“She what?” Paul asks, his eyes wide.
“She stayed in America,” I reply, my hands shaking. “We have to go back.”
“Wait,” Paul says, rubbing his temples. “You mean to tell me that your girlfriend just left you, and you want to go back?”
That feels like a dagger in my chest. “I have to,” I say harshly, my bottom lip quivering. “I love her with all of my heart, I’m not going to let her slip away this easily.”
“Niall,” he sighs, patting the seat next to him. “Let’s think about this for a minute.”
I shake my head, keeping my balance as the plane hits a bit of turbulence. “There’s nothing to think about. I’m going back for her.”
“You can’t,” Paul says. “As soon as we get into Paris you boys have a signing and then a concert that night. Then the rest of the tour. It’s not possible to go back.”
“I don’t think you understand,” I hiss, clenching my fists. “I love her, and why she stayed I have absolutely no idea. But I’m going back for her because I have to.”
“You don’t even know where she is,” Paul says roughly. “We’re two hours into the flight, she could be halfway across Texas by now, and we can’t get off this plane for another ten hours. Then, if you were to go back, that would take another twelve hours. Twenty-four hours total, Niall. She could literally be halfway across the country by then. In either direction.”
“I don’t care,” I reply, crossing my arms in front of my chest.
“Everyone else does, Niall. Don’t do this to yourself. Don’t go back to find nothing.”
“Then what the hell am I supposed to do?” I whimper, plopping down next to Paul. “I can’t just sit here wondering why in the world she left me. I love her with all of my heart - I need to know why she didn’t stay with me.”
“Let’s not talk about this now,” Paul sighs, setting a hand on my shoulder.
I shrug him off. “When are we supposed to talk about it?” I moan, putting my head in my hands. “I can’t live without her, Paul.”
“Niall,” he says quietly. “I think you’re going to have to.”
“There you are,” the lady says, taking the last of my hair out of the foil.
My jaw drops as she spins my chair around to face the mirror. My hair falls at my shoulder - and it’s pitch black. “Oh my God,” I say, my hand covering my mouth.
“I told you that you’d look different,” she tsks, shaking her head. “That beautiful red-brown is gone now. Lucky for you, any type of hair color could fit you. But it’s actually super hard to recognize you anymore. How will Niall know who you-”
“-That’s kinda the point,” I say quietly.
“What do you mean?” she asks, raising an eyebrow.
“Nothing,” I say quickly. “Thank you for doing my hair.”
“You’re welcome, I guess.”
I let out a long breath as I stare at my reflection in the mirror. Adding another stroke of mascara to each eye, I blink uncomfortably. I’ve never put this kind of makeup on by myself before. How women wear it on a regular basis, I have no idea.
I put a bit of eyeliner on and pull back to look at myself. Not as good as what Lou does, but at least I look different. A lot different. The ends of my soft black hair tickle my shoulders and I brush through it once more. Shaking my head, I exit the bathroom and collapse onto the bed. How will I ever get a job? I haven’t had a wide experience beside the pet shop, and I didn’t see any of those on my way through the city. Sighing, I roll over to stare at my guitar.
“That’s got to be worth something,” I whisper, tears brimming my eyes.
I walk over and take it out of the case. Picking up the pick, I take a seat on the bed and start strumming a random chord. Closing my eyes, I think of all the memories this guitar holds in its short time with me - with us. I can practically still feel Niall’s hand gently guiding mine to press down on the right strings, telling me which ones to strum.
Taking in a shaky breath, I dab up a tear brimming in my eye. I don’t want to part with it - the loss would be too much for me to bear on top of Niall. You left him, Maci. Yeah, and I regret it already.
I sniff softly, playing a string of chords to form a familiar pattern. Remembering how Niall’s fingers played the chords for Everything Has Changed, I inhale deeply. I can’t find the will to sing the verses, remembering Niall’s reaction to my voice-
“That’s it,” I whisper, sitting up straighter.
Singing. That’s what’ll get me through. Niall and the boys said I have an amazing voice - and coming from them, I’d say that was a big accomplishment. I’ve got to be worth something. I won’t have to get rid of the guitar - I’ll just learn songs to play.
The idea makes me smile, despite the unreliability of it. I mean, who’s to say for certain I’ll make anything, anyway? But if it means I get to keep my guitar, then I’ll try for it. I rush over to the 6th story window and peer down on the streets, looking for a town square or something of high people trafficking. The I spot it, just down the block.
It’s a suitable area, quite cute actually. There is a ring of trees around a collection of six park benches, a walkway going through the middle. Not many people are on the benches, but quite a few are walking through. I hurry from the window and to the guitar, putting it in its case. It’s only noon. I’ve got all day.
I quickly latch the case and snag the keycard on my way out the door.
The walk is shorter than I expected. It takes me maybe three minutes to get down to the park and set the guitar in my lap, leaving the case open and pointed toward the passing people. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the few movies that I was allowed to watch, it’s that you always have to start somewhere, and people will follow. I toss a five dollar bill into the guitar case and sit back in the bench.
Taking a deep breath, my fingers shift on the fret board to for a G chord. I strum softly, making the nice chord sound quietly. Then my fingers for a D and I strum that quietly as well, followed by an E minor and a C chord. This song is one of the first that Niall taught me - I know all the words and the strumming pattern is surprisingly easy. Four strums on each note, muting the chord after every strum. I play this, staring down at my constantly moving fingers as my strums become less quiet. Not looking up to see if people are watching, I open my mouth to sing the words - but no sound leaves my throat.
Come on, Maci. Do this or you won’t be able to live on your own. Get over your fear - Niall and the boys think you’re amazing. Just reach out of your comfort zone. Do this for yourself - do this for Niall.
With that though, I find the courage to open my mouth.
“Well you dawned on mE
And you bet I felt it.
I tried to be chill
But you’re so hot that I melted.
I fell right through the cracks.
Now I’m tryin’ to get back.”
I’m Yours, thankfully, is a fairly simple song, both melody and word-wise. I carry throughout the rest of the song, not looking up a single time. For some reason, I’m afraid that people aren’t watching, and I’m making a fool of myself - but at the same time, I’m afraid that they are watching.
Strumming the last note of the song, I suck in a long breath. There’s the sound of a couple claps that make me jump, and my face turns red as I look up at the few people that’ve come to watch. A couple looking to be in their mid-forties sits on a bench across the way, smiling at me. An older woman has stopped in the middle of the sidewalk and turned herself to face me, a curious look on her face.
“That was wonderful,” an old man sitting on the bench beside mine says to me. He tosses a dollar into my guitar case, making my face glow a brighter red. “Could you play another?”
I nod, sucking in a deep breath. My fingers find the A minor chord and I strum lightly, trying to recall the somewhat more difficult fingerings of these chords. As soon as I get comfortable changing from A minor to F, from F to C, from C to E minor, then back to A minor, I go into the first verse.
“If I had to
I would put myself right beside you.
So let me ask
Would you like that, would you like that?
And I don’t mind
If you say this love is the last time.
Just let me say
That I like that, I like that.”
The chorus of The Diary of Jane comes easy to me, both vocally and instrumentally. For some reason this song draws more emotion out of me than I would like, my voice growing louder and thick with feeling.
“Something’s getting in the way.
Something’s just about to break.
I will try to find my place
In the diary of Jane,
So tell me
How it should be.”
My voice in the bridge is laced with emotion, unintentionally allowing my voice to grow even louder and - I’m sure - carry throughout the small park.
“Desperate, I will crawl.
Waiting for so long.
There’s no love.
Die for anyone,
What have I become?”
The song lasts for about a minute more, and I open my eyes hesitantly as the last chord fades out. A few more people have gathered, staring at me either curiously or with smiles. I see that several more dollars have been placed in the guitar case, making me smile.
“How about another?” a woman asks politely, holding her small boy’s hand in hers.
I look over to the child, smiling widely. His cheeks turn rosy as he shyly smiles back, hiding behind his mother’s leg a bit.
“Is there something he wants to hear?” I ask, looking back up at the woman. The corners of her mouth tease upward and she crouches down, whispering to the boy. I see his eyes widen and his smile grow. He whispers something back to her, and she nods. Standing up, she turns to face me.
“Could you play Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day?” she asks kindly. “It’s my son’s favorite.”
I close my eyes for a minutes, running through the song in my head. I know all the words, but the chords could prove a problem. Going from memory, I softly strum a few chords in a sort of trial-and-error. My fingers eventually find the right ones, and I open my eyes to look at them again.
“Of course,” I say with a smile.
The little boys gasps and hops up and down, tugging on his mother’s sleeve and smiling like crazy. This coaxes my smile even wider, chuckling a little as I see the woman share an equal excitement for the sake of the boy. He looks back expectantly as a few more people stop to see what others are watching - me. Taking a deep breath, I carry into the first verse.
“I walk a lonely road
The only one that I have ever known.
Don’t know where it goes,
But it’s only me and I walk alone.”
My fingers find each chord as I quickly switch back and forth, watching the happiness on the boy’s face increase as I get further into the song. Two or three more dollars are placed into my guitar case, creating a small pile in the middle of the body indentation. I smile, singing the last few words for the boy. As I finish, he hops up and down even more excitedly, squealing to his mother while tugging on her shirt. She beams down at him and pulls a bill out of her purse, handing it to the child. As she whispers something in his ear his face lights up. He shyly trots over to me and sets the bill down gently in my case.
“Thank you, miss,” he says sweetly, his cheeks a rosy color.
“You’re always welcome,” I reply.
His mother calls him back and he takes her hand, skipping away happily. My heart swells, seeing how happy I’ve made him. I’m making money doing something I’ve always wanted to do. Just like Niall does-
No. I won’t think about him. My eyes prick as I think about earlier today - not four hours ago I left the boy I love. But I can’t think about him now. I’m singing for the people who’ll listen.
“Any more requests?” I ask quietly, and a few hands go up.
I sigh, shaking the last of the moisture out of my short hair. It seems so different - almost wrong - to not feel my previous waves gently brushing my back. Nine inches is what she cut off, and I had let her! I wasn’t thinking, and now I have shoulder-length black hair.
But I also don’t want to get recognized. The last thing I want is for Niall to find me. I love him, but me being near him is only getting in the way. Of everything.
I put on less eyeliner and mascara today than I did yesterday, just because I can barely stand it. My quiet hums are interrupted by a large yawn - I still haven’t slept since before Niall left. No matter how much I want to fall asleep, I can’t let my father get to me. And from the last nightmare - Niall is part of the horror, too.
Brushing out the last of the tangles in my hair, I sigh heavily. At least I’m away from my father. At least I’m not getting in the way and not making Niall doing anything he’ll regret.
My phone buzzes wildly on the dresser, making me jump. On my walk over the phone vibrates four more times. I pick up my phone, seeing several missed calls and texts that make my chest heave.
From Nialler;) : Where are you, Love?
From Nialler;) : Maci, please. Tell me where you are. I love you.
From Nialler;) : I can’t live without you. Please, where are you? I love you.
From Nialler;) : Are you safe? Please, just let me know if you’re alright. I love you.
From Nialler;) : I’ll never understand. But please, I just want you to know that I’ll always love you.
And just like that, I can’t breathe.
All the emotional pain that I’ve been holding back crushes me, my chest constricting. I stumble back, falling onto the bed as my phone drops to the ground. My head falls into my hands as tears cloud my vision. I shouldn’t have left. But if I hadn’t, there’s no telling how bad it would have gotten for Niall. And me.
My phone buzzes again, making me jump.
From Caroline: How are you, Love? Doing okay so far?
To Caroline: Yes.
No. Not at all. Yesterday, things were looking up. Niall hadn’t talked to me, my mind had strayed from him for a while. But I now realize that I’d forgotten one thing. Niall still has my phone number. I can’t answer him. I don’t think my heart - or his, for that matter - could stand it.
Wiping away a stray tear, I set my phone back on the dresser. Taking a deep breath, I pick up my key card and my guitar case and head out the door.
“You can never say never
While we don’t know when
But time and time again
Younger now than we were before
Don’t let me go
Don’t let me g0
Don’t let me go
Don’t let me go.”
There are a few claps as I finish the song. It’s nearly four o’clock - I’ve been out here since ten, just taking song requests. There’s a pile of dollar bills in my case, and a few people have thrown in fives, some even tens.
“Any more requests?” I ask, readjusting on the bench. “I have one more song in me.” A girl in her teens who’s been here for quite a while raises her hand. I smile at her. “What would you like to hear?”
“Well,” she says shyly. “Could you do Everything Has Changed by Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran?”
My face falls and my chest heaves. That’s the song Niall and I first sang together when he had just started teaching me guitar. The song had been a wonderful choice for our voices, and singing with him had been amazing. I just don’t think that I can replicate it without breaking down.
“Oh,” she says, a little surprised at my reaction. “I’m sorry, if you can’t that’s fine. I didn’t mean to-”
“-No,” I interrupt her, shaking my head. “It’s fine. I can do it.” The corners of my mouth tip down as I strum the first chords of the song. My voice shakes a bit as the words leave my mouth.
“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.”
All of my effort is going into keeping my voice level and my expression steady. With every new word my chest tightens, making it harder and harder for me to sing. Thankfully no one notices, and I finish the song without incident. The girl beams and throws a couple dollars in my case, then walks away. As I put my guitar back in the case the small crowd disperses, leaving me to pack up and walk back to the hotel.
The whole way I’m crushed by how much the song means to me, no matter how small the reason. As I enter the front door of the hotel, I realize just what leaving Niall is going to mean for me.
Leaving Niall means no support anymore. Leaving means left alone to deal with problems that will become so much harder without someone to help you through. Leaving means breaking both mine and his heart. Leaving means walking away from everything Niall and I had; all of the laughs, the sweet moments, the ‘I love you’s, the kisses, comforting embraces, assurance. But most of all, leaving means never loving anyone as much as I love him - ever again.
I fumble with the key card and finally slide it into the lock. Throwing the door open, I slide inside the room with just enough time to set down my guitar, close the door, and sprawl out onto the bed before the tears come.
As I struggle for breath, they flow down my cheeks and soak into the pillow, leaving dark stains from my makeup. But I don’t think about that. I can only think about Niall right now. It seems like I’m never going to forget him - and honestly, I don’t want to.
This is going to be an impossibly long rest of my life.