‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

eighteen

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By the time I’m settled in on the flight to New York, the interview I did in San Diego is already on the airwaves, the internet. I try my best to not watch it, but I cave as soon as we land. Bryan takes up post next to me in the backseat of the cab, not trying to stop me from loading the video, though he doesn’t look happy about it.

I can’t blame him. It is terrifying to watch my expression go abruptly blank, eyes glassy as my hands tremble violently in my lap. I can’t imagine how he and Rick must have felt having to handle the fallout. On-screen, Alyson tries to do damage control, but the video goes dark within seconds of my mental snap. Not before I see Bryan pulling me into his arms and bridal-carrying me off the studio floor.

Rick hands me a bottle of water from the fridge, and I take it from him and lower myself onto the hotel couch. I’m thankful that my management company opted for a suite; I know I’ll sleep better with Rick and Bryan nearby. My phone buzzes again in my pocket, and I sigh, pulling it out.

From: Mom
> Hey, sweetie. Your dad and I saw the interview. Are you ok?

To: Mom
< Yeah I’m fine. Gonna call Kimball in a few tho

From: Mom
> Ok. We love you.
> Have you talked to Niall?

To: Mom
< Yep. Bry called him immediately after the interview. I love you, too, Mom.

Bryan drops onto the couch next to me, his hand coming up to scratch lightly at my scalp, and I melt into the contact. He’s learnt over the years that the quickest way to get me to relax is with physical connection, and he wields that weapon well. I’m half-asleep when my phone vibrates on my thigh, and I groan but peel my eyes open.

“You interrupted my nap,” I whine in lieu of an actual greeting.

“I was just making sure you made it there, petal.”

“Sorry, babe. I’m sleepy.”

Niall laughs, soft and sweet, and I ache to be home with him again. “I know. When is your interview?”

“Bry, when is my interview?”

Bryan grumbles about me needing a PA but checks the calendar on his phone, and I pass the information on to my husband. He hums in his throat then suggests I take a nap. It’s a good suggestion, one I was already considering myself, but I pout anyway. I can’t argue, though, so I reluctantly agree.

Thankfully, I manage to feel less like I’ve been torn apart by the time I wake from my nap. Rick hands me a to-go cup, and I sniff daintily at the lid. Peppermint. I manage to hide the fact I’m rolling my eyes even as I take a sip. My eyes widen when the tea hits my tongue. It’s almost perfect. Steeped slightly too long, but the bitterness is hidden well enough under the honey and splash of cream.

“I need a PA,” I mutter as I scroll through the emails on my phone, and Bryan snorts inelegantly. “Bry, be my PA.”

“I can keep your ass safe or I can be your gofer. Which one?”

“I vote keeping my ass safe.”

“So do I.”

“Think Niall might have an issue with me doing a shoot for Playboy?” I ask lightly as I send the email offer to my spam folder. Rick yanks me to a stop, and I squeal when hot tea hits my hand. Turning betrayed eyes on him, I shove my phone into my pocket and wipe my burnt thumb on my leggings. “I was kidding!”

He gestures with his chin toward the building we’ve been walking toward, and I swallow thickly at the sight of the people standing out front. It’s been a while since there have been this many people gathered for me; it hasn’t happened since before my pregnancy news hit the media. I clutch my cup tighter in my hand, shift closer to Rick’s side, and stick close to him as we continue our trek to the door.

Everyone is weirdly kind and not pushy at all - completely unexpected, but I don’t question it. My heart pounds beneath my sternum, and I do my best to ignore the voice screaming Red alert! Red alert! in my mind as I sign autographs and take pictures.

It isn’t until the last handful of fans that I begin to panic further, and I lose my temper when someone’s hand presses roughly against my belly without permission. I smack the hand away, scramble backwards from the touch. Bryan shoves himself between the girl and me.

If she had any sort of self-preservation instinct, she would look a helluva lot more terrified at the expression on his face. As it is, she does nothing more than glare at me and storm off. I stutter out a shaky apology to those still waiting. They seem to understand, though they slump in disappointment.

This interview goes much more smoothly than the one in San Diego, even when Bryan refuses to allow the assistant to give me any coffee. She helpfully offers decaf, but I turn it down. Decaffeinated coffee is a travesty to the heavenly beverage that is coffee.

No questions are asked about my pregnancy, Jem, or my marriage outside of if I think being married to Niall has inadvertently helped me gain a larger fanbase. Thankfully, my non-answer is answer enough, so the host moves to the next portion of the interview - a game.

“Okay, so in this game, we’ll play you a few audio clips. You have to recognise the song and artist or speaker.”

“So they’re not all gonna be clips of songs?”

Monique laughs quietly, shaking her head. “Nope! We’re going to make it more of a challenge.”

“What do I get if I win?”

“You’ll find that out if you win! Are you ready?”

I give a vigorous nod, then agree verbally when I remember the listeners can’t hear my head moving. Monique motions toward the sound engineer to start the queue of clips, and I adjust my headphones to better hear them.

I got a - “Oh, my gods, Drag Me Down, One Direction, I love you for this.”

Monique laughs, presses a button, and a dinging noise fills my ears. “Good job! I think your husband might have a problem if you didn’t recognise his voice. Okay, next one.”

You watch - “Oh, crap, I know this one. Uh, Justin Bieber? Um… yeah, I don’t know.”

A buzzer sounds. Monique shakes her head and tells me it was Stitches by Shawn Mendes. I shrug off the wrong answer and chew on my bottom lip as a burst of static comes through my headphones then -

I was workin’ part-time - I giggle and shift the microphone in front of my face. “Wow, way to throw it back. Prince, Raspberry Beret. She wore a raspberry beret, the kind that you find in a secondhand store,” I sing, and Monique laughs, clapping her hands to the beat.

She plays four more songs, and I recognise three of them, feeling especially proud when I recognise Fleetwood Mac’s Monday Morning before a full word plays. I can’t place any of the speaking clips, but Monique doesn’t judge me too harshly for it even when I don’t recognise Harry’s distinctive voice from some awards show.

“Well, Erin, you did far better than I expected, but you unfortunately, got one more incorrect than you got correct.”

“Damn it, I tried so hard! I blame Harry for this. This is all his fault.”

“Aw, you look so sad!” Monique cocks her head to the side, smiling softly. “Okay, so I’m not supposed to do this considering you lost the game, but here’s your prize anyway.”

She passes over a bag, and I let out a laugh when I see that it’s stuffed full of candies and snack packets of crackers. I immediately fish out a chocolate, unwrapping it and popping it into my mouth. It’s good chocolate, too, rich and creamy and not at all Hershey’s.

“Holy Hell-balls, this is fantastic, thank you!”

Bryan rolls his eyes but accepts the Smarties I hand him, whereas Rick politely declines. Monique ends the segment and waits for the On Air light to go out before setting her headphones aside. She walks with us out of the room, closing the door behind us.

“So now that we’re not surrounded by recording equipment, I was wondering how you’re doing after San Diego.”

My breath comes out in a shuddering gust, the chocolate turning acidic at her question, and I nod slowly. “Yeah, I think I’m fine now. It was just… a shock. But I’m okay.”

“Good. Well, I hope for the best with the rest of your pregnancy, and I can’t wait to have you back on the show again.”

“Have your peeps hit up mine, and we’ll work something out.”

Her laughter follows us down the winding corridors, and I lean heavily into Bryan’s side as Rick leads us out the doors. Bryan mutters that I’m going to give myself diabetes if I keep eating candy; all I do in response is stick my tongue out at him and put another chocolate in my mouth.