“Niall, wait! Don’t you dare walk away from me like that!”
Niall stopped in his tracks and looked back at Chantelle who was storming up towards him. Neither cared that there were people watching. Right then, they were the only two people around as far as they were concerned.
“What? What do you want from me?” Niall yelled.
“I want you not to be a prick and to talk to me. Do you think it was easy for me to say that to you back there?”
“Do you think it was easy for me to hear? I could barely get you to fucking like me while we were together, never mind love me! I drove myself bat-shit crazy trying to get your attention and I never could.”
“You had my fucking attention! I was your fucking girlfriend! What more did you want from me?”
“To feel like you were my girlfriend. To feel like you actually wanted me. I just felt like an inconvenience; as though I was in the way. I heard you talking to your friend that night.”
“You… what night? What friend?”
“Of course. Why should you remember? That’s just it Chantelle. I kept myself awake many nights thinking about it. The anniversary of your friend’s death. Ring any bells?”
Chantelle looked away thoughtfully. The penny wasn’t dropping.
Niall stepped towards her. “You went for a drink at his grave. When you came back you were sat downstairs with your friend. One of you was talking about not being happy in their relationship; about their other half not being right for them.” He saw the realisation hit her in that instant. The look of guilt was palpable.
“I remember,” she murmured. “I didn’t know you’d heard.”
“I only heard parts, but those parts were enough. So I was right? You were talking about us to your friend? The feeling that I wasn’t wanted… I was justified to feel that way?”
“Yes and no. I did say those things to my friend. I always wanted you though. My head… it was all over the place back then, especially that night. The way I felt for you scared me.”
“So you did your usual trick—the very trick you said you were going try your damndest not to pull when we first together—and pushed me away? You made me feel crazy and irrational, yet I was right all along.”
A tear fell from Chantelle’s eye. She was mortified. “Why didn’t you just tell me what you heard?”
“Would it have made a difference? Or would it have just ended the relationship sooner? I didn’t want to say anything because I didn’t want to make it easier for you to finish it with me. I hoped that I could win you back around. Instead, I just pushed you further away.”
Chantelle’s head dropped in despair. “I’m such a cow!”
Niall gently placed his hand under her chin and lifted her head so she was looking at him again. “We both made mistakes. I didn’t deal with what I heard properly. I should have had the respect—both for you and myself—to talk to you.”
“It wasn’t your place to talk to me. I should have been honest enough to come to you with my problems so we could have worked them out. Instead, here I am over three years later and still pining over you.”
“Let’s be honest; I wouldn’t have reacted the way I just did if I wasn’t still pining over you too.” Even as Niall said it, he knew it was wrong; that it was blatant disrespect for Claire. He couldn’t hide from the truth though. If he didn’t still feel love for Chantelle in some way then he never would have felt the way he did when she sent the friend request. “I never dealt with my feelings when we broke up. I swept them under the carpet and left them.”
“And how did you feel?”
“I was crazy about you, Chan. You got under my skin within the first few minutes of our meeting. I didn’t ever tell you because I didn’t want to come over as too intense or trying to rush things. The irony of that is I still managed to come over that way regardless.”
“You were in love with me?”
“I was, yes.”
“And you say you never dealt with the feelings. That you just brushed them under the carpet.”
“I… did say that, didn’t I?”
“So you… are still in love with me?”
Niall knew he had to be careful here. This wasn’t a simple yes or no answer. So much rode on it. He hadn’t mused on his feelings for Chantelle in so long that he’d completely forgotten they were there. He couldn’t just say that he was still in love with her if he wasn’t certain of how his feelings had changed; however, he couldn’t say no as he never actually got over her. That much was abundantly clear. He also had to consider Claire.
“Niall, do you?” Chantelle probed again.
“It’s not as simple as me saying whether I do or don’t. I haven’t thought about what happened between us in years. It’s taken me so long to find a woman I’ve been willing to get in a proper relationship with. I’ve been so happy ever since Claire came along. In the space of twenty-four hours, I’ve gone from completely infatuated with her to unsure of what I even want. All it took was a friend request from you to trigger that change.”
“Surely that tells you—”
“However,” Niall interrupted, “it has only been twenty-four hours. In another twenty-four, I may have gained a sense of perspective. A lot has come flooding back to me and I’m confused by it all. Once I get everything straight in my head, things may very well go back to normal.”
It wasn’t the answer Chantelle wanted; that was apparent from her sudden mien. She found it difficult to look at Niall properly for longer than a split-second a time. “I guess that’s all there is to say really.”
“Don’t close up on me now. You wanted me to level with you, Chan, and I just did. The question you asked isn’t the kind I can answer with a click of the fingers.”
“I shouldn’t be asking you anyway,” Chantelle sheepishly conceded. “You have a girlfriend who you’re happy with. It’s unfair of me to turn up here and rock the boat.”
“Maybe, but you did and the boat is rocking like fuck!” Niall said with a grin that brought a slight smile out of Chantelle. “There’s a reason I feel the way I do right now and I can’t just dismiss it. I have to take a little time to think this over. I have to ask you though…” Niall faltered.
“Ask me what?”
“You aren’t fucking with me, are you? You really do love me?”
“Yes,” Chantelle responded without hesitation. “I swear on my little girl that I’m being honest with you. Every time I’ve tried to be with another man I’ve ended up feeling unfulfilled because not one of them had what you have. There’s only you. There’s only ever been you.”
Niall was satisfied with the answer and he believed her. “Let me go away and think about everything. Is that okay?”
“I’ve waited this long; what’s a few more days?”
Nothing was said for a few moments when a reminiscent smile appeared on Niall’s face. “I’ve just thought; are you still on C-MAC?”
Chantelle laughed the same loud laugh that drew attention in the café. “Oh God! I actually went back on it a few months ago. Needless to say, I didn’t last long.”
“It is a pretty tragic site!”
“I don’t know. It can’t be that bad. It brought me you,” she said coyly.
After another brief pause, Niall spoke again. “Right, well… I suppose I’d better—”
“Oh, fuck it!” Chantelle muttered before kissing Niall firmly on the lips.
They both let it linger long enough to show that it was anything other than a friendly peck. They did, however, resist the urge to move the kiss onto something more romantic. Niall gasped as he pulled away.
Chantelle’s eyes bore longingly into his as she took his hand softly in hers. “Take that with you as proper closure. Regardless of whatever happens, I’d rather our story ended like that than the way it did three and a half years ago.”
“I concur,” Niall practically whispered as he struggled to catch his breath. “I’ll be in touch. Bye, Chantelle.”
She didn’t return the goodbye. Niall knew that was because she didn’t want a goodbye to be her final words to him. He slowly turned and walked away; continually looking back to Chantelle who remained where she was and didn’t once remove her gaze from him.
TO BE CONTINUED
Title image from Shine Aloud.