Status: active;;

Right Now

Memories Consume, Like Opening the Wound

The sky is bright, a sunny shade of blue, and I stare blankly through the window at the puffs of clouds that drift by. Voices echo slightly from downstairs; I'm just grateful that it's Sunday. At least today, I'm not expected to keep up a fake smile and pretences that I'm okay. Because I'm not. I really, really am not. I spent five months taking care of Dorothy and James, so dealing with the loss is a lot harder than I anticipated. I was awake for most of the night after Liam left my room, which he only did because I pretended to fall asleep, and my mind had raced with doubts of whether I can keep doing this job and questions of how this happened, she was fine.

I roll over in my bed. The cheeriness of the view outside hurts too much to look at right now. The teacup still sits on my nightstand, and a reluctant smile tugs at my lips. It was… nice, to know that Liam cared enough to check on me. I understand why Brianna left me alone - she's been around enough that she's sure of me coming to her when I need her. My phone buzzes, disturbing the silence. I let out my breath in a sharp exhale.

From: Briannnaaa Hey babe, breakfast is ready if you want it. If you're not down in twenty minutes, I'll put it in the oven to keep warm until you're ready. I love you, okay? I'm here if you need me.
From: Briannnaaa Also, you should text your fam. You should let them help you, too.

She's right, because of course she is. I sigh heavily and lock my phone screen. I'll text Anna later. The promise of food isn't incredibly enticing, but I am well aware that if I stay in bed all day, I won't be able to pull myself out of this. So I push myself off the mattress, pad across the room to the closet, and grab a sweater, tugging it on.

I can hear my friends before I even get halfway down the stairs. Their laughter sends a pang through my chest; how can I be expected to join in when I’m feeling so twisted up right now? A small part of me wants to turn around, go upstairs, and crawl back into bed, but I know I can’t. Squaring my shoulders, I push on, turning the corner to the kitchen on silent feet. Harry and Zayn are arm-wrestling, while Niall cheers them on; Liam is merely watching in amusement. Bri sits on the countertop, Louis between her legs. He turns his head up toward her, and she smiles down at him before leaning forward to kiss him gently. I swallow past the lump in my throat and make my way into the room. No one notices me until I put my hand on top of Zayn and Harry’s, pushing their clasped hands to the side. Harry wins the match only because Zayn is startled by my abrupt appearance.

“Koty!”

I bite my lip against the small smile as Harry jumps to his feet to hug me tightly. “Morning, Haz.”

“You okay?” he murmurs into my ear, voice low and comforting, and all I can do is nod. “I’m trusting that you’re not lying, but... I’m here if you need me.”

“Thanks.”

I wave off the plate that Bri holds out to me, and she frowns but acquiesces, placing it on the counter beside her. Niall pulls out the chair next to him, so I sit down and lean into his side. The kitchen is quiet for a long moment; I know that it’s because they’re all wondering what they can say that won’t upset me further. The silence is deafening, uncomfortable, so I tilt my head up to catch Niall’s eye.

“Think you could take me?”

His brows draw together, but he laughs when I wiggle my fingers at him. I trade seats with Liam, and Niall grins mischievously at me as we get our elbows onto the table. It’s surprisingly difficult, really, and I marvel to myself at how much strength the Irish kid has, but it’s for naught - the back of his hand hits the tabletop after a few minutes of struggle. He gapes at me, even as our friends erupt into loud cheers at my victory. I shrug, smiling somewhat, and eventually, he narrows his eyes.

“I’ll get you yet.”

“I’ll be waiting, little man.”

This seems to break the awkward tension in the room, and everyone talks over each other. I sit back in my chair, listen to them chatting amongst each other. My mind drifts the longer I sit there; I’m pulled back by a warm hand on my arm. I glance over to my left, and Liam’s lips quirk upwards. I pat his hand gently, giving him a small nod. Bri stealthily slides the plate of breakfast in front of me while I’m distracted by arguing with Harry about whether macaroni and cheese is an actual staple food or not (it is, damn it), and I glare at her without heat. Her hands come to her hips, and the look she sends me causes my obstinance to wither away.

—————


“Hey, not this week, but next? Get the weekend off, ‘kay?”

I glance up from my book and crinkle my nose. “I can try. Why?”

“Camping, duh.” Brianna takes a running leap, bouncing onto the end of my bed - then immediately off onto the floor. I raise a brow once she’s stood again. “Ignore that, please. Anyway, it’s been a while since we went camping as a group, and it’s supposed to be the last warm weekend of the year.”

“Okay.”

“What? No argument?”

I shrug, turning the page of my book, and continue to read. “I mean, we had fun last time. At least until the end. So why not. Besides, I could, uh, I could use some time away.”

“Still hard?”

“Yeah. I mean, I didn’t really know her, but Dorothy was amazing. Y’know? The type of woman who’d give you shit just for giggles but would also turn around and make you laugh if you looked sad. And James still isn’t... He still doesn’t remember she’s gone.”

Her hand is gentle as she brushes my hair from my face. “It’ll get easier, eventually.”

“Hope so.”

She leaves then, calling Louis’s name down the hall as she closes the door, and I go back to my book. Shortly, I find I can’t concentrate. It’s been a month since Dorothy’s passing, and I’ve mostly worked through it, but the pain still hits at the most unexpected and inopportune times. James hasn’t made anything easier; having to tell him multiples times a visit has made it almost impossible for that wound to start healing completely. Thankfully, having the guys and Bri around keeps me from falling too far down into that spiral.

From: Amari Hey, can you work my shift tomorrow? It’s only a couple hours in the morning. I know it’s your day off and I wouldn’t ask if I had any other option.

To: Amari Details?

From: Amari Robert, 75. Just needs someone to cook and make sure he doesn’t fall. He’s honestly more lonely than anything. 8-11
From: Amari This mean you can do it?

To: Amari Sure. You owe me, though.

From: Amari You’re an angel!!!!! Whatever you want, name it and it’s yours xxxxxxxx

I laugh quietly, setting my alarm for six-thirty, and I set the book aside and make sure my phone is plugged in. The device vibrates with Amari’s text with the address, but I ignore it; if I read it now, I’ll forget about it in the morning. Once I’ve changed into pyjamas, I turn off the light, tiptoe carefully through the dark, and crawl into my bed. It’s earlier than I normally go to bed, but with as exhausted as I am, I doubt it will take me long to fall asleep.

<ooxoo>


I sigh, tossing a couple of pillows into the tent before moving onto the next one. I’d been forced awake at an absolutely unholy hour by Brianna pounding on the door, shouting at the top of her lungs that it was time to wake up; she’d done the same thing to the other two guest rooms, and I had shuffled out of my bedroom to see our friends looking just as disgruntled as I felt. Poor Niall had swayed unsteadily on his feet, scrubbed at his eyes while he yawned. At least I had managed more than four hours of sleep - he’d still been awake in the living room when I went down to get a drink of water at two a.m. My best friend demanded we be packed and ready to go within the hour, and it hadn’t taken long for Niall to fall asleep in the backseat, his head against the window and mouth open as he snored lightly.

Thankfully, Brianna was right: The forecast for the weekend called for clear daytime skies and warm temperatures but warned of cooler nights. I finish up the task of preparing the tents for bedtime then make my way across the clearing to the SUV. I grab a bottle of water from the ice chest in the back of the vehicle, cracking the lid. A hand darts out, grabs the bottle from my hand, and I turn to glare at Louis as he drains the bottle in one go.

“That was mine, you jerk.”

“And now it’s gone, thanks!”

He puts the empty bottle into the bag we’ve designated as the recycling bin, patting my forehead before walking away. I look around until I see Brianna emerging from the woods with Olly, their arms full of sticks.

“Bri, your boyfriend is a fucking jerk!”

She blinks owlishly at me then shrugs unconcernedly. “Yeah, he gets like that sometimes.”

Eventually, we’ve got the fire going, food cooked and eaten, and someone’s grabbed a bottle of whisky from the car and started circulating it around the ring we have made. Our voices echo in the enormous quiet of the night. I swallow down a mouthful of the liquor then pass it to my right, the warmth of the fire incomparable to the warmth that blossoms as the whisky makes it way to my belly. I snort when Olly throws a pebble at Zayn’s face; I can’t help myself - his wounded, bemused expression is too much for me to not be amused.

How long we sit there, I have no idea. All I know is that, after a while, the world goes soft at the edges, and I’m pleasantly toasty all over, even though the sun has set and a chill has settled over the clearing. Bri looks at me over the flames; the brilliant orange glow illuminates her face, makes her hazel eyes seem even brighter. I grin widely and wiggle my fingers in her direction. Eventually, the bottle of whisky runs empty, and I pout when I’m the one chosen to leave the heat of the fire to grab another from the car.

This time, I don’t partake as often in the bottle, taking one drink for every three times it gets to me. My friends have no such compunction, though. Zayn starts singing first, and the rest of us slowly join him. I don’t even know the lyrics, so I stay quiet, but Bri jumps in with Don’t Speak by No Doubt. I bite my lip to stifle the squeal of delight and wait until she reaches “And if it’s real, well, I don’t wanna know” to start singing along. It’s when the second bottle has less than an inch of whisky in it that the songs abruptly turn sexual in nature, everyone trying to beat each other with crudeness and innuendo. I force smiles and laughter with the rest of them, even as my stomach churns uncomfortably.

“I’m gonna go to bed,” I announce about thirty minutes later; I can’t ignore the discomfort I feel. “Night, guys.”

No one seems to notice when I disappear into the tent. I stare at my friends for a long moment once I’m inside, but none of them look back at me or say anything about my absence. I sigh heavily, zipping the flap shut, and crawl into the makeshift bed. Olly laughs almost maniacally at whatever one of the guys says, and I reach for my phone, shove my earbuds into my ears, and open up the Pandora app to drown out the sounds of everyone else having fun.

I don’t sleep, no matter how hard I try. The fire outside slowly dims, and the clock on my phone says it’s been almost two hours since I came to bed. Shadows move past my tent, the silhouettes flickering in the glow from the fire. I close my eyes when one shadow stops by the flap; in the split between one song and the next, I hear the zipper sliding in its track. Forcing myself to breathe evenly, I pretend that I’m asleep, but it’s almost ruined when I nearly jump out of my skin as gentle fingers pull my earbuds first from one ear then the other. The music pauses suddenly, and I hear my phone thump as it lands next to the duffel bag in the corner of the tent.

“I know you’re still awake,” whispers Liam once the world outside falls quiet.

I let out a weighted breath but roll over to face him nonetheless. “Yeah, sorry.”

“It’s okay.”

“Have fun?”

I can see his eyes even in the dying light from the bonfire, my heart quickening when they don’t stray from my face. He doesn’t speak for a long moment, but then he draws in a steadying breath.

“Why’d you come to bed before the rest of us?”

“I just...” I shrug, not sure how to explain it without coming across as a prude. “I’m not comfortable like you all are with, like, jokes and stuff like that. I mean, songs are different - for the most part, but the stuff you guys were saying? I dunno, it’s just different. And I’m not really comfortable hearing it.”

“I’m sorry. Really, I am. I noticed you weren’t quite as... chatty as before, but I assumed you were okay since you didn’t say anything.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t want -”

I instantly shut up, and my body moves on its own, scooting closer to Liam. Another twig snaps just outside the tent; I hold my breath as the shadow comes closer. Liam’s arms wrap around me, hold me tightly to him. Then he lets out a quiet laugh.

“It’s just Zayn going for a piss.”

He doesn’t let go of me, though, and I bask in the warmth he gives off. My breathing goes unsteady as my heart starts racing in my chest; I wonder if he can feel it. There’s a tingling beneath my skin, racing along my nerve endings. Whether it’s from the whisky that I drank or the fact that he’s so close, I’m not sure, but I don’t question it, even when I pull back far enough to brush a feather-light kiss to his jaw. His breath hitches, but he makes no moves to put some distance between us. A small voice whispers a warning of destroying our friendship that’s grown over the last month, that what I’m about to do will irrevocably change everything. I ignore it, leaning up to press my lips to his. He exhales sharply through his nose and tilts his head a bit, his lips parting under mine. I don’t notice, not really, when I roll onto my back, the kiss growing hotter and harder as he rests over me. My skin erupts in goosebumps as he drags a hand over my side, and his fingers slip beneath the fabric of my T-shirt, skim along the curve of my hip; in a split second, the warmth and want that has consumed me disappears. Everything goes cold abruptly, and I yank back while memories assault my mind, the taste of the whisky on Liam’s tongue morphing into the taste of beer and echoing strains of hip-hop music.

“No, I-I can’t, no, stop,” I manage to rasp out even as I scramble backwards until there is at least two feet of space in between us.

Liam sits up slowly, keeping his hands loosely in his lap. “Are... are you all right?”

My tongue feels heavy in my mouth, and the words I want to say dry up in my throat. I can’t breathe, the air ripping from my lungs in short, jerky gasps. Everything that I’ve tried so hard to quell, to bury so far down that it can’t touch me, fights to be free; the blurry fragments of recollections from that night refuse to be pushed back, and I shove my hands into my hair, curl into myself. Liam’s gaze is a heavy weight on me. My skin prickles the longer he watches me. Slowly, it becomes easier to drag in breaths that aren’t tinged with pain and hops. I sniff back tears before they can form, drop my hands to my lap, and pick at my nails as I avoid eye contact. Heat spreads across my face, and I’m completely sober now.

“I’m... I’m so sorry.”

“Hey, no, love, it’s okay.” Liam hesitates then reaches out a hand toward me; it falls to the floor when I shake my head. “No need to apologise. I promise. I’m the one who should be sorry, I was pushing for too much too fast.”

No more words are spoken between us for a long time; the only things I hear are the nocturnal insects buzzing and owls hooting occasionally in the trees. I close my eyes at the rustle of the blankest as he lies down. My heart is still racing beneath my ribs, but I draw in a steadying breath and crawl back to where my pillow is. Liam stays completely still as I slip between the blankets. Darkness has encroached on us, the fire outside having died out. I breathe out slowly before curling up against him. There isn’t a way of stopping the tears from sliding out of the corners of my eyes when he tentatively drapes an arm over my waist; his movements are slow enough that I know he’s giving me the chance to reject it, to refuse.

“It’s bloody freezing,” he whispers.

I let out a watery laugh, pull his arm more securely around me, and snuggle closer. The shared body heat and the thick blanket keep the cold at bay, and I exhale deeply before my eyes close.
♠ ♠ ♠
title credit breaking the habit linkin park