‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End


I wring my hands in my lap as the Skype call connects. As soon as my mother’s face appears, I force a smile and hold up a finger; Niall’s mother still hasn’t accepted the call, and this isn’t something we can talk about without all of them present. The longer it takes for Maura to answer, the more my mother’s expression darkens.

I know it’s late, almost eleven at night in California, but it isn't like we wanted to be awake at just after six in the morning - it is literally the only time that Niall and I knew our parents would be awake at the same time. With a sigh, I finally drag my gaze away from the blank half of the screen.

“Hi, Mom. Where's Dad?”

“He's in the kitchen.” She pauses, calls over her shoulder that I'm on the computer. “He says he'll be here in just a second.”

Her words are cut off by the sudden appearance of Maura’s face on the screen, and we all exchange exuberant hellos. Niall finally joins me on the sofa, a cup of coffee in one hand and peppermint tea in the other. I take a sip from his coffee, sighing blissfully as I swallow.

He's only allowed me to have a few small drinks of coffee here and there since we got home; at first, I thought him getting me something to drink while he was already in the kitchen was sweet, thoughtful, but now? Now I know it for the life-ruining action that it is - he limits my caffeine intake. I don’t make a fuss out of it, though, just compromised that I get at least one mouthful of coffee every so often. He gladly conceded, and I’m still trying to figure out who won in that exchange.

I set his mug down on the coffee table by mine, grateful that he at least put them in matching cups so that it doesn’t cause our parents to question why I started drinking from one patterned cup just to drink from a differently-patterned one. His arm wraps around my shoulder, and I pull the laptop onto my thighs and lean back into him. Once we’re settled and my father has joined, Niall kisses my temple, murmuring a question into my skin.

“You ready?”

“Not really,” I breathe back, but his hand is warm, supportive, on mine, and I inhale unsteadily. “So, uh, I know it’s really early, Maura, and super-late for you two, Mom and Dad, and sorry about that, please don’t be angry, but Niall and I wanted to get you all on this call because it’s, well, it’s easier.”

I nudge Niall with my elbow. He lets out an “oh!”, reaches toward the table, and grabs the sonogram. He holds it up in front of the camera, and I watch as our parents move slightly closer to their screens to see it more clearly.

Maura’s hands clap over her mouth, and her eyes glimmer with tears in the glare of her computer screen. The speakers crackle with the volume of my dad’s cheering. My eyes land on my mother. Though she’s smiling at us, there is an odd edge to that smile, one that doesn’t seem to bode well to me. I force myself to listen to Niall’s mother as she finally speaks.

“Oh, loves, that’s wonderful! When are you due?”

“Uh, around the middle of June. It might change once I’m a little further along, but for now, that’s what the doctor said.”

“Where will you two live? What about music? And touring? Have you told your father yet? This is so wonderful! Can I tell your brother? Oh, he’s going to be so thrilled.”

Niall huffs out a laugh. “Ma, take a breath. We’re really excited about this, believe me. And I’m going to call both of them as soon as we’re done on here. As for your other questions, we’re going to finish the year here in London, then we’ll figure it out from there.”

xx xx xx

I glare at the numbers on my phone screen then groan quietly. I've been in bed for the last three hours, and I still haven't fallen asleep, even though it's after midnight. Niall’s arm slips from over my waist as I slide out of his grip; I watch him closely, hoping he doesn't wake. It's been a long day, and poor guy deserves his rest.

After we’d called our parents and told them the news, we spent a couple hours relaxing, curled up together on the couch as reruns played on the television. It was peaceful, just what I wanted. Then he called our friends to come help pack up our belongings in anticipation of the move.

We still haven't decided where exactly we will live, but he and I had agreed to figure it out by the time One Direction played their final show together. I hadn't been allowed to help much with anything except wrapping our dishes and glasses in bubble wrap. None of the boys would let me do more than that, all too worried about me overworking myself and harming the baby. My protests had gone largely unheard. So if I wrapped and packed slightly more petulantly than the actions warranted, I didn't care and I ignored them if they mentioned it.

The house is quiet, my footsteps seemingly thunderous as I tiptoe my way to the living room. Shadows fill the hallway and rooms, boxes stacked up and appearing almost frightening in the dark. With a sigh, I turn on the lamp still sitting on its table by the couch and check the time again.

My mom should be on her way home from work now, or out of class, at least. The line rings and rings and rings. Just when I think it is going to go to answerphone, there's a click, and her voice fills my ear.

“What are you doing awake, Erin? Isn't it almost one in the morning there?”

“Yeah, it-it is. But I can't sleep.”

“What's wrong, sweetheart?”

“You're not happy.”

She's quiet for a long moment; I can nearly hear her thoughts working around themselves to fit into place neatly. Finally, she clears her throat softly. “Of course I am. My baby is having a baby of her own.”

“Mom,” I groan through clenched teeth, “why are you lying to me?”

“What do you want me to say, Erin?” she asks, a heavy sigh staticking up the line.

“The truth, to start with. You think I'm making a mistake having this baby, don't you? Do… do you think my marriage is a mistake, too?” The hazy memory of her behaviour on my wedding day floats to mind, and I have a feeling I know what she’s going to say before she does.

“Honestly?” Another weighted exhale that sends my heart twisting in my chest. “Yes, I do. I think you two rushed into a marriage far too quickly. You both are too young to know whether the relationship itself would have worked.”

“We dated for two years before we got married! Besides, you and Dad got married when you were younger than I am!” I protest too loudly. I exhale sharply and cross the living room, peering around the corner. No sounds come from the bedrooms, so I go back to the couch, listen as my mother tries to justify her thinking.

“Because we had more experience. Before Niall, you'd never had any sort of long-term, serious, meaningful relationship. You dated occasionally, but never anything major. Then he came around, and bam, that was it. He treated you like shit, Erin, and you didn’t let that stop you from dating him. You married him even after he cheated on you, for crying out loud!”

My throat tightens, aches, but I draw in a shaky breath. My voice is unsteady and thick when I finally manage to speak.

“Does it feel nice up there on that pedestal, Mom? Because if I remember correctly, Dad got you knocked up then spent five years giving you false hopes about having another baby, knowing it would never happen because he was cheating on you the entire time - Do not interrupt me,” I snap when she tries to speak over me; my voice threatens to give out with my tears, but I press on, “then he fucking abandoned us for thirteen years, and you took him back without even asking me, the child he walked away from so damn easily, all because he batted his fucking eyelashes and said sorry.”

“I forgave your father after a lot of talks and soul-searching. It wasn't a quick decision, and -”

“And I forgave Niall, so you know what? Fuck you for trying to make me feel bad about a decision I made that makes me happy. Thanks, Mom, your support means so much,” I spit out venomously and jab angrily at the End button before I can hear her reply.

My blood roars in my ears, and I throw my phone onto the coffee table, ignoring the clatter as it slides across the surface. How dare my mother do this? Sure, I hadn't had many boyfriends before Niall, she was correct about that, but she has no right to act like everything I have with him means nothing just because of what she perceives as a lack of experience.

After the scandal with that girl shortly after Jem’s death, he has given me no reason to not trust him, he's never hurt me again. And he hadn’t even really cheated on me! We weren’t officially exclusive at the time, so he was free to do whatever with whomever. I can't believe she would act like her relationship with my father is so much better, especially when considering the fact he cheated on her repeatedly over the span of three years. Niall made that mistake once.

Angry, hurt sobs tear from me, and I cover my face with my hands, folding in on myself. Any joy I felt toward the pregnancy is drastically overwhelmed by the aftermath of the phone call. The couch cushion dips beside me; warm arms wrap tightly around me, and I lean into the comfort and safety of Niall as he lets me fall apart.

There is no contact with my mother over the next few weeks; my dad texts and FaceTimes me every chance he gets, always asking after the baby and whether I’m taking care of myself, but my mom seems to go out of her way to avoid talking to me. Not that I’m any better about it, really - I’m doing the same thing to her. I don’t want to revisit the emotions that I felt the night we argued, though it’s not easy to ignore how angry I still am with her.

Thankfully, packing and preparing for the move makes it easier to distract myself. Niall actually lets me do more than just wrap dishware - most likely because he knows my emotions right now are fragile, tumultuous things at best - but going through all of our clothes, folding what we want to keep and tossing clothes to donate to the side, isn’t exactly what I want.

It does feel pretty good, I have to admit, to put some organisation into our lives in the middle of the upheaval. Between the relocation, the pregnancy, and the fight with my mother, everything feels like it’s gone upside down with no warning.

I sigh and hold up the T-shirt in my hands. I can’t remember the last time I wore it, so I toss it into the pile next to me and reach for the next. The house we found in Los Angeles is going to be a change for both of us - he’s come home from tours to live in this current one since before we ever started dating, and I grew up in a simple two-storey home then shared an apartment with Amber. But we’d seen the photos online and both instantly fallen in love with it. I am most excited about the master bathroom, which I assume means I’m an actual adult now.

“Hey, petal.”

I set one of his jerseys into the keep pile and crane my head up to look at Niall over the bed. “Hi.”

“Wow, you’ve been productive.” He reaches down to carefully pull me to my feet, and I wrap an arm around his neck. The kiss we share is soft, warm. “Are you ready for some lunch?”

“I mean, if that’s all you’re offering, I suppose I can be persuaded to eat.”

He snorts in amusement, but it doesn’t hide the way his eyes darken. I stretch to capture his mouth with mine, and he gives in easily. I let myself forget everything else that’s going on in our lives, everything but the taste and feel of the man I married and love with all of my heart.