Thanks," Niall said as I handed him a glass of water.
I nodded and sat down across the room, cross legged and sipping the cup of tea I'd made. It proved helpful in relieving my headache.
I felt odd, sitting across from the boy who'd abused me for so long and trying to have a somewhat normal conversation with him. Given, we weren't even talking yet, so I could only imagine what it would be like when Niall started to... explain. But for a while we just sat there, and I started to worry if Niall was going to say anything at all. Finally, he cleared his throat.
"I just want to start off by saying I'm sorry," he said, looking down at the ground and rubbing his forehead. "I shouldn't have reacted like that. It's been a long time, I should be over it by now."
I bit my lip, staring down into my cup of tea. I didn't know what to say or do. This had never happened to me before. What was I supposed to do? Agree that he shouldn't have acted like himselfand risk another fit of anger? Lord knows that's what would've happened. To avoid saying anything, I sipped my tea again and waited for Niall to speak.
"I haven’t picked up that camera in a long time. That picture you saw," he said, running a hand through his blonde hair, brown at the roots. "That was our family before... Before my father died."
Hearing these words leave his mouth, my chest constricted and my gaze flicked up to him. Niall's face was solemn, reflecting regret and sadness. He was telling the truth. This realization made me feel pity toward him. But if I knew Niall at all, I knew that pity - among other things - set him off more than anything. I settled for saying nothing.
Niall took a deep breath. "Kidney failure, the doctors said." A small, forced chuckle escaped him. "He was a heavy drinker - had been for nearly all of his life. One day, his body just gave out on him. Broke poor Mum's heart and tore our family to pieces."
I remembered seeing the picture on the small camera screen. Maura, Niall, the man, and the other boy. The man must have been Niall's father, and the other boy must have been Niall's older brother. They seemed like the happiest people in the world. But Niall had said that was before his father died. What of his brother?
"My brother," Niall continued, as if reading my thoughts. "Took it the hardest, I'd say. Those two did everything together. Quite literally, they were always with each other." He chuckled again, this time a little more genuine. "Sometimes, I swore they even went to the bathroom together."
I couldn't help smiling a bit at this. The relationship Niall described was something I'd never had with either of my parents, nor ever would. At times it was horribly frustrating that Mum and Dad couldn't be here for just one night, whether I needed them or not. And whether I'd have liked to admit it or not, I loved my parents. They'd pretty much set me on my own from the time I could take care of myself, and I'd never quite gotten over it. But I'd have much rather known that my parents were still there in a sense, rather than not living anymore.
"The reason Greg - my brother - left," Niall continued, rubbing the right side of his face. "Is still kind of confusing to me. It was either the fact that he couldn't handle Dad's death, he felt as if our family couldn't function without Dad, or having to see Mum unravel right in front of us. He was right to leave on all accounts." I watched as Niall set his glass down on the side table and began rubbing his tired eyes. "I just wish he could've taken me with him."
I bit the inside of my cheek. I felt horrible. Was this the whole reason Niall had been so cruel? Because he was still trying to cope with his father's death? The thought seemed radical, seeing as I had nothing to do with this. But it also seemed realistic of Niall at the same time. If two people were torn from my life all at once, I'd probably leave as well.
"When did your father pass?" I questioned, my voice wavering.
Niall kept his head turned to the ground as I heard him take in a shaky breath. "About seven years now."
I set my tea town on the carpet next to the sofa. "That long," I said, just above a whisper.
Half of Niall's family had been gone for seven years. The thought crushed me. I hadn't really thought about it much before, but Niall and I were similar. Two important people were missing from our lives, leaving a large gap in our hearts. Whether it ran as wide for me as it did for Niall, I had no idea. As Niall looked up to me through red eyes, I saw pain that wore deep inside him. This meant a lot to him.
Niall nodded and rubbed his nose. "Just recently - about three years ago - Mum finally started to come around. She gradually became her old self - only not exactly the same, you know? She still has those moments where she just stares off into the distance, and I know she's thinking of him."
I rubbed my eyes, trying to get the tired and teary sting out of them. Maybe Niall and I weren't so different after all. Maybe I just had a different way of handling it than aggression. I looked up, finding Niall already watching me.
"You know what it feels like," Niall stated simply. It wasn’t a question. The tone of his voice made my bottom lip quiver. He was so blank about the subject. How could he keep together so well while telling me this? I had it nowhere near as bad, yet my tears were already threatening to form.
"In a sense," I whispered. "Two thirds of my family is God Knows Where, and I've been left to raise myself."
The corners of Niall's mouth tipped down in a sad grimace. "I know what you mean. When Mum sort of just checked out, I was left to get myself up and out every single day. Only, I had to provide for the both of us while she was encased in her own thoughts."
"I've just never had anyone there," I told him quietly, sniffing and staring at the ground.
"I may as well not have," he answered.
It was silent in the long minutes following. I'd thought that this conversation was supposed to be about Niall's self-explanation and apology - not about mine as well. But I'd never really told anyone about my life. Like I'd said, no one had ever been there for me before. Niall was the only real friend I'd ever had - if I could even consider Niall a friend.
I'd had so much trouble in the past even opening up to myself. Up until now, I'd never talked about my parents like that. Putting my situation into words was an odd thing, even though I was right about it. Mum and Dad had rarely been there for me, and in a way that had made me who I was. I wondered if I would've turned out differently if they'd been there. Maybe I would've been able to stand up for my self every once in a while. Maybe I'd have friends. Maybe I wouldn't have been in this situation with Niall.
But those were all 'what ifs'. I would never really know, and I couldn't change it anyway. I'd have to focus on how to go on with my life - first by dealing with the current situation. I just didn't know how.
After another minute or so, Niall cleared his throat. My gaze shifted toward his face, looking tired and sad. His blue eyes rested on mine for a few seconds, then flicked back to the ground.
"I shouldn't have taken it out on you," he said, repeating the apology he'd spoken earlier.
I shook my head. "I shouldn't have been looking through the camera anyway."
"I wasn't talking about just today," he said, so quietly I was afraid I'd just imagined it. But his eyes drifted up again, searching mine for an answer.
My chest tightened. Had Niall just apologized for the abuse he'd put me through for so long? No, he couldn’t possibly have meant that. He’d never been sorry - but then again, he’d never been like this before. There was something about him that had changed in these past several days. Some of it was subtle, but most of the changes in character he’d undergone were large - his behavior and actions toward me being the main components. With Niall, though, I could never really be sure. His mood could shift in an instant and I could end up hurt again. But maybe he really was sorry, and I had just built my walls too thick to see that.
Niall looked up at me expectantly. I didn’t know what he was looking for. Forgiveness? Was that it? After all he’d put me through, he expected me to forgive him after a ten-minute conversation? I remembered all of the nights I’d come home, bruised and broken, feeling as if my control were spiraling right out of my own hands. I recalled all the cuts, all the bloodied razors, all of the scars I’d inflicted upon myself, indirectly caused by Niall. All of the insults came back to me, the ones that tore me down, seemingly beyond repair. What was I supposed to tell him? That everything was okay, when it never had been?
“I don’t know what you want me to say,” I choked out. My voice sounded weak, and I cursed myself for letting everything from the past jump on me like that.
I saw Niall’s jaw clench and my body immediately tensed. I’d spoken the wrong thing, I knew it. I’d said what he didn’t want to hear, and now I’d dug myself a hole. My breath hitched as his body poised for movement, acting out in a standing motion. I was only three or four inches shorter than him, but while he stood and I sat, I felt like an ant.
“There’s nothing to be said,” Niall said shakily, rubbing his forehead. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have expected anything from you.”
My jaw nearly dropped as I watched him begin walking out of the living room. Niall had just controlled his anger again. For the second time that day, I’d seen him hold back. And even more surprising, he’d mixed an apology into the mess. Was I being too hard on him? If he’d done this much for me, the least I could’ve done was accept the plea for forgiveness. I’d built the walls around myself too thick. At this point, no one could get in - and if I didn’t start chipping away at it now, it’d never give way to the people who would mean the most to me.
And whether I liked to admit it or not, Niall had a lot of meaning in my life, may it be good or bad.
By the time I’d realized this, the sound of the front door was already reaching the living room. A quick breath was taken in through my nose as I stood from the sofa, striding through the living room and into the front hall. The front door came into view, Niall halfway through the doorframe and on his way out.
“Niall, wait,” I said, the words falling out of my mouth before I had time to think about them.
His head whipped around, staring at me with wide and confused blue eyes. His expression still resembled the sadness and disappointment I’d seem not a minute ago, but this look contained more hope in it. I bit my lip as I continued closer to him. He was standing, frozen in the doorframe as I approached, ten feet, five feet, three feet now. I suddenly stopped short, not knowing what in God’s name I was going to do in the first place.
What had been my goal of stopping him? What was the purpose of my sudden burst of courage. I couldn’t think of anything to say. In fact, I had no words. I only had feelings to offer, but I didn’t know how to show any of them. I’d never had to.
Look at you, now you’ve gone and made a fool of yourself, I thought, cursing to myself. You haven’t got time to figure out what to say. Just… Feel.
So I did just that.
I just did what I felt. There was no time to think, no thought process involved. Looking back now, it may have been a horribly dumb thing to do. There was no telling how Niall could’ve reacted. But I did it, nonetheless.
I stepped two feet closer to Niall, then proceeded to throwing my arms around his torso. By the tensing of his body, I knew he hadn’t been expecting it. Hell, neither had I! Samm, you idiot, what are you doing?
For at least five seconds we stood there, trying to figure out what to do. I had my arms tightly around his midsection, my eyes closed tightly as my head rested against his warm chest and the top of my head pressed lightly against his jaw. His heart beat erratically next to my ear, and I could’ve sworn that my own stopped as I felt Niall begin to finally move. But it wasn’t to hurt me.
Niall’s body relaxed, replacing his tense posture as I felt his arms find their way around my shoulders. I tried my best not to flinch as his palms pressed flat to my back, their warmth odd to my body, riddled with nervous chills. My eyes closed tighter as I drew in a much needed breath, right after I’d realized I hadn’t been. It felt as if Niall did the same, his chest rising subtly against my cheek.
Maybe it was because I realized that Niall and I weren’t so different after all - or maybe it was because I felt bad for pushing him away after he’d tried to mend a broken bridge - or maybe it was for a different reason entirely. No matter the reason, it felt right to accept his apologies. I knew that if I were in his position, all I’d want was forgiveness. And maybe… Maybe I needed this as well.
I was sure we’d been standing there, without a word, for at least a full two minutes. Neither of us had said anything, though so many thoughts were flying through my head. My mind was a jumbled mess with memories of past abuse and current kindness, along with several emotions thrown in on top.
Something in my chest tightened as I felt the bottom of Niall’s head rest against the top of mine. My body filled with a tingling warmth, something foreign to me. But after a few seconds of this, I realized that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing. After all, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d ever given or received an embrace like this one. I’d actually forgotten how nice it was to feel wanted. And after nearly the third minute of silence, I decided that it was my turn to speak.
“Thank you,” I mumbled into his chest. The words were simple, but I felt Niall let out a long sigh.
“I suppose I should be saying the same to you,” he spoke, the vibration of his voice against the skin of my cheek causing me to open my eyes.
The sky was dark, as I assumed it was nearly ten o’clock. The street lamps were dimly lit, illuminating only small sections of the smooth, concrete road. Tomorrow was Sunday, usually a quiet day for me. Then again, Saturdays were usually quiet days as well. Niall had changed that drastically today. Speaking of…
I began loosening my arms around his torso, and he did the same. I took a step back, averting my eyes for a bit before letting them drift to Niall’s face. Seeing his blue eyes, darkened by the night sky and at the same time being lit up by the light coming from inside my home, another flush of warmth went through my chest. They were no longer filled with the disappointment that made them dull. They reflected the hope and expectancy that I’d seen in him before, the kind that made his eyes shine a bit brighter. Seeing him this way made the corners of my mouth tug upward.
“Thank you,” I repeated. I couldn’t find anything else to say.
Niall mimicked my small grin. “And thank you as well. I didn’t realize there was someone else in a similar situation.”
My cheeks grew a bit warm, though I didn’t know why. “I’m here to help,” I told him. “If you ever need anything.”
Instead of getting angry like he had when I’d first offered t help, it seemed as if Niall grew a bit brighter. “And I’d be glad to return the favor.”
I nodded. A cool breeze kicked up a bit, chilling my arms. I rubbed them lightly, look at Niall as he rubbed the back of his neck. He cleared his throat awkwardly, looking apologetically as me.
“Do you have my clothes?” he asked.
My cheeks burned fiercely at the way he’d said the words. I nodded anyway, then offered to run up and retrieve them. He said he’d wait, and I returned shortly with his folded boxers and polo. The whole trip, I’d been blushing madly. it felt weird to be wearing anyone’s clothes beside mine.
“I guess I should be on my way,” he spoke after shifting his weight.
I nodded, placing my hand on the doorknob as I watched him job out to his car. I was about to shut the front door when Niall suddenly called my name. I turned my attention to him, raising an eyebrow and leaning against the doorframe.
I heard his deep breath from the street. “Have you ever had... Any trouble in dealing with everything? Your parents, I mean.”
At first I’d thought he meant the abuse he’d put me through. My chest tightened as I thought I’d have to explain that yes, my troubled way of dealing with it was self harm. but my parents... I’d never thought about an troubles in coping resulting from the absence of Mum and Dad.
I slowly shook my head. “No,” I told him. “None that I can remember.” I watched as Niall rubbed the side of his face, then opened the driver’s side door.
“Okay,” he answered. “I’ll see you Monday, then. Good night.”
I brushed a stray lock of hair behind my ear. “Good night,” I called back, then watched as he slid into his car and drove off.
I closed the door, then fell back against it for support. I rubbed my forehead, another headache blooming already. I chewed the inside of my cheek, confusion and worry taking up half of my thoughts.
Niall had apologized for everything. The abuse, the names, everything. But did that mean that it would end?