*****THREE HOURS LATER*****
I sling my backpack over my shoulder, turning my phone off so I won’t receive any messages from the lads or Paul, and slide it int0 my pocket. It’s almost seven - I’ve got to go now. The bus is already parked behind the concert hall, and Paul and the boys snore noisily as I make my way out into the front room. Going very quietly, I creep to the bus’s door.
“Where are you going?” the bus driver asks, making me jump out of my skin.
“Uhh,” I say quietly, twitching nervously. “I’m going… I’m going out.”
The bus driver shrugs. “None of my business. Just don’t get yourself killed, lad.”
“Thanks,” I say, letting out a breath.
With that, he turns around and starts reading a book. I take one more deep breath before pushing quietly out door. Just thirteen more hours and I’ll be with Maci.
Just thirteen more hours, and I’ll be with the love of my life.
“Oh my God,” I whisper as I open my eyes. “No nightmares.”
I frantically search for Ryanne. Finding her on the floor next to the couch, a shake her awake.
“Gahh, what!?” she shouts, swatting my hand away.
“No nightmares,” I say, my eyes pricking with happy tears. “I really am free.”
“That’s great, Maci. Now can you please let me sleep? It’s freaking seven in the morning on a Saturday. Go back to bed.”
“Way to ruin the mood,” I grumble, standing up and stretching. “I’m not tired anymore.”
“Wonderful,” Ryanne says, turning over. “Go make breakfast.”
I stick out my tongue before nudging her side with my foot. I step over her protesting figure and walk to the kitchen. Pulling a carton of eggs out of the fridge, I put a pan on the stove to heat up.
“How do you want your eggs?” I call into the living room.
“Sunny-side-up,” Ryanne’s rough morning voice replies.
I smile, sharing a small joke with myself. Sunny-side-up eggs to start a sunny-side-up day.
“Seriously,” Ryanne says, putting a hand on her hip. “We’re going somewhere tonight.”
“Seriously?” I groan, turning the TV off. “Why? Can’t we just stay here and watch a movie?”
“Not a chance,” she replies, dragging me off the couch. “Go home, shower, and dress nice.”
“You are going somewhere nice?” I joke, raising my eyebrows.
“We are going somewhere nice,” Ryanne says, pushing me toward the door. “And it’s not really nice, it’s more of a casual thing. Just dress nicer than sweats and a t-shirt.”
“Fine, fine,” I grumble, gripping the handle.
“Good girl,” she smiles. “Don’t forget, we’re going somewhere nice - ish. Be ready by 7:30. You’ve got three hours to blow me away.”
I let out a laugh as she shoos me out the door.
*********TWO ½ HOURS LATER*********
I search the crowd for Niall, wondering how the heck I’m going to find him with a hoodie and sunglasses on. He doesn’t know what I look like, only making this situation harder. My eyes dart from face to face, trying to find the right one.
People hurry around me, pushing past with luggage, children, animals, and just about everything else. Flights are being called over the intercom every which way, making my head hurt. I’m starting to think finding him is hopeless when I catch sight of a boy in a green hoodie, his head hung low.
I push down the major fan-girl in me and quickly make my way over to him. Tapping him on the shoulder, I stop in front of him and cock my head to the side.
“Nialler?” I ask quietly.
“Ryanne?” he whisper shouts at me, making my smile grow wide.
He lets out a small sigh of relief. “Can we get out of here? I’m kinda claustrophobic.”
I laugh, having already learned this from several different blogs. “‘Course.”
With that I turn around, leading him through all of people. He follows closely, and I can sense his nervousness. It takes all of three minutes to get outside and into my car. I hastily pull out of the parking lot and down the road, the sky already growing darker. Niall pulls off his shades and his hood and I have to stifle a squeal. Turning to me, he smiles.
“You have no idea how much this means to me,” he says.
“All in a day’s work for Ryanne Mae Everett,” I joke, pulling up to a stop light. “Bringing couples back together since last night.”
He turns his head to look out the window as the light turns green, not saying anything for a long time. Finally, I hear him take a deep breath. “I don’t want her to leave me again. I want everything to go back to the way it was before all of her nightmares started. I want to be able to hold her again; to be able to kiss her and tell her I love her again.” He fumbles around in his pocket and digs out something. “I want her to wear this.”
My jaw drops as I look at the item between his fingers. A ring. A freaking ring. What!?
“You’re going to propose?” I squeak, nearly swerving off he road.
“No!” he shouts right away. “Not propose. It’s a promise, not a proposal. I want to spend the rest of my life with Maci. Since I met her I knew she was different, and nothing has changed.”
Okay, now I’m really fan-girling on he inside. Holy crap, this boy is romantic. “You’re just going to drop the bomb on her like that? After you haven’t seen her for almost a month and a half?”
Niall shifts in his seat uncomfortably. “I love her. I want to show her that. Being separated hasn’t changed a thing.”
I shrug. “Okay.”
“Okay?” he asks, seeming surprised.
“Okay,” I repeat. “You do what you gotta do. I’m only here to organize this shindig.”
“Humph,” Niall grunts, sitting back in his seat.
It’s quiet for a bit longer before I speak up again. “Just about ten more minutes until we get there. And just to let you know, she’s changed a lot.”
“Changed how?” he asks, raising an eyebrow.
“She doesn’t look the same,” I reply. “At all. She’s started wearing makeup to avoid getting recognized. Oh, and her hair? It’s short now. And remember how it’s reddish-brown?”
“Yeah,” Niall says, looking at me curiously.
“Well,” I say. “Now it’s black.”
Oh my God. I’m going to see Maci. After a month and a half, I’m going to see the girl I love. I feel almost numb as I stand with Ryanne, shifting my weight back and forth just outside the hotel Maci’s been staying in.
“You’re nervous,” she states, looking up from her phone.
“How can you tell?” I say dryly, trying to lighten the mood. It doesn’t work.
“Relax,” she says. “If you’re freaking out, she’s going to tear herself apart.”
My chest tightens and I kick a rock out into the street. “I just don’t know how she’s going to react. I love her more than anything, and I don’t think I can stand to see her run away.”
“Don’t worry,” Ryanne assures me. “She loves you too - that’s easy to see. She won’t run.”
I scratch the back of my neck, looking down at the ground. “I guess.”
“Alright, it’s 7:30. I’m gonna call her down.”
My chest tightens again and butterflies enter my stomach. I haven’t seen her beautiful face in almost six weeks. Ryanne says she’s changed her looks, but I don’t think that matters to me. My mind is only focused on seeing her. Hands shaking, I take a deep breath and lightly touch the promise ring in my pocket. Tonight is the night.
“Earth to Niall,” Ryanne says, waving a hand in front of my face.
“Oh, what?” I say, shaking my head to clear it.
She laughs. “Don’t zone out on me. I’m calling her now. Are you ready?”
I close my eyes, taking a deep breath. I’ve waited for what seems like forever to see her again. And now that I’m finally going to… I’m at a loss for words. What do I say? I shake my head, clearing my thoughts. Whatever. At least I get to see her again. I’ll just wing it.
“Of course,” I say to her, opening my eyes.
Ryanne gives me a small smile. “It’ll turn out alright, Nialler.”
I nod as she dials Maci’s number on her phone. She puts the device to her ear and I turn around, looking down the street. Quite a few people are out walking the sidewalks, and several cars are on the roads. The evening air is nice, warmer here than in Europe. There’s little humidity, making it that much better.
“Hey girl,” Ryanne pipes happily behind me. “Come on down, I’m ready!” She pauses, listening to a reply. Maci’s reply. “Okay. Yup. What am I wearing?” Ryanne grabs my shoulder and turns me around, studying my outfit. “I’m in a green hoodie and kaki pants. Oh please, you don’t have to change. You’ll look lovely! Just hurry your butt up, okay? Bye, chickie!”
“Oh my God,” I breathe as Ryanne puts her phone in her pocket.
“What?” she says raising her eyebrow.
“I don’t know what to say,” I groan, my chest constricting. “I’ve been waiting to hear her voice for all this time, but I don’t know what to say. I feel like I’m going to bawl as soon as I see her - I’m just overwhelmed with every kind of emotion there is.”
She pats my shoulder. “You’ll do fine. The words will come to you. Now I’ve got to hide!” Ryanne darts into the alley separating the hotel and a small shop. “Put your hood up and turn so she can’t see your face!” she whisper shouts at me, making a twirling motion with her hands.
I quickly do as she says, shoving my hands in my pockets. My hands start shaking as I fiddle with the ring. Shaky breaths escape my mouth as Ryanne peers around the corner of the building.
“Here she comes,” she breathes. “You’ve got this, Niall. Remember, you love her.”
“How could I forget?” I mumble, my chest growing tighter.
It takes all I have in me not to just whip around and run at Maci and pull her into a hug. I just want to hold her. I just want to tell her I love her and never have to see her suffer again. I just want the adorable insecurities of her, I want to give her compliments that she’ll never except. I want to feel her kiss again, be able to put this ring on her finger and know that it means a promise for forever. I just want Maci. Just her.
“Ryanne, I feel so overdressed!” I hear her wonderful voice call out. My throat closes and my bottom lip trembles with emotion. Oh God. “Where are we even going?” Maci says, getting even closer. I can’t do anything but stare straight ahead. She’s right there. She’s right there. “Ryanne, are you listening to me?” Maci asks, and I feel her hand grip my shoulder, sending tingles all throughout my body.
“Take your hood down, it’s warm out here!” I feel her hand out the hood, slowly pulling it off of my head. “Wait, you’re not-”
“-Maci,” I breathe, turning to face her. I take in her beautiful features - yes, her hair has changed drastically. But I don’t care.
Happiness and relief flood my entirety. Just seeing her makes everything okay. The girl I’ll always love stands right in front of me, and arm’s length away. So close. I feel a giant smile spread across my face. Then I see the exact opposite flood through hers.
“Niall,” she chokes, taking a shaky step backward. Recognition fills her face, soon replaced with guilt and fear.
“Maci,” I say again, taking a step toward her. “Please, just let me explain-”
“-No,” she blurts. Her eyes well with tears and her body begins to tremble. “Please, don’t do this. Not now. Just go home.”
My mouth drops open with unspoken words. I see tears cloud my own vision, hurt filling my whole body. Go home? “Maci, please-”
“-No!” she shouts again, shaking her head. “You shouldn’t have come here, Niall.”
I feel my expression crumple and my shoulders drop. My breath shakes and I look at Maci as a tear slides down her cheek. “Just let me-”
I don’t get to finish. Maci takes off down the sidewalk, leaving me standing there like a blubbering idiot. It suddenly feels like every bone in my body has been shattered, my legs growing weak. She’s doing the one thing that I had subconsciously known she’d do all along. She’s running. Ryanne was wrong. I was wrong.
Despite my trembling figure, I do the only thing I can do - something I’d failed to do last time.
I run after her.
“No,” I moan, choking back sobs as I sprint through the people crowding the sidewalk.
This can’t be happening. He can’t be here. Niall can’t find me. I can’t face him. I left him, and it was both the worst and the best decision of my entire life. Leaving him saved him from the sleepless nights and bad concerts - he could continue on in his career. But leaving him also broke both of our hearts. I regret leaving him, but that’s just it. I left him. I don’t deserve to have him back.
“Maci!” I hear him call from behind me. I can hear his heavy footsteps against the concrete getting a little closer with each second passing by. “Maci, please!”
I know he’s faster than me, but I speed up anyway. He doesn’t know the city and I can hide from him. I suddenly dart down an alley separating two stores and run as fast as I can behind the buildings. Once I don’t hear his footsteps, my knees buckle and I collapse to the ground, sobs wracking my whole body.
Why is he here? How did he find me? Niall can’t be here. I can’t face him, not after leaving him like that. How could he forgive me? I left him. I left him! I tore both of us apart because I’m selfish. I’m so selfish I’m disgusted with myself.
I start to hyperventilate, breathing in and out rapidly from the run here. Tears stream down my face but I don’t bother wiping them away. I know there are more - much more - to come. The pain in my chest is unbearable and my hands find my head, lacing my fingers tightly through my hair. Bringing my knees to my chest, I close my eyes and let myself wear out.
My chest heaves over and over, making it harder for me to breathe. My throat has long since closed, my breaths coming out raspy and shaky. Heart pounding, I rock back and forth in self-pity. The weight of the world seems to come crashing down on my shoulders. Why does he still want me? I don’t deserve him, not one bit.
With one final wail, all of the energy leaves my pitiful body. “Niall,” I whimper weakly. “I’m so, so sorry.” There’s no point for me to say anything at all - he’s not here to hear it. I simply slump over, waiting for the pain of my head hitting the cold, hard concrete.
But it doesn’t. Comforting arms wrap around me, pulling me closer. “Maci,” Niall breathes.
“No,” I moan, trying to push him away. I can’t, though - there’s no energy to fight back.
“You have nothing to be sorry about,” Niall says, stroking my hair in the comforting way he always used to.
“I have everything to be sorry about,” I whimper, trying again to push away - but I only feel myself being pulled closer to him.
“Shh,” I says. “I need you to listen to me.” He puts a finger under my chin and tilts my head up to look into his eyes. “Will you listen to me?”
I let out a small whimper, tears renewing in my eyes. I nod anyway, the feel myself being pulled closer again. The boy I love is right here, yet just out of my reach. Nothing he can ever say will take away the guilt haunting me. I don’t deserve any comforting words I know he’s going to say to me. I don’t deserve to be in his arms right now. I never have. And I don’t deserve to be loved by him.
“Maci,” he says, squeezing my shoulders a bit. “Please, just listen to me. I know why you left. You thought you were helping me. But that’s far from the truth. You leaving hurt me in ways that I can’t describe.” My chest tightens again and another few tears roll down my cheeks. “I was broken for those five - almost six - weeks. I carried on, but I had nothing to carry on for. Maci, you’re the reason I carry on. You’re my everything, and I have nothing if I don’t have you.”
I can’t speak. I just continue to cry, my whole body trembling. There are no words to describe the swirling emotions throughout my mind. Fear, regret, guilt, shame, sadness, heart broken. But there are also others - relief, comfort, love. Why? I have no idea.
“Every day,” Niall continues, his embrace tightening. “Every single day I tried to find you, but I couldn’t. Every single day I sent you those messages, in hopes that you might just reply one day. I meant every single word of those messages, and that still holds.”
He pulls back to look me in the eye. “Don’t you dare blame this on yourself. This whole thing? Sure, you may have left. But that doesn’t change the fact that this in it’s entirety is not your fault. Since I met you, all you’ve wanted to do is please everyone else. You didn’t want to upset anyone because you were afraid that what happened with your father would happen with us.”
I wince at his words. They’re so true, yet they hurt so bad. My sobs start to turn into hiccups and Niall brushes a piece of my impossibly dark hair behind my ear.
“And up until the day you left, you were just trying to make everything right. You thought leaving would help me, did you not?” I nod my head shakily, looking into his brilliant blue eyes. “Well I’m here to tell you that it’s time to do just one damn thing for yourself.” His expression falters a bit and I see a small amount of fear run across his eyes. “Maci? Do you love me?”
The weight of the question is impossibly endless leaving his lips. My lower lip quivers as I contemplate my answer. What do I tell him? Lie and tell him no, breaking both of our hearts again? Or tell the truth and be selfish.
“Don’t lie to me, Love,” Niall says, tilting my chin up to look him in the eyes. “Please don’t lie to me.”
And just like that, I cave. “Of course I do,” I whisper. “I’ll never stop loving you.”
Niall’s eyes light up at my words, and he leans in to kiss my lips. They meet mine and I immediately melt, feeling the touch of the pair of lips I’ve missed endlessly. He kisses me almost cautiously, as if I might break if he pushes too far. Dismissing his fears, my arms snake around his neck as if by habit and his find their way around my waist. Oh, how I’ve missed him. I’ve missed everything about him, and the full realization hadn’t really hit me until now. How did I ever survive those long weeks without him?
I pull away, searching for air. Closing my eyes, I hum a bit, thinking about what has just happened. I think I just got my Nialler back. I furrow my eyebrows in disbelief. I can be so horribly selfish sometimes. But this isn’t only for me. This is for Niall as well. This will make both of us happy, as long as I don’t get in the way.
“Maci?” Niall whispers. I open my eyes to look at his handsome face, taking in the boy that I fell in love with. I want to spend the rest of my life with him.
“What is it?” I ask quietly. Suddenly, he grips my waist and hoists both of us to our feet. “What-”
“-Please,” he says, digging into his pocket. “Just let me do this one thing.” I nod, then draw my eyebrows together as he grasps something in his pocket, pulling out a closed fist. I watch his face carefully, wondering what he’s doing. Then he gets down on one knee.
He gets down on one knee.
I stumble back, my chest heaving. Niall’s hand catches my wrist softly, steadying me a bit. “Niall,” I breathe, my throat tightening. Is he proposing? “Niall, you can’t-”
“-I’m not asking you to marry me,” he chuckles, lacing his fingers with mine.
“-Just hear me out,” he says quickly. I nod and he takes a deep breath. “I’m not asking you to marry me. I’m asking you to make a promise.” He opens his free hand, showing me what he’s holding. My hand flies to my mouth as I catch sight of the beautiful ring in his palm. “I love you more than anything, Maci. I love you for you, no matter what you’ve done or what’s been done to you.” Tears fill my eyes and I let out a strangled cough. The emotion filling me is almost too much. “Please, be with me forever. Don’t ever look back. Just close the door and throw away the key.”
I don’t say anything - I can’t. My throat is sealed tight and my vision is clouded with tears. Niall is asking me to make him a promise - one that I’ve broken, not even two months back. He loves and trusts me that much. I love and trust him in the same way, more than even I can understand. But I don’t trust myself. Who’s saying I won’t just leave again as soon as things get tough? This is a promise to stay with him through thick and thin. I’ve broken it before.
But not this time.
I don’t say anything. I only fall into Niall’s arms, tackling him to the ground.