Chapter 16 – The Ghost of Yesterday

Niall felt like a small child being dropped off at school for the first time. He sat with a pout in the passenger’s seat of his mother’s car as they pulled up to the airport.

The past two days had been awkward. Naturally she hadn’t let him out of her sight and strangely he’d been somewhat okay with that. He hadn’t realized how much he hadn’t wanted to be alone until she was there with him. He didn’t have the desire to go out and party and forget about his problems because whenever his mind began to go to a dark place his mum was there with a comforting look or a mug of tea.

It was almost as though she knew.

Now he was headed back to his life on the road, and Niall knew that was going to be decidedly harder. There were a number of reasons for that, but right now the only thing he could focus on was his mum and how much he was going to miss her and how much he wished that she was coming with him.

“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?” Maura asked him as she stopped the car.

“Yeah,” Niall lied, trying to put on a brave face for her. No, he wasn’t sure at all that he was going to be alright. He didn’t even know what ‘alright’ meant anymore.

The two of them got out of the car and Niall reached into the trunk, pulling out his two large suitcases and his guitar case. Paul was waiting nearby and walked over to them. He nodded a quick greeting to Maura and grabbed Niall’s luggage, carting it off into the mound where the rest of the boys’ suitcases sat.

“I love you,” Maura said, pulling her son in for a hug.

Niall held onto her tightly, not really wanting the moment to end. Somewhere deep down he loved his life and he loved his career, but at that moment all he wanted to do was go back to Ireland and be coddled. The last thing he wanted? Well, jetting off to a foreign country was high on that list.

“I love you too, Mum,” he said sincerely. “Thank you.”

“Take care,” she said, pulling away from his grasp and smiling at him. “You be good out there and do what Paul says, you hear me?”

“Yes,” Niall nodded.

“No more of this fooling around,” she said to him sternly.

“No more,” he confirmed, and he tried his best to mean it. It was easy for him to say that when he was standing right in front of her, but when he was back out on the road? He wasn’t so sure. But he was going to try – and he knew that at least Paul would be keeping a watchful eye on him.

Plus he had to have counselling sessions, so even though he was still feeling nervous and apprehensive about the prospect of that, he knew that they would help. They wouldn’t bring Alicia back or change the past, of course, but hopefully he would at least be able to accept what had happened and move on.

With that, when he once again thought of Alicia, he wrapped his arms around his mother again, and she gratefully accepted.

Niall felt a tapping on his shoulder, and turned his head to see Paul looking at him. He sighed, pulling away from Maura.”

“Sorry to take him from you,” Paul said sincerely, looking at her. “But we’ve really got to get going.”

“Take care of him,” Maura said seriously, eyeing Paul a little. Niall couldn’t help but gulp, knowing that she probably partially blamed Paul for what had happened. Even though it obviously wasn’t his fault at all – he hadn’t known what had been going on. And Niall had become an expert at lying.

“I will,” Paul replied, nodding at her just as seriously. He playfully put his arm around Niall, as if to lighten the mood. “Come on then,” he said. “The other lads have already all been through security.”

Niall nodded and gave his mum another nod goodbye before silently walking off with Paul towards the security gate. Paul followed closely behind him as Niall went through the process of emptying his pockets and taking off his shoes. That part was easy – he just had to do one step at a time. Walking through the metal detector? No problem. He could do that.

It was when he and Paul were both past the security checkpoint and walking through the gate that he began to feel nervous again.

He didn’t know what he was going to do when he saw the other boys. Sure, he’d visited with them all when he was in the hospital, but that had been an entirely different situation. Emotions had been running high and it wasn’t out of place to say strange things.

Now that he was expected to act normal, he almost didn’t know what to do. He shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground, following behind Paul as he studied the stitching on his Supras.

“Here we are,” Paul said, stopping at their gate. Their flight was to be boarding in a few minutes, and they didn’t have a lot of time. Niall sat down in one of the seats closest to the aisle of the airport. He glanced over at the others.

Everything seemed normal, just as he’d predicted and that almost made it all worse.

Harry was fiddling with his iPod. Louis was on his phone, likely texting his girlfriend. Zayn was doing the same.

And Liam?

Niall could hardly look at him, but he stole a glance out of the corner of his eye when he was looking at Louis, who was sitting beside him. Liam was just sitting there, playing with his iPod but looking rather blue.

Niall wished it wasn’t so awkward, but he really didn’t know what to say to him. After all that had happened and all that he’d been through, the one thing that was now sticking in his mind was his very strange relationship with Liam, and the how and why it had all changed.

He wasn’t sure if he felt sick or nervous or scared or excited or what but he did know that he just wanted to stay quiet and get on the plane and go to the states.

Actually, he wanted to stay quiet and get on a plane and go to Ireland, but that wasn’t an option.

So he just kicked his feet a little and looked at the ground as he waited for their boarding call to be announced.

It didn’t take long for their flight number to be called over the intercom and the boys lined up, knowing that they were going to get in for pre-boarding as they usually did. Liam glanced over at Niall, but wasn’t able to meet his friend’s eyes. He sighed a little, but didn’t make any effort to go over and talk to him. Niall seemed to want to be alone.

“Hi mate,” Louis said to Niall, slinging his arm over the blonde boy’s shoulders and shaking it slightly. “Good to see you.”

Niall gave Louis a small smile, but he still didn’t seem like himself.

Liam found it rather off putting. He hadn’t liked it when Niall was angry and upset and avoiding them in favour of being an addict, but this Niall wasn’t good either. He just wanted his carefree friend back who had a smile that could light up a room.

This Niall seemed to have a dark shadow cast over him. A dark awkward shadow that no one quite knew what to do with.

So Liam just looked away from him, because he didn’t know what to do or say in this kind of situation. Through all of the awkwardness, there was still that underlying relief. That even though Niall looked sad and unsure of himself, he also didn’t look dazed and out of it. He wasn’t drugged up, and he was in control of his thoughts and actions.

That was something that made Liam’s heart swell with happiness.

***

The flight to America was always long.

Liam leaned his head against the window, closing his eyes and trying his best to fall asleep. He felt tired and restless all at the same time. The soft music in his earbuds did little to help and he sighed, looking across the aisle.

Niall was in the other window seat, and he seemed to be fast asleep. At least, it looked as though he was. His hood was up and his bleached blonde tips were poking out of it, his eyes were closed and his mouth hung open slightly.

Harry was seated beside him, and he too appeared to be asleep. His head was rested on Niall’s shoulder, and though Liam didn’t like it, he felt a slight pang of jealousy. He wasn’t sure why and at the same time he was – the boys were all very affectionate with each other, but Liam wanted to be the one who got to rest on Niall.

Now he wasn’t sure he ever would be again.

He felt so selfish for thinking of it like that. Niall had so many problems and here he was focusing on his unrequited love for him. He wasn’t even sure it was unrequited, but that didn’t really matter. Nothing could happen with them until at the very least Niall was secure with himself again.

That was the worst of it, because through all of that love, he really just wanted to help Niall. In trying to help him, he’d only made it all worse. Liam thought that love was supposed to bring people together, but it seemed as though lately it was only ripping them apart. Niall’s love for Alicia, Danielle’s love for him, his own love for Niall…

Liam almost hated himself for loving him so much.

“He seems to be doing a little better, yeah?” Zayn asked softly, leaning over to Liam and nodding towards Niall and Harry.

“Yeah,” Liam said. “Seems that way.”

“He’s not quite himself,” Zayn mused, shaking his head and crossing his arms over his chest. “But I suppose that’s to be expected. At least he seems to be on the path. He’s not shutting us out anymore.”

“He’s not letting us in either,” Liam pointed out, feeling guilty for even thinking it.

“No, not really,” Zayn nodded. “But you know, that counsellor’s going to be there when we get to America. She’ll help him out.”

Liam nodded. Niall was going to get the help he needed – and even if he wasn’t going to be the one who would be able to help him, he was grateful for it. After all, the end goal was that Niall would get better. Liam was just going to have to accept the fact that he wasn’t going to be the one to help Niall meet it – in fact, he had hindered it.

But no one seemed to be judging him for that anymore. The boys all seemed to have moved on from the scene that had happened in the hospital room when Niall had been admitted. That was the wonderful thing about their group – they were all so forgiving and so loving. They had their moments, but they always pulled together easily.

Again, Liam felt a pang of guilt, because he was worried he’d nearly ruined that for everyone in his selfishness.

“He’s going to be alright, Liam,” Zayn said, looking at him intently. “I know he’s your best friend and you’re worried about him, but as bad as it is to say, the worst has already happened. Things will get better for him from here, you’ll see.”

“I know,” Liam responded automatically. He looked over at Niall again and smiled as the blonde boy shifted in his sleep. Upon doing so, Harry shifted a little as well, and the two boys’ expressions changed ever so slightly. Niall’s mouth still hung open, but his lips were curved up just a little.

The sight of this made Liam feel as though he could relax a little. He closed his eyes and once again leaned his head against the window, trying to fall asleep for the remainder of the flight.

As he drifted off, the only thing running through his mind was the small smile on Niall’s face and how that was the mark of the boy he loved. Underneath all the sorrow and pain, the Niall that Liam loved so much was still there.

He only hoped that soon, that Niall would be at the surface again.

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