shower in the upstairs bathroom.  Miss Bradley had ever so kindly gone to get us a rental car so that the boys could also bathe.  I was surprised that she had more than one shower, but it turned out that many people used to live here with her, a family of her own with five children.  I couldn't remember a time when a shower had felt so good.  My ratted hair was in desperate need of conditioning and I savored each passing second.

     After taking a large amount of time brushing my hair, getting out all of the tangled knots, I found that Miss Bradley had set out some clothes of her own for me to wear.  It was a plain black tee shirt and sweatshirt.  The jeans were surprisingly tight-fitted on me because of the thin figure our hostess had.  I squeezed them on anyway and pulled on the black shirt, tying the sweat-shirt around my waist.   I stopped at the mirror on the wall and looked at myself in the mirror.  My contrasting eyes, which were usually nothing to take notice, now were a painful reminder that Gary, my own father, was in Halock's possession.

    It was after a filling lunch from Miss Bradley that we said our goodbyes and got into the car.  You could immediately tell that she and Tristan were close, like a grandma and a grandchild.  I thought about asking but thought not to pry.

     "Goodbye!"  Miss Bradley called out to us as we drove away.  'Good Luck to us' I thought to myself, watching the road ahead from the passenger seat.  Hunter had been pressured into the back, to his displeasure.

     "Good Lord help us," Hunter whispered under his breath.       

 

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