I groaned and collapsed into the sofa, tired and impossibly stressed from a long day of classes. My wrist stayed gauzed, but luckily I’d had a long sleeved shirt on hand so I didn’t have to stare at the reminder of my clumsiness all day. I sat in my car to eat lunch again, just as I always had. I had a bit of trouble focusing in my classes, and found it most difficult in physics when I had to go over a worksheet I missed yesterday with Niall’s repeated glances.
I’d managed to avoid speaking with him for a majority of physics class, but eventually I’d had no choice but to respond when he approached me directly.
“Samm,” he’d caught my uninjured wrist, and I wondered if it had been because he’d actually remembered that my other hurt.
I turned to meet his eyes. I rose an eyebrow, flicking my eyes to his hand clasped around my wrist in hopes that he’d see and let go. When he didn’t, I sighed and squared my shoulders, trying to make him understand that this would’ve looked very odd to someone just passing by. Niall didn’t seem affected by this.
“Do you remember our conversation yesterday?” he’d asked. I nodded and a smile appeared on his face. “Okay. So I’ll be over around five, okay?”
I sucked in a breath and took my bottom lip between my teeth. I didn’t know whether the flutter in my stomach was my wariness of the whole situation or my anticipation of what was going to happen. Would Niall finally be apologizing for what he’d put me through for so long? I knew he’d tried to before, but it didn’t really feel as if it had transitioned to normal with us. Then again, after all of these months of what he’d done to me… What really was normal?
I gave him a quick ‘okay’ anyway, only so I didn’t have to worry about talking to him anymore. I just wanted to get through one more class and go home so I could nap — which is exactly what I did.
I woke up from the alarm I’d set on my phone. I pulled my head from the throw pillow on the sofa and fumbled with my cell before finally turning it on silent and heaving it across the room. I shoved my face back into the pillow and groaned. It was about four-thirty. Only half an hour until I had to see Niall again. I didn’t want to, but at the same time I felt I had to. I wasn’t ready to forgive Niall for real, but I needed to.
Whether I wanted to accept it or not, for some reason Niall had changed in the past week. This transition was for the better. If I couldn’t bring myself to believe it, then I would hold the constant fear of the other side of Niall over my head. I had to do this; not only because Niall had asked it of me.
I took a deep breath and pushed myself from the sofa, sliding my feet to the floor and standing slowly. My vision was blurry with a sleepy haze, and my movements the same. Sluggish was the only way to describe myself as I stumbled through the kitchen to the hallway that held the staircase. I then took a deep breath and began pulling myself up the stairs.
By the time I’d managed to make it up the stairs without injuring myself, I’d wasted ten minutes. Biting my lip, I opened my closet and grabbed an outfit (http://www.polyvore.com/park/set?id=91673042) I hadn’t worn in a long time. It was a blue and white-striped jumper with a string that tied around my waist. I slipped into this quickly, along with a pair of tan sandals. The mirror across the room caught my eye and I sighed heavily. My hair was a mess from sleeping on the couch, and I didn’t have the time nor the patience to do anything fancy with it.
I gritted my teeth and brought a stool over to the mirror, sitting down with a few hair ties and several bobby pins. Though it was hard on my wrist, I convinced myself that I could create a french braid down the side of my head, tying it off in a bun and securing my fly-aways with the pins. When I decided it looked okay I picked a simple white headband from my desk and put it on.
My stomach groaned suddenly, and I became very aware that I was terribly hungry. I grumbled my frustration and snagged a pair of blue sun glasses from my bed, then hurried downstairs and into the kitchen. The glasses rested atop my head as I glanced at the clock on the wall. I had about ten minutes — just enough time to grab a quick snack and get my thoughts in order.
I picked up a packet of peanut crackers and stuffed one in my mouth as I sat down at the counter. I was almost relieved that I could barely hear myself think over the crunching of the crackers in my mouth. But I could still manage to listen to my almost involuntary thoughts of Niall.
What was this going to be like? Niall had sounded like he had a plan for the evening but I was unsure of the situation. What was his idea of an apology? A simple ‘I’m sorry‘ — a more complex explanation? Truthfully, I didn’t think just an apology would permanently settle the turning in my stomach whenever Niall appeared, or even crossed my mind. One week of different wasn’t going to fix several months of what I could only describe as ‘normal’.
But like I’d told myself, some part of me felt obligated to start over with Niall. It wasn’t that his arguments were persuasive — it was that myown were. I didn’t want to delve any further into it. Even just leaving it simply was a little overwhelming. One week ago I would’ve given anything to just escape Niall. Now I was trying to spend time with him.
I shook my head and stuffed the last cracker into my mouth before standing to discard the wrapper. Glancing at the clock again, I decided that I had just enough time to brush the food from my teeth. I grabbed my phone and jogged up the stairs, then hurried into the bathroom. As I was rinsing my mouth my phone vibrated on the counter, signaling I had received a message. I finished quickly and set my toothbrush down, then read the message.
It was from Niall, saying he’d just left his house and would be over in a few minutes. My heart fluttered for a moment, but I managed to stifle the panic I was used to experiencing. I couldn’t act as unconfident as I felt in front of Niall — not anymore. If starting over was what we were trying to do, then I swore then and there that no matter what I was thinking I would try to pretend like I’d just met him. For Niall’s sake — for my sake.
I rubbed my eyes, feeling sluggish again. Leaning against the doorframe of the bathroom, I sighed and closed my eyes. How did Niall feel about all of this? I knew he wasn’t doing this just for me — he was never one to practice selflessness when it came to me. But what was Niall receiving from this?
I jumped when I heard the doorbell ring. Quickly recovering and clenching my teeth, I grabbed my phone and trotted down the staircase. My feet halted when I stood directly in front of the door. My nerves made it nearly impossible to reach my free hand up to the doorknob. When I finally managed, I was afraid that Niall might have left. I quickly dismissed the thought, though, knowing that Niall doesn’t usually stop until he attains what he desires.
I felt numb as I turned the knob and swung the door open slowly. My jaw clenched tighter as I took in the blonde boy standing at my front door. His attire was different than usual, opting for a blue-and-red plaid shirt and brown shorts ending at his knees instead of the usual polo and tan shorts. Unlike myself, Niall wore a smile on his expression.
He took my form in, glancing at my outfit before looking back up at my face. When he caught wind of my expression his grin faltered, and I immediately felt bad. I had said I’d try to start over, but I wasn’t showing him that. I quickly put on a smile, and as painted as it was, it was something.
“Hi,” he said.
I nodded. “Hi.”
There was a moment of awkward silence. Niall shoved his hands in his pockets while I fiddled with the gauze on my wrist. His eyes flicked from my face, to my wrist, to the ground, then back up at me. My gaze shifted from his placid face to somewhere behind him. I didn’t know what to say.
Niall finally cleared his throat. “Are you ready to go?”
I ran through my head a list of what I needed; phone, shoes, an extra hair tie, a few pounds. I had everything in the left pocket of my jumper — everything except a bit of confidence.
“Yes,” I told him nonetheless. “I’m ready.”
Niall parked the car along the sidewalk, driver’s side facing the quiet street. There weren’t many people here, since the park wasn’t visited much during the work day. The sky was light, a few puffy clouds making their way across the sky. I chewed the inside of my cheek as I scanned the park, a relatively flat expanse filled with colorful flowers and the occasional tree.
I hadn’t even noticed Niall’s withdrawal from the vehicle until his door slammed shut. I blinked and unfastened my seatbelt as he jogged around the car, then reached for the door — only to be cut off by Niall grabbing it for me.
He pulled the car door open and stepped aside, allowing me room to climb out. I paused, surprised. My eyes flashed up to his and he smiled softly. This caused me to avert my gaze and tuck stray hair that had fallen from my braid back behind my headband as my face warmed. I held tightly to my cell phone as I stepped from the car, feet planting on the sidewalk in front of Niall. He closed the car door and pushed the button on his keys to lock it. That’s when I noticed the bag resting on his shoulder.
“This way,” he said before I could ask any questions. He pointed toward a path that lead throughout the park and began walking that way. I followed along quietly, sneaking glances at the bag Niall held at his side. It was a good sized bag, large enough to make me wonder exactly what it held; but I didn’t ask.
We walked for a short while, our shoes against the stone path the only sound between us. It was a calm day, not much wind. Fairly warm for this time of year. The flowers could actually find reason to bloom.
“Here,” Niall’s words broke through my thoughts.
I stopped beside him as he set his bag on the ground next to his feet. He unzipped the main compartment and pulled out a folded blanket, blandly colored with black plaid. I cocked my head to the side as he spread it out about fifteen feet from the path in a small gap in the flower bushes. It was bulky and covered about ten square feet. When he finished he sat down on one corner of the blanket, pulling his bag along side him.
“Please, sit,” Niall said, patting the blanket.
I nodded and crouched, settling myself in the corner opposite him. I pulled my things out of my pockets and set them beside me, then criss-crossed my legs. My eyes flicked over to Niall’s face. I found him looking at me, deep in thought. I felt my face warm again and cursed myself as I looked away. I studied the grass next to the edge of the blanket for a few second before I heard Niall clear his throat.
“Samm,” he said. I raised my head to meet his gaze and this time it was him turning away. “I brought you out here to start over.” Though he wasn’t watching me, I nodded.
“I know,” I said in response. My voice sounded strange, as if I hadn’t used it in days.
Niall nodded as well, but continued to keep his eyes on the blanket in front of him. “But I don’t think I should ask that of you without apologizing.”
His hand reached for his bag. He dug around in it for a few seconds before pulling out a plastic bag about the span of my hand. I cocked my head to the side as he reached his hand into it. When he withdrew, his fingers held a necklace.
It was a glass pendant in the shape of a heart that hung from a silver chain. The sun shining through it made it bright, casting a rainbow on the blanket beneath it. My eyes widened as I realized what a necklace like this must cost.
Niall shifted on the blanket, scooting over to take up the space on my left. He held up the necklace, allowing me to get a better look at it. It really was a beautiful piece of jewelry.
“This is for you,” Niall said, criss-crossing his legs like mine and watching the pendant like a child in a candy store. “To show you how sorry I am; because I am so, so sorry for everything.”
My jaw went slack. “No,” I automatically said. I was surprised at my own voice. I was caught so off guard at myself that I couldn’t bite my tongue. “I can’t have this.”
Niall’s expression crumpled and my chest clenched, but I didn’t take my words back. His hand dropped to his lap, as did the pendant he held. His baby blue gaze finally reached mine and I bit my lower lip.
“What?” he asked, sounding baffled.
“I—I can’t,” I stuttered. “It’s too — it’s too expensive.”
He shook off my words. “Of course it’s not. Please, Samm.”
“No, Niall,” I shook my head. “I can’t take it. It’s fine.”
Niall held up the necklace again, shifting a small bit closer to me. “Please take it. Here, I’ll help put it on.”
“Niall, no,” I said again. “Stop. Take this back.”
I saw his jaw tense and I hesitated. “Please, Samm. Let me make this up to you.”
And suddenly, questions that I didn’t even know I had flooded into my mind. Why is Niall doing this for me? Why would he bring me out here? Why would he prepare everything like this? There were so many in my head that I couldn’t stop myself from speaking to make room for more.
“Why, Niall?” I asked abruptly.
His brow furrowed. “Why, what?”
I tensed, but the words had already left me. That one question could go so many ways, but I knew what direction I needed to take it; I’d just never had the courage to let it out.
“Why all of this?” I asked, gesturing to everything — the blanket, the bag, the necklace, the park. “Why take me out here? Why the necklace? Why the apology, Niall?” And I still couldn’t stop myself. “You sure as hell haven’t considered me worth your time before; now you’re trying to give me something?”
My eyes widened and my fists clenched. I winced at the pain in my wrist, but was too stunned to pay attention to it. My gaze was trained on Niall’s face, eyes wide as if to mirror mine. I mentally kicked myself for noticing how innocent he looked, incapable of bringing upon months and months of hazing.
I was tense beyond belief. My body was rigid, my attention on gauging how Niall could possibly react to my accusatory questions. I was watching for any change, any subtle indication that the bully in him was returning to the surface. But the change that occurred was absolutely nothing like I’d expected.
His whole expression softened, though I recognized the tension in his posture. Something set in his eyes that I couldn’t read, and I sat looking back at him for the longest time. And then, for the thousandth time in two minutes, I was caught incredibly off guard.
In an instant, the three feet between us became nonexistent.
I had no time to react, no time to pull away before Niall’s face was but an inch from my own, closer than I’d ever been to any one person. My eyes were wide as I felt his arm reach around to rest his hand on the back of my neck. His touch was warm, but a chill ran up my spine. His breath was hot on my face, the skin of my nose pricking. My mind went numbingly blank and my jaw went slack.
And then his lips were on mine.