I turn to look at dad. Niall is directly behind him, wincing, as dad walks towards me. I try to keep a level head, but panic sets in quickly. I look at Niall and he shakes his head slightly, as if telling me to keep calm and play it off.
"I...I think you heard wrong, dad."
Uncle Louis nods fervently, "Mate, I was just playing around."
"Yeah, me too."
Dad furrows his brow, crossing his arms in front of his chest, "Ems...you don't..." He turns to look at Niall and then looks at Uncle Louis, "Would you two mind?"
"Oh, no. Of course not." Niall says walking towards Uncle Louis and pulling him towards the living room.
"I'm still mad at you." Uncle Louis mutters as he allows Niall to pull him away.
Dad rolls his eyes, and finally looks back at me "Emma...do you...still..." He takes a breath and runs his hands through his curly mop of hair, "Do you...still...fancy your..." He sighs again, loudly this time, "Uncle Niall?"
I avoid his stare, knowing that if I looked into his eyes I would cave and tell him, "No." I mutter.
"Baby, look at me."
I hesitantly look up at his green eyes, my stomach turning as I try to say it again, "No."
"You don't have to...lie..." He says awkwardly shifting from one leg to another. This was not his area of expertise.
"Emma, this is serious. Come on now, baby."
I look up at him, "What if I did?"
"It's just a crush..." He says looking at me nervously, "It'll pass...." He gulps audibly, "I hope."
I smile wearily, "Dad, don't worry about it. We were just messing around. That was so long ago that I had a crush on him...how could I still?"
How could I tell him? How could I tell him that it won't pass. That it's even worse than he could imagine. That...that Niall loves me too...
He chuckles, "You're right. Your dad's just being silly."
"Oh, dad." I say with a guilty smile. Knowing that for now, he wouldn't be as suspicious.
"Let's just eat, yeah?" He says uncrossing his arms and visibly relaxing."
He wraps an arm around me, pulling me into his warm embrace, and walking us towards the entrance to the living room. He cheerily announces, "Let's eat!" to our large family. "Come on now, food'll get cold!" Dad turns to look at me, his eyes sparkling and his smile wide. He was at his best when we were all together.
How could I take that away from him?
The strumming of Niall's guitar along with the melodic and rich voices of my uncles and dad fill the large room. Mum had dimmed the lights, the adults had refilled their wine glasses, and the children had sat around curiously looking at their fathers singing the songs that told the story of their lives.
I sang along quietly, knowing all of their songs by heart, as cliche as that may seem. But at the same time I studied them.
In this moment, it was as if I were eleven again...watching them rehearse for a show. It was...simply magical.
I lean back against the sofa, sitting on the plush carpet with Ollie. He leans his head against my side, Louis' little girl, Ellie, sitting near us.
Some of the smaller children had been slowly falling asleep, the cords making the room peaceful.
"I think we're done for tonight." Dad says quietly looking at Zack and Penelope, Uncle Zayn and Auntie Perrie's children, fast asleep. He smiled as he saw Ellie's eyes slowly closing, leaning against Ollie.
"No, one more Uncle Harry!" Liam's oldest, Connor, exclaims.
"Aw, Connor, one more?" Dad says, unable to say no to any of the kids.
"Which one, buddy?"
My uncles look at each other smilingly, obviously pleased.
"The one dad sang to mummy on her birthday."
They all turn to look at uncle Liam and he smiles widely, "Fireproof."
"My favorite." I whisper.
Niall looks up at me, and winks discretely. I shake my head, smiling lightly.
Niall starts the cords, dad starting off the song. I sing along, stopping only when Niall begins his verse,
"I'm feeling something deep inside, hotter than a jet stream burnin' up, I got a feeling deep inside. It's taking, it's takin', all I got. Yeah it's taking, it's takin', all I got."
The rest of the room seems to fade, leaving me only in the world of their song. I remember listening to them rehearsing it, writing it, playing it for the first time. It didn't seem to make sense until now.
"It's been so long, It's been so long, Maybe we're fireproof."
I look up once more, locking eyes with Niall. He smiles slightly, singing the chorus with the rest of the group.
He looked at me differently than before, his eyes glimmering, even in the dimmed lighting of the living room.
Eight years had come and gone, so much has passed. And even though this shit storm was about to hit its highest point...it felt like...
All this time, all this mess, and still we wanted to weather it all.
Was this being fireproof?
The song slowly fades out, satisfied smiles upon their faces as the mums clap.
"I think we should call it a night." Dad says in a whisper, looking at all the little ones who had fallen asleep.
"We should do this more often." Auntie Sophia says, baby Izzie asleep upon her lap.
"A night of lullabies?" Uncle Lou says picking up Ellie and cradling her to his chest.
"Would make bedtime easier." Auntie Perrie replies as Uncle Zayn hands her Zack. He holds a sleeping Penelope to him.
I simply smile, at peace for the first time in the longest.
Ollie looks up at me sleepily, "Emmie?"
"Why can't we do this all the time?"
"Was it that much fun, Ollie?"
He nods, "I was too little to remember when we used to do this, wasn't I."
"Yeah, you were."
"Why didn't we keep doing it though?" he asks seriously, a pensive look upon his face.
"Well Ollie, everyone's busy. They all have their own families now."
"Aren't we a family though?" He says looking around the room, amongst the adult who were now bidding their farewells.
"Yeah." I mutter. "We are, bud."
"Did you see how happy mum and dad were?" He says with a bright smile.
"I hope we do this more often...You think we will now that Uncle Niall is back?"
I clear my throat, "Hopefully."
Ollie gets off the floor, offering me a hand to help me up. I smile as he struggles to lift me off the ground.
"You're heavy." He says with a furrowed brow.
"You don't say those kinds of things to a lady." I chide.
He smiles, hugs me, and runs off. Typical Ollie.
I watch as he goes across the room to bid his farewells. And when I turn to leave as well, I'm stopped by Niall.
"What did you think princess?"
I smile, "You haven't lost your touch."
He leans in, almost as if he were saying his own goodbyes, "Oh princess, you've yet to see my touch."
I feel myself burning up as he wraps me in his embrace, only for a second. When he pulls back, with a cocky smirk upon his face, he simply says "Goodnight, Ems."
"Night." I say, feeling my face still burning a bright red.
Perhaps I was not quite yet fireproof.