Sequel: Right Here
Status: active;;

Tomorrow

chapter twenty-one;;

I stopped at the edge of the beach where asphalt met sand. Clouds moved lazily across the brilliant blue sky as seagulls flew in circles overhead, their loud caws mixing chaotically with the rush of waves rolling in against the shore. The sun beat down in unrelenting waves, and I breathed in deeply. The air tasted of salt and summer; hot sand scorched the bottoms of my feet as Amber and I carried our bags across the beach, closer to the water. We spread out our towels along the ground and sat down. She dug through her bag for her Bluetooth speaker and the tube of sunscreen while I took in our surroundings.

Hardly anybody was out and about ー not surprising, since it was the middle of a Tuesday morning. The few people to be found were a couple of families with children too young for school, but further along the beach was a group of teenagers. I couldn’t hear their conversation from this distance, but their smiles and laughter were evident. I sighed, hoping they didn’t recognise me from so far away, and let Amber slather sunblock on my back and shoulders. Having lived in Southern California my entire life had never helped me to not burn within ten minutes of exposure.

“So how’s recording coming?” she asked as she stretched her long legs out in front of her.

“I’m almost done, actually.”

She laughed and flicked at my arm. “Ya know, that doesn’t shock me at all. You’ve been in the studio every possible second for almost three weeks.”

I chuckled along with her, but my stomach tightened at the reminder that once this EP was done, there was nothing stopping me from doing a tour; in fact, it was the plan as declared by my management. I picked at the polish chipping away on my nails, stared out over the sea.

“Is it bad that I’m, like, ridiculously nervous about even putting it out?”

Thankfully, Amber didn’t immediately rush to assure me. She took her time to think about her answer, to make sure it was completely factual instead of just what she thought I wanted to hear. I waited as patiently as I could. She finally sighed and rested her head on my shoulder.

“Nah, it’s not bad. I mean, these songs are… so different than anything Complete Irrationality ever did.” She shrugged, shoved a bottle of water in my direction. “These songs are specifically for you, and yeah, they’re gonna be less pop than what the fan base is used to. But if they wanna complain, I’ll just remind them that they’ve gotta understand that who you are has undergone some massive fucking changes in the last couple of months.”

We grew quiet then, and I mulled over Amber’s words. She was right, of course she was. I wasn’t exactly the same girl who’d gone on tour with One Direction. I’d been hurt ー by many things; I was knocked down, was blindsided by pain and loss and betrayal, but I wasn’t letting it keep me down. This was my chance to come back stronger. This was my chance to say what I wanted, when I wanted to. I smiled slightly to myself, digging my fingers into the sand by my towel. I wasn’t letting anything stop me or keep me blind to the realities of life.

A shadow fell over our towels, and I shielded my eyes with a hand and gazed up at the newcomers. The group of teens had found us. I barely stifled my sigh, forced a smile.

“Uh, Erin Mc-McCarty, right?” asked the shortest of the girls, her expression a mixture of hope and nervousness.

“Yep, that’s me.”

The groups burst into excited chatter, their voices overlapping in chaos. I somehow caught their question of getting a picture with me, and I glanced at Amber. She shrugged, but I knew she was rolling her eyes behind her sunglasses. I pushed myself to my feet and joined the teenagers. They were all grinning widely, but my own smile slipped a bit when one of the boys’ hands slid down and rested just an inch too low on my waist. However, I bit back my words, gritted my teeth, and posed as Amber raised one of the phones to snap a few photos. After scrawling my signature on their belongings and skin with a Sharpie that the boy in the backwards baseball cap supplied, they left us, laughing and chatting together.

I collapsed back down beside Amber, and she giggled at my expression. I could only imagine what my face looked like; it was probably displaying my shock that they’d managed to see me from down the beach, surprise that they had even wanted to see me since it had usually been Jem that the fans flocked to first, relief that there had only been five of them, and ecstasy that they were gone. Unfortunately, though they’d left after getting what they wanted, I knew there was a high chance that more would arrive, because people loved Tweeting about their encounters with celebrities.

Amber seemed to have the same thought, and she gave me a scrutinising look from the corner of her eye. “Wanna get outta here and get some froyo?”

“You read my damn mind,” I responded with a laugh, shoving the sunscreen and towel into my bag.

I was disappointed that we hadn’t gotten into the water; the ocean was always my favourite part of the beach, even as a child when my mom would allow me to play hooky from school. I’d dart between the waves, bouncing around and splashing in the tide, screech as spray would hit my face. I tolerated building sandcastles but only as long as she let me play in the water for hours first. Nevertheless, I slid my shorts back on over my bottoms, made an unspoken promise to the ocean that I would return soon, and followed her to her car. She turned on the radio absentmindedly, her attention on reversing out of the spot.

I groaned as the chorus to What Makes You Beautiful blared from the speakers. I groaned and reached forward to turn down the volume. Hearing Niall’s voice no longer hurt. All it did now was piss me off. He hadn’t attempted to contact me since the text before he’d left. I had Skyped with the others, even Zayn, and we all kept up a relatively steady stream of conversation via text messages. Except for Niall.

“Still nothing?”

“Nope, not even a simple ‘fuck off’. What did I do so wrong? I’m not the one who fucked some random stranger. So why is he avoiding me?” I sighed, running my fingers through my hair. “He promised, he fuckin’ promised, that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt me again, Lambchop, so… why would he?”

She glanced in her side mirror, signalled for a lane change, then reached her right hand out to hold mine tightly. “Because, darling Erin, he’s an idiot. Okay? Your dad was right. He is absolutely not worth the time and energy you’re wasting on trying to figure him out. He’s not worth the tears. Or the fact that you still miss him like crazy.”

“Forgetting him is easier said than actually done.”

“I know, sweet cheeks, but this too shall pass. One of these days, you’ll wake up and realise you haven’t thought about him in so long, just saying his name does nothing. No hurt, no heartbreak, nada.”

“I love you,” I said quietly after a moment, my voice thick with emotion; her hand tightened on mine, and I stared out the window. “Thank you.”

“So, uh, I love you, too, but I hope you don’t mind. I have to kinda cancel our plans for tonight.”

“What? Why?”

“I maybe sorta definitely have a date.”

“A date?”

“Don’t sound so damn shocked, asshole,” she muttered, and I shifted to face her, disregarding the fact she’d just pulled into the parking lot of the frozen yogurt place.

“Sorry, but… a date.”

“Oh, my god, yes!”

“With whom, young lady?”

“I’m not telling.”

“Well, why not?”

“Because…” She avoided my gaze and fidgeted with her keychain. “I don’t want to jinx it.”

I stared silently at her for a few minutes, then pushed open my door with, “I swear to Gods, you better tell me everything tomorrow, or I’ll kill you so hard, you die to death.”

.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.


“You’re… you’re actually serious?”

“Absolutely!” Lesly laughed, and I held the phone more tightly against my ear. “We love the tracks you laid down, and if I’m being honest, the fans will, too. So we want to release the EP by next week.”

“That’s… oh, my Gods! Lesly!”

“Excited?”

“You, you have literally no idea. Thank you! All of you are so, so, so amazing.”

“Hey, honey, you’re the one doing all the work. We’re just making sure it gets out there.”

“Well, thanks. And don’t ever listen to what the others say, I think you’re fucking fantastic.”

Her amusement was evident when she said, “Yeah, yeah. No problem. Be here by eight next Wednesday. See ya, Erin.”

I had the patience to wait until the call disconnected fully before I shrieked excitedly, jumping around the living room with reckless abandon. All the hard work I’d been putting forth over the last month, it was finally paying off. Patrick suddenly appeared in the doorframe, a worried expression on his face; he stumbled back when I launched myself at him and hugged him tightly.

“Management wants to release my EP next week!”

His arms encircled me, and I could feel his smile against my head. “Oh, that’s wonderful! I’m so proud of you, sweetheart.”

“Thanks, Dad. I gotta call Mom!” I stepped away to move toward the couch where I’d tossed my phone in my excitement but came to a stop when I saw his face. “Uh… what?”

“You called me Dad.”

“Oh.”

I chuckled awkwardly, the sound weak to even my ears, as my joy at the news morphed into awkwardness at the situation. After a few minutes of uncomfortable silence, Patrick turned on his heel and headed toward the kitchen; I heard the back door sliding open then closing with a soft thump. I hurried to dial my mother’s number, disregarding the fact that she was probably teaching a class. My face still felt hot after my slip of the tongue, but thinking about the upcoming release forced the mishap from my mind.

.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.:.


The sound of at least a hundred people finding their seats echoed in the building, and I wrung my hands as I waited in the wings behind the heavy curtains. My entire body was shaking; my knees felt weak, like I would crumble if I took a step. How did I ever think this was such a good idea? I peeked out to get a glimpse of the crowd. Lesly had promised it would be an “intimate” event, but it sure as Hell didn’t sound that way. I shook out my hands to get feelings back into my fingers and paced around in a tight circle. Inhaling slowly and as steadily as possible, I ran through the setlist one more time. It was only going to be five songs, but I didn’t want any kind of mistakes. Someone tapped me on the shoulder, and I turned, fully prepared to tell whoever it was that I was ready. My words died in my throat; I gasped, squealed when I saw the grinning face.

“Louis!”

“Hey, love!” He embraced me tightly, spinning me around like he always did before. “You excited?”

I laughed shakily and pushed my hair from his face. “I think nervous is more like it. What are you doing here?”

“Nat told us about your show ー your first solo show ー so Liam and I sneaked away long enough to be here to support you. He’s already out there with the others,” he offered when he saw me looking around.

“Is, uh, is Patrick here?”

“Yeah, he’s here along with Nat, DeDe, Garrett, Chase, Amber, Alan, Brett, and your mum.”

“Okay. Good.”

He caught my hands and forced me to stop twisting my fingers around each other. I gave him a wobbly smile, burying my face in his neck when he tugged me in for a bone-crushing hug.

“Hey, relax. You’ll be wonderful.”

“I hope.”

A tech cleared her throat from behind us, gesturing to the watch on her wrist. I pulled away from Louis, nodded. His lips were warm as he pressed them to my forehead before he disappeared to join the others. I exhaled and ignored the pounding of my heart or the tightness in my chest. My guitar was comforting, solid, in my grip. The band Martin and Pete had managed to find for me in less than three days was already on the stage, finalising the setup. The curtains parted, and I sighed, knowing it was time. I stepped out into the bright lights, vision blurring with tears at the cheering that erupted instantly; the noise was noticeably louder from the back corner (Thank Gods for my own personal cheering squad, I thought with a nervous giggle), and I took a seat on the stool someone had placed in the centre of the stage. Everyone slowly quieted down as I adjusted my microphone.

“All right. Um, hi. Thank you, all of you, for being here tonight.” I rolled my eyes and grinned when someone in my group of friends and family whooped loudly. “Shh, you’re interrupting the serious moment. Anyway. Your support is so incredibly important to me. If it weren’t for you, I… I wouldn’t be here. Thank you. Uh. This first song is, well, it’s going to be the hardest one for me. It’s the very first one I wrote after…” I sniffed and turned my head to clear my throat. “This is for Jem.

“I said goodbye yesterday, but it still doesn’t seem real. You were everything for so long, now I don’t know how to feel. I tried all thatI could to keep you from leaving, but you still had to go. I’m left behind, screaming, crying, numb, but I just need you to know.

“That nothing is okay, nothing is all right, now you’re not here any more. I can’t breathe, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep through the night, pictures scattered ‘cross the floor. I hate that you left, I hate that I’m alone. Nothing is okay, nothing is all right. I wish you could just come home.

“The last words we ever said, still echo in my mind. People keep asking, how I’m doing, if I’m all right. They don’t know I’ve spent so long, wishing you’d come through the door. Memories replay every second of the day, but they only hurt me more. And nothing is okay, nothing is all right, now you’re not here any more. I can’t breathe, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep through the night, pictures scattered ‘cross the floor. I hate that you left, I hate that I’m alone. Nothing is okay, nothing is all right. I wish you could just come home.

“If I’d never met you, if I’d never loved you. I probably wouldn’t be this way. And I wouldn’t be sitting here broken, needing just to say… nothing is okay, nothing is all right, now you’re not here any more. I can’t breathe, I can’t eat, I can’t sleep through the night, pictures scattered ‘cross the floor. I hate that you left, I hate that I’m alone. Nothing is okay, nothing is all right. I wish you could just come home. I wish you would just come home.”

The second the last chord faded in the quiet, the applause rang out with a deafening roar. I ducked my head and wiped the tears from my cheeks. Playing the song had once again opened the wound Jem’s death had caused, but there was a sense of relief accompanying the pain. I finally felt like all the grief and guilt I’d carried since the wreck was gone, lifted off my shoulders. I grinned widely at the people cheering for me; I hadn’t felt such monumental peace in a long time. I got through “Right Here”, “Lost”, “Remember Me”, and a cover of “Hopelessly Devoted to You” without any problems, no hesitation or worry. The applause didn’t die down during the set, and it kept me going. I felt free.

<ooxoo>


I rolled over in bed, unable to sleep any longer. Liam and Louis had disappeared early in the morning yesterday; all Paul would tell anybody, even our management, was that they’d be back soon. I’d avoided reading any articles on the internet. The last time I did was the night I found out what I’d done to Erin without even remembering it, and it had done nothing good for me. My reputation took a hit from it, a majority of Tweets and the articles were focused on how the writers felt bad for Erin, and I couldn’t even blame them. I had made an awful mistake, and I didn’t know how I would fix it.

My phone vibrated from the bedside table; I grabbed at it lazily to see the notification on the screen telling me I had an email. My eyebrows pulled together when I saw the sender.

“Why has Natalie emailed me?” I mumbled to myself even as I opened the message.

This one’s for you. Enjoy asshole :) ーNatalie

My confusion grew as I tapped on the thumbnail of the attached video. Erin stood in front of a microphone, guitar in hand, and a smile frozen on her face. My heart hammered in my chest, and for some inexplicable reason, I was trembling. The video buffered and loaded before finally enlarging. The video was shaky, and the cheers from the audience were painfully loud through the speaker of my phone, but I continued watching.

“All right, well, this last song ー” Erin paused, laughing as boos filled the air, and her fingers picked lightly at the strings of her guitar, “ーyes, last, is a song that Jem started. When I first stumbled onto it, I couldn’t figure out why he’d noted that the song was for me and me alone. But then, I actually read the lyrics, and I realised… It was perfect. Half-finished, but perfectly in progress. Everything that he put in stayed the same. I couldn’t change the words, they were what this song needed. And um, this song is really important to me. So now, how about I shut up and sing?”

Everybody laughed, and I sat up in bed, leaning against the headboard as I watched her turn her gaze to her hands as she played. Her voice was slightly shaky when she started to sing, but it was still the most beautiful voice I’d ever heard.

“Your eyes, they pulled me in. I had no clue what I was getting into. I fell, for your charm. You gave me more than I bargained for. The moment you looked at me, baby, I was lost. I knew there was no getting back to me, baby, it’s a lost cause.

“A rocky start is all we had. Lies and anger and sleepless nights. We could have been more, so much more, but we can’t magic away all the fights. Now I’m sitting here wanting to press rewind, get back to the good times, press pause. But everything is gone, not comin’ back. No, it’s all lost.

“You were, what I was looking for. I didn’t know it, it could’ve been perfect. I gave, everything I had. It wasn’t enough, we had to give up. The moment you looked at me, baby, I was lost. I knew there was no getting back to me, baby, it’s a lost cause.

“A rocky start is all we had. Lies and anger and sleepless nights. We could have been more, so much more, but we can’t magic away all the fights. Now I’m sitting here wanting to press rewind, get back to the good times, press pause. But everything is gone, not comin’ back. No, it’s all lost.

“We should’ve been more, so much more. Can we try to magic away the fights? Now I’m sitting here, trying to press rewind, get back to the good times, press pause. It doesn’t have to be gone, it’s not all lost. Don’t let it be lost. I don’t want it to be lost.”


I could hardly breathe by the time the song came to a close and the audience screamed and cheered in delight. My chest ached, and my eyes stung with teras. I knew she’d been hurt by my actions and the tabloids’ writings, but I hadn’t thought about how much it had affected her. I breathed out heavily, struggled to force away the emotions. After a few minutes, I opened the Twitter app.

NiallOfficial: You know you messed up bad when someone writes a song about you…