The fledgling couple quickly found their groove. Niall’s feelings continued to develop, though he didn’t want to burden Chantelle with them too soon as not to apply any undue pressure. She was still struggling to get her head around her family issues—she had since shed a little more light on those to him—and Niall didn’t feel hitting her with the ‘L-Bomb’ would be conducive. He wanted to be somebody she could rely on to put all her troubles to one side while in his company, not potentially creating more drama.
One night while he slept soundly, Niall was woken by his phone ringing. Wearily, he looked at the screen and was surprised to see it was Chantelle. She rarely called him; usually opting to text instead. That in itself made him snap immediately to attention, wondering what might be wrong. “Hey babe.” His voice was somewhat croaky. “What’s wrong?”
“I need you,” Chantelle said softly.
He could tell that she’d had a drink; most likely having been out with friends. “I’m, uhm… sort of asleep at the moment.”
“It’s the anniversary of my friend’s death. I just want you to hold me. Only cuddles from you will make me feel better,” she pleaded.
“I have work in the morning, Chan.”
“Please, Niall. I really need you!”
Niall sighed. He knew that she knew he wouldn’t be able to resist a play on his emotions and he grinned ironically. “Okay. I’ll get ready and come to you now.”
“Thank you. I’m at Stacey’s house.”
“No worries. I’ll be round soon.” He hung up the phone and lay back down for a minute or two before switching his bedside lamp on. It was three in the morning. There was absolutely no way he’d be able to go there and be fit for work the next day. “Guess I’ll be calling in sick!”
When he pulled up outside Stacey’s house in his car, Niall noticed that Chantelle and a few other people were milling around outside.
Chantelle noticed his car and walked over to greet him as he climbed out. “Thank you for coming so quickly.”
Niall didn’t get the chance to respond before she had him locked in a tight embrace. He cuddled her back tenderly. “Are you okay, babe?”
“I will be. It just all came back to me and I desperately needed you to hold me.”
“I can hold you as much as you like now.”
Chantelle broke away, took his hand, and led him towards the small throng of people. She introduced him to those he didn’t already know before heading inside. After a few minutes of mingling, Chantelle took him upstairs into the spare bedroom where they sat down. “I’m sorry I woke you to get you here. I feel bad. You get into bed while I finish up with everyone.”
“How long will you be?” Niall asked; not entirely comfortable with being left alone.
“We’re going to my friend’s grave. We won’t be long. We’re just going to go there and have a drink for him and then I’ll be right back. Stacey is staying here so you won’t be alone.”
From not entirely comfortable, Niall had now trodden into the realms of ‘not comfortable at all’. He didn’t want to be left without Chantelle one single iota. Nevertheless, he agreed out of sheer affection and loyalty to her.
It took Niall a while to nod off. Very shortly after he did, he was woken by the sound of Chantelle and one of her friends returning. Relief flooded through him as he anticipated her appearance in the room. Unfortunately for him, it didn’t come; at least not straightaway.
Niall wasn’t known for earwigging—he certainly didn’t do it intentionally—but he heard parts of the conversation between Chantelle and her friend as they drank and smoked. He tried to get back to sleep in spite of the noise until he heard the words “I’m just not sure we’re right for each other”. Though he couldn’t tell who’d said it, it was enough to bring him fully awake.
From that point onwards he definitely was earwigging intentionally. It was still hard to tell who was saying what. One of Chantelle or her friend definitely wasn’t feeling too happy in their relationship. Niall’s heart pounded out of his chest. If Chantelle was the one saying all of this then what was he even doing here?
More occasional words and phrases sneaked through that didn’t sound all too favourable. He cursed the fact that Chantelle and her friend sounded so similar. It was impossible to tell them apart thanks to their hushed tones. Were they even saying what he thought he could hear them saying? Was his mind playing tricks?
It was light outside by the time Chantelle came upstairs. Niall pretended to be woken by her appearance. In actuality he hadn’t slept the entire time she’d been downstairs.
“Sorry if I’ve woken you up,” Chantelle whispered.
“It’s alright,” Niall replied; trying to sound as groggy as he could. He was shocked by how cold Chantelle was when she got into bed next to him and cuddled up. He instinctively and good-naturedly wrapped himself around her to help warm her up, disguising the fact that he felt tortured and tense inside.
“I’m so glad you’re here,” Chantelle drowsily muttered.
“Me too,” Niall lied.
While Chantelle drifted quickly into an alcohol-fuelled sleep, Niall continued to lie awake. There was too much going on inside his mind for him to succumb to the tiredness he felt. He questioned everything about their relationship. He questioned himself. The stupid thing about it all was that he was in turmoil over things that Chantelle might not have even said. The common sense side of him told him he should talk to her. The cowardly side that was scared of hearing something he didn’t want told him to put it out of his mind and let nature take its course.
Unfortunately, Niall was destined to take a third more disastrous option: neither talk about it nor put it out of his mind.
TO BE CONTINUED
Title image from Shine Aloud.