Apart from the occasional scraping of utensils and clearing of throats, the room was still and silent. Emily scooted back in her chair and marched through the parlor onto Charlotte’s balcony. Zayn hurried after her.
The winter air nipped Emily’s arms and legs. With pursed lips, she clutched the rail of the balcony and yanked her hands from the chilled metal when it had begun to blister her fingers. She pulled a cigarette from her bra and reached for her lighter, which she immediately discovered had been left inside.
Zayn appeared at the door, and removed his lighter. “It’s cold out here,” he remarked, the air fogging around his lips. “Do you want my coat?” He tugged on the wool.
“If I did, I’d ask for it,” she snapped back, allowing the quiet to set in. With her cigarette in hand, she paced along the edge of the balcony. She was clearly deep in thought, and Zayn doubted it had anything to do with the insults Jackson had doled out moments ago.
After a few minutes, Emily began. “I know what a woman in love looks like. And it’s not Charlotte…not three years ago…not today.”
The frosty New York air whipped around them, but Emily didn’t shy from it though her nose had turned a bright shade of pink. Zayn rubbed his hands together for warm and blew into them before he responded. “They’re just an engagement…anything could happen.”
“Is that what you tell yourself?” Emily questioned aloud.
“Pardon?” Zayn was taken aback. She noticed his brows furrow and hard lines appear on his forehead.
“I’m not going to pretend I don’t know who you are,” she shrugged. “I’ve read US Weekly. ‘When Will Edwards and Malik Seal the Deal’” She quoted a magazine article she’d read the night before.
“That’s complicated,” Zayn defended, unable to match Emily’s eye contact. He breathed out deeply, images of Perrie rolling through his mind. He shook them off.
“I don’t doubt it.” Emily dropped her cigarette, stamped out the small flame, and headed for the door. “We should get back. God only knows what Jackson’s up to now.”
They returned to the dining room, and upon entering, were greeted by Jackson’s sarcastic roar. “Welcome back. We missed you.”
“Drop dead.” Emily looked to Charlotte, who nodded to confirm she was okay.
“Ladies first.” He offered Emily a sickening smile. Charlotte knocked her knee into the table to catch his attention and shot him a pleading look. He rolled his eyes and began to play with his food.
“This is amazing Charlotte,” Harry spoke up, noticing their uncomfortable exchange. The others murmured in agreement, and Jackson nodded halfheartedly in agreement.
Charlotte returned Harry’s compliment with a partial smile, and started cutting her strawberry French toast. “You’re not eating that…are you?” Jackson’s gaze passed over the stack of French toast.
“T-that was the plan,” she mumbled, looking to her feet in shame. She twisted her Cartier bracelet around her wrist while Liam tensed.
“I don’t see why she wouldn’t,” Emily jumped in.
“That won’t be good for your figure, Charlotte Belle.” He scolded. Niall, seated beside her, saw Charlotte’s eyes began to water. But she blinked them back and clenched her teeth.
He sensed that she was braver than most people he knew, and he hated that this was her reality. “She doesn’t need to watch her figure,” he barked in defense of Charlotte.
“I just want her to be healthy.” Jackson sat back and rolled his eyes.
“She was healthy 20 pounds ago.” Emily argued.
“If you love her, you wouldn’t do all of this,” Eleanor jumped in, speaking with a rage Louis hadn’t heard prior to today. He squeezed her hand in support.
“I’m just looking out for her.” Jackson narrowed his eyes. His voice took on a different tone.
“You don’t destroy the person you love.” Liam spoke for the first time. He rose now. “You wanted a trophy when the treasure you had didn’t seem shiny enough.”
“Charlotte’s mine isn’t she?” Jackson’s fingers drummed on the table. “So who says I ‘had’ her?”
“I do.” Her voice was meek.
“You can’t mean that,” Jackson replied in shock. All 6ft and 2 inches of him towered above the table. His hands pounded the table.
“She does, Jackson,” Liam affirmed.
“Charlotte, may I speak with you in the parlor,” he demanded, stomping into the other room. Instinctively she rose and when she reached the doorway, she looked back to her guests. She then cleared her throat and entered.
“I don’t want her alone in there,” Harry murmured immediately.
“Charlotte can take care of herself.” Emily stood, walked to the doorway and placed her ear on the door.
Liam shook his head. “She shouldn’t have to.”