“Niall, let go!” I yell, frustrated with him. I can't swim, and my clothes will be ruined by the chlorine! “Seriously, get me out of here! I don't want to be in the water! Niall!”
He has his arms wrapped around my waist from behind, and pulls me farther into the deep end. I can't swim and I can't believe that he actually pulled me into the pool! But no matter how annoyed I am with him, I can't ignore the fact that it feels so right in Niall's arms. I've grown more comfortable with him in the short time that I've been with him, which feels strange to me. I just don't interact with people like this. This boy had an odd effect on me – I can already feel myself changing a bit.
“You want me to let go?” Niall asks jokingly.
“Yes! I want to get out of here!” I yell back, even though the honest answer is a no.
“Fine,” he says simply, his arms loosening from around me.
I start to fall into the water and panic. My body goes rigid, and I shriek as my head gets closer to the water. I finally manage to turn around and throw my arms around Niall's neck, clinging for dear life. My heart rate is through the roof – I've never liked water all that much.
“Niall, don't let go!” I scream, burying my face in his bare chest.
He starts laughing but his grip on me tightens. I try to pull myself together. As soon as Niall calms down, I hear him get serious.
“I'll never let you go, Maci,” he says, kissing my forehead. My breath hitches and I get a weird feeling in my chest, my cheeks burning.
“I don't know if I want you to,” I say quietly, before I can stop myself. I pull away and look into his eyes. Some part of me hopes that Niall didn't hear, although the rest of me wants him to have heard. What is this boy doing to you, Maci?
I smile and he returns the favor. He looks into my eyes and I'm lost. He really is a wonderful boy. And what Niall said earlier... It's true, he does like me. And I think... I think I like him too. But then again... I've just met him! And do I really deserve him? I mean, I'm just a regular – well, pretty useless, actually – girl. And he's... He's a famous singer – and a gorgeous one at that! And what would my father do...?
I'm snapped back to reality when Niall's grin fades a bit. I wonder what's wrong as he takes one hand from my waist and lifts it to my left cheek. I wince as he brushes over my cheek because – for some odd reason – it hurts. He seems to focus more on that side of my face, and then his face drops completely into an expression of horrified recognition and confusion.
I give him an odd look. “What's wrong?” I ask, worried. Is there something wrong with my face? Is that why it hurt? Oh God, I'm so embarrassed... See, Maci? You're not good enough for him.
“Maci?” he asks, his voice faltering. I furrow my eyebrows, waiting for him to continue. “Why... Why is there a bruise on you face?”
My eyes go wide. I'd forgotten about the bruise! Oh God, the foundation must have come off in the pool! Oh no, he can see it! Think Maci, think! You slipped in your kitchen and fell against the table! Yes, it's stupid, but it sounds okay...
“Nothing,” I try to say, but it only comes out a whisper when I remember what happened last night.
I see that we have drifted close to the side of the pool, and turn around in Niall's arms. I use some of my strength to push away from him. I reach the wall with some effort and hoist myself out of the water. I hear him swim to the edge behind me, but I've already taken off toward the towel rack. I grab two towels and try to dab off the extra water that's coming off of me as Niall climbs hurriedly out of the water.
My chest tightens and I drop the towels, even though I'm still soaked. I run toward the table to grab my phone and shoes and, hearing Niall close behind, I start to run toward the door to the lobby, but it's too late. Niall catches me by the waist, sending a shiver up my spine. He spins me so I'm facing him and places both hands on my hips so that I can't move.
“Maci,” he says, looking me dead in the eye. “Why is there a bruise on you face?”
No! Don't ask that, I can't lie to you if I tried! I shake my head, looking away. Standing there – sopping wet and clinging to my shoes – I must look so afraid, so fragile. One of two things that I know I am not. I am not fragile.
“Maci,” Niall whispers, using two fingers to turn my head toward him that I'm forced to look at his kind face. “You can tell me what happened. I can tell that you're trying to hide something.”
Even though I'm face to face with him, my eyes travel everywhere but his. I know that if I do look Niall in the eye, I'll cave in. I can't though – my father says that if I tell people, then I am weak. I am not weak.
“It's nothing,” I whisper. “I just... slipped. I slipped in my kitchen and hit my head on the table. Clumsy me!” I give a small laugh, but one look at his face says that he's not convinced.
I chew on the inside of my cheek – something I do when I lie, I don't know why – but catch the inside of my left cheek, the one with the bruise. I whimper little, and Niall catches this.
Shaking his head vigorously, he says, “Don't lie to me Maci, that's not it. That kind of accident doesn't bruise this badly.”
I bite my lip and am forced to look into his eyes. Their soft blue had turned to empathy, comforting me a small bit. Niall moves one of his hands from my hip to the unbruised side of my face. He strokes my cheek, sending another shiver up my spine.
“It's okay, Maci,” he says softly. “You can tell me.”
He has no idea how badly I yearn to tell him – how day after day my father hits me, a different place every time. Some bruise, some don't – it hurts all the same. I want to tell him how many tubes of foundation that I have been through, all of the long sleeves and jeans that I have had to wear to keep people from asking – as if they would care. How many times I have had to stop myself from talking to anyone at all, out of fear that I might grow close to them, and my father would hurt them too. I cry, but only when no one is there to wipe away my tears. Serves me right, for being so weak.
But having Niall here, even for just a short amount of time – he has an odd effect on me. I've never opened up to someone like I have to him. That moment while we were eating – those words just poured out of me. No matter how true they were, I was surprised by my courage to say them. But these words, I can't say. Not to Niall, not to anyone.
“No,” I whisper, looking away.
Tears start to form in my eyes and I shut them tight to keep them from falling. I shake my head, reluctantly stepping out of Niall's comforting touch.
“No what, Maci?” he asks with worry threaded heavily in his voice.
My eyes are still shut tight, but that doesn't keep the memories from flooding back.
“I'm so sorry!” I say, cowering from my father's gaze.
He towers above my small 12-year-old figure, and I feel about the size of an ant. I had bumped into him because I hadn't seen him come up behind me. I had been making dinner, and was carrying our finished food to the table. I accidentally dropped the plate and it had shattered, slicing open both my father's and my own feet.
“Dammit, Maci!” he yells, dropping the glass beer bottle in his hand to hold one of his cut feet.
The bottle shatters against the tile floor and what's left of the alcohol inside splashes over my cuts. It stings badly and I jump back, yelping a little bit. I look back up at my father to apologize again, but I don't look fast enough. His fist buries into my stomach, sending me stumbling back several feet and gasping for air.
“You bitch!” he shouts, his words slurred. “That hurt!”
“I'm sorry!” I whimper, still trying to recuperate. “I'll clean it up!”
“Damn right, you will!” he bellows, hurling a piece of the broken bottle at me.
I try to move out of the way, but I can't get away fast enough. He threw it hard enough that it opens a big gash on my right forearm. I cry out in pain as my father yells more profanity at me. He growls and leaves the kitchen, grumbling all the way to his chair about how reckless and worthless I am.
I clean up the mess before tending to my bloodied arm. The wound is extremely deep, I probably needed stitches. I wouldn't go to the hospital, though. Not after what my father was about to say. I hear him get up from his chair and stomp over to me. He gives me a glare before speaking.
“You are weak,” he says. I just look at the ground. “You will never be strong enough to leave this home. You will never survive in the outside world, not without me.” Up until now, I hadn't cried. But now, tears begin flowing down my cheeks, only angering my father.
“You see!?” he shouts, grabbing my wounded arm. I cry out in pain, but this only makes it worse. His grip tightens, squeezing more tears out of my eyes. “If it weren't for me, you'd be dead! So remember that when you get hurt. I'm making you stronger, because you are weak!”
My eyes still closed, I rub my right arm. I can still feel the scar, a raised ridge that reminds me every day of that awful night with my father.
I sit on my bed doing my math homework. I hear the home phone ring, deciding to let my father answer, and go back to focusing. It was only my first year of high school, and I was already having trouble in math. My hand also ached from the current bruise that shown on it. I hadn't started covering up my bruises yet, hadn't thought anything about it. No one cared enough, anyway.
I'm nearing the end of my work when my father bursts into my room, steaming mad. His fists are clenched at his sides, and his face is bright red. My eyes go wide and I freeze, wondering what I've done.
“That was your teacher on the phone,” he seethes, hatred grasping his voice.
“What teacher?” I ask, confused.
“IT DOESN'T MATTER WHAT TEACHER IT WAS!” he bellows, making me jump. “He called about the bruises, Maci!”
I flinch. Mr. Johnson had stopped me earlier that day, asking about the reoccurring bruises on my arms. I just froze and hurried out of his classroom.
“What...?” I ask hesitantly.
“THE BRUISES!” my father thunders. I feel myself begin to shake.
“Oh...” I say weakly, looking down at my hands.
“Are you talking to people about your bruises?” he shouts. I shake my head quickly, but he continues. “Talking about them makes you weaker! Don not shove you self-pity on other people! I will NOT be getting another one of these phone calls! Will I, Maci!?”
I keep my head down, and I don't see my father approach me. I only feel the sting of his hand as it connects with my face. I'm knocked sideways and up against the wall.
“Maslin Watson,” he says, using the full name that I hate. “You. Are. Weak.”
And with that, he storms out of my room, slamming the door on his way out.
From that moment on, I never shad a single tear in front of anyone but myself, and I intend to keep it that way. The only reason I shed tears at all is because I am weak.
“Maci,” Niall says, putting his hands on my shoulders and releasing me from the nightmares that I call memories. “No what?”
“I won't cry,” I say, but my voice betrays me. “I won't be weak.”
I pull away and start to dash for the door. Niall catches me by the arm and pulls me to the side so that the people in the hotel lobby can't see us.
“No, Niall, just let me go home,” I whimper, trying to push him away, but he wraps his arms around my waist, pulling me into a tight hug.
“Maci,” he says softly into my neck. “Crying isn't for the weak. It's for the strong who have been strong for too long.”
With those words, I lose it. I throw my arms around Niall's neck and bury my face into his shoulder, ignoring the stab of pain I feel on the side of my face. I realize that both of us are still sopping wet and Niall doesn't have a shirt on, but I don't care anymore. I let loose all of the tears that I have been holding in. The ones from every single day, of every single month, of every single year since my father started hitting me. It feels like am crying for hours in his comforting embrace, but I don't mind.
His arms are the one place that I have ever felt that I belong, yet I still don't feel deserving. He comforts me by humming songs that I'm sure I've heard but can't put a name to. We stand in the embrace for what seems like forever, as my heavy sobs slowly turn into whimpers, then soft hiccups. I finally collect myself enough to pull away. Niall gives me one last squeeze before loosening his grip and holding me at arms-length.
“I'm so sorry,” he says, giving me a pained expression.
I shake my head, giving him a weak smile. “It's not your fault, you didn't do anything.
He nods, his face staying serious. “You don't have to tell me what happened, but I'm here to listen f you need to let it all out.”
I nod my head and start to pull Niall over to the table where we sat earlier. He sits down and offers me a spot on his lap. I accept the invitation and curl up into him. He wraps his arms around me, further making me feel like I can trust him.
We sit like this for a while and I listen to his steady breathing. I like the feeling of being safe and secure, and maybe even wanted – three feelings that I have never felt before. There is something about Niall – something about him that made me trust him, that made me feel like I can finally be honest with him.
“Niall?” I ask quietly.
“Hmm?” he replies, waiting for me to go on.
“You said that you would listen, right?” What are you doing, Maci?
“Of course. Always,” he says, his arms tightening around me and making me smile the smallest bit.
“Well, I'm going to tell you. But you have to promise not to say anything until I'm done, because at some points it's going to get really hard for me to tell you. Okay?” I hold my breath, waiting for Niall to answer.
I feel him nod and I sigh. Taking a deep breath, I prepare myself for what I'm about to say. Should I really tell him? I haven't known him for long, but I already feel like I've known him forever!
Yes, I decide. I will tell him. I'll tell him everything; from the day that I can remember all the way until last night. My mother's death, my father's alcoholism, the beatings, my scars – everything.
And it all just pours out of me.
By the time I finish, my tears have long since run out. Niall did what he promised, he said nothing, though several times I felt him tense and begin to shake with anger. He didn't speak – and for that, I am grateful.
“I'm finished,” I say to Niall, messing with the still-soaking scarf around my neck. There is a long silence, and I start to worry. “Niall?” I ask, pulling back to look at him.
He wears an expression of a mix of anger and surprise. He just looks at me, studying my face. I want him so badly to say something, anything! Just to let me know that he's here for me like he says. I wasn't quite sure how he'd react when I started telling him all of the things my father has done. I had had many ideas, but silence wasn't one of them.
“Niall?” I whisper. “Please say something?”
He blinks once, twice, three times. It feels like forever before he actually get the words out of his mouth. “I will just make it clear,” he says hoarsely. “That as long as you will know me, I – nor any people I know or love – will ever lay a hurtful finger on you.”
Relief floods me. Niall has no idea how much what he has just said means to me. There are no words to describe how comforting it is to have someone that knows of the pain I have been through – and for him to promise me something like that? If I had any tears left, I think that they would have fallen right now.
I smile, but it is not strong. “Thank you, Niall. Thank you so, so much.”
I wrap my arms around his neck and bury my face in his shoulder. I have never felt this way about anyone before. I know I've only known him for such a short amount of time, but I can honestly say that I like Niall, more than just a friend. I can trust this boy. It feels right in his arms. Talking to him come easy to me. Being with him is amazing.
But sadly, all good moments must end.
My phone starts ringing. My ringtone is Switchfoot's I Dare You to Move. I sigh and move from Niall's lap, and he starts to put his shirt and pants on over his wet boxers. I don't bother checking the caller ID. There's only one person that would be calling me now – my father. I start to feel guilty for telling Niall, but then the feelings stop. My father has no way of knowing that I told Niall. I relax a little and answer the phone.
“Hi, dad,” I say into the phone.
“DO YOU KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS?” my father screams in my ear. I wince and bring the phone away from my head. I hear Niall huff from hit seat, and he stands and walks over to me.
“No, I don't,” I say quietly.
“IT IS 10:05, MACI!” he screams, and I flinch. Oh no. I've missed curfew. My chest tightens and I take slow breaths in an attempt to calm myself. I can tell Niall is getting tense because he wraps his arms around my waist. “GET YOUR WORTHLESS ASS HOME NOW!” Niall's arms tighten around me, comforting me.
“I'll get home as soon as I can,” I say as respectfully as I can. “I'm about twenty minutes away. I'm so sorry. This won't happen again, I promise.”
“Sorry doesn't cut it,” my father hisses. “Two infractions, two days in a row. There will be severe consequences!” And then he hangs up.
I slowly bring the phone down to my side, my eyes wide. My heart is pounding in my chest, and my breathing is shaky and fast. I just stand there, frozen, not knowing what to do. Niall brings me closer to him and rests his head on my shoulder. I don't come out of the position I am in. I just stare at the wall while I collect my thoughts.
Tonight consisted of many realizations for me.
Niall is in a famous boy band; One Direction Niall likes me I can trust Niall I do, in fact, like Niall in the same way he likes me I am not weak I can feel safe, secure, and wanted I've missed curfew, my father knows, and he is angry I am going to get beaten, and it is going to hurt