One Struck

Gwen Evans is looking forward to summer - until she finds the One Direction, England's top-selling band, hiding in her barn. Now, she has to deal with rock star egos, an unwanted admirer, and the dark force that sent them into hiding in the first place.


6. they ask me to

The next morning, a peaceful silence settled over the Evans House as the sun's rays began to filter through the clouds. Outside Gwen's bedroom window, a butterfly fluttered about in the summer breeze, and inside, the girl slept serenely amidst a pile of fluffy bedding. The air remained soft, quiet and undisturbed, until…
A shrill scream blasted the silence to smithereens and Gwen woke with a start, tumbling to the floor and whacking her elbow on the corner of her nightstand in the process.
"Ack!" With a loud hiss of pain, she twisted her arm around and gave the bruised region a quick once-over. Just as she made to rise to her feet, a murderous screech of epic proportions reverberated through the house, and she winced at the deafening pitch.
Bloody hell, that didn't sound good. She barely had time to contemplate what she might have done wrong, however, when a cacophony of rapid, thudding footsteps met her ears, growing in intensity by the millisecond. Not a moment later, the door to her bedroom flew open and Sydney launched herself through the threshold, looking positively lethal. Gwen hadn't even sat up when a set of sharp fingernails dug into her shoulders and she was yanked upright and shaken violently and back and forth.
"What did you do?" Sydney screeched, a manic look in her eyes. "Where did you put them?"
It was then that the hazy memory of last night's events came well and truly back to Gwen, and a pounding ache took up residence in her temples, accompanied by an awful feeling in the pit of her stomach. Where were One Direction now, she wondered? Probably long gone, but it wouldn't do any good to mention that fact to her sister if she valued her life. Instead of answering the question, she groaned, elbowed Sydney in the stomach, and rubbed her eyes. Sydney yelped and rolled onto the ground, where she lay in hysterics.
Dully, Gwen rose to her feet and glanced down at her sister, suddenly struck by how utterly pathetic she looked. Biting back the strange feeling of pity rising within her, she looked away. "They're gone, Sydney," she said, and her voice was hollow.
On the carpet, her sister turned her head. Then, she grabbed Gwen's ankle and yanked it harshly, pulling her back down to the floor with a thud and a yelp of pain. "What did you do?" Sydney demanded again in a low tone that was unsteady with anger. She tightened her grip around Gwen's ankle to the point of pain, and then shouted: "WHERE DID THEY GO?"
Gwen winced and kicked her foot out of her sister's death grip. "I don't know," she told her, scooting back a few paces on the carpet. "They're gone… I told them to go away." Her voice felt strangely detached. "They won't be coming back."
Sydney let out a wail and rolled over. For a moment, she breathed in and out deeply, pressing her cheek against the carpet. Then, she rose to her feet, and tears were glistening in her eyes. "I hate you, Gwen," she spat, and let out a sob. "I HATE you!" And with that she stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her with a resounding bang.

The guilty sensation plagued Gwen for the rest of the day.
Late morning, she had finally managed to take a shower, and while it had felt absolutely wonderful to wash away the grime from her hair and body, the horrible cocktail of emotions coursing through her veins had remained within her no matter how violently she had scrubbed.
Doing her best to ignore it, she had dressed and descended into the kitchen, where she had promptly inhaled two enormous ham sandwiches and a glass of milk. Unfortunately, the food hadn't sat well in her already twisted stomach, and she'd ended up simply flopping onto the couch miserably and turning on the television. No program held her interest; she wasn't able to concentrate on the images on the screen when she already had a reel of scenes playing on constant repeat across her mind: Liam, pale and sickly, stumbling to his feet; Harry' face betraying genuine hurt; the four boys retreating across the yard looking so forlorn…
Gwen had been trying to convince herself all day that she had done the right thing by sending them away. After all, Sydney had been wrong in the first instance to invite four strange teenage boys into the house – especially after Sue's strict orders against anything of the sort. Plus, it was wrong of the One Direction to have taken advantage of Sydney's star-struck generosity to the extent that they had. And anyway, whatever trouble they were in with Valentino DeMort… well, Gwen felt certain that she did not want to get tangled up in something like that.
Unfortunately, these logical arguments were lost on her irrationally guilty brain.
If Gwen was feeling awful, however, it was nothing compared to the state that her sister was in. Sydney had spent almost three hours sobbing in her bedroom. Finally, sometime around noon, she had emerged – her face a mess of snot and tears – and shuffled lifelessly down to the basement. Gwen didn't see her for almost an hour, but all the while a tragic harmony of vacuuming, sobbing, and the scuffing of sleeping bags floated up into her ears, and Sydney eventually appeared at the top of the stairs with an armful of pillows, bedding and other discarded items piled so high that they completely obscured her face. Pointedly ignoring Gwen, who was finding it impossible to get comfortable on the couch and even more difficult to quash the conflicting emotions inside of her, she sniffed and shuffled off to the laundry room. As she disappeared around the corner, Gwen noticed something red slip from under her arm and fall into a dejected heap on the carpet.
Gwen's heart twisted painfully in her chest – she would recognize that shirt anywhere. She wasn't sure what made her do it, but barely a second later she was on her feet and had the crumpled garment in her hands. Max's Griffins T-shirt. The last time she'd seen it, it had been on Harry Styles’ arrogant back, and she'd ordered him to take it off immediately. Now she thought back to last night, when she'd seen that same back retreating, completely bare, into the darkness.
She stared at the T-shirt for a long moment, realizing vaguely that she would never be able to look at it in the same way again. This thought stopped her short, and she considered. Why was this suddenly such a big deal? Less than twenty-four hours ago she'd been dead set on getting rid of the One Direction, and now she'd done it. If anything, she should have been celebrating - or, at the very least, recovering whatever scrap of her summer she could. But now a gloomy haze had descended over the Evans household - she and Sydney were on worse terms than ever, and Gwen couldn't shake the feeling that she'd done something perfectly terrible.
There was a tiny coughing noise from the doorway, and Gwen dropped the Griffins T-shirt in a hurry. Sydney stood there with her arms folded, and though her glassy eyes were focused somewhere on the wall behind Gwen, it was clear that she had something to say.
"What?" Gwen said in a monotone.
Sydney swallowed and took a moment to recover her voice. When she spoke, it emerged as a hoarse, choked-up sound. "We should clean up the barn," she said, still refusing to look Gwen in the eye. "So Mom and Dad don't get suspicious."
It was obvious that asking for Gwen's help was grudgingly painful for Sydney, who had most likely been attempting to give her the silent treatment (she never had been very successful with that particular tactic). Gwen could only imagine that once again, her sister's fear of going back to the barn alone had won out over her anger and resentment.
Emotionlessly, she shrugged in a half-hearted accord. "Fine."
Five minutes later, the two of them were traipsing across the green expanse of the yard in total silence. Sydney's hands were clamped so tightly around the handle of her broom that her knuckles had gone a disturbing shade of white, and her mouth was set in a tense line. Gwen, on the other hand, might as well have been a robot for the blandness of her stare and the autopilot-like quality of her movement.
As the barn loomed nearer, both girls slowed their pace slightly. The decrepit structure stood eerily against the early evening sky; it looked like something out of a horror film. Gwen realized that, like Max's T-shirt, the ramshackle wooden building was yet another thing that would never again be quite the same in her mind. In fact, as they drew closer, she could have sworn she heard echoes of the voices that had first drawn her and Sydney toward its mysterious silhouette all those nights ago.
Another few paces, and Gwen stopped cold. Masculine tones of conversation were being carried over in the light wind, and the sense of déjà-vu was overwhelming. Her stomach dropped.
They were still here.
Before she had time to react to this revelation, Sydney let out a triumphant yelp and broke into a full-on sprint.
It took a few seconds for Gwen to gather her bearings. After a confusing succession of panic, irritation and—strangest of all—relief shot through her, she unfroze and began to traipse toward the barn door. There, she was met with a most peculiar sight: Harry detaching himself from a squealing, hyperventilating Sydney; Liam and Niall, asleep on a bale of hay in the corners; Zayn doing chin-ups on one of the barn rafters; and Louis, hands gone slack on Niall's guitar, gawping at the new arrivals. It occurred to Gwen that she must be mirroring his expression exactly, and so she snapped her jaw shut and tried to compose herself.
She turned to Sydney first, grabbing her sister by the wrist and yanking her away from Harry, who looked downright frightened. Sydney protested, but her strength was no match for Gwen's, and after a moment she seemed to realize what a lunatic she was being and simply stood back, smiling sheepishly at Harry.
Next, Gwen addressed Zayn, whose acrobatic endeavors were causing the barn to creak with alarming volume. "That's going to break, you know," she told him matter-of-factly.
He looked up at the support beam and then grinned down at her. "You calling me fat, Quinn?"
"Yep," said Gwen.
Zayn gave a short chuckle and let go of the beam, landing with a light thud on the dirt floor.
After that, there was silence. The others were all watching Gwen warily, seemingly waiting for her to speak again. Gwen wasn't exactly sure what to say. Now that she saw them all here, the irritation she'd come to associate with the sight of their faces began to creep back under her skin. She glanced over at Harry, only to find him staring back with an unidentifiable look in his hazel eyes. Inexplicably, the guilty sensation returned and her emotions clashed once more.
"I thought you'd gone!" The tense silence was finally shattered by Sydney's frenzied outburst. She looked to be on the verge of tears.
"We had." Harry acknowledged her statement, but it was Gwen who his eyes were focused on. "Liam wasn't feeling up to walking anywhere so we thought we'd wait it out here – head off when he was feeling better."
Inside, Gwen cringed in something resembling shame; her actions were coming back to her in a new and horrible light. What had she been thinking, kicking One Direction out in the middle of the night when one of them was ill? Their arrogance was one thing, but what she had done was just plain cruel.
"Head off?" Again, Sydney spoke, and her voice was mildly hysterical. She glanced around at the boys frantically. "That's ridiculous! Get your things. You're all coming back inside—right, Gwen?"
There was no question in her words as she stared her sister down, but Gwen wasn't quite ready to give in entirely.
"Not so fast," she said, glaring at Sydney. She might have felt guilty for being heartless earlier, but she wouldn't have been so irritable in the first place if she hadn't been so completely stir-crazy. Inviting them back inside would only start the cycle all over again. When Sydney opened her mouth and looked as though she might start screaming, Gwen quickly elaborated. "Not yet," she said forcefully. She turned to address the three conscious One Direction, who were glancing uneasily at one another. "Look, you can stay in here as long as you need to," she said, inadvertently looking over at Liam' sleeping form, "but I don't think it's a good idea for you to come back inside—at least, not until you explain yourselves properly. We still don't really know what we're hiding you from."
One Direction settled a little bit, apparently considering her proposal. Sydney, on the other hand, was enraged.
"What?" she shrieked. "What are you talking about? They're on the run! From that DeMort guy or whatever. What else could you possibly need to know?"
Even One Direction looked skeptical at this, and Sydney shrank back into the barn wall as four sets of eyes bored into her.
Finally, Gwen broke the awkward silence. "We should go back and start dinner, Sydney," she said, and her sister looked relieved to have the focus shifted away from her. With great difficulty, Gwen turned her head toward the One Direction. "Is there, err, anything in particular that you lot want to eat?"
Everyone, even Sydney, raised their eyebrows at this unexpected peace offering. Gwen did her best to avoid Harry' gaze, but she could still feel it burning into her, quizzical and appraising.
Zayn was the first to recover. "Pizza!" he enthused rather loudly.
Longingly, Louis groaned. "I'd about kill for a nice deep dish pepperoni right now," he said, and Harry nodded, showing his accord.
"Pizza it is, then," Gwen announced cheerfully, suddenly giddy at the idea of biting into a nice, greasy slice – she couldn't even remember the last time she'd been allowed to enjoy its cheesy goodness.
Sydney, however, looked strangely petrified. "Pizza?" she queried in a small, strangled voice.
"What, afraid of ruining your diet or something?" Louis chuckled at this, clearly unable to fathom why such a bony girl would have any need to watch her weight.
Sydney shot him a glare. "Just because some of us have the sense to respect our bodies…"
"Respect?" Zayn repeated. "More like neglect – no offense, Twiggie, but I reckon you could do with a pizza. Or twenty."
Sydney's face morphed into a hideous glower. She narrowed her eyes in his direction. "Please, say that again once you've turned thirty, gained five stone and suffered a heart attack."
Zayn looked incredulous. "Your loss," he finally said. "You can go munch on a leaf or something and we'll just sit here with a nice, big, pepperoni pizza... Right, Curly?"
Harry smirked, but before he could say anything, Sydney cut in.
"Harry doesn't like pizza," she blurted.
Harry looked confused; Louis, meanwhile, snorted. "And what would you know about Hazza's eating habits, Syd?" Despite his joking tone, there was a sort of challenge in his eyes as he said it, as though he was daring Sydney to prove she knew Harry better than he did.
Sydney coughed. "I read it in a magazine—June edition. Harry, you said you didn't like pizza because it's bad for your health, remember?"
Louis burst into uncontrollable laughter, his booming voice reverberating off the walls. Harry glanced awkwardly around the barn, his eyes landing once or twice on Gwen. "Err, well, I sort of only said that... you know, because they asked me to. To give the band a good image and everything."
He winced as he said this, and waited cautiously for the girls to react. Sydney looked crestfallen; Gwen felt a strange sort of satisfaction.
"Well, now that that's cleared up, we'd best go order those," she said, grabbing her sister by the elbow. "Come on, Sydney. We'll get you a vegetarian or something."

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