Sequel: Black and White
Status: complete;;


chapter sixteen;;

I hated gossip shows, but I couldn’t find the motivation or strength to turn the television off. Justin Bieber’s latest drama, trailers for upcoming movies, and interviews with the “hottest” celebrities were all that had been playing for the last two hours. During this time, I had done nothing but lie on the couch, curled tightly into a ball under the thick afghan my mother crocheted while pregnant with me. The day had seemed to simultaneously drag on and pass by in a blur once we got back from the funeral, and as exhausted as I was, I couldn’t sleep. It was almost midnight when Jem’s face filled my screen, and I snapped to attention.

“As anybody who’s been paying attention to Twitter knows,” the woman started from her position in front of the camera, her smile seeming almost genuine, “the latest hashtag trend on the social media site is ‘GoodbyeJem’. This references Complete Irrationality vocalist, Jem Rhodes, who was in a fatal car accident just last week. The twenty-year-old singer was laid to rest this afternoon near his hometown in Southern California. In respect for his family and friends, we at the studio have decided against showing pictures that viewers have sent in of his funeral service. We wish to send the Rhodes family, which includes his twin brother, drummer Alan, and his mother Donna, our most sincere condolences. On our site, viewers will find a memorial page for Jem, where you can upload photos of yourself with him and submit stories that you may have.

“And that’s all we have for tonight. Tune in tomorrow at eleven for all the hottest news. This is Katie, wishing you all a good night.”

I smiled through my tears. I was thankful that, even though they had ample opportunity, the studio had chosen to not show images of the hardest days of our lives. The pictures would certainly be uploaded everywhere else on the internet, but the fact that at least one major “news” source had vetoed the idea of showing them on national broadcast made me feel like we, as those who knew and loved Jem as we did, could onto his memory in peace for just a little while longer. I grabbed my mother’s phone that she was letting me borrow and opened up Twitter, tweeting from the band account a heartfelt thanks to the studio for their compassion. I closed the app as footsteps sounded in the hall; I glanced up to see my mother standing in the archway to the living room.

“Hey, sweetie, can’t sleep?”

“Not alone,” I admitted ruefully, shrugging.

The One Direction guys had been forced by their management to leave shortly after the funeral. Niall was reluctant to go, promised he could just stay and they would have to deal with it, but I assured him I would be all right while he was gone. He wasn’t fully convinced by the time he walked out the door, but he did, leaving to do some promotional events. I could still hear his promise that he would come back to me as soon as possible. I felt terrible that I had monopolised so much of his time ー he’d spent nearly every minute of the past few days with me, but I had been too selfish to try to even half-heartedly persuade him to spend time with his friends, to leave my side so he could have and enjoy his freedom.

“Do you want to sleep in the bed with me?”

“Mom, I haven’t done that since I was nine and watched Nightmare on Elm Street.” I shook my head. “Nah, I’ll be okay. Thanks, though.”

“Well, you know where I’ll be, honey. I love you.”

She walked back to her room, and I burrowed deeper under the blanket. I appreciated what she was doing, but… she wasn’t Niall. She didn’t smell like him, she didn’t feel like him. Though she meant well, cuddling up beside her just wasn’t the same as being held tightly, securely, in the arms of the guy who’d helped me through so much over the last couple of days.

It honestly scared me to realise how much I had come to rely on him when, on tour, we’d barely even been friends. I sighed, debated, then sent Niall a quick text saying I missed him. Pointless television infomercials lulled me to sleep.


I peeled back the plastic wrap, crumpling it up and setting it on the bed next to me; the new phone felt foreign in my hands, heavier than my mother’s. My old one has gotten destroyed within the first two days after Jem’s death ー the poor thing survived a throw against the wall like a champ and had only acquired scratches on the screen and casing… until I repeatedly slammed the heavy heel of my favourite ankle boots to the device. It hadn’t stood a chance against my drunken, violent rage. After inserting the SIM card into the appropriate slot on the new device, I powered on the phone and waited as it started the initial boot.

An hour and a half later, I had set up the social media accounts and downloaded all the apps I remembered having on the old phone. I synced up my email, chewing on the edge of my fingernail as my contacts downloaded. I’d been contemplating whether I should add Niall to the group message I was about to send out or if it would be better to send him an individual text for going on ten minutes when my mother poked her head into the room and smiled.

“Are you ready?”

“As I’ll never be.”

The timer on my phone ticked down, counting away the final few minutes, and I reached up with a gloved hand to scratch at the edge of my hairline. Voices filtered up the stairs from the entry hall, a jumbled mess of words being spoken over one another, and I gave my mother a panicked look. She rolled her eyes, flicked me in the forehead, and left, pulling the door shut behind her. I could hear her speaking to the guests; hoping they would all stay downstairs, I turned my attention back to the timer. It finally chimed once the time was up, and I called for my mom, turned toward the tub.

She left me alone to brush and blow-dry my hair. I bit my lip when I was finished, staring at my reflection in the mirror. I was still too pale, too skinny, but the dark circles beneath my eyes had faded. I sighed, flipped the light switch, and plunged the room into darkness. My feet instinctively skipped over the creaking plank in the hall as I made my way to the top of the stairs. I could still hear people talking in the living room; the pyjama pants I wore slipped under my foot when I took a step, so I grabbed the sides of the legs and held the hems up while I walked down the steps.

Niall was the first person I saw ー I sought his face out without thinking; only his reaction mattered. His blue eyes widened when he looked away from Amber, and his jaw dropped. Everyone else fell silent. I sucked my lower lip between my teeth and waited.

“What…” He rose to his feet and came slowly closer. “Why… wow…”

“Like it?”

I leaned into his touch when he lifted his hand to run it through my hair. I smiled shyly as he let the freshly-black strands twine around his fingers. He grinned, leaned forward to press his lips to my forehead.

“I love it,” he murmured against my skin.

“Thank you.”

He wrapped his arms around me, tugging me in for a tight hug. “You’ll always be beautiful, no matter what you do to your hair.”

I pulled away, blushing. The house phone rang shrilly in the quiet left over from my appearance, and my mother rushed to pick it up. She glanced at the caller ID then left the room before I heard the beep as she answered the call. I rolled my eyes, squeezed into the spot between Zayn and Niall on the couch. The warmth from both of their bodies was pleasant, comforting, and I shifted my foot until it pressed against Niall’s. His lips curved upward slightly, and his hand found mine without either of us looking at each other. Louis explained that since they’d done all the promotional stuff that was expected of them, and they still had time before they had to go back overseas, their management company had caved to their request to spend time with us. The conversations overlapped, and I found my head spinning from trying to keep up with all of them. The connection I had with each of these people grew the more we talked and laughed and joked around, and I felt closer to them than I had in the days following Jem’s death. Voices dropped off when Alan cleared his throat from his spot in the armchair by the large bay window.

“I think we need to make a decision. Is… is Complete Irrationality going on without Jem, or are we breaking up?”