Picture Imperfect (Niall Horan)

{Book 4} When Niall Horan falls, he falls hard. The moment he lays eyes on Cassie Barnett, he's in too deep. Past relationships —including the one with Amabel's ex best friend— have not gone as planned. Is he the reason for breakup after breakup? Cassie Barnett has eyes for Niall's best mate, Zayn. Niall's desperate attempts at getting her attention just might be enough for her to fall for him instead. Could she be just what he's been waiting for?

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13. Cassie

13 – Cassie

The warm wind whips my hair away from my face as I walk down the path, Zayn’s hand in mine. The stones are multiple shades of gray and white and I find my thoughts leading back to yesterday, when Niall gave me great advice. He said that I should just enjoy what Zayn and I have now, because who knows what’s to come for all of us? He is really understanding I feel like he knows me, he’s just a great friend. He is always on my mind and he makes me laugh like no one else does.

Except for Zayn, of course.

“So where are we going exactly?” I ask him, looking over to find him staring straight ahead of us.

“You’ll see.” He gives me a smile and I return it, giving his hand a squeeze. It’s a beautiful day; its 80 degrees but it doesn’t seem too hot due to the breeze that is present.

We keep walking for another 10 minutes, passing by parks and bridges over small lakes. It’s so wonderful to be here with him, but something feels wrong. I am so distracted; I can’t seem to get Niall off my mind. After the interview—when the lady pointed out that he was the only single one in the band—something changed in him. I saw it, and I don’t know if anyone else did either. He seemed so on edge and it was clear he was upset. I wish there was something I can do, but I don’t want to meddle in Niall’s love life. I care about him, we’ve gotten close over these past few weeks, and I don’t like to see him upset. I don’t like to see anyone upset, really, especially the people I care about. And, as it just to happens, Niall Horan falls under that category.

“We’re here,” Zayn says, pulling me back to the present.

I notice we’re on a small hill, and my eyes widen when I see a red and white checkered blanket spread on the ground, with a picnic basket and some music playing. My eyes find Zayn’s and I smile widely. “You did this?” I ask. He nods. “This is incredible, I can’t believe it!”

“So you like it?” he wonders, slipping an arm around my waist and pulling me closer. My stomach tightens when he holds his grip on me but I ignore it.

“Of course I do,” I say and playfully whack him. He grins, his tongue visible behind his teeth. I love it when he smiles like that, it really does him justice.

“After you,” he offers and motions for me to sit down. I do, and we begin to eat and talk. I learn that Zayn is one of the most caring people I know, and we also have a lot in common. We are into the same types of music and books and we have the same opinion on many different topics. I begin to think that this is great, that we are so much alike and that I am so lucky to find someone that thinks so much like me.

But then that changes.

We begin to run out of things to talk about after about two hours. I start to get excited about something, a new subject that we can discuss, but we agree right away and it goes flat, forcing us to awkwardly bring something else up. I enjoy spending time with him, and I have to tell myself over and over that I love it when he kisses my cheek or I really enjoy the feeling in my stomach when he wraps his hands around my waist.

By the time I check my phone, it’s half past three in the afternoon. “I should get home,” I tell him and he agrees.

“I’ll drive you home,” Zayn offers and I thank him, standing up and fixing my shirt. He takes my hand in his and leads us in the direction of where he parked his car.

This time, as we walk, it’s silent between us. But it’s not awkward, it’s peaceful. I take many deep breaths to appreciate the smell of the flowers and grass. Zayn takes me to a bridge that overlooks a river, with boats tied to docks and flowers floating in the water.

“Thank you for today,” I say to him as our eyes meet.

“You’re welcome Cassie,” he replies and steps closer, a hand falling to my waist. My breathing speeds up as our noses brush and almost have a heart attack as he breathes out, “I’m really starting to fall for you.”

Before I can come up with a response, Zayn is kissing me. His lips are incredibly soft and I cannot help but kiss him back. His breath smells like mint with a help of cigarettes, but I like it. He deepens the kiss, but it’s slow and not rushed. It makes my head spin, and one of my hands cups his cheek.

When he pulls away he smiles at me, and I flush. “Let’s get you home, yeah?” he asks and I nod, intertwining our fingers once more.

*****

“Have you noticed anything different about Niall?” I ask Zayn as he drives me home. I have a little bit of studying to do and I miss Angie, for we haven’t had some time together in a while.

Zayn frowns but keeps his eyes on the road. “No, why?”

“It’s just that he seems a little…off, I guess. I don’t know. When I first met you guys he was so nice,” I admit.

“Is he not being nice to you?” Concern is clear in his voice.

“No, no he is,” I assure Zayn. Our fingers are intertwined and resting in my lap. Zayn’s thumb strokes the back of my hand soothingly. “He is really nice to me actually, but he just seems unhappy in general, like something is constantly bothering him.”

Zayn chuckles a little bit. “Babe, I’ve known Niall for a little over four years. I know him. If something was seriously wrong, he would come talk to be about it. I promise, Niall’s fine.”

I sigh, looking out the window. I want to believe Zayn, I do, but something is telling me there is more to the story. I don’t know how I noticed this about him, though. It’s not like I am with him almost twenty-four hours a day like the rest of the boys are. I suppose I always think of him so I don’t really miss anything about him. Niall makes me smile and I really like being around him.

“Hey, don’t worry about it,” Zayn says when I don’t reply.

“I won’t.” I give him a reassuring smile and turn the radio on, letting the sound of the music fill the silence that we have created.

*****

“There you are,” Angie says when I found her in the kitchen.

“Yeah, Zayn dropped me off like ten minutes ago,” I reply and close the fridge, some grapes in my hand. I take out the colander from under the stove to wash them.

“He seems really sweet.”

“He is,” I smile at her and run the water over the grapes.

“Are you two dating?”

“I’m pretty sure. Niall’s really great, he’s a perfect gentleman.” I turn the water off and dry the grapes off, and sit down to eat them.

Angie frowns and cocks her head to the side slightly. “I thought you said you went out with Zayn?”

I freeze, about to pop a grape in my mouth. “Um, yeah. I meant Zayn, sorry.” My cheeks flush and I just eat more grapes.

“Okay…” Angie says hesitantly. “So you like Zayn?”

I think about it. “Yeah, I think I do. He’s really polite and obviously very attractive.”

“Of course,” she laughs and I join. “I think I saw you two online.”

“What?”

“Yeah, I think there was an article about you and Zayn. Are you sure you can handle al this?”

“Of course,” I almost snap at her. “I care about Zayn.”

“I know you do, I know that. I’m just saying that your smile is different when you’re with Zayn than it is with Niall,” Angie confesses.

I shake my head. “No, Niall is just a friend. Do you not like Zayn or something?” How can someone not love Zayn? He is caring and has a warm heart. I know that for a fact. That’s why I can’t even think about Niall as more than a friend. I don’t want to, anyway.

“No, of course not,” Angie says quickly. “I like him, don’t worry. But how many times has Zayn made you laugh, and how many times has Niall?”

“Great,” I groan and rest my head in my hands. “You’re believing what you’re reading, aren’t you?” I pray to God that she isn’t.

“You know I’m not. I love you, Cassie, and I just want you to make good choices. It’s all garbage anyways, I’m sure.” Angie rubs my back and I really appreciate the caring and soothing gesture, and then she changes the subject. “Are the boys nice? I mean I only know them from what I see.”

“They’re some of the nicest people I’ve met,” I answer honestly.

“Any of them you would want to go out with if Zayn hadn’t asked you out?”

I don’t answer, and then ask, “Why are you asking me that?” I’m not the kind of girl to date a group of friends.

“Well, before, you accidentally said Niall.”

“Right,” I say and look down. “It was a mistake.”

“Alright,” Angie says and fights a smile.

“I’m serious!” I protest with a smile on my lips. “Niall and I are just really good friends, is all.”

Angie places her hand on mine. “You know they say that good relationships start off as friendships.”

I roll my eyes. “Whatever. Zayn and I have a lot in common.”

“Like what?”

“Um,” I think and move my shoulders up and down, “Everything.”

“Everything?” Angie repeats with a raised eyebrow.

“I mean we don’t really have a lot to talk about all the time. We have the same taste in music, and we like the same music. We don’t really differ about anything. But we enjoy each other’s company, I know that for sure. I know he likes me, and I’m pretty sure I like him as well.”

“Are you like that with Niall?”

I sigh deeply. “No, not at all. Niall and I disagree on basically everything we talk about. Whenever I say something, he says the opposite and we end up bickering back and forth, actually,” I laugh at the end and then fall silent.

“Just one more question,” Angie promises, “do you see you and Zayn lasting a long time?”

I think about her question and my possible answer. It’s a yes or no question, but for some reason, it seems so much more complicated than that. I care about Zayn, and I enjoy spending time with him, but I’m not certain there is something there. Maybe I should end things, even though we made it official today. No, I can’t do that. I can’t hurt Zayn like that. Plus, it was Niall himself that told me that I shouldn’t worry about the future when I’m happy in the present. I’m happy right now, in this moment and I don’t want to think about anyone getting hurt.

But I tell the truth and not think much more into it, “No. No I don’t.”

*****

I flick on the bathroom light and tie my hair up into a bun. I scrub the makeup off my face, remove my contacts and brush my teeth twice before changing into my pajamas. Since it’s so hot outside all I can sleep in is short shorts and a tank top. Sometimes even a sports bra.

My desk is full of papers and resting on top of that mess is my camera. That project is really stressing me out, although I have a pretty good idea for the topic. It won’t be long now before it’s finished. I really hope I get a good grade because right now I have a B- in the class. I know I can do much better so I am putting 110% into this.

I throw the decorative pillows on my bed to the floor by the window seat that overlooks the backyard—which consists of a patio, garden with benches, and hot tub—and climb into bed. My phone buzzes on my nightstand and look to see who it is. To my surprise, it’s Niall.

Goodnight, Cass. Hope you’ll hang out 2morrow(: -Niall

I smile and reply.

Thanks, Niall. C u 2morrow ;) –Cassie

I put my phone back in its place and I stay away to wait for a goodnight message from Zayn. If my best friend sent me one, surely my boyfriend will. I end up lying there for another forty minutes, waiting for something, anything.

Eventually, I just fall asleep with no missed calls or messages.

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