She kept looking back over the years, and the more time that passed, the more time she spent reminiscing. She felt useless, stuck, and pointless. Everyone around her was off becoming someone better, making a life for themselves. Her sister Sansa was always the perfect one, her engagement was just the icing on the cake. Her brother Robb was about to have his first child and Jon had just gotten promoted in the army. Bran graduated at the top of his class with all the best colleges practically throwing money at him, and Rickon had his whole life ahead of him to make the right choices.
Arya however, felt she had wasted all of her chances. In high school she was a 4.0 student and the best athlete the school had to offer. Her family was so proud, and admittedly, she was as well. She brimmed with excitement as her name was announced and when she shook the headmaster's hand, she couldn't help but smile at how amazing the next chapter of her life would be.
She then went off to a renowned University and had her first taste of freedom. She didn't go wild as many of the other students, but she loved the fact she made her own choices and did things on her time. She had a boyfriend, Ned, and she was wild for him at first, but now she realized she had no more warm feelings when he hugged her, and she pulled back at his kisses. He was nothing but chivalrous and everyone loved him, including her family. She loved his as well, and loved him, but not the crazy passionate love she thought people should feel. He had a great future ahead of him, and Arya began to realize she had nothing ahead of her, and to that thought, she clinged. She would come to love Ned again, and maybe be happy again, she would.
She began to feel caged, like a bird with clipped wings. The more she pulled away, the more overprotective he became. She only hid further and started to lash out, saying harsh things, but true things. He wanted to know how she felt, and so she told him. Granted it could've been in a nicer way, but she no longer felt nice. When she saw him cry, she sat there stoically. Her lack of feeling gave way to a new feeling – hatred, for herself. She couldn't believe the person she had become, making someone so close to her fall apart, someone that cared for her so much. She hated herself more for not crying with Ned, for not consoling him or telling him things would work out.
Now she was about to graduate once again, but this time she had nothing to show for it. No honors, no awards, no offices held. Her friends all had wonderful internships and jobs lined up in fields like mechanical engineering, while others were preparing for med school. When she crossed the stage and got her diploma for majoring in history, she felt nothing, she was no one.
After a month of living back home with her parents, she broke things off with Ned, wishing she would have been a stronger person to do it earlier. She once again felt a hatred for herself for being so weak and for dragging things out, but more for the indifference she felt when ending the call. He had handled it well enough, seeing how they both knew it would eventually happen, but at the end of the call she felt free, no longer like a broken stallion. That made her feel worse in a sense. She was never one for emotion, but she couldn't help the sadness that filled her now, coming to terms with what a terrible person she felt she had become.
As the summer wore one, the questions from her parents became more frequent. "What are your plans for the future? When do you think you'll find your own place? You aren't going to work at that Café much longer are you?" She couldn't take it anymore, but she didn't have enough money yet to go anywhere else. Her monthly payment on her loans was torture enough. She insisted on at least taking out a loan for a year, not wanting to be completely dependent on her parents, but things weren't working out as she had hoped when she unpacked her last box in her old room.
Nymeria was her only saving grace she felt she had. Her malamute never judged her, never questioned her, and never showed her anything but love and compassion. She was the only reason Arya felt human. The only reason Arya still knew was love and happiness were like. She knew anger, she knew sadness, and she knew nothing all too well. Nymeria was there the nights she couldn't hold herself together, or the days she didn't have work and sat in her room idly looking out the window at nothing and everything, or laying in bed all day looking at pictures of her friends in foreign countries, or off at some amazing job. Nymeria would nudge her, knowing they both needed and escape, and thus Arya began to run again.
She would run a little at first, no longer in the top shape she was back in her start athlete days, but she could run. More so she was stubborn and determined to keep her legs moving underneath her. She was tired of letting herself down and pissed off at not keeping in shape while at Uni. Those thoughts were her fuel. That and her faithful companion trotting beside her.
The coffee shop in Wintertown was her haven. It was above an ancient bookstore in the older part of downtown. The shop was cozy and unique, having been converted from an old apartment. All the furniture was an exotic collection of the owners and local artists hung their work. Off to the back there was a sunroom with seating and then the back wall had a small platform for open mic nights. Arya usually avoided those at first, but it turned out Thursdays weren't too bad talent wise. The shop regulars always kept her informed of their problems, and she would nod along when necessary. Some of them she genuinely liked, but not enough to make an effort to be friends. Certain days were bad, especially when some high maintenance snob would come in with a complex order and only 30 seconds to spare. Arya never got those orders right, hoping they'd never come back. Her lunch breaks were spent in the sunroom with a book from downstairs, living vicariously through the characters. It was much easier to feel when the words were written out in front of you. As she got the hang of being a barista, she crossed her fingers for more hours, anything to get her out of the house and away from the questions.
She would never tell her parents that she was unhappy, and as far as she was concerned, they wouldn't notice. Her mother was always closer to Sansa, and Arya knew she would never have that bond they shared. Her father was her idol though, and she thought he was onto her at times, but it seemed that he, along with everyone else, just pushed her behavior off as typical Arya, and let her be. She was ok with being no one most days, not wanting to bother anyone with her petty problems, but sometimes, she wished someone would ask just one specific question. That someone would care enough to pry a little deeper and try to understand what she was dealing with.
She woke up a little earlier than normal today. It was thundering, but no rain yet. Nymeria rolled over at the foot of her bed showing Arya her belly, which she gladly scratched. After that she threw on a sports bra and some shorts and minutes later the pair was out the door. Arya decided she'd take a drive to some older trails at the Wolfswood for a change of scenery, and they hopped into her old jeep. The thing was pushing 200,000 miles and even Arya expected it to break down any day, but she took as good care of it as she was able. She preferred to do all the work on the car herself, inspired by her brothers when they still lived at the house. Jon had an old 1968 corvette he would give his own life for. Robb on the other hand just bought junkers and flipped them. Not very profitable but it was more of just a hobby. Now her drove around in a little old Geo that Arya thought was oddly fitting. By the time she had her license there were only a couple years left to work on her Wrangler, so she spent whatever time she could sitting on bench learning or on her back under a car with Jon showing her the ropes. Now the garage was fairly empty aside from the red craftsman toolbox Arya had gotten for her 18th birthday. It had various Jeep stickers and others like Snap-On and her favorite sports teams. She had all the necessary small equipment inside, getting things like wrenches and ratchets in her stockings each Christmas and picking old yard sales and taking advantage of sales throughout the year. Nonetheless Arya took diligent care of her baby.
A little while later Arya pulled off onto a gravel road on the North side of the Wolfswood along the lake. She loved it here. It never got too warm and there was an amazing view of the mountains rising in the distance. Nymeria never needed a leash since she was younger, like Rickon's Shaggy Dog, but on occasion Nymeria did like to wander when they went to new places, so Arya wasn't too concerned when she hopped out of the car and sauntered off. She began her run at a slow place on the main trail, and after about 5mins of jogging, yelled for Nymeria to come. Normally she would right away but this time she was nowhere to be seen. Arya plodded along, breathing in the clean air listening to the rumble of thunder and watching the skies darken. It began to drizzle a little bit, but the feel of the mist on her skin was welcome. Any feeling was welcome nowadays, including the burning in her lungs and the weight of her legs. The leaves grew heavy with the drizzle and the whole place looked enchanted. The huge old trees were covered in green moss and the drizzle created a foggy mist. It was silent aside from the thud of her feet on the leaf strewn trail. She looked at everything and anything as she ran. In front of her was a huge spider web exposed to sight from the mist clinging to it, and she ducked underneath, not wanting to ruin the beauty of it. Before she knew it she had reached the lake and saw her dog rolling in the mud on her back as some stranger scratched her belly. Traitor.
She slowed up and walked towards them, and then she stopped in her tracks. The man scratching Nymeria looked up and he was downright gorgeous. His black shaggy hair was wet and hung in his eyes, but it didn't matter, they were such a brilliant blue that they seemed to cut right through her. She was too busy staring at him to notice Nymeria trot back to her with her head hung low.
"I take it she's yours? She's a very beautiful dog, friendly too. I was running round the other side and heard something behind me and next thing I know I'm on my back with this beast on me. I'd be careful though you should really keep her on a leash next time." He chuckled, and what a beautiful sound it was. Tainted by him reprimanding her, but nonetheless a nice sound.
It wasn't as beautiful as that smile that went with it though. His white teeth beamed against his tan skin, and Arya almost forgot the annoyance she felt when looking at the crinkles forming around those eyes. Almost.
"I don't need your advice stupid, Nymeria never wears a leash, she's a good dog." She snapped a little harsher than she had intended, but who was he to her anyways? He raised his hands in defense.
"Look ma'am, I didn't mean to offend you, it's just this is a national park and they have leash laws, I'd hate for some rangers to take her from you. That's all, honest. That's a nice name for her though."
She lowered her hackles a bit at that. At least he was just warning her for Nymeria's benefit.
"Well, don't call me ma'am." He chuckled again.
"What would you suggest I call you then? My name is Gendry." He stuck out a hand with a lopsided grin. She hesitated, but then reached out hers to meet him.