I had a night free from Niall to do anything I wanted — right after I finished the assignments I’d missed from my talk with Keaton.
Thankfully, our teachers had web pages that they posted assigned work on. They also provided an online textbook, which was an even greater luxury.
I finished physics first, since it was just a small bookwork piece. Algebra II was just a worksheet that I printed off and completed in about ten minutes, and my elective art class didn’t have homework.
After I got done, I packed my bag for the next day at school and kicked back on the sofa in the living room. I picked up one of my favorite books that I always kept on the small side table and began to flip through the pages. I could reread the book as many times as I wanted, and I would still love it all the same.
Around nine my eyes started to drift closed, and I forced myself into the shower and into my bed. As my eyes closed for the last time that night, I realized that Niall hadn’t even crossed my mind.
I was surprised when Niall didn’t show up for school again. I just found it strange that something I might have done would cause him to avoid everyone for two days in a row.
For some reason—maybe it was the extra sleep, or something else—I was in a good mood. I managed to get all of my assignments done in class for the first half of school, and didn’t mind the walk out to my car for lunch. The weather was nice, warm even for this time of year. I wore a floral dress(http://www.polyvore.com/cgi/set?id=105996468) with a cream cardigan, and a pair of light brown boots were on my feet. I’d left my hair to fall natural, and brushed it back from my face as I dug my keys out of the pocket of my sweater.
I sighed as I slid into the driver’s seat, tossing my bag into the other. I closed my car door and propped the steering wheel up a bit to allow me to crisscross my legs. Leaning back into the seat, I unzipped the lunch I’d packet again today. I’d had extra time to get everything ready this morning, and hadn’t seen the harm in packing a lunch. It felt nice to not have to concentrate on driving home, or really anything at all.
I pulled a spoon out of my bag and dipped it into the warm mac and cheese I’d kept in a thermos. The salty cheese tasted great on my tongue, and I smiled to myself. Today was getting to be a really good day.
I closed my eyes for a moment, and for the first time in a while I didn’t feel like I could’ve fallen asleep. Maybe this is what a full day without Niall was like. My chest squeezed a bit at the thought, but I couldn’t help but notice how nice it’d been. I hadn’t had to worry; I hadn’t had to keep myself in check; I hadn’t had to be afraid for my emotions; I hadn’t had to worry about caring about him. Maybe I could get used to this. My lips turned down at my own thoughts, but I shook my head—I wasn’t going to spoil this day.
I heard a knock on the passenger’s side window and I let my eyes drift open. Keaton stood in the window, smiling and waving. I furrowed my eyebrows at him but rolled the window down anyway, interested to hear what he had to say.
“Hey,” I said. It sounded like more of a hesitant question than a greeting. “What are you doing here?”
“I came to eat with you,” he answered, leaning on the window frame. “Just like I said I would.”
I shook my head at him. “You don’t have to. Go back and eat with your friends.”
“You’re not getting rid of me that easily,” he laughed, opening the passenger’s door and sliding into the car.
I snatched my bag from the seat before he sat on it and tossed it into the back. Then I turned back to him and shook my head again. “Really. You should go and be social.”
“And so should you,” he answered, closing the car door and digging into the bag he’d brought. I sighed and rolled up the window, holding my spoon between my thumb and index finger. “And I don’t think you’re going to go inside; so I won’t.”
I rolled my eyes. “Fine. When you lose all of your friends for talking to me, then don’t say I didn’t tell you so.
Keaton stopped what he was doing. “Why would I lose my friends for talking to you?” he asked. I felt my cheeks go hot.
“Well,” I trailed off, searching for an answer. Niall had given me so many reasons to believe his friends hated me. I had so many reasons right here with me, but I didn’t say one of them. I was sure that Niall had pointed my flaws out to everyone, as he’d done so diligently with me. Maybe he hadn’t, and Keaton didn’t notice any.
“Nothing,” I shook my head dismissively. “You should still go eat with them.”
“Hey,” he said, turning his head to look straight at me. I felt my cheeks get hot again as I looked back into his eyes. “No.”
He added an innocent smile, and I couldn’t help but return it. “You’re something,” I mumbled, kicking off my boots and crisscrossing my legs. I took another bite of mac and cheese and sighed.
“What?” Keaton looked over, sandwich in hand.
I shrugged. “Nothing. It’s just that the purpose of ‘eating alone’ is kind of defeated when you’re… Well, not alone.”
He rolled his eyes. “I’ll be quiet,” he assured me, putting a finger to his lips. “You won’t even know I’m here.”
I laughed quietly. He smiled, knowing he’d won, and took a satisfactory bite out of his lunch. We sat in the quiet for a long while, clearing out our lunch bags. When I finished, I gathered everything up and tossed it into the back with my school bag. Keaton was done a few minutes after me and put his empty lunch bag at his feet.
“So,” he said, clapping his hands together. “How are you?”
I took a deep breath and turned myself to face him. “I’m okay. And you?”
“Just peachy,” he replied in a posh accent. I smiled and leaned my head against my seat.
“I just realized that you have a free period the same time I do,” I thought aloud, cocking my head to the side. I checked the clock—it was the end of fourth period, right before our official lunch period.
“What a wonder that is,” Keaton said, shaking his head. He rested his elbow on the middle arm rest and put his chin in his hand.
“I don’t appreciate sarcasm,” I waved my hand at him, turning to face forward.
“I’m sorry,” he said, sticking out his bottom lip.
I turned up my chin, playing along. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d joked around with anyone. “I don’t know if you are.”
“Come on,” Keaton whined.
I felt a tug on the arm of my cardigan and my body stiffened. My small smile dropped and I went numb automatically, cursing myself for the way I responded. Touch was still a sensitive thing for me. There wasn’t a way I could’ve controlled my reaction. It just happened every time I seemed to get close to someone—which wasn’t often at all.
Keaton’s arm immediately drew back as if he’d been stung, and I whipped around to him with a distressed expression. There I went again, throwing people back by acting the way I did. I had to scramble for something to say.
“I—I’m sorry,” I said quickly. “I didn’t mean to freak, I swear. I just—I can’t—“
“Hey,” he held his hands up, his expression serious. “It’s okay, I understand.”
My face fell into my hands. “Why can’t I ever just have a normal conversation with anyone?” I groaned.
Keaton sighed. “Because I don’t think you have in a long time.”
My eyes flashed up to his face. He was serious, and I knew he was right. I let out a shaky breath. “Isn’t that the truth?” I said sarcastically.
It was quiet for a long moment as I stared out the windshield. How was is that Keaton seemed to know just what was going on? Niall wasn’t tormenting him—Keaton was one of Niall’s best friends. Didn’t Niall rant to him about me? Maybe that was how he knew exactly what I was being put through.
“Sometimes I wonder if it’s just him wanting to get a kick out of it,” I said quietly, more to myself than to Keaton. “Everything that’s happened, you know. He might just be faking the nice part of him.”
Keaton waited a second before speaking. “He’s not all bad. He may seem like it, but that’s not him. There’s a reason that he’s so angry sometimes.”
My interest spiked. “Why is that?” I turned my head to him.
He bit his lip. “He’ll kill someone if I tell you.”
I rolled my eyes. “First of all, it will probably be me he kills; second, anything he throws at me won’t be anything I haven’t been hit with before.”
“Literally,” Keaton shook his head, sounding ashamed with his friend. My jaw clenched.
“Really. I want to know.” I hesitated, then reached out to put a hand on his shoulder. His head lifted and I immediately drew my arm back, resting it in my lap. “I’ll never understand if you don’t tell me. If I ever hope of talking to him again, I need to know what’s wrong.”
His eyes widened. “You haven’t talked to him yet?” He rubbed his forehead. “Maybe that’s why he’s gone again,” he mumbled quickly.
I waved it off. “I’ll do it tonight, as long as you tell me.”
Keaton shook his head again. “I’m going to get my arse handed to me. All for you, Samm.”
I smiled, my cheeks growing warm. No one had done anything for me in a long while, let alone point it out. I turned toward him again, leaning the most of my shoulder against the seat’s back. Keaton did the same, letting his legs shift to the footwell of the passenger’s seat.
“Don’t pity him,” Keaton stated flatly. “I’m just telling you now, because he’ll get livid if you do.” I nodded, encouraging him to continue. When he did, he spoke quickly. “When Niall was younger, his dad died. He drank, not too much. But his dad had a heart attack right after he turned forty-five, and the doctors couldn’t make his heart beat again. Niall was crushed the most out of all of his family. He and his dad were really close, and it really took its toll on him. Niall just works… Differently than everyone else.”
I blinked. Once, twice. My fingers tingled, and I got an ache in my chest. His dad died. I had no idea what that felt like, but I could understand the amount of pain he must’ve gone through. Then I suddenly remembered the picture I’d seen on Niall’s camera; the one with Maura, Niall, his brother, and the other man. It must’ve been his father, and that’s why Niall’s emotions had swung so wildly. Something just clicked, and it all made sense.
My hand found my mouth and I closed my eyes. “Oh my God,” I mumbled into my skin, the words getting distorted. “That’s why.”
I didn’t know I was crying until I felt a hot tear run down my cheek. I swiped it quickly, then turned away from Keaton. He didn’t need to see me get emotional, especially over someone I cared for. I nearly laughed at myself—cared for seemed like it had such a corrupt definition in my case.
“He’s been afraid of losing things he cares about since then,” Keaton continued. “Granted, he doesn’t deal with it the right way. He prefers to push people away, as opposed to letting them in.”
I shook my head, amazed. So many things were going on with Niall, and I had no idea. I’d just thought that he was torturing me for fun. He’d been trying to push me away so he wouldn’t get hurt if I left. My chest constricted and my stomach fluttered. Niall pushed away the people he cared for—Niall cared for me.
“I’m so sorry to hear that,” I said quietly. “I had no idea.”
“Don’t pity him,” Keaton said quickly. “Like I said, he doesn’t want people feeling sorry for him and trying to push past the walls he’s got built up around himself. He’ll explode.”
I took a deep breath, staring out at the small trees planted in the front campus of the school. I didn’t know what to say—what could I have said anyway? My feelings toward Niall were all over the place, and I didn’t know what I would’ve proved if I said anything. My parents were always gone; they had almost never even been there. But Niall’s father was gone. He didn’t even have a choice.
I just shook my head, staring blankly out the windshield. “I don’t even know what to say.”
Keaton shrugged. “There’s nothing really to say. You just have to understand.”
I bit my lip. Even after hearing that Niall’s father had died, I was still unconvinced that Niall had an excuse to be the way he was. Pushing someone away was one thing; but physically hurting them was another. I was so breakable, and Niall knew that. In fact, Niall was the reason for the fragility I had. I didn’t think that even this news could bring me crawling back to Niall.
“Keaton, I still don’t—“
“I know what you’re thinking,” he cut in. “‘There is still no way I should let him walk all over me’,” he quoted my thoughts. “But think about it this way; he tried to kiss you, right?”
My eyes went wide as my head turned to Keaton. My cheeks grew warm and I ducked my head. “How do you know about that?”
Keaton waved me off. “Niall tells me nearly everything.”
My face fell into my hands again. Of course he did.
“Samm,” he said. I felt a hand rest on my shoulder, and I stifled my flinch. “I understand why you ran. But you have to realize that what Niall did was a huge step for him.”
I didn’t think Keaton understood why I ran from Niall. It had seemed like all of Niall’s time was devoted to making my life miserable and destroying any trust I had ever. Niall kissing me had felt like a violation; another way to wedge himself into my mind. If anyone in this situation was guarded, it was me. I bit my tongue.
“I’m not trying to say that you did anything wrong,” Keaton continued, squeezing my shoulder. “Because you didn’t. But when you ran, Niall saw it as another person he cared about leaving. You’re the first person I’ve seen him let in in a long time.”
He may have let me in, but he’d forced his way into my head. I didn’t want the cruel Niall. I wanted the Niall who had joked around while we’d started our project. But whenever I thought I had him, he disappeared. Talk about hypocrisy.
I reached my hand to the necklace Niall had given me. It reminded me of the Niall I wanted, the one that I’d found almost two weeks ago. I looked up at Keaton, confused and filled with anxiety. He patted my back with a smile, then sat back in his seat.
“He’s blown all of his shots,” he stated simply.
I nodded. That was obvious.
“He’s been just about the worst he can be,” Keaton continued. I nodded again. “You’re angry. You’re frustrated. You’re spent. He’s confusing. You wish you could erase the last few months and forget Niall.” I winced at that statement, but nodded at all of the others. Keaton was right.
“But,” he said, making the word sound like a whole sentence. I ran a hand through my hair, waiting for him to say something—anything. “Most of all, you’re willing to give him another shot.”
My jaw clenched. I gripped tighter to the necklace, flustered. I didn’t know what to do. Part of me wanted to just forget Niall and everything that had happened in the last week and continue without him; the other wanted to remember, but push all of the memories away and start again like Niall had tried before. I couldn’t tell which part of me wanted which more.
But slowly, I found myself nodding.
Four hours later, as the sun was just starting to set, I parked me car in the driveway. My heart was pounding as I stepped out of the driver’s side and onto the pavement, closing the door behind me. My phone was clutched in my hand and I smoothed my dress down.
My feet carried me slowly up to the porch. I hesitated in front of the door, my face burning with flustered stress. I couldn’t do this. I was too afraid, too cautious. What would he do? My face fell to the ground. I had to do this. I had to.
Slowly, my arm raised. What would he think? What would happen? Could it really be that he was just pushing me away because he cared about me? That was one heck of a way of showing someone you cared, but somehow I understood it. Niall deserved a little give, and I deserved a little resolution.
My hand tapped on the door. Once, twice, three times. Then I stood and waited. I waited long enough that I almost walked back to my car. But just as I was about to turn, the knob twisted. My chest heaved and my face burned hotter.
It was too late to go back now.