Status: complete;;

Right Now

We Were Howling at the Moon

When I wake up, the clock on my phone reads 5:02 a.m. My cheeks are tight due to the tears that dried during the night. Once I got out of my shower last night, I put my phone on silent and curled up on my bed. My mind raced and twisted over itself as I thought about all the tweets, and even after sleeping for almost eighteen hours, I don’t feel any better. I actually feel worse. My sleep was interrupted by nightmares of fans tearing me limb from limb as my friends watched on in amusement, interspersed with memories of the night I still see so clearly. I lie in bed for a few minutes longer, not wanting to move out of the warm cocoon of my blanket; the peaceful quiet of early morning stretches on, and I relax into it, let it help ease the discomfort I feel.

Unfortunately, my bladder decides to remind me of its needs, and I sigh, knowing I can't stay wrapped up away from the world. Tossing my comforter back, I stand and pad across my room to the bathroom. The pale yellow walls mock me with their brightness. The tile beneath my feet is cold, and goosebumps ripple up my flesh as I walk to the toilet. I do what I came to the bathroom to do and stare at my reflection as I wash my hands. Faint white tracks streak down my cheeks, and dark half-moons spread out under my red-rimmed eyes. I sigh, splash cool water on my face, then make my way back to my room to change.

The house beyond my door is still quiet, eerily so, and I tiptoe down the stairs. The floorboard just outside the living room creaks under my feet, and I freeze, hope it isn't actually as loud as my brain thinks it is. When I don't hear anything else, I let out a soft breath of relief and continue my journey to the kitchen. I grab an apple from the bowl on the table and hop up to sit on the counter, scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed on my phone to see what people are up to back in Tennessee. The answer, apparently, is “the usual”, as every status update only mirrors the rest of them and the uploaded images are all nearly identical to every other ones I’ve seen numerous times. I exit the app and check my text messages.

From: Niall Hey! How’s it going?

From: Briannnaaa I hope you’re doing okay by yourself
From: Briannnaaa All right, it’s been almost 2 hours since my last text. You still haven’t responded. Is everything okay???
From: Briannnaaa What the fuck is going on?!
From: Briannnaaa DAKOTA JAMES BRYCE! Please answer me. Is everything okay?

From: Harry Are you okay? Bri is pacing around, going round the bend worrying about you.
From: Harry Now you’ve got us all worried. It’s been three hours and no word from you.

Guilt nearly overwhelms me at how much I made them worry about me. It hadn’t been my intent. I sigh and finish eating the apple. Honestly, I’m still reeling from the fact I slept so long, even through all the nightmares. When all that’s left of the fruit is the core, I stand, toss it in the trash, and turn to leave the kitchen. A squeak escapes at the sight of Louis standing in the doorway, arms folded over his chest. I hadn’t heard him come in. He stares at me with an expressionless look on his face. Finally, he draws a breath in through his nose.

“You really had Bri worried. She was almost in tears.”

“I know, I’m sorry. I just…”

“We know you fell asleep.” His lips twitch at my confused look. “Brianna forced Paul to come check on you.” Louis pushes away from the doorframe and crosses to the table, sits down with a heavy sigh. “Look, I know you didn’t mean to worry us, but you did. All of us. We both know that Brianna won’t be able to hold a grudge against you, but please don’t do this again. Always let her know what’s going on, because, well, I don’t like seeing my girlfriend so twisted up and crying.”

“I promise I’ll do my best. Wait, ‘girlfriend’? So you two made it official?”

“Pretty much.”

I smile widely, bend down to rest my elbows on the table. “Lou, you’re a great guy, and I’m positive that you’re perfect for my best friend, but I want you to remember two very important things: I know how to use a gun, and I’m not afraid to call upon that knowledge if you ever break her heart.”

“Er… Lucky Charms?” he asks weakly, paling; I smile and shake my head.

“Nah, I already ate.”

I’m still smiling as I walk out of the kitchen, leaving him behind to stare after me.


A month, then two, slowly passes with almost the same routine from one day to the next: The guys go to the studio - sometimes, both Brianna and I will join; sometimes just me because she has to work. Then at night, we all go out and do something fun as a group, whether it’s to see a film or bowling or mini-golf, or we stay in at the house to play video games or watch movies we’ve seen a hundred times, though once, we try holding it at Niall’s which turns out to be an awful idea because there just isn’t enough room for seven people to sprawl out around his place. I’ve also been opening up more and more around the guys; now, they all know about my parents’ divorce, and I have told them all about how proud I am of Anna for all of her achievements. They really are the sweetest guys ever.

It surprises me to realise after eight weeks that I’m not looking forward to going home. I’ve begun to understand exactly what lured Brianna to stay instead of coming back home like she planned. Unlike her, though, I have things I just can’t get out of what's waiting for me. So it’s with a heavy heart that I inform everyone over dinner of my plans to go home at the end of the month.

“But… aren’t you having fun here with us?” Niall asks softly, blue eyes full of confusion.

“The past couple of months have been - they’ve been really amazing. They have. I just have things to get back to that I can’t stay away from.”

Brianna’s expression is puzzled, but she says what I knew she would say: “Well, I guess we better make the rest of your time here somethin’ to remember.”

And… it is. Even Olly joins us during the last few weeks. Though I haven’t gotten her to know her as well as I have the others, she no longer intimidated me - as much. I even find some of her crude jokes hilarious. It doesn't stop me from making a fool of myself one night after she made dinner; I told her she was a helluva cook, and she'd laughed, loud and uproarious. I couldn't see what was so funny - I genuinely thought I complimented her when I told her she should be a professional chef. At my confusion, she explained between giggles.

“I'm actually in culinary school. It's why I haven't been around. But yeah, definitely on my way to being a pro.”

There's been no sign of the Liam I encountered in Harry’s apartment the morning after the stargazing sleepover; instead, I've been graced with the charming, easygoing Liam I met when we went bowling. Still, something has seemed off about him, I just can't put my finger on it. I don't mention it, either. I don't want to ruin the last couple of weeks I have with the group of people I've come to love. I push aside the weird vibe, only thinking about it when I'm in bed trying to fall asleep after the house goes quiet.

The one thing I'm never going to miss is the drama. Since the balcony incident, the amount of articles and pictures of me have nearly tripled, all because I'm continuously seen in public with Brianna, Harry, Louis, or Niall, or any combination of the four. My best friend has helped me develop a thicker skin when it comes to the gossip, but for every hundred rumours started, one or two still stick with me. Some insults would knock me on my ass, and I would be left trying to get over it.

On the last day of my visit before my flight home the next evening, everyone packs overnight bags with pyjamas and a change of clothes. Paul stuffs the very back of the SUV with blankets and pillows; a box with flashlights and batteries and, oddly enough, four packages of baby wipes; and a cool of food, drinks, and ice. We somehow manage to scrounge up four tents, all pilfered from the guys’ family members, and load up into the vehicle. George follows the SUV in a separate vehicle. The drive to a clearing in a large expanse of woods takes almost an hour, and we fill that time with laughing, teasing, and singing at the top of our lungs; I notice when we’re halfway there that Paul has earplugs stuffed into his ears, point it out to everyone else. Louis, in the front seat, waits until there is no oncoming traffic before reaching over to take one of the plugs out. Paul mock-glares at me in the rear-view mirror, and I hold my hands up in innocence; I don't think he believes me, but he only laughs and tells Louis not to distract the driver.

Harry, Liam, and Zayn head off to search for firewood while Niall and Olly clear twigs, dead leaves, and dried grass from the centre of the clearing, creating a large dirt circle; Bri and I set up tents around the ring. Dark is beginning to settle over the woods by the time we all finish, and Bri tosses a tent peg at Louis, scolds him for not helping. He jabs the point of the peg into the soil and smiles widely. The guys set up the fire pit while we girls hurry to change into our pyjamas in one of the tents, any exposure to the cooling air making us shiver. Liam and Harry carry the blankets into the tents, and I sit on the ground next to the fire. Olly digs through the cooler, passes me the package of sliced cheese, then continues rummaging through the ice. Brianna makes a spit with tall sturdy branches and aluminium foil, setting deli meat on top of the makeshift cooking tray. No one speaks as I assemble the sandwiches, as everyone gathers around the flames that are now letting off some actual heat, as we eat; I don't know what they're all thinking about. All I know is I'm starting to somewhat regret my decision to go home.

The crackling of the fire and nocturnal insects waking up are the only noise until Olly holds up a bag; someone cheers, then everyone else joins in. I help Niall find long sticks then hand them off to Zayn so he can use the camping knife to whittle the bark off the ends. I stare around at my friends as the sticky sweets toast on the flames, and even if I truly wanted to, I can't stop the smile that spreads across my face. Outside of our bubble awaits reality, but right here, right now… it's perfect.

A humming noise comes from my left, and I look over at Harry and grin before singing Well, you only need the light when it's burning low, only miss the sun when it starts to snow. Brianna joins in, then Niall, then everyone else. Somehow, midway through, the tempo changes - we are all off-key and off-rhythm - and Olly begins singing “Livin’ on a Prayer” by Bon Jovi. Our voices carry on the chill wind, echo through the trees, as the volume of our singing increases; Niall plays air guitar, his smile hidden among the mess of marshmallow on his face. I slowly stop singing, mouthing along to the words, and wish that the night will never end.

Eventually, we let the fire start to burn out. The moon is high up in the dark sky, and owls hoot and flutter around above us. Brianna and Louis disappear into one tent first; she pokes her head back out to flip us off when we start catcalling and whooping. Once they’re gone, it seems to be the unofficial signal for bed. Zayn and Olly head to the tent to Bri and Lou’s left, Liam in the one next to that. Harry hugs me tightly before ducking into the tent with Liam. Niall pops the last of his marshmallow into his mouth, gesturing to the remaining tent. I nod, get rid of anything within five feet of the fire that could potentially catch fire, and make my way to the box that Paul packed. I grab out a package of the wipes, tossing them to Niall, and slip into our tent. When he comes in, his face is clean; we make sure all the flaps are zipped shut then huddle down under the blankets. It’s ridiculously cold without the warmth from the fire. The dying flames outside cast eerie shadows against the nylon enclosure, and the sounds of the night press in from all directions. I can ignore those well enough, though, and I roll onto my side and punch my pillow into shape. My breath escapes in a slow exhale, my body relaxes as the body heat coming from my friend wraps around me like a tight embrace. Then comes a noise that no animal can make. Niall snorts and dissolves into giggles first. His hands clap over his mouth as he tries to muffle his laughter. I stare at him in confusion before I realise what those sounds actually are. My cheeks burn at the mortification of hearing that, but I laugh nonetheless, not even remotely surprised.

I’m still awake almost an hour later, unable to sleep. There’s a root digging into my side through the blanket beneath me, and though the chirping and buzzing of the insects have become nothing more than white noise to me, I just cannot get comfortable. My fingers dig into Niall’s arm when I hear the telltale sound of snapping twigs. He startles to attention, his free hand reaching for the flashlight; the zipper of our tent door slides in its track, slowly, quietly but so loud in my fear. The flap finally falls to the side, and Niall turns the flashlight on and shines it directly into the intruder’s face, blinding them.

“Oi, Niall, you arse! Turn that bloody thing off!”

♠ ♠ ♠
title credit howling at nothing nathaniel rateliff and the night sweats