‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

sixteen

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To: Nat-boo
< I miiiiiight have overreacted. You were only looking out for me because you’re such an amazing bestie, and I feel awful for going off on you like I did.

< I said you had no right to tell Niall what was going on, but that’s a fucking lie, and I know it. You had every right because he deserved to know and make his own choices as to whether he came home or not.

< If anyone didn’t have the right, it’s me not having the right to freak like that and to treat you so unkindly. I’m so so so so so so so so sorry, Natty, and I really wish I could go back in time to stop myself from being such a dumbass and lashing out at you. I love you so very much. I hope you can forgive me.

I sigh, set my phone aside, and pick up my fork, stabbing at the salad in front of me. It’s been almost a week since I went off on Natalie via text, and I am well aware that I should have apologised far sooner. Unfortunately, I’m nearly as stubborn as my husband is, so my foolish pride was in my way. Now all I can do is hope that everything between Nat and myself can be fixed.

Natalie had become an even more important part of my life in the weeks following Jem’s death; she’s been there for me through everything, always a text or Skype call away whenever I was struggling with missing Jem, and she has spent so much time reassuring me that Niall would never have married me if he didn’t truly love me.

No matter how exasperated she was with my self-doubts and lack of confidence, she never once betrayed me or made me feel like an imposition in her life. Even after Silent Playground disbanded - Hell, even after the impromptu Vegas wedding blew up in her and Lou’s faces - she was still willing to help me with my own baggage.

For me to react that way was uncalled for and - quite frankly - ridiculous. I honestly won’t blame her if she never forgives me. My mind starts racing the longer I sit there thinking about the text conversation, each worst-case scenario worse than the last, and breathing becomes almost impossible.

I jump when a warm hand lands on my shoulder, but Niall doesn’t let me twist away; he wraps his arms around me and holds me tightly to his chest. His heartbeat is steady under my ear, and I instinctively try to match my inhales and exhales with his. It works after a long few minutes.

“Love?”

“I’m fine,” I rasp out, though I know he doesn’t believe me. I don’t even believe myself. “Babe, I promise, I’m okay. I will be, anyway.”

“What happened?”

I pull out of his grip, push out the chair next to me with my foot; he sits down without question and reaches for my hand. “I, I texted Nat to apologise. She hasn’t responded. And I...”

“You keep beating yourself up over reacting the way you did.”

It isn’t a question, and it doesn’t need to be. Niall knows me so well, so him figuring out exactly what I’m feeling and thinking is not a surprise of any kind. He sighs, rubbing his thumb along my knuckles. We sit there in silence for a while, and the comfort he provides helps ease the rest of my anxiety. Shoving my salad away, I sigh heavily and look at him.

“She hasn’t responded yet. Like, I understand if she doesn’t want to ever talk to me again, I really will understand, but I just… I don’t want to lose her, y’know? What am I supposed to do if our friendship is over?”

Niall scoffs before I’ve even finished speaking. “Darling, Natalie is not going to end the friendship just because you got upset with her and said things you didn’t mean. If that was the type of person she is, she would never have reached out after you told her she was being a nosey, manipulative bitch who needed to get her own life.”

I wince at the reminder of that particular fight: It happened shortly after Niall and I got married, and it was because she’d been concerned about my mental health with not having my support system once I started touring again. I had the band, sure, but not my family, my friends, and my husband. She tried to convince me to at least Skype with Doctor Kimball or my parents, to tell them what I was feeling, and I’d blown up on her then, too.

A tightness sinks into my chest at the realisation that I lash out a lot. I like to think I’ve gotten better about it, but I can’t be sure. I make a mental note to talk to Kimball about it during my next session.

“How’s the baby today?” Niall asks suddenly, and I jolt back to attention, grateful for the distraction from my own thoughts.

“Being an asshole already,” I whine. “Fucking acid reflux and I’m so tired, and I want to take a bath but I don’t want to risk falling asleep and drowning, except I’m already so enormous that I don’t really think that’s much of a risk any more, and I’m miserable.”

“You aren’t enormous, Erin, and even if you were, you would have good reason. You’re literally growing a tiny human.”

“And can I tell you how shitty it feels to not be able to eat the biggest, greasiest burger I can find right now, with extra bacon and cheese, because again, acid reflux?”

“Is there anything I can do?”

“Yeah, take over being the living incubator so I can eat all the things this baby isn’t allowing me to eat,” I grumble before sighing and leaning heavily into his side. “I’m whining a lot, aren’t I?”

“It’s okay, darling. You’re going through a lot right now.”

My words are interrupted by the buzzing of my phone, and Niall glances at the screen. The way his lips twist up into that sweet smile of his that I love means good things for me; he passes the phone over, and I draw in a steadying breath before checking the notification.

From: Nat-boo
> Of course I forgive you, you fucking idiot. I was just giving you the space you requested.
> Now come see Lil Nugget and me because we miss you!

To: Nat-boo
< When would be good for you? Because I don’t have anything pressing to do since the album is basically done, and I miss the hell out of Nugget’s face.
< And yours
< But mostly Nugget’s

From: Nat-boo
> Whenever you want. We’re not doing anything today. I’m too tired.

“Wanna go with me to Nat’s?”

“When?”

“Today. Now. Like, out the door in the next three seconds.”

“I can’t even get dressed?” he asks on a laugh, and I shake my head, pushing to my feet and crossing the kitchen to scrape the rest of my salad into the compost bin on the patio. “I’m not going over there like this.”

“Babe, she’s seen you in less.”

He gestures toward his outfit, otherwise known as his worn and somewhat-threadbare sweats. “When has she seen me in less clothing than this?”

“You know Nat and I share everything.” I laugh when he nearly screeches my name, sounding scandalised. “I’m kidding! But she has accidentally seen a few of the pictures you sent that were less than safe for work.”

His cheeks instantly turn bright red, and he covers his face with his hands. I shrug; he should have known it was a possibility, considering how little boundaries my friends and I keep.

It is both a blessing and a curse that I remain so close to Natalie and Amber: They know me better than anyone, except maybe Niall, so they know when to push and when to back off. There are also no secrets between us, though even I have to admit that I would prefer Nat never having seen my husband in all his naked glory.

Maybe I shouldn’t have admitted that she’s gotten an eyeful of what he looks like in the nude, I think as I lower myself onto Ugly Couch. Natalie finishes changing Levi’s diaper then passes him off to me, and I make sure he’s tucked securely in my arms before glancing at Niall. His cheeks still haven’t lost their red tint, and he can’t seem to make eye contact with our friend. Nat frowns, catches my gaze. I stifle a giggle.

“He knows you’ve seen him all nekkid.”

She nods in understanding, but I recognise that look in her eye. “Don’t worry, Nialler, you aren’t the only One D boy I’ve seen naked. Zayn holds that honour.“

“When did you see Hazza naked? I can understand seeing Lou naked, unless y’all did the nasty in a dark closet, and Liam is obvious, considering he likes stripping wherever he is. But Harry?”

“I asked, duh.”

“Natalie!” My giggles let loose, and poor Niall looks confused and even more traumatised by the conversation. “What, collecting those mental snapshots like Pokémon cards?”

“Damn right.”

I shake my head and adjust my hold on Levi as he squirms, disgruntled by the noise of our laughter. Niall finally speaks, asks how she’s doing with everything that’s going on, and I listen with half an ear to her reply.

I want to ask if she has talked to Delia lately, but I don’t want to potentially dredge up painful memories. I know that things went ass over teakettle when Silent Playground broke up, and though Natalie wouldn’t ever actually admit it, I can only imagine how badly she was hurt by everything.

Unfortunately for me, my curiosity proves to be stubborn, and I find myself asking how the others reacted to the news of her pregnancy. It’s something I probably should have asked ages ago, but hurting her in any capacity has never been high up on my list of “likes”. Her lips curve into a brilliant smile, fuller and more real than I can remember seeing on her face in a long time. She shrugs and pulls her knees to her chest.

“Gare was thrilled. Like, even more than I was. You would have thought it was his own kid.” Not surprising, considering it’s Garrett. I nod slowly, but she doesn’t see, her eyes holding a faraway vacancy. “Chase and Delia found out at Thanksgiving because my mom invited them to dinner because she didn’t know they didn’t know. They were thrilled, and Deeds and I kinda sorted out our shit.”

“I’m so glad you two talked.”

“Have you talked to her recently?”

I freeze, mind racing to bring up all the conversations I have had with my friends in the last two years. “No, holy shit, I haven’t. Not much, nothing beyond the occasional text to check in and make sure she’s still breathing. I guess I was too concerned for you. Fuck, I’m an awful friend.”

“Maybe you should call her later then?”

“Yeah, I will. Damn, she’s gonna hate me.”

The visit with Natalie doesn’t last too long - I have a few interviews over the next couple of days that I have to prepare for, and I’m always so easily tired these days. My arms ache with emptiness after I hand Levi back to his mom. I remind myself that it won’t be much longer and I’ll have my own child to cuddle and never let go of.

Niall leads me out to the car, holds the door open until I slide into the passenger seat. As much as I like driving myself around, I know better by now than to argue. He’d taken Bryan’s side when I complained the first time about never being allowed behind the wheel, so I am well aware that Niall won’t be an ally in this particular argument.

He reaches across the console to lace our fingers together, and I settle back in my seat to enjoy the peacefulness between us. Guilt still exists in the back of my mind, but being with Niall always brings with it the safety and comfort of knowing I’ll never be alone again. I squeeze his hand, closing my eyes, and let the sound of him singing along to the radio surround me and melt deep into my soul.
♠ ♠ ♠
for reference, this is ugly couch