‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

twenty-four

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Dozens of photographs litter the floor, spread in a haphazard arc around me, and I rest my elbow on my knee, chin on my palm, as I scan over the pictures. So many snapshots of our lives together, all of them telling our story in quick little frames.

I’d had the idea for the gift the day after I freaked out to Natalie and Amber. They both jumped on board with the plan almost immediately when I told them, along with a few others - Harry, Louis, Niall’s parents, Stefanie. Everyone who has had a part in our lives and love.

No one had tried to convince me this was a horrible idea; in fact, Maura had teared up over a Skype call and praised me for being so creative. It’s a really weird thing to be praised for, honestly, but I’ll take it.

So for the last three days, I’ve been wading through photographs stemming from our first meeting way back in November of 2011. It makes me uncomfortable to see the picture of One Direction and Complete Irrationality, the day we joined up in that restaurant before our tour started. Even in the photograph, I can see how anxious I was, the bundle of nerves that I’d become on the walk. How I avoided looking at anyone directly. I set that particular one aside. It may have been the start of my story with Niall, but it wasn’t a happy enough encounter to make it.

“This better be important,” I grumble as I lift my phone to my ear, and Louis’s laugh echoes down the line.

“Sorry, I wouldn’t interrupt, but I found another few photographs if you need them.”

“Dude, I already have, like, sixty in front of me. Bring ‘em.”

He hangs up after promising to be here soon, and I stretch for the next handful of pictures to go through. As I wait for Louis to arrive, I sort them into three piles: Use, Discard, and Maybe, so ask for someone else’s opinion. The ones where we aren’t actually together, either of us out of frame or blurry, automatically go into the rejection stack. The one that Stefanie took during the tour - the first time Niall and I were actually friends, when he was trying to comfort me after my estranged father’s sudden message - that one is a no-brainer. It’s accepted immediately.

A knock sounds on the front door, then Louis lets himself into the house and finds me in the living room.

“Let me guess. Hormones are making you emotional?”

He chuckles quietly when all I do is flip him off and wipe a hand across my damp cheeks. He hands me a small stack of photographs, sitting on the couch while I shuffle through them. The one on the bottom gives me pause, and I frown as I stare at it.

We look so young, Niall and me. Granted, we were. Only nineteen-years-old and already in love. I don’t even know who snapped this picture, but whoever did made sure it was as candid as possible - and when the subjects of your photograph are asleep, there’s nothing more candid than that. And indeed, Niall and I are both wrapped up in the blankets, curled into each other. Completely, blissfully unaware of the world around us.

It must have been taken during the two weeks I spent with him in London after we first started dating. My brows were slightly overplucked, my hair barely reaching the bottom of my shoulder-blades. I trace a finger over the glossy surface of the photograph and sniffle, but there’s no way of stopping the tears.

Louis, thankfully, doesn’t judge me too harshly for being so emotional. He just silently helps me go through the pictures until the Keep pile is tall enough for my project to be successful. I gather up the stack, setting it off to the side, and start scooping up the rejects to put them back in the box. Once that’s done, I sigh and stare down at my belly.

Niall had to get back to the studio today, which is why I’m sat on the floor doing this. It’s the only time I’ve had to pick out the photographs I need without risking him finding out. Or hovering over my shoulder. He’d be frustrated if he saw me on the floor; evidently, having lower back pain means I’m not allowed to sit on anything other than the fluffiest cloud in existence.

“How’s things?” Louis asks as he carefully pulls me to my feet, and I grimace.

“They’re good. I, uh, I’m kind of annoyed that Niall hasn’t brought up me not telling him about the threats.”

“Oh, yeah.” He winces in sympathy. “That was a stupid move, Erin.”

I sigh, rub a hand against the bottom of my spine, and Louis follows me to the kitchen. “I know, I know, so everyone keeps telling me. But I thought I did the right thing, y’know? And now I’m just, I’m super-anxious because he hasn’t said anything about it, but I know he was angry that I hid it from him. It’s been months. Why hasn’t he said anything?”

“Because you’re pregnant, and he doesn’t want to stress you out.”

“Him staying quiet about it is stressing me out.”

“Have you talked to him about this?”

“Now that would be a stupid move, picking a fight with my husband because he’s trying to make my life easier by not telling me how angry he is with me.” Blowing out a slow breath, I shake my head and rummage through the cupboards - as expected, I’m unsuccessful in my attempts to find coffee grounds. “Bastard. Wanna run to Starbucks with me?”

Louis lets out a bark of laughter and immediately holds up his hands. “No. Absolutely not. I love you, Erin, but I’m more afraid of Niall kicking my arse all the way ‘round the world if I enable your caffeine intake.”

“Wimp. Fine. Hey, excuse me! Those are my Warheads.”

He pops a candy into his mouth, his smug smirk twisting into a grimace within seconds. I grumble under my breath and steal the bag from his hands. The tightness in my chest has eased slightly now that I’ve put words to what I’ve been feeling, but I still can’t quite let go of the last bit of anxiety. Maybe Lou is right. I might just have to actually talk to Niall about this.

“Who knew marriage took effective communication in order to work,” I mutter, and Louis spits the sour candy into the bin before turning to face me. I roll my eyes at his deer-caught-in-the-headlights expression. “Don’t worry, I’m not asking you.”

“I’m wounded! Words hurt, Erin.”

“Love you, Moo.”

“Yeah, it shows. Want me to hang around until he gets back?”

“Nah, I’m probably just gonna watch something or write. Uh, there is something you can do if you want to.”

Once Louis agrees, I find the business card for the mom-and-pop printing shop and slide all the photographs into a large envelope. He hugs me as tightly as he can, then he’s gone with a promise that the pictures will be at their destination as fast as he can drive. His footsteps fade, the door closes with a click. The quiet settles over the house once more, and I exhale slowly.

Less than ten weeks to go, and I’m terrified. The nightmares have grown in intensity and frequency. Everything is set up - the baby’s bed and changing table are put together, the chest of drawers stocked with teeny onesies and the smallest socks I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and the hospital bag has been packed for almost a month. Everything is ready. Except me.

The closer I get to my due date, the less prepared I feel. How can I do this? I’m not sure I can. Granted, I don’t have much of a choice; the baby is going to come whether I think it’s time or not. It would just be nice to blink and have the entire ordeal over with - quick and painless.

Once I’ve stashed the box of photographs by the foot of the stairs, I head back to the couch where I left my phone. I’d been in the middle of reading Jonna’s weekly email last night when I fell asleep, and I still haven’t gotten around to finishing it. I lean forward enough to get my water off the coffee-table and, sipping at it, reread the message from the beginning.

Sis,

I asked Mom if I could come visit you and Dad soon, but she’s still saying no. She won’t give me a reason why, though, and I know Riley wants to come, too. I don’t understand. I just wanna see you again. Can you make her change her mind???

Anyway. Mason is gone. He’s out. I know, he seemed so amazing and sweet. Turns out he only wanted to be my boyfriend because Grace wouldn’t be his girlfriend. I found out from Kirsten and dumped him. Being a second choice is bad, right? And I’m like noooo wayyyy am I going to be anyone’s second choice.

Anyway! Astronomy camp is still fun! We’ve been mapping the constellations and April THINKS she found a new one but everyone knows she just saw Cassiopeia. We tried seeing what she did, but we couldn’t so she was wrong. She isn’t talking to any of us now.

Hope you and the baby are doing okay. Do you know what it’s gonna be? Will you pleeeeeease send me a new belly pic?? Tell your hubby I said hi and I miss him. I miss you, too. Okay Mina is getting mad that I’m still on the computer so I better go (you’d think by now they would know not to make 15 teenagers share one crappy laptop!!!)

Love you!!!!!!


I snort inelegantly and shake my head, but I remember clearly how it was when I was sixteen. Sure, I wasn’t quite as interested in boys when I was Jonna’s age - most of my time was spent with the band and preparing for Battle of the Bands, so boys took a backseat in the grand scheme of things. But still, I definitely was attracted to boys and occasionally fell into the trap of being distracted by them.

As much as I am loathe to admit it, Leanne has the right idea: Having Jonna here is a terrible idea. My marriage - and pregnancy - has drawn more attention from paparazzi and fans alike, and putting Jonna in the limelight right now isn’t an acceptable risk just so I can see my sister. I make a mental note to video-chat her when she gets back home before starting to type my reply.

I know me agreeing with her mother is going to irritate Jonna, so I promise her that as soon as the baby is born and we’re cleared for travel, we will definitely come to visit. I attach my most recent belly-selfie and send my love off with the email, then set my phone aside. Staring blankly at the wall across the room, I let my mind wander over the last few years.

Having a younger sister and brother was never in the plans for me. Meeting them had been awkward; my father had gone with me, and we’d sat in the roadside diner for almost an hour before the other three showed up. Jonna had immediately launched into a long-winded introduction, which turned into how she was a fan of Complete Irrationality even before she found out she was related to me.

Riley stayed quiet, blending into the background as he fidgeted with his straw, and I understood the desire to remain almost anonymous. I often felt that way. So I didn’t try to engage him in conversation, just smiled at him then focused on everyone else.

It took a while for me to be comfortable with the idea of having siblings, especially ones created because my father cheated on my mother and subsequently abandoned us for Leanne. But Natalie and Amber had made me realise I was basically punishing Riley and Jonna for my father’s indiscretions; they were as innocent in the entire situation as I’d been, and all they wanted was to know their family.

Once I came to terms with it and accepted it as the truth, I was just as enthusiastic about getting to know them, and our bond has only grown stronger since. Riley doesn’t reach out to me very often, and when he does, his emails are all about Minecraft and Pokemon. I expect nothing more, considering he’s only ten.

I let out a slow breath when the baby gives a rough kick to my ribs, running a hand over my belly. “Let’s not be a butthead today, kiddo. Mummy needs a break.”

My head falls to rest on the back of the couch, and I close my eyes. Ten more weeks. That’s all. Just ten more weeks, and I’ll be able to get back to not sharing my body with a growing baby.