‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

thirteen

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The next two weeks manage to somehow fly by. True to my friends’ word, I am never alone - either I’m at home, surrounded by Bryan, Amber, and Harry; or I’m in the studio with the band, finishing up the last handful of songs that still need to be recorded. I can’t even complain - it’s nice to not be by myself, even when their presence feels overbearing.

I lean back in the chair, biting at the edge of my fingernail, as we listen to the playback. Something about Galaxies isn’t sitting right with me, and, judging by the expressions on my band mates’ faces, they feel the same. Zach asks for Dave to back it up and play again from the second verse, frowns at the soft piano that comes through. Slow, almost sugary sounding, it isn’t what the song needs.

“Why don’t we try again, speed it up just a bit?” he suggests, and I nod thoughtfully.

“Maybe a little more force on the keys, too. Make the notes pop out against the bass line.”

“That might work,” Owen says then tilts his head. “Zach, you should soften your voice just a tiny smidgen. Otherwise, it kinda drowns out Lisa and Dawn.”

“So you’re going again?”

I grin at the sound engineer, hopping to my feet. I instantly wince at the painful twinge that tears through my hips, and Lisa reaches out to steady me. I swat her hands away. She rolls her eyes with a sigh, even as I apologise for my rudeness.

“I’m okay, I’m okay. I keep forgetting I can’t move like I used to.”

“Take it easy, girl. Your husband will kill us if something happens to you.”

“That’s because he’s an overprotective hen,” I grumble.

I rub a hand soothingly across my waist as I follow the rest of the band into the recording booth. One of the things I love about this studio is that they don’t care how we get the tracks laid down - they gave us the options of recording piece by piece or all together at once. Having the chance to do it as a band and not parts of a whole has made it easier, I think. It gives us the ability to make changes as we go, and it’s way more fun this way, especially since this is the last time we’ll make music together until after the baby is born.

Niall and I already decided during our many conversations while packing for the move that when the album is done being recorded, I’ll be taking a step back from the music scene for a while. A tour would be too much to juggle along with the pregnancy, and Niall’s a worrier.

I’m grateful for it, too: The hate and death threats that I have received since the announcement went out haven’t ceased, according to Amber’s expressions every time she checks my Twitter, and the stress of constantly being on the move and worrying about my safety would not be conducive to a healthy pregnancy. Besides, I can always go back after I’ve healed up and had time to be a mother.

My mom still hasn’t seemed to come around fully in regards to the pregnancy even though it’s been over two months since I told her, but she has been more supportive in general toward my marriage. At least, she isn’t making comments that Niall and I are too young to be married, anyway. She does offer some advice to make growing a baby easier, but beyond that, she doesn’t mention it. I’m only thankful that there isn’t any negativity with her any longer.

After an hour, Galaxies is officially done, and we are all satisfied with the results. It’s exactly what we wanted when we set out to record it in the first place; I do a happy little jig as I put a line through the title on the dry-erase board then stare at the crossed-out names.

Seeing Confessions listed feels weird. I’d always thought that was one song that would never be put on an album, considering I’ve only performed it live twice, once at Jem’s insistence. If he’d never pushed me to do it, it most likely would never have seen the light of day. But it was an important part of my life, so I needed it to be on this record.

{-_-_-_-}


I pick lazily at the strings, humming to myself. A frown tugs at my lips when it doesn’t sound quite right. Grabbing my pen, I scratch out the line I’m working on, try to figure out a way of twisting the words to fit the rhythm.

I’m supposed to be in the booth within the next half-hour to finish laying down the vocals for Monsters Between Us, but my mind won’t budge from the song in front of me. I don't look around at the sound of the door opening, but I can't ignore the familiar scent that filters through the air around me.

Niall’s laugh is like music to my ears as I embrace him excitedly, holding him close. Not having him by my side has been utterly awful, and I’m thankful that he’s finally back home. My dad had commented - again - just the other day about his displeasure that Niall’s left me on my own while pregnant so he could go see the world, but at least the judgemental remarks have lessened over the last few weeks; I’m pretty sure it’s in deference to my mental state since the Media Situation. I’m not going to question it, though.

Niall pulls back, leans down to press a kiss to the swell of my belly. “Hi, baby, you being nice to your mum today?”

“Sort of. They at least let me keep down some toast with my tea this morning, so… improvement!”

“Definite improvement. Keep it up, she needs to eat so you can grow. Got it?”

“Ni, I hate to break it to you, but a baby, unborn or otherwise, doesn't really give a damn about listening. To anyone.”

His shoulder rises in a nonchalant shrug. “I tried. What are you working on?”

“I… have no fucking idea.” I sigh and toss my notebook to the side, followed closely behind by my pen. “It doesn't seem to wanna work.”

“Want some help?”

“Maybe later. Gotta finish Monsters first, or else Dave is going to lose his mind because we’ll fall behind.”

It takes three hours, but eventually, my bandmates have headed off for food and I'm sat on the stool next to Dave, nodding along to the song. It sounds better than I anticipated, and he seems pleased with the progress. I've just taken a sip from my bottle of water when I gasp, choke on my drink when it goes down my throat the wrong way. Niall looks up from his phone, concerned.

“Love?”

“I'm okay,” I wheeze as I press my hand gently to my stomach.

I found an OB-GYN shortly after we moved back to the States, and he said it wasn’t uncommon for some women to not feel the baby move before twenty-two weeks. I had just accepted that I was one of those women, since I was almost at that mark, but… there is no denying what that dull jab in my gut means.

I grin down at my belly, feel the kick again. Without looking away from where my hand rests, I wiggle my free hand at Niall, more insistently when he doesn’t come to my side immediately. He places his hand over mine, and I move it out of the way.

I bite my lip and wait; I can’t be sure that it’s going to happen again, but I really want Niall to experience it, too. So I’m willing to be patient and push off recording until it does.

“Oh, my god,” he whispers ten minutes later, and I grimace at the stretch as the baby moves. “Is that…?”

“Yep.”

Dave slips from the room to give us privacy, and I watch Niall’s face, his lips stretching into a wide smile as the baby gives another kick. His eyes crinkle up at the edges with the force of his grin, and the blue looks even more bright in his happiness.

I lean forward, press my lips to his temple, and he turns his head to capture my mouth with his. I sigh into the kiss, running my fingers through his hair; he pulls away far too quickly for my liking, and I pout but accept the inevitable.

“I love you,” he murmurs before glancing down at my belly. “And I love you.” When he faces me again, his lips are pulled down into a frown, and his blue eyes are dark with worry. “We need to talk.”

“Okay, about what?”

“Why you decided not to tell me you were getting death threats with photos of our house attached.”

My mouth moves, but no words come out. How did he find out? My heart hammers under my ribs, and my palms go clammy. Eventually, I manage to speak. “I, uh, didn’t want you to worry. Who-?”

“Doesn’t matter how I found out.”

“Yes, it does. I told them all not to tell you.”

“Did you pass that message on to Nat? Or Lou? Or Liam?”

“Liam doesn’t even know about it, so I know it wasn’t him. Fuck, it was Natalie, wasn’t it.”

“It doesn’t matter,” he repeats more firmly, his hands wrapping tightly around mine. “Love, don’t you ever keep that kind of thing from me. Ever. Your safety and well-being matter to me more than some damn trek around the world. What if something had happened? What if one of those people had decided to make good on their threats? I wouldn’t have known until it was too late. I can’t lose you, and I can’t lose our child, especially not because of your stubborn desire to not make me worry.”

“I’m sorry. I just… Niall, you’ve said so many times since we started dating that you hated that you couldn’t see the world on your terms. It was always ‘Well, we gotta be here by this time, now we gotta be there by this time, no time to see the sights!’ And I wanted you to have the chance to actually enjoy your time. I thought what I was doing was the right thing, because I wanted you to be happy.”

He tugs me into his side, presses a kiss to my hair. I rest my hand on his chest; his heart beats steadily under my palm, and I close my eyes at the sense of peace being so close to him brings me. He draws in a deep breath, not letting go of me even as he speaks.

“Love, I’m always going to be happiest if I know you’re safe. When I’m with you? When I see you smile? When I know all I have to do is reach out, and you’re right there? That’s when I’m happiest. The trip could have been an utter disaster, and I still wouldn’t have cared because I knew I have you to come home to. Please, talk to me next time, okay?”

“Okay. I promise.”

“Good.” He pauses. “Is this why you’ve not tweeted anything lately?”

“Yeah. Haz, Amber, and Nat told me to stay away from social media unless it was related to my music, so… since I haven’t had any developments to talk about, I just deleted Twitter off my phone. Amber can update it for me whenever I have something to announce.”

He nods slowly, and his mouth opens, but a knock on the door interrupts him before he can say anything. Lisa stands there with a slight apologetic smile on her face; she gestures toward the recording booth, and I sigh, dipping my chin in acknowledgement. We had all agreed this morning that we wouldn’t leave the studio until we finished the last two songs, and we’ve only gotten one done. Niall pulls me in for a kiss then releases my hands so I can do my job.

It’s late, almost ten at night by the time we all make our way out of the studio. My hands are still shaking, throat tight with emotion, and Niall understands, holds me close to his side as we walk to the car. It had taken over two hours to be able to get through the song without my voice trembling and breaking too much.

Dave finally managed to convince me, only after thirty minutes of arguing, that the raw quality of the vocals didn’t need to be changed, the song is perfect now and will definitely be a fan favourite. I still don’t believe him, but I couldn’t handle the thought of trying again and again.

I lean heavily against my husband once we’re in the car. Bryan glances at us in the rear-view mirror then pulls out of the space, pointing the wheels toward home.