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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21. Cassie

21 - Cassie

"I need to tell you something," Niall says as soon as I answer the door.

"Um...okay," I say. I really don't want to talk to him right now. It's probably not the best idea.

He takes a deep breath. "Cass...about last night..."

I mentally groan. I knew he was going to want to talk about this, and I was dreading it as soon as I left his room earlier, after I had given him his birthday present. I meet his eyes. "There isn't anything to talk about."

He frowns. "What? Of course there is! I mean-"

"Niall," I say, interrupting him, "just because it made me feel something I shouldn't be feelings doesn't mean we're together, okay? I just got out of something with your best friend and I don't want to ruin things between you two. We're friends, alright? I think it should stay that way." I hate saying this, I really do, but it's the truth. Last night the alcohol had taken a toll on my judgment and I was caught up in the moment. Niall is my friend, I keep telling myself. Niall is my friend.

Niall just stands there with his hands at his sides, mouth open. No words come out, though. "I..."

I back up and put my hand on the door. "I've got to go, Niall. We're leaving today and I haven't even started packing yet." I turn around but I am stopped by Niall's hand on my shoulder.

"Wait...Cass," he pleads, and I almost want to turn around. Just as I meet his eyes he says, "Never mind. Forget it."

I purse my lips and nod, and then close the door, the last thing I see is Niall running a hand through his hair. I feel bad, I really do. But I can't do this, it's so unlike me. I don't want to be that girl that dates more than one guy from a group of friends. The thought alone makes me feel slutty, and I've never felt that way before. I lean back against the door and slide down to the floor, hugging my knees. Parker appears above me, a confused look on her face. I stand up, walking over to her. She don't question me, and I'm grateful for that. The last thing I want to think about is kissing Niall.

For the next three hours, Parker and I watch the first Twilight movie and part of the second, slowly packing in the process. "How are these books?" Parker asks. "I've never read them."

I crinkle my nose. "Not that great, honestly. When they first came out everyone thought they were amazing. Not so sure about that now. They're much better than the movies for sure."

Parker just nods. It was the part in New Moon where Edward was telling Bella he was leaving. "Robert Pattinson is so hot. Team Edward!"

I roll my eyes. "Don't you already have a hot British guy?"

She sighs. "You're right."

I laugh. "I'm Team Jacob. He's so-" I'm interrupted by a knock on the door. At the same time I hope it's not Niall, I do hope it's him. I breathe out a sigh of relief when I open the door and see who it is.

"Hey," Marley says, walking inside. She has her suitcase rolling behind her. "I checked out of my room early, and I thought I could hang out with you guys until we leave for the airport?"

"Sure," Parker replies. "We are just packing and watching New Moon."

"Oooh! Good, I love these movies!"

I raise an eyebrow. "You do? There...not that great."

"How can you say that?" my blonde haired friend exclaims. "I'm a sucker for vampires."

"Then watch The Vampire Diaries. That show is so much better than these movies," I say, sitting down.

"Yeah, do that!" Parker agrees. "I've been watching that, it's so amazing."

My thoughts drift to last night, and before I know it, I'm completely distracted.

Last night was beyond amazing, I really enjoyed myself even though we weren't at the club for very long. Niall kissing me was completely unexpected, yet at the same time it wasn't. My whole body was on fire and in the moment, it was all I wanted. But now that the moment is over I have a chance to really think about it. When he pulled away, I was still taken by surprise. I thought Niall was only my friend! But the way he looked at me and kissed me made me kiss him again. Throughout my breakup with Zayn, and just being him, I have grown very fond of him. The kiss stirred something inside of me and that's what I'm afraid of. I can't go around my ex's friend, right? It doesn't matter how it made me feel, it's wrong. Isn't it?

Does Zayn know? Oh my God, does he? I didn't see him when I left the club. I really hope he didn't. I wouldn't be able to forgive myself. I think about what Parker said about Niall and I seeming like a couple. Does he...does Niall...like me?

There is a knock on the door and I have a feeling I know who it is. "What?" I ask Niall.

He blinks, surprised by my tone. I am a little bit, too. "I was hoping we could talk."

"Did we already talk?" The best thing to do is to stay away from Niall so I don't break Zayn's heart further, but the way he makes me feel is making that difficult. The way he curses in his accent is amusing and I love his laugh. "What are you doing here, Niall?"

He looks me in my eyes. "Wondering what the hell happened. This morning...you... You kissed me back."

I look behind me to make sure Parker and Marley aren't eavesdropping. I step out into the hall so we can have some privacy. "I know, I'm sorry."

"I'm not," he says quietly, taking a step forward.

I look up at him from under my eyelashes. "Niall...we can't..."

"Why not? Cassie...I..." he trails off.

My lips purse and I cross my arms, trying not to let him see that I am dying to know what he's saying. I sigh, turning my back to him, and then I turn around to face him, only to see that he's standing a foot away from me. "Niall, I think last night was wrong. It might have felt right in the moment, but I can't do this to Zayn. It's not who I am."

He frowns. "What are you talking about? Do you still like Zayn?"

"No, I don't. That's not the reason though," I say.

"Then what is?"

"You're his best friend. I care about him, and I don't want to kiss his friends. Can you imagine how that would feel? I hurt him and I still feel guilty about it, and this, us, it will hurt him." Hopefully he will understand what I am trying to say.

"Cassie," he sighs, taking my hands in his and pulling me closer. One hand comes up to cup my cheek and he leans in, but I step away.

I clear my throat and look away from Niall's pained expression. "I'm sorry, but you need to get over this crush of yours." So do I. As much as I hate to admit it, I have a small crush on Niall. But it's nothing, it won't turn into anything, I'll make sure of that, for Zayn's sake.

"What? Is that what you think this is?" he asks, baffled.

I'm confused. "Yeah. I'm right, right? This isn't anything serious Niall. We'll both forget about this by tomorrow."

Niall just stares at me, and then slowly smiles, which turns into him laughing. I frown. What is he laughing about? This isn't funny. "You have no idea," he shakes his head.

"Know what?" I ask.

"How much you mean to me," he sighs, smile fading away. He steps closer and backs me up against a wall. A hand rests on my hip and our noses brush. "You mean so much to me Cassie, you don't even know."

I sigh and revel in his touch, loving the electricity that is rushing through my body from the spot where he's touching me. This never happened, not even when we were kissing. "Niall..." I breathe and meet his eyes. "We can't." Niall's head drops and just slowly nods. He begins to walk away, and I feel terrible immediately. "Wait!" I call after him. He stops right away and turns around. His blue eyes are full of hope. "Can we go for a walk?"

He nods, and so I slip on my shoes and we leave. I don't even care that I'm wearing my pajamas. In the elevator, I text Parker and let her know that I'm leaving and that I'll finish packing later. "He still cares about you, you know," Niall says as we step outside.

"Yeah, I know. I care about him too." I look up at the sky and feel the sun on my shoulders. It's a little chillier since it is mid-September in New York City, but it's certainly not cold. The breeze feels good compared to the stuffy feeling in the hotel room.

As we walk, our shoulders brush occasionally and I see Niall looking down at my hand, pondering over whether or not to take it, but I don't say anything. I don't really know what we're doing out here, just walking silently, but I like it. I like Niall's company and I think about what he said upstairs.

"You mean so much to me Cassie, you don't even know."

What does that even mean? He means a lot to me too, he's one of my closest friends. At the thought of the word friends, I grimace. We were certainly more than friends last night, and it was incredible, but I just don't know if we can go there. It's completely insane to be thinking about more than friends with Niall because just 24 hours ago, I thought we were nothing more.

I don't even notice when we end up in a small community park. There is a little boy with his mother here, and he is playing on the tire swing. His mother is reading a book, so we have pretty much the whole place to ourselves. I sit on a swing and Niall takes the one next to me. I want to say something to him, maybe mention the way the kiss made me feel but I don't want him to think that we could actually do something about it.

When I look over at him, his face is scrunched up in discomfort and he is rubbing his knee. "What's wrong?" I ask him.

"Oh, nothing. I'm fine," he says.

I roll my eyes. "Bullshit. It didn't look like nothing." He doesn't answer. "Niall, tell me. Please? I have to know if you're okay."

"Oh wow, you care?" he asks sarcastically.

I take a deep breath through my nose. "Of course I care! We've only known each other a month, and I have grown to really care about you, Niall. Can't you see that?"

His pained blue eyes meet mine, and then travel down to his shoes as he kicks at the dirt. "I'm sorry, I just thought you felt the same way."

"Even if I did, it wouldn't matter," I reason with him.

"Why not?" he asks desperately.

"We couldn't. Not that I even want to," I mutter, looking away. Before he can answer, I say, "You never answered my question."

"What question?"

"About you knee. What happened?"

He sighs. "I had surgery on it a while ago. It's not a big deal."

My eyes widen. "Niall! It sounds like a big deal! Why didn't you tell me?"

Niall shrugs. "I don't know."

"I'm so sorry," I say.

"It's okay. Really, Cass. It's fine," he assures me and I ignore the feeling in my stomach when he calls me Cass instead of Cassie. He's the only one that does that, and to be honest...I like it.

"Is that all?" I ask, realizing that I don't know a lot about him. Unlike Parker, I am not a huge fan of One Direction, so I don't know the basics about them.

He sighs again. "My knee is easily dislocated and it hurts sometimes." His blue eyes don't meet my brown ones and I put a hand on his knee, but then retract my hand quickly.

"Sorry," I apologize.

"It's okay, Cassie," he chuckles. "You're not hurting me just by touching it."

"Oh," I mumble.

"There's a scar on my leg," he explains, showing me the mark and I raise my eyebrows. I had no idea he went through any of this.

"You never told me any of this, Niall. I thought we were close enough for that," I say quietly.

Niall frowns. "We are. I promise. I know a lot of things about you."

I smile. "Because I tell you."

"Well I'm telling you this about me now."

"I guess."

We're silent for a few minutes, just soaking up sunlight and enjoying the cool breeze. "So how is that project for your photography class coming along?" he asks suddenly.

Surprised, I reply hesitantly, "Fine. I just need to put the pictures on a power point and make some finishing touches to my analysis...Wait, how did you know I had a project on photography?"

"You told me," Niall shrugs as if it's obvious.

"Yeah," I chuckle. "Like the first day we met or something. That was forever ago."

He meets my eyes. "Like I said, you mean so much to me, Cassie. You don't even know."

I look down. I had no idea he had been listening. Zayn wasn't, he never was. Niall was always the one to be there and talk to me about things when Zayn wasn't. I didn't know Niall paid attention to all the little details in my life. My appreciation for his...friendship grows so much more. "Thanks," I smile.

"You're welcome," he says, and I don't say anything, I don't know what to say after that. "What did you mean when you said that's not who you are-dating your ex's friend?"

I bite my lip. "I just don't want to be that girl, you know? I'm not exactly an expert in the dating department, and the last thing I want to do is hurt someone. Zayn is my friend, and I don't want to hurt him."

"But what if you're happy?" he asks.

"What?"

"What if the thing that hurts him makes you happy?"

I don't answer.

"Cassie, you're strong, and independent, and smart, but most of all you're considerate. Underneath that hard shell of yours is someone who really, truly cares for other people," Niall says and I look at him, lips parted.

"How can you know that?" I whisper.

"Because I know you," he smiles, just as quietly.

I nod. "So...what did you want to say this morning?"

"What?"

"You came to my room this morning, saying you had something to tell me. What was it?"

"Oh...um... Never mind. It's not important anymore." He avoids my eyes and he nervously rubs his hands on his shorts.

"Niall, you can tell me anything," I assure him, putting a hand on his knee. "I care about you, just like you care about me."

"Not in the same way," he mutters so low I hardly hear him.

"What was that?" I ask.

"Nothing," he answers quickly. "I didn't say anything."

I decide to drop it. I don't like being in a bad place with Niall. We have so much to talk about, and I think that's what I like about him so much. Zayn and I had nothing to discuss because we agreed on almost everything. We're exactly the same person. I might as well be him with boobs. But Niall, it's completely different. We rarely see things the same way, and that's what's good about us.

"Tell me something that no one else knows," Niall says. "Who is Cassie Barnett, really?

"Okay," I laugh, and then we just fall back into place. No awkward, no nothing. Just us.

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