Catching Feelings

Ali rested her hand on my thigh and gave me a cheeky looking grin. I looked over at her and smiled a bit, then took another swig of beer. We weren’t dating or anything, but she did stuff like that, and I didn’t mind really.

“Another round?” she asked, glancing around at me and the rest of the boys. We were out at a pub in Mullingar on one of my rare weekends home. It was nice to just chill with my mates, and at home no one really bothered me too much.

We all nodded and Ali got up to leave, flashing me another big grin and she did so. Shawn and Josh’s girlfriend’s got up to join her, leaving the three of us alone at the table.

Shawn leaned over closer to me. He was half in the bag, I could tell. All of us were, really. “So when’re you gonna hook up with Ali?” he asked, raising his eyebrow and waiting for my answer.

What?

“I’m not gonna hook up with Ali,” I laughed, playing it off. “She’s just a friend,” I said simply. Because it was true, she was.

“Right,” Shawn said, and he and Josh gave each other some kind of look that I couldn’t read.

“What?” I asked, glancing back to where the girls were. They were standing at the bar, laughing and talking. It didn’t seem like they were coming back anytime soon.

“She likes you,” Josh said, as though it was so obvious he wasn’t even sure why he was saying it.

Yeah, I liked her too. She was a girl, and she was my friend, and of course I’d thought about doing stuff with her, but I’d never actually gone through with it. I don’t have enough time for any sort of relationship, and I wasn’t going to just sleep with her and then take off. But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t looked down the top of her dress when I didn’t think she was paying attention.

Shawn laughed. And looked over at Josh. “She really likes him, did you see how she had her hands all over him?”

“She had her hand on my thigh,” I interjected, but they weren’t paying attention to me anymore.

“And how close she leans in whenever she says something to him?” Josh laughed, finishing up his beer and glancing up at where the girls were.

They were still lost in their own little girl world, talking about whatever girls talk about.

I shrugged. “So? That doesn’t mean anything.” It didn’t, did it?

They both looked at each other like I was clueless. I wasn’t clueless! I could tell when a girl liked me! Loads of girls liked me, they told me every single day on twitter, out on the street, at concerts, everywhere I went. But Ali was just my friend.

“Niall,” Shawn said, doing that leaning over the table thing again. “Before I got together with Kelly, she was always doing those sorts of things. Touching me, and making any excuse to hug me or close really talk.”

“Right,” I said, my mouth feeling dry. “So she ended up liking you, that happens.” All of those things didn’t mean anything. Being out at the pub with my mates in Mullingar was a little bit weird, and I always needed to readjust to how different things were with them. It wasn’t the same as being out on the road with the other boys.

Which was also weird. You’d think that since I spent all my time with the lads in the band that I wouldn’t miss them when I went home, but I always did.

Shawn just furrowed his eyebrows like I didn’t get what he was saying. “No, mate,” he said, eyeing me. “I’m saying that’s what people do when they like each other. Come on, you know this.”

I took a contemplative swig of my beer. Sure, yeah, okay. I still didn’t get what Shawn was getting at. Because those things were just ways of showing affection I guess, and everything he was describing were all things I did on a regular basis with Harry, Louis, Liam and Zayn. Because we were close like that. I’d never really thought anything more of it until I listened to Shawn talk.

“You know?” I heard him say as I tuned back into his words. “She was always putting her head on my shoulder, hugging me, she hugged me all the time, for any reason. She still does that. It’s nice,” he rambled on.

My mouth felt dry, and the last dregs of beer in the pint glass did little to help.

I was always hugging the other lads.

And it was always nice.

In fact, I liked it a lot more than when Ali hugged me. She hugged me tight every time I left Mullingar to go back to London, and it was always nice, but it wasn’t nearly like when Liam hugged me. In fact there were times that I felt like everything was right in the world when I hugged him, or sat close to him on the couch, my head on his shoulder.

But I’d never thought about him the way that I sometimes thought about Ali, or any other girl for that matter. I certainly had never looked down the top of any of the other lads’ shirts! Not that I really needed to, I guess, because Harry had a tendency to walk around naked, and none of us had any shame around each other about that sort of thing.

I swallowed a little. Was that…weird? The boys were my whole life, but the way that Shawn was talking was making me think about things in a whole new way. A way that I wasn’t sure I particularly liked or was comfortable with.

I glanced around. Where was Ali with more pints? I felt like I was going to need them.

“Nialler?” Shawn asked, pulling me out of my thoughts that were running through my mind at a hundred miles an hour.

“Huh?” Oh God. He was going to figure it out. I suddenly felt very paranoid, even though there was no way he could have made the connection from what he’d said to what I was thinking about.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, laughing a little. “You went a bit off.”

“Uh, just thinking about some stuff, you know,” I laughed it off awkwardly. I really needed that pint. The one time that Ali didn’t hurry back to the table.

“Right,” Josh laughed. “Look at him. He’s thinking about shagging Ali.”

“You caught me,” I lied, because it was better than what I was actually thinking about. I wasn’t thinking about getting with Ali at all – I was comparing the way her arms felt around me to the way it felt when Liam’s arms were around me and how it terrified me that I liked his better and how I didn’t understand what that meant because it was something that had never registered with me before.

But now that the door had been opened, there was no closing it and my brain was very quickly rattling off all those times that Liam had hugged me, that Harry had whispered closely in my ear, that Zayn had kissed me on the cheek, that Louis had draped himself over me on the sofa…

“And you really think she likes me that much?” I croaked out, looking at Shawn for confirmation.

He shrugged his shoulders. “Of course, mate,” he said with a grin. “You don’t do that stuff with someone unless you have some kind of feelings for them.”

Oh God.

~~~

I tried not to give it much thought, but it was difficult when Monday rolled around. I was back in London and we were all at Liam’s flat watching a movie.

The thing is, no one else seemed to really notice it. Liam put the DVD in like everything was normal. I suppose because really, everything was. Zayn was sitting in one of the chairs texting Perrie, I guess. I watched as Louis reached over and poked him in the face with his finger, giggling as he retreated back to his spot on the couch. Then he leaned his back against Haz, who didn’t seem to mind so much.

Then again Louis and Haz were the two most affectionate in the band. Sometimes I wondered if anything had actually gone on with them, but not in a weird way. Just in a way where you wonder if any of your friends are fooling around, especially when they act like that. I know that all of us in the group act like that, but they really do. Especially Harry, he’s like that with everyone, but Louis and him are always touching and cuddling and hugging and kissing and it’s completely fine.

At least, I’m completely fine with it. And no one else has ever said anything to me about it or acted like they weren’t fine with it. I suppose some of the fans think they’re actually in a relationship, but they’ve never said anything to any of the rest of us if they were or weren’t.

I’d never given it much thought before, and now I found I had to force myself to not stare at them and analyze their every move.

Because for us this was all normal and no one ever gave it a second thought except for me.

Liam sat back down beside me and draped his arm over my shoulder. I looked up at him and forced a smile. Torn between thinking it was weird because I knew I was supposed to think it was weird, and not thinking it was weird at all, because I liked it. It made me feel nice to be so close and comfortable with someone like that.

I tried to concentrate on the screen, but it was difficult. Liam’s arm was easily draped around my shoulder, strong and heavy. Occasionally he would reach over and ruffle my hair with his fingertips. I liked it… of course I liked it. Who doesn’t like having their hair played with, after all?

I looked up at him and he grinned a little.

It was weird but when he did that I couldn’t help but notice his lips. I sort of wondered what it would be like to kiss them and I furrowed my eyebrows as I forced myself to look back at the screen.

I didn’t really want to kiss him. It wasn’t like when I looked at Ali and thought about kissing her, and then doing other things… it wasn’t really physical. I didn’t understand it.

“I’m going to make some popcorn,” Liam announced, and he stood up. His arm was gone from around my shoulder, and I missed it almost instantly.

But if it wasn’t physical, why did that bother me?

“I’ll come with you,” I said hurriedly, as I followed him into the kitchen.

“It’s only a one person job, Nialler,” Liam laughed, but let me follow him all the same. I couldn’t care less about the movie now, not when I had to be around him and think about the way he was touching me, and the way the other boys were touching each other… “Are you alright?” Liam asked suddenly, when we were both standing on the tiled floor.

And the way that Liam always knew when something was bothering me.

Fuck.

“Yeah,” I lied. “Fine.”

I wasn’t fine because now I was looking at my life in a completely new light.

“Right, okay,” Liam said, not pushing it. Because that’s what Liam does, he doesn’t push things. He just lets it go, but he’s there for you if you need him. Like any good best friend is.

He grabbed the popcorn out of the cupboard and poured some of the kernels into the popper that he had sitting on the counter. I watched him intently, trying to think about anything other than the obvious weird friendship that the five of us had.

“Niall?”

I was beginning to develop a habit of flaking out. It wasn’t good. I wasn’t normally quite so flaky. “Huh?”

“Are you sure you’re alright? You look really deep in thought about something, do you-”

“It’s weird, isn’t it?” I cut him off, knowing I wouldn’t get the words out unless I blurted them. I was bad like that sometimes. “It’s weird,” I said a little quieter, not able to meet Liam’s eyes and looking down at the ground.

Of course he had no idea what I was on about. “Uh, what’s weird? Popcorn?”

No Liam, not popcorn! God, he was so straight up sometimes and that’s what I really lo-

No. No.

I chuckled a little bit, trying to force that weird thought out of my mind. I wasn’t in love with him. How could I be in love with him if I didn’t want to kiss him or do anything like that at all? “No, not popcorn,” I said lightly. “I mean… it’s weird,” I lowered my voice. Not that it mattered, the movie was loud and the other boys couldn’t even see us from where they were sitting. “The way we are with each other.”

Liam gave me a look. “What?”

I was beginning to feel awkward. I sort of wished I hadn’t said anything to him about this at all. The spinning kernels began to pop and I concentrated my gaze on that instead of Liam’s questioning eyes. It was easier to say this when I didn’t have to look at him. “Just… how we always touch and hug and stuff…” I mumbled.

He shrugged. “I don’t think it’s weird.”

Right. Of course he didn’t. None of us did. Until right at this moment when I did!

“But other guys don’t do that,” I said simply, looking up at him. He didn’t look upset or anything, just confused. And that’s what was great about Liam. He was never really judgemental or anything like that. At least, he’d never been to me.

“I guess,” Liam just shrugged. “But you know, we’re all so close, and we know each other’s limits. You don’t really spend this much time around some people without getting really close and feeling comfortably being physical, I suppose.”

I didn’t really know if that was true, I’d never been so close to anyone in my life as I was to the four of them. Not even any girl, and it wasn’t like I was a virgin!

“I suppose so, yeah,” I shrugged.

“Come on,” he said, dumping the popcorn into a bowl and carrying it back out into the living room. “Let’s go watch the movie.”

“Yeah, okay,” I said, following right behind him. We sat back down on the couch and nothing really changed. He put the popcorn on the table and the boys all dove for it, but I just leaned back, staring at the screen.

Liam went to put his arm around me again, and I looked up at him. He gave me a look, and I think he was trying to ask if it was okay on account of the conversation we’d just had. But it was okay. I wanted his arm around me. So I nodded a little and he dropped it around my shoulders and we sat and watch the rest of the movie like nothing had changed.

Because I supposed nothing really had.

~~~

“Great show tonight, lads,” Liam said, stretching out his arms and leaning back in the car that would take us to the hotel we were staying at.

We’d just done a show for a charity event to a massive crowd. There were loads of people there and it had been a long day. I’d almost forgotten what had been on my mind for the past two weeks as we sang and jumped around the stage.

That is, until we had stood there to take a bow and Liam had hugged me, and I hugged him back and then I remembered that I was supposed to think it was weird but I liked the feeling of it and I remembered that I’d never felt so loved as I did when I was in the presence of these four boys.

And now I was sitting in the car studying everyone again.

Just like I had during the movie.

Except this time, Ali texted me.

Hey nialler, how did ur performance go? Xx

I sighed and sent her a quick reply. I liked it when she texted me, and it was infrequent, but she always knew the right moment, it seemed, to do so.

Yeah, really good! Loads of people there. Great night!

I smiled as I looked down at my phone, anticipating her reply. Ali was a cute girl, maybe Shawn was on to something. Maybe I could hook up with her. As I looked down at the small screen, the thoughts in my mind that had been so stressful were replaced with thoughts of Ali, and that tight dress she was wearing, and how it hung nicely around her curves and how easy I’d be able to pull it off.

“Right, Nialler,” Liam said with a laugh, interrupting my thoughts. Probably for the best not to go to far into that in my mind with the other lads in the car anyway.

Oh, we were back to things being weird for me again.

“Yeah?”

“You want to go out for a pint?” he asked, wiggling his eyebrows a little bit.

Was that even a question? I always wanted to go out for a pint! “Yeah buddy!” I laughed, and my phone buzzed in my lap.

When you comin back to de gar?

I actually didn’t know.

I dont really know =(

She texted me back almost instantly.

Well when u do let me know. I miss u.

Odd. But I sort of missed her too, I guess. I didn’t know if I was attracted to her in a relationship sort of way. But she was my friend… and I liked her, and I sort of liked the way that I thought about her, and that dress… and her without that dress. But I could be friends with a girl and have sexual thoughts about her and not romantic ones. Every guy did that. That was normal.

“Who’re you texting?” Liam asked, leaning over.

“Ali,” I said simply, probably with a slight blush.

“Oooh, Ali,” he laughed. “You guys gotten together yet?”

“No,” I shrugged. “I just like her as a friend.”

“Yeah,” Harry interjected, leaning forward from the seat behind us where he was sitting with Louis. “A friend he wants to shag.”

I couldn’t really argue that.

“He does too!” Louis laughed, leaning upwards to join Harry. “Look at him, he’s all red and not saying anything. Plus, we’ve heard you,” he said, raising his eyebrows and looking at me. And then giving Harry a look and then the two of them laughed because they had their own language no one else understood.

“What?” I asked, intrigued and curious as to what exactly they’d heard from me.

“You, saying her name while you…” and then he made a wanking motion and burst out into a fit of giggles, leaning back into his seat.

They did not hear any of that! I know, because I was always really quiet and never said anyone’s name. At least I didn’t think I did. But I guess I’d be lying if I said Ali hadn’t crept into my mind when… oh, now he and Harry were both in a fit of giggles. And Zayn was looking at me, waiting for my answer because it was clearly more interesting than his text conversation with Perrie. And I was sure my mouth hung open and my face was red, which was weird because it wasn’t like we hadn’t talked about this sort of thing before.

“Oh, Ali,” Louis moaned, making his stupid wanking motion again. He and Harry looked at each other and laughed. We hadn’t even had that pint yet!

“Shut up,” I muttered, going back to my phone. But I felt sort of awkward texting her now, so I just stared at it.

“Oi, knock it off, guys,” Liam said quickly. Thank God for him. I looked up at him gratefully. But this minding-his-own business attitude didn’t last long. “So,” he said with a grin. “You like her as a shag then?”

Well, at least he wasn’t teasing me about it. I shrugged. “Yeah, of course.”

He nodded and looked back out the window. Harry and Louis continued to giggle in the back seat, but I really didn’t mind much. No matter how much they drove me mad, I really loved these boys. I especially loved Liam, because he always seemed to understand where I was coming from, even if I myself didn’t all of the time.

It was weird that everyone thought it was okay that I didn’t see Ali as anything more than a friend, but that I thought she was hot and would sleep with her.

I wondered if it was okay that I felt so close to these guys in almost a romantic way but never wanted to sleep with any of them. I didn’t even know if that made sense. But I suppose if you could have sex without love, you could have love without sex, couldn’t you? Even romantic love?

Sometimes I thought that was what I felt when I was around Liam. But I’d never even been in love with a girl before, I guess I’d loved Holly but that was such a long time ago that I didn’t even know anymore.

I leaned my head on Liam’s shoulder. I smiled a little to myself. Despite all of the thoughts going on in my head, that connection made me feel a little better.

“Hey,” Liam said, turning his head a little. “Don’t you fall asleep yet, we still need to have that pint.”

“I’m not,” I insisted, keeping my head firmly placed against him. “I’m just resting my head.”

He went back to looking out the window and smiled like that was perfectly fine and normal.

I supposed it was.

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