“This is so wonderful,” I say, biting into the chicken Niall hands me. “Where did you get this?”
“It’s from Nandos,” he says with a chuckle. “My favorite.”
“Well it might just have to be my favorite too,” I tell him honestly, making him chuckle again.
I look around at the beautiful park we’re in and play with the edge of the plaid blanket we’re sitting on. The whole scene is cliche, yet I love it anyway.
Oh God. Not again.
The tree overhead provides some shade from the powerful sun, and the smell of blooming flowers fills the air. I set down the piece of chicken and wipe my hands off with a napkin.
“I love you,” I tell him, and he takes my hand.
“Maci,” I hear someone growl behind me, and Niall’s face twists into one of confusion and anger.
My stomach drops as I recognize the voice. As if on cue, the whole sky darkens a shade and the soft wind stops blowing. The smell of flowers disappears and is replaced by the smell of my own fear. Oh God. Oh no.
I start to shake with fear, my stomach knotting like crazy. Why is he here? What does he want?
I release Niall’s hand and slowly turn as I stand, coming face to face with my father.
“Dad,” I say, my voice shaking.
I take in his tall form. It feels like he’s gained six inches, now towering a full foot above me. He’s wearing all black, only making his aura darker.
Why does he always have to invade my dreams!?
I don’t smell any alcohol from him - that means he’s sober. Usually when he’s sober he apologizes, but I sense no sign of remorse in the way he’s glaring at me.
“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.
I cringe, the pain in my chest returning. Where’s Niall? Where is the boy I love? Oh my God. What’s going to happen!?
“I think it’s about time we finish what we started, huh Maci?” he hisses.
I don’t even bother turning around. Instead, I make a mad dash for any place away from here. Away from him. I hear his throaty laugh behind me.
“You can’t run from me Maci. I’m everywhere.”
My chest heaves and my head whips back to look behind me. But what I see - or more like what I don’t see - makes me stop dead. My father is gone. Just like Niall had disappeared, my father is gone. I’m not convinced yet, though. I have to go find Niall - now.
Still looking back, I take a full stride before connecting with something. I stumble back, trying to gain my balance again as I look at what stopped me. Lo and behold, my father has impossibly reappeared in front of me.
“Like I said, Maci,” he says, grabbing my forearms roughly. “You can’t run from me.” I let out a whimper and my bottom lip quivers. Tears cloud my vision but I don’t dare let one fall.
“Everywhere you go,” he continues, his eyes boring into mine, “I’ll always find you. There’s no where that you can go to be free of me. And Niall can’t help you. Not now, not ever.”
I let out a blood-curdling scream as my father pushes me to the ground, straddling me so I can’t get up.
I wake up with a sharp yelp, pushing myself off of someone in the darkness. Their arms fall limply from around me and I shoving myself away, across the room. My back hits the far wall and I sink down to the floor as the person on the couch sits up.
“Wha-” they groan, rubbing their head. “Maci, what’s wrong?”
“Niall,” I breathe, curling into a ball. My heart pounds fast and my hands shake.
“Maci,” he says, his voice thick with sleep. “What happened?”
“I… I…” I struggle for the words, my own mind sluggish from having just woken up. My reaction wasn’t conscious - more like a instinct.
“You can tell me, Love,” Niall whispers, walking over clumsily as the bus shifts slightly under his feet. “It’s okay.” He wraps his arms around me and pulls me close.
“I… I had a nightmare,” I manage to say, my brain just recognizing the thought.
I don’t know why I’m not crying. Usually, my initial reaction is to cry out of fear - cry until my mind is sure that the threat is gone. But now, this is not the case. Instead, I feel a dull fear inside, along with distress and tiredness. Not a sleepy tired - the type of tiredness that comes with repetition. I’ve had dream after dream of this - this same scene - over and over, and it’s getting exhausting. The distress and fear only add to it.
“I’m sorry,” Niall says, pulling me tighter to his chest. “I didn’t know you would have a nightmare like that.” He turns his head away. Lowering his tone so I can barely hear his next words, he says, “I should have never turned that damned thing off.”
Huh? “What do you mean?” I question slowly. “Turn what off?”
His head turns back to me, his eyes wide and apologetic. “Uh…” he hesitates, scratching the back of his head. “That’s not important.”
“Yes it is, Niall,” I say, pushing back to get a better look at his face in the dim lighting.
He grimaces and the corners of his mouth tip down. “I… Iturnedyouralarmoff.”
I don’t understand what he said one bit. My mind isn’t working fast enough right now to decipher what the blurb means. “What?” I ask, furrowing my eyebrows.
“I turned your alarm off, Maci.”
I simply stare at him, realizing that my alarm had not woken me up before I started dreaming. Positive I had set it, I push away from him and to the couch where my phone sits. “Maci,” he says, getting up. “What are you doing?”
I don’t answer as I unlock the phone. I open the alarm app to find what I’d subconsciously been expecting - the alarm to be turned off. My mind goes numb with thoughts as I slowly lock the phone and set it down gently on the couch.
Niall knows about my nightmares. He knows that I can’t fall asleep for longer than my alarm. He knows that my dreams torment me. He knows that they’re the reason I’ve been staying up. He knows that my father is still taking control of me. He knows.
So why would he open me up to them?
“Maci,” he pleads, still sitting where I’d left him. “Please say something.”
It takes a few second, but I finally get my tired - yet wide awake - mind to come up with something to say. “Niall, you know that I can’t handle them,” I say, my hands beginning to shake at my sides. I don’t say exactly what, but I can tell that he knows what I mean because he winces noticeably.
“Maci,” he says, standing unsteadily because of the bus’ motion. “I didn’t mean to-”
“-Niall, you knew,” I interrupt him. “They happen every time I fall asleep.”
“I- I just-” he stammers, lacing his hands behind his neck and looking down at the ground. “I just wanted you to get some more sleep.”
“I can’t get any sleep,” I say, gritting my teeth. I can feel tears pricking at the back of my eyes and my hands tremble even more. “Those nightmares wake me up no matter what, so why try to sleep?”
“Because you need it, Maci,” he sighs, looking back up at me with his amazing blue eyes.
“No,” I say as calmly as I can. “You need it. You’re the famous singer. You’re the one putting on concerts. I’m just a girlfriend lucky enough to tag along, then go and screw it up.”
“You’re not just a girlfriend,” he says slowly. Niall takes a few steps toward me, almost cautiously. “You’re my girlfriend. You’re the one I love. And you haven’t screwed it up, Maci. You’ve done the exact opposite.”
My heart swells and my bottom lip quivers. How does he always know just the right thing to say? I shouldn’t be getting this mad. I should let it go because he was only trying to watch out for me. All he’s ever done is treated me right. Nonetheless, I feel myself get heated.
“I have not done the opposite,” I fire back. “Look where we are, Niall.” I gesture around the room with my shaking hands. “We’re not in your bunk, sleeping. We’re in the living room of the tour bus in the middle of the night. Both of us aren’t sleeping, and it’s because of me. So don’t you dare go and say that this is okay with you, because I know darn well that it’s not.”
“If you suffer-”
“-So do you,” I say, exasperated. “You’ve said that so many times, Niall. The problem is that I don’t suffer! Staying up for this long and getting small amounts of sleep is actually helping me not suffer. Those nightmares are the cause of my pain, and not having them is a blessing!”
“Staying awake isn’t the answer,” he says softly, taking another step so that he’s now only a few feet away.
“For you, Niall,” I say, crossing my arms. “Staying awake isn’t the answer for you. I can live with little sleep, as long as I’m not having nightmares.”
“Look at yourself, Maci!” he sighs. “You’ve gotten only three hours of sleep in four days. You’ve got bags under your eyes, you’re zonking out whenever your mind feels like it, and you’re tearing yourself apart! You can’t stand there and lie directly to my face - those nightmares aren’t going away because you’re not dealing with them. You’re running from him, Maci. You need to face him, and they’ll go away.”
“They’ll never go away!” I snap. I can tell my tone surprises both of us, and I immediately soften. “Those nightmares will never go away. I can feel it. The only solution is to not have them.”
“They’re something we can work through,” Niall says, taking my hand in his.
I look away, afraid to meet his loving gaze. All I’m being is horrible to him. He’s stayed up with me for longer than his body can manage, and I’m yelling at him like a brat. I don’t deserve him - I never will.
“Go to bed, Niall,” I whisper, letting his hand go. “Please, go to sleep so I don’t have another huge weight on my chest.” I start to choke up at the last word and feel the tears flood to the front of my eyes.
“I can’t do that,” he replies softly, taking a step forward so he’s only about a foot away. “Not without you.”
He reaches out to me slowly, but I step away. “You’re going to have to,” I say quietly, still looking at the ground. “I’m not sleeping, not after that nightmare.”
“Then neither am I,” Niall states.
I grow the courage to look up at him. His expression is determined, no sign of leeway to argue in his eyes. “Please,” I breathe as he wraps an arm around my waist and puts his forehead to mine.
“I think this is the only time that I’m ever going to say no to you,” he says, and I can’t find the energy to fight him back.