Much to my displeasure, last period went by the fastest it had ever gone. I felt myself dreading the short walk out to my car, knowing that in an hour I’d have to be over at Niall’s house.
My stomach plummeted for what seemed like the hundredth time that day. As I drove home, I thought of all the things that might happen to me. He’d call me worse names, hurt me worse than he had before. Really, Niall was capable of just about anything.
My grip tightened on the steering wheel as I pulled into my driveway. As I pulled into my garage and turned off the car, I realized that my hands wouldn’t come undone from the wheel. I didn’t want to go to Niall’s house. But I had to.
After I’d finally worked my hands from the wheel, I shuffled inside. At least Mum and Dad were still gone, so they didn’t have to see my increasingly long face and darkened mood. They’d pick it up right away, no matter how well I could hide it.
I dropped my bag to the floor next to the doormat, then kicked my shoes off and stowed them away. Taking the stairs slowly and one at a time, I made my way up to my room to change into a song sleeved shirt and jeans. The shirt was gray and the jeans were an odd shade of blue, but it seemed a good fit. I went back down stairs to whip up some food, then ate as slow as time would allow.
Much to my dismay, though, five o’clock was approaching fast. I wasn’t really sure what to bring, so I just grabbed my notebook and a water bottle, then headed out the door.
It was about 4:55 when I pulled into Niall’s driveway. I set the slip of paper with his address on it in the passenger’s seat, then let out a long breath. Usually I tried to avoid getting hurt by Niall. But now I was walking right into it without a choice. I didn’t really know much about Niall’s life outside of school, so I didn’t know what to expect - I didn’t know if he had any sibling, or if he even lived with his parents. Niall was completely unknown to me.
It took all of the willpower I possessed to gather my things and climb out of the car. My steps were heavy as I walked up to his front door. I slowly raised my hand and knocked lightly against the door. My heart was beating rapidly, and I was sure that anyone could hear it from a mile away. What was this going to be like?
I nearly jumped out of my skin when the door swung open, revealing a short, blonde haired woman. I was a little taken aback by the kindness in her expression, when I’d been expecting Niall’s hateful glares. Suddenly, I thought I had the wrong house.
“Oh,” I said, the corners of my mouth faltering. I’d be late if I had the wrong address, and that wouldn’t end well. “I’m sorry for bothering you, I thought this was-”
“Are you Samm?” she asked sweetly, a winning smile gracing her expression.
“Erm,” I said, running a hand through my dark hair. “Yes I am.”
“I’m Maura,” she replied happily, sticking out her hand. “Niall’s mum.”
My jaw nearly dropped as I took her hand a shook it unsurely. This was Niall’s mum? How could such a kind woman raise such a hateful boy? I almost didn’t believe it - until I saw the familiar nose and eyes. Only Maura’s weren’t threatening.
“Well come right in,” she said, releasing my hand and gesturing to what looked like the living room.
I walked through the door, still extremely unsure of what was going on. What I’d always known from Niall - hate, bitterness, abuse - was not reflected in Maura. It seemed unreal. I kicked off my shoes and nudged them to the rug next to the door.
“Have a seat,” she gestured to the sofa. “Make yourself at home. I’ll go get him.”
I suddenly tensed but nodded, though I didn’t sit down. I simply set my notebook and water bottle down on the coffee table, then rubbed my hands together nervously. What would Niall be like around his mum? Would he still be hateful?
“Niall!” I heard Maura call up the stairs. “Samm is here!” I bit my lip at the muffled reply, obviously Niall’s voice. “He’ll be down in a second,” Maura said after turning to me.
I nodded again and shuffled my feet. I felt better having Maura in the house. She didn’t seem like the type to tolerate cruelty, and for that I was thankful. Turning toward the wall, I began to study all of the pictures decorating it. Most were of a younger Niall, then of Maura and who I assumed was her husband, and another boy a bit older than Niall. The Niall in the pictures looked so happy, so… Adorable. I almost felt myself begin to smile, but a warm hand on my shoulder made me gasp quietly.
I whirled around. Niall was standing there, just looking as if I’d done the oddest thing on earth. He had no hate - no fire - in his eyes. Only a soft and neutral expression. Suddenly, I wasn’t so sure I had the right Niall.
“H-hi,” I said cautiously, subconsciously crossing my arms.
“Hi,” he replied, letting his arm drop to his side. He was still giving me that odd look, as if he wasn’t sure why I was acting this way.
“I have some snacks, if you want them,” Maura said sweetly, holding out a small plate of crackers and cheese.
“No, that’s alright Mum,” Niall told her. My jaw nearly dropped for the third time in just five minutes. His tone was so… Not the hostile Niall I’d always known. His voice was almost… Sweet.
“Alright, just let me know if you need anything,” Maura said, walking back into the kitchen.
“Thanks Mum,” Niall replied.
There was a bit of completely awkward silence before Niall cleared his throat. I straightened unintentionally, my arms still crossed as he spoke.
“So, shall we get this thing going?”
I couldn’t even begin to describe the mixed emotions surging through me. What in the world was this? Niall was being decent? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
“Sure,” I said, my voice still having that uncertainty to it. I followed him to the sofa and sat a reassuring three feet away from him. Though I shouldn’t have been questioning this sudden change in his character, I found myself still extremely unsure of this boy.
“So,” he said, pulling a sheet of paper out of his pocket. “The idea of the project was pretty simple, I guess. But I’m not so sure on how to map it all out. Do you have any suggestions?”
I just sat there, gaping at him. How in the world could he pull this off? How did he go from being a monster in school to this… Decent human being? This soft expression on his face made him seem pleasant, almost… likable. I didn’t believe it. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. He was putting up a façade.
It took me a bit to figure out he’d asked a question.
“Oh - erm - I - uhh,” I stuttered, at a loss for words. This whole atmosphere about him threw me off, and I didn’t like it.
“Maybe we could just start by figuring out our end goal,” Niall suggested, cocking his head to the side.
“Erm - yeah, sure,” I said quietly, averting his gaze. It wasn’t because of the usual hatefulness, though. It was because of the unusual courteousness about him. “What do you want to do?” I asked, remembering the whole, ‘You’re going to do what I say, when I say’, threat I’d gotten from him earlier. A chill ran up my spine, but I stifled the movement.
Niall shrugged. “I was thinking about kicking a football into a goal.” I only nodded - I couldn’t do anything else. I was too incredibly stunned. “Want me to go get my notebook?” he continued. “We could write down ideas for in-between stuff in there.”
I simply shrugged, still not saying anything. Niall cocked an eyebrow at me, then nodded and stood up. He jogged up the stairs and disappeared around a corner. My eyes widened in my own disbelief as soon as he was gone. I let out a long breath, still trying to comprehend what’d just happened. My hand brushed against the scabbed nail marks on my forearm, and I looked down at them as if they were alien. How could Niall have made these if he was acting like this?
Niall came jogging down the stairs again, notebook and pen in hand. I took a drink of my water as he sat down and flipped his book open. He jotted down Project Ideas, then glanced at me.
“What should go first?” he asked, turning his head a bit to the side.
“Erm - Whatever you want, I guess,” I said, rubbing my neck. I didn’t even know how to deal with this Niall. It was so abnormal that I just… I couldn’t even put together a full sentence.
The left corner of Niall’s mouth turned up in a side smile. “We are partners, you now. You have a say in this as well.”
It took all I had in me not to fall over. What was going on? Where was the hostile Niall? The one that made me dread waking up every morning? The one that’s tortured me for months on end? So many questions flooded through my head, so many that I was too afraid to ask. But there were two questions that stuck out the most.
What kind of game was Niall playing? and Was this a part of Niall that I could tolerate?