We were laughing.
“Alright, my turn. Guess who or what I am?” I said, putting two breadsticks on my head.
“No, but I get where you coming from” I said, beaming. “I’ll give you a clue. Greetings earthlings”
“Oh, easy, an alien!”
“Okay. My turn” He put two breadstick in his mouth.
“Damn it! How’d you know?” He said, shaking his head in disappointment.
“Uhm, because it’s the easiest thing to do and everyone does it”
A waitress appeared and put our order down. We had ordered a chocolate fondue for two. Now if that wasn’t romantic, then I don’t know what is.
I got some chocolate and put it on one of my teeth. “Remember that time you said I needed dental work? Well, I don’t”
Zayn did the same. “Have I told you how beautiful you look?”
“So beautiful” He said, shaking his head. We got rid of the chocolate and stopped mucking around. I got a strawberry and dipped into the chocolate. I smiled and quickly dabbed it on the end of his nose.
“Hey!” Zayn exclaimed, smiling, He got a slice of banana and dipped into chocolate. He swiped it across my face. I laughed. I couldn’t get mad at him. Zayn ate it. He looked at me adoringly. I was still laughing.
“What?” I said, giggling.
“Nothing, just can’t get over how much I love you”
I blushed and continued giggling. “Ha-ha, well…I love you too”
We ate more fondue and continued mucking around….
Someone squeezed my knee, bringing me back to reality. I had zoned out – again. Niall was looking at me, smiling. He knew why I had zoned out. But he didn’t say anything. I smiled back. But I wasn’t really into it at the moment.
“Hey” I said. I hadn’t really gone anywhere. Except for my walk down Memory Lane. That memory hurt me the most. And so, my mind knowing it, it came back repeatedly.
“Hey” Niall said softly. “You alright?” He knew I wasn’t but he didn’t push it. Niall understood that I needed to recover on my own, with only a little help when I needed. Like having period pains. You only take the aspirin when it’s really bad.
“Yeah” I sighed. We were in the kitchen. Niall was talking to the girls when I had zoned out. Now, they looked at me with a sad, sympathetic smile. The smile you give to someone who was in a car crash and they are in a really crap mood and you can’t say anything to make them feel better so instead you give them a sympathetic smile. Niall only brings me back to reality when I’m needed for something. “What’s up?” I asked, forcing an enthusiastic smile on my face.
“We were just wondering if maybe we should go out for lunch today.” Niall asked, slowly. Now to a normal person, they’d be annoyed at how he was talking. As if they couldn’t understand what he said unless they talked slowly. But to me, it helped.
“Oh, uhm, I don’t know. Sure, I guess” I said. Clearly they wanted my opinion. I wasn’t much help to decision making these days. I wasn’t really much help at all for anything.
“Okay. What’d you feel like?” Nothing. Unless someone can invent something for heartache. I didn’t feel like eating. I don’t eat much these days either. If it wasn’t for Niall, I’d probably be anorexic.
“I don’t know. Why don’t we just go to Nandos?” I said, vaguely. Niall looked at me for a second, still worried. Then he slowly turned around and smiled to others.
“Alright, Nandos it is” He said. They nodded and picked up their handbags. Liam got the car keys and headed out. I stared blankly into nowhere. My mind drifted off to somewhere else.
“Hey” Niall said again, smiling sadly. I wanted to be there for him. I wanted to reassure him that everything was okay. But we both knew that everything wasn’t okay.
“Hey” I said, vaguely.
“Are you sure you want to go out? The others can go and we can just stay here and have a sandwich or something” He said. I wanted to say yes but I knew that Niall really wanted to go out to Nandos. It’d be a huge sacrifice for him. I couldn’t do that to him.
“Yeah, I think a bit of fresh air will help me actually. I haven’t been out in ages. Let’s go” I said, smiling and getting up.
“Okay, but if it’s too much and you want to back out at any time and go home, let me know okay. We’ll take the most direct route home”
I nodded. “Alright”
“Ashley?” Niall said, uncertainly. I looked at him; I was about to zone out again. He walked towards me and hesitated a bit. But after a pause, he hugged me carefully. I froze and went stiff all over. I wasn’t used to such contact. Niall had been careful with human contact. But after a second, I relaxed and held him. “I love you so god damn much”
“I love you too, Niall” I sighed.
“You have no idea how much it hurts me to see you in pain. I wish I could do something, anything to make you better”
“Niall, you being here for me and waiting patiently is all I could have asked for. And, you know that I wish I could be there for you too. I wish that I could do something to reassure that I’m fine but I can’t. Niall, it’s a two-way street, this pain thing. It hurts me to see you in pain as much as it hurts you to see me in pain. And right now, we’re both hurting but it only takes one to fix it – me. And I’m not ready yet, to recover. Wait a month and I’ll be okay. But for now, let’s just take it one step at a time. First step, going outside for lunch”
Niall looked at me for a second, unsure. Then he nodded his head, knowing there was nothing else he could really do. “Alright, okay, let’s go” He linked his hands through mine and gave my hand a squeeze, I squeezed back.
We walked to the car and hopped in. Niall sat next me, Liam and Louis at the front, the two girls in the middle and Niall and I sat in the back. We drove to Nandos. My nerves were on the edge. It felt like I was about to audtion for something when really it was just lunch.
I got out of the car and took a deep breath. Niall hopped out and looked at me. “Are you sure? We can go back?”
I sucked in another breath and shook my head. “No, I’m not sure. But that doesn’t mean I won’t survive. I’m just gonna take it one step at time. And right now, that step is going outside and having a lunch with my very supportive boyfriend and friends and try and have some fun”
“That a lot like more than one step” Niall teased. I nudged him.
“Shut up, you know what I mean”
We walked into Nandos and find a table. We ordered our meals and for once, I actually engaged myself in their conversations and made myself animate and not just a hollow empty shell.
It had been a few weeks now since I gave that girl – Perrie – my number. I hadn’t heard from her yet but I guess that it was a two-way street. I picked up my phone and scrolled to where her name was. My thumb hovered over it and I bit my lip, uncertain. Was it really a wise decision to call her? After all, I had met her at a club. That’s not a place known for long-lasting relationships but more of a place known for drunken flings and one-night stands. I chewed my fingernail. I took a deep breath and hit the call name. You won’t know until you find out.
She answered on the third ring. “Hi, long time, no hear” She teased over the phone. I felt a familiar smile start to form. One that used to be bought out by her. I laughed.
“Sorry” I said, acting sheepish. “Been busy. I needed to think about something”
“You were wondering if it was a good idea to call me. You’re still not over your ex, are you?” She said. I sighed.
“It’s not that I’m not over her…” I began. How could I explain this?
“You’re just not sure if she’s moved on yet and therefore you’re not sure if you should move on?” She finished, all-too-knowingly.
“Honestly, I don’t know how you do it? It’s like you know what I have been through or something”
“I know what you’ve been through. I’ve experienced it all; every single painful bit of it. The love at first sight, the thinking you’re perfect for each other, the thinking you’ll be together forever, the jealousy, the fight, the arguments, the painful realisation and the devastating heartbreak. Yep, every single bit of it” Her voice quivered a bit at the recollection of the memory. I empathised her.
“Wow, you really do know what I’ve been through. I’m sorry for making you remember it”
She sniffed. “Yeah well, the past is the past. It’s over now anyway. He was a douche and a jerk thinking I’d cheat on him. But I found out later, that he was the one cheating on me. That’s when I realised what a self-centred jerk I had for a boyfriend. So naturally, I dumped his ass on the nearest trash pick-up I could find and moved on”
“How’d you get over it?” I asked. I wanted to know, I needed to know so then I could finally move on from Ashley. There was a hesitant pause as she contemplated on whether she should tell me. “You don’t have to tell me, if it’s private then don’t worry about it” I said, hurriedly. “I don’t want to pry ad bring back long-forgotten memories”
“No, it’s fine. I…I self-medicated” She said. Self-medicated? Then I caught on.
“Oh, how long did you…self-medicate for?”
“A year. I was addicted. But it was a bad habit. I had a pack-a-day, then when I used up all the smokes, I went to a bar and drunk all my problems and then I eventually turned to drugs. It was an unhealthy, bad combination. I didn’t sleep, there was too much alcohol in my system and my body was wired from the drugs that my body’s defensive system couldn’t help me. Did you know that when you drink too much and pass out it’s your bodys way of saying you had too much and completely shuts down? Well, my body couldn’t do that. I was past the point of being helped…”
I listened in awe. Perrie had been through a lot.
“but eventually, I found help. Well, help found me. I was having one of the hardest days of my life. All I could see was him, I heard his laugh, saw his smile. And I felt like crying. I walked past one of our favourite cafes and then all I could see was him and that bitch getting it on behind my back. The sweet smile was replaced with a taunting one. The smile you smile when you know something that the other person doesn’t and all you can do is laugh at how stupid they are and oblivious. The laugh was no longer cheerful but taunting too. Like ‘haha, I know something that you don’t know. You don’t know that I’m screwing your boss/best friend’. And that’s when it happened. I saw him and that bitch I had once considered my friend. They were laughing and smiling. I was a few metres away and all I could do was glare at them. Hoping they could feel it and they would turn to see just how much it hurt me to see how they were having the fucking time of their lives! But they didn’t, even if they did I bet they would have the smuggest expression on their faces. I bet they would’ve felt powerful and wonderful knowing that they had destroyed my life”
“So what did you do?” I asked. I was so captured by this story. Her story made mine look like nothing.
“I did the only thing I could have done at the time that I thought would take the pain away. I smoked in a rage, drunk the bar dry and used all my money to pay for alcohol and drugs – hoping that they would take all the problems away and that my life would be a-okay afterwards. I spent an hour over the toilet beforehand. And then, I sniffed cocaine and ecstasy. I became the life of the party that night, people laughed with me. But they were probably laughing at how high and drunk I was. I had circles under my eyes and my skin had turned a sickly yellow. I was thin as my diet mainly consisted of those three things. And my face was hollow. I decided to head back home – at three in the morning – and that was when they found me. I was stumbling along the pathway, too far gone to notice anything else and I was laughing and singing at the top of my lungs. I threw myself at random guys along the way and then I happened to stumble into three girls. They took pity on me and took me to their place knowing I couldn’t possibly go anywhere else without getting caught. They helped me through the pain and comforted me. They didn’t let me anywhere near those three things again and held their ground. I begged and pleaded by they still refused. I called them things and then made a dash for the toilet. Then continued calling out obscenities to them. They ignored them. They knew I would eventually stop. It was only because they took away the stuff I had relied on for a year. We became friends soon after. I am so grateful for them. Without them, I’d probably be a homeless stealing money and still drinking my problems away and then smoking and getting high”
“What are their names?”
“Leigh-Anne, Jade and Jesy. And I love them very much. They are my world…” There’s a pause. “Sorry, you probably didn’t expect to hear my life story when you called. I’m so stupid, I don’t blame you if you hang up right now. I’d hang up on me”
“No, no, it’s fine. It’s nice to hear someone’s story. It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. So I’m not busy today do you want to go out for a coffee in about half an hour?”
“Sure, I’m in the middle of something at the moment but I’ll be there”
“Alright, I’ll see you at Starbucks in a half an hour?”
I hung up and then just stared into space. That was not what I expected to happen…
I got up and prepared myself for the first of many dates