“You’ve never been late before, Maci,” my father growls, tapping the open beer bottle on the side of his thigh.
“I’m sorry,” I say, looking down. “It won’t happen again.”
“I set simple rules, Maci!” he shouts, making me wince. His shouts always lead to... Punishment. “Rules that aren’t hard to follow! So how the hell do you always end up breaking them? That’s right, because you’re useless.”
Usually, this would put me down enough that I’d be forced to listen to his other insults. But this time, it’s different. I get angry. Being with Niall has done something to me - I’m different. Whether it’s something he did or something he said, I just feel different. I have the courage to ignore my father.
To keep my mind off of my father’s words, I focus on Niall’s face. I focus on his brilliant blue eyes, blonde hair. His mouth that speaks comforting words to me. I go back to when he was humming the songs to me, how I let my emotions pour out of me then. Then I think of him dragging me into the pool, and our heart-warming hug. I like Niall. A lot.
No matter what my father has ever and will ever say to me, I’m at least worth something. Even though I’ve only known him two days, Niall has changed me - made me believe that. Niall... He’s just so... Wonderful! And then I make a mistake. I smile.
“ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME!?” he bellows, and I’m jolted out of my thoughts.
“Y-yes!” I say hurriedly.
“You lying bitch!” he shouts, striding over to me. He grips my damp scarf, pulling on it so that it tightens painfully around my throat and it becomes hard to breath. “When I talk to you,” he hisses. He yanks on the scarf, closing it completely around my throat, and all air is closed off from my lungs. I start to reach for it, to make room for me to breath, but he only smacks my hands away. I start to see black spots and he brings his face close to mine, and the alcohol smell overwhelms me. “You listen.”
He releases me and I automatically scramble to pull off my scarf, gasping for air. I close my eyes, breathing in the sweet, sweet air. I’ve just barely gathered myself when my father’s fist buries itself in my stomach. Pain bursts through me and I groan and fall to the ground, but I don’t do anything more. I’m then hoisted to my feet by my shirt - still clinging to me from being damp - and put face to face with my father.
“Weak,” he hisses, throwing me back against the door. I let out an oof! and grip the door handle for support.
I don’t react fast enough to get out of the way of a blow to the face, in the same spot I am bruised. This time I let out a whimper and my father scoffs. He takes my shirt in his hand and starts dragging me up the stairs, making me stumble several times and hit my shins repeatedly.
“Don’t come out for the rest of the night,” my father growls, tossing me onto the floor in my room.
I crumple in a heap on the floor as my father slams the door, leaving me in the pitch black. My left arm has landed behind my back, but its doesn’t hurt. My right has landed extended from my body and I play with loose strands of carpet. My legs are just sprawled out in different directions and my head bobs to the side. I sit there - I don’t know how long for - staring at the ceiling, my mind numb. If only the rest of me were.
My stomach pounds, sending repeating pangs of pain throughout my whole body. My neck is raw from being squeezed by my damp scarf. My shins throb, the whole left side of my face is tingling. God, I’m a mess. I can only imagine my expression - lost, helpless, defeated. Sure, my mind can tough through it - but I don’t know how much longer my body can. Years of being both put and beaten down with words and fists. It’s tough on a girl, you know?
But this time, I don’t cry. I’ve cried long enough. I need to talk it out with another human being. I told Niall that I need him to support me after things like this, and I sure hope that he still will after what I did.
I manage to collect myself and hoist my body onto my bed. I change as fast as my body will allow into some pajamas [Polyvore] and set myself down on the bed lightly. I sigh, leaning back against the pillows.
I pull out my phone and dial Niall’s number.
It takes me an hour to tell the lads about Maci and I - even with leaving out details. By the end I’m on the verge of tears that I don’t have. The whole time I told the story, Liam’s jaw was set into a look of anger, Harry was running his hands through his hair, Zayn was staring blankly at the wall, and Louis was gaping. Now they’ve crowded around me and we’re in a group hug.
I’m not the one who needs a hug, though. My mind is stuck on Maci. What kind of state is she in right now? Is she alright? Ohh, I never should have left her. Stupid, stupid Niall! You shouldn’t have listened to her - you should be there right now, saving her.
I hope that she’ll still talk to me. I know that she was mad when she told me to leave, but I hope that she won’t stay angry forever. She needs me.
No, Niall, you need her.
Well, that too, I guess....
I nearly jump out of my skin when my ringtone starts playing.
The lads chuckle and I roll my eyes, pushing them away. Louis sits patiently beside me on my bed, Harry and Liam on the other, and Zayn on the floor. I pull my phone out of my pocket and flinch, my chest heaving. It’s Maci.
“Maci!” I yell as I answer the phone and I see the lads’ eyes go wide. “Are you alright? What happened? Do you need me to come get you?”
“Niall,” she says quietly and my heart hurts for her. She sounds bad. It sounds like she is struggling to get the words out. “Calm down, I’m... Fine.”
“It doesn’t sound like it!” I shout, standing. Louis puts a hand on my arm, trying to calm me. The hand that isn’t holding my phone forms a fist down at my side. “I’ll come get you if-”
“No, Niall,” Maci says roughly. “Please don’t. Really, I’m okay right now. I just need to talk about something to get my mind off of it.”
I nod, then realize that she can’t see me. “Alright,” I say. “I’m with the lads now. Do you mind me putting you on speaker? It’ll be a group effort!” Their faces brighten.
“Well...” she says hesitantly. “I don’t really know them. I only know their voices from the interview this morning.”
That’s right... the interview had only been this morning. It feels like it’s been days! I guess that’s how well Maci and I have bonded in these two days. “Well,” I reply. “Then this is a prime opportunity to get to know them!”
“Well... You know I’m shy... But alright.” I smile and put the phone on speaker.
“Okay, lads, say hi to Maci.”
The boys chorus a greeting. When I’m about to speak, Louis shouts out, “Louis the Tommo Tomlinson at your service, how may we go about cheering you up!?”
I hear Maci giggle and feel myself smile. “Hi Louis,” she says, and I can tell that she is smiling.
“I’m Liam,” Liam says in a cheerful voice.
“I’m Zayn,” Zayn announces.
“Harry!” Harry shouts like a two-year-old.
“Hi Harry!” Maci says with the same enthusiasm, giggling.
“These are my band mates,” I say. “The four best friends that I ever could have asked for.” There are several playful awwwhs, including one from Maci. “We get on really well, and if you ever meet them, I’m sure that you’d like them.”
“Looking forward to it,” she says, and the boys make several sounds of agreement. “So what are you boys up to?”
“Currently, we are sitting in Zayn and Niall’s hotel room,” Liam says. “It’s quite messy in here.”
“Oh, that’s not good,” Maci says, sounding disgusted. I laugh. “I don’t like messy spaces. My room is spotless.”
“You’ll have to come organize it for us, then,” Zayn pipes up. “It’s pretty bad.”
“Louis, Liam, and Harry’s room is worse, though,” I point out. “And we haven’t even been here a week!” Maci laughs, but then makes an odd noise through the phone. “Are you alright?” I ask, a little worried.
“Fine,” I hear her whisper. “Just a little... You know what, never mind. I’ll just have to stop by sometime and clean your boys’ rooms. It won’t take long.” The lads and I all let out a loud laugh. “What?” she asks.
“Oh, it’ll take long,” Harry says, still laughing. “There’s a lot of stuff in there.”
“Harry,” Louis stage whispers. “We’ll have to get rid of the mankinis. Wouldn’t want to... freak her out.”
We all burst out laughing, including Maci. When we all calm down, Harry turns serious. “He’s not kidding, you know,” he says. His straight face lasts for about five seconds before he can’t contain his grin any longer.
Louis tackles Harry, Zayn just barely diving away in time, and they wrestle for a bit on the floor. Louis ends up sitting on Harry’s back, pinning him down. We laugh as Louis does his little ‘love bite’ thing, where he makes a loud kissing noise against your neck.
“Remember, babe,” he says seductively to Harry. “I will always wear the pants in this relationship.” Harry makes a bummed out noise and rolls over as Louis gets off, Louis taking up his previous spot next to me.
“What’s going on over there?” Maci questions, making me laugh harder.
“Larry Stylinson just had a moment,” I joke, still laughing uncontrollably.
“Larry Stylinson...?” she questions.
“Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson’s bromance,” I explain after I calm down.
“Oh,” Maci laughs, finally in on the joke. “And what’s-”
She’s interrupted by a loud slamming noise in the background of her phone. I hear her do a sharp intake of breath and shift.
“Listen,” she whispers into the phone. The lads and I lean in, trying to hear what she says. “You’ll have to pick me up when my shift ends at 3 tomorrow. I’ll clean your rooms then.” She sounds like a mother! “I’ve got to go now, but I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Deal?”
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” I ask in a hurry, starting to get anxious. “I mean, really - if you want me to pick you up its no trouble-”
“No, really, I’m fine,” she interrupts me. “Don’t worry, it’ll be alright, I can handle myself. Please try to get some sleep tonight, I know you’re worried.”
I sigh, ignoring the goofy smiles on the others’ faces. “Alright.”
“And Niall?” she asks expectantly.
I hear her giggle. “I love that nickname. It’s so British!” The lads and I laugh.
“But I’m Irish!”
“Oh well, but anyway,” she continues. “Niall, it’s true for me, too.” There’s a long pause, and I don’t know what she means at first. As soon as I do realize, though, she says, “Well, good night, boys!” and hangs up.
“What was she talking about?” Liam asks, and the rest of the boys nod their heads.
“Ohh, nothing,” I say, though my smile gives it away completely.
“She likes him,” Zayn states simply and my face gets hot as the boys laugh and tease me.
“I told her I like her today,” I say, agreeing with him and getting teased more.
Just then, Harry gives us a really big yawn. “I’m tired,” he says sluggishly, as if the yawn didn’t give him away. “I’m going to bed.” He gets up and walks for the door.
“Good luck sleeping, Harry!” Louis yells. “Since we’re having our room cleaned tomorrow, we’re trashing the room with a party tonight!” he says with a mischievous grin. “Aren’t we, Liam?”
Liam gives him an ‘Oh no you don’t’ look and Louis’ face droops as he looks down at the floor. “Yes, mother,” Louis mutters as he runs out of the room, pouting.
“Hey, that’s father to you!” Liam calls, dashing out the door after Louis.
Zayn and I are left in a sort of silence for a minute. I lay back against the pillows, throwing the covers of my bed over me. Zayn climbs into his bed and leans against the headboard. He pulls out his phone and types for a while, then puts it away and turn to me.
“So,” he says nonchalantly. “Maci, huh? You like her, she likes you. Anything happen while you were... Out?”
I roll my eyes at his vagueness, but I know what he’s asking. “No, we didn’t kiss. But... We were in each other’s arms quite a bit.” He smirks and I roll my eyes again, rolling to face away from him. “She’s different, Zayn,” I say, staring at the wall. “There’s just something about her. I just don’t like girls this way this fast. And to know that she feels the same way... That’s something, you know?”
“Yeah,” Zayn replies. He pauses for a little bit and lets out a sigh. “Just... Be careful how close you get to her.”
I furrow my eyebrows and roll back to face him. He wears a look of concern. “What do you mean?”
“Well,” Zayn says, staring at his hands. “I don’t really know how to sugar-coat this, so I won’t. Niall,” he says, looking back up at me. “I hate to be a pessimist, but... If it’s as bad as you say it is with her father, well... She seems strong mentally, but physically, she’s got to be suffering. When she laughed the first time, she was in horrible pain. You and I both know that’s what that was. She was covering it up the rest of the phone call.”
“What are you trying to say?” I ask, sitting up.
“I’m trying to say,” Zayn says with a sigh. “That there’s no way to know how much longer she’s going to last. One of these times, I guarantee that she’s going to need serious medical care. And hearing what you said about her father - he’s not going to be the one to take her. And what if you’re not there either?”
What he says starts to make sense. With all of the stuff that my work entails, there’s going to be a lot of time away from Maci. And what if... I can’t even think about it.
“No!” I yell, surprising both of us. I take a deep breath. “I can’t afford to think like that. Maci is different, Zayn, and I’m not going to lose her.”
“It’s not as easy as you think, mate,” he says, pity in his voice. “What are you going to do when we leave and she stays here? Take her with you? There’s no way she’ll just uproot like that. I’ve heard of abusive relationships before. The person being abused loves the person abusing them - that’s why they stay. And when they finally do decide to leave, the other person makes up excuses, and they’re drawn back in again. She won’t want to leave.”
I throw my head in a pillow, shouting into it until my throat is sore. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I want more than anything in the world for Maci to be both safe and content. But every way I try it, she can’t have both. If she came along with me, she would be safe, though she wouldn’t be happy. If I left without her, she would be content, but no where near safe. There’s got to be some way to convince her, to get her to leave her unsafe home.
I roll back over, staring at the ceiling. “Zayn?” I ask, but don’t wait for a reply. “I think I’m going to convince her to come with me. It’s going to be hard, but I’m going to do it. She’s got to listen to me.”
“Nialler,” Zayn says, reason in his voice. “You can’t take her away from her own home, even if it’s bad. What if you two end up breaking up? Then what? You two will be stuck with each other, she won’t be able to go home. There’s no way her father would let her back in.”
“First of all,” I say, shooting up to face him. “We are not dating. Second of all - like I said - Maci. Is. Different. If we ever do start dating - and I’m going to ask her - we’ll be together for a long, long time.”
“Yeah,” Zayn says with a shrug. “But that’s still no reason to get her to leave her home. What if she gets homesick? What if her father starts stalking her? Or worse, trying to hurt her?”
By now I’m so angry with him, I almost forget that I’m talking to one of my best friends. “Well what the hell would you do?” I growl.
Zayn holds up his hands. He raises his eyebrows and says, “I would do the exact same thing that your planning to do.”
I slam my palm onto my forehead. I put my head in in my hands, between my knees. “Of course you would, Zayn.”