‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

twenty-six

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I burrow deeper into my blankets and turn the channel. Again. Even Mel and Sue’s delightful banter can’t keep me entertained for more than five minutes, which is awful - GBBO has been my go-to show ever since I found out about it.

The house is eerily silent, even with the noise from the television. For once, the spacious quality - the very thing I loved so much - is… imposing. The twenty-sixth of April brought about our lives’ regularly-scheduled programming. Niall went back into the studio, and I went back to boredom and doctor appointments.

What’s worse is Doctor Porter put his foot down on my caffeine intake. No more coffee. At all. I’d tried arguing, but he refused to budge. If I didn’t trust him so much, I would have gone to someone else for a second opinion.

Now here I am, seven weeks away from my due date, and I can’t rely on anyone to sneak me any of the iced coffee I loved. They’re all a bunch of cowards, hiding behind their fear of Niall’s wrath. No amount of begging and promising he’d never find out has convinced them to go against him. Not even Amber.

Turning off the television, I let out a slow breath and struggle to my feet. The doctor wants me to take it easy, but I’m bored. Lying around and doing nothing have never been easy accomplishments for me.

Even after tours, I’d only ever needed a day or two to recuperate, then I was off finding things to keep me busy. Anything that might carry a risk of slight overexertion has been banned. And it sucks.

“Good morning!”

Sighing, I plaster a fake smile onto my face and turn to greet the woman in the foyer. “Morning, Adrienne.”

“Why aren’t you relaxing?” she frowns, hands on her hips. “Do I need to tell Mister Horan you aren’t listening to your doctor?”

“No, no. Don’t do that. Please, god, no, don’t do that. I’m just getting a glass of water then heading upstairs to play guitar or something.”

“Go on, Mrs Horan. I’ll bring you a drink when I come up to clean.”

“Adrienne-”

“Don’t you ‘Adrienne’ me, ma’am. I’m only making sure your husband doesn’t throttle us all.”

“It isn’t your job to keep me hydrated,” I protest weakly, but the middle-aged mother of four doesn’t back down. “Fine. I’m going. But note that I’m doing this completely against my will.”

“But you’re doing it, and that’s what matters. Richard, please help Mrs Horan up the stairs while I grab the supplies.”

“Yes, ma’am. Come along, Mrs Horan.”

I groan even as he grasps my elbow carefully. “I’m not an invalid. I can make it up a flight of stairs, I promise.”

“I know, ma’am.”

“But?”

“But I have my orders,” he says with a smile of apology before continuing in an undertone, “And Adrienne is terrifying.”

Richard has a point. So I acquiesce as gracefully as possible, though I grumble to myself all the way up to the music room. He waits until I’m sat on the piano bench, then he’s gone. I stare at the empty doorway for a long moment then set my phone next to me, frowning at the saddening lack of notifications.

I knew Niall wouldn’t be able to text often, but I still half-expected the occasional check-in. Natalie is too busy with Levi and Goose and her own life. I understand it, so I can’t really be upset with her.

Honestly, I can’t be angry with anybody for not texting or calling regularly. My existence isn’t the centre of the universe, and to expect it to be is selfish and unreasonable. However, I think it’s quite reasonable to want some sort of acknowledgement that my friends and family know I’m alive.

Before I can drown too much in those maudlin thoughts, I flip my phone so it rests facedown. If I can’t see the screen, I can’t dwell on the fact that the screen stays dark… right?

“You could be my silver springs,” I sing quietly, tapping on the keys. “Blue, green, colours flashing. I would be -”

“Uh-oh. You’re playing Fleetwood Mac. What’s wrong, honey?”

I shrug as Adrienne sets a glass on the piano-top. “Nothing. Just… lonely a bit, I guess.”

“I know your husband only hired us to clean, so take my advice with a grain of salt. But maybe you should tell your friends how you feel.”

“I don’t wanna be the pregnant chick who guilts people into visiting.”

“It isn’t guilting them. It’s reminding them that you’re a human being who needs social interaction. To feel important.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“Were you this stubborn before, or is it a side effect of being pregnant?” she laughs, patting my shoulder. “I’d stay and hang out, but we have two more houses to hit today. You gonna be okay?”

She doesn’t look convinced by my assurances that I’ll be fine, but she also doesn’t argue. Maybe she feels it would be too far out of line. Though Adrienne and her crew were employed to clean the house during the final stretch of my pregnancy, they all have become familiar enough that I could consider them friends - that I do consider them friends.

Once she’s left to do her job, I turn back to the piano. More Silver Springs is out of the question - Adrienne had figured out quickly that it’s my favourite “I’m mopey and hormonal” song of choice. So instead, my fingers trail over the keys until they find the correct one; the opening notes to They Don’t Know About Us fill the room, and I focus on the melody and lyrics instead of the loneliness.

{-_-_-_-}


Niall stops in the doorway, and I glance up from where I’m folding all the freshly-washed onesies that Natalie bought and had shipped to our house. Why she thought the baby would need thirty outfits about how badass their aunt it, I’ll never know. But, as usual, I never let the opportunity for friendly revenge slip by.

My payback should be at her place by the end of the week. I can only hope she doesn’t keep the very loud, very annoying kiddie drumset from Levi, considering I’d chosen it specifically for all the noise complaints in the reviews.

I set aside the onesie in my hand and reach for another. A huff of laughter escapes when I read it: My aunt came here to party and kick ass, and the party’s just ended. Eventually, Niall clears his throat.

“Uh, love, is… is there something wrong?”

My brows draw together, and I frown at him even as I continue folding. “No, why?”

I hate myself for loving you, can’t break free from the things that you do. I wanna walk, but I run back to you. That’s why I hate myself for loving you, Joan Jett sings from my phone’s speakers, and Niall gives me a pointed look.

I bite down my lower lip, stretching toward my phone even though my belly makes it almost impossible. The guitar and drums fall silent as soon as I press the pause button, and my giggle breaks free at how the entire situation must look to my husband. He slowly crosses the room to sit on the end of the bed. I pout when I realise he’s too far away to kiss.

Babe,” I whine, making grabby hands toward him. He rolls his eyes but scoots closer nonetheless. Snuggling into his side, I stare up at him. “I promise we’re fine. There’s nothing wrong. This is literally just Baby and me wanting to rock out, and Pandora decided Joan fit the bill. Which, let’s be honest, she does.”

“Okay. As long as we’re okay.”

“Of course we are.”

“What is it?” he asks after I sigh heavily.

“Why does Nat hate me so much? I mean, I can’t think of any other reason why she’d send this freaking many onesies for a baby who’s a, not even here yet, and b, just going to outgrow them within a couple of months.”

He laughs quietly and kisses my hair. “It’s because she loves you but shows her love in really, really weird ways.”

“Well, she can get her ass over here to wash, fold, and put away all of these herself.”

“Why don’t you relax or something? I can finish up in here.”

“You’re amazing, babe. Really, you are. But you’ve been on the move since six this morning. You’re the one who needs to relax.”

“I think I can handle doing the laundry for the baby I helped create.”

“Actually, if I remember correctly, I’m the one who did all the work. You just laid back and let me have my wicked way with you.” I wince at a rough kick to my ribs, glaring down at my belly. “That was rude, and I don’t appreciate it.”

Niall snorts before breaking down into laughter. I swat at his arm in retaliation, but all it does is serve to make him laugh even more. Muttering about how he and his child need to stop conspiring against me, I manage to climb clumsily off the bed and waddle toward the bathroom. I cannot wait until my bladder is no longer being used as a damn trampoline for an unborn kid the size of a spaghetti squash.

Niall waits outside the door while I do what I need to do. Once I’ve opened the door again, his hands fall to gently rest on the swell of my belly. His kiss is soft, tender, so full of love. I can’t help but smile against his lips, all irritation fading away. When he pulls back, he immediately starts leading me toward the living room.

There is no denying how thankful I am to be sitting by the time we get downstairs, no matter how much I protested on the walk. There’s only about five weeks left until I’m meant to become my own body again, and I’m counting down the days. Not just because I’m tired of being tired all the time or having so much strain put onto my body. But because I want to meet the baby I never knew I wanted.

Seeing Nat be a mom has only made me wish for time to go faster. She’s brought Levi around plenty of times so I could practice changing the diaper of a living, breathing, squirming baby. However, I still hold a small amount of frustration that he peed on me the first time. Niall, wonderful husband that he is, refrains from bringing it up too often.

“Only a few more weeks,” I whisper as I run my hand along my belly, the uncomfortable stretching from inside paling in comparison to the awe-inspiring wonder of teeny, tiny feet pressing against my palm.