‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

thirty

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Niall


The soft sniffles follow me from the room, and the door closes on Amber’s voice as she comforts Erin. My heart races, beats out a desire to make Alan regretting hurting Erin’s feelings. It’s only because I know he’s important to her that I don’t swing first, ask questions later.

“You made my wife cry,” I announce quietly once we’re halfway down the corridor.

Alan’s shoulders tighten, but he doesn’t stop walking toward the exit. “Fuck off, Niall.”

“Nah, mate, don’t think I will. See, there’s a woman in that room that I love, not even four hours after giving birth to the most beautiful baby I’ve ever seen, and she’s crying because of you.”

I continue following him, and he continues trying to put distance between us. I won’t let him. Laura upsetting my wife is one thing - I can’t change that. Only Erin can stand up to her mother, because I refuse to drive a wedge in their relationship, no matter how I disagree with Laura’s behaviour. But the man who’s supposed to be one of her best friends? I can step in for that.

Alan doesn’t speak in the lift, as we make our way through the maze of halls, during our trek through the car park. He reaches for the handle of his Charger, sighing, and his head falls forward. Suddenly, he pivots on his heel to face me. His dark eyes shine in the glare of the lot lights.

“Why did you name him that?” he pleads quietly, voice hard and cracking, and I blink stupidly at him for a moment.

“Jem meant the world to her. Why wouldn’t we honour him like hat?”

“She didn’t tell you.” He blows out a breath at my obvious confusion - what the Hell is he talking about? - and scrubs at the tears on his cheeks. “She and Jem… They’d get drunk and argue over who’d get to use the name ‘Declan’. It always ended in the same agreement: Whoever had a son first would call dibs.”

Everything makes sense now. His reaction is understandable. It’s been four years since he lost his brother, but of course he’d still be hurting when it came to something this momentous. Something that inadvertently involves his brother. If Greg died, I’d be torn apart.

But that doesn’t justify how he’s made Erin feel.

“So you’re angry that she’s using the name?” I ask quietly, and he smacks at his car.

“No! I’m fucking pissed that Jem never got a fair chance! We - the band - we argued, and he felt like we were all against him, and now he’s dead, Niall. He’s dead. He’ll never have a kid, and it isn’t fair that she gets to but my brother doesn’t.”

I breathe out slowly, trying to control my own surge of anger. Erin has commented on how quick I am to respond when frustrated, how horribly my words can come out. I don’t want to completely destroy the relationship she has with him, no matter the fact his reaction has broken her heart. So I run a hand through my hair and try to think before I speak.

“Alan, I’m sorry, okay? You’re right. Jem never should’ve died that ay, and he definitely shouldn’t have died when he did.”

“Damn right,” he bites out, going to say something else, but I speak over him.

“But we can’t change what’s happened. And it isn’t - it isn’t fair to Erin for you to punish her for something she had no control over.” Sighing, I look away from him. “I think it’s best you go home. I’ll tell her… something, fuck, I dunno. I’m good at thinking on my feet.”

It isn’t a surprise that Alan doesn’t even try to argue. He’s a smart guy, so he’s most likely aware that I will do my best to physically force him into his car if he tries to go back inside. I would burn this world down to protect my wife and my child, and Alan isn’t dumb enough to not know that.

He nods sharply, yanks on the door handle, then presses a button his fob. The car lets out a series of quiet beeps, the thunk of the locks disengaging. He avoids looking at me as he slides into the driver’s seat. I remain where I am while he reverses then peels away.

Silence descends on the car park once the navy Charger is out of sight; all I can hear are the crickets in the grass, the wind rustling the leaves on the trees, and the echoes of Erin’s crying in my ears. Closing my eyes, I breathe in deeply and try to think of what I could possibly say to explain Alan’s disappearance.

Today was supposed to be one of the happiest days of our lives - the day Erin and I became parents. The day our family grew to include one more. I can’t help but worry that it’s tainted now, that Erin will forever associate Declan’s birth with the risk of losing one of her closest friends.

Declan. I was taken aback when she suggested the name. We’d never really sat down and talked about names, saying we would figure it out when the time came. So for her to have a chosen name so quickly had been unexpected. Having the full story behind the name, though… It isn’t so surprising now, I suppose.

My gaze shifts to the fourth floor, the squares of white and the glass reflecting the street-lights. I’m not looking forward to this, but I can’t linger out here any longer. Between her emotional state and her anxiety, Erin is going to start panicking if I don’t get back into the room within the next few minutes.

Sighing, I steel my spine and double-check that Alan hasn’t come back. My self-control is only so strong, and it certainly can’t withstand seeing his face any longer while knowing he’s made Erin cry. Sure, he has every right to be upset about the situation, to admit he wishes his brother had the opportunity to be a father. We all wish Jem was alive again, even me.

But there is no excuse for him taking it out on Erin. Not ever, but specially not now. Not after months of her worrying, of doubting er ability to be a great mother, of her body changing so drastically and her mental health worsening.

Not after the weeks of death threats.

Not after he’s watched her fear for her life, for our baby’s life, because of so-called “fans” deciding to react so horribly.

Not after everything she went through following Jem’s death. She was just as devastated as Alan was, and she still hates herself for not doing more to stop Jem from leaving the studio that day.

Alan doesn’t get to hurt her so horribly in hopes of lessening his own pain.

Nurses smile but ultimately leave me alone as I make my way back to the room. Though I can see a few people recognising me when I pass by open doors and past waiting rooms, they don’t stop me. A light flickers overhead, shadows dancing on the walls, and my shoes squeak on the linoleum. A janitor moves from room to room, bringing out rubbish and disinfecting anywhere a person might touch.

Once I reach the correct door, I pause. There is no excuse I can make for Alan, nothing I can say that can make this better. To take away the hurt Erin is feeling. My mind is an endless barren landscape, devoid of any way of softening the blow. I draw in a steadying breath, the metal handle cold beneath my palm.

I can’t put this off any longer.

So I step into the room, meet Erin’s eye, and do what I swore never to do: I lie to my wife.