********************THE NEXT DAY********************
I don’t know if any of you have ever felt like you’re causing the pain of the person you love. I don’t know if you’ve ever felt like dying while looking at them, unbelievably deep bags under their eyes, a yawn every twenty seconds, their hands shaking with exhaustion. I don’t know if you’ve ever had the weight of terrible nightmares added onto that torture. If you have, I’m so sorry. I can only imagine that you feel as horrible - as worthless and pitiful - as I do. If you haven’t - Lord have mercy on you.
I know it’s killing him - staying awake, I mean. He’s running on three and a half hours of sleep, something he’s not used to at all. Niall needs more sleep than the average person, that’s just a fact that I’ve come to learn. He thinks he’s the one that’s pathetic for not being able to stay awake, but that’s not the case. I’m the pathetic one for making him stay up this long.
He has a job to do, concerts to sing in. But judging from the last one, he can’t perform when he’s tired. It’s killing me, seeing him staring off into space, holding tightly onto my hand. Niall sways back and forth with the subtle moves of the bus, but he won’t lay down no matter what.
“Please,” I whisper, squeezing his hand. “Please go to sleep. You need to, Nialler. The concert is in six hours, and you need sleep.”
He stares off for a while before slowly turning his head to me. “Will you sleep?”
I hesitate. “No,” I say slowly.
“Then you have your answer.”
I sigh, checking my phone. 2:04 in the afternoon. The other boys and Paul are all still sleeping, surprisingly. My guilt increases by the minute, watching his eyes grow further and further distant as he gets more and more tired. Niall has the same answer every time I ask him to fall asleep. ‘Not without me’. I’m the reason he’s distant. I’m the reason he messed up at the concert. I’m the reason for his current sleep deprivation. What hurts the most is that I can’t stop his pain without torturing myself with my own fears.
I take his face in my hands. “Please, Nialler. I love you - so much. I’m so thankful that you would do this for me. But it’s time that you stop. Just go to bed.”
“I’ll never stop doing things for you,” he says lazily, placing a sloppy kiss on my lips.
I smile sadly, wishing that Niall were lying. I can’t have him keep doing things for me. It’s tearing him apart. I’m tearing him apart. I have to look away, not letting him see the small tears form in my eyes. Niall doesn’t notice, just stares blankly out the window. I don’t know how much more I can take of this. I would rather never see him again than have him sabotage his career just for me.
Wait - did I just think that? Did I really just say that I would rather never see him again… Oh God. Even though it’s true, I don’t want to think like that. But I also don’t want Niall to fail. Ugh! I just don’t know what to do! I don’t know how to help him without tearing myself apart, but if I don’t do something, he’ll unravel.
“Niall,” I say, squeezing his hand to get his attention. He slowly turns his head, watching me with his eyes somewhat glazed over. A pang stabs through my chest and I stifle a sniff. “Do you really want what happened in San Diego to happen here?”
Niall seems to think for a moment before shrugging. “As long as I’m helping you, it doesn’t matter.”
My chest tightens. He’s just tired, he doesn’t mean that. Niall needs to focus on his job - on his career. He cares. Doesn’t he? There’s no way I would ever get in the way of that, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. Ruin someone’s career definitely isn’t on my bucket list.
Oh God, now I’m rambling, frantically trying to make excuses for myself. Whether I mean to or not, I’m getting in the way - of everything. I’m more tired than I thought. My mind snaps back to the tour bus, Niall barely keeping his eyes open beside me. The corners of my mouth tip down as he attempts to give me a reassuring smile, but it just ends up a clumsy grimace.
“I love you,” he says tiredly, putting a hand on my cheek. I turn my face to kiss his palm softly as a curtain noisily slides open.
“Paul!” Louis’ voice yells, followed by the sound of two feet on the floor. “I’m hungry! When’s breakfast?”
“Lou!” Niall shouts. “It’s two in the afternoon.”
“Okayy… Erm, I want lunch!”
“Go back to bed, Louis,” I hear Paul groan.
“Wake up!” Louis snaps. “It is the afternoon, and I’m hungry.”
“Would you like some cheese with that whine?” Paul growls, sending Louis cautiously out into the front room.
“Actually,” Louis says sassily, turning around to face the bunk area, “yes, I would like some cheese.”
When Paul doesn’t answer Louis ‘humph’s and turns around, stomping to the fridge. He throws the door open and pulls out a Pepsi, popping it open and chugging it down before turning to us. I see his expression falter as his gaze lands on Niall, obviously taking in his horribly tired form.
“You look tired, Nialler,” he says. I wince, not having forgotten the conversation shared between the boys last night.
I see Niall flash him a glare and Louis shuts up. My chest heaves as I see this, remembering how Niall had been toward the boys. He had been so defensive of himself and I, even though the boys were only trying to watch out for him. You’re tearing them all apart, Maci.
I wince as my heart and brain tug in two completely different directions. My heart says stay with Niall because you love him. My head says don’t get in the way of anything anymore. I listen to both, but my mind is screaming louder.
I have to figure out a way get him to sleep without making myself suffer too much - whatever I have to do, I’ll do it.
I’m not sure how much longer I can stand this ‘not sleeping’ thing. I’ll hold out as long as I can for Maci, but I can tell it’s killing her. It’s killing me even more that she thinks the slip-ups are her fault. I make my own choices, and choices have consequences. It just so happens that I chose these consequences.
“Would you like some cheese with that whine?” Paul growls, waking me.
“Actually,” Louis says, and I can practically hear the hand on his hip. “Yes, I would like some cheese.”
I suck in a deep breath while stretching out as much as I can in the small bunk. Rubbing my eyes tiredly, I thank God for the extra time I got to sleep in today. The boys and I were pretty worn out last night, and we have to travel all day today. Checking the time on my phone, I sigh. We have to be there for sound check in just under six hours, and I’m disappointed I woke up so soon. I hope that the boys are enjoying their long sleep.
Then I remember the conversation we had with Niall last night. Why is Niall being so difficult? I mean, I know his girlfriend is having nightmares. For Pete’s sake, she’s not even sleeping! But honestly, Niall knows he needs sleep - we all know he needs sleep, even Maci. I’ve heard her ask him so many times, but he says no to even her.
I rub my temples, not wanting to think about it, but I can’t help but worry about one of my best mates. He loves Maci, anyone can see that. It just sucks it worked out that she was abused by her father, and is now having horrible nightmares that are so bad she chooses not to sleep. I guess half of me had been expecting Niall to eventually figure out and pull a rash move like this - I just hadn’t thought it’d be on our tour.
I roll over onto my side, checking my phone. I reply to an ‘I miss you’ text from Perrie then stare at the dark screen, my mind drifting to Niall and Maci’s unfortunate situation.
The nightmares are bad enough to keep Maci - one of the strongest people I’ve ever met - up at night. Niall is determined to stay up with her, even though they both know it’s a bad idea. To tell you the complete truth, I don’t think Maci is being forceful enough with him. She needs to lay down the line and tell him that the nightmares are her problem, and he needs more time than he has at the time to fix it. Stuff like this doesn’t just disappear with little coaxing. It needs time and a bit of nudging to get it all out. More nudging than we’re able to give at the moment.
Niall thinks he’s trying to help, but he’s only hurting himself and Maci. Yes, I know Maci is suffering. Who wouldn’t be in her position? She’s not pushing it on anyone else - for the most part she won’t talk to anyone about it. Which is why Niall needs to let it go until she’s ready. There’s no point in him staying up way too long for nothing, in addition to being too tired for concerts. We can’t have him like this, it worries us. I hate to sound cruel, but no one wants to see him throw this kind of thing down the drain for a girl that he’s worried about - she’s a special girl, but still.
I tried talking to him last night with the boys, but he obviously doesn’t want to hear it. The only person he really listens to is Maci anyway. Niall’s stance is clear that he’s not going to sleep until she does, and that’s going to hurt him terribly. I have to get him to hear it from someone else, someone that he’ll actually listen to. Suddenly an idea hits me. I whip out my phone and scroll through my contacts pulling up the name. Sighing heavily, I type in the whole message, but can’t bring myself to send it.
You’re doing this for the good of your best mate. There’s nothing wrong with caring. I’m not sure what the reaction I get will be, and I hear a ping on a phone in the front room a few seconds after I send it. I hope I’m doing the right thing by talking to her about it.
To Maci W.: We need to talk about Niall, now.
My phone pings on the couch next to me and my eyebrows shoot up. This is the first text I’ve gotten since I left Florida. I don’t have anyone in my contacts beside the boys, Paul, Lou, Caroline, and… My father.
But I know it can’t be my father. If he hasn’t texted by now - a month since I left - then he won’t, ever. Taking a deep breath, I unlock my phone and my eyes focus on the name on the screen. Zayn. My eyebrows furrow. Why is Zayn texting me? If he wanted to talk about something, wouldn’t he just come in here? He’s fifteen feet away. But I open the message and read it. As soon as I do, my chest tightens.
From Zayn: We need to talk about Niall, now.
I’m frozen in place, staring at the message. We need to talk about Niall. That could mean so many things. It could be bad, it could be good… But by the conversation shared between the boys last night - the chance of it being a good conversation is virtually nonexistent. My chest heaves and my breathing quickens, knowing I’m guilty. They blame it on me. My only friends blame Niall’s state on me. And the worst thing is… They’re right.
I take a deep, shaky breath and lock my phone, slipping it into my pocket. Niall is still sitting next to me, totally zonked out. My eyes prick again but I don’t let the tears reach my eyes. Niall needs rest, and he won’t get any because of me. It’s all my fault, and Zayn knows it too. He’s going to tell me what I already know.
I sigh, slipping my hand out of Niall’s. His head slowly turns to me, his eyes still distant. Cocking his head to the side, he makes a questioning grunt. My chest tightens yet again, but I meet his eyes will a wry smile.
“Bathroom,” I say simply, and he nods.
I get up slowly, not wanting to talk to Zayn at all. The things that he could blame me for are endless. Niall’s sleep loss; Niall’s mess up at the concert; Niall’s rudeness to all of them; My nightmares; My fears. My heart breaks a little at each realization, at each little thing I’m hurting myself - and more importantly, Niall - with. I wince as soon as I reach Zayn’s bunk. I’m out of sight of Niall - as if he can even focus on anything. Once again my eyes prick, but again I stifle the tears. Tears aren’t going to fix this.
“Zayn?” I whisper, fumbling with the hem of my shirt.
I hear him shift and the curtain slides open, making me jump. “In there,” he whispers, pointing to the back room.
I nod and make my way back there, trying not to hyperventilate the whole way. Taking a seat on the couch, I curl up into a ball and hug my knees. I must look so scared - so helpless and weak. I didn’t used to be like this. Before the nightmares, I wasn’t weak. I didn’t have to stay awake to escape my father - in fact, falling asleep was the only was to escape him. And now that he’s taken sleep - one of the most essential things - away from me… I don’t know what to do. And because of this, I’m bring Niall down, along with the friendship of the boys. And his job. I’m getting in the way of so much - I can’t seem to get this out of my head.
The sound of Zayn shutting the door makes me jump. I look up at him and he gives me a tight smile that I don’t return. He knows what I’m doing to Niall. He knows that I know what I’m doing to Niall. And now he’s here to tell me about it, to accuse me of all the things I’m doing wrong. I automatically prepare myself to give him the biggest apology of my life, a promise for change, and a million other excuses. You’re weak, Maci. But as soon as he opens his mouth to talk, I can’t find the words anymore.
“I think you know what I mean when I say we need to talk about Niall,” he says, looking at me. His eyes show concern, but also accusation.
The corners of my mouth tip down and my hands start to shake. “Yeah.”
He sighs and folds his hands in his lap. “He’s not sleeping, Maci.” When I don’t answer, he continues. “You saw what happened in the concert last night. He can’t perform when he’s tired - no one can. Niall also isn’t going to sleep until you do. Which brings me to this: When are you going to sleep, Maci?”
My chest heaves and I avert his eyes, training my gaze on the carpeted floor. “I… I don’t think I can.”
Zayn heaves a sigh. “We’re on tour. You know that. We have this tour to finish, then the rest of Europe for three months. You know that Niall can’t keep this up.” I wince, letting him know I understand. “I know these dreams are tough for you, Maci. Anyone can see that. Based on what’s happened to you - I’m surprised you haven’t gone off the deep end. But there comes a point when you have to know that your actions may be hurting the people around you.”
My eyes prick and my bottom lip trembles. “I… I know, Zayn. It’s killing me to see him like this. I’ve tried so hard to get him to sleep. My heart is truly breaking, seeing him do this for me.” This time I can’t hold back the tears that spring to my eyes.
“Maci,” Zayn says, putting a hand on my shoulder. “If you know he’s hurting, then why don’t you stop this? If seeing him like this is hurting you, why don’t you fix it?”
“Because I can’t make him alright without tearing myself apart,” I say harshly, still looking at the ground. All of my defenses fly up at his words even though I know he’s right. “I can’t get rid of my father. He’s burrowed his way into my mind throughout the eighteen years that I’ve been his punching bag. Now that he’s worked his way into my dreams, I can’t sleep. I just wake up anyway, so why try? Plus, it scares me. Every time I wake up, Niall is there for me. But the thing is, I don’t know it’s him. I think he’s just another trick my mind is playing on me.”
“I don’t want that,” I continue. “I don’t want to wake up and be afraid of the boy that I love. So I stay awake. Partially to escape my father, partially to avoid hurting myself and Niall.”
“But this is hurting Niall,” Zayn says quietly, taking his hand away.
“You think I don’t know that?” I sigh. My breath is shaky and I recognize the feeling of warm tears trickling down my cheeks. “Do you think that I’m oblivious to the fact that the boy I love is sitting out there, tearing himself apart just for me? If there is one thing in this world that I’m not, it’s oblivious. I am so aware that he is putting his job - his life - at stake, that I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. It’s all my fault that he’s like this.”
“Then why won’t you try to fix it?” he asks softly.
“Because the problem will never go away!” I say, exasperated at myself. “Why try to fix something that’s permanently broken? My mind is my father’s toy, Zayn. You helped me figure that out. And he’s using me to hurt the people that have taken me in - have shown me that there’s more to life than being someone else’s slave. I’m hurting Niall, whether I mean to or not. He’s going to sacrifice his job for me. That’s my fault. This is all my fault.” I put my head in my hands, not bothering to wipe away the endless supply of tears flowing from my eyes. I can feel my heart splitting into several different pieces as I continue putting my thoughts into words, knowing every bit of it is right.
Zayn doesn’t say anything for a moment. I hear him suck in a deep breath. “Get the rest of it out,” he says. “I know there’s something else you want to say, and I think I know what it is. Just say it, Maci.”
My breathing stops as he says the words. Yes, there’s something nagging at my brain, itching to get out. I can’t put words to it just yet, though I have a good idea of what the thoughts mean. I’ve thought about it before, but I’ve never really put much meaning into it. Now that Zayn’s asked me to get it out, my mind has taken a deeper look into what this thought truly means.
I take a shaky breath and look up at him. I can only imagine what I look like now - a total wreck, to say the least. Opening my mouth seems like that hardest thing I will ever do. But when I finally force it open, the words feel numb coming out of my mouth. “I’d rather leave than see him like this. I would honestly rather leave now and hear about him doing well ten years down the road than stay with him now and watch him give this up. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect him and his future, and if that means giving him up… That’s what I’d do.”
Okay. I honestly didn’t know that’s what Maci was going to say. I thought she wanted to say that she needed help, and that she would do that for Niall. Leaving him had not been on my mind.
Her answer truly had me speechless. I mean, what are you even supposed to say to that? As soon as she said it though, she took off for Niall’s bunk. Sitting here now, left to my thoughts alone… I feel like a total douche. That conversation wasn’t supposed to make her feel like a piece of crap on the bottom of my shoe. It was supposed to help her realize that she needs to talk about the dreams to help her get over the torture her father put her through.
Actually leaving Niall would tear him apart worse than he’s already come undone. She’s got to know that, doesn’t she? Why would she even think about that? If Niall’s barely sleeping now, he wouldn’t sleep at all until he found Maci, let alone let her leave!
I just have to hope that Maci isn’t going to make a rash decision. I have to hope that she isn’t going to tear herself apart along with Niall. She said her heart is breaking, seeing him like this. What state is her heart going to be in when she doesn’t see him at all - anywhere - because he’s in ruins? If I know him at all, he’s not going to rest until he finds her, if she manages to slip away from him.
Maci’s in no state to talk about anything right now. Plus, she’s got no where to go if she were going to leave. We’re on a bus, five and a half hours from anywhere. I’ll talk to her on the plane from Houston. It’s a twelve hour flight - plenty of time to discuss something like this.
But first we have to get through the concert tonight. And knowing Maci, she won’t sleep. And knowing Niall, he won’t sleep either. I’m hoping he’ll make it through. It scared me yesterday that he was too tired to even sing his whole solo. But now that he’s gotten virtually no sleep… Hopefully he won’t fall asleep onstage.
“I don’t think my face can hold any more powder,” I say to Lou, who’s been dusting foundation onto my face for the past three minutes.
“Close your mouth,” she snaps. “I can’t get an even tone on you, for some reason.”
“You’re making me feel like a bloody moth!”
“Fine,” she says. “I guess if I keep doing this I won’t have time to do your hair, anyway.”
My eyebrows raise. “Yes, please do my hair, now.”
She rolls her eyes and pulls out a comb and a can of hairspray. After about five minutes, she moves so I can see myself in the mirror. “Great as always!” I say, gratefully hopping out of her chair.
“Ah ah!” she says, grabbing a hold of my arm. I furrow my eyebrows as she pulls me closer, bringing her voice down. “What’s wrong with Maci? She wouldn’t talk to me while I was doing her hair and makeup. She seems really down, more than she has been in a long time. She even bursted into tears when I asked how she and Niall are doing. I don’t want to ask Niall, because he just seems… Out of it, you know? This staying up thing is wearing him down.”
I flinch when she asks about Maci, knowing full well that I probably brought her down. The bus ride here had been mostly silent on her part, and Niall just got more and more tired. I don’t know why, but I don’t tell Lou the truth.
“No idea,” I shrug, giving her a sad smile. “Niall’s really worn down, though.”
Lou nods, not pressing me further. “Louis!” she calls, letting my arm go. “Let’s get you done, we’ve got fifteen minutes!”
“We’re like na na na,
Then we’re like yeah yeah yeah.
Always like na na na,
Then we’re like yeah yeah yeah.
No, we can’t make up our minds
‘Cause when we think we’ve got it right
We go na na na.”
We finish our fourth song of the night, the crowd screaming like crazy. I see Niall cringe beside me as he puts his hand to his forehead. My expression falters as I make my way over to him.
“You alright, Mate?” I ask, setting a hand on his shoulder.
“Fine,” he says quietly, recomposing himself and moving across the stage.
I sigh and fall into position with the boys, going into the next song. I think to both Niall’s and my worry, Moments starts. This is the song he had trouble with yesterday, and he was more rested than he is now. I glance over to see him looking pleadingly at me. I nod, knowing what he means. I’ll take over if he needs me to.
I look over to side-stage and find Maci, her face full of guilt and pain. You shouldn’t have talked to her today, Zayn. I turn my head back to the crowd as we go into the chorus. Half concentrating on the words, I look over at Niall to see him struggling to stand. He leans back against a stool for support, but his eyes start to close. Immediately he stands up, trying to keep his balance as the chorus ends.
“S-shut the door,
Throw the key.
Don’t wanna b-be rem-minded,
Don’t wanna be s-seen-”
His voice breaks off as he stumbles to his side. I sit there frozen for about a millisecond before I take up the rest of his verse. I see him lose his footing and trip across a cord on the stage. The crowd screams and Niall quickly stands back up as Liam rushes over to help his, batting Liam’s hand away. The shocked looks on the boy’s faces make me wince. I know exactly what’s going on, now that I’ve gotten a better look at the problem from Maci.
Louis goes into his verse, continuing the song while Niall struggles to stay upright. Against my better judgement, I turn to look at Maci. What I see will never leave my mind.
The stress, distraught, guilt, and pure sadness in her expression makes my chest pang. She’s fallen to her knees, her hands pressed over her ears. Her bottom lip trembles as a stream of tears falls down her face, and I can’t help but think that most of that reaction is my fault. I’m the one who made her feel useless and made her say that she’d leave Niall if it meant that he wouldn’t be like this. God, I’m an idiot!
Her eyes meet mine and I freeze, seeing her guilt increase ten times over. Maci’s eyes hold mine for a few seconds, letting me recognize the regret in her expression. Her eyes suddenly grow wide and she jumps up from the floor, sprinting out of sight. It takes everything I have not to run after her, in fear that she’ll actually leave like she said she would. But I’m forced to continue the song.
I don’t know exactly where I plan to go. Just away from here, away from the stage where the boys I love suffers from exhaustion caused by me.
I don’t deserve Niall - I never have. I don’t know why I ever thought that this would work. Something always gets in the way, nothing good ever lasts for me. I’m the reason he’s suffering. I’m the reason he can’t hold a conversation for more than two minutes. I’m the reason he’s going to sacrifice his job - and that can’t happen.
I run and run for what seems like forever, not knowing where I’m supposed to go. Pain and guilt overtake me, clouding out my vision and sense of direction.
I would honestly rather leave now and hear about him doing well ten years down the road than stay with him now and watch him give this up. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect him and his future, and if that means giving him up… That’s what I’d do.
These words - my words - keep running through my head as the hallway flashes by. The words are the truth. If staying with him means him ending up like this, then I don’t want to stay. I love him so much, more than anyone could ever imagine. I love him enough to let him go.
Somehow, I end up back in the boys’ dressing room. The shock on Caroline’s face when I throw myself into her arms is unmissable. When her arms wrap around me protectively, I let myself go and cry the hardest I’ve ever cried in my entire life. It seems like forever, yet too soon at the same time when my tears finally run out. Caroline’s soothing words comfort me as I hiccup softly. Finally calming down enough to think clearly, I pull back a bit.
“Do you want to tell me about it?” she asks, worry in her eye.
That’s the thing. I have to talk about it. The weight of this burden on my shoulders seems endless, and I’ve forced some of it upon Niall and the boys, and everyone else that’s accepted me. I take a shaky deep breath and close my eyes.
“C-Caroline,” I say, my bottom lip quivering. “Will you p-promise not to t-tell anyone?”
“Of course,” she says without hesitation.
I nod. Bringing up all of the courage I have in me, I open my mouth to whisper the words I’ve been afraid of since talking to Zayn.
“I… I have to leave.”