Status: active;;

Right Now

Don't Let Them Win

I can't seem to look away from the guy even as the others chat loudly over each other. Someone nudges into my shoulder, and I blink rapidly, ripping my gaze to the left. Paul gives me a knowing smile and passes over the shoes he's rented for me. I sit next to Harry on the bench, take the socks that Brianna tosses to me, and switch out my flats for the bowling shoes. Niall leaps onto the guy's back, ruffling his hair.

"Liam! You're alive!"

Liam. The name suits him. Harry pats my knee and stands, and I check my phone one last time before pushing to my feet; I slide the device into my back pocket. I jump when I see how close Liam's gotten in just a few short minutes. Good Lord, he smells amazing, I think when the scent of whatever cologne he uses fills the air between us. I draw in a shallow breath, just enough to smell that aroma once more; thankfully, he doesn't seem to notice. He merely holds out his hand with a friendly smile on his face.

"Hi, I'm Liam."

"Koty. Nice to meet you."

"You, too. What brings you to London? Bri told us you weren't sure if you were coming."

My throat goes dry, but I manage to mumble out, "I'd rather not talk about it," just as Louis claps his hands.

"All right. Once Olly gets here, we're going to split into two teams - Bri already has them chosen, so don't try to make your own, Zayn. Then, one team goes on lane four, the other on lane five. Obviously, whichever team has the highest total score wins."

Brianna grins at Liam's groan, cackling maniacally as she turns back to the computer. "Oh, yes, Lima Bean, we're getting competitive. Just a second, and I'll finish putting the teams on the screen."

I pick at my nails while she types in the teams, and the conversations around me pick up in volume. When Bri steps back, I look up at the monitor.

Lane 4 -Lane 5
LouLou - Brianna
Olly - Lima
Niall - Zayn
Koty - Harry

I poke Niall in the side to get his attention, and he follows my gaze to the screen. He gives me a high-five and cheers, raising his arms in the air. I can't help the grin that splits my face; something about his enthusiasm is entirely too contagious. I drift away from the group, ostensibly to find a ball but mostly because there is just so much noise. A raucous shouting sounds from our tables, and I turn to see a young woman about our age strutting her way toward us. Her dark hair has been pulled into dozens of thin braids, and even from this far away, I can see the mischievous smirk that tugs at her lips. One look at her screams that she is the epitome of "life of the party." I grab a plain navy-blue ball and head back to the tables just as the girl comes to a stop.

"Heya, boys, Bri. How ya doin'?"

"I'm good. Oh! Olly, meet Koty. Koty, this is Dahlia."

"Call me Olly," she announces with a small flick of her fingers from her eyebrow, and she gives me a sweet smile. "Anything but, and I'll kill you with a spoon."

My eyes widen, but she pivots on her heel to find a seat between Louis and Niall. It seems to take no time at all before it's my turn; my team is already behind by eight pins, and I have very little faith in my abilities to actually bowl a good game. Harry steps up to the line next to me and lets his ball roll down the lane. One pin falls on its lonesome, sending the ball gradually into the gutter. I stifle a snort and drag in a deep breath. I can feel everyone's eyes on me as I release my ball toward the pins. To my utter amazement, all ten hit the wood with a resounding clatter. I've gotten my very first strike. I clap my hands over my mouth, bouncing on my tiptoes. Harry shoves at my shoulder and crosses his eyes, pretends to cry. I stick my tongue out in response.

Eventually, thanks to my best friend and Harry, I actually begin to have fun. Something about Olly still intimidates me, but even she became relatively easy to get along with - as long as I don't converse with her. Midnight rolls around, and though we all protest as vocally as we can, Paul still wrangles us out to the parking lot, reminding us every step of the way of the fact that the boys have to wake up early to be in the studio. Olly rides with Niall and Harry in Zayn's car, since her apartment is nearest them. Liam announces he's going to be staying at Louis and Bri's, says it will be "easier to make sure Louis gets his lazy arse up and out of the house on time", and climbs into the backseat next to me, Brianna on his other side, while Louis sits in the front passenger seat. The ride to the house is silent except for Paul humming along to the song on the radio, and I can feel the heat from Liam's body so close to mine. My heart races the entire time; I clench my hands into fists when I realise how damp they are. I breathe unsteadily, overwhelmed in the best ways by the scent of his cologne less than three inches from me.

I've never been more thankful to be out of a car than when Paul finally parks out front of the house, and that's including the time I was stuck on a broken-down bus on the way back from the amusement park at the end of eighth grade. I say goodnight to the other three as quickly yet normally as I can then hurry to my room. After changing into a long baggy T-shirt and brushing out my hair, I sit on my bed and grab my laptop, setting it on my thighs. My FaceBook newsfeed is mainly political statements and cute but fake "faith in humanity restored" stories, the occasional recipe video. I post a quick status of 74 ain't so bad! before logging into Skype. Hopefully, Anna is on. Someone somewhere heard my prayers - her name has a green dot next to it.

"What do you want?" she snaps as soon as the video connects.

"Hey, uh, where's Mama?"

"Probably watching the news or one of her shows. You'd know if you were here."

"Can you please just go get her?"

She rolls her eyes but disappears from the frame. A few minutes later, Mama's face is right in front of me; I touch the screen gently, though I know she can't feel me, and tears blur my vision. Her fingers are trembling as she covers her mouth.

"Oh, DJ, I've missed you so much, baby girl."

"I miss you, too, Mama. I'm so sorry that I left like I did."

"No, don't apologise, hun. I understand. I... I had a feeling you'd go see Brianna soon anyway." She exhales softly. "I just wish you'd let us say goodbye."

"Yeah, I, uh, I didn't exactly think it through. Anna's made sure I knew how selfish I'd been."

"Your sister's just hurt right now -"

"And so unbelievably angry!" Anna's voice cuts in from the background, and my mom rolls her eyes, waves a hand.

"I forgive you, darling, and I'm sure Anna will, too, once she's done with the temper tantrum she's throwing."

"Mama!"

My mother laughs, and my heart clenches at the sound. "Oh, calm down, Banana, I'm just pickin'. All right, get some sleep, honey. You look exhausted."

"I am," I admit, shrugging sheepishly. "We went bowling tonight. I got a strike and five spares, so our team won, though Bri's score alone beat mine by four pins."

"That's wonderful, honey. Goodnight, I love you."

"Love you, too, Mama. And you, Anna Banana!"

My sister grimaces from behind my mom at the terrible nickname but replies nonetheless with a sullen I love you, too, jerk. I log off, feeling more at peace with my decision than I have since I arrived in London. I set the laptop aside, crawl under the blankets, and curl up on my side. I manage to fall asleep rather quickly.

When I wake, the house is silent, and the sky outside the window is dark grey. I roll over and check the time on my phone; it's just after 10:30. The guys must be at the studio, which explains why I don't hear their voices, but where is Brianna? I look at my phone screen again and see the notifications of unread messages.

From: Briannnaaa Hey boo. Had to work today. Lame, I know. I'll be back shortly after three. Don't miss me too much!! Mwah!

From: Harry I wish you could have come today. :( Bri said you've never experienced something like this. It's pretty awesome, but it would be cooler if you were here.
From: Harry I miss you already and barely know you! What are you up to?
From: Harry Wake uuuuuuuuuuuuupppppppppp
From: Harry Kotyyyyy, please wake up and talk to me. I'm bored!

I laugh, shaking my head, and send back Dude, chill. I'm up now. My stomach lets out a loud gurgling noise, and I shove back the comforter, stretch out my muscles, and pad to the kitchen. The fridge and cabinets are well-stocked, so many choices to make, but nothing really sounds good; most of the breakfast-related variety required more than a microwave or toaster. I settle on toast with a banana, grapes, and a glass of orange juice. Harry's responding text comes in while I'm eating.

From: Harry Finally! You took forever!

To: Harry It was only an hour and a half. Who the hell gets up at 8:30 anyway??

From: Harry International popstars who are busy making a new album for their fans. DUH!

My brain immediately conjures up memories of his cheeky grin at that message, and I can't help but smile. We spend the morning texting about random things whenever he has time; Bri sends a couple messages checking in on me. It isn't until Anna messages me on FaceBook that the homesickness sets in. I almost forgot I'm in an entirely different country, separated from my family by a nine-hour flight.

++++++++++++


I'm too engrossed in the television to pay attention to the time, but Brianna's presence in the doorway to the living room is hard to miss. Her laughter rings out, loud and clear and bright, and I twitch violently, sliding right off the sofa, and bang my head on the floor. She doubles over as she laughs even harder. I rub my hand over my head and groan.

"Did you have to scare me?" I whine.

"What the everloving Hell are you doing?"

"Watching Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, thank you very much."

"Upside down?"

"Don't judge me, you horrible woman."

"I do what I want. Deal with it."

"Bitch." I sit up, crossing my legs. She flops down onto the couch, and I turn my head to look at her. "How was work?"

"It was work."

"That bad?"

"I'm just... so ridiculously tired of all the questions about Louis and the guys. Like, I work at a music shop because I love music, not so I can gossip and tell everything about my friends."

I nod slowly, chewing on my lower lip as I think. "Okay. So, what is going on between you and Louis? As your best friend, I reserve the right to ask and deserve an honest answer."

"Trust me, I wish I knew," she whispers and moves to stare out the window. "I mean, sometimes... sometimes I think he wants more than this, whatever we've got. But other times, he seems content with the whole thing of constantly flirting with each other and dropping hints but never doing anything about it, and it's - God, Deej, it's incredibly fucking confusing."

"Have you tried talking to him about it?"

"Yeah. Well, I've tried, but I always chicken out. Why ruin something good, right?"

"Because you're not happy. I can look at you once and see that. Maybe you've accepted it, but that's only because it keeps Louis in your life. But girl, you need to figure out if it's worth being unhappy."

She sighs and shrugs, and we fall silent for a long while. A car door slams outside in the driveway, and Brianna tenses up. Louis's voice echoes through the foyer; I exchange a look with Bri at how furious he sounds. Her mouth opens then closes without a word. From the kitchen comes the telltale clatter of a phone hitting the wall and skidding across the tile floor. I follow Bri down the hall, rounding the corner to see Louis clutching the counter so tightly that his knuckles are white, shoulders heaving with his breathing. My best friend reaches out to touch his arm.

"Lou? What happened?"

"Fucking management is what happened!" he explodes, turning abruptly on his heel. "They found out you live here and are now on my case to make you move out. Apparently it's not good for my image to have a female best friend living with me."

Bri winces, inhales sharply when Louis shoves her hand away as she tries to comfort him. "Okay. Well, tell them to give me a few days."

"For what?" he snaps, finally looking at Bri for the first time since we came into the kitchen.

"So I can find a place to live."

"Oh, no. You're not going anywhere. Neither is Koty. Who gives a damn about my 'image'," he spits the word as if it leaves a bad taste in his mouth. "It's not like anything is going on between us. They can piss off."

"That's just it. Maybe it'd be best if I did move out."

I avoid looking at Brianna, who is on the verge of tears, and Louis, who is staring at her warily, like he know he's not going to like what she has to say. My skin is hot at the awkwardness and how uncomfortable I am. Eventually, Louis opens his mouth.

"What do you mean?"
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title credit don't dream it's over crowded house