Sequel: Right Here
Status: active;;

Tomorrow

chapter twenty-three;;

The lobby was full of voices, loud enough to be heard over the music I was listening to through my headphones, and I looked up to see Liam and Louis standing in the hall chatting with Zayn. He was walking them through what we’d all done while they were gone, and annoyance surged up and threatened to overwhelm me. They had disappeared without warning or explanation, left us to look foolish when we couldn’t answer the questions from our management about their whereabouts, and here was Zayn, acting as if they had never been gone. Not one of them seemed upset or apologetic; in fact, they looked perfectly nonchalant. Liam glanced over at me, nudged the other two, and walked away toward the kitchen. Zayn followed close behind.

“Where did you two run off to?” I asked lightly as I pulled off my headphones and slid my phone into my pocket; Louis stared after our friends then faced me.

“Somewhere.”

“Erin’s first show?”

He hesitated but quickly recovered, and I couldn’t even pretend to enjoy the win of making him falter. “So what if we did?”

“Why did no one tell me? I would’ve liked to go, too.”

“Because she’s our friend.”

“She’s my friend, too!” I shouted, finally losing my temper.

The lobby was deathly silent as I breathed heavily. It wasn’t right, they had just gone off to visit Erin and support her when I would have loved to have that chance as well. I could have also used the time to apologise, to try to make things right. I could’ve explained. Louis’s eyes were hard as he glared at me. Finally, breath shaky and hands trembling at his side, he spoke.

“No, she isn’t. You already proved that she means nothing to you.”

With no other words, he left me alone and stormed into the recording booth. A heavy numbness spread throughout my body; my face burned hot when I realised I was getting a lot of pitying stares from staff. I couldn’t even be angry at Louis, no matter how harsh and cruel he’d been. What I’d done, what I made Erin believe of me, was even worse. And the fact that she most likely thought I hated her ー or, harder to swallow still ー she no doubt hated me… it killed me to think. There wasn’t any way I could blame her or be upset with her for that, either. I had brought this on myself. Even before the supposed trist with that girl, I had never given Erin reason enough to trust me fully, to not wonder when I would change my mind or turn my back on her; being there for her throughout the aftermath of Jem’s death was a start, but then I’d mucked it all up. Blood pounded in my ears, and my heart ached deep in my chest. I had to do something, anything, to fix what I’d done wrong ー if fixing it was even a possibility.

_________________


“Surprise!”

I jumped back as my parents and closest friends shouted as one when I turned on the lights to my dressing room. Dozens of balloons floated in the air, and a large banner had been tacked to the wall. Happy 19th Birthday, Erin! was printed in large letters, a dizzying array of colours. My jaw dropped; tears filled my eyes, and I rushed forward to hug as many people as I could in one go. The fact that these people ー these amazing, beautiful, special, wonderful people ー had come two states away from home to celebrate my twentieth birthday with me was… more than I expected. My mother laughed and wiped the tears from my cheeks.

“Oh, darling girl, you didn’t think we’d let this day pass just because you’re on the road, did you?”

“Honestly, yes! I figured we’d talk on the phone later or something. Not this!”

I accepted the cupcake someone handed me, giggling when it took three tries for Alan to light the candle stuck in the pale blue frosting. I could feel my face turning red as they sang the birthday song, loud and off-key and perfect, then blew out the flame after I’d made my wish. I knew it was a dumb one, and I’d wasted too many birthday wishes on a man who didn’t give a damn about me, but I ignored it, sticking with the hope that things would get better between Niall and me.

I had woken up to the Skype ringtone playing from right next to my ear; I’d answered in my half-asleep state, scrubbing at my eyes, and immediately flinched back when there were four voices singing happy birthday to me, unimaginably loud through tinny speakers in my bunk. They had all promised to send me a gift in the mail as soon as they could; Louis offered his present to be a strip-tease during the video call. I’d nearly fallen out of my bunk laughing so hard when Zayn’s face had twisted up in disgust and Liam had shoved Louis out of frame. Liam had caught my eye looking toward the background, and I’d forced my face into an expression of absolute happiness and not disappointment when Niall was nowhere to be found. I hadn’t fooled him.

By the time showtime came around, my nerves were tattered. Everyone had been present during soundcheck, singing along on the floor; I wasn’t sure why I was so anxious. They’d all seen me perform before ー hell, I was in a band with two of them! I managed to make it through, though, with very little evidence of being anything less than thrilled with the day. I was getting ready for the set, doing some final vocal exercises and touch-ups to my makeup when someone knocked on the door to my dressing room. Bryan motioned for me to stay where I was and crossed the room to pull open the door.

The man on the other side seemed to shrink before my eyes as he took in Bryan’s hulking figure. “Uh, sorry for the interruption, but I have a package for a Miss Erin McCarty?”

Bryan took the slim package from the man, thanking him and closing the door in his face. He ran his hands along the envelope and, upon finding nothing suspicious, handed it over me. I turned it over and stared down at it. There was no return address, and the postmark was smudged into an incomprehensible blur. I picked at the edge of the flap but was interrupted by Amber in the doorway. With a sigh, I shoved the envelope into my bag and followed her to the stage. I would worry about the delivery later.

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


I waved as my mother and Patrick drove away first, their headlights disappearing from sight, and Amber’s Focus left shortly after, carrying her, Brett, Alan, and Jaz, a girl we’d gone to school and been somewhat friends with. According to Alan, they’d run into each other while on some hiking trails a few days before my interview with Grace Morrison, and they’d hit it off. I was ecstatic to see Alan happy; he deserved it after everything. He smiled and laughed more than he had in the past few months, and it took away some of the burden in my heart. And though Amber and Brett hadn’t said anything, I knew there was more between them than what they’d have me believe. They were closer than before ー not like I was complaining. I definitely preferred the not-so-subtle whispers in each other’s ears and glanced filled with affection over the constant bickering and snide remarks.

Once my loved ones were gone, I exhaled deeply, exhaustion settling heavily into my bones, and let Bryan guide me to the bus. I watched through the window as the venue slipped from sight then reached for my bag, pulling the envelope out. My fingers trembled as I peeled back the flap, and a folded-up piece of paper slid out onto my lap. I frowned and checked the envelope; inside were a smaller white envelope and a black-and-white photograph. My eyes stung when I saw the picture: the one Stefanie had taken on our tour, the day we’d become somewhat friends after the message from Patrick. We were walking beside each other, our bodies angled towards the other, and our faces were turned slightly to the floor. Even in the photo, I could see both of us looking at each other from the corner of our eyes, and our enormous smiles gave away no hint at what was to come. We were happy. Were.

I let my head fall backwards onto the sofa and stared at the ceiling of the bus, closing my eyes to stem the tears. It wasn’t fair that this was happening. He wasn’t allowed to do this to me. Not now, not when I was moving on. Eventually, my curiosity got the best of me, and I unfolded the piece of paper and began reading.

Erin,
I am so so so so sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I was an idiot, and I don’t blame you or the lads for not wanting to talk to me. I know I have no right to ask this, but could you please give me the chance to explain? Please?
-Niall
P.S. Happy birthday. I hope you like the gift.


The guys weren’t talking to him? That was news to me. None of them had ever mentioned it during our multiple Skype calls. Then again, we never really talked about Niall if it could be avoided. I exhaled slowly in an attempt to slow my racing heart; I opened the last thing that had been in the envelope and immediately let out a delirious laugh. It was a ring. A fucking ring. It was a simple silver band with an infinity symbol in the top, a purple amethyst on one side of the symbol and an aquamarine on the other. Why the Hell would he send me a ring? There was nothing between us now. Words on the outside of the small envelope caught my attention, and I brought it closer to my eyes so I could read them.

Don’t worry, it isn’t an engagement ring. I saw it and thought of you, mostly because of the colours. And I remembered you told me about how you liked to think that nothing ever really ends, it’s all one infinite loop. Happy birthday again, love.

I exhaled heavily and stared down at the ring in my hand. It was hard to believe that he would be able to remember that conversation; it had happened late one night after we first started talking, and I couldn’t sleep, so I’d gone for a walk around the block. He’d been in the pool, even though it was technically out-of-hours, and I joined him, sitting on the edge with my feet in the water, watching as he swam around. We eventually ended up sitting together and talking. My sleepiness had loosened my tongue, so it wasn’t long before I lost track of what I was saying. I didn’t even know he had been listening. Evidently, he had and found it important enough to remember.

Biting my lip, I unhooked my necklace and slipped the band onto the chain. It felt heavy against my chest when I tucked the necklace under my shirt. I turned off the overhead lights, made my way through the narrow walkway to my bunk. Maybe everything would be easier to process after some sleep.

From: Bear Can you get on Skype?

To: Bear Can’t it wait? I’m really tired and wanna sleep! (Imagine me making a pouty face)

From: Bear As adorable as that sounds, it’s really important, and I promise it’s worth it. Pleeeeeease?

I stared at the text bubble, debating whether I should do as Liam requested or just go to sleep. Finally, I realised he wouldn’t let me ignore him, so I sent back a thumbs-up emoji and crawled out of my bunk. I walked back to the lounge area, turned the lights back on, and grabbed my laptop. The familiar sound of an incoming video call sounded almost instantly after Skype loaded up. I clicked the answer button, and my jaw dropped, shock and anger flooding my body.

“What the Hell do you want?”

It didn’t come out nearly as angry as I wanted it to, just tired and worn down, but Niall still had the decency to look sheepish. I rubbed my hands over my face, pretended that his face wasn’t on my screen.

“Please just hear me out?”

“Liam?”

My friend appeared in the frame behind Niall, and his lips twisted into an apologetic smile. “Please? It wouldn’t hurt, would it.”

“I should’ve just gone to sleep,” I muttered before gesturing for Niall to continue.

“I… I know I messed up. Badly. The lads made sure I knew, believe me. I, er, I have no excuse for why it never crossed my mind to consider how you would feel, especially after I found out what I’d done. Being off my face wasn’t a good enough reason for my actions. It’s a way to rid myself of the blame, and I was okay with that before, but I don’t want to do it any longer. I just… I want you to know I’ll do anything to make up for it, to make things right. I know that I was mad at you for just kissing Louis. Mad and jealous. I can only imagine how you felt when you heard about what I did.”

“It hurt,” I whispered, and he started to speak, but I held up a hand. “It killed me to see pictures of you leaving some girl’s hotel room. Then you texted me asking me to tell you when it was all right for you to come back to my house, my bed, after you’d just left another’s. And you said you missed me. It was like you thought I was too damn stupid to figure out what you’d done.”

He sighed, ducked his head; his hand came up to scratch at the back of his neck. “I know, and I’m… god, Erin, I am so sorry. I was a moron. I’ll never regret anything more than going with that girl.”

“Did you fuck her?” I asked, ignoring the way my stomach jolted in disgust, and he blanched.

“No. I’ve, I’ve been over the memories I have of that night, and the last thing I remember is her leaving around one in the morning. But nothing like that.”

“And you really expect me to believe what you say that easily?”

“I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, but I’m telling you the truth that she and I did not have sex. It… it didn’t feel right.”

I scoffed, spitting out, “What, couldn’t get it up?”

“No.”

I couldn’t help it ー I burst into humourless laughter, not caring about the fact that his face fell. My finger hovered over the trackpad on the laptop, the cursor on the End button. Eventually, I got a hold of myself, and Niall cleared his throat.

“There’s, well, there’s one other thing I’ve gotta say. Or do, I mean.”

“I guess go ahead, since we’ve gotten this far.”

He reached for something off-screen ー his guitar. He began strumming at the strings in a beautiful melody. The voice in my head was screaming for me to hang up, that this was a trick, but I couldn’t, he had me captivated. By the time he got halfway through “I’ll Be There for You” by Bon Jovi, I was sniffling as tears slipped slowly down my cheeks. His fingers started picking at a new line of chords; it was a song I didn’t recognise, though his voice made me forget about everything but the words coming from his mouth.

“I’d sell my soul just to see your face, and I’d break my bones just to heal your pain…”

I covered my face with my hands the longer he sang, unable to stop the tears and not wanting to show how affected I truly was. He finished the song after a last strum, and the connection grew quiet. I sniffed, wiped at my face with the sleeve of my shirt, and finally met his gaze. He smiled slightly, hopefully.

“I know this doesn’t begin to make up for what I’ve done, but… I hope it’s a start. I’m so unbelievably sorry, Erin. Can, can I have another chance?

I had just opened my mouth to answer when the laptop screen went black, and the power light blinked out of existence.

“Uh-oh…”