“W-what?” I stammer, holding a torn Maci in my arms.
“I have to l-leave!” she sobs again, squeezing me tighter.
My eyes wide, I have to comprehend this for a moment. What does she mean, leave? If she means going away… Why on earth would she think that? Is someone telling her she has to? Because if they are they’re horribly wrong. This poor girl has nowhere to go! Plus, her boyfriend is leaving tomorrow for a three month long tour! What is going on?
“What do you mean, Love?” I ask quietly.
“I… I’m only h-hurting Niall b-by being he-ere,” she hiccuped, pulling away. Her mascara is in streaks down her face, making her look even more sad. “I h-have to l-leave.”
I shake my head, pulling her to sit on the sofa. “You don’t have to leave,” I say, patting her head. “Niall loves you with all of his heart.”
“But look at him out there!” she wails. “He’s suffering, and it’s all because of me! I can’t do this anymore, I just can’t.”
“Maci,” I say softly. “Niall is just trying to help you. He loves you enough to do that for you.”
“I don’t want him to help me,” she cries. “My heart is breaking, watching him go out there and disappoint thousands of people, all because of me. The boys had an argument last night, and Niall was being awful on my behalf and… I love him so much - which is why I have to go.”
The pieces begin to fall into place. I understand what she’s saying, and it makes sense. But that doesn’t mean I agree with it. She gets way too down on herself - I blame her father and all he’s put her through. Maci has had one of the hardest lives I’ve ever even heard about, and I’m not about to make it any harder by agreeing to send her off.
“You don’t have to go,” I tell her, wiping away some of the smeared makeup. “Where will you go, Maci? Tell me that.”
“I’ll stay here,” she says. “In Austin. I have some money, I’ll rent a hotel room and get a job. I’ll be more useful here than I would be to Niall.”
“Love,” I whisper. “You’ll tear Niall apart.”
I feel her tense against me and her sobs renew, shaking throughout her body. “No m-more than I w-will if I s-stay.”
I shake my head. “Maci, you’ve got to think this through. Everyone here adores you, can’t you see that? You’ve just reached a bump in the road that you can get past.”
She shakes her head frantically. “N-no one s-seems to understand. They w-won’t go aw-way! My f-father has t-taken o-over my m-mind!”
“No,” I coo. “Love, you can get through this.” Maci shakes her head and buries her face in my shirt, renewed sobs wracking her shoulders. Hearing the genuine and true pain in her wails brings tears to my eyes. She really is hurting. I can only imagine what she’s going through right now.
She fell in love with the boy that saved her from her abusive father. Eighteen years of pain built up in her mind… That’s got to wear on you. And when the immediate danger was gone, her mind didn’t know how to process it - it still doesn’t. That lead to the nightmares that continue to haunt her. They’re so bad that she has to stay up, and that alone makes me want to cry with her. But then Niall started staying up with her - stupid, stupid Niall - making her feel even worse when he can’t even perform. Now she’s torn between her heart and her mind, and I can literally feel the pain in her sobs. I can feel the agony ripping through her heart… If Maci thinks this will ebb both of their pain… It’s not the best idea, but I know that I’d do the same thing.
“Maci,” I say quietly, pulling her back to look at me. She sniffs in lets out a strangled whimper, drawing sympathetic tears to my eyes. “Love, you know he’s going to tear himself apart. Worse than you are right now.”
Maci lets out one more shaky whimper. “H-he’ll… He’ll m-make it through. He’s a s-strong b-boy.”
I nod, my insides churning at the thought of this. “If you really think this will help…”
“I know it will,” she answers, squeezing her eyes shut. “I’d rather hear about him doing well in ten years than watch him give up his dream for me.”
I nod again, my chest constricting. I’m going to regret this, aren’t I? I think as heavier tears cloud my vision. “Okay, Love,” I sniff. “I’ll… I’ll help you.”
I feel like a complete and utter douche. There are no other words for my self-hatred right now, and I don’t want to use a lighter tone. Maci wants to leave because of me - I made her think that this is her fault. What the hell is wrong with me!?
I kick myself for even talking to her today as Niall and I walk back to the tour bus. I haven’t seen Maci since she ran off, and I’m afraid that we won’t find her in the bus. She’s probably left, and it’s my fault. I’ve got to do something to fix - or at least make it better - before Niall is torn apart.
I look over to my best mate. Niall stumbles along, yawning his arse off. His eyes are barely open and he mumbles incoherently to himself. My chest tightens as we near the bus door. Just thirty feet away…
“Niall,” I say, putting a weary hand on his shoulder.
His head snaps up and he looks at me with wide eyes, then his jaw sets and he goes back to staring at the ground. I heave a sigh and swallow all the pride I have.
“Mate, listen,” I say, trying to keep up with him. Just ten more feet now. “I just…” The door is right there, Zayn, hurry! “I just want to say that I’m so, so sorry.”
“For what?” Niall grumbles, putting foot on the first stair. Go!
“For…” I trail off as he puts his hand on the handle. “Niall, stop!” I shout as he yanks the door open, revealing-
“Maci?” I squeak.
My head turns up as I hear the first feet on the steps into the bus. I take a shaky breath, trying to compose myself. My talk with Caroline had planned out the whole thing - except I can’t leave until the boys are on the plane tomorrow, or… Or Niall won’t leave. My chest constricts and I take another deep breath to try and relieve most of the tension. It doesn’t work. The door swings open, revealing a tired Niall and a shocked Zayn.
“Maci?” Zayn squeaks, and I inwardly cringe, thinking of the look her gave me during the concert.
Tears threaten to build in my eyes but I stifle them. “Hi, Niall,” I say softly. “Hi, Zayn.”
Niall climbs into the bus and gives me a tired kiss. I wince as his sleepy lips meet mine, shoving back the tears that try to brim in my eyes. Niall gives me a loopy smile and I try to return it, but it just feels like I grimace.
“Now what did you need to tell me?” Niall mumbles to Zayn, who’s still looking at me confusedly.
“N-nothing,” he says quickly, shaking his head and averting his gaze. “Just… Never mind.”
Niall grunts in response and heads back to the bathroom, shutting the door quietly.
“Maci,” Zayn whispers, stepping in the bus and shutting the door. “I thought-”
“-I… I know, Zayn,” I say quietly, trying to get him to stop talking before I burst into tears. “It’s okay. Just please, leave it alone,” my voice cracks at the last word and I can’t help the tears that well in my eyes. Not one falls, but Zayn sees them right away.
“Oh God, Maci,” he breathes, sitting next to me on the couch. “I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry.”
He pulls me into a comforting hug, and I allow one tear to fall down my face. It lands in a spot on his shirt, turning the color a little bit darker. I shake my head, pulling away after a bit.
“Don’t be,” I whimper, my voice shaking with the pain in my heavy heart. “You’re right, it’s all my fault.”
With that I push myself off of the couch, ignoring Zayn’s protest as I run to Niall’s bunk and slide the curtain closed. I cleaned off my smeared makeup earlier, so nothing got on his pillow as I bury my face in it. I inhale the wonderful smell that I don’t - and never have - deserved, feeling my shoulders tremble greatly as tearless sobs consume me.
As soon as I hear the bathroom door open I quickly compose myself, turning so I face the wall. Niall’s soft conversation with himself carries up to my ears and I stifle a whimper. I’ve driven him that far. The curtain slides open softly and I feel Niall’s presence behind me as the curtain slides closed again. His arms wrap around my middle and he pulls me closer into an embrace that I’ve never deserved. My back presses against his chest and I can feel the beat of his heart - the heart I’ve never deserved. I stifle a sob as his lips - the ones I’ve never deserved - press to my bare shoulder.
“I love you,” he mumbles.
My chest heaves. “I-I love you too,” I tell him. “Now… Get some sleep, Nialler.”
“Will you?” he questions half-heartedly.
I wince, weighing my options. It’s my last night with him - probably forever. This time apart is going to wear on both of us - I hope more me than him. I deserve it for causing all this. I deserve the pain of my father for one more night. I think… I think this is the least I could do for him.
“Yes,” I say quietly, burrowing deeper into the boy I don’t deserve.
Niall squeezes me tighter to him. “Do you mean it?”
I wince, thanking God that it’s dark so Niall can’t see the two silent tears that fall from my closed eyes.
“Of course,” I whisper.
“You’re leaving,” Niall whispers, but I can hear him loud and clear.
“Yes,” I whisper in response, stepping away from him.
“You can’t,” he whimpers, tears springing to his eyes.
“I have to,” I say softly, tears flooding my own vision. “I have to, for you.”
“This isn’t doing anything for me,” Niall sobs, tears trailing down his face.
“Yes it is,” I whisper, turning away from him. “You should just forget about me. I’ll only hurt you if I stay.” Tears begin flowing in rivers down my cheeks but I don’t bother wiping them away. They’ll just keep coming.
“How can I ever forget about you, Maci?” Niall asks, desperation in his voice.
“You’re just going to have to find a way,” I squeak, all of my sadness filling my chest and clogging my throat. I can’t find the will to say anything more, so I take the first few steps on the road without Niall.
“Maci,” he says weakly. “Baby, please don’t go. Please don’t leave me. I need you.”
I shake my head, not turning back. I fear that if I do, I won’t have the power to walk away anymore. “I have to.”
That’s when I feel the whole atmosphere change. The feeling gets darker, more threatening. I let out a scared whimper and spin around, revealing something I’ll never forget.
My father’s face on Niall’s body. I cringe, trying to scream, but I can’t. The pain inside of me is too much. The fear, the sadness, the guilt - I’m frozen in place as my father’s face twists into pure hatred.
“Get out of my house,” he seethes. “Get your sorry ass out of my house and never come back.”
I wake with a start, stifling a scream. It’s dark all around me, but I see morning light seeping into the bunk from the edges around the curtain. My breath hitches as I see Niall’s sleeping face, hear Niall’s groggy snores. Then I remember the way my father’s face had melded with his body and the fear it struck in me.
“Oh God,” I whisper, trying to get out of Niall’s arms, but I can’t
His protective embrace is locked around me, holding me in place. Tears spring to my eyes, knowing that even though it’s comforting to have his arms around me, I won’t have him for much longer. I let a few tears fall silently as Niall shifts, subconsciously bringing me closer to him.
I shake my head, straining to hold back the sobs that threaten to escape my lips. I slide my hand around under my pillow in search of my phone, my fingers closing around it and bringing it to my face. I unlock it and check the time - 4:58. I let a scared gasp escape me. I have two hours left with the boy I love. Then I’ll never see him again.
My phone vibrates with a text from Caroline.
From Caroline: Are you sure?
I know exactly what she means.
From Maci W.: Yes.
It takes about a minute for her to reply again, all the while letting me think about what is going to happen today.
From Caroline: Everything is in place. Just like we talked about, okay? Or it won’t work.
From Maci W.: I’ll make sure of it.
From Caroline: I hope you’re making the right decision.
I wince, thinking about never seeing Niall again. But it’s for his good. This is going to help his future.
From Maci W.: I am.
*********The Night Before*********
“I can’t believe she’s doing this,” Lou whimpers, tears in her eyes. “I can’t believe she’s leaving.”
I shake my head, my own tear-filled eyes gazing down at the floor. “She thinks she’s doing the right thing.”
“I don’t think this is the solution.”
“Neither do I, Lou,” I whisper. “Neither do I.”
“Here, I’ve got it,” I tell Maci, taking her duffel - just as planned.
She smiles wearily. “Thanks.”
I smile wryly and quickly set her duffel to the side, just outside of security check. The boys are already too far ahead of her to notice, but I stand in front of the bag just in case. Lou and I are catching a later flight because we have to make a quick stop back in London for Lux, who’s been staying with Mr. Teasdale.
Maci gives me one last grateful look before going through security. I shut my eyes tightly, thinking about what this is going to do to both of them. I wish I could be two places at once, one here to support Maci through this, and one to stay with the boys. But life just isn’t that easy. It never is.
“Caroline?” Lou asks, walking up with sunglasses over her eyes.
“Hmm?” I mumble, my mind still half gone.
“I brought Maci’s guitar for her,” Lou said, setting the case down near the duffel.
I pull Lou into a hug. “She’ll love you for that.”
Lou shakes her head sadly. “What is she doing, Caroline?”
I sigh, my breath shaky. “I don’t know, Lou.”
Keeping it together this far has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. All of my emotions are welled up in my throat, threatening to pour out all at once. I hold tightly onto Niall’s hand for support, knowing that I won’t have him anymore in just a few minutes.
Niall is less tired than he was yesterday from the nights rest, but I can tell he’s still shaken up a bit. As we near the gate the tightness within my chest increases. This is for his good, Maci. I approach the gate with a heavy heart, though my posture says that nothing’s wrong.
“Maci,” Niall says squeezing my hand. I whip around to face him, more anxious than ever, now. “I love you,” he says, kissing my cheek lightly.
I cram the tears down my throat with the rest of my emotions, swallowing dryly before opening my mouth to speak. “I love you too.”
Then I decide to savor one last thing with Niall. I step closer into his arms as we stop walking, looking him in the eye. “I love you more than anything,” I whisper before crushing my lips to his.
He seems surprised at first, but then he responds by kissing me back softly. I think of all the great memories we’ve shared together in this very short span of five weeks. I think of the time when he defended me from my father; the time when he first told me he loved me; the fun time he spent tolerating my clumsiness at the skating rink; the guitar Niall bought me. I think of all the good things, pushing the bad memories out.
It feels too soon that I pull away stealing one last peck before taking his hand and following after the boys in the plane. I find the seat on my ticket, claiming the aisle seat while Niall sits on the inside, closest to the window. My breath becomes shaky as Niall laces his fingers through mine, squeezing my hand softly. I stifle another wave of tears and we sit in silence for a long time.
“Attention, passengers,” a lady’s voice comes on over the intercom. “We will be closing the gate in two minutes. Anticipated departure time will be met at 7:40 AM.”
“You’re going to love Paris,” Niall breathes, leaning in and pecking my cheek. “It’s lovely there.”
My breath catches painfully in my throat and I smile wryly. I count down a long minute, then unlatch my hand from Niall’s. He frowns, furrowing his eyebrows in confusion.
“Bathroom,” I say, standing up. “There’s one just up there.” He nods and turns back to look out the window.
I can’t bear it any longer. I turn, hurrying down the aisle with tears clouding my vision. I’m about to walk out into the walkway when a flight attendant stops me.
“Excuse me, miss,” she says politely. “You’re going to have to stay on the plane, we’ll be leaving shortly.”
I shake my head. “I’m… I’m leaving. I’m not coming.”
She furrows her eyebrows. “What do you mean?”
One tears spills over my bottom eyelid, bringing two more with it. “I’m leaving… I’m leaving him.”
Her mouth forms and ‘O’. “I’m so sorry,” she whispers, pulling me into a hug. “I hope you don’t blame yourself, whatever it is.”
I shake my head. “You have no idea.”
With that, she says a small ‘good luck’ and lets me exit the plane. After I’m out in the walk way connecting to the plane, the attendant gives me a sad smile before the plane’s hatch closes with a final thud, dropping a suffocating weight on my chest.
I can’t take it anymore. My vision is lost to the many tears in my eyes and I take off at a dead sprint back through the gate and back through security.
“Oh God,” I whimper, searching for Caroline and Lou. “Oh God, Niall. I’m so sorry.”