‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

thirty-eight

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The show goes better than expected. Matt does a fantastic job keeping up, even if he doesn’t have quite the same flare Tanner does. I can’t find fault in it, so I keep any complaints to myself. Jamie didn’t hire him for ‘flare’. She hired him to help finish out this tour because my bassist is an idiot.

It isn’t even the fact he isn’t Tanner that bothers me the most. It’s that Matt’s eyes follow me everywhere I go. He stands too close for my comfort. He tries too hard to be a member of the band when he... He just isn’t. No one else seems to notice. Again, I don’t speak up about it.

Midnight arrives, and I finally head out to the bus with the others. Amber stays at my side even after I drop to sprawl across the bed. The band and I usually take turns on who sleeps in it - this mattress is nearly heaven compared to the bunks. The bunks suck, to be honest. But tonight, it’s all mine and Amber’s.

She changes into a pair of pyjamas quickly then presses a kiss to my sweaty forehead. “Give me a shout when you’re done.”

I nod and wait for her to close the door behind her. As soon as it slides into place, I unlock my phone and tap on Niall’s name. What time it is back home doesn’t even matter. My appearance means little. I just want to talk to my husband for the first time all day.

Thankfully, he answers within seconds, and I nearly burst into tears at the sweet smile he gives me. His eyes are washed white in the glare from his screen, the circles under them darker than usual. Dec must have had trouble falling asleep tonight. The video blurs for a moment. When it stills, I can see he’s put in an earbud.

“Hi.”

I exhale shakily, wiping the dampness from my cheek. “Hey. Gods, but I miss you.”

“I miss you, too. Who knew it would be so hard to schedule communication?”

“We both knew it was,” I giggle before clearing my throat. “The good thing is it’s not like when we were both touring. That was a mess.”

“Yeah, it was. When are you coming home?”

I sigh. A large part of me wishes I was already there in bed with him, kissing the pout off his face as our baby slept only a few feet away. “Still got a couple weeks, unfortunately.”

“I feel like we haven’t talked in a while. Tell me what’s going on.”

I ignore the twinge of guilt. It’s my fault our chats have been so sporadic. But this call isn’t about that. It’s about keeping Niall up to date and spending whatever time I can with him. So I blow out a breath and tell him.

He grimaces when I tell him about Tanner breaking his wrist, laughs when I growl that Tanner is a moron. Niall’s lips tug down at the mention of the odd vibe I get from Matt. I can’t explain why, I just know it’s there. I haven’t always been able to trust my gut, but something tells me I need to listen to it this time.

The call isn’t as good as being home with him, but it’s enough for now. It has to be. There isn’t much to talk about, though. We both know firsthand what touring is like, the routine and go-go-go of it all.

My words dry up as I watch my husband biting his lip. Hesitating. He never hesitates like this. My heart sinks in my chest.

“What is it?”

“I... I have to send you something. A video.” He sighs and sits up against the headboard. “I just don’t want it to upset you.”

“Babe. Unless it’s a sex tape with someone who isn’t me, it won’t. Send it to me. Let me watch it.”

He nods slowly, and I hang up and wait. It doesn’t take long until my phone vibrates with an incoming text. I open the thread and tap on the thumbnail for the video. Chewing at the edge of my nail, I press play to watch the video clear up.

Declan is stretched out on his playmat, his angel’s face split with a gummy smile as he stares at who I assume is Niall. I’m proved right by the sound of Niall’s voice coming from behind the camera.

“Cmon, bud, you can do it. Let’s show your ma what you’ve learnt to do.”

Declan kicks his legs, squealing, and his arms flail. I gasp a broken sob as I watch my baby rolling over for the first time. The video shudders then stabilises, and I realise Niall moved so he could get a better shot. Our son giggles before letting out a screech. His face screws up. I fully expect him to start fussing.

I want him to start fussing.

Instead, he twists his body until he’s on his belly again. I can’t catch my breath. It’s impossible - my lungs don’t work properly anymore. Hell, I’m not even sure they’re in my chest still. I drop my phone onto the bed, pressing blindly at the screen.

“Great job, Dec! Oh, your mammy is gonna be so proud of you. You’re amazing, little one.”

A bomb slams into my brain. My heart. Failure clings to me - a long-known friend suffocating me. I shouldn’t be gone while my son, not even five months old, learns to roll over. The voices from the lounge fall silent at my bitten-off Fuck!. I ignore my bandmates and drop my head into my hands. I let myself sob and wallow.

It kills me to know I’ve missed something so important. I should have been there. Niall shouldn’t be the only one experiencing this momentous occasion. For a split second, I hate him. I resent my husband for being there when I’m selfish enough to not be.

He has done so much over the last few months to reassure me I’m a good mother, and his patience has been unwavering. But I can’t help wondering when it will be too much for him.

I know I can’t put it off any longer. Niall accepts the call immediately. I can’t stop the sob that bubbles out of me when I see his sympathetic expression. He blows out a breath, scrubs a hand over his jaw.

“I’m sorry.”

“Why the Hell are you sorry?” I scoff, dragging the hem of my shirt over my cheeks. “You’re not the one a thousand miles from home while our kid is rolling over for the very first fucking time.”

“I didn’t want to upset you, love.”

“Trust me, I’m not upset with you. I’m upset with myself.”

He frowns, eyes so full of concern. Love. “Why?”

“Because I should be there!”

I drop my phone again and close my eyes. Niall stays silent on the other end, and I know without a doubt that he’s waiting for me to speak. What can I even say? If I tell him what thoughts race through my mind right now, he will try to make me feel better. It would only make me feel worse.

I know he’s had his own doubts since we found out I was pregnant. He’s trusted me with those confessions multiple times. But putting my thoughts into words sends icy tendrils down my spine, holds me captive to my own anxieties. The things I doubt he feels so viciously.

Niall’s eyes are closed when I look back at the screen. It’s been seven minutes - seven minutes during which I cried and he waited patiently. He breathes evenly, the steady cadence slightly staticky through the speakers of my phone. I stare at my sleeping husband, listen to the sounds of him breathing and the music-box playing quietly in the background, and feel the belief growing larger in my mind. I’m a failure, and both Niall and Declan deserve better.

Shaking my head, I end the call and flop down on the mattress. Someone knocks on the door just as I’ve turned the light out. Amber slips into the room before I can say a word, and the tears come again as she curls up against my back. No words need to be spoken. Amber knows me better than I know myself. She knows how I feel. What I’m thinking.

Sleep isn’t going to come easily for me tonight, but I ache desperately for something to drag me away from the darkness of guilt.