So Long


When she finally gathers up enough courage that she doesn’t really feel, Claire makes her way on unsteady legs toward the living room. Her boss sprawls on the sofa, eyes closed, and she clears her throat quietly. He jolts, surprised. She almost feels bad for startling him, but the grin he gives her eases the guilt before it can take root.

“Abby left, then?”

“Uh, yeah. She did.” Claire shifts her weight between her feet, fidgeting with the phone in her hand. “Is there anything you need me to do, Mister Horan?”

“First, you can start by not calling me Mister Horan. Niall is fine.”

“Oh. Okay. Niall.” The name tastes sweet on her tongue; her cheeks burn, and she ducks her head, hoping that psychic powers aren’t suddenly a thing.

His lips quirk. “You’ll get used to it. Second, not at the moment. Abby took care of sending out a memo about the ‘personnel change’, as she called it. So today’s mostly going to be us getting to know each other.”

Claire nods slowly, her breathing becoming more difficult at the thought of spending hours with him in the name of ‘getting to know each other’. Her knees threaten to give out from underneath her even as she crosses the room to perch on the end of the couch. He seems to know what she’s thinking; his laughter is soft, pleasant, and he leans back against the sofa. Her fingers twist around themselves as her mind races through all the information she’d read over the weekend during her research. Granted, there wasn’t an enormous amount of details about Niall except for superficial things - age, height, birth place, parents’ names, social media presence, that kind of thing; anything that was about something deeper was nowhere to be found. She had even tried listening to his music, both from when he was in One Direction and now his solo stuff, but that hadn’t been an easy task. His voice is great, but living in an apartment with four guys who constantly shouted over each other and had music blaring made basically everything impossible.

“Tell me about yourself.”

She glances at him out of the corner of her eye. “What do you wanna know?”

“Things I wouldn’t find on your CV, mostly,” he replies easily with a shrug.

“Um. Okay? Claire, obviously. I have an older brother, Tim -”

“The one who applied for you, yeah?”

“Yep, that’s him. He’s a few years older than I am, so he likes to do things ‘for my own good’. Honestly, I think he does it to get on my nerves.” Claire lets out a nervous laugh, picks at a hangnail. “Actually, that’s not true. I know he doesn’t like where I live, so this was probably his way of helping me get out of there.”

“Let me guess. Boyfriend he doesn’t approve of?”

“Ha! No, nothing like that. No boyfriend to speak of, just four asshole roommates. Let’s see... took a couple years off after high school, then I went to college in New York for a creative writing degree, came back, and now I’m here.”

“Are you glad?”

“To be here? In Cali, I guess. It’s home. But here in your house? I’m a little uncomfortable, to be honest. I’m not good with meeting new people, especially when I’ve already made a rotten first impression.”

His brows draw together, and Claire squirm as he frowns. “Rotten first impression?”

“Yeah. I was late to the interview because I was busy defending my honour.”

“That’s a good first impression. I saw him reach out, didn’t think he’d actually made contact. Figured out he did when you stopped. I think you did the right thing. I would’ve been disappointed if you had let it go.”


“Yeah. Can I be honest?”

“Of course.”

Niall sits upright, feet on the floor, and he clasps his hands together in front of him. Claire watches as he chews on his lower lip for a couple of seconds. When he turns his head to look at her, her breath catches in her throat; his eyes are absurdly blue, clear and dazzling in the sunlight that streams in through the windows. Her heart hammers in her chest, and she can only hope he can’t hear it.

“I don’t need a personal assistant. Well, I don’t think I do. My company disagrees. That’s the only reason why Abby was in my life at all. But now she’s had to leave for her own reasons, and I don’t begrudge her that. As it is, she had to find a replacement, and the only requirement I had was that they were first, competent and second, not a pushover. She didn’t want me to choose you because you were late, but the fact that you stood up for yourself worked in your favour. I made the final decision that you be hired because of what you did. If you hadn’t said anything to that guy, you wouldn’t be sitting here.”

“Well, I’m... glad my actions worked out then.”

His answering smile is bright; something tugs deep in Claire’s gut. “I’m glad, too. Now, what has Abby told you about me?”

Thankfully, his words seem to have eased some of the awkwardness, and Claire finds it easier to talk to him. He’s just as funny and kind as Miss Darlington - Abby - said. She tells him about her parents, her brother and his wife and kids. He listens carefully, his gaze never leaving her face as she talks. She isn’t sure if he actually cares, but she thinks it’s nice of him if it turns out he’s pretending.

Claire eventually runs out of things to say, and she falls silent; Niall’s gaze darts down to where she’s picking at her fingernails, but then he smiles and distracts her by telling her stories from his life. She lets herself get lost in the cadence and melody of his voice, the way his face lights up the more he talks. His hands move with his words, and she wonders if he’s always this happy and easy to get along with. The thought passes through, quickly being shoved away. Today is only her first day - she can’t make a bad impression by appearing to space out.

With a heavy sigh, Claire pushes through the front door of the apartment, waving vaguely in Matt’s direction as he stuffs his mouth full of potato chips on the couch, then shuffles down the hall to her room. Flop and Chuck are arguing in the room next to hers, their voices completely unobstructed by the wall between them. She drops her purse onto her dresser and falls backwards across her mattress.

Meeting Niall, learning more about him, was a great way to spend the day. The fact that he seems to be so easygoing has definitely put her at ease. Claire feels less like she is out of her depths and more excited to get started with this job. That she’s going to be on-call every day and night is a bit daunting, because she’s a notoriously deep sleeper, and what if her phone rings in the middle of the night and she doesn’t hear it? But on the other hand, the job will keep her from being around her roommates for too long. She’s so thankful that Matt let her move in and even gave her a room of her own, even though as main lessee, he should have that right. Claire just isn’t close to the others, and honestly, she finds them all to be... too much to handle on good days.

Moving back to California hadn’t been in her plans; she thought she’d graduate from college and get a job somewhere, anywhere else and make it on her own. Then reality had set in: No one wanted to hire a fresh-from-school woman with a degree in creative writing, and she couldn’t make rent all on her own. Even a one-room studio had proven to be more than she could afford. So she’d had to swallow her pride and ask Tim to pay for a ticket back home, leaving behind her meagre possessions when she left, and she had moved back in with her parents for a while. Then she’d literally run into Matt while on a jog in the park, and he’d instantly offered up a place for her to stay. Taking whatever job she could get had felt like admitting defeat for the longest of time, but even though Matt wouldn’t have minded covering her portion of rent (and where he got the money, Claire still hasn’t found out), she would have.

Tim had, once again, come to her rescue by applying for the personal assistant position on her behalf. She hadn’t lied to Abby, though: She really did work for a wedding planner, but it certainly wasn’t as fruitful a work experience as she’d hoped for. It was mainly being yelled at by clients, being blamed when something went wrong even if it was the planner’s fault, and crawling home late at night with her tail tucked between her legs and unable to hold her head up long enough to scarf down a pre-packaged frozen dinner before bed. But Claire figures that experience is worth it, since she now has what seems to be a pretty decent gig.

With a sigh, she crosses the room to grab her phone and earbuds from her purse, pairing the device with the Bluetooth earpieces, and brings up the YouTube app. The apartment is suspiciously and abnormally quiet, so now is as good a time as any to actually listen to her boss’s music. She gets through about half of One Direction’s final album, writes down which songs she likes best, then switches over to Niall’s solo album. Too Much to Ask instantly makes her choke up, want to hug him tightly and tell him everything will be okay; she replays the song three more times before she closes out of YouTube. She drags in a shuddering breath, exhaling slowly.

“Well, that’s me fucked.”

She hesitates then taps on the Messages icon, typing out a message to Tim.

<< Omggg Tim-Tam, save me

>> Whats up belle?

<< My boss is fucking incredible and I’m going to fail because holy shitttt

>> Stop being an idiot
>> And dont fall in love
>> U need the job

<< Your faith in me is overwhelming, as usual. Asshole.

>> Love u too.
>> Mas on Sat?

<< Hell yes. Just us?

>> U got it. Now go to bed ttyl

Claire smiles and plugs her phone in on its charger. Leave to Tim to know how to make her calm down without even trying. He’s right, though. It’s getting late, and she has to be up early for work. She heads to the bathroom to brush her teeth then changes into a pair of pyjamas. The sound of the television blaring the Crash Bandicoot game starts up, barely muffled by the room between Claire’s and the living room, and she groans, falling face-first onto the bed. As she lies there desperately wishing the electricity would suddenly cut off, she wonders idly if Tim has an extra bed she could sleep in. Hell, at this point, she’s willing to share with Minnie.
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y'all, i can't handle this at all i will not be able to ever update another story again because i am dead