*****************THE NEXT MORNING****************
“I can’t do this,” Maci whines, playing yet another weak Easy G. “It sounds horrible.”
I chuckle to myself, helping her move her fingers to an F chord. “You’ll get it,” I assure her, placing a quick kiss to her lips. “It just takes some time.”
She tries to strum the chord, but the strings are muted. “You’re not pushing down hard enough,” I say, pushing her fingers down more. Maci winces but holds down the strings. She strums and the chord sounds out, but just as weak as the Easy G.
“Owwie,” she breathes, pulling her fingers from the fret board and looking at the tips.
“I know,” I chuckle. “It takes time for the callouses to develop.” I take her hand and kiss each individual red finger-tip. “You’ll get there,” I say enthusiastically, placing a kiss on her cheek.
Maci groans but places her hand back on the fret board. She winces again as she pushes down on the tight strings and plays a better F chord. Proud of herself for sounding clear, she smiles and giggles a little.
“See?” I tease. “You’ve got it.”
Maci finally gets the hang of Easy G, F, and C. I give her a small rhythm to play, and she strums it softly as I reach into my bag of Chex Mix, still half full from yesterday. Maci masters the pattern easily and I smile warmly at her.
“Now all you’ve got to do is learn to strum in the right rhythms now, and you’ll be onstage by tonight!”
Instantly her eyes widen and her hand falls from the neck of the guitar. “Uhh,” she says hesitantly. “There’s no way I’m going to-”
“Just teasing, Love,” I say after cutting her off with a kiss to the lips. “Now lets see about those new chords.
“How long have you two been at this now?” Zayn grumbles, marching from the back room up to us.
I check my phone. “About three hours now,” I say, sending him a polite smile. Maci continues to strum the last few patterns I’ve given her, and I have to admit - it’s kind of adorable to see her do well at something that I love.
Zayn grabs a Pepsi from the fridge and grumbles the whole way to the back room, where the boys are playing Mario Kart. Don’t ask me why we always play that. I guess it’s just fun.
“Niall?” Maci asks. I turn to her. “Could you teach me how to play a real song?” she says shyly, fiddling with one of the strings.
“‘Course, Love,” I say. She smiles and hands me the guitar.
I think for a moment, then place my hands on the fret board to play a D, then Dsus4, then a D and Dsus4 again. Maci cocks her head to the side and smiles.
“I know this song,” she says quietly, listening to me go into the first verse’s chords.
I’m about to open my mouth to sing the words, but Maci beats me to it.
“All I knew this morning when I woke
Is I know something now, know something now
I didn’t before.
And all I’ve seen since 18 hours ago
Is green eyes and freckles and your smile in
The back of my mind making me feel like
I just wanna know you better, know you better, better now.
I just wanna know you better, know you better, better now.
I just wanna know you better, know you better, better now.
I just wanna know you better, know you better, better now
I just wanna know you, know you, know you.”
I join in with the harmonies that Ed wrote, my voice mixing perfectly with Maci’s beautiful lead. I switch from chord to chord with general ease, watching Maci’s face as she lets me sing Ed’s verse.
“And all my walls stood tall, painted blue.
But I’ll take them down, take them down
And open up the door for you.”
We continue throughout the whole song, trading between harmonies and leads.
“Cause all I know is we said hello
And your eyes look like coming home
All I know is a simple name, everything has changed.
All I know is you held the door,
You’ll be mine and I’ll be yours.
All I know since yesterday, is everything has changed.”
I nearly forget to strum the last chord to complete the song because I’m so lost in Maci’s voice. It’s amazing, to say the least. What she has is unique, I can’t believe that she hasn’t given a second thought to singing before.
I rest my eyes on Maci’s beautiful face, watching as she opens her eyes and takes a deep breath. The corners of her mouth pull into a smile as she turns to face me. I can’t even move. I’m still in amazement at how wonderful her voice is. The G chord rings out on the guitar and eventually stops. Maci’s mouth pulls into a frown.
“Was it bad?” she says hurriedly. “I’m sorry, I don’t sing in front of people often. Maybe you boys should be the only ones singi-”
“-That was amazing,” Liam breathes, making both Maci and I jump. She whirls around to see all four boys - and Paul - gathered in the doorway leading to our bunks.
Several sounds of agreement come from them and she tucks a lock of hair behind her ear. Turning to me, I see her face is a deep shade of red.
“You have an amazing voice,” I say, still playing her voice over and over in my head.
She shrugs. “I guess.”
“Don’t sell yourself short,” Louis says, stepping into the room.
“My thoughts exactly,” I agree, setting the guitar aside and taking her hand. I bring her hand to my lips and kiss the back of it gently.
By now her face is the deep shade of a tomato. “Thank you,” she says quietly, hiding behind her hair.
Everyone kind of just sits in this awkward silence for a while, until Harry thankfully breaks it.
“Louis,” he says hurriedly. “We’ve got to keep the lead, we’re whipping everyone’s bums!”
“Soundcheck in six hours boys,” Paul relays, looking at his phone.
“All the more reason to hurry!” Louis shouts.
With that, Louis squeals and darts to the back room, the rest of the boys following his lead. I roll my eyes and turn back to Maci, squeezing her hand lightly. “How about I teach you one of our songs?”
She looks up and smiles. “Perfect.”
“Baby, you light up my world
Like nobody else.
The way that you flip your hair
Gets me overwhelmed.
But when you smile at the ground
It ain’t hard to tell
You don’t kno-o-ow.
You don’t know you’re beautiful.
That’s what makes you beautiful.”
Maci lets the C chord carry out, humming the melody of the chorus again.
“So you’ve really never heard that song before?” I ask.
“Nope,” she shakes her head.
“Well you learned it quite fast,” I point out. “You have a wonderful sense of music. You learned to play a whole song on the guitar in under an hour, in addition to learning the lyrics and melodies in even less!”
She shrugs, but I can tell she’s holding back a smile. “I guess.”
“Don’t give me that,” I roll my eyes. Suddenly, I cup her chin and press my lips against hers. I pull back after a few seconds, smirking.
“What was that for?” Maci asks, her eyebrows raised.
I shrug. “Every time you don’t take a compliment, I’m going to kiss you.”
She juts out her lower lip. “No matter how tempting that sounds, I’m not not taking the compliments. They just shouldn’t have been given to me in the first place.”
With that, I press my lips to hers again. After a few seconds I pull away and watch her expression go from happy to playfully annoyed. “Niall-”
“-You’ve got a great taste in music,” I interrupt.
“Stop it, Niall.”
“Niall, is this really necessary-”
“-You have an amazing voice.”
“Niall, stop it.”
“Okay, really?” she pouts, moving away - but I scoot right up next to her.
“You’re the best thing that’s ever happened to me.”
At this the red already on her face turns about two shades darker, and the corners of her mouth threaten to turn upward. “Now I really doubt tha-”
She’s interrupted with another kiss.
“For Pete’s sake, Niall!” Maci says, exasperated.
“Who’s Pete?” I tease, mock hurt on my face.
She softly thumps my chest and ‘humphs’. “I’m not playing this game, Niall.”
“Oh,” I say in a posh accent. “But you are.” I shift so that I’m directly facing her on the couch. “You have a great taste in style,” I say.
“No better than-”
She groans as I interrupt her with yet another kiss.
I pull away and take her hand in mine. “You are the strongest person that I know,” I tell her, looking into her eyes.
“Okay, now I really doubt-”
Another kiss is placed on her lips.
“Ugh!” she sighs. “Fine! I’ll take a darn compliment!”
I smile, putting my forehead against hers. “You’re beautiful, Maci.”
Her face turns an even deeper shade of red. I can tell that she wants to protest, but she said she would take the compliment. When she does, a smile widely.
“Thank you,” she breathes, her eyes locked on mine.
I can’t resist.
I close the small gap between us and push my lips against hers. Maci lets out a confused and surprised noise, and I laugh and pull away.
She pokes my chest. “I took the compliment!”
“I know,” I mumble, closing the gap again. She lets out a breath through her nose and puts her arms around my neck. My arms find their way around her waist and she grabs a small fist-full of my short hair.
We get pretty into the kiss before Louis’ voice sounds throughout the bus, making us both jump.
“I DON’T HEAR ANY TALKING!”
I look down at my fingertips, bright red from earlier. They throb a little bit, but not too badly. Niall’s teaching me how to play guitar - something I’ve always wanted to do, but it was so far out of the question to buy one when I was living with my father, that I just never thought about it. How much better can this boy get?
“Alright, Love,” Caroline calls through the door. “Let’s have a look-see.”
I look at my [outfit] in the mirror. Smiling to myself, I grip the handle and slowly pull the door open. My shoes suddenly become fascinating as Caroline and Lou’s eyes study me. After a while I look up to be met by two giant grins.
“That looks great on you,” Caroline muses, wrapping me in a hug. “I love dressing you up way more than the boys.”
I laugh and shrug. “You have amazing taste.”
“It’s not just the stylist who makes an outfit great,” she tells me, pulling away. “The model’s got to wear it well, too.”
My face gets hot. “I’m not a model,” I mumble, looking at the ground again.
“Oh please,” Lou says, and I can practically hear her roll her eyes. “You’re our model.” My face grows warmer and I huff a bit. “Now get over here so I can do your hair.”
I look up to see that she’s transitioned over to the mirror counter across the room. Caroline goes to sit on the couch and pulls out her phone, typing away. I let out a breath and make my way over to Lou, who’s holding up a blowdryer. She gestures for me to sit and starts pinning up layers of my hair to get them out of the way. Lou quickly dries my hair - which had been wet from a shower - and picks up a crimper.
“So what have you and Niall been up to?” Lou questions, taking a piece of my hair and crimping it.
My face turns a light red. “What do you mean?”
She chuckles. “Not the way you’re thinking, Love. I mean, what have you two been doing in your free time?” She groans. “That sounds weird too! You know what I mean.”
I let out a small laugh. “He’s teaching me how to play guitar.”
Caroline gasps from the couch. “That’s wonderful!” she exclaims. “The guitar is a great instrument to know how to play!”
“Yeah,” I say quietly with a smile. “I just started today, and I already love it. I’ve always wanted to learn.”
“Then why haven’t you?” Lou jokes.
The smile drops from my face and my eyes prick. My father. That’s why. Several memories flash through my mind of when my father told me that I would be an embarrassment to guitar playing, and I have no hope of getting anywhere in life. I also can’t forget about him telling me my voice is horrid.
“Oh my God,” Lou breathes. “I’m so sorry, I forgot.”
“It’s okay,” I whisper, blinking away any tears that make it to my eyes. “It’s over now.”
“Yes it is,” Caroline says, getting up from the couch. “You’re safe here.”
Caroline comes up behind us and smiles at me in the mirror. I smile back weakly and watch Lou crimp the next section of my hair. After a bit, Caroline claps her hands together.
“Well,” she says. “I should probably get the boys’ outfits sorted.”
With that, she whirls around and busies herself with a few boxes of clothing. Lou finishes with my hair and spins me around in the chair. She beams at me a helps me up.
“You look lovely,” she compliments, patting my cheek.
Suddenly, the door to the room opens and the boys walk in. Caroline tosses a box to each of the boys, Lou moves to get her things in order, and Niall comes over to me. “You look beautiful,” he mumbles, pressing his forehead to mine.
“Thank Lou and Car-” I’m cut off by his lips. I groan but kiss him back, remembering what he’d done earlier.
“Just take the compliment,” he whispers, pulling away.
I feel my face get hot and nod. He kisses me again, his lips lingering on mine.
“Hey, Niall, will you- GAHH! MY EYES!” Louis shouts.
Niall snorts and pulls away. “No worse than you and Eleanor,” he teases.
The boys and I - excluding Louis - laugh loudly. I had heard some pretty… Interesting things about Louis’ and Eleanor’s relationship. But aside from that, Eleanor sounds like a really nice girl.
Louis pouts, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “You’re just jealous!”
Niall lets out a small laugh and snakes his arm around my waist, pulling me closer. “I think I’m good.”
At this, the rest of the boys let out ‘ooohs’. I laugh along with Niall, though my face gets a little warm.
“Get dressed!” Caroline shouts, chucking a pair of shoes at each of the boys.
They scurry to get dressed, then make their way over to Lou. Niall takes me over when it’s his turn. I go to pull up a chair, but he pulls me into his lap. My face turns a little red, and I thump his chest.
“I don’t think this is going to work,” I tell Niall. “Lou’s got to be able to reach you.”
“You’re fine,” Lou pipes up with a wink. She begins to dust foundation on his face. “When’s that schnoz of yours due to heal?” she asks, blending the powder into his skin.
“I can take the metal thing off by the end of tonight,” he says with a grin.
I smile wryly, my eyes landing on the metal brace holding his nose in place. A pang goes through my chest, knowing full well that I caused it. Niall must have seen this because - despite Lou’s protest - he leans in to peck my lips.
“Not your fault,” he says, reading my mind. I give him a soft smile as Lou goes back to work on his face and hair.
When she finishes I climb down from Niall’s lap and stand next to the door leading out into the hall. I can already hear the cheers of an excited crowd. Niall’s arms find their way around my waist from behind and he buries his face in my neck.
“You better not be messing up that foundation!” Lou snaps.
Niall only laughs and kisses my cheek. “How do you go out there?” I ask him, leaning back into his chest. “With all those people watching you.”
“I know that they support us for doing what we love,” he replies simply. “And if it’s something that we love to do, who cares if anyone’s watching anyway?”
I turn around in his arms and peck his lips. “I love you,” I say quietly.
He chuckles. “I love you too.”
I peck his lips again. “Now go have fun.”
“This is so wonderful,” I say, biting into the chicken Niall hands me. “Where did you get this?”
“It’s from Nandos,” he says with a chuckle. “My favorite.”
“Well it might just have to be my favorite too,” I tell him honestly, making him chuckle.
I look around at the beautiful park we’re in and play with the edge of the plaid blanket we’re sitting on. The whole scene is cliche, yet I love it anyway. The tree overhead provides some shade from the powerful sun, and the smell of blooming flowers fills the air.
Oh God. Not again.
I set down the piece of chicken and wipe my hands off with a napkin.
“I love you,” I tell him, and he takes my hand.
I know how this dream ends. Please, God, do not let me have this dream.
“Maci,” I hear someone growl behind me, and Niall’s face twists into one of confusion and anger.
My stomach drops as I recognize the voice. As if on cue, the whole sky darkens a shade and the soft wind stops blowing. The smell of flowers disappears and is replaced by the smell of my own fear. Oh God. Oh no.
I start to shake with fear, my stomach knotting like crazy. Why is he here? What does he want?
I release Niall’s hand and slowly turn as I stand, coming face to face with my father.
“Dad,” I say, my voice shaking.
I take in his tall form. It feels like he’s gained six inches, now towering a full foot above me. He’s wearing all black, only making his aura darker. I don’t smell any alcohol from him - that means he’s sober. Usually when he’s sober he apologizes, but I sense no sign of remorse in the way he’s glaring at me.
“He doesn’t love you,” my father snarls, taking a step closer.
I stumble back a bit. This feels like a dagger in my chest. I know my father is wrong. Niall loves me. He’s here for me, whenever I need him. I tell myself this over and over, finally feeling some of the emotional pain slip away.
“You’re wrong,” I say flatly. I spin around and reach for Niall’s hand.
Only he’s not there.
My hand closes around nothing, and my mouth drops open. I do a full 360, trying to find Niall - but he’s nowhere in sight. I cringe, thinking about what’s going to happen - I’m alone with my father. And this didn’t end well last time. Oh God.
“Where’s lover boy now?” my father mocks behind me. He lets out a cruel laugh as he strides the rest of the distance to me, and I can feel his hot breath on my neck.
I cringe, the pain in my chest returning. Where’s Niall? Where is the boy I love? Oh my God. What’s going to happen!?
“I think it’s about time we finish what we started, huh Maci?” he hisses.
I don’t even bother turning around. Instead, I make a mad dash for any place away from here. Away from him. I hear his throaty laugh behind me.
“You can’t run from me Maci. I’m everywhere.”
I gasp loudly, sitting straight up in the bunk. My heart pounds heavily in my chest. It’s pitch black, but thankfully I know where I am. Niall’s arm falls from around me and he stirs. I freeze, fearing I’ve woken him up. When he doesn’t say anything, I relax. I rest a hand on his chest, just to make sure he’s actually here and that he won’t disappear on me.
Once I’ve convinced myself that he won’t disappear, I roll over him carefully and exit the bunk. My feet land softly on the floor of the bus. I pad up to the front of the bus and into the main room. I mutter a quick ‘hello’ to the driver and reach under the couch, feeling for Niall’s guitar case. My fist closes around the handle and I pull it out, setting it in my lap when I sit down.
I feel like I should be asking to use the instrument, but I don’t want to wake Niall up. He should be sleeping. I, on the other hand, both can’t and don’t want to fall back asleep. I’m not risking that horrible dream again - I don’t think I’ll wake up as calm as this time.
I set the case on the floor and the guitar in my lap the way Niall showed me. I carefully reach down into the case for the pick and sit back up. Despite the near-blackness, my hands find the G chord and I strum softly. The chord plays softly and I take a deep breath, letting the sound calm me. My heart slows down to normal speed and I let my fingers move to the C chord.
I go through all of the chords Niall taught me, playing a few of the rhythms quietly so I don’t wake anyone. After a while, I check the clock and sigh. 2:47. Wonderful. I should go back to bed, but I can’t bring myself to leave this spot. There’s no way that I’m going to open myself to that nightmare.
“Are you alright?” Zayn’s groggy voice says from a few feet away.
I gasp and jump about five feet in the air. “Zayn!” I whisper. “You scared the bejesus out of me!”
He chuckles a little. “Do you mind?” he asks, gesturing to the couch. I shake my head and he sits.
“Did I wake you up?” I ask quietly.
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I knew playing this wasn’t a good idea,” I say hurriedly, moving to put the guitar away.
“No,” Zayn says softly, placing a hand on the instrument and stopping me. “It wasn’t the guitar that woke me up.”
“Oh,” I reply quietly, catching on to what he’s saying.
“Which brings me back to my question,” he says seriously, shifting on the couch to face me. “Are you alright?”
My head droops and I carefully set the guitar in it’s case. I Criss-cross my legs, folding my hands and setting them in my lap. “I don’t know,” I whisper after a long time.
Zayn puts a comforting hand on my shoulder. “Do you want to talk about it?”
My mind flashes to the dream; to my father’s threatening gaze. To my father finding me everywhere, no matter where I go. To the thought of Niall leaving, disappearing when I need him the most. Even though I know all of these thoughts are ridiculous, they still work their way into my mind, haunting my dreams.
I shake my head. “You should go back to bed.”
He chuckles and takes his hand away. “I could say the same for you,” he replies.
I look up at him and shake my head again. “I can’t - I won’t.”
“Maci,” Zayn sighs. “You can’t let your father dictate how you live your life. He’s not even here right now.”
My chest pangs at the mention of the man who torments my life, present or not. “He’s not dictating my life,” I mumble, looking down at my hands.
“Maci, you’ve got to let him go. He’s not here, and he never will be again. You’re safe.”
“Just go to sleep, Zayn,” I say, moving to pick up the guitar again.
“You should too, Maci.”
I brush him off. “Zayn, please go to sleep.”
He heaves a sigh. “You’ve got to sleep some time. You’ll get wired if you don’t.”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” I mumble, setting the instrument in my lap.
Zayn nods and gets up, making his way back to his bunk. “And Maci?” he asks, turning around.
“Niall loves you more than anything. I hope you know that.”
I nod. “I love him. I hope he knows that.” There’s a bit of a pause, Zayn’s gaze on me.
“Promise you’ll get some sleep?” he says after a few seconds.
I sigh and shift on the sofa to get more comfortable. “I promise.”
With that, he huffs and crawls into his bunk, sliding the curtain shut. It’s so wonderful to have people care about me the way that they do. But there are just some things that they can’t help.
I put my hand on the fret board and uncross my fingers. There’s no way I’m going back to sleep.