‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

four

I groan and let my head fall back against the headrest, closing my eyes against the bright sunlight. I was up half the night, unable to sleep, tossing and turning and vomiting in turns. It makes me wonder how I've completely overlooked the random bouts of nausea I have dealt with over the last couple of weeks; the first time it happened, I thought maybe it was something I ate. I really should have noticed something when it happened repeatedly since. The fact that I haven’t been able to wear a bra, no matter how much I hate wearing one at any other time in my life, has been the biggest sign in retrospect.

Bryan pulls up outside of the tall building where the photoshoot is to take place, and I exhale slowly. Whether it’s because of the pregnancy or a sudden onset of carsickness, my stomach is threatening to revolt, and I’m miserable, quite frankly.

There are a handful of people standing at the edge of the lot, prevented from moving forward by a line of security guards; the fans begin screaming as I step out of the SUV, and I wonder idly if they can see any changes in my body even as I wave at them, though I know it’s an impossibility at this stage. Bryan’s hand rests against my shoulder, pushes me toward the door with gentle insistence. He doesn’t bother taking off his sunglasses even once we’re indoors, and I roll my eyes at him.

“You watch too many movies with bodyguards,” I comment lightly, poking him in the side, and he swats at my finger with his free hand.

“And you don’t take my job seriously enough.”

“At least I’ve never been like Natalie. You and Rick are friends, you know the shenanigans she pulled with him.”

“I’d have killed you long before now if you pulled half that shit with me, and you know it.”

“Yeah, Rick has always had a soft spot for that crazy girl.”

Bryan gives me a dark look through his shades. “Don’t get any ideas.”

I laugh as an assistant leads me away to the dressing room. The stylist looks me over, and I nearly burst into giggles at the way she slips the tip of her pen between her teeth as she thinks. Eventually, she gives out a “hmmph” and crosses the room to the racks of clothing lined against the wall.

I take the outfit she hands me in silence, moving to the curtained-off section to change. She doesn’t look happy while I pull the curtains closed behind me, but I really, really do not care. A shred of privacy is all I want, and I will do what I can to obtain it.

I close my eyes and swallow thickly. The pants won’t button up properly without me having to suck my belly in. I can hear the stylist muttering quietly to someone else on the other side of the curtain, and though I can’t hear the words, my mind keeps telling me that she’s talking negatively about me. I exhale slowly, steadily, and wipe my hands across my eyes. She glances up at me, falling silent immediately, when I poke my head through the curtain.

“I’m… I’m sorry, but is there a different size of pants? I-I’m kinda bloated right now.”

Her lips thin out. “Of course. I’ll be right back.”

When she returns, she has a black velvet mini-skirt in her hand. She passes it over, and I force a smile before ducking back behind the curtain. The stretchy waistband allows the skirt to settle comfortably along my hips; I exchange my worn-out shirt for the silver halter top that she chose. I step out into the main room and sit on one of the chairs to slip my feet into a pair of patterned ankle boots.

“Hm. Something’s missing.” The stylist cocks her head then nods succinctly. “Right. Sorry, hun, gotta do this.”

I don't have time to consider what she can possibly be talking about before her hands are slipping inside the top. Something sticky attaches to the bottom of my breast, and she pulls up sharply; I bite my tongue to stop the yelp of surprise and pain as she presses the top of the adhesive bra to my skin. My breathing is shaky and I'm near tears again as she switches sides.

A voice in the back of my head screams at me to punch her, but logic demands to be heard: It's an overreaction, she would sue and I would be thrown in prison for assault, hitting her would open a whole can of worms that I’m not ready to explain. So I take a deep breath, force the words back down, and ignore the throbbing in my breasts.

The photographer is one I don’t know, but he seems nice enough as he instructs me to smile, pose, change. Eventually, I’m dismissed, and I go back to the dressing room to change back into my yoga pants, T-shirt, and hoodie. I know the interviewer is probably expecting me to look more put together, but I really can't be bothered. Between the ache in my boobs from peeling off a ridiculously sticky bra added to the general tenderness and my utter exhaustion, they're lucky I'm even coherent right now.

I somehow manage to get through the interview, laughing and smiling at the right times, answering the questions in sentences that don't ramble on and on, cracking jokes when I feel like things are getting too serious (namely, when David asks how I manage to juggle my marriage and my career, especially when Niall is much more well-known and in-demand than I am; he apologises immediately and profusely at how callous his question is, but I wave it off - he's not wrong, after all).

We part with a quick handshake, and I follow Bryan out to the SUV.

“Hey, um, how much do you love me?” I ask as I buckle my seatbelt.

“Depends on what you want.”

“Wow. Rude.” I catch his eye in the rear view mirror and quickly look away. “Nah, can we go to this address before going back to the venue?”

He takes the slip of paper from me, glancing down at it. “Yeah, sure.”

Thankfully, the navigation app doesn't announce what the address is for, but I have about thirty minutes before we arrive. Then, because he's not an idiot, he’ll figure it out. I settle back in my seat and pick at my nails, watch as building pass by us.

“Erin.”

My eyes fall shut at the tone of his voice, but I force myself to meet his gaze. He actually takes off his sunglasses as he stares at me, half-turned in the driver’s seat. The number on the dashboard clock ticks to the next one; I slowly nod my head, and his light eyes widen. A lazy smile splits his face.

“When - hold on. Is this why you've been acting weird?”

“Yeah. Can we just go in?”

He shakes his head but gets out of his seat, rounding the vehicle to open my door for me. I give him an odd look when he walks slightly closer to me than normal. His only response is to shrug and stop me from stepping in front of a car that's decided to ignore the fact that two people are about to go through a crosswalk. I roll my eyes, push my hair from my face, and step inside the building. Gusts of warm air comes from the vents above the entryway, and I shiver at the contrast against my cheeks, chilled from being outside in the breezy fifty-degree weather.

Once I've signed in, I make my way to the chair in the corner of the room. Bryan takes the seat next to me, keeps his body angled to keep an eye on everyone in the waiting room - the receptionist and a woman who looks to be about mid-thirties who's engrossed in reading a tabloid with Angelina Jolie’s face on the cover. Filling out the form takes very little time once I focus; I've had to fill out registration forms many times over the years with only calling my mom for information one time.

The nurse comes out and calls my name before I'm done, so I stick the pen in the clippy thing at the top of the board and follow her back. Bryan hesitates but comes along, too. We come to a stop at the end of the hall where there's a nook with a scale; she tuts quietly at the numbers but writes them down.

“So we’re gonna be in room seven, ma’am, right around this corner here.” Nissa glances at Bryan then at me. “Is your friend coming in, too?”

“Mind if I stand outside the door?”

“Not at all, sir.”

She shuts the door in Bryan’s face and motions for me to sit on the examination table. I oblige with her requests while she takes my temperature and blood pressure reading and listens to my heart and lungs. Her touch is clinical but gentle, and she finishes quickly. She leaves with an order for me to change into a gown and a promise that the doctor will be in as soon as possible.

Goosebumps ripple across my flesh as I sit there waiting. My heels hit lightly against the table base, my legs too full of nervous energy to remain still, and I stare at the photographs on the wall - dozens upon dozens of babies in hospital nursery cribs. I grimace at one particularly ugly baby then freeze, horrified at myself for that thought.

Thankfully, I’m not left alone for too long; the doctor comes in after a few minutes and smiles at me.

“Hi, there. You must be Erin. I’m Doctor Alvarez. It’s nice to meet you.”

“You, too.”

“Okay. So you’re here because you’re pregnant?”

“Yeah. Three tests said I was, anyway. So…” I shrug.

“All righty then. Everything looks good so far, although your weight is, well, it’s honestly kind of worrying that the numbers aren’t higher. Have you always been that small?”

“I, uh, I guess? I mean, I could probably stand to eat more, but yeah.”

“Hm. Okay. We’ll definitely have to figure out a way of safely increasing your weight, but right now, let’s go over your medical history, then we’ll go further after that.”

An hour later, I’m standing in the cold sunshine, staring down at the file folder in my hand. Doctor Alvarez made copies of my paperwork since, as she so accurately put it, I probably won’t be able to have just one doctor while on tour.

Bryan’s head snaps up, and he nudges me, pushes me toward the car. A teenager is staring right at us, and I know, I just know, that her mind is going a mile a minute right now. I duck my head and hurry across the car park. The best I can hope for now is she thinks I'm someone else and doesn't Tweet about it.

Bryan pulls out of the lot, and I let out a slow breath, open the folder. There, paper-clipped to the inside of the file, is the sonogram. My finger runs lightly over the teeny tiny mass that's supposedly the baby; it certainly looks nothing like what the end result does. A hot tightness forms in my chest, and I can't stop the giddy giggle that comes out.

“You excited?”

“I… I don't think it's real quite yet.”

“Yeah, that'll change,” he says with a quiet chuckle, merging lanes to get to our exit. “So, uh, tell Niall yet?”

“Yep. Told him when we talked on Skype on Sunday.”

“How's he taking it?”

“Um, much better than I thought, to be honest.”

“Good. I'd hate to have to kill him.”

I pause. “Y’know, you threaten to kill people an awful lot for a big ol’ softy.”

“For you, kid? I'd kill the pope without hesitation.”

The fact that he's Catholic only compounds the seriousness of his statement. I swallow down the lump that's suddenly formed in my throat, smile at his reflection in the rear view mirror, then stare down at the fuzzy white lump on the sonogram.

I haven't lied - none of this seems like reality, like I'm going to wake up at any moment and have everything turn out to be one helluva dream. Somewhere, though, way down deep inside of me, I feel something stir to life, and it takes a long moment to process and put a name to it: Hope. Excitement. Anticipation for whatever the future is bringing.

[... ... ...]


To: Ni-baby You busy?

I make sure the text has been delivered then toss my phone onto the bed. I still have two hours before soundcheck; maybe I can sneak in a nap. Unfortunately, that plan is derailed by the fact that Little Things has begun to play loudly. I flop down onto the mattress and press the answer button. Niall’s face appears on the screen, and I lose the struggle against my smile. The background behind him is full of people running around, but then the view gets blurry as he ostensibly finds somewhere in private to talk to me.

Eventually, it goes quiet, and I giggle when I see he’s in a storage closet of some venue. His grin is wide, though I can see the worried tightness at the edges. I reach for the folder on the bedside table and flip it open, sliding the sonogram out from under the paperclip. I hold it up, adjusting the angle until the entire thing is clear in the video.

“Oh, hell,” he whispers, and I peek around the edge of the ultrasound to see his hand trembling over his mouth, eyes shining. “Is that…?”

“That, my love, is the itty-bitty, raspberry-sized baby that I am currently incubating.”

“Oh, my God.”

“According to the doctor, I’m roughly eight weeks along, due middle of June. She said I’ll be able to get a more accurate date at my next appointment.”

“Oh, my God. Erin…”

“Yes?”

His accent is more pronounced, voice thick, when he murmurs, “That’s our baby.”

“Yeah, it is.”

“Can, can you send me a picture?”

“Of course, love.” I grin and finally set the sonogram down so that I have an unobstructed view of his awestruck expression. “You gonna be okay there, Dad?”

Niall nods slowly, mouth still covered, and I press the button to take a picture. He inhales unsteadily after a moment, but I don’t speak, just let him process everything on his own time. The rest of the call takes very little time now that he’s seen the ultrasound - he still has a concert to do within the next half-hour, and I need to eat something like Doctor Alvarez told me to.

We come up with a plan together to tell our friends and family after the next appointment, once the risk of potential miscarriage decreases; I show him the photo one more time, and he hangs up, grinning widely.

As soon as the screen goes to my wallpaper, I open up my camera and snap a picture of the sonogram. I triple-check the recipient before sending the message; it’s just my luck that I would try to send it to my husband only to end up sending it to my management company or someone equally out of the loop. Niall sends back a selfie of him grinning like a loon on the side of the stage, eyes suspiciously brighter. I save the picture to my phone and stand, ready to go find some fruit to snack on.