Without a Clue

Trigger Warnings: reference to/ mention of domestic violence, reference to/ mention of sexual abuse, reference to/ mention of substance abuse, descriptive depictions of self harm and suicide, death, abortion, and mental illness.

Niall's secretive, always has been, but the world is in utter shock as the news is released that Niall has a son. The two year old blond, Grayson Finn Horan, is simply the most important thing in Niall's life, but when a stunning American popstar, Demi Lovato, starts to work her way into his heart, he doesn't know how to react.

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6. Chapter Six: The Beautiful Boy

I watch as Niall gently swirls his pointer finger inside one of the short, wild curls sticking into the air from Grayson's sleeping form, the nightlight in the corner casting a shaped dance of warm light across Niall's baby blue shirt. His smile can easily be seen despite the gentle darkness of the nursery, and I can't help but grin sappily as Niall bends down to kiss Grayson's forehead, running his fingers ever so gently through Grayson's curls afterwards.

He looks up at me suddenly, and I blush; I didn't think he knew I was watching him put the sleepy child to bed. He keeps throwing me glances every once and a while as he shifts around Grayson's room, picking up a few misplaced items and locating Grayson's favorite blanket, instantly walking over and laying it over his child. He lifts Leo the Ankylosaurus from the changing table next to Grayson's crib and instantly places it near Grayson's little, sock-covered feet.

Grayson's chest rises and falls softly, and he doesn't even shift as Niall places the plastic blood-oxygen monitor on his finger. Niall pauses for a moment, just looking at Grayson with the loving stare only a parent could possess.

"Sometimes I like to think about before I had him; about how much I was missing, and I didn't have the slightest clue. It's absolutely mental." The small laugh he lets out makes me smile, and his soft tone continues as he speaks.

"Everyone always tries to tell you about how much you'll love them, you know? But you can't explain it in words. It's- I don't know," he shakes his head softly, his smile making the small dimple on his left cheek known, "It's like the word love can't even describe that feeling. Every time I see his little fingers, his freckles, him, it just reminds me of how lucky I am to have 'em. And just how close I came to losing him. I guess the universe decided I need him just as much as he needs me." I nod softly at his whispered comment, the small smile on my lips only growing as Niall starts to walk towards me. He flips on the baby monitor as he nears the door, me slipping into the hall so he can shut it quietly.

I'm not really sure how Niall convinced me to stay the night again, or really if he had to convince me at all. After Grayson had been released from the hospital around three in the afternoon I had a few interviews across town and finished them up around nine. I planned to get my bags from Niall's apartment and finally check into my hotel, but when I arrived, I couldn't turn down Grayson's little request for me to stay for some hot chocolate. By the time he had fallen asleep on Niall's chest covered in the sugary drink, it'd been late, and both Niall and I agreed it would be easiest for me to stay another night.

"Are you sure you don't want your bedroom? I'm fine with the couch, honest." I mention lightly as we pass Niall's room, but he shakes his head. He gives me a slight smile through the warm, dark light and I can't help but return it.

"It's fine. Won't be sleeping tonight anyways." He says casually, as if I had already known. I'm sure he catches the confusion on my face and he's quick to explain.

"G's lungs're stressed right now. If he's gonna have another attack, it'll be soon. Got to watch him for a few hours. 'Happens more often than not." Niall mentions softly, shifting his hands into the pocket of his black basketball shorts. I notice how he seems a little too comfortable with this. I don't know what I'd seem like if my child might stop breathing in the next few hours, but I can imagine it'd be nothing like this. His calm face shows just how routine this must be for them. Every two weeks, give or take, Grayson has an asthma attack, and the night after, Niall watches to make sure his child is out of the woods. I'd have gone crazy by now if it were me.

He waits for me to respond, but I haven't thought of anything to say. It's absolutely horrible that Niall and Grayson have to go through this on such a regular basis, but I would never say that. He looks at me, slightly tilting his head, and I realize he's thinking, not waiting for a response. I can't possibly imagine what's going through his head, and for some odd reason, I've never wished I could read minds as hard as I wish for it in this moment.

"Night." I say softly, and he's pulled from his thoughts. He throws me a soft smile and a 'G'night' before heading into the kitchen, nonetheless preparing for the night ahead of him.

When I finally lay in Niall's bed, an odd feeling passes through me. I finally have enough time to take in my surroundings, and somehow, I've missed how truly bare his space is. The duvet spread across his bed is a solid black, grey pillows made of a soft Jersey cloth adorning the top of his bed sheets. The walls are painted a grey-tinted white, and as I look around, I realize they're all bare. There's no pictures or decorations on any of the walls, just a TV on the far wall next to the translucent privacy glass bathroom door and a dark wood dresser to my right.

Niall's room feels more foreign than even a hotel room would. I can't imagine how he would ever be comfortable in here all alone. I can hear him shifting around in the kitchen, most likely cleaning up the mess Grayson made with his hot chocolate, and as I listen more attentively, I can hear him whispering a soft tune, the words leaving his mouth in a gentle medley. The sound disappears as I get up and walk into the bathroom, a large mirror greeting me right as I open the door.

I'm not really sure what I was expecting to find, but it's seemingly as bare as the bedroom itself. The shower curtain is a pure white and his counter is completely bare besides a small grey box on the far left side, next to the sink. I can't help my curiosity as I reach for the small box, a gentle velvet at my fingertips. I open it quickly, as if that will provide less of an intrusion, but as soon as I see what I've done, I know there's no going back. The plain silver band placed in the box seems so innocent as it stares up at me. It doesn't take very long for me to figure out that Niall has placed his wedding band here for safe keeping. I immediately close the lid and place the box right where I found it, ashamed that I've done something so intruding while Niall's being sweet enough to let me stay in his apartment. I've never gone to bed faster than I did in that moment.

 

 ...

 

 

I can't even hear myself crying at first, but then it finally hits me that the tears on my cheeks aren't a part of the scattered nightmare running through my mind. My heart is racing and my breathing is at such a rate that I think my lungs might jump out of my chest. As I feel my mind making sense of the items around me, I suddenly question if I'm still dreaming when Niall runs into the room, hastily turning on a dim lamp and coming towards me.

"It was just a dream." He whispers gently and reaches to hold my hand, pulling me towards him as he lays on the bed. My shaking reduces dramatically as his arms wrap completely around me, and suddenly, the room doesn't feel so foreign anymore.

Niall hushes me softly, rubbing a hand over my back as my crying softens, the tears fading into shocked hiccups.

"It's just a dream. You're safe." He whispers to me quietly, and suddenly all anxiety leaves my body. My heart no longer feels as if its jumping out of my chest as Niall leans his head against mine. It's then that I fully realize I'm laying right up against Niall's bare chest, the sturdy abs under me shifting as he moves around. He doesn't seem to question what's scared me, but simply lays still, allowing me to soak in the comfort of another person.

My hand is pressed up against his chest and his arms are wrapped around me. I would expect the thick muscle of the boy I'm lying on to feel solid, but he's incredibly warm, soft, and gentle. I'm not really sure how long we lay there in silence, but it's long enough for my elbow to ache from being bent as my hand presses into Niall's chest for such a long period of time. 

When I move my arm in order to rid myself of the dull ache, Niall stirs. I can simply feel him looking down at me as I adjust myself in his arms. I find myself stunned when the warmth of his arms suddenly leaves me, and I look up at him.

"Sorry-I. That was inappropriate." He whispers softly, and I know he's going to leave me. I guess it was slightly naïve to believe I could stay in the safety of his arms forever, wasn't it?

He starts to shift out from under me, but I can't help but dig myself into his chest, my forehead pressed up against his neck. I feel my voice may be too shaky to speak embarrassment-free, but some part of me hopes he'll get the message and realize I could be comforted for a little longer.

"D'you want me to stay?" He asks me softly, evidently stunned that I would want that. I keep myself tucked into his body, but nod my head just enough for him to understand. I feel all the tension from the minute before leave his body in an instant as he shifts back into a lying position, but not before placing another pillow underneath the one already there. I'm not really sure why he's done that until he reaches in between the mattress and the headboard to pull out a small white remote with two buttons. He presses the bottom button and the lamp instantly switches off. Of course, I think; of course Niall would buy something like that.

A small smile creeps upon my features as I feel his warmth envelop me again. One arm wraps around me and the other reaches to grab the covers from the side of the bed where I must've thrown them off in my sleep. He's quick to pull the blanket up over the both of us up to my shoulders, then, his arm takes up its previous position around me.

I'm not really sure if I'm smiling because his arms are wrapped around me or that I've learned yet another seemingly meaningless thing about him. He sleeps with two pillows. It's not something of any major significance, but for some reason, I love learning all of the little things about him.

Niall smells like he's just taken a shower, yet his hair is dry, which contradicts the smell of apple-scented shampoo lingering on him. With his arms around me I don't feel scared, not even in the slightest. I can hear the gentle beating of his heart under my ear and feel it under my fingertips as his gentle breath dances through the room. I look up at him through the awkward angle from his chest and notice his eyes are already closed, the stubble on his chin even more noticeable as he lays still. Quickly, I curl myself back onto his chest and his arms tighten around me. I'm not really sure if the gesture was involuntary or not, but it makes me smile nonetheless. As I lay there, taking in the darkness and the beautiful boy underneath me, I can't help but think.

 

 I could really learn to love the smell of apple shampoo.

 

... 

 

 

For some reason, I wasn't expecting Niall to still be in bed when I woke, but when my eyes flutter open, I realize I'm still laying on his solid chest. I can tell by his gentle, even breaths and the fact that his eyelashes are pressed gently to his freckle-covered cheeks that's he's still asleep.

The light pouring into the room from the window behind me makes my eyes immediately realize the large, shiny scar across Niall's right collarbone, only inches away from my face, that I never noticed before. It's evident that whatever caused it must've been deep; the scar is a bright white and is easily spotted because it's the only area on his chest without small, faded freckles. My fingers brush over it, and the smoothness feels odd under my fingertips. This boy has more scars than most people I've met. I'm not sure if that's a clue to insane clumsiness or something far more serious.

I don't want to wake him, but it seems nearly impossible as I realize his arms are clenched around me tenfold compared to the night before, but not in a bad way. I lift my left arm from his chest and reach behind me, pulling his left arm off of my back and flat against the bed. I try to roll out of his arms quickly as not to wake him but just as my feet hit the floor he starts to yawn, stretching his arms out. Just when I think he's up for good he shifts to lay on his right side, his back facing me, and falls back asleep.

I walk into Niall's bathroom quickly, managing to shut the door without stirring him yet again. When I walk up to the sink, I realize that there's something different. Instead of a soft grey velvet box, there are two dark brown towels along with a note written on a small piece of paper. I'm about to ignore it, but then it finally hits me that the name written at the top is none other than mine.

 

Demi,

          Ran out of clean towels yesterday.

        I suppose that means you don't mind

            using my shower or G's learned

           how to reach the top shelf of the

                       bathroom closet…

                   In case you need them.

    

                               -the only one who can

                                      write in this house

 

I smile at his little note, and quickly rotate to turn on the large shower, my toiletries still sitting innocently next to Niall's from the night before. The water is ice cold and it takes a good ten minutes before it's warm enough to even touch without wincing. Once I'm finally in the shower, I know somewhere in my subconscious I'm hoping that if I go fast enough, Niall will still be there with warm arms when I'm done.

I suppose it wasn't really a realistic hope considering by the time I leave the bathroom, I can hear Niall moving about in the kitchen. Toddlers seem to wake up in the early morning, so it's no surprise to me that I can hear a few incoherent babbles of a soft, sleepy voice mixed in with Niall's. I open the door softly, and the noises drifting from down the hall amplify immediately, Niall's voice ringing in my ears.

"Chocolate, huh?" Niall questions, just as I walk into the joint living room-kitchen. Grayson is lying against Niall's shoulder, his sweet little curls flopped about from a night of sleep, eyes still sleepy.

"Ya. Loss o'colate." Grayson mumbles into Niall's necks, not even shifting. Niall's chest is still completely bare and his black sweatpants hang tightly to his hips as he flips a pancake, his back facing me.

"Lots of chocolate, huh? I think Daddy can do that." Niall says, laying down his spatula and picking up a bag full of mini chocolate chips. He pours then generously on the still raw pancake, and Grayson radiates with approval.

I sit down at the small bar across from the stove, and Niall turns upon hearing the noise of the large bar stool shifting when I sit.

"Do you want a pancake?" He asks me softly, Grayson lifting his head in questioning from Niall talking to someone other than himself. Grayson glances at me with his little green and blue, tired eyes and seems to have forgotten that I was even here in the first place.

"No, thank you." Niall seems unsatisfied with that answer as he turns around to flip the pancake, immediately lifting the pan and sliding the pancake onto a plate. He quickly places the pan back on the stove and walks over to me, pulling out the chair to my left which I didn't notice has built in straps and is a few inches taller than mine. He sits Grayson down, strapping him in and placing the plate with his pancake on it in front of him.

I watch Niall as he cleans up the mess from the pancakes, at one point slipping his hand into a evidently bag fresh from the store, and pulling out an orange. He washes it off and places it in front of me along with a napkin and a glass of water.

"You gotta eat somthin', Demi. You like oranges?" He asks me softly, and when I nod, a little smile spreads across his face, complete with my favorite dimple on his left cheek.

I peel the orange quietly as Niall cleans up around his kitchen, only stopping when I realize the child next to me is only two years old and has a full pancake in front of him, a small, green baby fork in his hand.

"Do you want me to cut that up for him?" I ask Niall softly, and he just smiles at me, letting out a small laugh. He looks up at me with a grin as if I've said something foolish.

"You can try if you'd like." There's joking in his tone as my confusion sets in. Niall places a knife in front of me, and I'm hesitant to pick it up. When it barely touches Grayson's food, he looks up at me like I've just broken his favorite toy.

"No. Mine do it." Grayson tells me with an annoyed huff, trying to rip his pancake apart with the dull fork. I look up from Grayson to Niall to see him smirking jokingly at me, then rolling his eyes at his toddler dramatically.

"Two: the independent age." Niall says softly as he wipes up some spilled batter in the counter. Something as simple as this truly shows me how close Grayson and Niall are. Niall knew that his child would do exactly as he did, without even thinking about it. I've always wondered how good parents seem to know every little thing about their child, I don't think I'll ever be able to retain so many things.

A knock at the door pulls me out of my thoughts, but Niall is quick to open it, revealing an extremely disheveled looking Gemma. Without speaking she hands a carrier, obviously carrying her child, to Niall, and he takes it with great care. It's evident this must have been a prior agreement considering the look on both their faces and the utter silence between them.

"Thanks again for taking him on such short notice." She mentions as she transfers the little car print bag on her shoulder to his. Niall nods gently while adjusting the bag on his shoulder, Jensen wide awake and fussing in his carrier.

"Don't forget to let me know how he's doing, alright?" Niall says softly, and Gemma nods, pressing a small kiss to her child's forehead before leaving. She shuts the door quickly and quietly behind her. Niall's quick to release Jensen from his carrier, rocking him gently until his whines stops and he starts looking around the room curiously with his large, green eyes. Niall adjusts Jensen to where he can be held in one hand, and quickly lays a sky blue baby blanket from Jensen's bag on the living room carpet, then places Jensen himself on it. I watch quietly as Niall pulls out a few toys from Jensen's bag and places them in front of Jensen, the small child pulling at one instantly as he flails on his stomach. The floor where Jensen is playing is directly in the sight of the kitchen, and I notice Niall constantly looking back at the infant as he continues cleaning.

"Do you always babysit Jensen?" I ask. He looks up at me for a moment, an emotion in his stare I can't quite decipher. For a moment it looks as if he's confused, but then I realize the pain behind his eyes. I refrain from asking anything more of him as he returns his stare back to the small pacifier he's currently washing in the sink in front of me. It's obvious that if he had anything to say, he would.

"No," Niall mumbles, a small part of his voice wavering off at the end before he continues, "Hayden was admitted to the hospital late last night. Gemma wanted me to watch Jensen so she could go visit him. Screaming babies aren't exactly welcome in the ICU." I'm sure he notices the shocked expression in my features, but Jensen draws Niall's attention from me soon after with a shrill cry. Niall rushes to Jensen, picking him up and hushing him gently. His cries soften, but don't stop completely as Niall lays him against his shoulder.

"I'm so sorry." I tell Niall as he comes back into the kitchen. I'm sure he notices my look of sympathy before he focuses his attention on the child in front of him.

"What happened?" I ask Niall softly as he moves to Jensen's bag on the couch, pulling out a diaper and throwing it onto the blanket laying across the floor. He walks back over to where Grayson and I are sitting quickly and wipes the chocolate off Grayson's face and hands with a one of the baby wipes conveniently stored on the counter before unlatching him and setting him on the ground, Grayson immediately wobbling into the living room and playing with a few of the toys scattered on the floor from the day before.

"Hayden had a few screws placed into the base of his spine about six months ago. They're not sure what's wrong yet, but they think it's a complication from that. He was in a lot of pain last night." I nod softly at his explanation. Niall walks into the living room, which technically is the same room as the kitchen, only separated by a couch, and makes quick work of changing Jensen's dirty diaper.

"That's awful." I say, then I remember that Hayden and his wife just became parents. I doubt his wife is even out of the hospital, "What about his wife?" I ask and Niall looks up from the baby kicking on the floor to me, with a slightly confused look on his face.

"She was released last night. Went straight from one hospital to another. I can't even imagine. Karen should be resting, but they couldn't get her to go home last night. She's just about as stubborn as he is." Niall says softly, buttoning up the bottom of Jensen's onesie and gently rolling him onto his stomach.

"Is the baby a boy or girl?" I ask softly, realizing I know nothing of the child Hayden is now the father of. This question makes Niall smile, and he pulls his phone from the pocket in his black sweatpants. He swipes through his phone quickly, bringing it over  to me once he's found what he's looking for.

"Girl. Spencer Carlie." Niall tells me with a gently smile, placing his phone in my hand. The photo is incredibly sweet, Hayden grinning incredibly large at the small baby bundled in a pink crochet blanket in his arms. She looks exactly like him, almost to where it's odd.

Niall smiles as I hand him his phone back, and he quickly places it back in his pocket. He looks around me for a second, and I'm confused before he moves into action. He quickly puts my and Grayson's plate in the sink and puts my orange peels into the trash, then looks up at me.

"Would you like me to make you something else?" He asks me, and I shake my head. Although he seems dissatisfied, he accepts my answer and looks to the children to make sure they're okay before starting to load the dishwasher quietly.

Every time I manage to see Niall like this: quiet, peaceful, I truly can take in his beauty. He doesn't necessarily look beautiful in the conventional way, but there's something about him that just seems so pure, almost like he created the word beauty himself. It's as if every word that comes out of his mouth tries to keep everyone from figuring out what's on the inside, but I see it. I can see it now, when he's quiet, doing something as simple as the dishes; Niall is so beautiful, inside and out, and I don't think anyone notices it to the full potential.

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