☠ Chapter Forty-One ☠
➳ ARIELLE'S POV
Yet another stressful day at work. Today was spent with Hayes teaching me how to make Coquilles Saint Jacques. It was a dish that consisted of white wine, onion, bouquet garni (which is a bundle of herbs tied together with string), scallops, mushrooms, butter, flour, heavy cream, bread crumbs, and Gruyère cheese (which was a sweet but slightly salty type of cheese from Switzerland). I'm not really sure why Hayes had me make the dish, considering it wasn't something we served at Vinum, but I thought that maybe he just wanted to test both my knowledge, and my skills.
I think the only thing getting me through the day was the fact that it was the weekend, which meant that I didn't have to work the next two days. That, and Chef Jules was letting us off early today, stating that we, "work too hard, and you're too young to spend your lives in a kitchen!"
I didn't really know what I'd do during the weekend, but I don't quite think I'm done beating myself up over the whole situation with Zayn. I was tired of even thinking about it, because it was so entirely exhausting but every little thing reminded me of him.
I did have a distraction though, although it was always only momentary - Niall. He'd texted me several days ago, and we hadn't really stopped since. We hadn't talked in a while and it felt like we had so much to catch up on. I never realized how much I missed having him around, but it's nice to laugh for a change.
Eventually I've finished clearing my station, and as I'm taking my chef's coat off, Rae approaches me. "Are you busy tonight?"
I don't respond to the question, because I'm unsure if I want to participate in whatever she's asking me to do, and so I ask, "why? What's up?"
"I wanted to invite you to Hayes' place."
"Yeah, he has this house out on the beach or something and he's inviting us and a few friends out, so I wanted to see if you were down."
I shift my weight on my feet as I think about it. I mean, it couldn't be so bad, could it? Maybe a night out at Hayes' beach house could do me some good. I could listen to the waves, and hopefully clear my mind.
"On one condition," I respond, throwing my chef's coat over my arm.
"Alright . . ."
"I want to bring a friend."
Rae quirks an eyebrow and gives me this cheeky little smirk. "What kind of friend?"
"An old guy friend."
"Damn, you move on fast," she responds with a laugh. She turns from me then and we both begin the walk to the locker room.
"No, it's not like that. He's one of my old, really good friends. We sort of fell out of touch when I was dating Zayn, and . . . Well, I don't have to explain anything to you."
Rae chuckles, "no need to get bitchy, missy."
"I'm not being bitchy, I just don't like it when people jump to conclusions. Niall is my friend. That's all he ever has been, and that's all he ever will be."
Rae doesn't respond anything to that. Once we step inside of the locker room, there's been a minute or two of silence that she finally breaks it. "Is he cute?"
This time, I'm the one that's chuckling. "Niall?" I ask, turning to look at her. She sheepishly nods her head. "You can judge for yourself," I respond as I pull out my phone.
I quickly scroll to an old selfie of the two of us. I think it was from the first party we went to in college, and it's totally obvious that the two of us are completely smashed. Our eyes are red, and we're genuinely laughing. I'm standing in front of Niall - his arm wrapped tightly around the front of my body.
"Wow," she breathes. She bites her lip a little as she stares at the photo, where his blue eyes stand out against the dark room, and his hair is dishevelled, and his shirt is missing the top three buttons. "He's really cute."
I don't say anything. Yeah, he's an attractive guy, but he's my friend . . . I don't think that way about him.
"But that's like the worst photo you could show me. He looks totally into you."
"Are you kidding me? We were plastered. Like can't-even-recite-the-alphabet drunk."
"Do you not see the way his arm is wrapped protectively around you?"
"He's a touchy drunk . . . So am I," I respond, but Rae gives me this look. "I'm serious, we're just friends."
"Whatever," she responds with a wave of her hand. I know she doesn't believe me, but it's true. He may still harbor feelings for me, but like I've said, I've never felt that way about him. He's just Niall.
I immediately begin texting Niall. I quickly send him a message asking if he'd like to come to a friends' party out on the beach. Within seconds, he responds.
Niall: sure :)
"Hey, can I have the address so my friend can meet us there?"
"Yeah, of course," Rae responds as she tells me the address and I instantly send it to Niall.
* * *
Several hours later, Rae and I are lost. I'm pretty sure we've been driving around the same block for the last ten minutes, but every time I tell Rae to turn in a certain direction, she turns in the opposite direction. It's fucking frustrating being in the same car as someone who can't understand the difference between left and right. I tried telling her once to turn left when I actually wanted her to turn right, and she still ended up turning the wrong way.
"Would you just call Hayes already?"
"I don't have his number," I say.
Rae reaches over and digs through her purse near my feet without ever taking her eyes off the road. "Here, his number's in here, just call him already because we're lost and this is annoying."
I ask for her password, to which she responds the number and I enter it in. I open Hayes' contact, but then I realize that she's down to three percent battery, and it's going to die at any second. "I have to call him off my phone, yours is almost dead."
"Seriously? I just charged it! God, the batteries on phones now are shit. Can you plug it into the lighter for me?"
"Where's the adapter?"
"Y'know, the thing you plug into the cigarette lighter so you can charge your phone?"
"Oh, that . . . It should be in here," she uses a hand to point to the storage compartment that sits between the two of us and I frantically dig through it, but can't find the adapter.
"It's not in here."
"Well, then I have no idea where it is. Just use your phone, I'll charge mine when we get there."
I type his number into my phone and dial it. As it's ringing, I hear Rae say under her breath, "I know it's around here somewhere . . ."
"Hello?" His voice rings through the other end, and it startles me a little.
"Yeah, who is this?"
"Oh, shit, sorry. I guess you don't recognize my number. It's Ari."
"Oh, hey! Where are you two?"
"We're lost," I mumble out, pouting. But then I realize he can't see my lips, and I cease the action, feeling stupid.
"Okay, uh, where are you? What street?"
"What street are we on, Rae?"
She squints as she tries to read a sign in front of us. "Lakeshore Road?"
"Lakeshore Road?" I repeat into the phone.
"You guys aren't far at all. Is the next street Smith?"
"We're sitting at a stop sign, facing Smith Road."
"Okay, turn right, and follow the road until you hit Palm Road, and then you'll find me."
"What the hell, that sounds so easy. We've been driving around the same damn block for the last fifteen minutes, at least."
I hear Hayes chuckle on the other end of the line. "She's the worst person you can ever tell directions to, honestly. She doesn't know left from right."
"Little too late to be telling me this, Hayes."
"Shit, sorry. Next time I'll be more alert." He chuckles, and then whispers. "Just a heads up, never get in a car with Rae. She's a terrible driver."
I laugh, "still too late. You need to warn people about things earlier than they happen."
"Alright, let me think . . ." He pauses on the line, trying to think of something to warn me about, when he jokingly says, "if you ever drink around her, be careful because there's like a ninety percent chance she'll try shoving her tongue down your throat."
"I don't think-"
"Trust me. It's happened to us all. Now hurry up and get here already."
"Okay, well keep your phone handy in case we get lost again."
When I hang up the phone, I tell Rae the directions and surprisingly we don't get lost on the way. Although, there were only two turns we had to make; one onto the street and a second into his driveway. And when we drive up the street, we spot Hayes, standing there with a wide grin on his face, at the end of his driveway, helping us to avoid getting lost.
He has a beer in his right hand, and he's wearing black jeans with rips in the knees, and a simple red t-shirt, accompanied by the infamous leather coat, which I returned to him the next day I saw him at work after the incident. He combs his fingers through his short brown hair, stepping up to the car once it comes to a stop. He walks around the vehicle, opening my door for me and leaning up against it. I don't even realize he's opened my door, as I'm trying to stuff my belongings into my purse, but once I do notice the gesture, I give him a smile.
"Did you two have fun?" He questions, with a smile.
I roll my eyes playfully - because we did have fun, I just want to play along - and he chuckles.
"Hayes?" I hear Rae call his name as she steps out of her car and leans against the roof, staring at him. "Ari invited a friend, I hope you don't mind."
"No, 'course not. The more, the merrier. She hot?" He asks, teasingly.
"He is, yes."
Hayes purses his lips, "ah, alright then. Well, glad to have his company. Hope he knows to bring his own booze."
"Yeah, of course."
Rae opens the trunk and starts taking our things out. Although we only brought small gym-sized bags, she seems to be grunting and moaning about it more than is necessary.
"So, this guy . . . is he your-"
"Oh, god no. Just an old friend," I give him a soft smile, to which he returns.
I hear a car coming up the road and I turn towards the noise, instantly recognizing the small car, along with its blonde driver. "Speaking of . . . that seems to be him."
"Oh god," I hear Rae say as she closes her trunk door.
I give him a small smile while he parks the car on the street as I begin to approach the car. Hayes and Rae stay exactly where they are, probably ready to silently judge the man that's about to step out of the car. I'm sure both of them assume Niall and I have something going on, but tonight I'll prove otherwise. I'll show them that the two of us are nothing more than good friends. It'll all the better if Rae and Niall end up hitting it off. They both need someone, so who am I to stand in the way?
The second Niall notices me, his face lights up and he puts the car in park, getting out to greet me with a warm hug. Instantaneously I wrap my arms back around him, placing my head against his chest. "Hey," he chuckles.
"Did you get lost on the way here?" I ask.
We both pull away from the embrace, but stay standing fairly close to one another, "no, it was easy."
I cover my face with my hands, and Niall doesn't understand the gesture, so I feel his large hands pulling mine away from my face. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing, Rae-" I point at her, "got us so lost. And she's been here before." Niall smiles and chuckles. I lean towards him and whisper, "she's a terrible driver."
"Are you going to introduce me?" He asks softly, and it's then I realize that he doesn't know anything about what's going on with my life. He doesn't know about my internship, he doesn't know my new friends, and he doesn't know about Zayn and I's breakup, as well as Zayn's accident.
"Yeah, of course. Do you have any bags or anything?" I look at what he's wearing - a bright blue button-up, tight black jeans, and black Vans, along with Ray-Bans on his face. He doesn't seem to have any other clothes with him, but he's a guy, and at most, we'd all be spending a single night here, not the whole weekend.
"I have some beer in the car," he says before he walks towards the back, pulls out a box and locks his doors.
"C'mon, I'll introduce you." As I'm walking up the driveway, I feel Niall's presence very closely behind me. He's still being overprotective over me, like he always has been. I can tell it doesn't exactly look very innocent by the way that Rae raises an eyebrow, and Hayes gives me a strange look. Rae carries our bags towards Hayes, who's still leaning up against the car door, beer in hand.
"Guys, this is my friend Niall."
Rae steps forward and smiles, "hi, I'm Raelyn, but my friends call me Rae."
"It's nice to meet you," Niall says with a smile. He sticks his hand out to shake hers, and she takes it with rosy cheeks. I've never seen her get flustered, but apparently Niall does that to her.
"She's one of the chefs overseeing me at my internship," I say and Niall twists to look at me. He opens his mouth, and I'm sure he's about to ask about the job, but I interrupt. "I'll tell you all about it later. There's a lot I have to tell you," I say quietly. He nods his head. "This is Hayes, he's the chef that oversees everything I do. So basically he's teaching me the ropes, and if he's ever absent, or busy he hands me off to Rae."
"Good to meet you, mate." Niall sticks his hand out again to be shaken, and Hayes pushes the car door closed and steps forward, accepting the handshake without saying much.
"Same to you," Hayes says. "Come on, let's go party." He throws his head back as he walks, downing the remainder of his beer. The three of us follow quietly, and as we take a step inside, Niall holds the door open for me, and places his hand on my lower back to lead me inside.
"Please, make yourself at home," Hayes says before walking towards the kitchen to grab another drink.
Rae throws our bags onto the floor, "is there anywhere I can put these where someone isn't going to go through them? I don't want someone stealing my shit."
"Yeah, you can toss them up in the spare bedroom. It locks. I'm only expecting another three or four people and they shouldn't steal your things, but you can still lock them up in the room. The key is in the desk." Hayes sits down on one of the barstools in the kitchen.
Rae picks the bags up, but I stop her. "I can take them," I interrupt her, and she smiles.
I begin to pick the bags up, but Niall stops me this time. "I'll carry them, c'mon." Niall begins the walk up the stairs, and I slowly follow, but as I'm walking up the stairs, Hayes holds strong eye contact with me while drinking his beer. When I look at Rae she raises an eyebrow and smirks.
"Oh, shut up," I tease and then scurry up the stairs.
"What?" Niall asks as he steps into a bedroom. He puts our bags and his case of beer onto the floor and begins shuffling through the drawer in the desk.
"Oh, nothing. They were just teasing me."
"Teasing you about what?" He asks, pulling a key out of the drawer.
"Nothing, it's just a work thing," I lie.
"Oh," he says, testing the key in the lock. When he's sure that it's the correct key, he stops what he's doing and looks at me. He opens his mouth as if he's about to say something, but suddenly music thumps downstairs and he stops. He looks towards the stairs, before looking back at me, "so where's Zayn?"
I shy away from his gaze, staring at the pattern in the wooden flooring. "I don't really know."
"What do you mean?" He asks a little nervously.
"We aren't together anymore," I say. He raises an eyebrow. "It's really complicated."
"Do you want to talk about it?" He looks at me, sincerity laced in his voice. I'm sure his stomach is doing flips and he's internally breaking out into dance, but he shows no signs of happiness. He genuinely looks upset that I'm no longer with Zayn, although I know that isn't true.
"Like I said, it's really complicated," I have to look away from his eyes again because now that he's taken his sunglasses off, his eyes are piercingly blue. They're so beautiful that it's a little hard to look away.
"That's alright, I'm still here to listen . . . complicated or otherwise."
"I know. It's just hard to put myself through it all again," I admit. "I'm still getting over it, so it's just a little hard. It's okay though, I'm working through my feelings."
"So you're alright then?"
"Yeah, thanks." I step forward and embrace him in a light hug. It takes him a moment, but eventually he wraps his arms around me and places his chin on my head. "I've missed you," I confess.
"I've missed you too," he utters quietly. I pull away from him then, and he steps around me to grab one of his beers, "c'mon, let's go be social," he chuckles. He allows me to step out of the room first after I've grabbed my own liquor - a pack of wine coolers that Rae had to buy for me at the liquor store - and we walk down the stairs together into the noise of music.
Rae is dancing rather provocatively around the living room with Hayes, who's taken his leather jacket off and thrown it across the couch. As Rae dances, she's drinking heavily, obviously planning on getting drunk very fast. Hayes sees me watching and cocks an eyebrow, pointing at her, pretending to drink, and then pouting his lips in my direction - reminding me he warned me that when Rae is drunk she likes making out with anyone, and everyone. It causes me to chuckle and smile, as well as Hayes.
When Rae finally notices Niall and I walking down the stairs, she smirks at me, and then walks away from Hayes, leaving him to dance by himself, which he doesn't. Hayes stops dancing immediately after Rae leaves, and heads back to drink. I walk over to Rae, and she pulls me closer to her so she's able to whisper-yell over the music to me without the boys hearing.
"Did you two just make-out?"
"No!" I whisper-yell right back. "I was just telling him that Zayn and I broke up, that's all."
She eyes me skeptically. "Are you sure? Because his hair seems a little ruffled up from earlier?"
"Y'know, like when you were shoving your tongue down his throat you were also running your fingers through . . ." she gets distracted when she turns to look at him, and suddenly she's staring at his features. "His soft, fluffy, beautiful hair. Fuck, I want to run my fingers through his hair." She turns back towards me, shying away from both Niall and Hayes' gazes, which are set on the two of us.
"Just talk to him, he's a super nice guy," I respond.
"But, he's so much hotter than you said he was," she responds, still avoiding their gaze.
"Who is?" Hayes asks from behind us, and we both face him, blushing furiously - especially me.
"Niall!" Rae whisper-yells at him. She groans out loudly, "he's ten times hotter than Ari told me he was."
Hayes looks towards me. "Didn't know you were into that type of guy," he says it, but I'm really not sure who exactly it's directed towards.
"I'm not usually. Usually I'm into guys . . . well, guys more like you," Rae responds, staring at Hayes. "He's just too cute, though. And right now, I want nothing more than to turn him bad."
"Turn him bad?" Hayes mocks with a chuckle.
"Seriously! Can you imagine him with tattoos, and piercings, and like blue hair or something? Fuck," she's practically drooling as she stares at him, and Niall looks over at me, embarrassed and a little confused because it probably looks like we're gossiping about him.
"Stop staring at the poor boy," I scold Rae, and she does so reluctantly. "He thinks we're talking about him."
"We are," Hayes points out with a smirk.
"Yeah, but not in a bad way. He thinks we're making fun of him or something so just stop it," I push the two of them away from me playfully, and they each go their own way.
I walk over to Niall slowly, as he sips on his beer, watching me. He gives Rae and Hayes a shy gaze, probably still worried that we were gossiping about him, but they're both too distracted with dancing and drinking that they don't even notice. There's a knock at the door, but I ignore it, because I'm sure that Hayes can handle greeting his own guests.
When I approach Niall, I put the package of wine coolers down onto the countertop, and open one, taking a small sip before I face him. He gives me the same shy gaze he gave to Rae and Hayes, before he says, "were you guys talking about me?"
"No," I lie, but Niall sees right through it.
"Don't lie to me. You guys were talking about me!" He places a hand over his heart, pretending as if there's a pain in his chest. "I hope you weren't making fun of my hair," he jokes, running a hand through his locks.
"No!" I playfully smack his arm, "it's just-"
"What?" He asks.
"I don't know if I'm allowed to say," I respond, biting on my lip.
"Say what? C'mon, it's me. You can tell me anything."
"I-" I look away from him, gazing over at Rae, who's already flirting with the new guest that Hayes let in. It's a tall woman with long, black hair, and glasses who's currently touching Rae's arm. "It's not important."
I hear Niall sigh, and when I look at him, I'm immediately sucked into staring at his eyes. "C'mon, tell me."
I look back at Rae again quickly, and she's gazing off at Niall. "Look," I start, and it catches Niall's attention. "Are you interested in Rae?"
"What?" He chuckles.
I shrug my shoulders, "Rae kind of has a thing for you."
"Oh," he says awkwardly. "I, uh-" he scratches the back of his head, "she's not really my type."
"Not your type?"
"Yeah," he shrugs. "I'm more into brunettes."
"So you're not going to date her because she's a blonde?"
"No, it's just-" He shrugs his shoulders lightly. "I'm not interested, that's all."
I look away from him, and utter, "alright, that's fine." When I look back at him, he's staring intently at me. "I can't force you to date the woman."
"So what else were you guys talking about?"
"Not too much . . . Rae was imagining you with tattoos and piercings," I comment quietly.
"And blue hair," I add.
"Well then I'd be more your type than anything."
"What was that?"
"Oh, it's just that Zayn had tattoos and piercings, so y'know . . ." the second he utters it, it becomes slightly awkward between us, and he clears his throat. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have-"
"Don't worry about it," I say with a small smile, although the mention of Zayn has my heart sinking in my chest. "Now, c'mon, let's drink!"
Niall throws his head back, and I do the same. I end up finishing half of the bottle, but it doesn't bother me. I want to get drunk. I want a night of freedom from my thoughts, and freedom from overthinking about everything. I want to just do whatever I want to do without overthinking about it beforehand, or thinking about the consequences to come. I want a night where the thoughts about Zayn don't consume me, where I can laugh freely, and just enjoy.
Rae suddenly comes up behind me, wrapping an arm tightly around my body. "Hey," she says close to my ear, and her berry-scented breath wafts directly towards my nose.
"Why are you all the way over here, talking to Niall . . . Alone?" She cocks and eyebrow, and so does Niall.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
She leans forward to whisper in my ear, "because he's hot and you're probably trying to score him for yourself." When she steps backwards, she smirks at me, before her eyes slowly wander down to my lips.
I take a step back, remembering that Hayes warned me about Rae trying to kiss anyone and everyone when she's been drinking. "I'm really not," I reply.
She rolls her eyes before she turns around, eyeing up Niall in the process. He looks over Rae's shoulder, at me. "Hey, Niall, why aren't you drunk yet?"
"Because we've been here for like twenty minutes?" He says it a little sarcastically, but Rae doesn't catch on because she's clearly already a little buzzed off the alcohol.
"So! Live a little," she attempts to smack his arm playfully, but I think she ends up actually hurting him because his face reads an annoyed expression.
"Ah, yes. Getting fall-off-your-ass drunk is totally what I consider living a little."
"Ari didn't tell me you had a stick up your ass," she retorts.
I grab Rae by her shoulders, pulling her away from Niall, "Rae," I warn, but she doesn't seem to want to back off.
Niall just looks at me, and I hear Rae scoff before she turns around, "you could've told me he was a total asswipe."
"I'm sorry," I whisper, desperately trying to tell her with my eyes that Niall usually isn't like this, and that I don't know what's come over him. Rae ignores my apology, and walks away from us. I hear her yelling something at Hayes, but I can't quite make out what she's saying.
"I'm sorry," Niall immediately apologizes the second Rae is out of earshot. "Do you think she's still into me?"
"I don't know, probably. But not for the night, that's for sure."
"Good," he smiles. "I mean, I don't like being mean, but hopefully it turns her off enough that she won't try pursuing me."
"It's okay, she'll probably hook up with her," I point to the new girl that I don't know. Rae is already slowly moving in towards her, ready to make her move on the woman.
Niall shrugs, "at least she's not going home alone." He takes a sip of his beer, before speaking up again, "so, they're your co-workers?"
"Oh, yeah! I started an internship at Vinum!"
"Really?" He says excitedly, "that's great! You should hook me up," he chuckles.
"I could possibly. Depends how generous Chef Jules is feeling."
"Is he a nice guy?"
"Yeah, he is. He's a wonderful chef, and an even better guy."
"Speaking of chefs, do you know what happened to Wilson? He just up and left the college, and rumours are circulating that he was a serial killer or some shit."
I choke up in front of Niall, and he notices. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, it's - Wilson quit."
"Really? Why would he do that?"
I shrug my shoulders, "when I talked to my advisor, she said he wanted to 'find himself' or something. He had hooked me up with this awesome sounding internship in New York, but when I went there, it was a total waste of time. He did that right before he quit."
"Oh, the people who I would've been working for were a little . . . Strange."
"Strange?" Niall questions with a quirked eyebrow.
"Yeah, they, uh -" I try to think of something simple to explain the behaviour of Sydney and Jamie Price. "The man was really creepy and his 'wife' was a total bitch," I reply with a shrug of my shoulders and a sip of my drink.
Niall chuckles. "Should I even ask?"
"No, you really shouldn't," I try to respond in a tone that portrays nonchalance, despite the fact that I'm screaming inside while thinking about Chef Wilson and my mother. It's horrible to even think about the two of them and where they are and what they might be planning. I know it's inevitable that they'll be back at some point, and that they'll fuck up my life again horrifically but I refuse to think about it.
"Alright, I won't," he's holding back laughter as he raises his beer to his lips.
* * *
When I wake in the morning, I groan loudly, rolling over to look at the clock. It reads that it's just after six in the morning, and I would roll over and fall asleep instantly, but my head is pounding, and my stomach is nauseous, and I really have to use the washroom. I run my hands over my face, before throwing the blanket off my body and sitting up on the bed.
I stand up from the bed, and tiptoe down the hallway until I reach the washroom. Quickly and quietly, I use the toilet, and as I'm washing my hands, I look up at the mirror at my reflection. I look like shit, with knotted hair, and fatigue evident in my face. But the nauseous feeling in my stomach only increases when I look at what I'm wearing - a man's shirt.
A bright blue button-up t-shirt.
Oh my god.
Suddenly I'm pacing the washroom, running my fingers frantically through my hair. I use a finger to pull the shirt away from my body, only to learn that I'm not wearing a bra, although thankfully I'm wearing panties. It's like my knees suddenly give out, and I'm kneeling at the toilet, ready to throw up.
I drank so much that I slept with someone and I don't remember? Did I sleep with Niall? I mean, just because I'm wearing his t-shirt and no bra, doesn't mean I slept with him, right? There could be another explanation for this.
I kneel at the toilet for another minute or two, afraid that I'll vomit, but when nothing comes up, I decide that nothing probably will. I gather myself before heading back down the hallway.
The second I lightly push the bedroom door open, I notice the blonde figure laying on the bed, obviously shirtless, and suddenly the terror washes over me again. Niall's one of my best friends, I couldn't have slept with him, could I?
I carefully crawl into the bed without disturbing him, and just as I'm tucking my head softly into the pillow trying to fall back asleep, Niall shifts his body on the bed. I instantly wince into the bedding, unsure of what to do when he sleepily wraps his arm around my waist. I carefully look over my shoulder to find that he's fast asleep, and I realize that he's definitely not wearing pants when his naked thigh brushes against mine.
I slept with my best friend.