“Oof!” I grunt as Maci barrels into me. Her arms wrap impossibly tight around my middle and mine land over her shoulders. Her loud sobs echo in the relatively quiet airport. A few people look over, but Lou quickly joins in the hug to muffle some of Maci’s cries.
“Oh my God,” Maci whispers. “I’m so sorry.”
No one says anything for a long time. Lou and I share several glances as we hold Maci tighter, just letting her get most of her tears out. By now the boys’ plane has already taken off for Paris, and there’s no stopping it until it gets there. I can only imagine how Niall feels right now - probably crushed that the girl he loves just left him with no warning. I’m crushed that she decided to stay here. Niall not only lost his girlfriend, Lou and I are losing a good friend.
Maci’s sobs eventually quiet down, soft hiccups replacing the cries that were so painful to hear. Lou, Maci, and I just stand there in a group hug for what seems like forever, when Maci finally pulls away.
“Why does it hurt so bad if I’m doing this for his good?” she squeaks, wiping her eyes.
“You love him, Maci,” Lou says, putting a hand on her shoulder. “You’re giving him up. That’s why it hurts.”
She sniffs loudly and rubs her eyes. “I just want to leave here,” she whispers.
My chest heaves and my eyes prick. This is goodbye for us. “Our flight leaves in an hour,” I say quietly. “We have to stay here.”
“Oh,” Maci replies, her bottom lip trembling. “Well… Then I guess I’ll be off.”
She brushes past Lou and I to pick up her duffel. “Here,” Lou breathes, revealing Maci’s guitar case. “I think you might… Need this.”
The duffel slips from her hands and drops to the ground as she sees the case. Her mouth falls open and she stares at it in both happiness and sadness. Maci’s gaze travels up to Lou’s face and tears brim her eyes. With a whimper she strides over to Lou and pulls her into a grateful hug.
“Oh my God,” Maci whispers. “Thank you so much.”
Lou’s back is to me, but I can tell that her shoulders are shaking with silent tears. I stare at the ground and feel a stream of warm tears stream down my face. Maci pulls away from Lou and turns to me.
“No,” she whimpers, her eyes red. “Don’t you two cry! Ohh…”
She trails off as a pull her into a tight embrace. “Be careful, Love,” I say shakily. “Don’t let anyone take advantage of you. Don’t get recognized, because it’ll be all over Twitter and the news in no time - and Niall will find you because he is stubborn. Keep in touch. And most of all,” I say, pulling back to look her in the eye. “Don’t lose yourself.”
I feel like a thousand pounds has been placed on my chest as I give Lou and Caroline one final hug. After I pull back I pause to look at them for a long time, taking in the two women that have been so wonderful to me this past month. Then I bend down to sling my duffel over my shoulder and take the guitar case in my hand. The only thing I have left of Niall.
I take a deep breath, standing back up and walking past them.
“Wait,” Caroline says, grabbing my arm. My chest heaves and my heart begins to pound. I don’t think I can handle someone telling me not to go - I might listen to them right now.
I turn slowly and wince. “Hm?”
“Here,” Caroline says, pushing something into my open hand.
My eyes open and I look down. A roll of money is in my palm and my jaw drops. “I can’t take this,” I breathe, trying to push it back at her.
“It’s only five thousand,” Caroline says, closing my hand around the money. My jaw drops and she shakes her head. “You’re not leaving without it, and that’s final. If I could, I’d give you more.”
My bottom lip trembles as a tear rolls down my cheek. “Thank you,” I whisper, putting it in my pocket. “For everything.”
Lou kisses my forehead. “If you need anything at all,” she says, squeezing my hand. “Just give us a call, and we’ll be on the next flight to wherever you are.”
“I don’t think I could ever ask anything more of you,” I tell her. Caroline wipes away a stray tear on her cheek, then one on mine.
“Goodbye, Love,” she says.
“Goodbye,” I whisper, turning away and heading toward the door leading outside.
“You better answer our messages!” I hear Lou call after me, and I turn around to give her a weak smile and a thumbs up.
I turn away as my vision is clouded by tears and slide my sunglasses over my eyes. When I reach the door leading outside, I’m greeted by the sight of at least a hundred girls still screaming from the arrival of the boys. Several cameras flash and I duck my head down low to avoid getting noticed, by unlucky for me, all of them already know what I look like from magazines and the internet.
“Why aren’t you with the boys!?”
“You bitch! Niall’s mine!”
“Maci, will you give me Zayn’s number!?”
“Maci, why aren’t you on their plane!?”
I try to hide behind my hair a bit and duck into a GreyHound bus waiting across the parking lot. Paying my fare, I choose a spot near the back of the bus where no one is. The girls’ screams still come through the bus’ walls as the bus pulls out of the lot and onto the road. Tears stream down my cheeks as the last of the camera’s flashes leave my sight and I put my head in my hands.
“Please don’t come after me, Nialler,” I whimper, shutting my eyes.
Maci takes her hand from mine, making me look up. I send her a confused look as she stands.
“Bathroom,” she says. “There’s one just up there.” I nod and turn back to look out the window.
Something is off about Maci. She’s been acting oddly for the past few hours - not really talking, not answering questions, drifting off. She even went to sleep last night! After all that talk about her nightmares never going away, she actually fell asleep. Not that I have a problem with that - I actually got a good night of rest in. But it all just seems… Odd.
“Zayn?” I ask, turning to him across the aisle as I hear the plane’s hatch shut.
“Hm?” he says, shutting his phone off.
“Does Maci seem… off to you?”
His expression falters noticeably, but he quickly recovers and shrugs. “Not anything too big. She seems more rested today than others. And come to think of it - so do you, Nialler.”
“I know,” I say. “She actually fell asleep on purpose last night. That’s what’s got me a bit worried.”
“Why would you be worried?” he asks, furrowing his eyebrows. “This is a step in the right direction, Mate!”
I shake my head. “I know Maci, and she doesn’t just change like that all of the sudden.” I hear the plane’s engines slowly hum to life.
Zayn shrugs again. “I wouldn’t question it. If she’s sleeping again, then I’d let it go.”
My eyebrows draw together. “Yeah, I guess. Something just seems almost wrong about her. Like she knows something that I don’t.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Zayn says, reaching over to pat my shoulder. “Let’s just see how it all plays out.”
I nod and go back to staring out the window as the plane starts to move. My hands fidget a bit - I’ve never been a big fan of flying, but at least Maci’s here to keep me company. Come to think of it… Maci should probably be back by now.
Leaning over her seat, I peer down the aisle up near the front on the plane. The bathroom door is closed, and I only see one flight attendant up there, making sure everything is secure. The plane makes it’s way out to the runway, about to take off as the seatbelt light flashes on. I quickly do my seatbelt and look back down the aisle again. The flight attendant starts making her way back, I assume to take her seat.
“Excuse me,” I say, catching her arm.
“Yes?” she asks sweetly. “How can I help you?”
“My girlfriend,” I say letting my arm drop to Maci’s seat. “I think she’s in the bathroom. She’s got reddish-brown hair, hazel eyes. Have you seen her? She needs to sit down, doesn’t she?”
The attendant’s jaw sets and her eyes grow a bit wider, but she masks her surprise well. “Erm - well - no,” she stammers, obviously lying. “I haven’t seen her.”
“Attention passengers,” the voice on the intercom says. “Please be seated and fasten your seatbelts. We are approaching the runway and will be starting our takeoff in one minute.”
The flight attendant tries to move down the aisle, but I catch her arm again. “I hate to be pushy,” I sigh. “But please don’t lie to me. I know that you wouldn’t let a passenger take off without a seatbelt on. So could you please… Go get her or something?”
My chest tightens as the plane approaches the runway. I don’t want the plane to take off without Maci strapped in safely next to me.
“Erm,” she says, looking around nervously. “I - well-”
The plane lurches into the runway and I begin to panic a bit. The attendant stumbles a bit and plops down into Maci’s seat. I try to look over the seats for Maci, but can’t see her. Where is she!?
“Please,” I breathe, facing the attendant. “Just go get her for me.”
“I - I can’t,” she finally says, looking down at her hands, folded in her lap.
“W-what do you mean?” I nearly shout, getting anxious. “What do you mean you can’t?”
“Well,” she starts, her hands twitching a bit. “She-”
“Attention passengers, please be sure that all electronic devices are turned off at this time. We are now taking off, and please enjoy flying with AirFrance.”
“What do you mean?” I press further, my stomach knotting as the plane gains speed. I frantically peer over the seats, trying to spot Maci but I still can’t.
“She-” the attendant still struggles to get out. “She - she left.”
I immediately stop my movements, staring wide-eyed at the flight attendant as the plane quickly lifts into the air. My stomach does a complete flip-flop and a huge weight falls onto my chest.
“She what?” I ask, not sure I heard what she said right.
The attendant’s expression falters, confirming what I thought she’d said. “She got off of the plane before we left the gate,” she says, wincing.
The plane reaches the right altitude and levels out. More weight seems to press on my chest as her words soak it. She got off of the plane before we left the gate. Is that what she was doing when she said she was going to the bathroom? She was leaving the plane? Leaving me?
“I’m sorry,” the flight attendant says quickly. “I’ve got to go.”
She darts out of the seat and up to the front, leaving me looking like an idiot as I stare blankly at nothing. But I don’t care. Maci left.
She left. Oh my God. Maci left me. My chest heaves and I let out a strangled noise. Tears prick at the back of my eyes as Zayn tries to get my attention.
“Nialler,” he says, snapping in my face. “Niall, what’s wrong? Where’s Maci?”
I let out another choked sound as my throat constricts, realizing what this means. Maci’s not here. She left me. I’m going to Paris without her. I’m going to be hundreds of miles away for her, for the first time in a month. My hands cover my eyes, blocking out any extra senses I don’t need to think.
Maci chose to leave. But why? I love her so much, I’ve never felt this way about anyone - but doesn’t she feel the same way? Of course she does, she said she does. And love means a lot to her, she wouldn’t say it if she didn’t mean it. But then… why would she choose to leave me? Doesn’t she know what this is going to do to me? I can’t live without her.
“Niall!” Zayn shouts, finally getting my attention. I look up at him, tears brimming my eyes and my chest as tight as it could ever be. “What happened?” he asks quietly, seeing what state I’m in.
I shake my head, closing my eyes and wiping away any tears that dare fall. “We… We have to go back.”
I take a shaky breath, unlocking the hotel room door with my key card. Opening it slowly, I let one last tear fall down my face. Setting my duffel and guitar down by the sofa, I wipe it away and pull out the roll of money that Caroline had given me.
I shake my head, drawing in a shaky deep breath. I’m not worth all of this trouble.
There’s a sudden knock on my door, making me jump. I pad over to the door and look through the peep-hole. A man with a notepad stands in front of another man with a large camera on his shoulder. I recognize the type of people they are - reporters.
There’s no way I’m going to open the door - like Caroline said, I can’t get recognized. Niall might follow after me. But the problem is that nearly everyone knows what I look like. Basically, if I walk out the door, people might notice me.
I quietly slip away from the door and sit on the bed, staring out the window. I have a sixth-story view, looking over a big part of Austin. A big city - lots of opportunities to get recognized. Shaking my head, I pull out my phone. There’s a text from Lou and a text from Caroline.
From Lou: Our flight just got called, wanted to check on you before we leave. Everything situated?
I type her a quick reply.
To Lou: Everything is fine. Thank you.
I check my message from Caroline, smiling a little as I read it.
From Caroline: Just wanted to see how you are so far. Everything okay? Lou’s taking it pretty hard that she won’t have a girl to doll-up anymore.
To Caroline: Doing fine. Tell her not to worry, I’ve learned a few tricks from her and I’m willing to try some.
I sigh heavily and put my phone down next to me. I need to do something about getting recognized - I need to make a living, but I can’t do that while worrying about Niall and his fans. But I can’t, really. I mean, it’s not like a can just change what I look like-
“-That’s it,” I breathe, sitting straight up. I throw open my duffel and dig around for the $200 I already had before Caroline gave me some money. I find it and add it to Caroline’s, wrapping a rubber band around it after taking $100 out. That should be enough.
I dig deeper through my bag and pull out a large gray beanie. Tugging it over my head, I shove my hair up into it, letting only the ends show a bit. I stand up and check how it looks in the mirror. My face still looks the same, but I also look a lot different without any hair showing.
I shake the thought from my mind, snagging my phone, money, and key card before slipping out the door and down the hall. I make it to the elevator and tap my foot impatiently as it slowly sinks down to the main floor. The doors open and I jolt my head down to hit most of my face from the people getting on. Hurrying out of the hotel, I look up the location on my phone. Just down the street, how convenient.
I fast-walk down the street, avoid many people’s gazes and weaving in between groups. Finally, I make it to my destination. Sighing, I push open the door and make my way over to the counter. I tug off the beanie, letting my long reddish-brown hair fall to about mid-back. The lady behind that counter looks up and her eyes widen.
“I know you!” she squeaks. “You’re Ni-”
“-No I’m not,” I interrupt her quickly, letting out a nervous laugh. “Common misconception. My name is,” I pause for a moment, thinking of something. Finally, I come up with something I’ve always wanted to name my child - if I ever had one. “Camryn,” I say quickly. “Camryn Stuart.”
“No,” the lady says. “I’m sure you’re Niall’s girlfr-”
“Okay!” I whisper shout, quieting her. “I can’t get noticed, please understand. Just call me Camryn,” I plead.
“Okay…” she says hesitantly, raising an eyebrow. “But why Camryn?” I shrug and she brushes the conversation off. “So how may I help you, Camryn?”
I take a deep breath. “Can you do a cut?” I ask quietly.
“Sure, right this way.” She leads me to an empty chair and I sit down as she puts the cape-thing around my neck. “What length?”
“Short,” I say, not really having thought about it.
“How short are we talking?” she asks, putting a hand on her hip. I think for a moment, then point to my shoulder. She raises her eyebrow. “That’s looking like you’re getting nine inches off, hon.”
I shrug. “It’s what a want.”
“There,” she says, drying the last of my freshly-cut hair.
It falls exactly where I said I wanted it, and I smile gratefully. I look at the ground at the the many locks of hair that were cuts. She’s right, I did get about nine inches off. But I still look somewhat the same - still the same reddish-brown wavy hair, only shorter. Something’s got to change, and I know what it is.
“Can you do something with the color?” I ask, looking up at her face.
“Oh, but you have such a beautiful color right now!” she protests, taking a bit of it between her fingers.
“I just want a change,” I say.
The lady sighs. “What are we talking? Highlights, lowlights, starburst weave, ombre-”
“Full color,” I say hurriedly, and her eyes practically pop out of her head.
“Really?” she questions. “Color all of this beautiful hair? Oh my… If it’s what you really want, then I guess I can… What color are we talking?”
I think about this long and hard, staring at my reflection quizzically. There are so many possibilities, so many things that could look bad, so many that could look good. Finally, I choose a color that will go with nearly anything. Plus, this color really isn’t my thing, so people probably won’t recognize me.
“Black,” I say confidently. “Make it black."