For the first time in a long time, I rouse slowly from sleep. Nobody ushers or shakes me awake. The sensation is unusual. I stay immobile for several minutes before exhaling loudly and stretching on the bed. Once I feel that all my members have cracked awake, I lie motionless on the bed, blinking whilst looking up at the ceiling. Usually, one of the boys would’ve barged in to wake me up by now... I turn around.
I’m shocked to see balloons as well as a bundle of presents sitting on the bedside table beside me. At the very front of the gifts, there’s an envelope with my name written in a delicate script.
“Are these boys serious?” I grumble incredulously as I sit up carefully and grab it. I open it warily, only to discover a birthday card. I glance inside it.
Happy birthday Anne!
We’ve decided that due to the fact you aren’t too fond of our company; our common gift for you would be our complete absence this morning. You are free to join us whenever you feel like it, but we won’t purposefully barge into your room. Enjoy it while you can, we’ll fetch you for lunch!
The message is followed by the boys’ signatures. I look at the time. 10:30 A.M. I’ve got at least an hour and a half to be alone with myself. This is great. I carefully place the card back in its envelope before eyeing the five presents cautiously. These boys can buy anything. So anything is literally in there.
“Good thing all of them are small,” I mutter, hesitating as I grab the first bag, place it on my lap and read the tag: With love, from Niall xxx. I pull the lime green tissue paper out of the black bag and peek inside. A square box the size of my palm rests at the bottom. I reach in and draw it out, discarding the birthday bag beside me. I lift the lid off and discover a silver charm bracelet with a lone four-leaf clover charm locked on it. I lift the bracelet out of the box, uncovering a note underneath it.
Keeping the silver chain dangling between the fingers of my left hand, I read Niall’s note:
You probably don’t want anything that’ll remind you of us when you’re free.
But wear it at the concert tonight. That way you’ll be able to sell it when you’re free. It’s worth a lot.
If it can help to buy some food for a year or so when you’re out, I’d be more than glad.
Happy birthday, Niall xxx
I glance at the bracelet once more. True, the thought of wearing something he gave me repulses me. But at the same time, not only has he been acting sweet for the last couple of days, but he actually wants me to sell it for food.
I find myself latching it on my wrist seconds later before proceeding to the second gift bag: Liam’s. I pull the purple tissue paper out, only to find a grey box similar to Niall’s at the bottom of the bag. Frowning, I take it out and place it at the centre of my palm.
I remove the lid.
A delicate golden chain with a small pearl pendant rests inside the box. I take it out, looking at it closely. Five tiny diamonds are wrapped around the twisted gold linking the pendant to the chain. The necklace is breathtaking.
I gaze back into the box. This time, no special note joins the gift. Only a Happy Birthday on a Post it.
Keeping the chain in my fingers, I walk up to the mirror and place the pendant in the hollow of my neck, before reaching behind my hair and latching the chain shut. I stare at myself for a good minute, eyeing every inch of my body, from the tip of my toes to the top of my head.
“I’m pretty sure I could sell the chain too,” I realise, toying with it.
Shaking my head, I return to my previous position on the bed and grab another gift. Harry’s name is on the tag this time. But this time, the present is wrapped instead of placed in a bag.
I slide my thumb between the juncture of the wrapping paper and the tape and I pull, tearing it off carefully. Another grey box greets me, except this one is much smaller. I can easily guess what the gift is: earrings.
“Did they all buy me jewelry?” I mutter, removing the top of the box. A pair of small diamond earrings practically stare back at me from inside. “Too bad my ears aren’t pierced,” I huff sarcastically, shutting the box and placing it with the envelope I’d opened five minutes ago.
My gaze drifts to the two remaining gifts. Zayn and Louis. I stare longly at Zayn’s present before I decide that I won’t open it. Under no circumstance. I don’t want anything from him. I don’t want him to try to buy me off with something I might end up liking. I wouldn’t forgive myself.
Louis’ gift is the smallest of them all. But it’s also the only one with a card inside it. I pull the light blue envelope out of the gift bag and open it, pulling the card out.
I can’t help shaking as I hold the card in my hands, not knowing if I can deal with the emotional wave every single one of his words brings. Yesterday’s note was hard enough to swallow, this one better not have the same effect or I might just end up forgetting what he did to me.
I take three deep breaths before I proceed to open the card.
My beloved Anne,
Let me start off by saying that no birthday wishes, birthday cards, or birthday gifts can express the amount of love and respect I have for you. But they’re all I can give to you on this day since I’m nowhere worthy of truly showing you how much you mean to me.
Now, I know that being 19 doesn’t seem like anything special, especially considering your situation, but I can promise you that this day marks the dawn of a new life. One filled with love and hope and dreams and everything you ever wanted. You deserve to be happy Anne. Life has tried to bring you down so many times, but you’re still standing strong. And I admire you so much for that because I have failed do the same repeatedly.
Stay strong Anne. I know life hasn’t been a smooth ride for you so far, but you’re almost through the bumps. I’m hoping my gift can help make the ride a little more pleasant. But I know that soon enough, nothing and nobody will stand in the way of your heart’s desires.
I stare at his message, eyes filled with tears.
“No I can’t cry,” I shake my hand, rapidly wiping my tears with the back of my hand. “Louis what are you doing to me?” I whisper brokenly as I place the card back in its envelope.
I stare at his present for a very long time before I actually decide to open it. My hands are trembling whilst I remove the blue tissue paper. I carefully fold it and place it with all the others, procrastinating just a little.
Shutting my eyes, I inhale deeply before peeking inside the bag, still unsure of what I’m going to find. But to my surprise, a simple teal, palm-sized SONY mp3 player rests calmly at the bottom, along with a pair of earphones.
“What?” I mumble incredulously, taking it in my hands. As I do so, I discover a note right underneath it. I read it.
When the world gives up on you, music won’t. Xxx
I begin crying. Not out of sadness, but rather out of sheer frustration. Because even though the feeling of Louis doing what Zayn asks him to do still tramples me, my love for him is still as vibrant as ever, especially after witnessing how he cared for Sophie last night.
I curl around my pillow, shut my eyes and stay in this position until they come and get me for lunch.
I play with the cake in my plate with my fork, my head resting on my hand whilst I listen disinterestedly to the random discussions going on around me.
The seven of us were all in a private room in some restaurant I’d already forgotten the name of. Sophie and I had gotten the Happy Birthday chant a few minutes ago, and it was immediately followed by a cake. Cake for which I had absolutely no appetite for following my burger.
“Why aren’t you eating?” Niall asks me quietly.
“Not hungry anymore,” I mumble. “My burger was too big.”
“Totally understandable,” he chuckles, taking the last bite out of his own cake. I watch Soph as she talks, automatically noticing that her and Harry are tense once again.
I shudder as his voice cuts through all the other ones. I don’t even look up to acknowledge him.
“I want to know why you didn’t open my gift,” Zayn questions slowly. Utensils clink, followed by a tense silence.
“Take a wild guess,” I snap, keeping my gaze locked on my fork. I hear a chair being roughly pulled backwards, followed by more utensils clanking on plates.
“You’re not still pissed about our little incident, now are you?” he enquires, his tone amused.
“I can’t imagine why I would be huh?” I snarl sarcastically.
“If Louis would’ve had some balls―”
“He would’ve smashed your pretty face in the concrete. But he didn’t. Because for some fucked up reason, he preferred having your trust over mine. Lucky you,” I state angrily, keeping my gaze locked on my piece cake.
“Now wait a minute―”
“Shut up Zayn. Let her be,” Liam slices dryly. “I think you’ve harmed the poor girl enough. We all know there would’ve been other ways to prove Louis’ commitment but you chose the one that’s the hardest for each of them mentally. Quit. It,” he ends warningly, cutting his words out.
It’s only then that I lift my head and notice Louis’s absence. Almost immediately, I believe I know where he is.
“I’ll go get him―”
“No I’ll go,” I cut Harry off. “Getting people out of washrooms is my thing.” I stand up, my own chair scrapping against the floor. Without adding anything, I leave the private room and head for the men’s bathroom.
I push the door open and enter swiftly, without any hesitation. I find Louis leaning against the sink, water dripping from his face. He freezes in shock when he sees me but I keep walking towards him determinedly.
My hand collides with his cheek before I can stop myself. I clench my stinging hand on my side, my eyes locked on his. I exhale slowly.
“Why?” I ask.
“Why what?” he mumbles, not doing anything about his reddening cheek.
“Why are you making me feel like this?” I reply.
I cut him off, my fingers pulling his face towards mine into a passionate kiss. It’s filled with infuriation mingled with lust and love all at once. It’s destructive. I break it in a matter of seconds.
“Like this. Angry and in love at the same time. You can’t do that. You have no right to mess with my feelings like that,” I continue, breaking down. I throw my arms in the air and circle around myself once as tears fall down my cheeks. I brusquely stop and face him. “The least you could do is attempt to stand up for yourself! Try to defend yourself! Give a reason for your actions!”
“I don’t have a good one!” he counters. “Nothing can excuse what I’ve done. Nothing!”
“So you’re simply going to let Zayn walk over you?! Why can’t you man up and stand up for yourself Louis Tomlinson?!”
“Because I’m not as strong as you,” he whispers, taking my hands into his. My right palm is still throbbing from the slap. “Because you’re not safe yet. I can’t jeopardize your safety for the sake of anything at all right now,” he elaborates softly, his thumbs rubbing the center of my palm soothingly.
I rip my hands out of his. Brusquely, my world crumbles around me. I feel all resistance leaving my body painfully.
“Don’t. Please don’t. Louis, I can’t take it anymore,” I cry, putting my face in my hands. “I’m letting you win. I don’t care about my freedom anymore. I’m so tired of being lost. I don’t care if you raped me. I don’t care about what I feel,” I sob. “I just... I need to be loved. I need your love.”
“No. I don’t deserve you. You can’t give up. Not now. Not when you’re so close to your goal,” he denies urgently.
“Louis I don’t have anything to look forward to. I’m nothing but a broken toy now. I’m just like Sophie.”
“But Sophie has found something to fight for. You need to help her Anne. She needs you. You need her. The baby needs both of you,” he whispers, his fingers intertwining with mine. Tears glisten in his eyes. “You can’t give up now. Fight for them. Please. I’m begging you to stay strong for a little longer. I won’t be able to live with myself if you don’t make it out willingly tonight.”
“I’m so tired of fighting,” I shake my head.
“You can’t let us win. You can’t give Zayn the satisfaction,” he persists. “Please.” I look at him, teary eyed. There’s a long moment of silence.
“For the baby. I’m doing it for the baby,” I mumble finally. “Not for myself, not for you, not for Sophie, but for the baby.”
“It’s the only thing I want to hear,” he sighs. I breathe out once before I dig my face in his chest and wrap my arms around him, taking us both by surprise.
“I’m tired Louis. So, so tired,” I utter. He returns the hug softly.
“I am too,” he responds just as quietly. “But it’ll all be over tonight alright?”
I nod, face still pressed in the crook of his neck.
Seconds later, there’s the sound of a door creaking open. I pull away from Louis as Harry appears.
“Sorry to uh... Interrupt? But we’re leaving,” he states, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. I nod curtly, wipe my tears and stride outside the men’s bathroom without giving any of them another glance.
I’m nervous as ever as we get out the boy’s van and into Philadelphia’s stadium.
My mp3 player and earphones are in my jeans’ pockets; along with the little box containing the earrings Harry gifted me. Niall’s bracelet is still firmly locked around my wrist, just like Liam’s necklace is locked around my neck.
“For the length of the show, Mark will take care of you two okay?” Harry enquires, motioning a bulky man barking some orders to some crew men.
“He looks real tough but he’s a big softie,” Niall supplies, noticing my worried frown. “Anything you two want, he’ll fetch it.”
I nod slowly.
“Time for sound check!” Someone calls out.
Louis walks by me, his fingers grazing my own before he follows the other boys on stage. Sophie and I take random seats, watching as the boys test their microphones and instruments.
“You okay?” she asks me as they start practicing a song.
“Yeah I’m good,” I acknowledge, swallowing thickly. “Slightly nervous. I just want this to work. We probably won’t get another chance like this one,” I add quietly, my eyes meeting Louis’ for a brief moment.
Her hand grabs mine and squeezes it reassuringly, but she doesn’t say anything.
Half an hour later, sound check is over and we’re warned that the spectators will be let inside the stadium any minute now.
Liam shows us exactly where we have to be for the duration of the show, adding that our closeness with the speakers could result into ringing in our ears afterwards.
“We can get you some earplugs if you want though?” He suggests. “But usually the ringing leaves after a good night’s sleep. We’ll make sure it’s not excessively loud.”
“We’ll be fine,” Sophie shakes her head. Harry sighs deeply and takes Sophie’s hands in his own before dragging her a few feet away from the rest of us to talk to her alone. I watch their chat with interest, noticing how worried Harry is and how she’s struggling to keep her emotions in check. It’s obvious she’s realising that this may be the last night she’ll talk to him.
I tear my gaze away, wanting to get a rapid glance at Louis myself but he’s already backstage and out of sight. Zayn is also absent. I shoot a quick look at Niall, watching him as he and Liam gaze at the stadium with wonder. His blue eyes meet mine and he smiles, nodding once before turning away. My eyes fall upon my sister once more.
Harry finally bends down and kisses her head and Sophie proceeds to hug him.
“Boys, all of you need to be backstage now!” Mark states. “I’ll take care of those girls, no worries Harry.”
Harry and Sophie break their hug, kissing one last time before Harry pulls away and walks behind Liam and Niall towards the back of the stadium’s stage.
“This way ladies,” Mark instructs when we lose sight of the boys. He leads us to the place Liam had motioned, just as a flood of girls start entering the stadium. The seats fill rapidly and soon enough, there’s already a buzzing in my ears due to the loud chit chat of the fan girls around us.
“Maybe we should’ve gone with the earplugs,” I mumble to Sophie.
She nods distractedly. Her mind seems to be racing.
“What are you thinking about?” I enquire.
“This was how it started. A One Direction show with VIP tickets. I just have difficulty wrapping my mind around the fact that this is also how it’ll end,” she says, looking at me seriously. “And there’s also the fact that I’ve been around them for three important years. So I didn’t get the chance to graduate. Or even have my drivers’ licence.... I just don’t know how I’ll manage to start living like a normal person again,” she trails on.
“We’ll sort this out as we go...” I try to reassure her. But truth be told, I had no specific idea either on how we were going to make it. Especially with a baby.
I lose track of time and suddenly, it’s the boys’ moment to get on stage. My ears are ringing loudly as screams erupt and they start their first song of the night. Niall’s voice resonates throughout the stadium.
“Counted all my mistakes and there’s only one
Standing up on a list of the things I’ve done
All the rest of my crimes don’t come close
To the look on your face when I let you go
So I built you a house from a broken home
Then I wrote you a song with the words you spoke
Yeah, it took me some time but I figured out
How to fix up a heart that I let down.”
Zayn and Harry are quick to add their voices, followed by Louis and Liam. The chorus rings out loudly, making the girls around us scream even louder.
I watch as they walk around on stage, waving and smiling. The song ends.
“Helloooooooo Philly!” Niall calls out once the stadium has died down a little. “How’s everyone doin’?”
This time, I cover my ears as the hollering gets an octave higher.
“Wow!” Liam continues in his microphone. “Amazing! You guys are on fire! It’s good to be back!”
There’s more yelling. Harry strides near us and sends a kiss in Soph’s direction before continuing along the stage, waving and smirking at the other girls. He begins the next song almost immediately.
“I've got fire for a heart
I'm not scared of the dark
You've never seen it look so easy
I got a river for a soul
And baby you're a boat
Baby you're my only reason.”
I watch as Louis walks to our side of the stage. Our eyes lock as he begins his solo. And suddenly, it’s as if he’s only singing to me.
“If I didn't have you there would be nothing left
The shell of a man who could never be his best
If I didn't have you, I'd never see the sun
You taught me how to be someone, yeah.”
His gaze lingers on me for another second before he spins around and heads to the other side of the stage without another glance. My stomach is in knots. I turn to look at my sister, to see if she had witnessed what had happened, but I simply see her dancing and singing as if she was just like any other fan girl.
My mind is elsewhere as the show goes on. It’s thumping painfully, a headache threatening to burst out any second.
“Thank you all for this fantastic night!” Louis states.
“You’re the best fans in the world! I know we say it every time, but it’s the truth!” Niall continues. The stadium roars.
It’s then I realize that the show is pulling to an end.
“It’s been a great night! Let’s finish this off with Steal my Girl!”
This time, it’s Zayn’s turn to start singing.
“She’s been my queen since we were sixteen
We want the same things, we dream the same dreams, alright, alright
I got it all cause she is the one
Her mom calls me love, her dad calls me son, alright, alright
I know, I know, I know for sure”
“Everybody wanna steal my girl
Everybody wanna take her heart away
Couple billion in the whole wide world
Find another one cause she belongs to me.”
I touch Sophie’s shoulder, warning her silently with my eyes that the time to run is close. She nods determinedly, but keeps on singing along with the boys, dancing and throwing her arms in the air. Fireworks start exploding loudly through the air, making the girls scream even louder.
Mark grabs my arm. I grab Sophie’s.
“Come on,” he urges us whilst everyone is looking at the sky and the boys disappear off the stage. The security guard leads us at the far end of the side of the stage. He pulls out his set of keys and opens a door.
There’s a dimly lit corridor behind it. A few lights hang here and there, flickering occasionally. The floor is a long slab concrete and the air is humid due to the multiple pipes leaking here and there. Clearly, it’s the part of the stadium reserved for electricians, plumbers and other workers.
“At the far end of that hallway, you turn right, and then left down the other corridor. There’s a big black door. It’ll lead you outside. Here,” he pulls out two envelopes from his back pocket and hands it to me. “Louis wanted me to give you this,” he hands the larger one to Soph, “and this,” he ends, giving me the other one. “He also asked that you don’t open them until you’re safe in a taxi,” he adds. “Now quick, or you might just be seen,” he finishes, urging us inside. He shuts the door behind us. There’s the distinct sound of Mark locking the door.
“Now what?” Sophie asks, looking at me.
“Now we run.”
“Let’s go,” she sighs. We break into a run down the narrow corridor, the sound of our feet hitting the concrete resonating in the empty space.
We turn right at the end of the corridor as instructed. More lights stare down at us from the ceiling, flickering on and off. My ears are still buzzing from the loud noise.
“Hey! You! You can’t be down here!” A stern voice shouts behind us. I turn around. A very angry security guard stares back at me. “You’re in trouble when I get my hands on you!”
“Keep running Soph! I’ll join you in a few okay?!” I tell her as she reaches the door leading outside. “He didn’t see you!”
She nods once and pushes the door open, letting a fresh breeze fill the corridor. I turn around to face the guard. He grips my arm tightly, pulling me away from the door and back towards the direction I came from.
“I’m guessing you’re the funny one huh? The one who started the alarm?” he spews angrily.
I frown, confused.
“What alarm? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was simply looking for the bathroom―”
“Don’t play dumb with me missy! You’re in so much trouble! Only authorized people have access here! And you had the guts to pull the alarm and try to run away!”
I hear the sound of running footsteps before I see their owner. I lift my head up to see Louis running in my direction.
“Steeve its okay! Let her go! They found the culprit! He’s upstairs!” he states. “I’ll take care of leading the poor girl out!” He pants. I see the sweat gathering on his forehead. “Mark accidently let her in. My fault. I’ll lead her out,” he repeats, approaching us. Clearly he’s been running like hell to get down here.
Steeve glares at me once more before he lets me go.
“Sorry for the misunderstanding miss,” he mumbles, giving me another harsh once over before leaving in a jog.
“Come on Anne,” Louis exhales when he’s out of sight. “We have to get you out. They’ll be on to us soon,” he rambles, leading me back towards the exit. “They’ll know I pulled the alarm in no time at all,” he trails on hurriedly, grabbing my hand and making me walk even quicker. “Thank God for Niall’s last minute improvisation.”
I follow him to the door.
“Where’s Soph?” he asks me, realising her absence. His chest is still rising and falling quickly from his running.
“Already out,” I say, voice shaking. I gaze into his blue eyes. “Lou thank you for everything―”
“Don’t thank me. Not yet. You’re not safe yet,” he shakes his head. He pushes the door open but I pull it back shut.
“I know. But you’ve done so much. You’ve jeopardized your whole career for us. How can I ever thank you properly?” I blurt out, a sudden surge of love for him filling me.
“Report us to the authorities when you’re free alright?” Louis begs, holding my shoulders. “I’ll do it myself if you don't but you have all the necessary proof―”
“No I can’t―”
“You can and you have to. The five of us need to reflect on our actions. You need to let the world know.”
My mouth opens without my consent, my feelings pouring out.
“No―I forgive you―you’ve changed―” He grabs my hands as tears start flooding my eyes.
“No Anne.” He shakes his head. “This is exactly why you have to go and tell the world. You’ve let Stockholm syndrome inside your mind. I’m not a good guy. I’ve done bad things: you can’t forget that,” he stresses, before holding my face in his hands. “This is that last thing I’ll take from you alright?” he ends, before stealing a rapid kiss. “I love you,” he breathes, his eyes pouring into mine. “Now go! A taxi is supposed to be waiting for you outside!” he urges, pushing the door open once more and urging me out and away from him.
My heart is beating as quickly as a hummingbird’s wings as I run through the night. I wipe my tears out of my eyes, adrenaline kicking in.
“You’re almost through Anne,” I tell myself. “Almost free,” I convince myself, using all my will not to simply head back and stay with Louis.
“Anne?!” Soph’s voice calls out through the night.
I look in front of me and see her waiting anxiously beside the streetlight. I run up to her just as a taxi pulls up in the street. The driver rolls the window down.
“Taxi to the airport for Miller twins?” he enquires, leaning in his seat to look at us. He gives us a quick once over.
I nod hastily and hurry both Sophie and I into the backseat. It’s only when I’m seated with my seatbelt buckled that I realise that Sophie’s crying.
“You know it’s for the best right?” I mumble to her. She nods.
“But it still hurts for some reason. I’ve had them ‘care’ for me for so long...I’m scared of ending up alone.”
“We’ll care for each other alright? From now on, it’s the Miller twins versus the world,” I tell her, wrapping my arm around her shoulder. “Just us and your baby.” She sniffs and nods. There’s a short moment of silence.
“Do you think we can open the envelopes?” she asks. I look around. The stadium is nowhere in sight.
“Yeah okay. You go first?”
She agrees and tears the envelope open. She looks in it.
“Oh my god Anne,” she whispers, pulling out two passports as well as a bundle of money and a note.
“What does the note say?” I probe, looking at the passports with astonishment. How did he even manage to snatch our passports from Harry?
“This is your chance to start over Soph. You can go anywhere in the world. There’s 10 thousand pounds worth of money, and you deserve it all because I lost the bet concerning Anne’s Daddy kink. Pretty certain she doesn’t have one. I threw in another 100 grand to help you three get a proper home and some food for a while. You can also sell the gifts Niall gave you: he wanted you to use them for this exact purpose. Take care. With love, Louis.”
“He’s crazy,” I speak softly, eyeing the money.
“Crazy in love with you yeah,” she mutters, also taken aback by the quantity of money. “What’s in yours? He said it was the thing he cherished the most.”
I frown, pulling my own envelope out. I open it cautiously and am shocked to find a small mirror. I stare at myself momentarily.
“What?” I stammer, taken aback.
“There’s something written in the back,” Sophie remarks.
I flip it around and read his messy handwriting: Stay strong love. Please. Xxx “I’m the thing he cherishes the most,” I utter in disbelief, looking at Sophie. Minutes later, the car halts to a stop.
“We’ve arrived,” the driver states, stopping the engine.
“How much do we owe you?” I ask.
“The fee has already been taken care of, ladies,” he replies.
“Thank you,” Soph says. Still in a daze, I step out of the taxi with Sophie by my side. We walk up to the main desk at the airport.
“Yes? How can I help you two?” the lady behind the desk enquires, slightly uninterested.
“We’d like two tickets,” I breathe. “Please,” I add, sliding our passports on the desk. That seems to perk up her interest.
“Where to?” she frowns, eyeing us and our lack of luggage.
I turn to my sister.
“Where to, sis?”
“Let’s go home.”