My eyes burn as I try to keep them open against the early morning light. It’s only 5:30 and I’m exhausted. The boys probably won’t be getting up for another five or six hours, so in the mean time I plan to busy myself with guitar. Playing soft and nice chords has proved to be a sort of lullaby, though.
I sniff, forcing my eyes to stay open. I can only imagine how I look right now - partially crimped hair every-which-way, pajamas wrinkled, eyes bloodshot, makeup I’d forgotten to wash off smeared. Basically, I’m a mess. I’ll have to freshen up before they boys wake up to avoid questions. I don’t want to worry them.
I strum an A suspended, wincing as I feel the strings dig into my fingertips. I’ll be thankful the day that my callouses finally form. I go through the pattern Niall showed me; three Asus2 strums, three Asus strums, three D strums, then back to A for three strums. I can’t count how many times I’ve played this pattern. Thirty, maybe forty? I don’t even want to know - I’ve got to keep going to keep from falling asleep.
I heave a sigh and stop for a moment, bring my fingers to my mouth to calm the screaming pain in the tips. Guitar for three hours probably wasn’t the best choice, but I’ve got to stay awake somehow. I’m only running on about three hours of sleep - Niall had taught me a bunch of new stuff for the guitar after the show yesterday. I needed sleep. But I’m not going to sleep. No matter how right Zayn is.
I shake my head to clear it and place my hand back on the fret board. I play a different pattern - four strums on G, four on D, four on Em, and four on C. Niall told me that these are the notes and the patterns for Jason Mraz’s I’m Yours. Humming the melody, I stare out the window. We’re in the middle of nowhere, on our way to Denver. We left late last night, so we should be there in about nine hours.
My eyelids grow unbelievably heavy in a matter of seconds after finishing the song, and I stifle a yawn. I force my eyes open, but this lasts for only about two seconds. When I finally can’t bear it anymore, I check the time - 5:54 - and put the pick and guitar in it’s case. I use a blanket from under the couch and lay down. Welcoming myself to sleep, I close my eyes and slip into unconsciousness.
“Dad,” I say, my voice shaking.
“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.
With a gasp and a quiet yelp, I shoot up. My heads dart to my throbbing head, burned with the image of my father. Curling up into a ball, I rock back and forth, trying to calm pounding heart.
“Shouldn’t have fallen asleep,” I whisper shakily.
I sit with my head against my knees for what feels like a long time, just trying to comfort myself. My father is wrong, Niall loves me. That’s not even Dad, that’s just a part of your imagination. Niall is here, just inside the bunk. There’s absolutely no need to worry.
I lift my head once my heart rate is back to an acceptable level and check the time. 6:03. I groan. “Of course,” I mutter, hitting my head with the pillow I was using. I use the pillow to muffle the scream of frustration I had been holding in. Then, I calmly toss the pillow to the side.
Deciding the morning light hurts my head, I close the blinds and am plunged into darkness. I pick up the guitar and pick and start playing again, tuning out every single thought not on the chords. I watch the clock tick by as well, from 6:30 to 7:00 to 7:15 to 7:20. Time starts to slow down, the minutes seeming to grow longer and longer. All of the chords I play seem to blend together, clouding my hearing and blocking out everything else. I guess I don’t hear anyone come in the room, because a hand on my shoulder scares the crap out of me.
“Oh my God!” I hiss, jumping away from the person’s touch.
“Maci,” Zayn says, his face worried.
“Zayn,” I say, exasperated. “You’ve got to stop doing that.”
“Doing what?” he asks.
“Scaring the bejesus out of me!”
“Maybe you wouldn’t have been scared if you weren’t zonked out,” he says flatly.
I shake my head and start strumming again. Zayn’s hand stops me. “Maci,” he breathes, and something about the way he says it makes me look at him.
His eyes search mine for the longest time. I look away, not wanting him to see the loss of sleep in them. Putting the guitar away, I sigh quietly. I didn’t directly break my promise. I did get some sleep - about nine minutes, but that’s still some.
“Maci,” he repeats. I look back at him. His face is dead serious. “How much sleep did you get last night?”
My mind flutters back to those three and a half hours before I managed to fall asleep and have a nightmare. My father’s face resurfaces in my mind, and I wince. Against my will, he pushes to the direct front, clouding my vision. I start to shake, remembering his cold eyes in the dream.
“He doesn’t love you…”
“Maci!” someone says urgently, shaking my shoulders. My head snaps to attention and I let out a yelp, pushing them away.
“Maci, calm down,” Zayn’s voice breaks through my clouded ears. I look at the blurry figure in front of me. Slowly but surely, Zayn’s face comes back into focus and I let out a big sigh.
“Zayn,” I breathe.
“Maci, stay with me,” he instructs. “Answer my question.”
“Hmm? What question?”
“How. Much. Sleep. Did. You. Get. Last. Night?” he annunciates carefully.
My mouth forms an ‘O’ and I look at my hands, folded in my lap. I blink away the tiredness in my eyes and sigh.
“You didn’t get any, did you?” Zayn says, more of a statement than a question. I don’t answer, and he takes this as a yes. “Maci,” he sighs. “You’ve got to sleep. Don’t let your dreams scare you from sleeping.”
“They’re not dreams,” I say blankly. “They’re nightmares.”
“Even so,” he continues. “What are you running on - three hours of sleep?” He pauses and I nod. “Maci, you can’t be awake 21 out of 24 hours in a day.”
“That nightmare is horrid, Zayn,” I say, tears pricking at my eyes.
“Maci, you’ve got to face the nightmare head on.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Yes, you can.” He places his hand on my shoulder. “You’re strong enough. Your father isn’t here. Let your fears go.”
“I don’t think you quite understand,” I say as politely as I can. I shrug his hand off and stand up. “I have lived through eighteen years of abuse - been through an eighteen-year nightmare. Sure, I’ve been with you boys - safe - for almost a month now. But I don’t know how you can just expect me to ‘let it go’. It’s not that simple.”
I turn around so he can’t see the tears brimming in my eyes. “Everything good I’ve ever had has been ripped away from me by my father. And now that you boys have come into my life - especially Niall - I’m finally happy. Finally safe. But what all of you don’t - and will never - understand is that every day I fear that this will all just disappear from me. That I’ll just wake up in my bed at home and have to live the rest of my life under the abuse of my father.
“He’s put me down - physically, emotionally, and mentally - for eighteen years. He’s been my nightmare, on all levels, for eighteen years. And now that these nightmares have started - Zayn, he’s here again. He’s everywhere. I can’t have these dreams. I won’t. He’s not going to take my dreams away from me, too.”
A steady flow of tears has begun to trickle down my cheeks. Though my voice is strong, my body trembles as I stare at the floor, my hands balled into fists. My posture goes rigid as I feel a hand around my wrist and Zayn walks around to face me.
“What are you going to do?” he questions, wiping away a tear from my cheek.
“I’m simply not going to dream,” I sniff.
“And how are you planning on doing that?”
I take a shaky deep breath, exhaling quietly. “I won’t sleep.”