Check, please.

“I knew it was your month to pay the bills, so I made sure to use a lot of hot water.” I watched as he used the towel to dry between his legs and his torso, admiring his cleanly shaven male parts when the towel flicked up just high enough. “And your hair looks fine, Miss Over-Dramatic.” I bit my lip as I looked up and down at the bare and glistening body in front of me. “Been working out?”

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23. chapter 22

I always wished that I had friends or family somewhere else in the world so I could make my dramatic and unplanned plane escape to distant lands. I would run into the arms of someone I hadn’t seen in months… years even, and sob and blow my nose into their sleeve and pity myself while they sat and nodded and rubbed my shoulders like in the movies, but that wouldn’t happen. The one person that MIGHT have happened with was Harry, and he was too stunned to even defend me from Anna’s harsh words, let alone rub my shoulders. Instead of taking off on a plane to a random destination, I drove to the only person I knew wouldn’t judge me or interrupt me or try to give me advice I didn’t currently want. I knew she would sit with me silently and listen to me and feel sorry for me like I wanted everyone to at the moment. I poured my heart out to her, told her more than I ever had when she was actually alive, I explained my deepest feelings to her and didn’t worry about watching my language when I did it either. Any time I let a curse word slip from my lips, the wind seemed to be a little harder and I would laugh; it was almost as if she was silently reprimanding me for using such language. Typical Mother. ”Why do you have to be gone?” I whispered after an hour of venting.

Her gravestone looked a little darker today. A little more dirty. A little more sad. I sat on the cool grass in front of it and ran my finger over the engraving that spelled out her name. I took a single flower from a bouquet at another headstone and placed it on hers before I laid down next to it and stared at the gray rock. Before long, I had fallen asleep and probably would have been there until after dark had a mourning stranger not woken me up before the sun set.

I felt daring enough to drive past the apartment after the street lights flickered on and the sky was dark enough to hide me as I rolled down the street in Harry’s Celica. I felt horrible for just taking his car from him. I was so caught up in getting away from there that I just snatched up his keys again and took off without thinking. When I saw that Niall’s car was gone and the lights were out in the living room, I sped into the garage and quietly rushed into the apartment. Without turning on any lights, I grabbed my purse, which I had forgotten in my haste to escape the apartment earlier, another pair of shoes and a different shirts, pants, and underwear. I stuffed a second bag with anything I might need from my bathroom, grabbed some water bottles and apples from the fridge, granola bars and chips from the cabinet, and even took the blanket and pillow from my bed. I texted James and asked if he was available for the first time in weeks, sighing with relief when he said he would be at the apartment within the hour. I stood in the shadows by the front window and watched the street to make sure that James reached the apartment to get me before Harry, Niall, or Anna returned from wherever they were. I selfishly hoped that at least one of them was out looking for me, but when I looked at my phone and saw no missed calls or all-caps “WHERE ARE YOU” texts, my hopes diminished. The longer I stood there, the more time I had to notice the picture of Harry and I hanging on the wall beside the window. Why did I ever try to get involved with you? I thought. Why did I have to ruin it all?

“Where to, Miss Ray?” James asked, placing my bags in the limo before holding my door open for me.

“I’m thinking the studio tonight, James. Thank you,” I requested, falling into the large back set while I clutched my blanket and pillow to my body, basically creating a bed in the back seat while we made our way to the studio. I know that I basically slept all day, but all of my emotions had mentally drained me and I couldn’t wait to fall back asleep and slip into a dream filled with anything other than babies and angry friends.

“You haven’t called me in quite a while. I was beginning to think that you had forgotten me,” James chuckled, winking as he studied me through the rear-view mirror.

I returned as much as a grin as I could and looked out the window at the passing buildings. “I haven’t been going out as much.”

“That probably isn’t a bad thing,” James added.

I shifted my gaze back to him. “Why do you say that?” I asked quickly. Did he know I was pregnant? It would be good for the baby, I thought he might say, but thankfully he didn’t.

He sighed. “You know I love you and Mr. Styles like my own kids. I just think - and have always thought - that you two were better than the dirty clubs that you go to. I don’t mind a good bit of sex here and there but for a while it was like I didn’t even know who you were because you were sleeping with so many guys - strangers, I might add. Anyone you could get your hands on. I don’t think you knew who you were either. I could see it in your face when I drove you home each night. You just looked… unsatisfied. It was like your body was in the car but Scotlan was somewhere else. You were unemotional. Just going through the motions.” He peered up at me in the mirror.

I didn’t care, I thought.

I glanced away from James, almost embarrassed. How could someone as old as him see it in other people, but I was just now seeing it in myself?

“I didn’t mean that offensively, Miss Ray.”

I shook my head understandingly. “I think I needed to hear that, James. Thank you.”

He cleared his throat but didn’t continue the conversation, which I was also thankful for. I didn’t want him to think I really was mad at him though, so to spare us from an awkward silence until we got to the studio, I added, “I’ve learned to drive again.”

James smiled broadly at me through the mirror. “Maybe you can take me out for a late night drive one of these days. We’ll reverse roles,” he chuckled.

My short drive with James actually lifted my spirits for a little bit, but once I got to the quiet and cold studio and was left to myself, I was miserable again. I immediately went into the makeup room and rinsed off in the shower that no one ever used. I thanked the Lord that the hot water actually worked. I dressed into some sweat pants and a hoodie, grabbed my blanket and pillow and shut all of the studio lights off. I used the dim lighting of my phone to find my way to the couch in the corner of the studio and curled up on it once I got to it. I couldn’t tell if my mind was playing tricks on me or if I was actually smelling Harry on the black velvet cushions, but either way, it made me cringe. Right when something in my life seemed near perfect, I messed it all up…

“Scotlan?”

I twisted my head away from whoever was waking me up.

“Scotlan?”

When did I even fall asleep? What time was it?

“What?” I groaned into my pillow. I twisted my body around on the couch and squinted up at Zayn.

“What are you doing?” He asked, motioning toward the couch. I blinked a few times and looked around at the bright studio. Zayn had opened the windows, letting in the sunshine from the morning. I grimaced.

“I just needed a place to stay…”

Zayn frowned. “Why not like, your apartment?”

I couldn’t even get through an hour of the day without someone bringing yesterday back up. “I just needed to get away…”

Zayn sat on the couch by my feet. “Louis told me everything.”

I sighed and looked at him. “Everyone is so mad at me.”

Zayn shook his head. “Louis isn’t mad at you. He’s rather upset with himself, but not you. Niall and Liam and I aren’t mad. I mean, it’s not something we really were wishing would happen but we’re not mad. It’s a little exciting, actually.”

I cracked a small smile but let it fade quickly. “But Harry and Anna…”

Zayn didn’t say anything. He looked away from me and around the studio at everything and yet nothing. Finally, he said, “We went out to the clubs last night.”

My heart sank. “That’s where you all were?” Clubbing instead of even giving me a phone call?

Zayn nodded but quickly raised his hands, reading my thoughts. “We were looking for you. Harry said he thought you might be there. We went to your mother’s grave too and then came here. You were in the shower when we came in.”

I wanted to scream. “Why did no one knock on the bathroom door or something??”

Zayn’s eyes softened. “Harry almost did, but then he just turned around and walked away. None of the rest of us knew what to do so we left too. We figured you wanted to be alone.” He hesitated. “I think… I think Harry just wanted to make sure you were alive… you know… after what Anna said. It was kinda fucked up…”

I sighed. It made me relax a little just knowing that Harry cared… even if it was a tiny tiny bit . I didn’t know what I would have done if he interrupted my shower or what I would have liked to have happened. I didn’t know what I wanted to happen now. While I played over a few scenarios in my head - the good, the bad, and the ugly - as to what might have happened last night had Harry knocked on the door, Zayn stood up.

“Well I should probably go now. I came by to pick up my pay check.”

I nodded slowly.

“Eh, Scotlan? You do realize there is a woman here for you? She was here when I drove up,” Zayn lowered his voice and pointed toward the hallway that led to the front door.

I frowned. “Who?”

He shrugged. “I don’t know.”

“Is she inside?” I mouthed. He shook his head.

“Well shit-“ I swore, jumping off of the couch and digging in my bag for a pair of jeans and a bra. “Can you see who it is? It might be a new client. Anna usually reminds me about these things. Maybe offer them coffee or something? I know there is cream and sugar in my office.”

Zayn disappeared around the corner of the hallway as I tore off my sweats and hoodie. I threw on my bra quickly under a tee and pulled my jeans up to my waist. As I was buttoning them, Bonnie McLynn walked into the studio.

My face fell and I swore under my breath. “Is the shoot today?”

Bonnie looked terrifying with her giant pink sunglasses sitting on the bridge of her nose, the rest of her body covered by some sort of black cloak. Fashion, I supposed. It scared me more when she smiled at my question.

“It is.”

I covered my face with my hands and sighed. I was so caught up in everything going on with my friends that I forgot about one of the most important shoots that would probably ever happen in my photography career. I bet Anna knew. I had a horrible feeling that Anna knew all day yesterday and didn’t even think to remind me at all. Cruel bitch.

“I suppose I should correct myself,” Bonnie said, removing her sunglasses and putting her purse on a chair by the door. “The shoot was today.”

I looked up at her and began to blubber out an apology, not only for being late with her again but also for being totally unprepared. If she hadn’t seriously thought I was an amateur when she came to visit the first time, she certainly did now. However, before I could let the words escape my lips, she stopped me.

“I just don’t feel like doing it today, you know? Something in the atmosphere isn’t right. I don’t like to do photo shoots when I feel like there is some spiritual imbalance in the world. I hope that’s okay with you. Can we reschedule?”

I looked past Bonnie to Zayn who was standing in the doorway with a steaming cup of coffee. I think he was just as confused as I was. I was certain that Bonnie would just cancel all together and leave my studio with the intention of never coming back, but it was as if she didn’t even notice that none of my models were there and I wasn’t set up for her. Was she pretending not to notice for my sake?

“Ahh, thank you sir,” She said to Zayn, taking the coffee from him and walking around the studio as she blew on it to cool. She pointed at the light that was out the last time she came to visit and grinned. “Replaced it, I see. Very good.” She pulled gently on the maroon backdrop and nodded approvingly in my direction as well while she sipped her drink. “So tell me, how have you been? I saw your Klein photos a day or two ago. Your boys looked good.”

I nodded. “They’ve done well.”

“What about you, though? Are you doing well? I’m getting a sense you’re not.” Bonnie sat on the couch where I slept the night before and pulled at the blanket, raising her eyebrows when my face turned red. She glanced Zayn’s direction, sending him a look that said enough to get him to leave. I almost wished he stayed.

“Scotlan,” Bonnie said when we were alone. “It’s okay to be unprofessional sometimes. Don’t speak with me like you have to impress me right now. Let me be your friend. Talk to me, dear.”

Bonnie was so strange. I had never met someone so like her in my life. I couldn’t tell if it was just because I was used to being around people my age who often liked to talk about themselves and didn’t care about other’s misfortunes. This whole “spiritual imbalance in the atmosphere” thing had me a little confused too, but it was interesting to me that she felt that way on the one day that I probably wouldn’t be able to deal with a photo shoot anyway. While my mind was still trying to figure her out, my mouth began to move.

“I messed up pretty badly with my friends and my loved ones.”

“I can see that,” She said, poking her elbow at the couch again while sipping her coffee. ”Messed up bad enough to get kicked out.”

"Well… I didn’t exactly get kicked out. I kinda removed myself from the situation before anyone could really kick me out…"

"And you thought to hide here?" Bonnie asked, looking around at my bags and scattered clothes on the floor.

I shrugged. “It’s the only place I knew to come. I’m not really hiding. They know I’m here.”

Bonnie took a long drink from her coffee cup, peering over the rim of the mug to watch me. I could tell she was trying not to be intrusive but her eyes were telling me that she wanted to know more. I couldn’t help but laugh in my head - this was probably exciting for her. I didn’t imagine she had much drama in her life at her age.

“I’m pregnant,” I finally admitted, crossing my arms. “And they all think I cheated with my good friend on my boyfriend while my good friend was dating my best friend… do you follow?”

Bonnie squinted up at the ceiling while she figured it all out in her head and then nodded slowly.

I sighed. “They aren’t talking to me. I mean, Zayn just did but he’s pretty relaxed… he doesn’t seem to really care about much. I can’t understand how MY pregnancy would upset him anyway… All that aside, I’m just not ready for a baby either. I fucked up.”

Bonnie stood abruptly and walked to me. “Scotlan, you might have fucked up but you can’t change any of it at this point. You’re not getting anywhere by moping around feeling bad for yourself. As for not being ready for a baby, who is ever ready for a baby?? I mean, goodness, even the people who claim they’re ready to have a baby aren’t really ready. It’s a scary thing, but it’s a good thing. If you walk into this thinking that the baby is going to be a burden then you’ve already fucked up again.”

I was speechless. These were the kinds of things I felt like my mother might tell me. I got a few wise words from James the night before and now Bonnie was whipping me into shape too. Maybe I needed to fuck up more often.

Bonnie smiled accomplishedly at my slightly stunned silence and hugged me. “As for your friends, give them a little bit of time. If they don’t come back to you soon, then they probably aren’t your real friends.” Bonnie put her pink, oval sunglasses back on her face and started to walk to the door.

“But I’ve been with them for basically my entire- I mean I’ve known them for… for as long as I can remember. How-“

“Scotlan,” She interrupted. “I have a sister. I’ve known her my entire life, but I hate her with a passion. Knowing someone for a long time doesn’t make them a friend, or even family. I mean Christ, my limo driver is more of family than my sister is and I’ve only known him a year.”

I crossed my arms back over my chest and looked at the studio. I imagined Harry and Niall standing on the set while Anna stood behind me and shouted instructions at Louis and Zayn while they messed around. My imagination even included Liam, standing over my shoulder and grinning at Harry and Niall as they posed for my camera. I blinked my imaginary friends away. “I couldn’t cut any of these people out of my life,” I whispered.

“It’s all up to you, Scotlan. I’m not telling you that you have to do anything. Just trying to give you a little bit of helpful advice, I suppose.”

Someone behind her cleared their throat. Bonnie and I both spun around, startled. Harry stood in the doorway and gazed at me with his eyes wide and his brow furrowed, holding two Styrofoam to-go boxes in one hand and two Styrofoam to-go cups in the other. He slowly looked away from me to Bonnie like it pained him before clearing his throat again. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt.”

“It’s okay, Mr. Styles. Scotlan and I were just finishing up.” Bonnie smiled kindly at Harry and nodded at me. She started to leave, but Harry spoke to her. I could tell he was trying to be polite, knowing that impressing Bonnie had always been important to me.

“Was your photo shoot supposed to be today?”

Bonnie smiled again and shook her head. “Next week, perhaps.”

Harry shifted on his feet and looked back at me. “I just came to drop this off. It’s breakfast and some dinner I thought you might need later.”

My heart wilted in my chest. I thought maybe he brought two breakfasts, one for me and one for himself. I hoped he would stay and eat with me or at least invite me back to the apartment. “Thank you,” I croaked.

He looked over at the bench where I slept and frowned at my bags with my clothes falling out of them. He hesitantly took a few steps to the couch, placed the drinks and food on my blanket and turned to leave.

“Oh,” He added. “I uh, I googled what to do when you find out you’re pregnant… mainly just because I didn’t know… and it said to make a doctors appointment, so I did that for you. If you’ve already done it for yourself, I can cancel the one I made.”

I shook my head, indicating I hadn’t even thought to call a doctor yet.

Harry continued. “The appointment is actually in like, two days. It’s with a female doctor… I thought you might be more comfortable with that. I told Louis too and he said he would take you.”

I swallowed hard to keep a tear from running down my cheek. “Thank you-“ I whispered.

Harry nodded at me once and walked past Bonnie out of the studio. The two of us listened to his feet clicking on the floor as he strode down the hallway and out the front door. I waited until I heard the Celica crank and roar out of the parking lot to breathe again.

Bonnie raised her eyebrows at the food and then shifted her gaze to me. She pointed her thumb in the direction that Harry just left. “If I can give you any more advice before I leave: Hang on to him. THAT is a true friend.”

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