Tears start streaming down my face as I tug Niall downstairs with me, and out the hotel on the streets of L.A. The blonde boy doesn’t say anything as I drag him down the streets with me, letting me sniffle and wipe my tears with the back of my hand.
“Do you know why he’s like this?” I ask Niall, voice still shaky as I release his sleeve. “Do you know why he absolutely has to control me like that? Why I feel like I’m only a puppet he can love and play with?” He doesn’t answer, walking quietly beside me. I hold my head in my hands, pulling my hair. “I was positive that deep down, he truly loved me. That underneath all those rules and precautions, I’d still find a guy who cares about what I want, who cherishes me,” I hiccup, more tears filling my eyes as last night’s event drowns me. “Do you think that deep down, he’s able to change? Or is it foolish to keep hoping when there’s no hope?” I cry, stopping to look at the Irish boy. Seeing him listening to me so intently is like receiving a kick in the guts. “Why are you even listening to me? I’ve been such a horrible person to you,” I continue, throwing my hands up in despair. “I’ve been so horrible...” More tears glide down my cheeks and I bite my lip, passing my hand through my hair incredulously as I sit on a bench. He takes a seat beside me, placing his arm around my shoulder.
“I’m listening to you Sophie, because I believe you deserve to be heard,” he replies, squeezing my shoulder. “As for an answer to your questions, well you saw something in Harry that made you choose him. I think it’s up to you to decide if that something is still there and if it’s still worth waiting for. Harry cares for you. We all do. But maybe he cares too much for your own good.”
I shake my head.
“Niall, I chose Harry because I deserve him! Because I certainly don’t deserve you,” I say wretchedly “I broke you,” I begin, motioning his wrists. “I used you. I lead you on and ignored your feelings. I don’t deserve you,” I persist.
“But Soph, I broke you too. I’ve used you too. I’ve stood by the lads as they dragged you through your own personal hell. I have no idea how you portray me, but I’m far from being perfect,” he reasons, cupping my face in his hands. “I believe we’ve broken each other, but two broken pieces can make a new one.”
“Niall,” I shake my head, “you deserve so much better than me,” I deny. This boy is something special. I’ve been nothing but awful to him, yet here he is, still hoping I’ll pick him.
“But you’re all I want,” he admits. “I know it may seem like I’m trying to take advantage of the fact that you fought with Harry minutes ago, but I’m not. Anne and I talked last night and I realised I didn’t want to watch you from afar and hope that you’ll notice me. I want you to notice me right now,” he mumbles, his eyes drifting momentarily to my lips. As he leans in, I turn my face and hand him my cheek instead, finding myself unworthy of his lips. He shakes his head.
“Give me today then. Just like you gave Harry 24 hours, I want today,” he decides, not taken aback by my refusal. “I’ll give you a taste of what a day with me could be. The whole Horan experience,” he jokes.
“Niall I can’t. I can’t pretend like nothing is wrong and that I don’t mind hurting Harry because I do. I’m tired of hurting myself and the people around me,” I state, more tears surfacing. “I’m so, so tired,” I repeat, shaking.
“I understand,” he breathes, standing up from the bench and squatting down in front of me. “I’m tired too. My life is exhausting. But let’s just press pause. Press pause on all our problems and on life in general.”
“I know it’s not easy,” he replies hastily. “But Harry is going to be angry after you whether we return to the hotel now, or later. Chances are it won’t be as bad this evening because he’ll have had the time to cool off.”
“Or he’ll be even angrier because my day will have been spent with you.”
“Then let him be angry. The worse has already happened last night,” he pleads, intertwining his fingers with mine. “I need this. I need to show you what you’re missing.”
I owe him that. I owe him today. And I need to apologize to him, I realize, recalling my drunken outburst last night. I was harsh. Maybe even too harsh...
“Say I accept to spend the day with you,” I begin. “What will happen with the other boys?” I mention, “and what if you had something planned today with the band and the tour?”
“Nothing’s planned today,” he supplies, whipping out his phone from his back pocket, before tapping something real quick. “And Liam, Zayn and Harry have headaches due to last nights’ drinking. Also, I’ve just texted Liam to let them know we won’t be returning until this evening,” he grins, putting his phone back in his pocket.
“And what about reservations or―”
“Are you purposefully trying to find reasons not to spend the day with me?” he chuckles. “I’m nothing fancy love. I’ll make do with what I can find. Do you think you’re ready for that?” He lets his sentence hang, holding his hand out. I look at him longly, getting lost in his pleading blue eyes. I find myself locking my fingers with his.
“Good.” He pulls me to my feet.
“Where to first?”
“I don’t― Ah yes I know where we’re going,” he decides. He places his hands in his pockets and starts walking.
“Aren’t you going to tell me?” I frown.
“Nah, it’ll be a surprise,” he chuckles.
We walk down the streets of Los Angeles, not saying much. I take the time to sort out my thoughts about all the recent events, attempting to separate the good ones from the bad ones.
Niall stops us in front of a small stand with bikes aligned on its side.
“Give me two minutes,” he says. I nod and he walks up to the older lady in charge of the kiosk. My mind drifts to yesterday’s late-afternoon conversation with Anne as the blonde chats with the woman. She’d mentioned Niall acting weird and mentally absent at Ellen’s...
I watch him as he talks, my eyes gazing momentarily at his wrists whilst I wait. A wave of relief soothes me as I notice the absence of fresh scars. Maybe Anne overreacted? Or maybe Niall has somehow lost the cutting urges?
“So here’s the plan love,” Niall states, pulling me out of my reverie as he waves a map in front of my face. “There’s another stand just like this one at the other side of the city, as well as one in the middle. The lady told me that we don’t have to bring our bike back here: any one of those stands will do,” he explains, motioning the different spots on the map with his finger. “I thought we could do this track,” he motions an orange line that cuts through the city, “and then stop by the park to grab some food. There’s a bicycle stand right beside it.”
“Sounds good to me,” I agree.
“Great!” he folds the map and slides it in his pocket, before walking to the bikes. He shows his receipt to the man in charge of assigning them. The man nods and motions a series of red bikes. I frown as Niall gets one out of its rack. It’s a tandem bike. For two people. “We’re going to take turns steering,” he grins, tapping on the seats. He grabs the helmets attached on each handlebar, handing one over to me.
“Me? Steering that? Bad idea,” I state, my fingers latching on the helmet.
“Why?” His smile drops a little.
“A, I’ll probably get lost and B, refer to A.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure? Who cares if we get lost?” he sighs.
“What if people see us? Fans? Paps? We’ll be all over the media in no time.”
Niall drops the bicycle and runs his hand through his hair in disbelief, before walking over to me, taking my hands into his. His eyes pour into mine.
“I don’t care about that: Harry does. Look,” he sighs, “can today be a game? Can we simply pretend I’m just a normal boy, who’s trying to make today a Padgett worthy day for the girl he loves so painfully much?” he mumbles, moving a strand of hair behind my ear. “If you really don’t want to, fine. I understand. I’ll take you back to the hotel and you can go back to sulking about Harry’s attitude. I’m trying to do this for both of us right now,” he adds. “And―”
“Niall,” I silence him softly, pressing my finger on his lips. “I don’t want to return to the hotel okay? I’m sorry I have a lousy attitude. Harry practically dragged me to my breaking point last night and I’m still trying to process things,” I sigh, looking at the helmet in my hands. “I want today to be a Padgett worthy day too,” I continue, toying with the object.
“Really,” I nod, looking back up into his eyes.
“Good. Then let’s do this,” he smiles and lifts the bike back up so it’s standing straight.
“I’ll steer first, and then we’ll switch half-way?”
“Yup,” I exhale, cracking my knuckles. He grins and lifts his leg over the saddle, standing between the handles and the saddle before putting the helmet on his head. I do the same behind him and place one foot on the pedal, the other one firmly put on the ground.
“Ready? On three,” he says, also placing his left foot on the pedal. “One, two, three!”
I push on the pedal and try to get my right foot on the other one, struggling due to the lack of balance. I can’t help giggling as I witness Niall also struggling with the handlebar, twisting it left and right as he pushes on the pedals.
“You’ve never done this before huh?!” I giggle, fumbling to keep the bike rolling. My feet end up on the ground numerous times as we advance slowly and unsteadily, unable to ride straight. The Irish boy finally manages to get his balance and keep the handles straight, pedaling more regularly. I pedal behind him, laughing.
“I doubt you’ll be any better though,” he teases, once he’s finally stable. He engages the bicycle on the reserved lane by the side of the road. I purposefully jerk left on my seat, making him loose control for half a second. “Hey!”
I laugh again, shaking my head before I stop pedaling altogether. Niall doesn’t notice my lack of participation until we arrive at a small hill.
“Either you’re heavy as hell, or you’re not helping me,” he pants, pushing hard with his legs as he struggles to get us to the top. He turns to look at me briefly. “Oh my god Sophie!” he grunts, but his eyes are grinning.
“Sorry, not sorry,” I chuckle, resuming my pedaling.
“Pfft. I’ll get my revenge,” he responds playfully.
“Of course you will,” I reply, smiling as I roll my eyes. He stops the bike.
“We’re half-way. Your turn to steer,” he declares, stepping off.
“Ohhh-kay,” I frown, gripping the handles tightly as I reposition myself over the seat. I hear him shuffle behind me, also placing himself. “Uh, where am I going exactly?” I question.
“I’ll tell you when and where to turn, don’t worry about that,” he replies.
“That’s exactly why I’m worrying. I don’t think you know where you’re going,” I tease, turning to look at the blonde. He smiles and shrugs. I shake my head and look in front of me, taking a deep breath. I clench my fingers around the handles as I push the bike forwards, making it roll before attempting to place my feet on the pedals whilst keeping the handlebar steady. I find myself placing my feet back on the ground as I lose balance. I try again before Niall can say anything, focusing on keeping the handlebar straight and pushing with my legs.
“Ha. Second try and I aced it,” I mock to Niall behind me as the bike starts rolling normally.
“You watched me do it so you already had an idea about how to get it to roll properly! I had nobody!” he protests.
“You keep finding excuses,” I chuckle. “I know the truth.”
He doesn’t reply but I know he’s probably shaking his head and grinning, unable to tell me otherwise because he’d rather lie and make me happy than say the truth for his own benefit. Because that’s just how Niall is around me. My happiness will always come before his. A weird knot forms in the pit of my stomach as I realize this.
“Hey let’s stop over there!” he calls out loudly barely five minutes later.
“Where? I can’t exactly look at where you’re pointing right now!” I retort, keeping my concentration on the steering.
“At the table near the fountain!” he specifies. I squint and gaze a little farther than the pavement in front of me and see the said table in the middle of the park.
I frown and steer the bike through the sparsely populated park, heading for the wooden table sat right behind a big fountain. I brake and place my feet on the ground once we’re beside. I turn around, only to see him remove his helmet and step off the bike.
“Where are you going?”
“I’m hot, so I’m getting some ice cream,” he supplies, tying the helmet on the handlebar. “Coming?”
“Nah I’m going to watch the bike,” I shake my head, taking off my own helmet and sitting on the table. “I’m not very hungry anyways,” I lie.
He cocks his eyebrow upwards but doesn’t say anything.
“Don’t miss me too much then,” he advises.
“Don’t think that’s going to happen,” I reply, rolling my eyes playfully. He grins and turns around, heading towards the parlor. I keep my gaze locked on him as he pulls out his phone while he walks, typing something before placing the device to his ear. Who could he be talking to? Niall keeps talking as he waits in the three people line, shaking his head and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. He’s probably just checking out on the boys, I reason, shaking my head and lying back on the table to catch some sunrays. My mind empty, I shut my eyes and enjoy the warmth on my face. I don’t even realise that I’ve fallen asleep until Niall’s voice jolts me awake.
“You know lying in front of the sun like that without sunscreen is like asking for skin cancer, right?” he states as I sit up.
“10 minutes is undoubtly going to do that,” I reply sarcastically, looking at him. He has a cold treat in each of his hands.
“Probably not, but better not test our chances, the sun is at its hottest right now,” he continues, handing me one of the cones.
“I didn’t know you’d graduated high school, you being a member of One Direction and all,” I start, cocking an eyebrow.
“Come on Soph, you don’t need a genius to know that the hottest periods of the day are between noon and 3,” he chuckles. “You learn that in 2nd grade. And for your information, I almost did graduate. I missed my last exams for an award night but still, I’m pretty damn sure I would’ve passed them.”
“The key word here is ‘almost’,” I point out.
“Ha. Ha,” he laughs sarcastically, still handing me the cone.
“Sophie come on. I know you’re hungry,” he sighs. I roll my eyes, a smile tugging the corners of my lips.
“Fine,” I huff, taking the treat. The Irish boy takes a seat beside me and licks a long stripe off his vanilla ice cream and I do the same, enjoying my chocolate one.
“What do we say?” he mocks, licking his once more.
“Thank you Niall.”
“No. The correct response would’ve been: thank you Niall for knowing that the words ‘I’m not hungry’ really mean ‘I’m famished, please get me three’,” he corrects.
I playfully punch his shoulder.
“You’re annoying, you know that?” I say, biting the chocolate goodness.
“But you’re absolutely insufferable.”
I scoff and shove the rest of the ice cream in his face, making sure to put some everywhere. I can’t help it: I start laughing. I drop the cone and hastily bound up to my feet as Niall reacts quickly and attempts to shove his own treat in my face. I start running away from him as he brandishes his ice cream in my direction.
“I’m going to get you Sophie Miller!” he shouts, following closely behind me. I’m laughing so much I have difficulty keeping a steady pace and the blonde ends up hooking his arm around my waist and pulling me to him. I lose balance and fall in the grass, dragging him with me. I end up under him and he takes advantage of the situation to wipe the melting vanilla treat on my face
“Stop!” I giggle as he slides it along my cheeks and neck. “Niall, it’s sliding in my shirt!” I chortle, struggling to get away. I’m panting when he finally discards the cone and towers over me, his hands holding mine to the ground on either side of my head. His own breathing is ragged and our faces are inches apart. He leans in slowly, his eyes locked on mine with longing. Our bodies are tense, our breathing mingling. He descends down until we’re centimeters apart, letting me the choice to close the distance or not. My heartbeat accelerates as I part my lips.
Then out of the blue, I lift my head and lick the ice cream off the top of his nose. He pulls away in surprise. I laugh and get back on my feet, running towards the tandem bike. Shaking my head, I bend over near the fountain and wash my face with the water before drying it off with my shirt. I put the helmet back on my head and place myself back on the bike just as Niall comes walking back, shaking his head in disbelief.
“Wash yourself off Irish, we’re going to finish this trail,” I smirk.
“Glad to see you’re finally into it,” Niall smiles. “It’s good to see you like this Sophie,” he continues once he’s washed his face and placed the helmet on his head.
There’s a pang in my chest because I know that this feels so much better than sticking around in a van or in a hotel, but also because I know that even if I’d be out in L.A with Harry instead of with Niall, Harry’s possessiveness would only constraint my happiness.
“Where to?” I enquire, reluctantly ignoring his comment.
“The trail continues right beside that small orange building in front of us,” he answers, placing himself behind me. I nod and push off the ground, my feet placing themselves on the pedals easily.
“Niall I’m pretty sure we’re lost,” I repeat as we roll past more trees. The path isn’t pavement anymore, it’s a small trail filled with gravel, pebbles and branches.
“I read the map right Soph, we’re not lost,” he persists.
“I’m pretty sure that when you’re stuck in a forest for more than 15 minutes, you’re pretty lost,” I deny, looking around to see trees, trees and more trees around us. The sun had also disappeared a few minutes ago behind a series of clouds, all of which were threatening to cry within the next half hour or so. I really didn’t want to end up freezing in wet clothes and all these wrong directions Niall kept giving me were simply irritating.
“Want me to take over the steering then?”
“Please,” I sigh, pressing on the brakes and stopping the bike. We change places and Niall rapidly makes us turn around.
“Couldn’t you have told me it was the other way?” I frown.
“I’m just trying different things here okay?” he chuckles.
“Can’t you simply admit that we’re lost?” I sigh, pedaling leisurely behind him.
I roll my eyes. We pedal for another three minutes before I see the trees clearing up in front of us.
“See we’re not lost,” Niall points out.
“You just got lucky,” I say as wooden cabins appear on either side of the track surrounding. I take a close look around and realize something. “Niall I think we’re on a camping ground,” I state. Seconds later, the bike is rolling on a wooden quay. “Niall!” I shout as the blonde keeps pedaling towards the lake.
“Told you I’d get revenge!” he shouts, laughing as he sends us and the off the quay and into the water. I shriek as I’m airborne for half a second before the water swallows me whole. My feet touching the bottom of the sandy lake, I quickly get my head out of the water, sputtering in confusion.
“What the heck!” I protest, splashing the laughing idiot right in front of me.
“Sophie that was hilarious!” he doubles up, hitting the water with one hand.
“Do you even realize how dangerous this was? I could’ve drowned under the weight of the bike!”
“But you didn’t!”
“No because I was quick enough to react!”
“You’re overreacting love. I wouldn’t have let you drown if you would’ve had ended up under the bicycle.”
“What are you even going to do about it?!” I question incredulously, motioning the sunken bike. “Jesus Niall! It’ll end up too rusted to work properly.”
“It’ll dry out in the sun later,” he waves it off, his hair a wet mop on his head.
“What sun?” I exclaim, motioning the dark sky.
As if on cue, there’s the rumble of thunder and a small drizzle starts pouring out of the clouds.
“Great. Just great!” I say sarcastically. Niall chuckles and swims aimlessly in a small circle around me. “Are you happy?” I scoff.
“Are you?” he retorts, still circling around me. Yes.
“Stop swimming around me like that, you’re going to make us both dizzy,” I counter.
“You didn’t answer the question.”
“I’m going in one of the cabins Niall. It’s raining,” I state, walking towards the shore. He stops me as the water level reaches right below the top of my chest.
“But you’re already soaked! Come on, stay in here with me!” he asks, pulling my arm. Water drips down from his hair and onto his face, following the shape of his raised eyebrows and pleading features.
Without taking the time to think my next actions through, I grab him and pull him to me, pressing our mouths together in a haste kiss. Keeping my fingers clenched on his drenched shirt, I look up at him from under my eyelashes in uncertainty.
“Fucking hell Soph,” he breathes. He’s quick to kiss me again, his hand latching on my wet hair and knotting it between his fingers. I relish the feeling of security and love that his body wrapped around mine brings.
“You’re so fucking annoying Niall,” I reply, between eager kisses. “You’re so fucking annoyingly lovable.” I kiss him again, unable to get enough of the taste of his lips.
“Sorry,” he mutters breathlessly. It’s then I realise that we aren’t playing today’s game anymore. That we aren’t just a normal girl and boy falling hopelessly in love.
I push him away, making the water slosh around us.
“No!” I shake my head rapidly, throwing my arms in the air in disbelief. “You can’t fucking say sorry! I’m the one who should apologize! I’m the one who’s being a fucking bitch about the feelings that you have for me and that I undoubtly have for you!” I declare angrily, the rain falling more heavily on us. Rain keeps pouring down on us as I look at him in desolation. “I’m so sorry for not being worthy of you Niall―”
“You’ve told me that already and I don’t care,” he mumbles, cupping my face in his hands.
“But I do!”
He moves to kiss me again but I stop him reluctantly.
“No Niall I can’t do this with you because I can’t bear the idea of hurting you again―”
“Hurt me all you want Sophie. I’ve always been yours to hurt,” he cuts me off softly. “I just...” he gazes down at me, looking lost. “I need this. I’ll turn the page afterwards, start a new chapter and let you and Harry sort out your throes of passion without interfering if you really can’t fathom the idea of being with me...But I need this,” he pleads. “I need you to love me like you did back in September. I need you to heal that horrible gash you made when you decided to choose Harry without even giving me a real chance,” he persists.
His words melt all my previous resistance. I grab the back of his head and kiss him before latching my body to his by wrapping my legs around him under the water.
“We can’t do this here,” he grunts between numerous fervent kisses. He pauses briefly to look around. “Under the quay.”
Minutes later, we’re underneath the wooden dock and I’m removing his soaked shirt, discarding it in the lake. There’s just enough light for us to be able to see each other, and the rain is mostly stopped by the wooden planks over us.
His lips latch onto my neck and my eyes roll shut, Niall’s touch feeling heavenly. His hands hold my body close to his, one of them sliding under my shirt to cup one of my breasts. I shiver as the lukewarm water drowns my nipples.
Kissing me once more, Niall releases me momentarily to help me out of the drenched sweats. He throws them behind him, letting them float with his shirt. I wrap my arms around his neck, latching myself on him in only a wet t-shirt and panties.
“Why are you so perfect?” I whisper to him.
“I could ask you the same question,” he replies before bending down to kiss me passionately again. He toys with my shirt and in a matter of seconds; both of us are completely bare, our skins pressed against one another’s. He’s holding me above the surface, the water reaching the middle of my back whilst it reached the top of his chest.
“Niall,” I moan, feeling his center press lightly against mine under the water. I tighten my hold on his shoulders, taking it upon myself to get him inside me. I entrancingly watch the droplets fall on his eyebrows and down his cheek as I advance my hips and let myself sink down on him.
He grunts and digs his face in my neck as my heat engulfs him slowly. I shiver as my breasts press against his torso under the water, not used to the peculiar feeling. The Irish boy waits several seconds before pulling out and then sliding back in.
A pleasurable feeling spreads through me from the tip of my toes to the roots of my hair, making me tingle all over. My mouth finds his in a lustful kiss and his fingers massaging my skin.
“Fuck Sophie,” he curses, executing slow but passionate thrusting motions in and out of me. I’m hot all over, his skin like fire every single time it touches mine. Our breathing gets raspy and the blonde slips a finger to where we’re joined, playing with the sensitive bundle of nerves. “I want you to come for me Soph,” he asks, his eyes pouring into mine.
My head rolls backwards as he shoves himself deep inside me, pressing on my nub hard. I fall over, pleasure racking my body almost painfully.
I bite in his shoulder to suppress my scream, digging my face into his neck as I see stars. He groans and stops his thrusting, also shaken with bliss. I gaze up at him with hooded eyes, feeling numb all over. He bends down and kisses me softly, before helping me off his body but keeping me in his embrace.
My heart jumps a beat as my leg brushes the all too familiar cuts on his thighs. It dawns on me that Anne was right: Niall isn’t okay at all. And I didn’t even realize it until now.
I start shaking, holding him tightly.
“I love you,” Niall mumbles oblivious of my realisation, kissing my head and holding me tighter. I want to tell him I love him too, but I just can’t bring myself to form the words, too torn between what my mind wants versus what I really need. Torn between what Niall really needs and what he wants. The blonde notices my struggle. “Pretend we’re still playing the game. I’m just a normal boy Sophie and you’re the girl he’s fallen hopelessly in love with.”
My heart clenches painfully in my chest and I can’t stop the tears.
“I love you too Niall,” I cry, holding on to him.
“Love why are you crying?” Niall questions, alarmed.
“Because the game is fake. Because I can’t live reality and this game at the same time. Because life keeps fucking around with me,” I ramble, still weeping on his shoulder. “Because you hurt yourself once more because of my actions.”
His shoulders slump.
“Sophie I made a mistake last night. I didn’t take my medications and I acted impulsively. But I’m getting better okay?” he explains, rubbing the back of his neck nervously.
“Cutting your thighs instead of your wrists isn’t making things better Niall,” I shake my head, grabbing the floating discarded clothes.
“I know that,” he mutters, taking his own clothes. “But making me feel bad about it isn’t either.”
We get dressed and get the bike out of the water without talking. We pedal silently for about ten minutes until we finally reach the stand with all the other bikes. Niall pulls out his wallet from a Ziploc bag in his pocket and hands some money to the lady to pay for the ruined bike. Then he pulls out his phone from another seal plastic bag and calls a taxi to bring us back to the hotel.
“Thank you,” I tell him whilst we wait in the rain, soaked to our bones.
“For making me truly happy today,” I tell him. “For making me feel normal, yet so important.”
“I’m just sad it’s only for today,” he responds, looking at me dejectedly. “You deserve to feel like this every single minute of your life.”
My heart clenches.