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Close the Door, Throw the Key [Niall Horan]
I walk down Brenton Avenue, humming to myself, just loud enough so I could hear and not bother anyone. This street was busy, but I never cared. I quite love people-watching. Some people do the oddest things. I near the corner and look around it quickly, seeing a man and letting him pass without disrupting him. I continue down 53rd until I come to Chleo's Pet Shop, quietly coming in the door.
The dogs all perk up at the sight of me, and I smile, walking over to pat a few of them on the head. After I’m done with the dogs, I go to the back of the store to clock in. 3:55, just in time for my shift to start at 4:00. On Fridays I only work until 6:00, where on a normal day I’d be working until eight or nine.
Friday is the day I get my paycheck, so usually after my shift I go out for a bite to eat or get something small for myself. Out of the $320 I get a week, $290 goes to my father, $20 goes to my cell phone bill, and the other $10 I get to keep for myself. I’m not bothered by this. Why waste money on myself when my dad can use it to pay rent and buy our food? My father doesn’t have a job, so I’m holding up the two of us with the money I make.
I tug my sweater off over my head, revealing my navy blue t-shirt. I pin my name tag on my shirt, adjusting my hair so that it doesn’t cover the tag. I walk back into the store and set my sweater down behind the counter. Maria, the girl whose shift is before mine, smiles at me before walking to the back of the store to clock out. She waves at me and I wave back before she ducks out the door and starts walking down the street.
Maria is a nice girl. We have exchanged a few words before, and she is really sweet to me. She’s really pretty, too. I’m surprised that she even bothers glancing my way sometimes. Well, time to get to work.
I make my usual rounds, feeding all of the reptiles, birds, rodents, fish, and dogs and cats. I wipe the windows with cleaner from the inside because it gets dirty when the pups jump against it. After I get done with all of my tasks, its nearly 5:30. No one has come in the store at all.
I turn the radio behind the counter on, and some song that I’m not familiar with comes on.
Get out, get out,
Get out of my head.
And fall into my arms
I don’t, I don’t,
Don’t know what it is,
But you’ve got that
It's a good song, I have to admit. The voices of the boys are amazing. I listen to the end of the song to hear the name of it. One Thing, by One Direction. Hmm, I’ll have to remember that.
I fall into a trance, listening to the different songs that come on the radio. I play with the dogs for a little, and when the end of my shift nears I go to grab my sweater.
The person whose shift was after mine walks in and says a quick hi before heading to the back. When she comes back out, I go to clock out. My paycheck is waiting for me in my mailbox. I always ask for cash, because my father doesn’t want me to deposit checks and have a bank account of my own. He uses the saying, “What’s yours is mine, and what’s mine is mine.” I always chuckle a little bit, because it is quite clever. He's only joking, so I don't take it too hard. All of the money my father allows me to have is in a jar up on a shelf in my room. I think I have about $200 saved there.
I count the money, making sure that it is all there, and take my name tag off. I pull my sweater on over my head and walk out the door, waving to the girl on the way out. Pulling my phone out of my back pocket, I stuff my money down deep so that I don’t lose it. I check the time on my phone, 6:15. I have about two hours before the curfew my father set.
I decide to head down to the bakery down the road. This was the small part of Miami, so everything was fairly close together. I walk in and go up to the counter, getting my usual.
“Two slices of banana nut bread, please,” I say shyly to the old man behind the counter. I give him $5.75 for the order and move from the counter, waiting for my order to be ready.
Sure, the price is steep, but the slices are relatively large, and the taste is definitely worth it. When my order is called, I go up to get it and take a table far out of the way so people don't have to see me unless they're looking for me. No one ever does though, so I'm not worried.
I take a bite of my bread and immediately my taste buds cry with pleasure. It has just the right amount of almonds in it, with the sweet taste of banana. Great, like always. I'm just about to take another bite when someone slides into the chair across from me. They have a purple hoodie on with the hood up, so I can't see who it is.
They keep their head down, looking back at the front of the store just in time to see a mob of girls rush by, holding posters and wearing shirts with boys' faces on them. Oh boy. But who am I to judge?
“Oi,” I hear the person mumble, now obviously a boy. “I should never have ditched the lads just for a bite. Well, at least I landed in a bakery.” The first thing I notice is his accent. Irish, I think.
He turns around to face me, and takes off his hood. The second thing I notice about him are his blue eyes and blonde hair that tie into his features nicely. Man, he's cute!
“Hello there,” he says, smiling.
“Hi,” I say, giving him a clumsy smile. Wow, Maci. Way to go.
“What's your name?” he asks.
“Maci,” I reply quickly.
“Hi Maci!” He lowered his voice then, leaning on the table so that I could hear him better. “Tell me, have you heard of the band One Direction?” How odd of a question is that?
I give him a questioning look. “I think I heard their song on the radio earlier, but I'm not familiar with the boys in the band.” He seems to be relieved a little.
“Huh,” he says, pondering for a moment. I suddenly feel as if I'm being a pain.
“I can move tables, if you'd like,” I say, moving to get up. He holds his hand out to stop me, taking me by surprise.
“No, please stay, I need the company!” he says in a rush, looking into my eyes and freezing me. I wonder why he stops me. I just assumed that I was bothering him here. Oh well.
He motions for me to shake his hand. “I'm Niall,” he says, and I take his outstretched hand. I feel a sort of tingle as our hands touch, and I pull away quickly.
“Sorry,” I muttered, blushing and looking at the ground. Niall gives me a confused look for a moment, but nods his head and smiles.
I awkwardly pick up my bread and start to eat it again. Niall looks longingly at my untouched piece and I laugh, but then quickly compose myself. I don't want to look like a fool in front of this nice boy.
“Hungry?” I ask him with a smile.
“Are you going to eat that?” he says shyly, gesturing to the bread.
“I was planning on it,” I say, but then I smile, digging in my pocket for a ten dollar bill. I hold it out to him. “Go buy yourself two pieces, and buy a third for us to split.”
He smiles sweetly, looking absolutely adorable. “It's alright, I can get it,” he says, getting out a wallet from his pocket.
“No, I insist,” I say, trying to hand him the bill again. He sighs, letting out a small laugh, and takes the bill.
“Fine,” he says, heading up to the counter. He pays with the bill and comes back with the bread, handing me the change.
Niall begins digging in, making me laugh. He looks up, hearing my laugh, and I try to contain myself, fearing I've made him angry. Instead, he gives me a clumsy smile, and a bunch of the bread is stuck in his braces. I can't help but burst out laughing and he does too. When we finally calm down, we're sent into a kind of silence, but it's not awkward.
We finish our bread, him finishing two in the time I eat one. We split the last piece, and when I go to grab my half, our hands touch again. The strange tingly feeling is back, and again I pull away – blushing like an idiot – letting him grab his piece first. We finish and talk for a while. It is really nice to have a conversation with someone other than myself.
I check my phone for the time. 7:43. “Oh!” I say, surprised. Niall looks at me, raising an eyebrow, making me smile. “Sorry,” I say, “but I've got to go. I've got to be home by eight, and I walked here.”
“Let me walk you home,” he says, quickly standing up. Why would he want to walk me home?
“You don't have to do that for me,” I say, standing up and gathering my things.
“I want to,” he replies in a rush, following me as I walk out of the bakery. “Plus, it's dark out!”
Niall is right, it is pretty dark. I shrug and we started walking down the block. We chat about nothing in particular all the way down to my street. When we round the corner onto my street, I turn to him.
“This is my street,” I say. “Thanks for walking me this far. You don't have to stay with me any longer if you don't want to.”
“But I do,” he says, giving me a smile. “I've got to follow through.” I smile back and we keep walking.
When we reach my house – a very small two-story – I stop at the driveway. “Thanks for walking me home, Niall,” I say, giving him a smile.
“My pleasure,” he replies sweetly, and I blush.
“I wish there was some way I could thank you,” I say, staring at my shoes.
“Well, I could go for a hug,” he says, lifting his eyebrow. Really?
I shrug, and he pulls me into an embrace. That weird tingle is there again, but I can't pull way this time because he has his arms wrapped tightly around me. He smells wonderful, though! When he lets go, he asks me for my phone.
“I'll add my number,” he says.
I only have two contacts saved in my phone, my dad and my boss – I have no need for any others – so I felt kind of embarrassed handing I over. I didn't feel so bad, though, when I opened his phone and found only 25 contacts. Such a good looking boy only had 25 people? I added my name as Maci W., copying the other entries like Justin B., Demi L., Harry S., Liam P., and so on. Hmm, such odd names. I handed him back his phone, and he gave back mine.
“Thanks, Niall,” I said. “For everything today.”
“My pleasure,” he says, kissing my cheek. He smiles, so I do too, not knowing what else to do. I've never been kissed before. Not by my father, not by my mother. My mother died when I was two, so I don't remember her. We don't even have pictures of her.
“I'll text you, Love,” he says, and I blush at the nickname. I walk to my front door and look back to find him waving, so I give him a little wave back, walking in the door.
I walk in the door, kicking my shoes off. My father is in his recliner, beer in hand, watching football.
“Hello, dad,” I say quietly, not wanting to disturb him too much. I walk past him to the stairs.
“Where's my money,” he growls, not taking his eyes from the TV screen.
I dig my hand in my pocket, taking out the $20 that I need, then count out his $290 – and come up short. Uh oh. I dig around deeper in my pocket, trying to see if there was any money that I missed, but my hand closed around nothing. I had spent too much buying Niall's and my food! I'm only $4 short, though, so he shouldn't notice. I take the money over to him slowly. He rips it out of my hand and I go to leave, but he thrusts his hand out and takes a hold of my forearm. I wince because he is hurting me, but keep my mouth shut.
My father counts the money out in his lap, and I flinch when he comes up short, just like I had. His grip tightens on my arm and I force down a cry of pain.
“$286,” he says. “You're short, Maci!” he bellows, clumsily standing, towering over me by at least 5 or 6 inches.
“I-I'm sorry,” I squeak timidly, looking down at my feet. “I bought me and my friend some food and-”
“You bought someone food?” his voice thunders throughout the house. I nod, keeping my eyes glued to the floor. “We need that money for us! If it weren't for me, your sorry ass would be out on the streets and begging for food! Don't you dare take for granted that I let you live here, you weak fool! We buy our own food with this money! I will not have you go and throw it away on other people! Whoever they are, they can buy their own damn food!” he growls.
“But dad,” I try to reason. “It was only four dollars, and I don't think that-” My head is whipped to the side, his hand connecting with my cheek. I don't dare cry out, that will just make it worse.
“No one gives a damn what you think, you selfish little b****!” he shouts, getting in my face. I can smell the alcohol in his breath. “Say you're sorry and you won't do it again.”
“I'm sorry,” I mumble. “I won't do it again.” I'm not surprised when the familiar sting appears on the other side of my face, nearly knocking me over. He hit me harder than the first time, sending a bigger burst of pain through me. That's going to bruise.
“I can't hear you!” he screams in my face.
“I'm sorry,” I say, my voice strong even though I'm on the verge of tears. “I won't do it again.” I look him in the eye, but then I let my gaze fall back down to my feet.
“Go to bed,” he hisses, murder in his voice. I do as I am told.
I quickly walk up the short flight of stairs, grab a pair of pajamas, and head into the bathroom to change. I brush my teeth, too, getting the last of the banana nut bread taste out of my mouth. I head to my room, the second door on the right, and throw myself on the bed before my tears have a chance to escape. I shove my face in my pillow and proceed to cry myself to sleep.
Maci. What a pretty name that belonged to such a beautiful girl. I wave to her and she waves back before slipping into her house. I turn around, smiling to myself. Maci seems nice enough, right? She's so easy to talk to! I feel like I can relate to her more than I can most people, but I'm not sure how just yet.
I decide to call one of the lads to come pick me up. I dial up Zayn, and he picks up on the third ring.
“Where did you go, Niall?” is the first thing he says. I can hear the rest of boys in the background playing some sort of game.
“You wouldn't stop to find something to eat,” I whine. “So I slipped off on my own. I got a little caught up, though.” I chuckle a little, remembering the incident with the crazy American girls with all their signs. And then I remember Maci.
“We were worried sick!” Zayn yells through the phone. “I'm telling you, Nialler, these American people are something!”
“Thanks, mum, now stop your lecturing and come pick me up!” I say sarcastically.
“Where are you?”
“36th and Brenton,” I tell him, reading the street signs.
Zayn hangs up after telling me he'd be here in a bit. After about five minutes I get tired of standing and take a seat on the curb. Not much traffic is going by, and the darkness calms me. I can't seem to get Maci off of my mind, though.
Her perfectly waved brown hair fell in just the right places around her face. Her hair also has the smallest tint of red to it. It's beautiful. Her brilliant hazel eyes stuck in my mind the most. Little flecks of amber were among the different shades of brown in her eyes. And something about the way she holds herself – she isn't confident, that's for certain. But her shyness is adorable, and I like it. I hum my solo in One Thing, thinking of Maci the whole time.
A car pulls up beside me and the window rolls down, revealing Zayn. He has his mum-face on that he always does when I get either in trouble or do something he disapproves. I roll my eyes and slide into the passenger's seat. I throw the seatbelt around me and sit back, preparing for a bit of a drive. It took a lot of running from those girls to wind up here. And if I hadn't, I would never have met her.
“What were you doing all the way out here, anyway?” Zayn asks me, pulling away from the curb and driving down the street.
I automatically smile as I think of Maci. I look out the window, trying to hide the goofy smile, but Zayn's glance at me already caught it.
“What's her name?” he asks flatly. I think he means to sound sarcastic, but he sounds like he is teasing me.
“What makes you think it's someone?” I ask, jokingly defending myself.
“Oh, please, Niall,” he says, eyes on the road. “It's written all over your face – and I can't even see you face!”
I roll my eyes and sigh. “Maci,” I say after a bit, still staring out the window. “Her name is Maci.
I want to see her again, that's for sure. We're in Miami for at least another two weeks, so I'm sure there'll be plenty of time to spend with Maci. When Zayn and I get back to the hotel, I race up to the room I share with Zayn and immediately search the refrigerator. I had gotten hungry since I ate with Maci, and I pulled out some cold pizza from yesterday.
I make my way through the piles of junk on the floor and plop down on the bed. My thoughts drift to Maci as I lay back against the headboard and take a bite of my pizza.
“I'm going to get the boys,” Zayn calls as he heads out the door. The lads always come in our room to hang because even though it's quite messy, it's always the cleanest.
Liam, Louis, and Harry all share a room, so it doesn't take long to round them up and bring them back here. I had laid back down, my head on the soft pillow. I'm staring up the the ceiling – thinking again of Maci – as Louis bursts into the room, shouting his head off.
“NIALL YOU'RE BACK!” he yells, jumping on me.
“Get off, Lou!” I manage to say after he knocks the wind out of me.
He gives a little bit of a laugh before sitting on the edge of my bed. I sit up to find Harry has taken a place between the two beds on the floor and Liam and Zayn have found a place on the other bed.
“Where did you go off to?” Liam questioned, raising his eyebrow. “It's getting a little late, and we have an interview early tomorrow!”
“Yeah, Niall,” Zayn teased. “Where did you go?”
I feel my face get hot and look down at the floor, thinking of Maci. I got several oohs from the boys as they taunt me, figuring most of it out.
“What's her name?”
“Is she fit?”
“What's she like?”
I'm bombarded with questions about Maci. Even though I have only spent about two hours with her, I already like her. She's such a sweet girl, and very attractive, I must add. I consider just saying nothing about her, but then again, these are my best friends. So I decide to open up a little.
“Well,” I start, still looking at the ground. “Her name is Maci.” I look up and each of the lads are giving me a smirk. I roll my eyes and continue. “She's really shy, but when I spent more and more time with her, she got more comfortable and-”
“What do you mean more comfortable?” Louis teases with a smirk. I roll my eyes, ignoring his dirty mind.
“Overall, she's a really nice girl. And yes, to answer your question, Harry, Maci is very fit.” I smile at the last little bit, thinking more about her. She actually did happen to be extremely fit. “I'd like to spend more time with her.”
“Did you get her number?” Liam asks curiously. I nod and he smiles, making me smile a little bit.
“Do you fancy her, Nialler?” Zayn asks, his face serious. I can tell he is holding back a laugh, though.
“To tell you the truth,” I address all of them. “I do think I like her.”
The lads smile and Louis gives me a clap on the back.
“So when do we get to meet her?”
~*Maci's P.O.V.*~ I uncurl myself from the covers as my alarm buzzes from my phone. I hit the snooze button, burrowing back under my sheets. I'll just sleep for a few more minutes. It seems like I've just closed my eyes before the alarm is buzzing again. I sigh heavily check the time, 6:30. I drag myself out of my bed and look through my closet, picking out a simple outfit for work. I quickly brush my teeth in the bathroom and go to leave, but then something stops me as I look in the mirror. A bruise has formed on my left cheek in the place that my father hit me. I pull out the tube of foundation that I always keep under the bathroom sink just in case I do end up bruising when my father strikes me. It's pretty heavy duty, so it should stay on all day unless I wash it off sooner. This is the only type of makeup that I do use, but only when I get a bruise. I wince a little as I touch it, but I cover up the bruise and climb down the stairs. My father has fallen asleep in his chair, and snores heavily as I creep into the kitchen, careful not to wake him. I quickly throw together a quick meal for myself and my father, leaving his in the microwave to stay warm. I stuff my phone in my back pocket and slip quietly out the door with my toast at 7. The morning mist is a little chilly, but I can stand it. After all, I've been living in Florida my whole life. I actually quite like it here. The summers are hot and humid, but not too bad. The winters get a little chilly, but it's really something that I can handle. For being such a small girl, I can stand a lot. Right now is the transition between spring and summer, and it's actually relatively warm. I get to the end of my street and turn the corner. It's a Saturday, so not may cars are out on the road at this time. A jogger heads my way and I shyly move to the edge of the sidewalk to get out of her way. She gives a small wave as she passes, and I smile a little at her. I move back to the middle of the walk way and continue on. You know the smell of a heavy fog after a rain? I love it. I take a deep breath, inhaling the wonderful smell. It also looks really cool when the fog lays over the road like it is now. I get up to the street that the shop is at and turn onto it. It's always really quiet this time on Saturday. I always work the first shift on Saturdays, so I'm usually the first one awake at all on this street. I pull out the keys that my boss had given me and unlock the door. The pups are just waking up now, so I get only a groggy bark from each of them. I smile to myself, walking to the back to clock in. I'm about ten minutes early – my shift starts at 7:30. I pin on my name tag and head into the shop. I only have to feed the animals today, another person cleans the cages and tanks later in the day. I make my rounds, and finally end with the dogs. After I've put food in their bowls, I pull out the gate that we keep behind the counter. We use it to put in front of the main shelves and the counter, to allow the pups to run around in more space than their pens, but without getting into all the toys and treats. I open up the dogs' pen and smile to myself as they clumsily scurry out. They jog around the area before jumping into one pile on top of each other, playfully nibbling at ears, tails, and legs. I smile again, stepping over the gate. I unlock the register behind the counter and turn on the radio, hoping for the song that I heard yesterday to come on. Only a talk show is on right now. I'm just about to turn the station when I hear the announcer say that One Direction is on the show this morning. One Direction is the band that sings the song I heard yesterday. It's also the band that Niall asked me about yesterday. I decide to listen to it, to learn a little about the band. Leaning against the counter, I watch the pups play while listening to the radio. “Good morning Miami, and thanks for listening to Westly in the Morning!” the announcer says. “My name is Westly Timbridge, and on the show this morning we have the boys of One Direction. The teen heart throbs – Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Harry Styles, Louis Tomlinson, and Niall Horan – met on The X-Factor UK after entering as individual contestants. There, they formed a boy band and continued on to place third in the competition.” Wait, Niall? No, that can't be the Niall I met yesterday. I'm not that lucky – I don't just meet famous boys. “I'm sure,” the announcer continues, “that all of you girls out there have heard their singles; What Makes You Beautiful and One Thing. The boys have just recently arrived in Miami, and are here on the show to tell us about themselves. Welcome, Liam, Zayn, Harry, Louis, and Niall!” I hear all the boys say a 'hi'. I listen for Niall's voice, but I can't pick it out. See? Nothing like meeting a famous boy happens to me, I don't deserve it. I walk around the counter and climb over the gate. Sitting down to play with the pups, I still listen to the radio playing in the background. “Now boys, tell me a little about what it's like to be you,” Westly says. “Zayn, you get a lot of girl attention – what's it like to have girls go nuts when they see you?” “I think it's actually really cool to have people that like seeing us do what we love to do,” the boy who I assume to be Zayn says. He has a British accent, since the boys are from the UK. “Singing is our passion, and having people support us like they do – that's amazing, ya know?” There are several sounds of agreement from the boys. “So Liam, what's it like being in the United States? Is it similar to the UK?” “Well actually,” the boy – Liam – says, “it really is a mix of both. I mean, the fans are very similar here to the UK. The only thing that really changes about the fans is their accents.” The announcer chuckles a little, and Liam continues. “But the weather is so much nicer over here,” he adds with a small laugh. There are another several sounds of agreement. “So, speaking of the fans,” Westly says, “some of you boys have girlfriends, and most of the fans are girls. How tough is it to stay in a relationship while you're in a different country with girls throwing themselves at you? How about you, Louis?” “It's not really too hard,” the boy – Louis – says. “Sure, there are all of our beautiful fans out here, but you've just got to trust in each other. Plus, most of the fans are super supportive of Eleanor and I, and Liam and Danielle, and that's really nice.” “I see,” Westly says. “Now boys, we know that Louis and Liam are off the market. But Harry, Zayn, and Niall, is there anyone special in your lives at the moment?” “Single!” one boy replies, but I don't know who. It's quiet for a second, but when one of the boys starts to talk, all of the sudden the voice who belongs to Zayn blurts out, “Niall met someone last night!” Then my eyes go wide and my heart literally skips a beat. Don't kid yourself, Maci, he doesn't mean you. I compose myself quickly, listening closer. “Zayn!” one boy shouts as the rest of the boys laugh loudly. “Oooh,” Westly teases. “Looks like Niall is getting a little defensive! Since it's already out, why don't you tell us about this girl?” “Zayn,” one of the boys whines. “Why did you do that?” Then my skips several beats. The boy talking has an Irish accent. Oh my God. The boys continue to laugh, but Westly interrupts them. “Come on, Niall! You've got to tell us now! What's the story?” “Uhm...” Niall says. “Well, we met when I ditched the lads for a bite last night. I was being chased by a bunch of fans,” there are a bunch of chuckles as he says this, “and I darted into a bakery to a table in the back – and there she was.” Oh God. Now I'm sure it's the Niall that I met last night. “We talked for a bit, and I walked her home, and that was that. We're friends.” “Do you like her?” Westly teases. “Yes!” I hear one of the other boys say. Oh my God. “Liam!” Niall whines again. Wait, Niall likes me...? “Well boys,” Westly says, breaking the tension, “looks like we've only got time for one more question. I had a final question planned, but I'm throwing that one out and replacing it with this one. What's the lucky lady's name, Niall?” The boys snicker in the background and I hear Niall groan. Please don't let it be me. That is what the logical side of my brain says, even though I already know whose name he is going to say. But then there's this small part of me that yearns for it to be me. Why do I feel this way? “Do tell, Niall!” Zayn says. “What is her name?” Niall sighs heavily. “Fine,” he says. My full attention is now on his voice. What is he going to say? It feels like forever before he says something again. “Maci.” My heart does stop. “Her name is Maci.” ~*Niall's P.O.V.*~ “Are you kidding me?!” I shout at Zayn as we leave the radio station. “Why did you do that?!” “Relax, mate! Just having a little fun!” Zayn chuckles along with the rest of the lads. “This isn't funny!” I say, stomping my foot like a two-year-old. “That was seriously embarrassing! What if she heard that? What if she doesn't like me back? Then what? She won't want to talk to me anymore!” “Relax, Niall!” Liam says, resting a hand on my shoulder. He frowns as I shrug it off. “You're exaggerating! It's not like she'll stop talking to you because you said you like her-” “She doesn't know who One Direction is, Liam!” I interrupt him. I see Louis put a hand over his heart and twist his face into mock astonishment, and I have to hold in a laugh. I'm supposed to be angry! “She doesn't know me as 'Niall for One Direction', she knows me as 'Niall, the boy she met in the bakery'. I liked to know that she wasn't just talking to me because I'm in a famous boy band! Oh, and by the way, you said I like her, not me!” “Niall, relax,” Harry says, and I pull my eyes over to him. “Look, she was going to find out who you are soon enough anyway. You didn't honestly expect to have a relationship with her without telling her you're in a famous boy band, did you?” I look down at my shoes as we walk to the car at the end of the parking lot. I haven't really thought about it. But wait a minute... “Harry, I only met her yesterday!” “Yes, but you fancy her already,” he says, and he has a point. “But if you were a girl and you just met me, but had no idea that I was in a famous boy band, and the next day you heard on the radio that I'm famous and that I like you, wouldn't you be a little weirded out as well?” Harry seems to think about this for a little bit as we pile into the van – Louis and Liam in the front and Zayn, Harry, and I in the back. Louis pulls out of the lot and starts back for the hotel. “I suppose it would be a little strange,” Harry says at last. I start to say something, but Zayn interrupts. “Niall, you don't even know if Maci heard the broadcast. Just chill out and text her, you have her number! If she did hear it, then try to explain to her. If she didn't, then so be it. But mate, you do know you've got to tell her sometime, right?” I nod my head and look at the floor of the van. How will I explain it to her, though? Oh well. I guess I'll just have to wing it. I pull out my phone and search her contact name, pulling her up and sending her a quick message. To Maci W.: Hey Maci! She replies quickly, and I smile as I remember what I put my name in her phone as. To Nialler;) : Hi Niall. To Maci W.: Did you hear this morning's broadcast on Westly in the Morning? There is a little delay in her reply and I start to worry, but then Maci finally answers. To Nialler;) : Yes... Uh oh. To Maci W.: I'm sorry about that... I guess I have a little explaining to do To Nialler;) : Just a bit... To Maci W.: It's better hearing it in person. When are you free? To Nialler;) : My shift gets off at 6 tonight, but I have to be home around 10. To Maci W.: Perfect, I'll take you out for dinner and we'll talk then. To Nialler;) : You don't have to, I don't want to bother you. To Maci W.: No trouble at all. I owe it to you. Where do you work, I'll pick you up from there. To Nialler;) : Chloe's Pet Shop, but just meet me at the bakery from last night. Do you remember where that is? To Maci W.: How could I forget? :) I'll see you at around 6, then. To Nialler;) : Sounds good. “What's going on, Niall?” Liam pipes up from the front, breaking my concentration. “You're typing like mad!” “Nothing, just talking to Maci,” I reply quietly. “What did she say?” Louis asks. “She did hear the broadcast,” I say, turning my head to glare at Zayn for bringing her up during the interview. He holds his hands up. “I'm picking her up for dinner around 6 to explain.” The boys nod. I click the button on my phone, locking my screen. I look up to find Louis grinning like an idiot at me in the rear-view mirror. “What?” I ask, getting defensive. “Oh, nothing!” he says innocently, but he continues smiling. “It's just that our Nialler has a date!”
“So where are you taking her, Nialler?” Zayn asks, handing me the car keys.
It's 5:30, and I have to go pick up Maci in a bit. I'm just a bit nervous – I haven't been on a date in a long while, if this even is a date. I don't know what kind of food she likes. I'm a big fan of Nando's, but I don't think there's one here. There's a KFC in downtown Miami, and even though nothing compares to Nando's, anything with chicken in the name sounds good to me. I suppose that's a good place to take her, because everyone thinks chicken is good, right? Who am I kidding, though? I'll just wing it.
“I think I'll just bring her to the KFC,” I tell Zayn, and he chuckles. “What?” I ask, getting defensive.
“'I think I'll just bring her to the KFC',” he mocks me sarcastically. “Taking a girl to a KFC on the first date, very nice of you, Niall!”
“Well where would you take her?” I sass him, crossing my arms.
“Not to a fast food restaurant!” he teases, but I take this to heart.
It's not my fault I don't know much about her! I only met her yesterday, and I know I like her and everything, but I haven't had much time to get to know her. I feel bad, and this must show on my face because Zayn's expression softens.
“Awh, Nialler, I'm sorry,” he says, putting an arm around my shoulders. “I probably would do the same thing. Plus, if she's with you, she probably won't even care where you two are.”
I look up at him and smile. “Thanks, Zayn.”
He takes his arm off of my shoulders. “Now get going!” he teases, and I head out the door of our hotel room.
It takes me a while, but I finally find the bakery again. Yes, I had been there just last night, but I had to remember through all of the screaming girls. I pull over to the side of the road and park. I hop out and enter the bakery, my eyes scanning the room for Maci. I finally find her, sitting at the same table that we were at last night. Her eyes are down, looking at her hands that are folded on top of the table.
I smile at how beautiful she looks. I don't think she wears makeup – as if she needs it! Maci is also a wonderful person to talk to. It's almost as if she understands me, even though she doesn't know much about me. There's something about her that made me like her from the start.
“Hi Maci,” I say, walking over to her.
Maci looks up and her face brightens. She smiles sweetly, standing up. “Hi Niall.”
I motion for her to follow me, and we walk out of the bakery and get into the car. I start it and pull away from the curb. It's quiet for a bit, and I fear that it's growing awkward. I have nothing to say, so I hope that Maci starts talking about something. Luckily, she does.
“So where are we going?” she asks nonchalantly, looking out her window.
“Well, I didn't know what kind of food you like,” I say. “So I kind of just thought that we'd go to the KFC, because everyone likes chicken, right?” I nervously wait for her reply.
“We're going to the KFC?” she asks, turning her head toward me.
“I mean, if you want to,” I say, fearing that she hates the idea. “We could go somewhere else?”
“Are you kidding?” she asks, and I glance over at her to find her smiling. “I love chicken!”
I chuckle a little, totally relieved. “Then that's one thing that we have in common.” Maci's cheeks turn pink and she turns to look out the window again.
There's a silence for a long time, but this time it's not uncomfortable. We get into downtown Miami, and it takes a bit of searching, but I finally find the KFC. I pull into the lot and park, and we get out of the car and walk into the building. It's not too crowded – thank God – and we go up to the counter to order. There's a girl at the counter whose eyes go wide as we walk up. Apparently she recognizes me, because she got the biggest smile on her face.
“Y-you're Niall Horan!” she says excitedly. I smile wryly. Fan-girling is definitely not something I like. “Oh my gosh! I love you guys! It's so awesome to meet you!”
“Thanks,” I say. She stares at me for a little bit, making me uncomfortable. “What do you want to eat?” I ask, turning to Maci.
“Uhm,” she says, her eyes searching the menu. “How about some popcorn chicken and a side of mac and cheese?” I look back to the girl at the counter, who enters Maci's order quickly and then looks back up at me, still smiling. I quickly look away, not wanting to feel weird. I read the menu, searching for something to eat.
“I'll have the extra crispy chicken with a side of mashed potatoes,” I say looking back at the girl.
“Oh, that's my favorite!” she says with a giggle, and I just smile uncomfortably. “Oh, sorry!” She enters it in and tells me the total.
I see Maci start to reach in her pocket, but I stop her. “I've got it,” I say, smiling.
She smiles back and nods. I pay the girl and she hands me a number and a slip of paper with a wink. I see that there is a phone number scribbled on the slip, but I just ignore her and walk away. On the way back to find a table, I throw away the piece of paper. We choose a table that's out of the way and sit down. I place the number down at the end of the table and Maci clears her throat.
“So,” she says. “About this morning...”
I look her in the eye nervously. “The interview,” I say, more of a question than a statement. Maci nods and folds her hands together.
“You're in a world-famous boy band?” she asks. I nod. “And you failed to mention this to me... Why?”
I shrug, looking down. “I don't know. I'm sorry, I should have. I would just much rather have had you talk to me because you wanted to talk to 'Niall Horan', not 'Niall Horan from One Direction'.”
“Niall,” she says quietly, and I feel her hand on my arm. “I'm lucky that you even came to sit with me. I don't have... friends. You're one of the few people who even... bother saying hi to me, let alone taking me out for dinner.” What?
“How could such a beautiful girl like yourself not have any friends?” I blurt. Smooth, Niall. Maci's face goes red. “I mean, I'm sure you have friends! You're such a nice girl, how can you not?”
She looks down, taking her hand away. She looks so innocent, so beautiful right now. It really does surprise me that she doesn't have friends. I mean, she's got to have at least a few!
“I don't know, Niall,” she says quietly. “I've never really had a friend since elementary. But then she moved away, and I was left without. I guess that I just distance myself from people. I would just bother them anyway.”
Her words surprise me. She's really telling the truth! I don't understand why she would feel like she would bother people, though. Maci is so shy and quiet anyway, but even so, she's extremely nice and considerate. Any person would be lucky to have her as a friend!
I don't really know what to say as she continues. “And when you sat down yesterday, I started to get up because I thought I would bother you. But then you stopped me, and I was really surprised that a boy like you would want to talk to me. And then I realized how great of a guy you are. It was really nice to have a conversation with someone other than myself.”
She looks up and continues. “And then you wanted to walk me home, and I wondered why you would want to be bothered by me. And when we did get to my house... Niall, I had never been kissed – in any way – before.” Okay, now I'm seriously shocked. “This morning I was at work and turned on the radio, and One Direction's interview was on. I decided to listen. The announcer said the names, and when he said yours... I thought, 'No way does that sort of thing just happen to me'.”
I still don't know what to say, so I let her finish. “I didn't think it was you at first – I tried to tell myself that it wasn't, because I'm not that lucky, I don't deserve it. But then you started talking about yesterday, and I then I knew it was you. Then you were asked if you like me, and – Liam, was it? – answered for you. And I don't know if it's true or not, but... I'm glad it was you on the radio.”
I look into her eyes, and I know that she is being serious. Her face turns bright red, but I'm positive that mine is the same shade. I smile and she looks away. A person with a tray of our food comes around to our table. He takes the number from the end of the table and sets down the tray. I mutter a thanks as he walks away.
I'm still letting what Maci said soak in as she grabs her food and takes a small bite.
“I should have told you,” I say at last, picking up my food as well. “I'm sorry about that. But really, I think I'm the lucky one – to have met you, I mean.”
She smiles, the smile that I've grown to love in just the short amount of time that I've know her. “No one has ever been this nice to me,” she says. “Thank you, Niall.”
And with that, we begin to eat. I finish quickly, but Maci is only half way finished. I watch her – not in a creepy way, though – thinking of how true what I said is. I'm so lucky to have met Maci. There's something that I'm itching to tell her, but I don't know quite how to. I like her – that much is clear to me. Whether she likes me back or not, I don't know. I don't know how to tell her, but I try to play it as coolly as possible.
“And Maci?” I say, trying to sound nonchalant. She looks up, swallowing the food in her mouth. “It is true.”
I'm not sure if she understands what I mean at first. Then a huge smile grows across her face, and I can tell then that she knows what I'm talking about. I don't even need her to say anything. As long as she knows, I don't need her to say anything at all.
After Maci finishes her food, we throw away our trash and climb into the car. I check the time on my phone, 8:10. Maci has until ten, and agrees to going back to the hotel the lads and I are staying at. When we get to the hotel I park in the lot and we go in.
“Want to go into the pool area?” I ask, motioning toward the door that leads to the pool. She smiles and shrugs.
I hold the door open for her and we walk in. She sits at one of the tables around the pool, and I follow suit. We talk for a little bit, and then I get an idea.
“Want to go for a swim?” I ask, smiling. She looks at me, confused.
“I don't have a swimming suit,” she replies, as if it were obvious.
I chuckle a little bit. “I know,” I say. “We could go in our clothes, though.”
Maci frowns. “The chlorine will ruin them, though.”
“Oh well, I guess you'll just miss out on the fun,” I tease.
“I'll put my feet in, but I won't go in any further than that,” she says, rolling her eyes.
I shrug, standing up. She does the same and goes to the edge of the pool, putting her feet in the water. I tug my shirt over my head and pull off my pants, leaving me in only my boxers. I set my clothes on my chair and turn toward the pool. Maci turns around, and seeing me her eyes go wide, her face going red. She turns back around to face away from me and I chuckle a bit. Then I take off running toward the pool, jumping over Maci as I do a flip into the deep end of the pool.
I come up to the surface, the cold water shocking me a bit. I turn around to see Maci grimacing as she wipes away water that I splashed on her. I grin at her and drift into a backfloat. It's quiet for a little bit, and I listen to the small sounds echo around the large pool room.
“I'm going to be completely honest with you,” I hear Maci say, breaking the silence. I come out of the backfloat and turn to face her. “I don't know how to swim.”
“Really?” I say, surprised.
“I never learned,” she replies, shrugging. She kicks her legs back and forth in the water.
“Well then I might just have to teach you,” I say, smiling and swimming over to her.
“Not now, Niall,” she says, rolling her eyes as I reach her.
“Why not?” I whine, sticking out my lower lip.
“Because I don't have my suit on, and I don't really want to learn right now!”
“Pleeeeaaaassseee?” I say, giving her my best smile. Maci shakes her head.
“There is no way that you are going to get me into this pool, Niall,” she says sternly.
“We'll see about that!” I yell as I grab her arms and pull her in.
She shrieks as she hits the water. She struggles to come above the surface of the water and turn around, and I grab her waist from behind to support her. I can't help thinking that it feels so right to hold her in my arms.
“Niall Horan!” she yells, trying to push away from me. “Get me out of this pool right now!”
I just laugh, pulling her father away from the wall. She is facing away from me, so I can't see her face, but I'm pretty sure that she's really angry. Still holding her waist, I pull her into the deepest part, her yelling at me all the way.
“Niall, let go! Seriously, get me out of here! I don't want to be in the water! Niall!”
“You want me to let go?” I ask jokingly.
“Yes! I want to get out of here!” Maci yells in frustration.
“Fine,” I say, reluctantly loosening my grip on her waist, but I don't let go completely. She screams at the top of her lungs as her head slips closer to the water. She manages to turn around and throw her arms around my shoulders, burying her face in my chest.
“Niall, don't let go!” she yells.
I laugh for a while, tightening my grip around Maci's waist as she tries to calm her breathing.
As soon as I calm down though, I turn serious. “I'll never let you go, Maci,” I say, kissing her forehead.
I feel her tense, but then relax in my arms. I feel her smile against my chest. “I don't know if I want you to,” she says, looking up at me.
I look into her eyes, the brilliant hazel pulling me in. We sit like this for a while, just looking at each other, and I can feel her start to open up to me. But then I notice something on the left side of her face. Something is on her cheek – it's a fairly dark brown that looks like it's fading. I recognize it, foundation I think. Since it looks like it's coming off anyway, I remove one of my hands from around her waist to brush it off. She winces as I do, and I don't know why – that is, until I remove my hand. The smile on my face immediately disappears.
There's a horrible bruise on her face.
“Niall, let go!” I yell, frustrated with him. I can't swim, and my clothes will be ruined by the chlorine! “Seriously, get me out of here! I don't want to be in the water! Niall!”
He has his arms wrapped around my waist from behind, and pulls me farther into the deep end. I can't swim and I can't believe that he actually pulled me into the pool! But no matter how annoyed I am with him, I can't ignore the fact that it feels so right in Niall's arms. I've grown more comfortable with him in the short time that I've been with him, which feels strange to me. I just don't interact with people like this. This boy had an odd effect on me – I can already feel myself changing a bit.
“You want me to let go?” Niall asks jokingly.
“Yes! I want to get out of here!” I yell back, even though the honest answer is a no.
“Fine,” he says simply, his arms loosening from around me.
I start to fall into the water and panic. My body goes rigid, and I shriek as my head gets closer to the water. I finally manage to turn around and throw my arms around Niall's neck, clinging for dear life. My heart rate is through the roof – I've never liked water all that much.
“Niall, don't let go!” I scream, burying my face in his bare chest.
He starts laughing but his grip on me tightens. I try to pull myself together. As soon as Niall calms down, I hear him get serious.
“I'll never let you go, Maci,” he says, kissing my forehead. My breath hitches and I get a weird feeling in my chest, my cheeks burning.
“I don't know if I want you to,” I say quietly, before I can stop myself. I pull away and look into his eyes. Some part of me hopes that Niall didn't hear, although the rest of me wants him to have heard. What is this boy doing to you, Maci?
I smile and he returns the favor. He looks into my eyes and I'm lost. He really is a wonderful boy. And what Niall said earlier... It's true, he does like me. And I think... I think I like him too. But then again... I've just met him! And do I really deserve him? I mean, I'm just a regular – well, pretty useless, actually – girl. And he's... He's a famous singer – and a gorgeous one at that! And what would my father do...?
I'm snapped back to reality when Niall's grin fades a bit. I wonder what's wrong as he takes one hand from my waist and lifts it to my left cheek. I wince as he brushes over my cheek because – for some odd reason – it hurts. He seems to focus more on that side of my face, and then his face drops completely into an expression of horrified recognition and confusion.
I give him an odd look. “What's wrong?” I ask, worried. Is there something wrong with my face? Is that why it hurt? Oh God, I'm so embarrassed... See, Maci? You're not good enough for him.
“Maci?” he asks, his voice faltering. I furrow my eyebrows, waiting for him to continue. “Why... Why is there a bruise on you face?”
My eyes go wide. I'd forgotten about the bruise! Oh God, the foundation must have come off in the pool! Oh no, he can see it! Think Maci, think! You slipped in your kitchen and fell against the table! Yes, it's stupid, but it sounds okay...
“Nothing,” I try to say, but it only comes out a whisper when I remember what happened last night.
I see that we have drifted close to the side of the pool, and turn around in Niall's arms. I use some of my strength to push away from him. I reach the wall with some effort and hoist myself out of the water. I hear him swim to the edge behind me, but I've already taken off toward the towel rack. I grab two towels and try to dab off the extra water that's coming off of me as Niall climbs hurriedly out of the water.
My chest tightens and I drop the towels, even though I'm still soaked. I run toward the table to grab my phone and shoes and, hearing Niall close behind, I start to run toward the door to the lobby, but it's too late. Niall catches me by the waist, sending a shiver up my spine. He spins me so I'm facing him and places both hands on my hips so that I can't move.
“Maci,” he says, looking me dead in the eye. “Why is there a bruise on you face?”
No! Don't ask that, I can't lie to you if I tried! I shake my head, looking away. Standing there – sopping wet and clinging to my shoes – I must look so afraid, so fragile. One of two things that I know I am not. I am not fragile.
“Maci,” Niall whispers, using two fingers to turn my head toward him that I'm forced to look at his kind face. “You can tell me what happened. I can tell that you're trying to hide something.”
Even though I'm face to face with him, my eyes travel everywhere but his. I know that if I do look Niall in the eye, I'll cave in. I can't though – my father says that if I tell people, then I am weak. I am not weak.
“It's nothing,” I whisper. “I just... slipped. I slipped in my kitchen and hit my head on the table. Clumsy me!” I give a small laugh, but one look at his face says that he's not convinced.
I chew on the inside of my cheek – something I do when I lie, I don't know why – but catch the inside of my left cheek, the one with the bruise. I whimper little, and Niall catches this.
Shaking his head vigorously, he says, “Don't lie to me Maci, that's not it. That kind of accident doesn't bruise this badly.”
I bite my lip and am forced to look into his eyes. Their soft blue had turned to empathy, comforting me a small bit. Niall moves one of his hands from my hip to the unbruised side of my face. He strokes my cheek, sending another shiver up my spine.
“It's okay, Maci,” he says softly. “You can tell me.”
He has no idea how badly I yearn to tell him – how day after day my father hits me, a different place every time. Some bruise, some don't – it hurts all the same. I want to tell him how many tubes of foundation that I have been through, all of the long sleeves and jeans that I have had to wear to keep people from asking – as if they would care. How many times I have had to stop myself from talking to anyone at all, out of fear that I might grow close to them, and my father would hurt them too. I cry, but only when no one is there to wipe away my tears. Serves me right, for being so weak.
But having Niall here, even for just a short amount of time – he has an odd effect on me. I've never opened up to someone like I have to him. That moment while we were eating – those words just poured out of me. No matter how true they were, I was surprised by my courage to say them. But these words, I can't say. Not to Niall, not to anyone.
“No,” I whisper, looking away.
Tears start to form in my eyes and I shut them tight to keep them from falling. I shake my head, reluctantly stepping out of Niall's comforting touch.
“No what, Maci?” he asks with worry threaded heavily in his voice.
My eyes are still shut tight, but that doesn't keep the memories from flooding back.
“I'm so sorry!” I say, cowering from my father's gaze.
He towers above my small 12-year-old figure, and I feel about the size of an ant. I had bumped into him because I hadn't seen him come up behind me. I had been making dinner, and was carrying our finished food to the table. I accidentally dropped the plate and it had shattered, slicing open both my father's and my own feet.
“Dammit, Maci!” he yells, dropping the glass beer bottle in his hand to hold one of his cut feet.
The bottle shatters against the tile floor and what's left of the alcohol inside splashes over my cuts. It stings badly and I jump back, yelping a little bit. I look back up at my father to apologize again, but I don't look fast enough. His fist buries into my stomach, sending me stumbling back several feet and gasping for air.
“You b****!” he shouts, his words slurred. “That hurt!”
“I'm sorry!” I whimper, still trying to recuperate. “I'll clean it up!”
“Damn right, you will!” he bellows, hurling a piece of the broken bottle at me.
I try to move out of the way, but I can't get away fast enough. He threw it hard enough that it opens a big gash on my right forearm. I cry out in pain as my father yells more profanity at me. He growls and leaves the kitchen, grumbling all the way to his chair about how reckless and worthless I am.
I clean up the mess before tending to my bloodied arm. The wound is extremely deep, I probably needed stitches. I wouldn't go to the hospital, though. Not after what my father was about to say. I hear him get up from his chair and stomp over to me. He gives me a glare before speaking.
“You are weak,” he says. I just look at the ground. “You will never be strong enough to leave this home. You will never survive in the outside world, not without me.” Up until now, I hadn't cried. But now, tears begin flowing down my cheeks, only angering my father.
“You see!?” he shouts, grabbing my wounded arm. I cry out in pain, but this only makes it worse. His grip tightens, squeezing more tears out of my eyes. “If it weren't for me, you'd be dead! So remember that when you get hurt. I'm making you stronger, because you are weak!”
My eyes still closed, I rub my right arm. I can still feel the scar, a raised ridge that reminds me every day of that awful night with my father.
I sit on my bed doing my math homework. I hear the home phone ring, deciding to let my father answer, and go back to focusing. It was only my first year of high school, and I was already having trouble in math. My hand also ached from the current bruise that shown on it. I hadn't started covering up my bruises yet, hadn't thought anything about it. No one cared enough, anyway.
I'm nearing the end of my work when my father bursts into my room, steaming mad. His fists are clenched at his sides, and his face is bright red. My eyes go wide and I freeze, wondering what I've done.
“That was your teacher on the phone,” he seethes, hatred grasping his voice.
“What teacher?” I ask, confused.
“IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT TEACHER IT WAS!” he bellows, making me jump. “He called about the bruises, Maci!”
I flinch. Mr. Johnson had stopped me earlier that day, asking about the reoccurring bruises on my arms. I just froze and hurried out of his classroom.
“What...?” I ask hesitantly.
“THE BRUISES!” my father thunders. I feel myself begin to shake.
“Oh...” I say weakly, looking down at my hands.
“Are you talking to people about your bruises?” he shouts. I shake my head quickly, but he continues. “Talking about them makes you weaker! Don not shove you self-pity on other people! I will NOT be getting another one of these phone calls! Will I, Maci!?”
I keep my head down, and I don't see my father approach me. I only feel the sting of his hand as it connects with my face. I'm knocked sideways and up against the wall.
“Maslin Watson,” he says, using the full name that I hate. “You. Are. Weak.”
And with that, he storms out of my room, slamming the door on his way out.
From that moment on, I never shed a single tear in front of anyone but myself, and I intend to keep it that way. The only reason I shed tears at all is because I am weak.
“Maci,” Niall says, putting his hands on my shoulders and releasing me from the nightmares that I call memories. “No what?”
“I won't cry,” I say, but my voice betrays me. “I won't be weak.”
I pull away and start to dash for the door. Niall catches me by the arm and pulls me to the side so that the people in the hotel lobby can't see us.
“No, Niall, just let me go home,” I whimper, trying to push him away, but he wraps his arms around my waist, pulling me into a tight hug.
“Maci,” he says softly into my neck. “Crying isn't for the weak. It's for the strong who have been strong for too long.”
With those words, I lose it. I throw my arms around Niall's neck and bury my face into his shoulder, ignoring the stab of pain I feel on the side of my face. I realize that both of us are still sopping wet and Niall doesn't have a shirt on, but I don't care anymore. I let loose all of the tears that I have been holding in. The ones from every single day, of every single month, of every single year since my father started hitting me. It feels like am crying for hours in his comforting embrace, but I don't mind.
His arms are the one place that I have ever felt that I belong, yet I still don't feel deserving. He comforts me by humming songs that I'm sure I've heard but can't put a name to. We stand in the embrace for what seems like forever, as my heavy sobs slowly turn into whimpers, then soft hiccups. I finally collect myself enough to pull away. Niall gives me one last squeeze before loosening his grip and holding me at arms-length.
“I'm so sorry,” he says, giving me a pained expression.
I shake my head, giving him a weak smile. “It's not your fault, you didn't do anything.
He nods, his face staying serious. “You don't have to tell me what happened, but I'm here to listen f you need to let it all out.”
I nod my head and start to pull Niall over to the table where we sat earlier. He sits down and offers me a spot on his lap. I accept the invitation and curl up into him. He wraps his arms around me, further making me feel like I can trust him.
We sit like this for a while and I listen to his steady breathing. I like the feeling of being safe and secure, and maybe even wanted – three feelings that I have never felt before. There is something about Niall – something about him that made me trust him, that made me feel like I can finally be honest with him.
“Niall?” I ask quietly.
“Hmm?” he replies, waiting for me to go on.
“You said that you would listen, right?” What are you doing, Maci?
“Of course. Always,” he says, his arms tightening around me and making me smile the smallest bit.
“Well, I'm going to tell you. But you have to promise not to say anything until I'm done, because at some points it's going to get really hard for me to tell you. Okay?” I hold my breath, waiting for Niall to answer.
I feel him nod and I sigh. Taking a deep breath, I prepare myself for what I'm about to say. Should I really tell him? I haven't known him for long, but I already feel like I've known him forever!
Yes, I decide. I will tell him. I'll tell him everything; from the day that I can remember all the way until last night. My mother's death, my father's alcoholism, the beatings, my scars – everything.
And it all just pours out of me.
By the time I finish, my tears have long since run out. Niall did what he promised, he said nothing, though several times I felt him tense and begin to shake with anger. He didn't speak – and for that, I am grateful.
“I'm finished,” I say to Niall, messing with the still-soaking scarf around my neck. There is a long silence, and I start to worry. “Niall?” I ask, pulling back to look at him.
He wears an expression of a mix of anger and surprise. He just looks at me, studying my face. I want him so badly to say something, anything! Just to let me know that he's here for me like he says. I wasn't quite sure how he'd react when I started telling him all of the things my father has done. I had had many ideas, but silence wasn't one of them.
“Niall?” I whisper. “Please say something?”
He blinks once, twice, three times. It feels like forever before he actually get the words out of his mouth. “I will just make it clear,” he says hoarsely. “That as long as you will know me, I – nor any people I know or love – will ever lay a hurtful finger on you.”
Relief floods me. Niall has no idea how much what he has just said means to me. There are no words to describe how comforting it is to have someone that knows of the pain I have been through – and for him to promise me something like that? If I had any tears left, I think that they would have fallen right now.
I smile, but it is not strong. “Thank you, Niall. Thank you so, so much.”
I wrap my arms around his neck and bury my face in his shoulder. I have never felt this way about anyone before. I know I've only known him for such a short amount of time, but I can honestly say that I like Niall, more than just a friend. I can trust this boy. It feels right in his arms. Talking to him come easy to me. Being with him is amazing.
But sadly, all good moments must end.
My phone starts ringing. My ringtone is Switchfoot's I Dare You to Move. I sigh and move from Niall's lap, and he starts to put his shirt and pants on over his wet boxers. I don't bother checking the caller ID. There's only one person that would be calling me now – my father. I start to feel guilty for telling Niall, but then the feelings stop. My father has no way of knowing that I told Niall. I relax a little and answer the phone.
“Hi, dad,” I say into the phone.
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?” my father screams in my ear. I wince and bring the phone away from my head. I hear Niall huff from hit seat, and he stands and walks over to me.
“No, I don't,” I say quietly.
“IT IS 10:15, MACI!” he screams, and I flinch. Oh no. I've missed curfew. My chest tightens and I take slow breaths in an attempt to calm myself. I can tell Niall is getting tense because he wraps his arms around my waist. “GET YOUR WORTHLESS ASS HOME NOW!” Niall's arms tighten around me, comforting me.
“I'll get home as soon as I can,” I say as respectfully as I can. “I'm about twenty minutes away. I'm so sorry. This won't happen again, I promise.”
“Sorry doesn't cut it,” my father hisses. “Two infractions, two days in a row. There will be severe consequences!” And then he hangs up.
I slowly bring the phone down to my side, my eyes wide. My heart is pounding in my chest, and my breathing is shaky and fast. I just stand there, frozen, not knowing what to do. Niall brings me closer to him and rests his head on my shoulder. I don't come out of the position I am in. I just stare at the wall while I collect my thoughts.
Tonight consisted of many realizations for me.
Niall is in a famous boy band; One Direction
Niall likes me
I can trust Niall
I do, in fact, like Niall in the same way he likes me
I am not weak
I can feel safe, secure, and wanted
I've missed curfew, my father knows, and he is angry
I am going to get beaten, and it is going to hurt
I think most people would disagree with me when I say that knowing that you're going to get hit before it actually happens makes it worse. Well, I know that it does for me.
I start to hyperventilate in the passenger seat of Niall's car just thinking about the state that my father is in. He's beyond mad, that's for sure. And just yesterday I came home four dollars short – that could have easily been prevented. I wouldn't have gotten hit, I wouldn't be freaking out as much right now. And missing curfew! What is wrong with you, Maci? You've never missed curfew before. Ohhh God, I'm in for it. I wonder how bad it will be. Where will I get hit –
My train of thought is lost when Niall places his hand over mine, making me jump. My head whips over to him. He looks at me worriedly as he pulls up to the stop light. I give him a weak smile and turn my head back out my window.
What is this boy doing to you, Maci? You met him yesterday, and you're already holding hands and hugging... Is this how it works? I like Niall – that's for sure. And he likes me back, even better! And it's fair to say that we've been through a lot in the small amount of time that we've spent together. So I don't see how it would be a problem... But of course, there always is. I don't want Niall to get hurt. That's the problem. If I get to close to him, my father might hurt him, too! Niall will get hurt.
We finally reach my neighborhood and I start to breath heavily, my heart rate picking up again. Niall squeezes my hand, trying to comfort me.
“Is there any way that I could help?” he says desperately. “Please, Maci, let me do something, anything! I can't let you go in there and get hurt, I won't do it!”
“No, Niall,” I say sadly, shaking my head. “There's nothing that you can do. I have to go home no matter what. And I'm going in alone. I can't risk you getting hurt.”
“Oh, Maci,” he says, grim reasoning in his voice. “I'll be hurt no matter what! If I let you go in there alone I'll never be able to go to sleep at night. Maci, what if he hurts you – beyond repair? What then? He said something about two infractions? And then he said severe consequences! It's horrible already, and now he says it's going to get worse than beating you? Maci, I can't stand it!”
“Niall,” I whisper as Niall pulls up to my house and stops the car. “Please stop trying to convince me to let you go in with me. It's not going to happen. I have to tough through this like I have through all of the other times. And I need you to support me.”
“Support you?” he says incredulously. “Support you walking into your own home alone to be beaten?”
“No, Niall!” I yell, surprising both myself and Niall. I put my hand on the door handle and take a deep breath. “I need you to support me afterward! No one has ever been there for me before, but I needed it! I need you to be there this time, to support me after.”
“Maci,” he says, sounding on the verge of tears. “If I let you go in there alone, there will be nothing left to support!”
What did he just say to me...? I have handled my father's beatings before. What makes now so different, other than the fact that he's more angry? Did Niall just say that I can't handle myself? Hurt and anger flush throughout my body. It must have shown on my face, because Niall automatically changes his tone.
“Maci, you know I didn't mean it like that!” Even though I am so tempted to forgive him and soften, I don't. I see this as an opportunity to make him stay in the car.
I put on my best glare and throw open the car door, stepping out into the night.
“Maci!” Niall begs. “Please-” I can't hear the rest of what he says because I slam the door shut.
I start walking up the driveway to the front door, but I hear Niall get out of the car. His feet thunder against the concrete, and I hear him get closer. As soon as he is about ten feet away, I whip around, making him freeze.
“Don't,” I say harshly, giving him a hard glare, “follow me.”
And with that, I spin around and take off for my front door. “Maci!” Niall shouts behind me, but I'm already through the door. I close it just as he reaches the porch, and lock the door.
“Please, just leave,” I whisper against the door, on the verge of tears. I close my eyes and take a deep breath, leaning against the door. I'm so sorry, Niall. I hope you'll forgive me.
I open my eyes and stand up straight – only to find my father waiting, fists clenched, and beer in hand.
“Don't,” Maci hisses with a glare, “follow me.”
And with that, takes off for her house. “Maci!” I shout, but she's already through the door. I sprint as fast as I can to catch up, but the door shuts and I hear the bolt slide into place.
No. No, no, no! I feel utterly defeated. I like Maci, a lot. And to hear that her father abuses her... That's tough on a guy! And then to hear him pretty much say, 'I'm going to beat the s*** out of you when you get home' – that's traumatizing. I didn't know how to handle Maci before she rushed into her house. I said one wrong thing in the car and... Oh God, Maci.
The pain swells in my chest and I take off back toward the car. There's no way you're going to cry, Niall. I throw myself into the driver's side and whip my seatbelt around me. I had left the car running, so all I had to do was step on the gas pedal and I was gone – away from Maci, away from her father, away from the torture that he was putting her through. Staying on this street right now would only cause my heart to break. There wasn't any stopping it now – she had locked the door, making helping her impossible.
So I leave. I hate myself as I drive away, looking in the rear-view mirror at her house. My grip tightens on the steering wheel as I let sink in what just happened. Maci, the girl I like so much, confessed to me that she has no friends and that her father abuses her. Then, when her father called in advance to let her know that she was in for it, she wouldn't let me help her. I let her walk into a house where she could be seriously wounded.
What have I done?
There's no holding them back anymore, it's useless. I pull into an empty lot and put the car in park. “DAMMIT!” I scream, slamming my hands against the dash. That's when the tears start to slide down my cheeks. I rest my head against the top of the steering wheel and zone out. I don't know how long I'm sitting there, but eventually my eyes run dry. I'm still shaking, but I pull myself together enough to pull out of the lot and head back to the hotel.
I sluggishly park the car and slump into the hotel. I open the door to our room, not bothering being slow anymore. I slam the door shut, run past a gaping Zayn, and throw myself face down on the bed, renewed sobs racking my body.
Why the hell did you leave, Niall?
I hear Zayn do an intake of breath and jump off his bed, running out the door. I don't care. Leave, like I left Maci. I don't deserve comforting, and I'm right. She's probably getting beaten right now, and I'm sitting here in a nice hotel room, with five of my best friends. She doesn't even have friends! I don't deserve to be this lucky, and she doesn't deserve the pain that she goes through.
I don't hear the rest of the lads come in the room, but I figure they're here when Louis pounces on me. “Niall,” he whimpers. “Niall, honey, what's wrong?” I don't know why, but I snap.
“Get the hell off of me, Louis!” I seethe, rolling over so that he's thrown onto the floor. The other three boys just look extremely surprised.
“What's your issue?” Harry shouts, glaring at me and stooping to help his best friend. “We're here to help you, not hurt you. So don't hurt us!”
“I don't want to talk about it!” I growl, burying my face in my pillow once again. “I think it's better if you all just leave me alone right now!”
“Niall,” Liam says softly. “Whatever it is, we can help you. Is it Maci? Lay it on us, we've all been through girl issues.”
I roll over to face them. “Not like this,” I cry, my voice cracking at the end.
“Try us,” the lads say in unison. I shake my head. I don't want to talk about it, though I knew I would end up telling them anyway. They beg me, saying that seeing me hurt is hurting them. They have absolutely no idea how badly I hurt. When I finally have enough of their 'we get it' speech, I sit up.
“Look,” I say harshly. “I can almost guarantee that none of you have been through what I'm going through now-”
“Rejected 22 times!” Liam said nonchalantly, raising his hand. I grit my teeth to keep from yelling at him.
“It's not about being rejected, Liam,” I say as calmly as I can manage right now.
But as soon as Liam's theory is out, there's no stopping the others. I'm bombarded with all types of scenarios, all of them wrong. It nears twenty seconds of their constant suggestions and I finally lose my cool.
“CAN WE ALL JUST ASSUME THAT NONE OF THE ONE DIRECTION BOYS HAVE EVER BEEN THROUGH ANYTHING LIKE THIS WITH A GIRL AND SHUT YOUR MOUTHS FOR FIVE MINUTES SO I CAN EXPLAIN!?!?”
All of the lads freeze and stare at me with open mouths. What can I say, I have a pair of lungs. They do shut up though, allowing me a few seconds to pull myself together. I'm not going to go through every detail of the night, just the important bits. I take a deep breath and swallow down the growing sadness that rests inside my chest. I start off like this:
“Maci is getting abused by her father.”
~*Maci’s P.O.V.*~ “You’ve never been late before, Maci,” my father growls, tapping the open beer bottle on the side of his thigh. “I’m sorry,” I say, looking down. “It won’t happen again.” “I set simple rules, Maci!” he shouts, making me wince. His shouts always lead to... Punishment. “Rules that aren’t hard to follow! So how the hell do you always end up breaking them? That’s right, because you’re useless.” Usually, this would put me down enough that I’d be forced to listen to his other insults. But this time, it’s different. I get angry. Being with Niall has done something to me - I’m different. Whether it’s something he did or something he said, I just feel different. I have the courage to ignore my father. To keep my mind off of my father’s words, I focus on Niall’s face. I focus on his brilliant blue eyes, blonde hair. His mouth that speaks comforting words to me. I go back to when he was humming the songs to me, how I let my emotions pour out of me then. Then I think of him dragging me into the pool, and our heart-warming hug. I like Niall. A lot. No matter what my father has ever and will ever say to me, I’m at least worth something. Even though I’ve only known him two days, Niall has changed me - made me believe that. Niall... He’s just so... Wonderful! And then I make a mistake. I smile. “ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME!?” he bellows, and I’m jolted out of my thoughts. “Y-yes!” I say hurriedly “You lying b****!” he shouts, striding over to me. He grips my damp scarf, pulling on it so that it tightens painfully around my throat and it becomes hard to breath. “When I talk to you,” he hisses. He yanks on the scarf, closing it completely around my throat, and all air is closed off from my lungs. I start to reach for it, to make room for me to breath, but he only smacks my hands away. I start to see black spots and he brings his face close to mine, and the alcohol smell overwhelms me. “You listen.” He releases me and I automatically scramble to pull off my scarf, gasping for air. I close my eyes, breathing in the sweet, sweet air. I’ve just barely gathered myself when my father’s fist buries itself in my stomach. Pain bursts through me and I groan and fall to the ground, but I don’t do anything more. I’m then hoisted to my feet by my shirt - still clinging to me from being damp - and put face to face with my father. “Weak,” he hisses, throwing me back against the door. I let out an oof! and grip the door handle for support. I don’t react fast enough to get out of the way of a blow to the face, in the same spot I am bruised. This time I let out a whimper and my father scoffs. He takes my shirt in his hand and starts dragging me up the stairs, making me stumble several times and hit my shins repeatedly. “Don’t come out for the rest of the night,” my father growls, tossing me onto the floor in my room. I crumple in a heap on the floor as my father slams the door, leaving me in the pitch black. My left arm has landed behind my back, but its doesn’t hurt. My right has landed extended from my body and I play with loose strands of carpet. My legs are just sprawled out in different directions and my head bobs to the side. I sit there - I don’t know how long for - staring at the ceiling, my mind numb. If only the rest of me were. My stomach pounds, sending repeating pangs of pain throughout my whole body. My neck is raw from being squeezed by my damp scarf. My shins throb, the whole left side of my face is tingling. God, I’m a mess. I can only imagine my expression - lost, helpless, defeated. Sure, my mind can tough through it - but I don’t know how much longer my body can. Years of being both put and beaten down with words and fists. It’s tough on a girl, you know? But this time, I don’t cry. I’ve cried long enough. I need to talk it out with another human being. I told Niall that I need him to support me after things like this, and I sure hope that he still will after what I did. I manage to collect myself and hoist my body onto my bed. I change as fast as my body will allow into some pajamas [http://www.polyvore.com/cgi/set?id=66851083] and set myself down on the bed lightly. I sigh, leaning back against the pillows. I pull out my phone and dial Niall’s number. ~*Niall’s P.O.V.*~ It takes me an hour to tell the lads about Maci and I - even with leaving out details. By the end I’m on the verge of tears that I don’t have. The whole time I told the story, Liam’s jaw was set into a look of anger, Harry was running his hands through his hair, Zayn was staring blankly at the wall, and Louis was gaping. Now they’ve crowded around me and we’re in a group hug. I’m not the one who needs a hug, though. My mind is stuck on Maci. What kind of state is she in right now? Is she alright? Ohh, I never should have left her. Stupid, stupid Niall! You shouldn’t have listened to her - you should be there right now, saving her. I hope that she’ll still talk to me. I know that she was mad when she told me to leave, but I hope that she won’t stay angry forever. She needs me. No, Niall, you need her. Well, that too, I guess.... I nearly jump out of my skin when my ringtone starts playing. The lads chuckle at my ringtone and I roll my eyes, pushing them away. Louis sits patiently beside me on my bed, Harry and Liam on the other, and Zayn on the floor. I pull my phone out of my pocket and flinch, my chest heaving. It’s Maci. “Maci!” I yell as I answer the phone and I see the lads’ eyes go wide. “Are you alright? What happened? Do you need me to come get you?” “Niall,” she says quietly and my heart hurts for her. She sounds bad. It sounds like she is struggling to get the words out. “Calm down, I’m... Fine.” “It doesn’t sound like it!” I shout, standing. Louis puts a hand on my arm, trying to calm me. The hand that isn’t holding my phone forms a fist down at my side. “I’ll come get you if-” “No, Niall,” Maci says roughly. “Please don’t. Really, I’m okay right now. I just need to talk about something to get my mind off of it.” I nod, then realize that she can’t see me. “Alright,” I say. “I’m with the lads now. Do you mind me putting you on speaker? It’ll be a group effort!” Their faces brighten. “Well...” she says hesitantly. “I don’t really know them. I only know their voices from the interview this morning.” That’s right... the interview had only been this morning. It feels like it’s been days! I guess that’s how well Maci and I have bonded in these two days. “Well,” I reply. “Then this is a prime opportunity to get to know them!” “Well... You know I’m shy... But alright.” I smile and put the phone on speaker. “Okay, lads, say hi to Maci.” The boys chorus a greeting. When I’m about to speak, Louis shouts out, “Louis the Tommo Tomlinson at your service, how may we go about cheering you up!?” I hear Maci giggle and feel myself smile. “Hi Louis,” she says, and I can tell that she is smiling. “I’m Liam,” Liam says in a cheerful voice. “Hi Liam.” “I’m Zayn,” Zayn announces. “Hi Zayn.” “Harry!” Harry shouts like a two-year-old. “Hi Harry!” Maci says with the same enthusiasm, giggling. “These are my band mates,” I say. “The four best friends that I ever could have asked for.” There are several playful awwwhs, including one from Maci. “We get on really well, and if you ever meet them, I’m sure that you’d like them.” “Looking forward to it,” she says, and the boys make several sounds of agreement. “So what are you boys up to?” “Currently, we are sitting in Zayn and Niall’s hotel room,” Liam says. “It’s quite messy in here.” “Oh, that’s not good,” Maci says, sounding disgusted. I laugh. “I don’t like messy spaces. My room is spotless.” “You’ll have to come organize it for us, then,” Zayn pipes up. “It’s pretty bad.” “Louis, Liam, and Harry’s room is worse, though,” I point out. “And we haven’t even been here a week!” Maci laughs, but then makes an odd noise through the phone. “Are you alright?” I ask, a little worried. “Fine,” I hear her whisper. “Just a little... You know what, never mind. I’ll just have to stop by sometime and clean your boys’ rooms. It won’t take long.” The lads and I all let out a loud laugh. “What?” she asks. “Oh, it’ll take long,” Harry says, still laughing. “There’s a lot of stuff in there.” “Harry,” Louis stage whispers. “We’ll have to get rid of the mankinis. Wouldn’t want to... freak her out.” We all burst out laughing, including Maci. When we all calm down, Harry turns serious. “He’s not kidding, you know,” he says. His straight face lasts for about five seconds before he can’t contain his grin any longer. Louis tackles Harry, Zayn just barely diving away in time, and they wrestle for a bit on the floor. Louis ends up sitting on Harry’s back, pinning him down. We laugh as Louis does his little ‘love bite’ thing, where he makes a loud kissing noise against your neck. “Remember, babe,” he says seductively to Harry. “I will always wear the pants in this relationship.” Harry makes a bummed out noise and rolls over as Louis gets off, Louis taking up his previous spot next to me. “What’s going on over there?” Maci questions, making me laugh harder. “Larry Stylinson just had a moment,” I joke, still laughing uncontrollably. “Larry Stylinson...?” she questions. “Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson’s bromance,” I explain after I calm down. “Oh,” Maci laughs, finally in on the joke. “And what’s-” She’s interrupted by a loud slamming noise in the background of her phone. I hear her do a sharp intake of breath and shift. “Listen,” she whispers into the phone. The lads and I lean in, trying to hear what she says. “You’ll have to pick me up when my shift ends at 3 tomorrow. I’ll clean your rooms then.” She sounds like a mother! “I’ve got to go now, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Deal?” “Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” I ask in a hurry, starting to get anxious. “I mean, really - if you want me to pick you up its no trouble-” “No, really, I’m fine,” she interrupts me. “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright, I can handle myself. Please try to get some sleep tonight, I know you’re worried.” I sigh, ignoring the goofy smiles on the others’ faces. “Alright.” “And Niall?” she asks expectantly. “Yes, Love?” I hear her giggle. “I love that nickname. It’s so British!” The lads and I laugh. “But I’m Irish!” “Oh well, but anyway,” she continues. “Niall, it’s true for me, too.” There’s a long pause, and I don’t know what she means at first. As soon as I do realize, though, she says, “Well, good night, boys!” and hangs up. “What was she talking about?” Liam asks, and the rest of the boys nod their heads. “Ohh, nothing,” I say, though my smile gives it away completely. “She likes him,” Zayn states simply and my face gets hot as the boys laugh and tease me. “I told her I like her today,” I say, agreeing with him and getting teased more. Just then, Harry gives us a really big yawn. “I’m tired,” he says sluggishly, as if the yawn didn’t give him away. “I’m going to bed.” He gets up and walks for the door. “Good luck sleeping, Harry!” Louis yells. “Since we’re having our room cleaned tomorrow, we’re trashing the room with a party tonight!” he says with a mischievous grin. “Aren’t we, Liam?” Liam gives him an ‘Oh no you don’t’ look and Louis’ face droops as he looks down at the floor. “Yes, mother,” Louis mutters as he runs out of the room, pouting. “Hey, that’s father to you!” Liam calls, dashing out the door after Louis. Zayn and I are left in a sort of silence for a minute. I lay back against the pillows, throwing the covers of my bed over me. Zayn climbs into his bed and leans against the headboard. He pulls out his phone and types for a while, then puts it away and turn to me. “So,” he says nonchalantly. “Maci, huh? You like her, she likes you. Anything happen while you were... Out?” I roll my eyes at his vagueness, but I know what he’s asking. “No, we didn’t kiss. But... We were in each other’s arms quite a bit.” He smirks and I roll my eyes again, rolling to face away from him. “She’s different, Zayn,” I say, staring at the wall. “There’s just something about her. I just don’t like girls this way this fast. And to know that she feels the same way... That’s something, you know?” “Yeah,” Zayn replies. He pauses for a little bit and lets out a sigh. “Just... Be careful how close you get to her.” I furrow my eyebrows and roll back to face him. He wears a look of concern. “What do you mean?” “Well,” Zayn says, staring at his hands. “I don’t really know how to sugar-coat this, so I won’t. Niall,” he says, looking back up at me. “I hate to be a pessimist, but... If it’s as bad as you say it is with her father, well... She seems strong mentally, but physically, she’s got to be suffering. When she laughed the first time, she was in horrible pain. You and I both know that’s what that was. She was covering it up the rest of the phone call.” “What are you trying to say?” I ask, sitting up. “I’m trying to say,” Zayn says with a sigh. “That there’s no way to know how much longer she’s going to last. One of these times, I guarantee that she’s going to need serious medical care. And hearing what you said about her father - he’s not going to be the one to take her. And what if you’re not there either?” What he says starts to make sense. With all of the stuff that my work entails, there’s going to be a lot of time away from Maci. And what if... I can’t even think about it. “No!” I yell, surprising both of us. I take a deep breath. “I can’t afford to think like that. Maci is different, Zayn, and I’m not going to lose her.” “It’s not as easy as you think, mate,” he says, pity in his voice. “What are you going to do when we leave and she stays here? Take her with you? There’s no way she’ll just uproot like that. I’ve heard of abusive relationships before. The person being abused loves the person abusing them - that’s why they stay. And when they finally do decide to leave, the other person makes up excuses, and they’re drawn back in again. She won’t want to leave.” I throw my head in a pillow, shouting into it until my throat is sore. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I want more than anything in the world for Maci to be both safe and content. But every way I try it, she can’t have both. If she came along with me, she would be safe, though she wouldn’t be happy. If I left without her, she would be content, but no where near safe. There’s got to be some way to convince her, to get her to leave her unsafe home. I roll back over, staring at the ceiling. “Zayn?” I ask, but don’t wait for a reply. “I think I’m going to convince her to come with me. It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to do it. She’s got to listen to me.” “Nialler,” Zayn says, reason in his voice. “You can’t take her away from her own home, even if it’s bad. What if you two end up breaking up? Then what? You two will be stuck with each other, she won’t be able to go home. There’s no way her father would let her back in.” “First of all,” I say, shooting up to face him. “We are not dating. Second of all - like I said - Maci. Is. Different. If we ever do start dating - and I’m going to ask her - we’ll be together for a long, long time.” “Yeah,” Zayn says with a shrug. “But that’s still no reason to get her to leave her home. What if she gets homesick? What if her father starts stalking her? Or worse, trying to hurt her?” By now I’m so angry with him, I almost forget that I’m talking to one of my best friends. “Well what the hell you do?” I growl. Zayn holds up his hands. He raises his eyebrows and says, “I would do the exact same thing that your planning to do.” I slam my palm onto my forehead. I put my head in in my hands, between my knees. “Of course you would, Zayn.”
“And Niall?” I ask, about to end the call.
I giggle. “I love that nickname. It’s so British!” I hear all the boys laugh.
“But I’m Irish!” Niall laughs
“Oh well, but anyway,” I continue. “Niall, it’s true for me, too.” There’s a long pause, and I let my words sink in a bit, hoping that Niall understands. “Well, good night, boys!” I say, hanging up.
I soon as I’m off the line I let out a groan that I had been holding in. Pretending to be okay is so hard. At least I get to see Niall tomorrow. Luckily, the only bruise I’ll be needing to cover up is the one on my face that’s been renewed to purple. I pick out an outfit for tomorrow that will cover the ones on my shins, and the one on my stomach will be covered by my shirt.
I unzip my sweatshirt to look at the bruise starting to form on my stomach. It was a hard blow, harder than he’d ever hit me before. He must have been pretty angry. The middle of my midsection is a dull purple already, and fanning out from there are alternating colors of green, blue, and yellow. I quickly zip my sweatshirt back up, not wanting to think about it anymore.
Sometimes I wish that I could just leave my home. I hate being here anyway. But then I think of my father... He doesn’t have a job, can’t stay sober for ten minutes, doesn’t know how to cook much anymore. He’s helpless without me. And he says that I’m weak... I would like to see him go two weeks in this house without me.
Wait, what am I doing? I’m disrespecting him... I’ve never done that before. Not until I met Niall... I don’t know if I’m changing for the better or for the worse. Yes, my father does deserve a taste of his own medicine, but I can’t do that to him - he’s my father!
Oh well. I won’t think about that right now. It’s not like I’m leaving any time soon - or ever. Right now, I’m just going to sleep away the pain I’m going through.
Waking up in the morning is easy. All I have to do is listen to the screaming pain in my stomach, and I’m wide awake. I’ve only woken up about five minutes ahead of schedule, so I attempt to get out of bed. Thank God I have the extra five minutes.
I prop myself up on my elbows, groaning even at this small movement. I try moving my legs, my stomach muscles tensing, and I just end up falling onto the floor, whimpering as I land on my stomach. I roll over to my back and use all of my tolerance for pain to just stand up. Once I’m standing it’s a little better, but not by much.
I grip my dresser for support, using one hand to unzip and slip off my sweatshirt. As it drops to the floor I stare at my reflection in the mirror. The middle of the bruise has gone a mix of purple and red in the middle, panning out to ugly mixes of red and blue, red and green, red and yellow.
I’ll have an easy time covering it, but a hard time playing the part. Hopefully as the day goes on my muscles won’t be so stiff, and I’ll be able to clean the guys’ rooms like I promised. I don’t want them to think that I can’t do anything.
I change as fast as the pain will allow [http://www.polyvore.com/untitled/set?id=66810248#stream_box] and head to the bathroom. I have to go slow when I brush my teeth because the shaking is jarring around my stomach. I put the foundation on my face but it doesn’t cover up the bruise completely. There’s still a little bit of darkness showing, but oh well. Niall’s already seen it, and the boys probably already know from what Niall has surely said about me. I don’t mind, they’re his best friends, and anyone that Niall trusts, I will too.
I come out of the bathroom and turn down the hallway, coming to my worst enemy. Stairs. I end up having to go down sideways because forward put to much strain on my stomach muscles. My father has once again fallen asleep in his chair. I quickly whip up some toast and eggs, reluctantly leaving some for him. I see some Advil in the cabinet and put some in my pocket in case I need any. I’m out the door by 7:05, walking as fast as I can’t without it hurting to badly.
I get to work a little slower than I had anticipated, but I’m still on time. I go through the regular routine, feeding all the animals and putting up the gate for the pups. It’s about 8:00 when I turn on the radio. No One Direction songs are on, so I lose interest quickly. I lean on the counter, watching the dogs play, and after a while my phone buzzes.
To Maci W.: Good morning, Love :)
I smile uncontrollably, ignoring the pain in the left side of my face.
To Nialler ;) : I feel bad that I don’t have a nickname for you!
To Maci W.: Nialler works :)
To Nialler ;) : Nialler it is, then! :)
To Maci W.: Am I still picking you up after work?
To Nialler ;) : I wasn’t informed of any change.
To Maci W.: Great! When do you get off? :)
To Nialler ;) : 3:00. Home by 10 tonight, though.
To Maci W.: Don’t worry, Love, I’ll have you home safely and in plenty of time.
To Nialler ;) : Thank you so much. For everything :)
To Maci W.: Anything for you! :) I’ll drop by a bit early so we have time for a chat before we head back to the hotel.
To Nialler ;) : Sounds good! And please tell me that you boys didn’t trash your rooms more just because I’m cleaning them?
To Maci W.: Mine and Zayn’s? No, we kept it the same. I’m not positive on Daddy Direction’s room just yet.
To Nialler ;) : Daddy Direction?
To Maci W.: Liam. He keeps us in line, so we call him Daddy Direction.
To Nialler ;) : Can’t wait to meet them all!
To Maci W.: They say the same for you!
To Nialler ;) : See you in a bit, Nialler :)
To Maci W.: Bye, Love :)
Is it safe to say I have it bad? Niall really is something, you know? I haven’t dated anyone before, but I’ve seen couples in the hallways at school, smiling at each other non-stop, that look in their eyes. I have always wanted something like that, just never had the courage or care to push my way into the social world. And now that Niall is here... Is this what those other people have?
I herd the pups into their smaller kennel as I see people starting to walk up and down the streets. I have a little trouble pushing the gate back into its compartment in the wall, so I leave it slightly hanging out to deal with later. I go through the rest of the day, tending to the needs of the pups and other animals. It’s nearing 1:30 when I decide to deal with the gate again.
It’s still stuck tight, and I have to get behind it to push. I use my leg for most of the middle part of the gate, my feet pushing steadily behind me. I can feel the gate is almost in when my foot slips, send me falling forward, the corner of the gate digging into my stomach.
“Gahh!” I scream, clutching my stomach and falling to the ground. I groan, feeling the pain rocket through me. Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God.
“Maci!” I hear someone shout in fear, and my eyes fly open to see Niall rushing through the door and over to me. I quickly squelch most of the pain, my groans pushed back down into my throat. “Maci, are you alright?”
He wraps one arm around my waist and holds my arm with the other, helping me to my feet. I nod, trying to smile, but he sees right through it. “You cannot tell me that right now you are not hurting.”
I take a deep breath and look him in the eye. “I am not hurting,” I attempt to say, but it only comes out a whisper. Niall shakes his head.
“How bad is it? Where are you hurt?” he asks, scanning my arms and face. I shake my head but he ignores it. His blue eyes search mine for any kind of falter, and I stop him before he finds one.
“Would it kill you to give me a hug?” I manage to say sarcastically. He laughs and pulls me into a tight hug. A little too tight for me to handle. “Uhnn,” I groan, making him jump back.
“Oh my God!” he says frantically. “I’m so sorry, Maci, I didn’t mean to hurt you! That’s it, you’ve got to tell me where you’re hurt, or else I’ll just end up doing that over and over!” I sigh because he has a point.
I grab his hand and lead him to the back. He laces his fingers through mine, and luckily I’m in front of him so he can’t see me blush. When we get to the back, I face him.
“It’s going to look really bad,” I say, “and I’m going to be honest, it hurts a hell of a lot worse. Just promise me you’ll stay right here, but don’t say anything about it.” Niall hesitates for a moment, but nods his head. “Okay,” I breath, closing my eyes.
He lets my hand drop and I take the bottom of my shirt, lifting it up slowly, letting him see the whole bruise. He does a sharp intake of breath and I wince, waiting for him to yell or do something, but he doesn’t. I just feel Niall drop my hands down to my sides for me and pull me into a gentle hug. He buries his face in my hair and I take in his smell from his comforting body.
I reluctantly pull away, telling him that I still have to watch to shop. We come back and I step behind the counter while he leans on it in front of me. We talk about little things, just random topics that happen to pop up. Before we know it, it’s time for my shift to end. Today there’s a guy who’s shift is after mine, and he strolls in to clock in. Niall goes to clock out with me, and then we’re on our way.
“So,” he says as we approach the hotel. “Are you going to clean the rooms first, or right before you leave? Or not at all?”
“Oh,” I say, “I’m cleaning them. Before I even sit down to talk to anyone, I’m cleaning those rooms.” Niall laughs.
“We’ll help you,” he says, but I stop him there.
“One thing about me,” I say matter-of-factly, “is that when I’m cleaning, I’m to be left alone. I need to concentrate on organizing, or it either doesn’t get done, or doesn’t get done right. So just stay in the lobby or something while I clean the rooms.” Niall chuckles and we enter the hotel.
When we get up to their rooms, Niall knocks on his and Zayn’s door - he claims that it’s the cleanest and the other boys don’t even go in their room until they have to sleep. At first there’s no answer, and Niall begins to knock repeatedly until someone answers the door.
“What do you want- Why, hello there,” a boy with curls says, seeing me. “And what might your name be?” I feel Niall’s arm snake around my waist and I can’t help but smile.
I roll my eyes at the boy. “I’m Maci.”
“Harry!” the boys says in the same voice he did last night. I giggle and look around his should for the rest of the boys.
Niall leads me into the room. I don’t even notice the boys sitting on the beds, though. I’m more focused on the piles of debris scattered around the room. It’s disgusting. I wrinkle my nose and the boys laugh.
“I’m Zayn,” one of the boys approaches me.
“Out,” I say flatly, pointing toward the door. He gives me a confused look.
“She’s going to clean,” Niall explains, “and she wants to be alone.”
“But we haven’t even met her yet,” a brown haired boy says.
“Oh well,” I say, shrugging.
“Just really quickly,” Niall says, pointing to each of the boys. “Harry, Zayn, Liam, Louis. Satisfied, Liam?”
“I’m Maci,” I say politely, elbowing Niall lightly. “And I am actually very polite, and usually very shy. Obviously being shy doesn’t apply to you five for God-knows-why. Since this is the case,” I say, pointing toward the door of the room, “I am asking you all politely to leave.”
“Ooh, I like her!” the boy that Niall said is Louis pipes up. “She’s got some of my sass!” I smile, and again point to the door.
They put their heads down and walk toward the door. I stop Liam as he walks by. “I’m assuming since you’re the responsible one, you have the room key to yours, Harry’s, and Louis’ room?” Liam grumbles and pulls the key out of his pocket.
“635,” he says, walking out the door. As soon as the door closes I run over and lock it, ignoring the pain in my stomach. I quickly take an Advil and get to work.
I’m not sure whose stuff is whose, so I just put all collectively clean clothes folded neatly into one pile on the table. I fold the dirty laundry too, setting it on the floor next to the table. I head back out into the room, putting my hands on my hips to see what’s left. Food. Everywhere.
There are chip bags all of the floor, Twinkie wrappers strewn about, pop bottles all around the room. I pull two trash bags from the bathroom, putting recyclables in one and trash in the other. I have two fairly good sized bags by the end, and I’ve still got a bit left with the room. I organize the bathroom, throwing drying towels over the shower curtain rod and drying extra water on the sink. I organize the products on the counter - shoving all of the hair-care stuff to Zayn’s side because I know that Niall doesn’t groom his hair much.
Before I know it, I’m taking the trash and recyclable stuff to the drop-off bins down the hall. I’m finished with Zayn and Niall’s room. That took me, what, all of five minutes? And they said it was bad. The other room is probably not bad at all. I slide the key in the door and open it, knowing as soon as I see the room that I’m dead wrong. I nearly faint.
Piled up as high as my waist were heaps of dirty clothing. Food wrappers are stuffed into pockets of dirty clothes, clean clothes are strewn all over, leftover everything on the floor. This is going to take some work. I get straight into it, following the same procedures as I did for Niall’s room. It takes me long enough but I finally finish. I drag the recyclables and trash down the hall and let out a deep breath.
“That was easy enough,” I say aloud, joking to myself. I head down to the lobby to fetch the boys.
To my surprise, Louis, Harry, Zayn, and Niall are talking to the hotel manager - Liam is no where in sight. The manager looks angry and the boys look guilty, but all of them still share silents jokes with each other. I walk over to them and stand next to Niall.
“What’s going on here?” I ask the manager kindly as Niall puts his arm around me. He doesn’t have time to answer before Louis pipes up.
“I’m sorry,” he says, “we will never have chicken fights in the hotel lobby again.” My eyes widen.
“You did what?” Liam asks and we turn around to find him jogging up. “I was in the bathroom for three minutes and you lot are already in trouble?”
“Lord almighty,” he manager breaths. “Not another one!” The boys and I all laugh, but the manager stays serious. “How about you all just go back to your rooms and try not to be too disruptive.”
“That’s a good idea,” I pipe up. “I’m done with you’re rooms.”
I get five wide-eyed stares and I look down. “You’re done?” Liam asks. I nod and look up at him. “How in the world... You were only up there for twenty minutes!”
“What can I say?” I ask, shrugging. “I work quickly.” The boys laugh at that while we pile into the elevator, Niall’s arm still around me. “I want you guys to see Niall and Zayn’s room first, because it wasn’t that bad,” I say with a smirk as we hop out of the elevator.
They all nod and Zayn pulls out his room key and hands it to me. I slide it in the reader and the door unlatches. I grab the handle, turning it, and open the door slowly to build suspense. I lose patience half way through and just throw the door open. There are several gasps behind me and Zayn charges past, doing ballerina moves in the middle of the room.
“So much space!” he shouts.
Louis sprints past me to join Zayn, and they proceed to do the tango, Harry, Niall, and I laughing the whole time. When they get to the dip part, Louis puts his left leg behind Zayn, so when Zayn leans back, Louis flips him completely and tosses him onto the bed.
“Well, then!” Zayn jokes.
“Harry, darling, come dance with me!” Louis exclaims.
“You have to see the other room!” I say, stepping in front of Louis before he can reach Harry.
Louis gives me a pouty face, but nods his head. The boys follow me out into the hall and I pull out the room card that Liam had given me. I slide the key and and open the door a crack so that they can’t see anything just yet. I hand the card back to Liam and turn to the boys still holding the door slightly open.
“This one was a little harder to crack,” I admit. “This one was not only bad, it was disgusting. I can not believe people can eat and go through so many items of clothing. So, I think you boys owe me one. Without further ado, I give you, a cleaned room!”
The door swings open and I step inside, taking in the now spotless room. This time I don’t hear anything from the boys. I turn around to find them all open mouthed. They slowly file in, and I step a little in front of them. I smile uncontrollably.
“What do you think?” I ask.
“Bloody Hell,” Louis breathes.
“I can see the floor!” Harry shouts.
“What are you?” Liam sighs jokingly.
“I’m a female,” I reply simply. They all laugh and walk further into the room, each of them kissing my cheek as they walk by.
By the end I know that my face is bright red. Niall brings me into a tight hug. I hug him back, but stop when a burst of pain shoots through me. I make a strangled type noise and flinch away from his grasp.
“Are you alright? I’m sorry, I totally forgot!” Niall says apologetically.
“It’s aright, I did too,” I laugh a little, putting a hand on my stomach lightly.
“Forgot about what?” Harry asks, pausing his happy dance with Louis.
I look at Niall. “They already know, right? I assume you told them.” Niall nods but looks guilty. I put a hand on his arm. “It’s alright, I’d rather have had you tell them before I got here than for me to explain it.” He nods and I turn to the boys.
“Well,” I say. “I have a really bad bruise. And it doesn’t sound bad, but it is.” I pause, slowly going over my stomach with my hand. “I’ll show it to you, but you all have to promise not to say anything about it while I show you. And don’t say anything about my father either, please.”
I get a unanimous ‘okay’. Taking a deep breath, I take the edge of my shirt and slowly pull it up. I close my eyes, not wanting to look at the state it’s in. I hear 5 collective gasps, including from Niall, so it must have gotten worse. I drop my shirt and smooth it out.
“So there it is,” I say quietly, looking at the ground. I don’t hear anything for a while, and I can feel the atmosphere start to get uncomfortable. Thankfully, Niall speaks up.
“So where did you put the food?”
We get something to eat from the boys’ fridge and sit in Daddy Direction’s room for the rest of the night. I’m getting to know them a lot better, and soon I feel as if I’m part of the friendship circle. The boys are all super welcoming to me. They all feel like the brothers I never had, and I actually enjoy being in a crowd. They are some of the goofiest boys that I’ve ever met - not that I’ve met many - but spending time with them is so much fun. I don’t think that there is a single cell of seriousness in any of their bodies.
Niall stays by my side most of the night, only leaving briefly when Louis pulled him onto the floor to wrestle. The rest of the time his arm is either around my waist or sitting next to me, though he still talks to the boys.
I don’t know why, but around 7 my eyelids begin to droop. “Wow,” I yawn, stretching my arms out and struggling to ignore the soreness in my stomach. “Cleaning your rooms must have worn me out more than I thought!”
“Well you did it in record time!” Liam says jokingly.
“Do you want me to take you home?” Niall asks slowly, and I can tell that he doesn’t like the idea.
“I think you know the answer to that,” I say, smiling, but I subconsciously put a hand on my stomach.
Niall grimaces, looking down at my stomach, but quickly replaces it with a smile. “Alright then,” he says, and helps me scoot back to the headboard of the bed we’re on. “You can nap. I’ll wake you up with enough time to get you home.”
I smile up at him gratefully. He puts his arm around me again, and I snuggle close, leaning my head on his shoulder. My last thought before I drift off is Niall has no idea what he means to me already.
Maci snuggles into me as I wrap my arm around her. She closes her eyes and soon she’s snoring softly.
“If you don’t ask her, I will,” Harry jokes. “She can clean, and she can take a joke!”
“Hands off, Harry,” I hiss softly, not wanting to wake her. “I’m asking her to be my girlfriend later tonight. I get several awwwhs and my face goes red.
“But what are you going to do when we leave for the rest of the tour?” Liam asks curiously. I glance worriedly in Zayn’s direction, and see he’s doing the same - we had just talked about this last night but I hadn’t told the lads. Liam catches our looks and puts on his you’re toast look. “What are you not telling us, Niall?”
“Well,” I say, avoiding eye contact. “Things are obviously bad at her home. That’s made clear by the bruise. And I’m not sure how much worse it’s going to get, or how much more Maci can handle.” I look down at her sleeping figure. She looks so peaceful, so beautiful. “And I want her to be safe more than anything. So I’m going to ask her to come with us.”
I’m met by several confused looks. “Why?” Louis asks.
“Louis, I just told you!” I say, exasperated. “I don’t want her getting hurt anymore, and this is the only way I can assure she doesn’t. There’s room on the bus, and only a couple weeks left in the tour. I’m sure Simon will be okay with it, I’ll check with him after I’m done checking with you. Seeing Maci hurt makes me hurt. This could possibly be save her life, lads. I need you to understand this. Please, for me.” There’s a long pause.
Finally, Liam nods his head. “I’ll go for it. That bruise is enough to tell me that things are bad. If you really believe this is a good idea, Niall, I’ll support you. Plus, I know what it feels like being away from the person you love - it’s pretty bad.”
“I’m good with it too,” Harry and Zayn both say. We all look at Louis then, to hear what he says.
Louis shrugs. “It’s going to be nice having someone on the bus who can clean.”
I let out a sigh of relief and all of us laugh. “Thank you,” I say, meaning every bit of it. “So much.”
“You better go check with Simon,” Liam instructs, and I nod.
I slowly unhook my arm from around her. I try to move out of the way, but Maci only end up nearly falling over. I try to sit her up, but she keeps shifting to the side. “Liam,” I plead. “Would you mind?”
“I got it,” he says, standing up and sitting next to Maci so she doesn’t fall over. When Maci leans on him, her face twists into a grimace and the lads and I laugh.
“Looks like you have nothing to worry about, Nialler,” Zayn jokes as I leave the room.
They have no idea how much that means to me. God, I’m falling hard. I close the door of the room, but not all the way so I can get back in when I’m done. I pull out my phone and scroll down to Simon’s number. I tap the dial button and hold the phone to my ear. He answers on the third ring.
“This better be good,” Simon grumbles groggily on the other end of the line. I laugh to myself - I’ve forgotten that it’s six hours later there, making it about one in the morning.
“Simon, I need to talk to you about something,” I start. “And before you stop me, give me time to explain.”
“I want to bring a girl named Maci Watson with us on the rest of the tour.”
“No,” he says without hesitation. “No distractions.”
“You haven’t given me time to explain, and this needs an explanation,” I say quickly.
“Fine, you have five minutes.”
I do the best I can to explain the situation I have. I tell him about how we met, her abusive father, how well we’ve bonded, and the bruises. “And I’ve checked with the lads, their in support of the idea,” I finally finish.
There’s a long pause, and I get anxious. Simon can do that - kill you with suspense without even knowing it. Even though I can’t see his face, I know he’s doing that look that he does when he thinks. It really is intimidating. Finally, he answers.
“Fine,” he says.
“Thank you so much!” I shout, so excited that I jump in the air like a little boy.
“But,” Simon says. “Only if she isn’t a distraction. You like her, I can tell by the way you talk about her. She sounds lovely, but I can’t have you off on Cloud 9 all the time and forget about work. Plus, if you two don’t work out, then we’re going to have problems. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
“Trust me,” I say, not able to control my happiness. “Nothing bad is going to happen between us. You have no idea how much this means to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you!”
“Your welcome. Now leave me alone, I’m supposed to be asleep.”
I chuckle. “Good night, Simon,” I say, but he’s already hung up.
I lock my phone and walk back into the room. The lads are talking quietly and their heads turn to me expectantly when they see me. I quickly trade places with Liam, putting my arm around Maci as she smiles and snuggles into my side, making me smile. I love being able to do this.
“Well?” they all say.
“Simon says it’s fine,” I state, trying to talk through the biggest smile I’ve ever had.
There are cheers and Maci stirs. I glare at them and the instantly quiet down. Not for long though, because I start laughing and they join me.
I look down at Maci, checking if she’s still asleep, and she is. Her eyelids flutter slightly, telling me that she’s dreaming. I wonder what about? He mouth moves slightly, making her seem like she’s having a quiet conversation. I smile, thinking about how lucky I am to have found her. I don’t think I deserve her. She’s a wonderful girl, more than I could have ever asked for. She’s just so... Perfect.
“Hello, Earth to Niall,” I hear Louis say. I whip my head up at him, trying to hide the smile I’m wearing.
“What?” I say.
“Man, you’ve got it bad,” Harry says, and I shrug.
“She’s beautiful. She’s wonderful, more than I could have ever asked for,” I say, repeating my thoughts. “It was by the grace of God that I even found her.”
“Man,” Liam breathes. “You really do have it bad. You’ve only known her for three days!”
“I’ve never met anyone like her,” I shrug. “She’s different. Plus, we’ve been through quite a lot in these past few days.”
I look down at Maci again. She shifts slightly, her hand gripping my shirt. She mumbles something, but I can’t make out what. I smile though think how cute she really is. She looks about five years younger when she’s sleeping.
“Lads,” I say, sighing. “I think I’m falling hard for her.”
“Maci,” I hear someone say, a comforting voice. “Maci, wake up, it’s time to go.”
I can’t tell who it is, but the voice is lovely. I want them to say something more, just to let me hear them speak.
“Maci, Love, wake up.”
The voice, I can tell, belongs to Niall. I’m not sure if it’s a dream or real, but I love hearing his voice anyway. It’s so comforting and if anything, it lulls me farther into sleep.
“Maci,” the voice says, a little louder. I feel myself being shifted and I frown.
I feel myself fall to the side. I roll right onto my stomach, a stab of pain shooting through me and fully waking me up. My eyes fly open and I gasp, rolling over and holding my midsection.
“Oh my God,” Niall says, worried and helping me sit up. “I’m so sorry, are you alright?”
“I’m fine,” I say quietly. “Just surprised me, that’s all. What time is it?”
“It’s about 9:20,” Zayn says from across the room.
I smile wryly, not wanting to go home. Even though I was asleep for a long time, I loved being with these boys. They’re the only people that I feel welcomed by. I reluctantly remove myself from the bed, wincing because my stomach is so sore. I say goodbye to the boys and Niall and I are soon out the door. We start to walk down the hall and Niall grabs my hand, lacing our fingers.
“How was tonight?” he asks me as we step into the elevator.
“It was so much more fun than I would have had at home,” I say, trying to make a joke, but Niall grimaces. “I was only poking fun,” I explain quickly.
“Well,” he says quietly, rubbing the back of his neck. “There’s something I want to talk to you about.” My chest tightens.
“What’s the matter?” I ask. “Did I do something wrong? I’m sorry for whatever it is, tell me and I’ll fix it-”
“No!” he says, stopping me. “It’s nothing you’ve done. It’s nothing anyone’s done. Well... Except...”
“My dad?” I ask quietly, looking into his eyes.
“Yes,” Niall admits, looking away. “But before we talk about it, I just want you to know that in no way am I calling you weak, because you are definitely not weak.”
I nod. “Thank you, that means a lot.” The door to the elevator opens and we step out, still holding hands. It’s quiet until we get into the car, and I start to get curious. “So what is it that you were wanting to talk to me about?”
I can see him grip the steering wheel tighter. He’s nervous, that much is evident. “Maci,” he says after a little bit. “I know we’ve only known each other for three days, but you’ve got to agree that we’ve bonded so much. And if I interpreted what you said last night right, you said that you like me.” He says it as if a question, and I nod, smiling.
“You did.” I see him smile wildly.
“And you know that I like you,” he continues. “And more and more since we’ve spent more time together, I just want you to know.” Now it’s my turn to smile like a fool. I let him continue. “Anyway, back to what I want to talk to you about. I don’t really know how to say it any other way, but... I want you to come with us on the rest of the tour.”
What? My eyes go wide and I whip my head over to look at him. His eyes are on the road, but his face looks concerned. “What?”
“Just let me explain,” he pleads. I guess I owe him that, so I nod my head. “Well, things are rough at your house.” I wince, knowing that he’s right. “And that bruise... Maci, I’m not going to lie, seeing you hurt makes me hurt. You can’t lie to me anymore either, you know it hurts beyond what you’re showing. I want nothing more for you than to be safe, and at your home, you’re not safe.”
He has a point. No matter how hard it hurts, Niall’s right. He even wants to take me with him! He cares that much about me. I want so badly for it to be that easy - just say yes and be off with the boy I’m falling for. But it’s not. There’s always something.
“Niall,” I say, struggling for words. “I know my father treats me horribly, but I can’t... I can’t just leave him. He’s my father! Even though he would never admit it, he’s helpless without me.”
I can literally see Niall’s mood droop. “I was afraid you’d say that,” he says quietly. “Maci, I know you love your father. But he hurts you! You’ve been through years and years of it - there’re always consequences, Maci. They can be good and bad. But in this case, it’s bad. Years and years of being beaten... Maci, I know your mind can take it... But how much longer can your body?”
Tears start to cloud my vision, but I refuse to let them fall. Niall is right. He is so, so right. I had just thought about this last night - just thought about how sometimes - well, most of the time - I just wish that I could leave. But I never thought that I’d be presented with the choice.
“You have no idea,” I say, “how much it means to me that you care this much. I’d be lying if I said that I don’t want to leave with you. You have no idea how much I would just like to say yes and have that be it. But it’s so much harder than that. I have a job,” I say, just now realizing it, “I have a father that needs to be taken care of. There’s a lot to think about.” My heart hurts - I just want all of these issues to disappear.
Niall frowns, his eyes sad. “I just want you to know that... That whatever you do, we have two more weeks here, and then we’re leaving. Then it will just be phone calls and messages between us, when I have time - if you choose to stay here.”
My mouth drops. I didn’t know they had such little time here! There’s not a lot of time for Niall and I... My chest heaves and my vision is nearly taken over by unshed tears. There’s got to be more time than this! But if I leave with him, our time would be endless. There are just so many problems in the way. I’ll need to think. I’ll also have to tell my father. I won’t do that until I’ve made up my mind, though - there’s no telling how angry he’d get if I told him about it now.
“But I will think about it,” I say to Niall, trying not to let my voice shake. “And right now, most of the odds are in your favor.”
I see him smile, and a warmth fills my chest. I smile back, and without meaning to I let a tear fall. Niall’s smile falters and he uses his thumb to wipe it from my cheek.
“Don’t cry, Love,” he says, and I take his hand, interlocking our fingers.
“I’m sorry,” I say, still smiling. “I just can’t tell you how much you mean to me already.” My face gets hot as I confess this. “And to know that you feel the same way - it’s just a good feeling.”
Niall smiles. I let those be our last words on the ride back to my house. He pulls up to my house at 9:50, thankfully enough time in advance. We get out of the car and join hands again as he walks me up to the porch. I turn to him to say thank you, but he interrupts me.
“Maci,” he says nervously. “I want to ask you something.”
“What is it?” I say, confused.
He runs his free and through his hair and rubs the back of his neck. “Will you... Will you be my girlfriend?”
My jaw drops. “W-what?”
“Will you be my girlfriend?” he asks again. “I like you a lot, Maci. And one of the reasons I want you to come with me... I don’t want to be apart from you. And we’ve already been on a kind of date... Just... Will you be my girlfriend?”
The warmth in my chest is back, and I can’t help smiling. “Niall, no one has ever been this sweet to me, ever. You are the nicest boy I have every met. I would be honored - and the luckiest girl in the world - to be your girlfriend. Yes.” I mean every word.
Niall smiles wildly, and he does this sort of hopping thing, making me laugh. “That means,” he says, “I can finally do this.”
He pulls me close and wraps and arm around my waist. Niall cups my cheek gently and brings his lips to mine. I can honestly say that I’m surprised. I have never, ever been kissed on the mouth before. The kiss feels amazing. He’s extremely gentle, but at the same time he’s passionate. This is my first real kiss - and I’m glad I’m sharing it with Niall.
He pulls away slowly, smiling widely. I’m positive that my face mirrors his. That was amazing. I can’t resist - I take a handful of his shirt and pull him in for another. I can feel him smile against my lips, and I let go of his shirt. He stays for a little bit longer, then finally pulls away.
“Thank you,” I say, wrapping my arms around his torso and pulling him into a hug.
He kisses my forehead and rests his chin on my shoulder. We stay in each other’s arms for a little while longer, but I finally let go.
“I’ve got to go,” I whisper. “But I’ll text you, alright? I have the day off tomorrow, then I work all week - from the crack of dawn until six. I have until nine, though,” I say, batting my eyelashes.
Niall smiles and chuckles a little. “Do you have to walk to work?” I nod and he wrinkles his nose. “I’ll come pick you up and take you to work. We’ll have a few extra minutes to talk, then I’ll take you home from work this week. Sound okay?”
I poke his nose, smiling. “You don’t have to do that for me,” I say.
“I want to,” he replies, returning the smile. I roll my eyes.
“Sounds good. Good night, Niall.”
“Good night, Maci.” I watch him start down the steps and I reach for the door handle. “Oh, one more thing,” he says jogging back up.
He pecks me on the lips, making me smile. I kiss him back one last time before turning the door handle.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I say, opening the door.
“Looking forward to it.”
I smile at him one last time before walking in the door. I kick my shoes off, closing the door. My shoe decides to be difficult with me and stay on my foot, so I bend over, trying to ignore the pain in my midsection, and take it off. I straighten up to find my father standing in front of me with another beer bottle in hand.
“Hi Dad,” I say quietly, just now realizing how much the house smells of alcohol.
“Hello Maslin,” he says, and I wince at how slurred the words are. He’s had a lot more to drink than usual.
“I’m back on time, and I’m heading to bed,” I say, trying to slip past him, but he catches my arm.
“Notsofast,” he slurs heavily. He pushes me out to the front of him, but doesn’t let me go. “Ya see,” he says clumsily. “I been thinkin’. Thinkin’ ‘bout you. You been home alot... alot later than... than usual,” he stumbles over the words as if they’re hard to get out of his mouth.
“I’ve been busy,” I say simply.
“Well I’m startin’ ta think... I think ya don’t like it here.” He has no idea how true his words are. I don’t answer, and he continues. “I been gettin’ kinda... kinda lonely, Maslin.”
“Well I have work,” I state, and try to get out of his grasp.
“You been.. You been a bad girl, Maslin,” he says, trying to pull his face into an angry expression, but ending up looking constipated. “And you... You need to be... punished.”
I flinch, thinking about taking a blow to the stomach with my bruise still fresh. I inwardly cringe, but don’t let it show. Again, I try to pull away, but his grip is tight. I start to worry. I can’t get hit again, I don’t think I’ll be able to pull it together.
“Andthistime,” he slurs angrily, dropping the beer bottle in his hand. “We’re going to have... a little fun with it ‘coz... ‘coz I’m lonely.”
My eyes widen and I try to get away, pulling harder on his grip. I know where this is leading, and I don’t want it to. Oh God, no. Again, his grip tightens on my arm and I can’t escape now. He uses his other hand to tear right through my shirt.
“Niall!” I scream at the top of my lungs.
Wow, I think as she slips in the door. Way to go, Nialler. Nicely done. I had been holding it in the whole time, so I jump up now, pumping my fist in the air.
I had been waiting a long time to kiss her. I knew I’d like it, and I’d hoped Maci would too, but I didn’t know she’d respond like that. I’m not complaining, though! I’m actually quite happy with myself. I now have the best girlfriend a guy could ask for. The only thing that would make my life any better is if she says yes to coming with us.
I dropped her off with plenty of time, so she should get... punished tonight. I linger on the door step for a couple minutes, just collecting my thoughts. I’m absolutely sure of it now - I’m falling for Maci Watson. I step down from the porch and head toward the car. I’m just about to start humming to myself when I hear something that will forever haunt me.
It’s Maci. And she’s in trouble.
I don’t even hesitate. I take off for her front door, taking the three steps in one leap. I throw open the door to find something that will stick in my mind for the rest of my life.
The man I assume to be Maci’s father is bare-chested and traddling Maci, pinning her to the floor. Her shirt is off, torn to pieces a few feet away. Her father is in the middle of unbuckling his belt when he spots me.
“Get the hell out of here, you piece of shit!” he hisses at me. “We’re busy!”
“Niall!” Maci screams. “Help me!”
I freeze when her father’s hand hits her face, whipping her head to the side. But only for an instant. I’m overcome with red hot rage. I barrel toward him, slamming into him and pulling him off of Maci.
“How dare you touch her like that!” I scream, landing on top of him and pinning him down. “If anyone is a piece of shit, it’s you!” I send punch after punch into his chest and face, opening his lip and a place in his forehead.
“Niall, please, stop!” I hear Maci scream. I freeze mid-blow, stopping to look at her.
“Wha-” I start to say, but I’m cut off by a fist sent into my jaw. “Gahh!” I yell, flipping off of her father.
I’m pushed down to the ground by a strong hand. I can hardly see each fist before it rams itself into my cheek, my nose, and my jaw. After the third blow I’m literally seeing stars.
“Dad! Stop! Please!” I hear Maci screech, but her father doesn’t listen. The blows just keep coming, and I try to shove him off, but I just can’t.
I’m barely conscious when I see Maci’s knee bury into her father’s face, sending him flying back. By the force of the blow in addition to the hits he took from me earlier, I could tell that he was knocked out. Maci’s face appears over mine, tears streaming down her face.
“Oh my God,” she whispers. “Oh my God, oh my God.” I reach my hand up to cup her cheek. “Niall, I’m so sorry.”
“I’m okay,” I say to her. “As long as you’re okay, I’m okay.”
“No, Niall,” she cries. “You’re not okay! Let me call the boys. Where’s your phone?” I reach in my pocket and pull it out.
She takes it in her hand and taps on it for a while before putting it up to her ear. She looks down at me, tear after tear falling down her face. My face is numb. I can’t feel a thing, and it’s hard for me to talk. Boy, Simon will be thrilled. Lou is going to flip.
“Zayn?” Maci says into the phone, her voice shaking. “Niall’s hurt. No time to explain, just get here. Yes, I’m with him. No, he’s still awake - okay. Okay. I’ll text you the address. Okay, bye. And please hurry.” She hangs up and quickly types out something on my phone.
Maci sets the phone down on the ground next to her. She covers her mouth with her hand and looks up at the ceiling. Tears are flowing down her cheeks, silent sobs shaking her shoulders. I reach my hand up and take ahold of her hand.
“Please don’t cry,” I say, but this only makes her cry more. “I’m okay, really. Can’t feel a thing,” I say, trying to joke and lighten the mood, but I make it worse.
She lays on the floor, curling into a fetal position. I pull her closer to me so that her head is resting on my stomach. Stroking her hair, I tell her that everything is going to be okay. Her sobs slowly reduce to hiccups, and then she just breathes deeply, staring at nothing. We sit like this for a while, until Paul and the lads burst through the front door.
“Hello?” a lazy voice picks up the phone.
“Zayn?” I say, my voice shaking.
“Maci? What’s the matter?” he says, worried.
“What? What happened!?” I wince, thinking about what just happened.
“No time to explain,” I say. “Just get here.”
“Are you with him right now?”
“Yes, I’m with him.”
“Is he unconscious?” I look back over at Niall just to be sure.
“No, he’s still awake.”
“Don’t move from where you are,” Zayn says frantically.
“Okay,” I reply
“Don’t try to move him, okay?”
“Where are you?” I hear a door open in the background and other people talking.
“I’ll text you the address.”
“We’re bringing Paul, he’s our bodyguard, so he’s okay to touch Niall, alright? We’ll be there as soon as we can.”
“Okay, bye. And please hurry.”
I hang up the phone and type out the address, sending it to Zayn. I set the phone down next to me, putting my hand up to my mouth. What have I done? Niall is laying here, bloodied and bruised, and it’s all my fault. Oh my God. Oh my God. The tears stream faster and faster down my cheeks. What have I done?
I feel Niall’s hand take mine and I look down at him. “Please don’t cry,” he says weekly, but I can’t stop. “I’m okay, really,” he says. “Can’t feel a thing.” Oh God! What have I done!?
I move myself to lay on the floor, sobs racking my body. I curl into a ball, wanting Niall’s pain to go away, wanting it all to just go away. I feel Niall pull me toward him, resting my head on his stomach. He strokes my hair as I cry more and more, and he tries to calm me down by telling me everything will be okay. I finally run out of tears and start to hiccup softly. Eventually those stop too, and we sit in silence for a while. After a while, the boys burst through my front door with a man who I assume to be Paul.
I sit up quickly, waiting for them to ask what happened. They see Niall first.
“Oh my God, Nialler,” Zayn breathes.
“Bloody Hell,” Louis says.
“What the hell happened?” Liam asks.
“Why aren’t you wearing a shirt?” Harry asks.
Louis elbows him and my face turns bright red. I had forgotten that I wasn’t wearing a shirt, but I thank fully still had a bra on. “I’ll explain later. I’m going to run up and throw a shirt on. Help Niall, and if my father wakes up, please just knock him out again.” I run up the stairs, quickly darting into my room and throwing a navy blue t-shirt on.
I’m back down the stairs within a minute. Paul is over by my father and the boys are already tending to my Nialler. My Nialler. It feels nice to call him mine. I quickly snap out of my thoughts and see what I can do to help.
“Really,” I hear Niall say. “I’m fine. Just a little shaken up.”
“Tell that to your broken nose,” Liam groans. I cringe, making the boys look up.
“I’m so, so sorry,” I whisper. They shake their heads.
“It’s not your fault,” Zayn says.
“Don’t just sit there,” Niall whines. “Help me up.” The boys hoist Niall to his feet, steadying him as he puts weight on his feet. “See?” he tells me. “I’m fine.”
I shake my head and walk over to him, pulling him into a hug. I feel his arms around my shoulders and I bury my face in his chest. “I’m so sorry,” I murmur.
“As long as you’re okay, it doesn’t even matter what happens to me,” Niall tells me, playing with the ends of my hair.
“Of course it does,” I tell him, pulling a way, but I don’t come out of his arms. I stare at his face, assessing his injuries. Niall has a split lip, several cuts on his forehead, and a broken nose. The corners of my mouth quiver and I put my hand on his cheek. “It matters to me.”
He smiles, but then grimaces and the smile pulls on the split part of his lip. “Alright,” Paul says, coming over. “Now that he’s on his feet, we should get him out of here and to the hospital.”
I try to step away from him, but Niall’s arms tighten around me. “I don’t want you staying here tonight,” he says to me.
I had completely forgotten about where I’m staying. When my father wakes up, he’s going to be very angry. I hadn’t given any thought as to what would happen to me.
I nod. “Okay,” I say. “But where will I go?”
“You’ll stay in our room,” Zayn says. “I think all of us agree that it’s not a good idea for you to stay here.” I give him a weak smile.
“Thank you so much for being so kind to me,” I say.
“Go get your stuff,” Niall tells me. “Bring clothes for quite a few days and anything else you might need. We’ll wait here.” I nod and step out of Niall’s arms.
I run up the stairs, pulling out a very large duffel bag. I grab a few outfits, the first ones that I see, and stuff them into the bag. I grab my toothbrush, foundation, and deodorant from the bathroom and toss then in the bag, too. I have the feeling that I won’t be back here for a while, so I grab the $200 I have in a jar, my hair straightener and curler, and my favorite blanket, and toss them in the bag as well. I zip it up and head down to the waiting boys.
“Alright, I’m ready,” I say. Out of the corner of my eye I see my father stir. He sits up and rubs his head. I flinch. “Let’s go,” I say in a rush, slinging the duffel over my shoulder. The boys all pile out ahead of me. I’m about to go out the door when my father calls my name.
“Maci,” he says weakly. “Baby, please don’t go. Please don’t leave me. I need you.”
I stop, feeling bad. He sounds so helpless. And to leave him here... I don’t know if I can. Niall comes back in the door and puts his arm around my waist. My father glares at Niall, and I’m reminded of what just happened.
“Pick your poison,” I say flatly to my father. “I either stay and call the police, or I leave with Niall.”
His face turns from surprise to rage. “Get out of my house,” he seethes. “Get your sorry ass out of my house and never come back.” I’m hurt by his words, but in a way, I’m relieved.
I don’t have to get hurt anymore, and I can also make my own decisions now. I nod at my father and walk out the door, Niall close behind. He comes up beside me after he closes the door and takes my hand. We walk in silence back to the van. I see that there is another car parked behind it, probably Paul’s.
The boys hop in the van and Niall and I take the back seat, letting Louis drive. Paul gives Louis directions back to the hotel and jogs back to his car, following us as we pull out of the neighborhood. Niall puts his arm around me and I rest my head on his shoulder, still taking in what just happened. Actually, I just don’t want to even think about it right now, so I focus on Niall’s warmth and good smell.
Before I know it, we’re back at the hotel, walking in in silence. The guests in the lobby give us weird looks, but we quickly pile into the elevator and the doors slide closed. We get up to the boys’ floor and Paul gives the boys instructions.
“Zayn, Louis, Harry, and Liam,” he says. “You’re staying here. Niall and Maci and coming with me to the hospital to he his nose and lip taken care of. Take her duffel in the room and behave,” he says sternly. They nod their heads, immediately obeying.
Niall, Paul and I get back into the elevator and go back to to Paul’s car. Niall and I sit quietly in the back while Paul drives through downtown Miami and to the hospital. Paul parks and we walk in with few words, mostly from Paul to Niall - a small ‘Are you okay?’ and a ‘Yeah’ was all that passed between the three of us. We go up to the desk and ask to see a doctor. They get us into a room right away, and a nurse comes in.
She looks at Niall’s nose, poking it in certain places and making him wince. I take his hand, squeezing it to let him know I’m here from him. He smiles the best he can with a split lip, wincing again as the nurse pokes his nose again.
“It is broken,” she finally says, writing something down on her clipboard. “But it isn’t too bad. Just two main cracks along the cartilage - nothing we can’t set straight. He’ll have two nasty black eyes, though.”
“Wonderful,” Paul breathes, and Niall rolls his eyes.
“The lip isn’t split enough to need stitches, so there’s really nothing we can do about that.” I feel bad, but Niall squeezes my hand, letting me know it’s okay. “I’ll go enter this in,” the nurse says, “and the doctor will be here soon to set your nose straight.”
She leaves the room and it’s quiet again. The doctor strides in after a few minutes, walking over to the counter and putting on a pair of gloves. He comes over with two small strips of metal and some tape.
“My name is Doctor Berg,” he says. “That’s one broken nose you’ve got there. Mind me asking how you got it?” Niall glances nervously at Paul, then at me. I shrug.
“I was in a fight,” Niall says plainly.
The doctor tsks Niall, taking ahold of his nose, feeling it and making Niall wince.
“Okay,” the doctor says. “This might hurt a little.” Niall grips my hand tighter.
In one fluid motion, the doctor does a sort of twist and pull to his nose, and I hear a small thud, making me gasp. The doctor places the two pieces of metal in two different spots on Niall’s nose and tapes them down with some sorta of heavy-duty gauze tape. Niall groans when the doctor lets go, falling back on the bed he’s sitting on. The doctor laughs a little.
“I know, kid, I’ve had ‘em before,” he says, patting Niall’s leg. “They suck. I can give you pain meds, though, and those will help.” The doctor walks over to the counter, grabbing a bottle of pills and bringing them back over. “One every 8 to 10 hours,” he instructs, handing them to Niall. Niall takes one out of the bottle, popping it in his mouth while the doctor goes to get him some water. He swallows the pill, and the doctor clasps his hands together.
“You’re good to go,” he tells us. He hands Niall a folder. “The nose should be back to normal in couple weeks. Until then, be careful with it, try not to move it too much. Take this to the lady out there, she’ll help you guys.”
“Thanks,” Paul says, waving to he doctor as he leaves. “Let’s go kids,” he says, taking the folder from Niall. He tosses Niall the keys when we’re out of the room. “Head to my car and start it, I’ll be out in a minute.”
Niall and I head out to the car, hand in hand. We climb into the back and he leans over the seats to put the key in the ignition. The car starts and Niall settles back into the seat next to me. He puts his arm around me and I bury my face in his chest.
“I’m so sorry,” I mutter. “For everything tonight. I so, so sorry.” I mean every word I say.
“Don’t worry, Love,” he says, squeezing my shoulders. “Like I said, as long as you’re okay, I’m okay.”
“Don’t worry, Love,” I say, squeezing her shoulders. “Like I said, as long as you’re okay, I’m okay.” These words are just so true - I don’t know how else to tell her.
Maci thinks it’s her fault, but it’s not. It’s her father’s. What the hell was he trying to do? I don’t even want to think about what could have happened if I hadn’t heard her scream. The pain in my nose is starting to subside, I assume because of the medication. I’ve got the feeling in my face back, though. I don’t know whether that’s good or bad, though, because the cuts on my face throb a bit.
The thing that I really care about right now is the fact the Maci is here with me, safe from harm. Her father is at the house, probably trying to pick his pathetic self up off of the floor. How dare he treat her like this. What is his problem? I’m just glad I got to Maci before anything worse happened.
Paul climbs back into the car and we ride in silence back to the hotel. When we get into Niall and Zayn’s room, we find the lads sprawled out on the beds and floor and talking quietly.
“You have a interview tomorrow,” Paul tells us, holding the door open. “Lou and Caroline will be here around noon to get you boys ready. Get some rest, boys,” he says, then heads back to his room.
“How are you?” Liam asks, sitting up as the door closes.
I shrug. “I’m alright. No major injuries except my nose, but that should be healed in a couple weeks.”
I feel Maci tense next to me and my arm tightens around her waist. I can tell she feels badly, though she shouldn’t. I lead her farther into the room and we take a place on my bed.
“How are you holding up, Maci?” Zayn asks.
“I’m... I’m alright,” she says quietly, looking down at the ground.
I think the lads and I come to a silent understanding that it’s probably not a good idea to speak to Maci at the moment. She’s probably still taking in what happened.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be... You know what I mean... By her own father. That’s got to do something to your head.
I feel Maci rest her head on my shoulder and she sighs. I look down at her to see her eyelids drooping. I pull her closer and she relaxes into me. I see Zayn lay down on his bed and shut his eyes. Before I know it, they’re both asleep and snoring softly.
“So what did happen?” Harry asks.
“Her father happened,” I sigh, recalling what I had seen. “He was... trying to...” I start to choke up, thinking about what could have happened.
“The ‘R’ word?” Louis asks, and I nearly laugh at his reference.
“Yeah,” I say, looking over at her. She is sound asleep, looking innocent. “I stopped him and was putting a beating on him. Maci pleaded for me to stop, and I took my eyes off of him for just a second. He was on me in no time, hitting me over and over. It hurt like hell, but at least I stopped him. I don’t know if I could have lived with myself if walked away and let that happen.”
That was the end of the conversation. I think that they could all see me shaking with anger, so they dropped it. The lads and I talk about other random topics for nearly half an hour. Louis finally lets out a huge yawn, making me realize how tired I actually am.
“We should probably all get to bed,” Liam says, patting Louis’ back. “It’s late.”
“I’ll go for that,” Harry grumbles, standing up and stretching. Liam and Louis follow suit and quietly slip out the door, leaving me with a sleeping Maci and a snoring Zayn.
I slowly unwrap my arm from around Maci and pick her up, holding her bridal style. She’s surprisingly light, and I carry her easily farther up onto the bed. I lay her down, pulling back the covers and laying them over her. I’m about to move to lay on the floor, but she reaches out and grabs my arm.
“Niall,” she whispers, not opening her eyes. “Please don’t leave me.” I smile widely, turning the lamp off and sliding into the bed beside her.
“Never,” I whisper, wrapping my arms around her. She scoots closer, resting her head on my chest.
Soon I hear her snoring softly. I rest my chin on top of her head and play with the ends of her hair behind her back. How lucky am I? Maci is an amazing girl. And to have her as my girlfriend - I feel on top of the world.
Slowly, I let myself fall asleep to her soft snores.
I wake up to soft sobs. I open my eyes, feeling a little disoriented. I take in the scenery - I’m in a hotel room somewhere, laying in bed with someone. They cry softly, and I don’t know why. Then I realize who it is. Maci.
She turns in the bed, distressed. Tears stream down her face, staining the pillows.
“No,” she whimpers softly. “No, please don’t! Please don’t, I’ve been good!” He body jerks violently and she lands on her back, her arms thrown above her head. “Niall!” she screams.
I just now realize what’s going on. She’s having a nightmare. I shoot up and scoot over to her, sitting her up. “Maci,” I say frantically. “Maci, I’m right here, Love. I’m right here, it’s alright. Everything is alright.”
“Uhhnn,” I hear Zayn moan from his bed. “Niall?”
I turn around. “It’s okay, Zayn. Maci’s dreaming.” He rubs his eyes sleepily and nods. He sits up, waiting.
I turn back to Maci who’s still sobbing. “Maci,” I say, stroking her cheek. “Maci, it’s okay, it’s just a dream. I’m right here, Love.”
Her tears stop flowing and she seems to relax. Her breathing goes from shaky and frantic to steady and calm, and I slide her back down into a laying position. Maci doesn’t wake up, but she soon goes back to snoring softly.
I relax and turn back to Zayn. “I’m sorry about that,” I say, but he shakes his head.
“Don’t be,” he says, rubbing the back of his neck. “From what you’ve said she’s gone through a lot in the past two days. I’m not surprised that she did end up having a nightmare. I probably would too.”
“Thank you,” I say, meaning it. “For everything so far. You’ve welcomed her as if she’s one of us. I really appreciate that. It means the world to me. She means the world to me.”
“I would do anything for my best mates,” Zayn says, shrugging. “Plus, this girl has a hard life.”
I nod. He’s right. Glancing back over at her, I think about all that’s happened in the past three days. The bruises, the incident at her work, I asked her to be my girlfriend, our kiss - and moments later having her call my name in desperation and finding her...
A chill runs down my spine. “Niall?” Zayn asks, ending my thoughts. I look back over to him. “What is she going to do?”
“What do you mean?” I ask, furrowing my brow.
“What is she going to do now that... Well, her father basically kicked her out of the house. Have you asked her to come with us yet?”
“Yeah, I have,” I say.
“Well,” I say, remembering the discussion Maci and I had. “She said she had to think about it. Then I asked her to be my girlfriend. She said yes, then she went inside. That’s when... That’s when all of that stuff with her father happened.”
“So you’re not really sure?” I shake my head. “You’re going to have to make that clear with her, you know. Just ask her if this means that she’s coming with us.”
“I will,” I say. I pause for a minute, then think of something. “Do you think that she’ll be going to the interview with us?”
Zayn shrugs. “No idea. We’ll see what they say in the morning. In the meantime,” he says, looking at the clock, “it’s two in the morning. We should get some rest.”
I nod. Before laying down I say, “Thank you Zayn.” I lay down, wrapping my arms around Maci again. I kiss her forehead gently and rest my head on hers. I see the corners of her mouth twitch into a smile, making me chuckle.
I close my eyes and let her steady breathing slowly lull me back to sleep.
I wake up as the bed shifts. I reach out, searching for Niall, but only find the warm spot where he was laying. My eyes open wide and I sit up quickly, but slump back down because my head is pounding. I search the room with my eyes, trying to find him.
I turn over to see Zayn still snoring and am comforted a little. I’m just glad that I’m not alone. I hear the bathroom door open and look over to find Niall - dressed in the same clothes as yesterday - scratching his head and looking tired. He tosses a pill in his mouth and swallows it down with a glass of water. I quickly close my eyes, pretending that I’m still asleep.
I hear Niall shuffle over to the bed. He slips in next to me and wraps his arms around my waist, pulling me close. He buries his head in the crook of my neck, his hot breath giving me chills. We stay like this for a long time, me still pretending to sleep. I open my eyes because he can’t see them, and look at the clock, 11:24. Wow, we woke up late.
I finally decide to ‘wake up’. I stir gently, stretching. Niall pulls his head away but doesn’t let go of my waist. I smile, seeing him still trying to wake up. Then I see the two black eyes forming because of his broken nose. I feel a pang of hurt and guilt wash through me, but hide it, trying to act normal.
“Good morning,” I whisper, putting a hand on his cheek. “How did you sleep?” He opens his eyes momentarily to look at me, then closes them again.
“Do you remember having a dream last night?” he asks nonchalantly, avoiding my question.
“No,” I say truthfully. “Why?”
“No reason,” he says quietly. “I slept well.”
I decide to let it just roll off. If he wanted to talk about something, he would talk about it. I don’t like pushing for answers.
“Maci?” he asks, his eyes still closed. I decide to rest my own, breathing deeply.
“I know this is probably a little soon after... After what happened to ask,” he starts, and again I feel hurt and guilty. I don’t let it show. “But I’m going to anyway. Are you coming with us on the rest of the tour?”
I forgot that he even asked. My mind goes back to what happened last night. These were the last words that my father said to me:
“Get out of my house. Get your sorry ass out of my house and never come back.”
There’s no way that going back to my home would be safe for me. And frankly, I didn’t want to, either. I’d much rather be with Niall, who doesn’t take me for granted and makes me feel safe and happy. I’m 18, I can make up my own darn mind.
“If the offer still exists,” I say. “Then yes, I want to go.”
Niall smiles, opening his eyes. “I’m so glad,” he says, kissing my forehead. My cheeks get hot and I bury my head in Niall’s chest.
His arms tighten around me and I feel him let out a sigh. He kisses the top of my head, playing with the ends of my hair. I’m nearly about to fall asleep again when the door bursts open.
“GOOOOOOOOD MOOOOORRNNIIIIIINGG!” Louis screams, flying in the room in his pajamas. Niall and I turn to him, laughing quietly. He dances around at the foot of our bed before launching himself onto a whining Zayn. “Good morning, gorgeous,” he says jokingly in Zayn’s ear.
Zayn shoves a pillow into Louis’ face, but Louis only pushes it back down on Zayn’s head. Louis straddles him with and evil grin, holding the pillow over his face with both hands. Zayn’s muffled cries come from the pillow, and his arms and legs flail helplessly. After about ten seconds Louis climbs off of a frazzled Zayn.
“Time to wake up,” Louis says sweetly. When Zayn moans a ‘no’, Louis puts a hand on his hip. “Get your lazy bum out of bed,” he says sassily, chucking the pillow at him and making him cry out.
“As for you two,” Louis says, spinning on his heel to face us. “Stop being mushy and get up, Lou and Caroline will be here in twenty minutes.” With that, Louis strides out of the room with as much attitude as he can put into his hips.
As soon as he makes it to the door, he takes off down the hallway. Niall and I laugh, turning back to look at each other. “Is he always like that?” I ask curiously.
“Every single day,” Niall groans.
I roll my eyes. “That was funny! He can’t be that bad.”
“Trust me,” Niall says seriously. “After a bit, you get convinced that he needs serious help.”
I laugh and sit up, stretching and realizing that I’m still in my leggings and navy blue tee from yesterday. I wrinkle my nose, realizing that I haven’t bathed in two days.
“Can I shower?” I ask Niall. He nods and I peck his cheek. “I’ll be back in a minute.
I grab my duffel and slip into the bathroom and lock the door. I quickly shower, doing my best to ignore the ugly bruise still covering my stomach. It feels a little better, but not by much. I think the incident in the shop made it a little worse, though. I pull on a simple pair of jean shorts and a lime green tee from my bag. I hurriedly brush my teeth and attempt to scrunch my wet hair a bit. I lose patience and just shake it out while I zip up the duffel and unlock the door.
A shirtless and distressed looking Zayn is waiting for me when I open the bathroom door. He’s bouncing up and down and looks on the verge of tears and I freak. “Oh my God, Zayn! Are you okay?”
“Just let me through!” he yelps, pushing me out of the bathroom. “Gotta piss!”
I chuckle as he locks the door. I walk out into the room and toss my duffel at the foot of the bed, climbing on top of the covers to face Niall, who hasn’t moved since I got up. “You heard Louis,” I whisper. “It’s time to get up. Lou and Caroline - whoever they are - will be here momentarily.”
“Caroline is our stylist. Lou is our... I can’t think of the word, it’s too early. She does our hair and stuff.” I roll my eyes at him.
“It’s almost noon, it’s not early!” I stand up on the bed, grabbing Niall’s arms. “Nialler, get up!”
“I don’t want to,” Niall grumbles.
“But you haaave tooooo,” I say, dragging out the words. “Do you want me to go get Louis?” I ask, raising my eyebrows and swinging his arms back and forth.
Niall’s eyes open wide. “Dear God, no,” he says, making me laugh. “I’m getting up, I’m getting up,” he says quietly. “But first...”
He pulls me back down and I fall next to him, letting out a surprised yelp. Niall sits up so that he’s leaning over me. He brings his face close to mine and smirks.
“I’ve got to do this,” he says, bringing his lips to mine. I kiss him back, smiling against his lips.
“Gahh!” Zayn shouts, making me jump. “My eyes!”
Niall’s lips linger on mine for a little longer, then he pulls back laughing. “Buzz off, Zayn,” he says jokingly as my face turns red.
Zayn holds his hands above his head and shrugs. Suddenly, the door opens, revealing a concerned looking Liam standing in the doorway.
“Have you seen Louis?” he asks all of us.
“He came in here and nearly killed me,” Zayn says dramatically. “And then he darted off down the hall. Why?”
“Well,” Liam says, scratching his head. “We seem to have lost him.”
Niall bursts out laughing, making me smile. “How do you lose a Louis?” he asks, holding his side.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” Liam says, smiling. “Caroline and Lou will be here any minute to help us get ready for the interview, and we’re going to need him.”
There’s a shout from down the hall as soon as Liam finishes. Liam raises his eyebrows and leans back to look in the direction of the noise. He apparently sees something, because his face pulls into an ‘are you kidding me?’ look.
“Found him,” he says flatly, running from the doorway and letting the door close.
We all laugh a little before getting up. Niall goes to shower, Zayn to throw a shirt on, and me to wring whatever water I can out of my hair. After about five minutes Niall steps out of the steamy bathroom with athletic shorts and a red polo. He smiles at me before walking past to throw his dirty clothes on the floor in front of the dresser.
“Ah ah ah!” I say, waving a finger at him. “Dirty clothes are where?” He rolls his eyes at me and tosses his clothes over where I had folded up the other dirty clothes. “Thank you,” I say with a smile.
As if on cue, the door bursts open - nearly hitting me - and Louis sprints in, shouting, “They’ll never find me!” He dives under Zayn’s bed, making Zayn yelp in surprise.
“Oi!” Zayn shouts. “Get out from under my bed!”
“NEVER!” Louis screams.
Niall and I are laughing our heads off when Harry rushes in the door. “Louis, babe, where are you?” he says frantically.
Zayn stands on top of the bed and starts bouncing up and down. “He’s. Under. Here!” he says with each bounce as Niall and I hold each other because we’re laughing so hard. Every time Zayn lands there’s a muffled cry from under the bed.
“Don’t hurt him!” Harry shouts as he runs over to the bed and crouches down. “Louis, you have to come out, Caroline and Lou are here!”
As if on cue, two women - dark skinned and light skinned - rush in the door, holding a few boxes. Liam and Paul follow in after them. “Where’s Louis?” Paul asks flatly.
“Under there,” Niall laughs, still holding onto me even though we’ve calmed down.
Paul heaves a big sigh and walks over to the bed as Zayn jumps off. Harry stands up laughing as Paul crouches down and reaches his arm under the bed.
“Don’t touch me!” Louis yelps. There’s a smacking noise, and Paul rolls his eyes.
“Louis, you hit me again and I’m pulling you out of here by your ankles.” Everyone in the room laughs, including the two women who are currently setting up by the table.
“I dare you!” Louis shouts, followed by another smacking noise.
“Have it your way,” Paul grumbles, reaching his arm farther underneath the bed.
A few seconds later, he draws his arm out, holding a squirming Louis. Paul hoists him into the air, dangling him by the ankle so Louis is flipped upside down. By now Niall has collapsed beside me with laughter. I’m about to fall over, Liam is overtaken with silent laughter, and Zayn has his hand on a shaking Harry for support.
“Put me down this instant!” Louis shouts, punching Paul’s leg.
Paul shrugs, letting go of his ankle. He lands in a crumpled heap while Paul laughs along with the rest of us. Louis pops up right away, brushing himself off.
“I’m alright,” he says. “Thanks for asking.”
The darker skinned woman steps forward. “You’re quite welcome,” she says. “Now it’s time to get ready.” Paul waves as he exits the room, closing the door on the way out.
“Niall!” the light skinned woman says. “You have black eyes!” I immediately feel guilty again. They’re my fault. “You have a broken nose!”
“Long story,” Niall says nervously as he picks himself off of the ground, and there are several coughs from the boys. “It’s my own fault.”
Lou tsks at him. “I’m going to have a hard time covering those up!” Oh no.
Niall must see me begin to shake because he comes over to me and puts his arm around my waist, comforting me a little.
“Caroline, Lou,” Niall says to them. “This is my girlfriend, Maci,” he says and my face grows red.
I forgot that I had said yes to Niall. Pathetic, I know.
“Pleased to meet you,” they both say.
“I’m Lou,” says the lighter skinned woman, shaking my hand. When she steps back, the dark skinned woman approaches me.
“I’m Caroline,” she says, taking my hand. I smile.
They both nod, then Caroline claps her hands together. “Okay,” she says. “Just in case you all didn’t know, Maci is going to be tagging along for the interview.”
“What?” I say out loud. I immediately become embarrassed, my face growing red. “I’m sorry, but I’m not even a part of the band!”
“Oh, no Love,” Caroline says with a smile. “You’re not going to be in the interview, you’re just coming with. But that still means we’re dressing you up!”
“Dressing me up?” I say, confused.
“Well you’ve got to look nice,” Lou says from behind Caroline. “Not that you don’t already, this interview is just somewhat formal.”
“We’re not formal though,” Louis whines.
Liam shoots him a look. “Where is it again?” he asks.
“The show is called ‘An Afternoon With Jacobs’,” Lou explains.
“I’ve never heard of that show,” I say.
“Neither has anyone else,” Caroline laughs. “But they asked you guys to come on the show, so you’re going to. Now strip!” she says, putting her hands on her hips. “You know the drill!”
The boys immediately follow orders. They flip their shirts off and toss them to the side, my eyes growing wide as the start to slip off their pants, leaving them in just their boxers. I whip around, feeling my face get extremely hot.
“Uhh,” I say, hearing them all laugh behind me.
“It’s alright, Love,” Caroline tells me and I slowly turn back around. “You’re going on the rest of the tour with them, right? Well, there’s going to be a lot of this,” she gestures to the boys. “May as well get used to it!”
I nod my head slowly and the boys laugh, making my face grow warmer. Niall snakes his arm around my waist and pulls me to him. The bare skin of his chest touching my arm send shivers up my spine and he chuckles.
“Alright boys,” Caroline says, tossing each of them an outfit. Niall lets go of me to snag his. “Put these on and we’ll go from there.”
The boys put on their outfits. Liam wears a white long sleeved shirt with buttons running halfway down, and light sea-green pants with white shoes. Zayn wears a sweater the same light sea-green with cream pants and red shoes. Louis bargains with Caroline and she allows him to wear a gray-and-white striped shirt with red capris and white shoes. Harry wears a red-and-sea-green plaid shirt with kaki skinny jeans and white shoes. Niall wears a light sea-green polo and a red jacket over it, with dark kaki pants and green shoes.
Louis laughs and points at Niall. “Niall looks like a Christmas elf!” he shouts, making everyone - including Niall - laugh.
“He’s got a point,” Caroline says seriously. “Here, trade that jacket with this one,” she says, digging through a box and tossing him a white jacket that he slips on quickly. “Much better,” she says with a smile.
“Alright,” Lou says, clapping her hands together. “Louis’ up first. Let’s go!”
Louis puts on a pouty face and drags himself over to the chair Lou has set up. He plops down in the chair and she immediately goes to work putting powder on his face. The boys sit down on the beds to wait their turn while Caroline approaches me.
“Go put this on, Love,” she says, putting clothes in my hands and shoving me into the bathroom.
I lock the door and look at what she’s given me [http://www.polyvore.com/untitled/set?id=66810885#stream_box]. What she’s picked for me makes me smile. The colors go nicely with my hair and eye color. I put it on quickly and take a couple seconds to admire myself in the mirror. I actually feel pretty.
I walk out of the bathroom and am met by Niall’s eyes. He smiles and stands, walking over to me and wrapping his arms around my waist.
“You look beautiful,” he says, kissing my forehead.
My face turns red and I smile. “Thank Caroline, she picked out the outfit.”
“I didn’t mean the outfit,” he says quietly, leaning in for a kiss, but he’s interrupted by a cough.
“Sorry to uhh, interrupt,” Louis says, hopping down from Lou’s chair while Lou and Caroline chat. “But it’s your turn, Niall.”
Niall rolls his eyes. “Sorry, Love,” he says to me and turns around, walking toward the chair.
I take a place beside Zayn on the bed and smooth out my skirt. “You do look nice,” Harry says with a wink.
My face turns red as Liam elbows him. Harry turns to glare at Liam, but that soon disappears into a playful smile. Liam rolls his eyes and turns to me.
“So how are you?” he asks.
“What do you mean?” I say. I have a good idea of what he means, but I just want to make sure before I make a fool of myself.
“Well,” he says, scratching the back of his head. “I’m mean... I mean after what happened last night. Are you alright?”
“Oh,” I say, looking down at my hands. “I, uh...” My eyes start to water, thinking about what my father was planning to do to me. Yes, he was drunk, but I had never been that scared of him in my entire life. Plus, I called Niall. Yes, he did help me, but my father broke his nose, and it’s all my fault. Now he has that to live with - along with two black eyes - for several weeks. It’s all. My. Fault. A silent tear falls to my hand, surprising me.
I feel a hand squeeze my arm and look up to find Zayn, his eyes sympathetic and caring. I smile a thanks and another tear squeezes out of my eye without meaning to. Louis starts rubbing back, comforting me and making me feel welcome. These boys are just so darn amazing. I’ve only known them for four days, and I’m already beginning to wonder what I would do without them.
“Zayn,” Niall calls from the chair. “Your turn.”
He hops down from Lou’s chair and starts walking over. As soon as he sees my tears, he frowns and speeds his pace. Trading places with Zayn, Niall wraps his arm around me. I see that Lou has covered up his black eyes nicely, but she can’t cover up the metal braces on his nose.
“What’s wrong, Love?” he asks, and I quickly wipe away my tears, snuggling into him.
“We, uh,” Liam says quietly, tugging at the collar on his shirt. “We sort of brought up last night.”
I feel Niall tense and I put a hand on his leg. “It’s okay, Niall,” I say quietly. “It was going to come up sooner or later.”
“Yeah, but not now,” he says, and I can practically hear the glare he’s giving the boys.
I squeeze his leg, trying to let him know it’s okay. “Really, I’m fine. Please don’t be angry with them.”
Niall squeezes my shoulders. “Whatever you say.”
“Okay,” Zayn says from Lou’s chair. “Your turn, Harry.”
Harry trades places with Zayn, and then when Harry is done he trades with Liam. The whole time, we’re talking about random things - from carrots to zebras. These boys are so random that they’re not, if that makes sense. As soon as Liam is made up, the boys and I go to leave.
“Ah ah!” Lou and Caroline both yell. “Maci, come here!”
Caroline hurries over and takes my arm, pulling me toward the chair. “I-I don’t wear makeup,” I say hesitantly.
“Nonsense!” Lou tells me, pushing me into the chair.
“Really, I don’t,” I say, closing my eyes as she puts a foundation brush in my face. “I’ve never worn any kind of makeup beside a little foundation, but I only wear that when... I only wear it sometimes.”
“Well, today is your lucky day,” Caroline says. “The first time that you ever wear makeup, Lou gets to do it for you. Watch her work her magic!”
“Oh please, Caroline,” Lou says to her. “I don’t even need to put much makeup on her, she’s already carrying loads of natural beauty.”
“I knew this!” Niall says, raising his hand and making me blush like an idiot.
“Niall!” Lou snaps. “Stop talking, when she blushes I can’t blend her skin tone!” This only makes my face get hotter, and the boys laugh.
“You really are, Love,” Caroline says to me softly, and begins messing with my hair.
I smile. “Thank you.”
“There we are,” Lou says about five minutes later. “Go take a look.”
I get down from the chair and walk to the bathroom. I’m amazed by what I see. My eyes look about two times darker, but in a good way. The eye shadow that she’s used accent my eyes perfectly, and it also matches the outfit. My hair is braided into a messy bun, and I love the look of it. I’m smiling like an idiot when Niall walks in, standing behind me and wrapping his arms around my waist.
“Beautiful,” he says, resting his chin on my shoulder.
My face turns beet red, and Niall can see it in the mirror. “Thank you,” I say as he laughs quietly. “Thank Lou and Caroline.”
“In my opinion,” he whispers, “you don’t need the makeup.”
I lean my head back on his chest. “Thank you.”
“Alright, Love Birds!” Louis shouts, making me jump. “Lets get a move on!”
Niall takes my hand, leading me out of the bathroom and out the door. He’s perfect, there’s no doubt about it. And the fact that he would choose me of all people? I don’t even know what to think. It’s only been four days, and I can already honestly say that I’m falling for this boy.
She really does look beautiful. And seeing her in the mirror, in my arms... It feels so right. I don’t know how else to describe it. Maci, this amazing girl, showed up in front of me four days ago - and has already nearly turned my world around.
Maci is such a modest girl - a little insecure, if you ask me. I blame her father. Weak? Who is that man to call her - of all people - weak? He’s the man who begged her to stay. He doesn’t have a job, relying on his eighteen-year-old daughter, can’t control his anger. How much more pathetic can you get?
Nonetheless, he is her father, and - no matter how much I hate admitting it - without him I would not have this beautiful girl in my arms. She doesn’t know that she is, though. She always gives credit to another person when she’s complimented. I find it incredibly attractive when a girl isn’t as into herself as much as I’m into the girl.
Maci is perfect. I don’t know how else to put it. She doesn’t even know what she’s doing to me. Every thought that I’ve had since I met her has been about her in some way. I’m falling for her, incredibly fast. I can’t deny that.
“Alright, Love Birds!” Louis shouts, making Maci jump in my arms. “Lets get a move on!”
I take her hand and lead her out of the bathroom and out of the hotel room. We walk down the hall, out of the hotel, and pile into the van. Maci and I are in the way back again, Zayn and Harry in the middle row, and Louis and Liam in the front. Paul leans in the window to give Louis directions, and soon we’re driving through downtown Miami.
Maci leans her head on my shoulder and I wrap my arm around her. How could anyone ever take such a wonderful girl for granted, let alone hurt her? I lightly kiss the top of her head. And this perfect girl? She’s mine.
We pull into a lot about 15 minutes later. There’s a building just to the right, and a big sign runs across the top, reading ‘An Afternoon With Jacobs’. I still think it’s the most stupid name for a talk show that I’ve ever heard. But oh well, if the lads and I have to do it, we will.
We climb out of the van and walk hurriedly into the building. A stage manager meets us at the door and leads us back to a dressing room, where Lou and Caroline are already waiting to do any extra touch-ups. Caroline inspects our outfits one last time before nodding her head in approval. Lou brushes more powder on our faces, and then we’re good to go.
Surprisingly, there’s a studio audience. None of us - including Maci, who actually lives here - have ever heard of this show, yet apparently a lot of people watch it. They’ve saved a seat in the front row for Maci, and I kiss her cheek before letting her go sit down. She sits between a woman that looks to be about 40, and a boy who looks about 20. My face flushes as he starts talking to her.
Calm down, Nialler. She’s with you. I take a deep breath and have a seat in between Louis and Zayn. I can’t help but keep my eyes on the boy and Maci. He hasn’t stopped smiling at her since she sat down, and I can tell he’s cracking stupid jokes. This makes me extremely angry, and I grip the arm rests tightly. Zayn must feel this, because he leans over.
“She’s not flirting back, Nialler,” he says. “Don’t just focus on the guy - look at how Maci is handling it. She hasn’t laughed once, hasn’t even looked twice in his direction.”
I look back over to them and see he’s right. Maci is keeping her head forward, watching me. I smile at her widely, and she returns the grin. The boy continues talking to her, but she just shrugs and keeps looking at me.
She really is perfect.
The lights in the studio dim and who I assume is the host comes on the stage and sits behind a desk on the far right of the stage. The boy finally stops talking to Maci as both of them turn their attention to the host, so I do too.
“On in three,” a woman’s voice says. “Two, one.”
The host puts on a winning smile and turns to the camera. “Good afternoon everyone, my name is Bradley Jacobs. Today on the show we have the boys of One Direction!”
As in virtually all of the live audience interviews, there are screams from some of the teenage girls throughout the seats. It takes a minute, but they finally calm down and Bradley can start again.
“Now boys,” he starts, looking to Liam. “How has the tour here in the States been so far?”
“The lads and I think it’s just wonderful,” Liam says, looking back for approval. We all nod our heads. “The fans here are amazing, and there’s a very welcoming crowd everywhere that we go.”
Bradley nods. “How has it been being away from home? Zayn?”
“I think,” Zayn says, “that being away from home has been a little tough on all of us. But really, our friends and families are very supportive of what we do, and we go home every chance that we get.”
“How hard is it to maintain a relationship? Louis?”
“It really isn’t that hard,” Louis says, shaking his head. “All you have to do is trust in them, and see them as often as you can. It can get extremely annoying at times - and I think I speak for us in relationships - when you can’t see your girlfriend. But you’ve just got to make time in the hectic schedule that we have.”
Bradley nods again. “And speaking of which,” he says as he raises his eyebrow. “I’m sure all the ladies out there want to know - who’s taken?”
Oh my. Don’t overreact, Nialler. It’s only the first official day of Maci and I being together, and if I raise my hand, the world is going to know. No, no - I’m not ashamed to tell everyone - in fact, I’m extremely proud to call her my girlfriend. But if I do, think of how much hate that Maci is going to get. The other girls get plenty of it, but they’ve built up a tolerance to it. Maci just doesn’t seem like the emotionally secure type, and I don’t want to put her under any extra emotional stress.
But if I don’t... What will that say about me? It will definitely show that I don’t want anyone to find out, and that’s not the case. What will Maci think if I don’t? Will she be angry? Relieved? Sad? No, I can’t risk angry or sad - that’s not going to happen. You’re overreacting, Niall. I hope she isn’t mad either way.
I raise my hand along with Liam and Louis. I peek over at Maci to see her reaction - and she’s beaming. Looks like I’ve made the right choice. I turn my head and smile back at her and her face turns red as she looks down. How adorable is she?
“Oh my,” Bradley said. “I heard only two of you - Liam and Louis. This must be recent! What’s the story, Niall? Who’s the lucky lady?”
My face turns red and I look at Maci again. I send her a questioning look and she nods, giving me the go-ahead. I won’t tell them about her father, just how we met. I wouldn’t ever do that to her.
“It’s funny, actually,” I say as I adjust myself in my chair to face Bradley. “We met in a bakery four days ago when I ditched the lads for a bite.”
“Isn’t that something!” Bradley mused. “You’re the one who likes food, aren’t you?”
“I am,” I say, nodding. “We chatted, I walked her home, then we exchanged numbers and started talking. I actually just asked her to be my girlfriend last night.” There are several whistles and screams from the audience, making my face turn red.
“That’s lovely,” Bradley says, smiling at me. I glance over at Maci to see she’s doing the same. “Now,” he continues. “You say you only met her four days ago?”
“I think it’s safe to say that we’ve been through a lot in these past few days,” I say, keeping my eyes on Maci. She nods with a smile and in the corner of my eye I see the lads nod as well.
“Now, you boys are going to be leaving Florida in about a week. How are you planning to keep in touch? You don’t live in the States.”
I look down, scratching the back of my neck. “Uhh... She’s actually coming on the rest of the tour with us.” There are several more shouts and whistles, making my face turn more red.
Bradley laughs. “I’m sure you had to pull a few strings for that,” he says.
I shrug. “She’s an amazing girl, I don’t want to leave her.”
He awwwhs with the rest of the audience. “Now you’ve got to tell us her name,” he sighs.
I hesitate for a bit, wondering if I should give the fans that hate on our relationships the name of the girl that I’m falling for. I’m quiet for a minute, deciding. You know what, who cares what they think - they don’t know Maci or her story. They can shove it.
“Her name is Maci,” I beam.
“What a lovely name,” Bradley muses, resting his chin on his hand. “Do you have a picture of her?”
“Actually...” I say, looking over to Maci, who has a grin on her face. “She’s here with us.”
Bradley laughs. “Couldn’t bear to be away from her even for an interview?”
“Honestly? No,” I shrug, and the audience laughs.
“Mind telling us where she is?”
I turn my head and can’t help the smile that spreads across my face as I see that Maci is wearing the same grin. I raise my hand to point at her, and he face goes red as the camera focuses on her. She tries to hide her face behind her hair, and the audience lets out a long awwwh.
“You’re quite the beautiful young girl,” Bradley says. “I can see why Niall fell for you.”
This makes her face turn a deeper shade of red, making her look even more adorable than she already is. I feel a little pang at his comment, but quickly shake it off, remembering that she didn’t flirt with that other boy. She truly is an amazing girl.
“She’s amazing,” I mutter, just loud enough for the small microphone attached to me to pick up.
My eyes widen and I turn the same shade as Maci, but I have no hair to hide behind so I’m stuck dealing with it. Even though most of Maci’s face is covered, I can see the giant smile that spreads across her face.
“Now that that’s out there,” Bradley jokes. “It’s time for a break. We’ll see you after the break, where the boys are answering a few more questions, followed by a small performance!”
The crowd erupts in applause and cheers as Bradley waves to the camera before the On Air light blips out. He immediately relaxes, sharing a joke with Liam before he strides off of the stage. I get out of my seat as Zayn pats me on the back, laughing. I roll my eyes and make my way over to Maci, where she stands waiting for me.
I open my arms and she walks into them. The boy that’s sitting next to her coughs loudly and shoots me a look. I send him a glare, and pull away from Maci’s arms, pecking her lips.
“That wasn’t embarrassing in the slightest,” she jokes, wrapping her arms around my neck. My arms find a place around her waist and I pull her closer.
“I hope you don’t mind,” I say, looking away and scratching my head.
She uses her finger to turn my head back to her. “Not in the slightest,” she says, looking as beautiful as ever.
“Good,” I say, smiling and leaning in again.
Her lips feel wonderful against mine, like I was made for her and she was made for me. We kiss for a long time, just happy in each other’s presence. I nearly growl in frustration when the lights dim again, signaling that the show is about to start again. She pulls away first, looking up at me with her wonderful hazel eyes.
“You better go,” she says as she catches her breath, her arms still wrapped around my neck. I sigh heavily. “It’s only for a little longer,” she jokes, removing her arms and putting her hands on my chest.
She nudges me a little, and I reluctantly release her. “I’ll take you out after this,” I say.
“You don’t have to,” she says. How many times has she said that to me in these few days? “Wherever you are is where I want to be.”
“I want to,” I say. “And you get to choose where we go.”
Maci sticks out her lower lip. “Don’t make me choose where you spend your money. Especially on me. You really don’t have to.”
“Niall!” I hear Louis shout from the stage. “Get your Irish bum up here!”
I roll my eyes as the people in the audience who heard laugh. I kiss Maci on her forehead and jog up to my seat, plopping down with a sigh. Maci smiles sweetly at me and I can’t help but return it.
I can’t seem to get out of my head what she had said to me. Wherever you are is where I want to be. I feel the exact same way. How lucky am I? I found Maci by chance, and now - only four days later - she’s my girlfriend and coming with us on the rest of the tour. She’s most amazing girl that I’ve ever met. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Oh boy. The things this girl already does to me.
I think that the fact that I’m Niall’s girlfriend finally set in when he said - on television, mind you - that we’re dating.
I’m in a relationship. Me - Maci Watson, the girl with no friends and an abusive father. I have a boyfriend, and an amazing one at that. Describe Niall in one word? The answer is that I can’t. There is not one simple word that captures all of him. The good sense of humor, that amazing smile, his great looks, his tolerance for me, his kind nature, the effect he has on me. My boyfriend is the most perfect person on the planet.
I let out a giggle and my face goes bright red. Thankfully, the audience is laughing at a joke just made on the stage, so it sounds like I’m laughing at the boys. I try to focus back in on the interview, but keep getting side-tracked by Niall. He’s answering questions that I can’t hear - mostly because I’m lost in the thought of him.
It’s probably incredibly creepy, but I can’t help but watch the way he holds himself. He’s so... Confident. I could probably learn a few things from him. There’s a certain way that he sits - his hands gripping the arm rests of his chair casually but firm, right leg crossed over the other, slightly slumped back in his chair. Sometimes the corners of his mouth twitch upward for no reason, but I think it’s cute. Wow, Maci, way to be cree-
My train of thought is interrupted by someone tapping my shoulder. I turn my head to find the boy sitting next to me looking at my with a nice smile - no where near as captivating as Niall’s, though.
“So you’re dating Niall Horan?” he says quietly.
“Yes,” I say with a smile. I turn my head back to the boys and find Niall looking at me questioningly. I give him a cheesy smile with a thumbs up and his amazing smile returns.
“Wouldn’t it be hard dating someone so... Famous?” the boy continues. I turn my head again and the boy’s smile is gone.
“I wouldn’t know,” I say with a shrug. “We haven’t been dating long, and I’ve only seen one girl fan-girl around him so far. I’m definitely hoping that it won’t be hard on either of us.”
There’s a change in the boy’s expression, but I can’t catch what it is before he covers it up with a smile. “Too bad he got to you first,” the boy said playfully. “You seem like a great girl. My name’s Hunter, by the way.”
My face turns red and I look at my shoes. “Thanks, Hunter,” I say quietly. “I’m glad Niall and I found each other, too. A lot has happened, and he was there for me.” I grimace a bit, remembering the incident with my father and Niall’s broken nose. “He makes me so happy,” I say, countering my unpleasant thoughts and putting a smile on my face. I look back up to Niall with a prideful smile. He’s answering a question from Bradley.
“Well,” Hunter says. “If you ever need someone else there for you, shoot me a text.” I feel him slip a piece of paper into my palm, his hand lingering for longer than necessary. I pull away, and look at the paper, seeing a phone number scrawled across it.
“Thanks,” I say flatly. “Good to know I have someone to talk to.” I give him a tight smile, and he gives me a toothy grin.
Though he’s nice, Hunter is far from the type of person I would want to date. I’m not an idiot - I know that’s what he means. I’ve seen the movies, read the books, I know what flirting is. And I can assure you that I’m not trying to flirt with Hunter. Hurting Niall is not even one of the last things that I would ever want to do.
“Anytime,” Hunter says, settling back into his seat.
I look back at the stage to find Niall looking over again, but not at me. He’s staring down Hunter. My eyes widen and I look down at the piece of paper in my hand.
I manage to subtly get Niall’s attention. He turns his harsh gaze on me I’ve made him angry. Oh no. I wince, the corners of my mouth tugging down. Niall must see this because his expression softens immediately into a small smile. I make my face go neutral and gesture to the little piece of paper.
The corner of Niall’s mouth twitches, his face twisting into one of subtle anger. I wince again. I quietly crumple the slip in my fist and brush it onto the floor, careful not to let anyone see. Tapping it with my foot, I look down to make sure that it’s pushed far under my seat to be forgotten.
When I look back up, Niall has the most triumphant grin plastered to his face. My face goes red and I give him a small smile, trying to let my hair waft over my face again.
“What are you smiling about, Niall?” Louis’ high voice pipes up.
My head - along with Niall’s - snaps to attention. His face goes red as he tries to reply. “I - Uh - It’s - Nothing -” he stammers as the audience laughs loudly.
“Alright boys,” Bradley says, still half laughing. “We’ll come back after the break for a live performance of What Makes You Beautiful, then wish you well on the rest of your tour. Be back for part three!” he says as the On Air light flicks off and the lights brighten again.
I can’t help the goofy grin that spreads across my face as Niall hops out of his chair and hurries over to me.
You’re falling, Maci.
**********************************Six Hours Later*******************************
“Niall,” I whine. “Don’t make me decide. You don’t have to take me anywhere, really. We can grab something at the hotel-”
“Nope,” Niall interrupts. “I’m taking you out, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Now where will it be?”
I sigh heavily. “Niiaallllllll...”
“Maaaccciiiii...” he counters.
“Can’t we just grab some fast food or something?” I say quietly.
“Somewhere nice,” he says, reaching across the divider and taking my hand.
We’ve been driving around aimlessly for about twenty minutes, trying to find out where to eat. I really don’t want him paying for me. I feel bad that he thinks he should. I would rather he saves his money for something more important. I groan and rest my head against the window.
“Just tell me your favorite restaurant and we’ll go, Love.” There’s a warm feeling in my chest as Niall squeezes my hand.
I have one restaurant in mind, but it’s somewhat expensive and I had only been there once. Needless to say, I never really went anywhere with my father. “Well...” I say hesitantly.
“Hmm?” Niall glances over.
“Famous Dave’s,” I mutter quietly. I love the food there, and the corn bread is to die for.
“Love,” he says with a smile. “That is a great choice.”
Getting there had been the tough part. I had only been here once, so I couldn’t put my finger on just where it was. The car ride here had held several play arguments and many wrong turns. Eventually, we pulled into the parking lot at about 7:30.
It’s a Monday, so there aren’t many people here. Just in case, Niall had requested a table in the back so he won’t get recognized. Unlucky for us, though, the waitress is a huge fan.
“Oh my gawd!” she squeals with a goofy smile as she twirls her blond ponytail around her finger. “Niall I love you! You’re sooo my favorite, and you have a beautiful voice!” Niall smiles dryly and fumbles through his menu. “I just can’t believe you’re here! Like oh my gawd!”
“What would you like to drink?” Niall says wearily, glancing up at me.
“Just water, please,” I say to the girl, who sends me a look before scribbling on her notepad.
“I’ll just have water too,” Niall tells her. She gives him a giant smile before bouncing away.
He heaves a sigh as she disappears from view. I chuckle a little and glance down at the menu. “Do you get that a lot?”
“You have no idea,” he huffs.
“I told you that you don’t have to take me out if you don’t want to,” I point out, meeting his eyes. “We could have just gone back to the hotel with the boys.”
He rolls his eyes. “I’ll be damned the day that I let a couple people fan-girling get in the way of a date with you.”
I feel my face get hot and I let my hair fall in front of my eyes. “Thank you, Niall. That means a lot.”
“Anything for you.”
This only makes my face grow warmer. What is he doing to you, Maci? I’ve never felt this way about anyone before. Granted, I didn’t have any friends before I met Niall and the boys - but even then I hadn’t had even a petty school-girl crush.
My thoughts are broken my a glass being slid in front of me. I look up to see the is waitress back, sending me a glare that quickly dissipates when she looks back to Niall. What have I done to her? She sets Niall’s water down close to him, brushing his shoulder as she pulls her hand back. A wave of something floods through me - was it... Jealousy? Niall’s lips are pressed into a thin line as the waitress - her name tag says Riley - sets two straws down on the table and smiles sweetly at him.
“What are you going to have to eat?” she says, only really talking to Niall. He shakes it off and looks over at me.
I realize that I haven’t even been looking at the menu. Frantically searching for something to eat, I tell him he could order first. I don’t hear what he orders, but Riley squeals in delight. I raise my eyebrows and look over.
“That’s a good choice,” she says with a wink.
I feel my face turn red, but this time it isn’t the warm tingly feeling I usually get from Niall. This is different, like an almost cold feeling. Anger, I realize. Oh boy.
I quickly look back down and spot something. Telling Riley my order, I realize that she isn’t really paying attention. She’s watching Niall dreamily, and nodding for no reason. I clear my throat and she snaps to attention, giving me an annoyed look. She quickly scribbles something down and narrows her eyes at me as I hand her my menu. Riley wipes the look off of her face before turning back to Niall.
“Food will be out in a minute,” she purrs, brushing his shoulder with her hand on the way past him.
I bury my face in my hands and let out a groan. I can’t get angry at other people, I have no reason to! They’ve done nothing wrong, it’s probably just me. Was she doing anything wrong? I sure seem to think so, but I know deep down that I shouldn’t be getting angry. Niall’s hand on my arm pulls me out of my thoughts.
“What’s the matter, Love?” he asks worriedly.
“It’s nothing,” I lie, my head still in my hands.
“It’s that girl, isn’t it?”
I sigh and meet his eyes. He looks at me apologetically and moves his hand from my arm down to my hand. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I shouldn’t be mad.”
Niall lets out a cross between a sigh and a laugh. “I don’t think this is going to make you feel any better, but this kind of stuff happens to the lads and I everywhere.”
“You’re right,” I groan. “That doesn’t make me feel any better.”
He squeezes my hand and I give him a weak smile. “I know how you’re feeling. That guy that was talking to you earlier? Same kind of thing.”
My face goes red. “I’m sorry, that was my fault. I was talking to him.”
Niall shakes his head. “That was not your fault. You were being nice, he was the one flirting.”
I shrug, giving in. “I don’t know what I did to that girl, though,” I sigh. “She’s been sending me looks.”
He grimaces. “You didn’t do anything, Love. She shouldn’t be rude to you. You’re an amazing girl. Don’t let anyone ever tell you anything different.”
I smile widely at him and brush my thumb over the top of his hand, still holding mine. “Thank you,” I whisper.
Niall is amazing. He always knows just what to say to make me feel better. I don’t know why he still likes me, though. I got his nose broken - my smile falters a bit as I think about this - my father was horrible to him, the second day I knew him I was already bawling my eyes out like a little baby, and I honestly have nothing to give.
I’m not a good singer, like him. I’m not a good dancer. I don’t play an instrument. I don’t have friends beside the boys that I met yesterday. I don’t come from a good home. I’m just plain useless, definitely not special like him. Why does he like me?
“Anything for you,” he says quietly, leaning in over the table.
His lips meet mine and I’m filled with that lovely warm feeling again. My stomach bursts with butterflies as his free hand moves up to cup my cheek. I’m always so far away when we kiss. I feel like I’m on a different planet, drifting in the low gravity. Weird, I know. I’m about to get lost even further when someone clears their throat, startling both of us. I pull away quickly, smoothing out the skirt that I’m wearing - the one from the boys’ interview this afternoon.
I look up shyly to find Riley standing there, looking absolutely livid and holding our tray of food. My face turns bright red as she shoots me daggers with her eyes, and I look down at my hands, still in Niall’s. I slowly pull away, but not before feeling him squeeze my hand.
“Here,” she snaps, roughly setting down my small plate in front of me. She smiles kindly at Niall and sets his down lightly in front of him. “Can I get you anything else?” she purrs, laying a possessive hand on his shoulder.
A wave of anger floods through me. He’s not yours to have, so back off, I mentally snap. Oh gosh, did I really just think that? Cool it, Maci.
“No thanks,” he says, flinching away from her hand. “We’re fine.”
“Well just let me know,” she says with a wink, sending more anger through me. Maci...
Niall huffs as she walks away. “I’m sorry.”
I shake my head and pick up my fork, digging into the food placed in front of me. I take a bite and feel somewhat better, considering I’m eating at my favorite restaurant. In my peripherals I see Niall doing the same. It’s quiet for a long time, neither of us interested in breaking the silence. Niall finishes several minutes before I do, wiping his hands on his napkin.
“That was delicious,” he says enthusiastically, one of us finally speaking.
I nod my head and smile, taking another bite. “My favorite,” I tell him after I’ve finished chewing. “My father took me here once, when I was 14.”
Niall winces at the mention of my father, but nods his head thoughtfully. My eyes land on the metal brace resting on his nose and I wave of guilt and sadness takes its time moving throughout my body. I caused that. Something must have changed in the way I was looking at him, because Niall rests his hand on top of mine - I now realize that it is shaking.
“It’s alright, Love.”
I set my fork down and heave a sigh. “No, it’s not, Niall. My father broke your nose and now you have to wear that metal brace on it and you have black eyes that are hard to cover up and it’s all my fault because I-”
“-Maci,” Niall says, and something in his voice makes me stop mid-word, my mouth slightly open. “Stop. Take a breath.” I do as he says and pull my hand away from his, folding my hands and resting them in my lap.
“This-” he gestures to his nose. “-is not your fault. This is what your father did to me.” I wince. “Not you. The eyes? They’re easy to cover. In fact, I don’t even want to cover them, because they show that I saved the girl I’m crazy for.”
A warm tingly feeling runs through me and I look up to meet his sincere eyes. He’s crazy about me?
“There’s nothing you could have done to stop him-”
“-That’s not true,” I interrupt. “I could have just not called for you and-”
“-And what!?” he raises his voice. Niall’s fist clenches and I start to get worried. “And let him do something like that to you? Rape you!?”
His voice stings me and my eyes prick. I hadn’t thought about it like that. Rape. What a strong word. I guess that’s what my father was going to do. I just hadn’t thought about it like that. And now that Niall has said it... He’s right - but it feels like a ton of bricks were just dropped on top of me. Add to that the fact that Niall is getting angry - I’m on the verge of tears.
“Niall,” I say quietly. I have to find some way to calm him down. “Please, it’s alright. I know my dad is... Extreme at some times, but-”
“But nothing!” he shouts, standing up and making the table rattle. His chair scrapes noisily against the floor and I flinch. “How can you just sit there and let him do that to you, Maci!?” A couple people are staring at us now.
“Niall, please, sit down,” I whimper. “It’s okay-”
“-Maci, listen to yourself!” he shouts, slamming his fist on the table and making my stomach wrench.
I wince, and throw my hand over my head in complete fear, ready to block the next blow heading my way.
But it didn’t come.
I slowly open my eyes and look up at Niall. What I see completely catches me by surprise. His face is horrified, staring down at his hand, still in a fist on the table. He just gapes open-mouthed at it, like it’s some kind of alien.
I’m too shaken up, though. I can’t handle it - Niall getting angry, slamming his fist on the table, and then... I thought he was going to hit me. I honestly was prepared for a blow to the face. This in itself brings tears to my eyes. Why would I think that of Niall?
My vision becomes blurry with tears - tears of weakness. I can’t believe I’m going to cry. You don’t deserve him, Maci.
Niall looks up at me, his face still horrified. “Maci, I-”
I don’t hear the rest. I launch myself from my chair and am running out of the restaurant before I know it - tears streaming down my face.
“But nothing!” I shout, standing up and making the table rattle. My chair scrapes across the floor and I see Maci flinch. I’m too worked up to notice her expression. “How can you just sit there and let him do that to you, Maci!?” A couple people look over to us. I’m drawing attention.
“Niall, please, sit down,” she whimpers. “It’s okay-”
The problem is, no, it’s not okay. Why does she let him walk all over her? He has no right! Has he really got this into her head that anything he does to her is okay!? What the hell kind of person does that!?
“-Maci, listen to yourself!” I yell, slamming my fist on the table.
She shuts her eyes tight and throws her arms over her head. I’m confused at first, but then realization dawns on me. I look down in horror at my clenched fist on the table.
She thinks I’m going to hit her. Oh God. I don’t know why, but I’m frozen in place, gaping at my fist. The one thing you promised to never do - she just thought you would. What is she going to do? What’s going to happen? I can’t just let it go like that. I have to say something. But what?
I see her open her eyes carefully and bring her shaking arms down. You’ve got to say something, Niall. Apologize. I don’t know what to say, though! Why is this so difficult for me!? It’s a simple sorry, I’ve overreacted. Just say it, Niall.
I slowly look up at her, her eyes wide and watering. Oh God. “Maci, I-”
She doesn’t let me finish. Before I know it, she’s already out of her seat and running for the door. Oh shit.
“What happened with her?” a stuck-up voice says from behind me. I whirl around to find the waitress - Riley - standing there with a smirk on and a hand on her hip.
Great. Just who I wanted to see - note my sarcasm. “Just give me the bill and I’ll be on my way, please,” I say as calmly as I can manage.
“No,” she coos. “Please stay. We can chat a while. Wanna talk about it?” she asks, walking closer and putting a hand on my shoulder.
“Please stop touching me,” I say, pulling away. What is her problem? I slap $40 on the table. “There. That should cover it.”
I don’t hesitate in running out the door after her. I’ve got to go after her. I didn’t mean to scare her - in fact, I honestly scared myself. Stupid Niall, you’re so stupid! Why can’t you just control yourself!?
So many thoughts were running through my head as I burst through the doors and out into the parking lot, the muggy night air surround me. I scan the whole area for Maci. Only...
She’s not here.
I don’t know where I’m aiming to go as I shoot out of the restaurant - but somehow I end up behind the building, a giant sobbing heap. Next to the dumpster. Where I belong.
You’re so weak, Maci. And that part of me is right. I’m sobbing over something that didn’t even happen. Niall hadn’t hit me. But why? I was being unreasonable - I was making him angry, something I know always leads to being... hit. But he hadn’t.
For some reason, this thought makes me sob even harder. I don’t know why I thought that of him. Niall is amazing, and he made me a promise. I know deep down that he wouldn’t break that promise, ever. I curl myself up, closing my eyes, hugging my knees, and leaning against the wall. This is my time to think. Sure, I’m a complete wreck. And that means that my thoughts are the same way.
You’re weak. You caused Niall’s broken nose, his black eyes, his suffering. You shouldn’t have met Niall - he’d be better off without you. You’re a burden. You deserve the treatment you receive from your father. Niall doesn’t like you. How dare you think Niall low enough to hit you? You’re worthless.
“Maci!” a voice breaks through my thoughts. My sobs continue, the tears running down my face. You don’t deserve for anyone to care.
“Maci!” the voice calls again. I recognize it. Niall. “Maci, please! I’m so sorry!”
“Niall,” I whimper softly. Don’t call out to him. You don’t deserve him.
“Maci!” he calls out again, making my heart hurt. I want to answer him so badly, but half of my mind is stopping me. “Please!” His cries sound desperate. “Please, just answer me! I’m so, so sorry!”
Don’t do it, Maci. Don’t. This part of me... I’ve always had it. This bully at the back of my mind, always nagging on me. Every good thing I get is always downgraded by it. Putting me down, telling me I can’t. But that’s all it is. A bully.
“Niall!” I call out weakly, still sobbing.
You’ll see, Maci. Just you wait. All your walls will come crashing down around you.
This makes me cry harder. All I want is to be left alone by this... this half of myself. Every good thing... just gone because of it. But see, this half of me has been less and less lately. Why? Niall. When Niall is with me, this part of me - this bully - is nearly gone. I don’t know what it is about him, but even the victim side of my tells me I don’t deserve this amazing boy.
Sobs and whimpers wrack my body. I don’t hear any footsteps. Niall isn’t calling my name anymore. I’m alone. I’m forgotten. I don’t know where I’m going to go. My father will never let me come home. My belongings are at the hotel. Niall doesn’t want me anymore - this realization hurts most of all.
A huge wave of sadness falls onto my shoulders, weighing me down impossibly so. I just thought... I thought that Niall and I... I’ve never felt this way about anyone. That’s a fact. And I think... I think you call this love.
But no. I’m not loved back. No one will ever love me. This time, my bully doesn’t have to say it.
This seems to bring back renewed tears. It becomes hard to breathe, the weight pushing down on me like nothing I’ve ever felt before. This hurts more than anything my father could have ever done to me.
I think any kind of pain I could experience right now wouldn’t be enough to mask this. Niall is gone, you don’t have a home, you’re not wanted anywhere. You have nothing left.
“Niall,” I whimper weakly, one last time. I don’t wait for an answer. I simply slump over, waiting for the pain of my head hitting the cold, hard concrete.
But I’m caught by a pair of warm and welcoming arms.
“What have you done,” I snap at myself, jogging out to the middle of the lot to try to get a better look around. “She’s gone. Find her.”
But I don’t even know where to start looking. So I use my singing lungs.
“Maci!” I call out. Just like I thought, no answer. “Maci! Maci, please! I’m so sorry!”
Still, nothing. I start to panic. Where could she have gone!? Certainly not back to her father’s. She would be beaten to dea- No. I can’t think about that. My chest heaves and I call out again, fearing what she might do because of me.
“Maci! Please! Please just answer me! I’m so, so sorry!” By now I’m coughing, trying to catch my breath. It feels like my chest is constricting, growing tighter and tighter so I can’t breathe. But I can’t give up - I have to find her.
I’m about to call out again when a voice - her voice - stops me. “Niall!”
It’s quiet, but I hear it. Without any hesitation, I take off toward the way I heard it. I stop short though. There’s an alley in front of me, stretching along the side and around the back of the restaurant. Would she really go back there? I’m about to head another way when I hear soft cries. It pains me so much, but I recognize them anyway. Maci.
I jog down the alley and round the corner. Sure enough, further down is Maci, curled into a fetal position against the wall. My eyes prick at the sight, but I quickly blink away any tears I have. I have to be strong, for her. I have to apologize, because I caused her suffering.
I approach Maci quietly, not wanting to scare her or make her run away. Her sobs grow louder as I get closer, and it feels like a dagger in my chest. You caused this, Niall. I don’t think she hears me, because her head stays buried in her knees, whimpers and sobs wracking her body.
I kneel down next to her. I’m about to put a hand on her shoulder when she lets out a small cry. “Niall...” That was the twist to the knife in my chest.
I don’t even hesitate to gather her in my arms as she slumps over. Despite the warm weather, Maci feels cold. I think I startle her a little, but she buries her face in my chest as she cries harder.
“Shh,” I say quietly, pulling her closer and stroking her hair. “It’s okay, Maci. I’m here. I’m so, so sorry.”
I bury my face in her hair, breathing in her wonderful scent. She seems so small in my arms, so... breakable. The one thing I know that she is not. She’s survived all of these many hard years with her father. I’m pretty sure that I’m the only one that she’s ever opened up to like this, and look what I’ve made of it! I have to make it better, and if that means comforting her while she cries tears caused by me - then so be it.
After a long while of us sitting like this, her sobs finally die down into soft hiccups. “N-Niall?” she asks innocently, lifting her head to look up at me.
“What is it, Love?” I whisper. The mascara she was wearing has smeared down her face, and I gently wipe most of it away.
“D-do... Do you still want me?” the question hits me like a ton of bricks. She must have seen this, because she buries her face back in my chest. “If y-you don’t... I c-can get m-my stuff and g-go h-home.”
No. No, no, no. She will not go home, and that is final. But her question... Do I still want her? That’s like asking me if I want food. The only answer I could give them is, ‘I don’t want food, I need food’. I don’t want Maci. I need her. I need Maci Watson in my life. There is not one single doubt in my mind. End of story.
But how do I say that to her? It seems simple enough, but it’s really not. I open my mouth only to close it again. Words are caught in my throat, feelings bottled up inside. No one has ever had this effect on me - no one has ever meant this much.
I can’t just say nothing. But at the same time, I can’t say the wrong thing. I have to say something, now. What will she think if I don’t? So many words, fighting for their way out of my mouth. So I open it, and hope to God that whatever comes out won’t make things worse.
“Maci,” I blurt. “I love you.”