Status: active;;

Right Now

It Feels Like I'm Finally Free

With a sigh, I close the front door behind me. The house beyond is silent, and normally, I would be glad for that, but today? Today I want noise. I want to be pestered. I hang up my jacket and keys, lock the door behind me, and shuffle through the house to the living room. Turning on the television does nothing to dispel the loneliness I feel - especially not when I realise someone’s left it on the entertainment channel and some woman with too-straight, too-white teeth is talking about none other than One Direction. More specifically, she’s rambling on about Louis and Brianna, who’ve been spotted around London multiple times, and how an “anonymous source” is claiming that they eloped in the dark of night so that their unborn child won’t grow up a bastard. I snort derisively. Bri being married and pregnant is news to me, and I live with her, for God’s sake.

I watch without interest as the boxed-in image in the corner switches from Bri and Lou’s happy, smiling faces to one of Liam. He’s clearly angry in that photo, and I grimace at it. I remember that picture; it was taken shortly after I moved in, and he’d just broken up with his girlfriend. We’d all gone to a club to get drunk and have fun with only one goal in mind: Help Liam forget, even for a moment, that his now-ex had broken his heart. I mean, we all knew the relationship was nearing its end, considering he’d not spoken to her in almost two weeks, but still, to show up at her apartment only for her to push a box of stuff into his arms and slam the door in his face was not helpful. At all. But when the camera had been shoved in his face, Liam hadn’t thought, just reacted, scowling and pushing past the pap without a word.

The woman on the screen smiles a fake, overly-cheery smile, leaning forward on her stool. “As I’m sure you remember us reporting, Liam and girlfriend, Valerie, broke up months ago. We were all so upset, we really thought those two had a shot! But it seems as if not all is lost in the name of love for this hunk. A source close to him reports that he is well over that break-up and already happily moved on with another. The source didn’t name names, but if we judge this photo for ourselves, I’m pretty confident that Liam’s new love is the same girl spotted coming out of Harry Styles’s apartment last year. So what could this mean? Does Harry know his best friend has stolen his girl? And is this girl going to make her way through the entire group? Only time will tell!”

“Yeah, sure, I’m fucking my way through the group,” I mutter as I locate the remote stuffed between the cushions. I flip through the channels while I continue grumbling, “Never mind the fact I haven’t even fucked my boyfriend, I’m definitely having sex with all five of the guys. Ya got me.”

“Talking to yourself is usually the first sign of insanity.”

I sigh, dropping the remote to the couch once I land on some re-runs of Full House, and turn my head to look at Liam. “Hi. Kiss me.”

“Bad day?” he asks quietly before he does as I so nicely requested of him.

“Nah. Just tired. I love Rosie, I really do, but holy damn, she demands so much of me. I get it. It’s my job to do what she needs done, but I literally don’t even get more than thirty seconds to pee before she’s asking me to get her tea or warm up some soup or put away said soup after three spoonfuls or to brush her cat, never mind the fact that I sneeze and itch constantly whenever I even so much as look at the damn thing.”

“Love, I… I think you might be allergic to cats.”

I pause, mouth dropped open, and I think about what Liam’s said. He might be right. I really hope he’s wrong, though. I’ve always wanted to have a cat, and having an allergy to felines may actually put a damper on that plan. Frowning, I sink further into the couch cushions and sigh blissfully as his fingers card through my hair. He pushes me to shift until he’s stretched out between me and the back of the sofa, and I give him a small smile.

“I missed you.”

“I missed you, too. When do you leave?”

“My flight is at, like, ten tomorrow night.” I pout. “Can’t you come with me?”

“I’d love to, but I can’t.”

“Fine. Leave me to figure out how to spend two weeks with my family without you.”

He chuckles, presses a kiss to my temple, and we settle in to watch the sitcom on the TV. Since I share a house with our friends, we have done rather well keeping our activities confined to either my bedroom or his apartment. It was the one thing that Louis ordered me to remember once everyone knew Liam and I were together: No desecrating communal spaces. So we’ve kept everything rated “E for everyone” whenever Liam is around, no matter how hard it is to keep my hands to myself. It has been a month since that night at his place, and I’ve spent as many nights with him as I can. My feelings toward sex have shifted. I’m still uncomfortable with the idea of going even further than we already have, but the thought doesn’t fill me with panic any longer. I wonder idly, as Michelle falls off her horse, whether I’ll ever get to the point where I wont have hang-ups regarding the actual act of sex.

Brianna’s voice echoes through the foyer an hour and a half later, and Liam squeezes me gently before releasing me. My fingertips drag through his hair as I walk out of the living room; my best friend struggles to get her shoes off by the door, and I smile to myself, grab the grocery bags from her hands. She grins in thanks, bending down to untie her laces. I carry the bags to the kitchen and set them on the counter. I frown at the container of kale that I pull out.

“Who the fuck eats kale?” I call over my shoulder.

“Someone with mature taste buds,” she responds as she ambles into the room. “Know your boyfriend’s asleep on the couch?”

“You’re kidding me. It’s been, like, thirty seconds!”

She shrugs and starts putting away the perishables. “Didja wear him out?”

“So who has mature taste buds, ‘cause I know it ain’t you.”

“Oh, nice deflection! I’ll allow it. Olly’s gonna be coming for dinner tonight, and she promised that she knows how to make kale taste good.”

“Do I look like a cow?”

“Cows don’t eat kale.”

“Neither do I.”

Her laughter follows me out of the kitchen, but I hear her yell something about I can either eat it willingly or have it forced down my throat. I mimic her tone as I make my way back to the living room. True to her word, Liam’s eyes are closed, his breathing steady and deep. A small spark of guilt flickers in my gut. I know he hadn’t fallen asleep until almost two this morning, mostly because I hadn’t, either; I pull the blanket off the back of the sofa, draping it over my sleeping boyfriend. He doesn’t even stir as I press a kiss to his temple. I’m pretty sure he’ll wake when the rest of our friends get here - Olly’s really good at making her presence known immediately.

I take the beer that Harry passes over, curl up where I’m sandwiched between the arm of the couch and Liam. He’s been quiet since dinner ended. He hadn’t done more than let out a quiet chuckle, one that sounded forced, when my face had screwed up into a disgusted grimace at the taste of the kale, even though everyone else laughed and mocked my face. With a sigh, I wrap my hand around Liam’s, try not to take it personally when his fingers don’t link with mine immediately. They do eventually, and I relax as much as I’m able to. Our friends laugh and joke amongst each other, and I occasionally pipe in with some snarky remark whenever I feel it’s appropriate. My thoughts, however, are firmly on my boyfriend and his behaviour. I try my damnedest to figure out why he’s acting so off. Maybe it’s because you still haven’t had sex, a voice whispers in my brain; everything in my mind falls silent at that, and my breath hitches. Could it be…? I glance at him from the corner of my eye. He seemed perfectly fine earlier, so if he’s irritated at the fact we haven’t gone further, why would it be bothering him most now?

“You good, Deej?”

I avert my gaze to Brianna, swallowing thickly at her concerned expression. I nod slowly and force a grin. Her furrowed brows tell me she doesn’t believe me, but thankfully, she doesn’t ask any further questions, just hesitates then goes back to her conversation with Olly. The hours drag on, and eventually, I push myself to my feet, say a general goodnight to everyone, and make my way down the hall. There’s a lull in conversation coming from the living room, and I pause halfway up the staircase. No one comes after me. My lungs grow tight when I realise the implications of that, but I push on, going to my bedroom and closing the door quietly behind me. I don’t bother turning on the light as I strip out of my scrubs; the blankets are cold, the bed far too large for just me. I curl up into a tight ball and close my eyes against the tears that slip free, drop onto my pillow.

……………


“Let me know when you land, okay?”

I nod and let Bri drag me into a tight embrace. When we part, she rests her hands on my shoulders and holds me still as she scrutinises my face. I know I look like Hell right now - I hadn’t slept well at all last night, the other side of my bed remaining empty, and my worries got the best of me; once I heard four doors shutting as my friends went to bed, I tiptoed down the hall to the guest room at the end, peered around the edge of the door, and confirmed that Liam had chosen to sleep away from me for the night. Seeing him preparing for bed in another room hadn’t exactly made it easy for me to go back to my own and immediately fall into a peaceful sleep. I’d tossed and turned all night and woken up feeling worse than I did last night.

“I’m okay,” I offer in a quiet voice, and she shakes her head. “Muffin, I promise. I’m okay.”

“Talk to him. All right?”

“Yeah...”

With that, I grab my duffel bag and turn on my heel, hurry through the drizzling rain toward the taxi waiting for me. Brianna stands in the doorway to the house until we reach the corner, and I settle back in the seat once she’s disappeared. I hate that I lied to her. I’m not okay. I’m confused, mixed-up, and hurt. The more I think about it, the more upset I get; why couldn’t Liam just talk to me? Why did he avoid me and make me sleep alone? The glass of the window is cold against my forehead, and I snort to myself at the imagery: cold glass for a cold soul. Oh, god, I’m getting maudlin. Shaking the thought away, I force myself to think about the flight, seeing my family again, anything but my boyfriend.

__________________


The plane hits the ground roughly, and I grit my teeth as it taxis down the tarmac. It’s been an awful flight - between the screaming kid six rows behind me, the businessman next to me constantly muttering about something or other between bouts of snoring, and the fact that we hit a patch of turbulence within three hours of take-off and another not even thirty minutes ago, I’m beyond ready to be off this damn plane and on solid ground. Unfortunately, I have to wait for the rest of the passengers to get out of my way in order for me to reach my goal.

Anna’s face is almost lost in the crowd by the time I enter the airport; the only reason I see her at all is because of the enormous sign she holds high in the air. I roll my eyes as I read it before pushing through the people who linger around. Welcome home, Prisoner #02985! We know you didn’t actually murder that guy! And even if you did, he deserved it! She doesn’t see me during my approach, so I take an immense pleasure in making her jump when I suddenly speak directly into her ear.

“That’s not funny, brat.”

The poster-board thumps off the top of my head as she spins to face me. “You made it! Hi! Oh, I missed you!”

“Missed you, too, Banana. Ready?”

“Yep. Luggage?”

“Just this.”

I hold up my duffel bag, and she nods, tucks the sign under her shoulder. We’re followed by a scraping noise as the bottom drags along the ground, but neither of us pay any mind to it. She prattles on about her boyfriend, work, and the fact that she’s excited to finally head off to college. I somehow manage to make the appropriate noises of acknowledgement at the right times, so her words don’t stop, she doesn’t notice how little attention I’m truly giving her. She finally draws in a breath and glances over at me when we’re ten minutes away from the house.

“So. Tell me everything. Please, I’m dying.”

There isn’t much to tell her - we’ve kept up a steady stream of contact ever since I moved to London, and she already knows about basically everything that’s happened. I bite my tongue so I won’t blurt out anything about the situation with Liam, but I do recount a memory from the last time I went into the studio with them. She doesn’t find it as funny to hear about Niall and Louis almost breaking a storage room door; I just chalk it up to it being a “had to be there” kind of event. It feels awkward, being less than two feet from my sister and not having anything to say. We always were close, and the distance between us now isn’t a physical one.

My mother lets me take a few hours to rest up after my flight before she descends on me with questions and fretting. She gives my newly-cut hair a disappointed look but keeps her comments to herself. I find myself explaining that it was getting difficult to deal with having such long hair when I was constantly having to pull it back in a ponytail or bun while working, and now I don’t have to, a headband does the trick just fine. She merely hmms and busies herself with rummaging through the junk drawer. She comes up with a pair of scissors, and I recognise them instantly as her fabric cutters. The back of my hand stings with the echoes of every smack I ever received for using them on anything other than fabric. My mom pats my cheek lovingly as she passes, and I stare after her. This is fun, I think. I sigh, knowing it’s all about to get so much worse.

No one speaks over dinner, and I certainly am not going to be the one to break the awkward silence. My parents don’t even look at each other as they eat; I shoot Anna a questioning look, but she shrugs. She told me earlier that this is the first time our father has spent any amount of time in the house since the divorce proceedings began, usually preferring to pick my sister up by waiting in the driveway. I choke down another bite of my pork chop then let out a breath. Evidently, I am going to be the one to break the awkward silence.

“So, uh, the food’s delicious, Mama.”

“Thank you, DJ.”

“I... I just wanted to say that I’m so grateful to you both. Everything you’ve ever done for me. And the fact that you helped me move to London means more than I can ever say.” I draw in a steadying breath as everyone stares at me; Anna bites her lower lip to hide her smile, and I avoid her gaze and watch my mother’s face closely. “Living with Bri has been, it’s been fantastic. I have a job I love, a boyfriend who treats me well, and I feel like it’s all making me a better person. So I’ve made the decision that I’m, uh, I’m gonna try for citizenship the second I can.”

“Excuse me?”

My father frowns, holds a hand up. “Hang on, Missy. Dakota, you’re not seriously considering remaining in London all for a boy.”

“Of course not,” I scoff. “I’m not stupid. I’m staying in London because I like it there. I’m happy there. I… I really think I could have a life there.”

“But the boyfriend is an important factor?”

“Oh, my God, Dad, no. He’s not even a factor at all. A bonus, sure, but not a factor. Even if he and I weren’t dating, I’d still want to stay there. I’m happy there. Isn’t that what you want for me, for me to be happy and thriving?”

“I just don’t get why you can’t be happy here,” says my mom with a delicate sniff, and I throw my hands into the air, slamming into the back of my chair.

“Because there’s nothing here for me. Besides you three, name one thing in my life that I have here.”

“What about that Jacob kid, you two seemed to be getting close.”

“Yeah, until he tried to force me into sex. That kinda put a major fucking damper on that friendship.” Shoving my plate away from me, I stand abruptly, ignoring the screeching of my chair against the floor. “I gotta get outta here.”

I don’t turn around even as my family calls after me. The door slams behind me; birds take flight from the trees at the echoing, and I run my hand roughly through my hair. I honestly should have known this would have been their reactions, with the way Mama had tried to convince me to stay when the plan was only for six months and how often both of my parents made comments during our weekly Skype conversations about when I would be coming back. But I can’t help but wish that they would have been more supportive of this decision. All my life, they have always made a huge deal about Anna and me being healthy, happy, safe, but now that I’m making a choice that honestly makes my life worth living, they’re suddenly changing their tune? I kick at a rock along the side of the driveway, listen to it skid and clatter against the gravel.

“Fuck it,” I mutter. “I don’t need their approval. I’m doing this, with or without them.”

It still hurts, though. There’s no way of denying the pain that sits like a stone in the bottom of my gut, the hollowness in my chest. I may not need their approval, but I sure as Hell want it. Sniffing back tears, I climb up to sit on the trunk of Anna’s car, leaning to rest against the back window. Deep navy velvet stretches as far as I can see, the edges tinted with red-gold through the trees. Tiny pinpricks of white dot the expansive evening sky, and the silhouette of birds slip by overhead, making their way to their nests for the night. A cool breeze picks up, and I close my eyes as the music of rustling leaves fills the air.

“They’ll get over it.”

Anna clambers up to sit next to me, spreading my hoodie over me, and I sigh heavily as she cuddles against my side. We don’t talk, just stare up at the slowly-darkening sky. The last fireflies of the season flicker in and out of sight across the yard, and my sister giggles when one lands on the end of her nose, its tail lighting up momentarily and leaving a green glow on her skin. The bug takes off after a second. I turn my head to look at Anna.

“How the Hell can they make me feel so awful about what I wanna do with my life?”

“They’re parents. They learn that skill, like, as soon as the baby pops out, I guess.” She digs in her pocket and passes over a pink Starburst. “If it makes you feel any better, I think you’re doing the right thing.”

“Thanks, Banana.”

“Can I ask you something?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Why didn’t you tell us about what Jacob did?”

My breath leaves me in a rush, and the world spins around me. I sit up, wrapping my arms around me, as I think about what I can say. Eventually, I shrug and shake my head. She understands, the way she always has, and wraps an arm around my back. We sit quietly together, and I take some of the comfort she offers, take solace in the fact that she isn’t pushing for answers. She’s only eighteen, but she’s probably the wisest young woman I know.

She goes inside before I do, leaving me alone in the dark. Crickets chirp in the grass, and woodland creatures move about in the trees. I think about the creek that winds through the trees not even a ten minutes’ walk to the west. Fragments of the screams rebound in my mind, and the image of the pale face slipping into the water drifts to the forefront of my brain, freezing there as if I’ve pressed pause on a movie. I tremble all over, and it isn’t from the cold metal I’m sitting on. Shaking the thoughts away, I slide clumsily off the trunk and make my way to the door of the house, the lights behind the glass shining merrily against the black of the night.

I shove my clothes, fresh from the dryer, into my duffel bag and slam it closed. The zipper gets caught on its track, and I yank it viciously until it finally starts moving again. The weekend has been a total bust. My mom isn’t talking to me except to try to convince me to stay, that London will never be my home; my father’s only opened his mouth to make snarky comments about me becoming a UK citizen because of my boyfriend, and no amount of arguing will change his mind. Hell, I’ve even had enough of Anna and her long conversations about Dylan this, Dylan that, you’ll love him, DJ, I promise. I’m angry that my visit with my family has been shattered so effortlessly, and I’m utterly embarrassed that my sister has had sex before I have, because of course she’s told me all about that. I send a text with shaking fingers to my family, telling them how glad I am to have seen them and that I’m sorry to be leaving while they’re all out of the house. Anna sends me a message outside of the group chat, telling me to not leave yet, that she’s on her way home. I send a thumbs-up and share my location with her then grab a bottle of water on my way out the door.

The creek is just as I remember it - the muddy water forces it way over and around the rocks, and bubbles dot the surface. I latch onto a branch that hangs over the bank, step carefully through the wet soil until I reach the trunk, the one that’s been there for as long as I’ve been coming here. The rotten wood creaks ominously under my foot, and I hesitate but step up onto it anyway. My squeak echoes through the trees when the log shifts, but the sound is drowned out by the burbling of the creek. I stare down at my warped reflection, twisting and swirling with the current. I know if I look up and to my right, I’ll see the tree I perched in that night, and further along the bank is the spot where I witnessed the event that changed everything. Being here during the daytime isn’t as frightening, but the memories it brings back scares me just the same.

Anna’s voice calls out from behind me, and I turn to see her walking my way. I wave a hand then gingerly climb off the trunk, breathe out a sigh of relief when my feet touch solid ground. Before I get too far into the woods, I look over my shoulder at the creek, feeling like something in me has finally settled, finally let go of its hold on me.
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title credit finally free niall horan