After the night of Chantelle’s birthday, Niall could have been forgiven for thinking that the situation was heading only in the right direction. To him, the connection had intensified and, with it, the feelings. They were a couple in everything but title.
As was so commonly the case for Niall, things were bound not to remain quite so wonderful. Chantelle hit some hard times where family was concerned and played her cards close to her chest about it all. That, in itself, caused some concern for him, though he understood why she might not yet trust him enough to divulge such sensitive information.
Their meetings became less frequent. Niall didn’t think too much on it because he was in work anyway. It was when the next weekend came around and she decided against them meeting that alarm bells began to ring. It would be the first time they hadn’t met on a weekend since they’d met and it played on his mind.
Instead, Niall met up with Lewis for a couple of drinks. Despite knowing that his friend’s advice would almost certainly be terrible, he knew he had to talk about it or it would eat him up inside.
Lewis listened to Niall’s account of the situation and looked at him frankly. “I might be way off the mark here so forgive me if I am—it sounds to me like things could’ve gotten a little too familiar for her on her birthday.”
“Explain,” Niall requested; intrigued by what Lewis was insinuating.
“I think that night caused a whole shit-storm of feelings to wash over her at once and it likely scared her half to death. From what you’ve told me about her she sounds like the kinda girl who’s always kept blokes at arm’s length and she broke her own rules that night. Now she’s at a crossroads where she doesn’t know if to let you in closer or push you back to a safe distance.”
Niall was agog at Lewis’ uncharacteristic show of profoundness. It was rare he was so thoughtful when it came to situations pertaining to the gentler sex.
“Or maybe what I just said is utter bollocks and she really isn’t dealing well with her family business,” Lewis added.
“I really want to think the latter is the case. It’s just tough to do so. I can feel something isn’t right so it’s more likely that what you said first is the case. The question is how do I combat the problem?”
“You don’t. There’s nothing you can do except give her the space to work it out in her own head.”
It wasn’t the answer Niall wanted. He didn’t do waiting too well and liked to assume a measure of control in situations. Relinquishing control wouldn’t be easy for him. That said, he was willing to try anything because he didn’t want to lose Chantelle. “I guess I’ve really got no choice.”
“Not if you really like the girl and want any chance of things working with her.”
“It’d be nice. Things have hardly been a bed of roses in the relationship department since Vikki. I’ve had a few dates and that absolute clusterfuck of a situation with Fiona. I’d like something stable.”
“Maybe that’s your problem. Maybe you’re giving her the impression that you’re ready to settle for the first stable girl you come across.”
“That’s not the case at all,” Niall re-joined animatedly. “I genuinely like the girl. I’m not seeing her out of desperation.”
“It’s not me you need to convince of that, Ny. It’s Chantelle.”
“Alright, smart arse!” Niall shot back jokingly. “How are things with you and Zoe?”
“Hold onto your seat for this one! I’m crazy about her, bud.”
Niall fell theatrically from his chair and onto the floor, causing some of the patrons to look over who thought he’d done so genuinely. Niall got back to his feet and grinned at Lewis who shook his head with feigned disapproval.
“You childish prick!”
“Forgive me, but the likelihood of you saying you love a girl is about the same as winning the lottery twice.”
“I didn’t say I loved her. I said I’m crazy about her.”
“So you don’t love her then?”
Lewis mumbled something unintelligible as he lifted his beer up to his lips.
Niall smiled suspiciously and narrowed his eyes. “You do, don’t you? Ah, look at Lewis getting himself all loved up,” he teased.
“Had to happen eventually, didn’t it? I don’t know, mate. She’s different. With all the other women it’s just been a case of chasing the aesthetically pleasing. When I met Zoe the first time around I knew she was something different. I was just too much of a hound to give her a proper chance. Now that I have, I’ve realised what I’ve been missing. I’m happy. I honestly am.”
“It’s good to hear, Lew. I’m made up for you, bud,” Niall said genuinely.
“For what it’s worth, I’m sorry for my part in introducing you and Fiona. I didn’t know she had a fella. It pissed me off to see how upset you were.”
“It’s in the past now. She hasn’t tried to get in touch since I called it a day with her so I can only assume she’s giving James a proper go again or she’s got her claws into another unsuspecting victim.”
A look passed across Lewis’ face that lasted only a split-second. “Fuck her! Just get things working properly with Chantelle. She sounds like a sweetheart. Maybe we could all go out together sometime.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Niall responded quietly. His mind was elsewhere though. He’d seen that fleeting look on Lewis’ face and was more curious about it than he knew he should have been.
TO BE CONTINUED
Title image from Shine Aloud.