When I got home, the first thing I did was put bandages on the ends of my fingers. I didn’t know what I was thinking, attempting to regain control while at school. I was stronger than that - I could’ve waited until I had more time. I would’ve felt better.
But for now, I just grabbed a snack and waited. I was anxious, though I didn’t know why. I didn’t want Niall to be horrible to me. But I also wanted to know why he is the way he is. Why was Niall horrible at school, but when I came into his home, he was acting humane?
This was the type of thing running through my mind as I climbed in my car. I flicked nervously through the stations on the radio, never settling on one long enough to let a song go by. My sore fingers tapped away at the steering wheel, and were nearly numb by the time I pulled into Niall’s driveway. Again, it took me a while to gather the willpower to exit the car and walk up to the door. But when I finally did, I wasn’t greeted by Maura. It was Niall.
“Hi,” he said casually, as if nothing was awkward between us. As if he hadn’t dug his hand into my thigh and pulled my hair. As if he’d never brought pain upon me before. “Come in.”
I glanced up at him warily before slipping past him and kicking off my shoes. My hands were shaking, and I was suddenly glad that I had my notebook to hold on to for support. My lower lip was taken between my teeth as I followed him into the living room, placing myself the same distance of five feet as I had before. He pulled out his notebook and began running through the notes we’d made yesterday.
“Hello, Samm!” Maura’s voice called from the kitchen. “How are you?”
“Hi, Mrs. Horan,” I replied, shifting nervously. “I’m fine, thanks.”
“Niall, honey, do you two need anything?” she asked, leaning against the doorframe with a dishcloth in her hand.
“We’re fine, Mum,” he said. “Thanks.”
She smiled. “Just let me know.” With that, she walked back into the kitchen and began to hum quietly. I wondered if she knew what her son was really like.
“So,” Niall said, setting his notebook halfway between us. “Here’s what we accomplished yesterday. What do you think we should add to it?” He looked up at me, showing a light shade of blue to his eyes that I hadn’t seen before.
“Erm,” I said, my gaze falling from his. “I don’t know. Whatever you’d like.” My words sounded unsure and wavering, and I cursed myself for sounding so vulnerable.
“Like I said, Samm. We’re partners. Partners work together. It’s not all what I have to say.”
I fidgeted with my hands, picking at the ends of the bandages on my fingers. What did I have to say to that? He’d made it very clear yesterday that he wanted it his way, then completely threw me off balance by being a human being and saying he actually wanted to hear what I had to say. I shouldn’t have been complaining, though. This was treatment I never got - still, I found myself somewhat afraid of this behavior. What was Niall trying to pull?
“Well,” I said quietly, ignoring my instincts to back down completely. “Since we have this here,” I pointed to a set of dominoes drawn on the notebook paper. “I think that we should have the dominoes fall onto some sort of button - one that’s programmed to set off another physical reaction on another end.”
He seemed to analyze this for a minute, while my heart pounded in my chest. “Do you know wiring?” he asked finally. I nodded hesitantly, and Niall smiled. “Brilliant. We’ll write that one down.”
He sketched a fuse, wire, and button in the notebook at the end of the dominoes. Once he was finished, he tapped the pencil against his chin. I watched him, gauging his reaction. My input hadn’t gotten any negative feedback - hell, I was surprised he even considered my suggestion. But I wasn’t only searching for a reaction in Niall.
I was beginning to notice things about him that I hadn’t before. He had the smallest dimple in the middle of his chin. His eyes were a lighter shade of blue than I’d thought. A small array of freckles dotted his chin and neck. There was a thin shade of brown at the base of his blond locks, telling me that his hair was bleached. The right corner of his mouth always twitching up into a half smile.
All things that didn’t happen on the other side of Niall.
Is that what Niall was, now? Just two sides, two halves of one whole? One side of him showed one place, while the other appeared wherever was convenient? I winced, too confused to think about that right now. In fact, I was too confused to think about it ever.
“Samm,” he said, and I shook my head rapidly, trying to clear my thoughts.
“You were staring off into space,” he commented, and I began growing wary of him again. “Just thought I’d bring you back to planet Earth. What do you want to do next?”
I bit my lip again. “You mentioned wanting to have a football hit into a goal at the end,” I said. “Is there a length requirement to the project? We could do one more transition, then have the ball be hit.”
Niall nodded. “Good idea.” I let out a quiet breath I didn’t know I’d been holding in. “Does a dropping mechanism sound alright?”
I nodded, as if he would’ve cared for my opinion. But… The curious look in his eyes told me that maybe… Maybe he did care. But I immediately dismissed the thought. Niall was just acting, the game he played best. That’s all this was, of course. A game. I was sure of it - at least, most of me was. There was some small part of me that was starting to think that maybe there was a bigger reason for Niall’s seemingly split personality.
“Alright,” he said, tossing the notebook onto the coffee table. “Looks like we’re done with planning. Shall we start laying out some plans?”
I looked up to see him smiling a bit. I couldn’t help but let the left corner of my mouth draw upward. “Sure,” I said, then remembered the camera. “Do you have Mrs. Dillard’s camera?”
His eyes brightened. “Oh yeah,” he said. “I’ll be right back.”
I let out a breath as Niall exited the living room and trotted up the stairs. Shouldn’t I just enjoy this side of Niall while it was here? Try to avoid him at school, then become less afraid of him here. Should I not try with this welcoming side of him?
But I knew that would be a bad idea. What if this side of him really was an act? What if he just wanted to seem approachable to get me to open up, then use what I’d let him see against me? I knew that I shouldn’t take whatever bait he’s putting out. I should hold up and remain conscious of his previous actions toward me.
“Smile for the camera,” I heard Niall say happily.
I looked up to find the camera’s recording light on, pointing at me. Niall had a wide smile on his face, holding the camera close so he could see the small screen. He looked so approachable - so innocent. I suddenly felt that this wasn’t the Niall who’d tortured me for this long. But I knew that this was only a mask.
Yet, I couldn’t help the smile that spread across my face.