‹ Prequel: Black and White

To the End

eight

The carrot breaks off with a crunch between my teeth, and I settle further into the rocking chair as I listen to my husband grumbling angrily under his breath. He’s been trying to put together the crib for the last hour, but his frustration has made the task damn near impossible.

Louis had promised to come over for breakfast and to help get the nursery half of our bedroom set up even though there are still five months before my due date; he’d sent a text to Niall an hour and a half ago, saying something had come up and he won’t be able to provide any assistance. I think the fact that he bailed and did so in a text message without an apology of any sorts combined with the fact that Niall only has another day before he leaves again, which is why he’s so grumpy right now.

I dip another carrot in the bowl of ranch dressing, but before I take a bite, I clear my throat quietly. Niall doesn’t even look away from the instruction booklet in his hands. I resist the urge to roll my eyes - or throw a carrot at him.

“I could always help, you know.”

“Love, you’re doing enough. I mean, your body is literally growing another human being. So you just sit there and relax.”

“I have loads more time before I’m due, which means I’m able-bodied enough to put together a crib.” When he merely shakes his head, I sigh. “I’m sorry Lou ditched out.”

“Don’t even mention that dick to me right now,” he mutters before throwing the booklet aside and reaching for an Allen wrench.

I stifle a giggle and go back to eating my snack, occasionally stealing glances at him. His brows are drawn together over his narrowed eyes, his lips pulled down into a scowl. When I can no longer stand the sound of his low curses and quiet rantings, I roll my eyes and grab my phone, opening Pandora.

The familiar sound of The Chain starting immediately puts a smile on my face, and I tap my foot along to the beat. Niall glares at me through his lashes but doesn’t say anything; I know he’s just annoyed at Lou and not me or the fact that one of his favourite bands is coming from the speakers - and therefore, easing some of his irritation, as much as he doesn’t want to admit it.

I know I can always finish unpacking the few boxes that still remain, though we’ve been working on settling into the new house over the last three days, but I really don’t want to. Since our friends had helped get the house set up as soon as we arrived, all that is left are mostly decorative things.

My phone buzzes on my thigh, and I glance down at it, nearly choking on the chunk of carrot I’m chewing when I read the notification, a text from Natalie bearing the name of a hospital and the word “Now!!

“Well, I’m gonna let you have your fun, babe, but I’ll be back later. I love you.”

I kiss away any words he plans on saying, though it doesn’t stop him from protesting and calling after me as I rush from the room. I barely stop to put my dishes in the kitchen sink before I’m heading to the door to shove my feet into a pair of flats.

A smile plays at the edges of my lips when I grab the keys from the hook on the wall; Bryan finally went home for a couple of days to spend time with his wife now that Niall is back, which means I get to drive again. Niall’s voice echoes in the hall, but I’m out the door before he can set foot on the bottom stair.

I manage to reach the hospital in what feels like record time, and I put the car in park, grab my beanie from the middle console, and slide out of the driver’s seat while jamming it onto my head - I hadn’t bothered with changing out of the yoga pants and old T-shirt I wore to bed last night, and brushing my hair had seemed like too much effort when pitted against spending some much-needed quality time with the husband I haven’t seen in weeks. Now, I’m oddly thankful for my unkempt appearance; it keeps people from recognising me as I find a seat in the waiting lobby.

Scrolling mindlessly through Instagram - the one social media site I actively keep up with any more outside of random Twitter Q&As - proves boring after twenty minutes. It’s nice enough, I suppose, to be able to see photos of friends and family I don’t talk to regularly, but there’s only so many times a person can see the same selfie angle before they start screaming for a change.

I do leave a few comments on various posts before I close out of the app, replacing it with Tricky Taps. I’ve beaten four levels by the time someone sits next from me. I pause the game before looking up, a grin splitting my face when I see Garrett. He looks good, healthy, excited. His arm comes up to wrap around my shoulder, tugging me carefully into his side.

“Well, well, look who it is, Miss ‘I got married and no longer have any time for the most awesome dude in the world’.”

“Actually, it’s Mrs ‘I got married and am pregnant so I have no time for anybody, let alone the most awesome dude in the world’.” I laugh and poke his cheek. “Hi, Gare. How are ya?”

“Can’t complain. Been here long?”

I shrug, glancing down at my phone, and calculate the difference in time. “Only about forty minutes. You’d think Nat would be rushing through labour, considering that girl never slows down.”

“I... think you might need some parenting classes, because that’s not how delivery works.”

“You shouldn’t be mean to pregnant ladies, Garrett.”

“I’ll keep that in mind if I ever see a pregnant lady.”

“Are you saying I’m not a lady?” I ask in mock-outrage, clapping my hand to my chest as I pout dramatically. “Why, I never!”

Garrett shakes his head and tugs on the front of my beanie, effectively obscuring my vision. My giggles break loose, and I fix my cap. Time drags by as we wait; when I look at the numbers on my screen an hour later, it’s to find that it’s really only been twenty minutes. Sighing, I catch Garrett’s eye.

“Dude, I’m fucking bored.”

“Shall we play a game?”

“Creepy, but yes. Categories?” At his nod, I shift in my chair to get more comfortable - fat chance of that, but it’s worth a try - and rack my brain for a topic to start us off. “Okay, first. No super-common answers. I want a challenge. So we can’t use, like, cat or dog for an animal. Capisce? The category is... hygiene.”

“Shampoo. Wait! No, that’s too easy. Water pik.”

“Damn, good one. Uh, body scrubs.”

We continue in this fashion for another six answers. To my chagrin, I’m the one who can’t come up with another item, and Garrett does a little celebratory dance in his seat. He chooses the next category - musical instruments - and almost immediately fails on his third guess: He says flute at first then concedes the victory to me when he can’t think of anything, and I call out “ocarina!” and dissolve into giggles.

The double-doors swing open, and we turn as one to see Sutton coming through. Affectionately known as “Goose”, mostly by Natalie, he is one of the last people I would have expected to see here right now. I knew he and Nat started dating after Silent Playground did a tour with his band Devotion, before SP went on hiatus. But still, having him stood just past the doors is startling. I never anticipated she would want him in the room.

I exchange a look with Garrett before pushing to my feet. “Uh, Sutton? You good?”

“Huh? Oh. Yeah, I’m - I’m fine.” The rattled, almost queasy expression doesn’t leave his face, but he does force a smile. It isn’t much of an improvement. “She’s, um, she’s done. Doing... that. So...”

I stifle my laughter - poor guy, having to witness childbirth. It does make me wonder, though, what his intentions are with my best friend. Does this mean they’re more serious than I thought? Pushing the thoughts aside, I grab up my purse and lay a hand on Garrett’s arm as he goes to pass me.

“Tell the crazy one I’ll be there in a minute, okay? I have to do something first.”

“I’ll text you the room number,” he promises then follows Sutton back through the doors.

I make my way down a corridor going the opposite direction until I reach the gift shop. Dozens of stuffed animals line one section of the wall inside, and I stare at the variety. Blue elephant, pink bunny, brown dog, white flamingo, and - there. I grab the little teddy bear from the shelf, heading to the till. The teenager behind the counter passes over the receipt with a bored “Have a good day, ma’am”.

Garrett has texted by the time I exit the gift shop, so I stop by a nurse’s desk to ask where to find Room 116. Even with his directions, I somehow manage to get lost and have to stop and ask a passing nurse for help. She doesn’t seem to mind; her lack of reaction makes me wonder how often she has to direct people on top of doing the job she gets paid for.

Knocking softly on the door, I push on the handle until there’s a crack between wood and metal frame. Nat sounds exhausted as she calls out for me to enter. My steps falter when I step fully into the room.