I froze as his gaze landed on me, an animal caught in the headlights of a speeding vehicle. The evening sun shone on his eyes, making the soft blue take on a transparent hue. His expression was far from the look in his eyes—Niall was opaque, unreadable. He was wearing a dark blue polo and tan shorts, his hair tousled and eyes tired. My stomach tied into a knot; I wasn’t sure whether it was because I was nervous or something else entirely.
At first, I didn’t think it registered in Niall’s mind that it was me standing on his porch. I stood, shifting my weight between feet and trying to keep my breathing even. The last time I’d seen Niall, I’d been kissed and ran away. I mentally kicked myself for being such a coward. What Keaton had said made sense—Niall hadn’t been trying to hurt me. He would’ve gone at it the usual way if he’d wanted to do harm. When his eyes widened slightly and his eyebrows rose, I knew he’d noticed the nerve-wracked girl on his porch. I crossed my arms over my chest, slouching to try to make myself look as small as possible. Maybe I could disappear if I tried hard enough.
I saw Niall’s grip on the door grow tighter and my heart sped up. Look at what you’ve gone and done now, Samm. He’s back to what he was before. My teeth gnawed anxiously on the insides of my cheeks.
“Samm,” was the first word out of his mouth. It sounded strained, like he was embarrassed. I almost winced. Nothing could come close to how embarrassed I felt; my cheeks burned painfully in the evening sun.
I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. My throat seized up and my vocal chords wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t have mattered anyway; I didn’t even know what to say. How could I even look him in the eye when I’d ran from him and avoided contact for two days?
“What are you doing here?” Niall said. His voice was flat, with no hint of a question anywhere. I felt like it was more of an attempt at dismissal than anything.
“I-I-“ I stuttered, biting on my lip when nothing came out of my mouth. “I just-“
“Don’t,” Niall shook his head, and I froze.
“W-what?” I asked. My hands were shaking.
“Apologize,” he said. “Don’t say you’re sorry—you don’t have a reason to be.”
I blinked. “Apologize?”
Is that what I’d come here to do? My mind went blank. I’d come here to talk to Niall, but it’d never occurred to me that I’d be apologizing for humiliating not only him, but myself. Apologize? Niall was right. I didn’t have anything to be sorry for. The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.
“If that’s what you came here to do,” Niall spoke cautiously, his brow furrowing.
My mouth hung open. The only reason I’d come was to talk to him. Just talk—that’s all. It hadn’t even occurred to me that to have a conversation, there had to be something to talk about.
“Samm?” Niall pressed, leaning further out the door.
I shook my head, trying to clear my thoughts. “That’s not—I didn’t—“ I sighed. “I don’t know what I came here for.”
I may as well have slapped myself. I was such an idiot; for coming here, for listening to Keaton, for feeling something toward Niall, for even putting up with Niall in the first place. This whole thing, this whole situation; was my fault. My fists began to curl. Maybe I did have something to apologize for, and it was making me furious at myself.
“I came here to make sure you were okay,” I told Niall, trying to keep the irritation out of my voice.
His strained hand on the doorframe barely registered in my mind. I’d seen it so many times, and I’d lived through all of it. And now, knowing that Niall cared about me, I knew that he wouldn’t do anything to hurt me more than he had before. Niall looked confused.
“I’m fine. I don’t know why you would think I wasn’t.” He said it defensively, and I caught a tone that sounded incredulous. Was it really so hard to believe that I cared about him?
“Maybe because you’ve been gone for two whole days after I—“ I paused, closing my mouth. My face warmed at what I’d almost said. After I ran from your kiss. I shook my head. “Is it bad that I wanted to make sure you’re not dead? You came over when I’d been gone for one day. Cut me some slack.”
Niall’s jaw clenched. “I’m fine. I just haven’t been feeling well.”
I nodded. “Okay.” His nostrils flared after a moment of silence.
“If that’s all you came here to say…”
I furrowed my eyebrows. “It sounds like you want me to say something else.”
Niall’s eyes flashed to the ground, then somewhere above my head, then back to my gaze. I couldn’t read his expression. I was as conflicted as he sounded. What else did he want me to say? That I was sorry I ran away from him after he’d toyed with my emotions?
“I just-“ It was his turn to stutter under a stare. He leaned hard against the doorframe. “I screwed up… But I wasn’t expecting you to leave like that after I tried to make it up to you.”
And there it was. Niall was still thinking about it, probably just as much as I had been. What did that tell me? So far, nothing. I mentally shook my head at myself. Seeing his reaction to me standing on his doorstep, to what we were talking about, to my responses; my confidence was building. I wasn’t the only conflicted one.
“Kissing me was supposed to make up for everything?” I said, drawing my eyebrows together.
I guess that was the question that hit home. Niall was taken visually aback.
“Well—I—I didn’t,” he seemed to be trying to come up with an excuse, but I didn’t think he had one. Honestly, I didn’t think he even had anything to say. My face was still burning, confidence helping nothing about the humiliation I was reliving in my head.
“I don’t care what you didn’t do, Niall,” I sighed, closing my eyes and running a hand through my hair. “I’m talking about what you did do. I didn’t come to apologize; I want an explanation.”
I’d finally worked it out of my mouth, into audible words. I was shocked at myself, even having the ability to talk to Niall like this when I knew what he was capable of. But thanks to Keaton, I also knew what he wasn’t capable of anymore. If Keaton was right, Niall wouldn’t lay a harmful hand on me again.
“Samm,” Niall’s voice wavered. My eyes opened. He looked as shocked at me as I was. “It’s really—hard to explain.”
“Try,” I retorted immediately. I spread out my hands. “I have all the time in the world.”
Niall glanced back into his home, moving his body to see different areas of the house. He then stepped down onto the porch, closing the front door behind him. I naturally began to take a step back, putting distance between Niall and I, but I stopped myself. Giving Niall the impression I was uncomfortable in his presence—even though I was—wouldn’t have been a good idea. He crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back against the wooden door. I watched his expression carefully, and our eyes held each other for a moment before he glanced down at the ground.
“I—all of the—it just,” he tried again and again to start, but it took him a long while to finally collect his thoughts and look at me again. “All of this, the way I’ve treated you… It shouldn’t have happened.”
I almost scoffed, struggling to keep my mouth from dropping. Did he really think he needed to tell me that?
“I should’ve just told you, but…” He trailed off, looking somewhere to the right of me. “I didn’t know… It was…”
Niall let out a noise of frustration, pushing off from the door and brushing past me, stalking down the porch. I turned as my eyes followed him to a thick tree in the middle of his front yard. He put his hand against the bark, his other fist clenched at his side. “I don’t know how to say it, Samm.”
I sucked in a breath. That makes two of us. I took a step down the stairs, my feet stepping softly onto the grass. The shade of the large tree covered my face from the sunset as I studied Niall, trying to read him in any way possible. I felt like I needed this from him; he sort of owed it to me. Niall leaned against the tree, just looking at me for a long moment. A whole minute passed where neither of us said anything. It was to the point when I thought he would never say anything at all when his mouth finally moved.
“I showed everything the wrong way,” he said. Niall’s hands laced behind his head, his expression almost pained. “Treating you like that was a big mistake, and you’ll probably never forgive me.”
I nodded, knowing he was right. How could I forgive him for all of it? “You’re right, Niall. I won’t.”
Even from ten feet away I saw his jaw clench.
“Look, there are a lot of reasons I did what I did. I wouldn’t just hurt you for no reason.”
My jaw dropped. “They had better be good reasons, Niall. You shouldn’t hurt anyone.”
He threw his hands down at his sides. “Look,” he said, raising his voice. “I said I was sorry. That might not be enough for you, but I don’t know what else to give. Hurting you was a mistake, one that I don’t want to make anymore.”
“Give me a reason!” The volume of my voice increased with his, trying to get my point across. “Sorry won’t work, and whatever you think was logical may not be either. But at least I’m trying to understand! You can’t go at me when I was the person to try to say anything at all.”
His gaze tipped down. “I… can’t give you a reason.”
This answer should’ve been one to give me more confidence—it sounded like he’d just told me everything he’d ever said or done didn’t have fuel. There was nothing on me worth burning. But instead, my eyes filled to the brim with tears.
“So all of this time you’ve been hurting me and beating me down with words; you can’t give me anything that might have set it off?” My voice shook, and I fought to keep the tears in my eyes. I’d had so much practice. Niall’s head rose to meet my expression, thrown off by my sudden atmospheric change.
“Damn it, Samm! I deal with things differently, okay? Everything comes out wrong!”
My breath wavered heavily, eyes burning. “So that kiss, Niall?” My chest heaved. “That must’ve come out way wrong.”
His whole expression went slack, watching me begin to break down. I panicked, covering my face with my hands. Keaton was wrong, I shouldn’t have gone to talk to Niall. In the back of my head I’d known something like this would happen, but I never would have anticipated that I’d break down like this. Niall had never stricken so deep; using my own feelings against me was cruel.
My feet were moving before my mind could process it. I strode to my car, my only possible chance of getting away now. My feet slapped against the concrete, more willing to leave Niall than I ever had been. I shoved my hand into my pocket and pulled out my keys, unlocking the car and reaching for the handle. But as soon as I grabbed it, I felt a heavy hand on my wrist. A tear streamed down my face as I whipped around, jerking from Niall’s grip. His face looked so worried, but so hidden at the same time. I wanted to think that he cared, but I didn’t know him at all; I’d convinced myself otherwise, but now I was questioning what part of me had ever thought that.
“Go away,” I nearly whimpered through clenched teeth. I was shaking with anger, angst built up in the center of my chest.
“Samm,” Niall started, but I interrupted him by shoving him back from me.
He stumbled back into the grass, stunned. I stood, horrified at myself. I’d never physically pushed or hit anyone. What was Niall doing to my mind? My hands shook, but I clenched them and reached for the car again.
“Samm, you can’t leave,” Niall’s voice sounded desperate behind me, and I heard his footsteps moving closer. I wrenched the car door open and glanced back at Niall.
“Watch me.” My body started to slide into the driver’s seat, but his words stopped me.
“Samm,” he spoke calmly, but I knew better. More tears stung my eyes, angry at my inability to keep my cool. “You can’t leave, because I have to tell you something.”
My head whipped in his direction. “What,” I barely whispered.
“You’re wearing the necklace I gave you,” he stated, glancing at the charm around my neck.
I laughed dryly, looking down at it through wet eyes. “Funny, right?” I said bitterly. “You can have it back.”
I stood back on the driveway and moved my hands to unclasp the chain, but Niall moved forward quicker than I could react. I flinched hard under his touch as his hands held onto my forearms, moving me closer than I wanted to be to him.
“Stop,” I whimpered, but had no will or energy to move away. Niall was in control now, and I could only imagine what he’d do after I’d raised my voice and humiliated him.
“No,” Niall answered, his voice quiet. I winced, waiting for the pressure of his fingers in my arms—but when nothing came, I let out a sob. Why was Niall doing this to me?
“Samm, I don’t want to hurt you.” His eyes trailed to the necklace dangling around my neck. “It looks good on you.”
I shut my eyes tightly, squeezing tears out onto my cheeks. Niall was so close, his chest almost touching mine. I was very aware of his touch on my arms, making shallow and shaking breaths leave my throat.
“I—“ Niall started, but stopped. I could almost feel him studying my face. “I… Care about you, Samm. A lot.”
My eyes opened and I stared up at him in disbelief. Had those words really just left his mouth? His blue eyes stared back into mine, like they were searching me for anything he could get ahold of.
“You don’t,” I whispered. “You can’t.”
He shook his head slightly. “I can, and I do. I’ve showed it in all the wrong ways, but I care about you more than I have anyone else, Samm.”
My jaw went slack, tears still finding their way down my cheeks. Niall couldn’t be saying this. There was no way. It just felt like even the possibility of it was too far off. Having feelings for Niall wasn’t supposed to be a good thing, not supposed to get me anywhere; it most certainly shouldn’t be returned. But as I looked at Niall, and at his expression, I realized that he was letting me in. He wasn’t closed off, wasn’t trying to hide anything from me. I couldn’t believe it; it was impossible. But then again, a lot of unbelievable things had already happened in ten minutes. Niall was telling the truth. The thought both weighed me down and lifted me, throwing thoughts around in my head like crazy. I didn’t know what to do, and I couldn’t put together any words. So many things shoved to the front of my mind, fighting for dominance.
But what won over everything else wasn’t to leave him—it was to do probably the most stupid thing I’d ever done. I looked up at Niall’s eyes, his face closer than I normally would’ve tolerated. But not right now.
Tears falling hard, face on fire, and chest impossibly tight, I tipped my head up and kissed him.