Niall awoke the next morning to the soft noises of the others enjoying what sounded like breakfast.
The tour bus was still rumbling underneath him meaning they were still on the road to their next show. That was one thing he noticed about America. Their trips from one show to the next were either restlessly short, or painfully long.
“Oy, Harry,” he heard Louis complain. “Save some milk for the rest of us, you prat. It’ll be miles before we reach another rest stop.”
Harry’s laugh was infectious and rang through the whole bus. “Listen to you, a proper American already and we’ve only been in the country a couple of weeks.” He continued to laugh, and then switched into a very fake American accent. “It’ll be miles before we reach the next rest stop, and I’m really going to need to pick up a litre of cola.”
“You know that not every bit of American banter is like a scene out of Super Troopers, right? You do understand that, don’t you?” Louis deadpanned and following that was silence.
Niall waited eagerly as he listened for what was about to happen.
Of course, all the boys erupted into laughter.
Niall smiled to himself. For the first time in a long time he felt like things were normal. He supposed that was really his own stupid fault. He hadn’t felt comfortable about the others for fear that they were constantly judging him.
But if the session the day before had been any indication, they all just loved him and wanted him to get better. Clearly Jessica had been right about them needing an open forum to talk about their issues.
Niall took a deep breath and hopped out of his bunk, wandering over to the kitchen.
“Morning, lads,” he said, putting on his best Niall-ish smile.
The others looked up at him and if any of them thought that it was strange Niall was standing in the kitchen without looking at them awkwardly, they didn’t show it. “Morning, Niall,” Louis said with a smile, and patted the seat beside him. “There’s breakfast. Well, what you can find of it anyway if Harry hasn’t eaten it all.”
Harry rolled his eyes. “There’s plenty left. Besides, I didn’t touch any of the doughnuts,” he said, opening the cardboard box that was sitting on the table. “Krispy Kreme… your favourite, I guess.”
Niall grinned and sat himself down between Harry and Louis. He did glance a little at Louis while he grabbed a doughnut. For a second he wondered if Louis thought of him differently now that he knew about Liam and he the two of them had done stuff.
It didn’t seem like it, Louis was acting normally. Well, as normally as Louis usually did anyway. He was just laughing and messing around with Harry.
“Where’re we on the road to then?” Niall asked, looking out the window. This was far from their first American tour, but he was still amazed at how much space there was between stops. It seemed like they spent most of their time on the tour bus when they were in America.
“North Carolina, I think,” Harry said, looking at the others for confirmation.
They all nodded and turned to Liam, who rolled his eyes.
“Yes, North Carolina. Charlotte, to be exact. Am I literally the only one who reads the tour itinerary?”
“Yes,” the four of them answered in unison, and at that they all burst out laughing.
Liam rolled his eyes once again, but still smiled a little. “You know, if you lot read it you wouldn’t have to ask me all the time.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, slinging his arm around Liam. “But then you wouldn’t have the pleasure of making sure you were the one to let us know what was going on. And I know you just love to keep us all in line.”
Niall couldn’t help but grin as he watched Harry wiggle his eyebrows at Liam. Harry wasn’t wrong, Liam did love to keep all of them in line.
“Yeah,” Liam said slightly sheepishly, glancing around at all of them and finally letting his eyes rest on Niall. “I suppose I do.”
Niall swallowed a little, but didn’t let himself feel awkward. Instead, he kept the smile on his face because really, he was grateful for the fact that Liam liked to watch out for all of them.
They arrived at the venue late that afternoon, and since they were just going to be on the road again that night there had been no point in heading to a hotel.
Paul had ushered the four other boys into the venue, but Niall and Jessica remained occupied in the tour bus for the next hour. Because even though there was no hotel room for them to talk in, Paul made it very clear that he was still going to have his session with her.
Niall didn’t mind really. He was fairly certain it couldn’t have been more eventful than yesterday’s session.
Which was (of course) Jessica’s main topic for discussion.
“We certainly cleared the air on a lot of things yesterday, didn’t we?” she asked him.
Niall shrugged. He supposed so – even if the bulk of it she had no idea about.
“Last time we brought up the subject of the other boys you seemed really uncomfortable talking about them. Do you still feel that way? I think it was pretty clear yesterday that they love you and just have your best interests at heart.”
Niall nodded, but he was stuck on that stupid word again.
He’d said it to Alicia about a million times. In some ways he still felt that way about her. He was pretty sure he would always love her despite the fact that his life had spiralled out of control because of their relationship. He knew he loved the other boys too, they’d all said it to each other a lot, even though it wasn’t in the same way he’d said it to Alicia.
“And what about Liam?” Jessica said, vocalizing Niall’s next thought.
“Um,” Niall stammered. He wasn’t sure how Jessica could have known about that. His brain started going a million miles a minute, wondering if Liam had said something to her, or worse, she’d figured it out on her own.
But it didn’t seem that way at all, judging by the way she continued. “He seemed especially bothered by the session. You even went to go look for him afterwards… did the two of you talk and get it worked out?”
Niall shifted in his seat a little. Yes, he and Liam had definitely talked. And he did somewhat feel like they’d gotten it all sorted out. He eyed Jessica, wondering if he could actually tell her the truth about what was going on.
She kept looking at him with the same soft and concerned eyes that she always did. She didn’t speak – she just waited for him to answer her question.
“Yeah, I s’pose,” Niall shrugged, deciding that he couldn’t tell her. It was one thing for him to talk openly with Liam about it – Liam was the one who had initiated and had participated in all their activities. But to tell an outsider?
Though, Niall reasoned with himself, Liam had told Louis about it and Louis was still acting normal. So maybe it wasn’t so bad.
“It’s obvious he cares about you a great deal,” Jessica said with a smile.
“Yeah, he does,” Niall blurted out quickly, before his mind had a chance to stop him. “A great deal,” he stressed, giving her narrow eyes and hoping she would take the hint.
If she did, she didn’t make it clear. “What do you mean?” she asked him.
Niall sighed. Of course she was going to make him explain himself. That was her job after all, to make him talk through his issues. And Niall figured this was the biggest issue of all. He’d made his peace with the Alicia situation – and in fact the bulk of his addiction towards the end hadn’t even been about that. It had morphed into him being unsure of who he was and what he wanted and scared of Liam’s feelings for him… and more importantly, his feelings for Liam.
Feelings he hadn’t even been sure existed he’d been so coked out.
“He cares about me… more than a friend should,” Niall said carefully.
Jessica nodded and Niall inwardly sighed with relief. At least she wasn’t looking at him with disgust. But he supposed that along with listening to him talk about his issues, her job was also not to judge him for them.
“And he’s told you this?” she asked.
Niall slowly nodded his head. Yes, Liam had told him this. And if he was truly honest with himself, he’d known it for quite some time. He was just in far too much denial to let himself accept it. “Yeah.”
Jessica nodded her head, and Niall watched her as she took what felt like hours to form her next question. “How do you feel about him?”
If it took her hours to form that question, then it must have taken Niall decades to answer it. How did he feel about Liam? That was a loaded question. He really didn’t know.
He thought about it a little more. He wasn’t sure if it was truly that he didn’t know or that he didn’t know how to admit it to himself. He’d been jealous of Danielle when she’d been there, and as soon as she was gone he’d completely leaned on Liam for emotional support.
Emotional and physical support, Niall reminded himself. He recalled feeling so ashamed of himself that he’d resorted to doing cocaine in his hotel room and even after that, he’d still been calmed down when he saw Liam. So much to even be the one to initiate a kiss.
“It’s okay, Niall,” Jessica said, cutting into his memories as he tried to sort out what they meant. “If you don’t feel comfortable answering -”
“No,” Niall said, because he knew if he didn’t explain it to her now, he probably never would. He didn’t particularly want to go through the experience of telling her, but she’d helped him through everything else, and he really did want to get all of this figured out.
“You don’t have feelings for him?” she asked him.
Niall shook his head quickly. No, that wasn’t what he meant. “No, I didn’t mean that. I just… some stuff happened with us,” he muttered, looking at the ground.
“What kind of stuff?” Jessica asked him softly.
“It was when he found out I was doing cocaine,” Niall said, taking a deep breath. He felt sort of sick as he thought about it. “He flipped out and we went back to the hotel. And I was telling him about how I felt like shit, and he kept telling me that I wasn’t shit… and we kissed and stuff,” he explained, mumbling almost inaudibly as he got to the last part.
“Is that all?”
Niall shrugged. No, that wasn’t all. “And I kissed him again the next day,” he said, rubbing his face. “It just confused me so much, and he was so angry with me because of all the drugs and shit.”
He took another deep breath, and Jessica took this as a sign to wait for him to gather his thoughts.
“Then I overdosed,” he said darkly, and it was hard for him to believe that was something that had happened. He supposed that meant he’d made progress, but it still just scared him. Maybe more than whatever feelings he did or didn’t have for Liam. “And we talked in the hospital and it’s been awkward ever since.”
Jessica was silent for a moment as she took in what Niall was telling her. “But the two of you talked yesterday?”
Niall nodded. “Yeah.”
“And now how do you feel? Do you feel better?”
No, Niall was certain he didn’t feel better, but he wasn’t really sure why. “No. I mean, sort of, but not really.”
“Well, do you feel like there’s something unfinished between the two of you?”
Niall considered that for a moment. Jessica definitely had a way of vocalizing his internal confusion. “Yeah, kind of.”
“What did you say to him yesterday?”
Niall raised his eyebrow. “I told him we were friends and I didn’t know how I felt about him when I didn’t know how I felt about myself, you know.”
“I don’t think we’re just friends,” Niall continued as he thought more about it. He was sure he wouldn’t have even said to Liam that he didn’t know how he felt about him if they were. Because otherwise he would have said they were just friends. “I think… I feel like we’re more than friends.”
“But,” Niall continued, and he hardly even realized that he was doing most of the talking now. Jessica was just acting as a sounding board for his thoughts and musings. “He’s a boy.”
“So?” Jessica asked him, jumping into the conversation Niall was having with himself.
“So?” Niall repeated as though she was being ridiculous.
“It’s not a big deal, Niall. It’s not a big deal at all.”
Niall raised his eyebrow again because he was sure that it was a big deal. A huge deal, even. “Aren’t you supposed to wait before jumping into another relationship? Isn’t that something you’re not supposed to do while you’re in therapy?” he asked, changing the subject slightly.
Jessica shrugged. “You have to do what’s right for you. And if what you feel for Liam is right, then maybe that’s what you need to do.”
“I don’t think it’s right,” Niall said quickly, shaking his head. His stomach felt sick and he felt lightheaded at the very thought of actually being with Liam. He wasn’t even sure if it was the good kind of pre-relationship sick or not.
“Niall,” Jessica said seriously, grabbing his attention away from his paranoia. “Don’t make excuses for yourself. Because the fact that Liam’s a boy and the fact that you feel like it’s not right for someone going through something like this to begin a relationship shouldn’t stop you. I’m sorry if I’m stepping over a boundary here,” she said slowly, smiling at him softly to make him feel more at ease. “But it seems like you’ve already sort of begun the relationship. Even if you didn’t mean to.”
“I don’t know what other people will think,” Niall muttered, even though he knew that was just another excuse. He hadn’t really cared what other people thought before any of this happened, he wasn’t sure why it would matter now. It was one of the many reasons he felt he was such a good fit for this industry – he was able to let stupid gossip comments roll right off his back.
He used to be able to, anyway.
“Do you care?” Jessica asked him. “You shouldn’t. People will judge you no matter what you do, Niall. It’s a fact of life.”
He knew that all too well.
“I’m not telling you to go talk to Liam right away. You should take some time to think about this and if it’s what you really want. But if it is, you shouldn’t deny yourself happiness just because it scares you.”
Niall let her words hang inside the room while he sat there and contemplated them. She wasn’t wrong – he’d almost killed himself in trying to deny himself the happiness that Jessica was describing.
And for what? Because of what a few people on the internet might think? Maybe because of what his mum might think – but she’d told him before that she would always love him. Besides, if she said anything he could kindly remind her that at least he was still alive.
Maybe if he just allowed himself to be happy, he actually would be again.
“I’ll think about it,” Niall said slowly. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.
Jessica smiled at him. “It’s what I’m here for.”