Sequel: Right Here
Status: active;;

Tomorrow

chapter thirteen;;

Time slowed, dragged on; that horrible screaming noise continued then cut off with a thunderous crash of metal against metal. I let my cigarette fall from my fingers and took off running out of the parking lot. I stumbled over a dip in the concrete, forced myself to steady and push on. I stared down the expanse of road ahead of me. I could hear someone yelling my name from behind me, but I couldn’t stop, I couldn’t do anything but run faster. Footsteps pounded against the pavement, came closer; my lungs burned in my chest, and my legs felt weak ー whether from the sprinting or fear, I didn’t know. I was terrified of what I would find, but I was even more terrified that I already knew. A piercing scream tore from me, whipped away on the breeze, when I crested the hill and saw that familiar Camaro. Drivers got out of their cars, already on their phones and chattering, watching as I finally reached the tangled mass of metal. Shards of glass crunched beneath my feet. My hands shook violently as I reached through the window, desperately searching.

“Jem? Jem, please, don’t do this, don’t ー please, Jem, don’t leave me. Don’t you dare leave me. Jeremy, please come back. Jem…”

There was no pulse beneath my trembling fingers. I kept begging for him to wake up, to be okay; I choked on my sobs as I pleaded, but there was nothing. Someone pulled me gently but firmly away from the wreckage. I fought against their hold, struggled to get back to Jem. Someone cried out distantly, and Amber’s voice was soft, muffled by the roaring of my heartbeat in my head. The world stood still as I stared brokenly at the body in the driver’s seat; everyone was moving, rushing to care for survivors, but time was frozen. I collapsed to the ground, slid from the stranger’s arms; I shoved my hands into my hair, uncaring of the blood on my skin. From the corner of my eyes, I saw familiar Chucks coming nearer. I lifted my head and gazed up at Alan. His face was ashen, bloodless beneath his shock. As soon as I clambered to my feet, he clung to me, his sobs ripping though him as we held each other. Even after the police arrived with ambulances and fire trucks, we held on to each other as if we had no other life preservers. 

Finally, he pulled away and mumbled that he had to tell his parents. I nodded, too choked up and shattered to speak. I stood alone amidst the crowd as emergency workers did their jobs, as my friends stood nearby and cried, as reporters swarmed the area outside of the blocked-off wreck. Warm hands cradled my face, and I somehow focused enough to turn my gaze to Brett. 

“He’s… he’s gone.”

He hesitated, mouth open slightly, then nodded. “I know, honey, I know. Come on, sweetie. We gotta get out of here.”

We’d gotten halfway back to the studio when the reporters realised they could approach us; cameras started flashing in our faces, and they shouted questions at us. I remained quiet, mind still reeling, and Brett muttered repeatedly “No comment,” face dark and expression unreadable. I barely registered when he almost reversed his car into one of the reporters who refused to move. His hand found mine over the centre console, and I clutched tightly to the comfort he was offering. It did little in the grand scheme of things, but it was something. 

The ride to my house was silent and long. For extra precaution, Brett drove a complicated, roundabout route. The scenery flashed past my window, but I could think of nothing but the event that had just altered… everything. How could this have happened? Jem hasn’t deserved to… I couldn’t finish the thought, couldn’t say the word even in my own head. I rested my forehead against the cool window and closed my eyes against the tears. 

My mother was sitting on the front porch when Brett pulled into the driveway. Her face was tight with worry, and she rushed to help me from the car. Her green eyes stared at my bloody hands. I could see the questions she wanted to ask, but she stayed silent, wrapping an arm around my shoulder and guiding me into the house. I stood by the bathroom door while she filled the tub with hot water. Her hands were gentle, reminded me of when I was ten and had the flu, as she undressed me and then steered me into the tub. She pressed a soft kiss to my temple then left, shutting the door behind her. Brett’s voice rumbled through the walls; I couldn’t hear his words, but by the way my mom gasped and said Oh no in a watery voice, I knew he was telling her about Jem. I wrapped my arms around my knees, bringing them to my chest, and stared at my warped reflection in the silver faucet. 

I shivered as my mom forced me out of the cold water and scrubbed a towel over my body. She’d taken over with cleaning the blood from my skin as I hadn’t moved at all in the time I was in the tub. I let her manipulate my limbs into a pair of warm flannel pants and a T-shirt, sat on the edge of my bed when she told me to and stared at the wall as she ran a brush through my hair. She pushed against my shoulder, and I fell to the side and bit my lip while she tucked me in. Her shadow hesitated then she slowly slipped from the room. 

I was scared to close my eyes. Memories of the last few hours played like horror films in my mind behind my lids. Jem and Alan fighting, Jem’s anger as he peeled out of the parking lot, his bloody face and neck after the large SUV had slammed into the side of his Camaro… My breath stuttered out of me when it sank in that Alan had lost his brother ー his twin. I lost a best friend. The world lost a wonderful, magnificent human being who could have done so much. And it was all because we hadn't been able to tolerate his nitpicking. All because we fought with him. All because I couldn’t stop him from leaving. 

The dam behind my eyes fractured before exploding into nonexistence, and I couldn’t hope to hold back the sobs. I gasped as my lungs ached, stopped working properly, as I drowned in my tears. All I wanted was to bring Jem back, to apologise, but I couldn’t. He was gone.
 
.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.

 
“Go away.”

“It’s Garrett.” 

“Leave it at the door and go.”

“Erin, hun, please let me in.”

“Go away!” I screamed toward the door. 

Eventually, I heard him sigh, the sound of a heavy bag hitting the floor, and his footsteps as he walked down the hall. I waited for another minute then crawled across the room and to the door. My fingers slipped from the doorknob once, twice, then I managed to twist it. The bottles in the bag clinked together as I dragged it through the room to the corner across from my bed. I hadn’t been in my bed since that first night, and I wasn’t about to give the nightmares permission to come back. I grabbed a random bottle from the bag, twisting the cap off. The smell of vodka floated up into the stale air; I raised the bottle to my lips and swallowed down a few mouthfuls, relishing the burn as it made its way down my throat and settled in my belly. Anything to get away from the pain I was feeling. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve and set the bottle on the floor next to me, fumbling with my free hand for my cigarettes. I lit one, closed my eyes as I inhaled. 

It had been a week since the wreck, but I still hadn’t started getting over it. The pain was still there, every second of every day, and I wasn’t ready for the funeral that I knew would be soon. I wasn’t ready to face the finality or the truth. Brett, Amber, Natalie, DeDe, and even Louis had stopped by to see me, to check on me, but I’d treated the same as I’d treated Garrett ー kept them locked out of my room, kept myself locked away from the world, and screamed at them if they tried. I couldn’t bear the thought of sunshine without Jem there to light it up even more, so I’d tacked a quilt up in front of my window. The sun and the moon and the stars meant nothing if Jem wasn’t there. 

I lost track of time as I sat in my corner, drinking away the liquor Garrett had brought. It kept me numb, up until it didn’t. But that was easy enough to fix; I’d drink more until the hurt and heartbreak faded into nothingness. I couldn’t feel my fingers or toes any more; I was constantly shivering in the cold, but I refused to move. Maybe if I stayed still enough, whoever thought Jem’s death was a good idea would bring him back and take me instead. 

A loud pounding at my door caused me to startle and nearly drop the bottle of rum in my hand. I barely managed to catch it before the last swallow could spill out. I croaked out an order for the intruder to go away, repeating it again and again as the knocking continued. Finally, the room fell silent, and I leaned against the wall, content with my numbing isolation.
 
--------------

 
“She won’t eat or drink anything. I mean, besides whisky or vodka.” Erin’s mother sighed, glancing up at Brett. “I haven’t seen her since the day you brought her home. I tried climbing a ladder and peeking through her window, but she’s got it covered.”

Amber reached over and held on to Laura’s hand. Nobody spoke for a long minute, but then Laura sniffled, running her fingers under her eyes. 

“I’m so worried about her. All I hear is ‘Go away’ or that awful screaming.” 

“Screaming?”  

“Nightmares.”

I bit my lip and glanced at Amber. “Do you have a hair pin?”

“Um, yeah, why? What are you going to do?”

“Just stay here,” I replied vaguely as I took the pin from Amber. 

The stairs creaked softly with my weight as I made my way up them. Three of the doors in the hall were opened; no light came from under the only closed one. I was glad that the hallway was dim; my thankfulness grew when her lock proved to be easy to pick, even with a simple hair pin. I pushed the door open as gingerly as I could. My eyes immediately watered as a cloud of cigarette smoke rolled thickly from the room behind, and I coughed before taking a step inside and closing the door behind. The air was heavy and stale. I felt like I was suffocating in the dark. 

“Erin?”

“Go away.”

“I’m not leaving.”

A small red circle glowed bright, seeming to float in mid-air; her breath rattled as she inhaled. “Thought you didn’t have time for a lying whore?” 

“I…” I sighed; I’d honestly hoped that it wouldn’t be brought up, not with what had happened since the last time we saw each other. “I’m so sorry for that. I was mad about something stupid, and I took it out on you. But I’m sorry.”

“Oh, yeah, you’re sorry,” she spat, and I almost recoiled from the venom in her raspy voice. “You get to stand in front of me and say you’re fucking sorry, while my best friend is dead. How fucking fair is that?”

I carefully picked my way through the dark, praying I was going in the right direction. My hand collided with the wall, and I turned and leaned against the plaster, sliding to sit next to her. I took the cigarette from her hands and crushed it against the bottom of my shoe. Erin didn’t give me the chance to turn back to her. Instead, she let herself collapse into me and cling to me, sobbing against my shoulder. I shifted so that I could wrap my arms around her, held her close and tight. My hand moved seemingly on its own as it slid across her frail back in slow, gentle circles. 

I didn’t move from my spot on my bed, too engrossed in the game. Finally, I couldn’t take incessant pounding on the door. I rolled my eyes and muted the telly, shuffling across the room. I was surprised to see Liam standing on the other side, his face pale and tears in his eyes. 

“What’s wrong?” 

“There’s… there’s been an accident. Jem is dead.”

Thought I hadn’t known the guy very well, hearing he had been killed in a wreck was a huge blow. He’d been a fairly awesome lad, and I hadn’t had a problem with him even if he was more Liam’s friend than anything. I somehow made it back to my bed and stared at the silent television, my brain not taking in anything of the football game on the screen. I sat there alone, unmoving, for hours.


I stilled in my motions when I realised Erin was no longer crying. Her breathing had evened out, she’d fallen asleep in my arms. I sat there for a moment longer, letting her cling to me in her sleep. I didn’t want to move and run the risk of waking her, but I knew she’d be more comfortable sleeping in her bed rather than leaning over while sitting on the floor. She jerked awake the instant I shifted my legs. 

“I’m sorryー”

“Don’t be,” I whispered as I ran a hand over her hair; my sympathy for her was stronger than the flicker of disgust that ran through me at how filthy the strands felt beneath my palm. “Let’s just get you into bed. C’mon.” 

Her hand found mine in the dark, and I laced our fingers together. She followed me until we found the end of her mattress; I swept my hand over the blankets, and dozens of empty cigarette boxes clattered hollowly to the floor. She slid onto the bed and slipped between the sheets. I made sure she was covered up, tucked in, before I sat back. Bony fingers encircled my wrist with far more strength than I thought possible, and my heart sank with even more pain. 

“Stay. Please, Niall. Don’t… don’t leave me.”

Even though I couldn’t see her face for the lack of light, the pleading in her voice was clear as day. Without a word or second though, I crawled over her and curled up around her, pulled her body closer until her back was pressed snugly against my chest. My throat tightened and burned as my concern for her magnified at how skinny she’d become. She had been slender while on tour, but there was still definition to her stature. But now she was downright starving-thin. Her ribs hitter against her flesh under my arm, and I was certain I’d be able to wrap my hand around her wrist and still have a couple inches of my fingers left over. When her breathing hitched and her shoulders began to shake against me, I pressed a kiss to her neck and started humming the softest song I knew and had heard her singing during our tour ー Little Things.

I hated myself for not being there for her, even more for holding a grudge against her over something so petty, so monumentally stupid. Zayn had been the first to come back to the hotel suite after their night out, completely pissed, followed by Paul half-carrying Louis in. They’d made drunken jokes about how Erin was worse off than they were, but that had left my mind when I saw all the pictures the next morning and read the accompanying articles. It had hurt me to see evidence of her and Louis kissing that way; I hadn’t realised at first why it affected me so much, but then I couldn’t ー wouldn’t ー admit that I was jealous or that I felt betrayed. Looking back on that entire time made me feel like a complete ass. We were friends, we weren’t dating. Hell, I’d never even told her that I had feelings for her, but I treated her like rubbish all because I felt slighted. My guilt and remorse took on a life of its own after Liam made a passing comment the morning after Garrett Daniels’s party: “Erin can not handle alcohol.” He didn’t elaborate, and I didn’t ask. I was afraid to know the truth of what might have happened. But it cemented the thought that my reaction toward her was uncalled for and completely out of line. 

I closed my eyes, shifted closer to Erin. “I’m so sorry,” I whispered into her hair even though she was asleep. “But I’m here now. I’m not going anywhere.”