Niall was sitting in the middle of the room, wearing a long sleeved t-shirt which was slightly uncomfortable to see as the weather in Ireland was scorching hot. He was grinning widely at the camera but it seemed as if there were tiny invisible wires pulling his features into some resemblance of a smile. His hands were tangled together, allowing his fingers to fidget in a nervous manner.
“Hello guys, it’s me, Niall,” Even his voice seemed to be a little forced, with some sort of edge tainting the beautiful Irish lilt. His eyes lacked that special gleam that was a signature for anyone who watched him.
“I’m really glad you are joining me today.”
For a moment, his eyes closed and you could tell that he was really trying to keep his sadness at bay. A huge breath was taken then, as if allowing his entire self to catch an ounce of strength. His right hand was scratching his tummy, a little gesture that signaled his utter nervousness. Finally, after what could be seen as an internal battle with himself, he opened his eyes.
“I have to say that this week hasn’t been an easy one for me. I had to face certain demons that I would have rather not seeing again and—“
In that exact moment, a gentle knocking noise could be heard from outside the room. Niall stood up from his chair and with a sigh he opened the door, allowing Maura, his mother, to access the room. They exchanged a soft smile between them and Maura pulled Niall into a tight embrace. A small whimper could be heard in the background, but which one of them emitted such a pitiful noise could not be known.
After a couple minutes, Niall disentangled himself from Maura’s arms and with a watery chuckle he gently guided her to an extra chair that was placed just beside him. When Maura was comfortably settled by his side, he smiled a little to the camera. Even if it still wasn’t one of his typical ground-breaking smiles, this one was holding a little bit more life; a humongous improvement from his previous state. A lot of the tension that was obscuring his features vanished after his embrace with his mother.
Maura was staring lovingly at his younger son, tilting his head a little to the side. Once again Niall took a huge breath and then, he started talking.
“Well, as you can see, I have a special guest for you today!” His eyes were suddenly flooded with love and pure adoration was laced with every word he said next. “This beautiful woman sitting right beside me is the reason why I am here today. She’s the most precious gift I had been given and for that, I’ll be forever grateful.” In that moment, his whole demeanor switched drastically, softening those worry lines that had made a path across his face. He was bursting with pride, brightening the whole room with a special sort of light; one that could only be described as “Niall”. His mother was blushing softly right by his side, her face adorning one of those special grins that seemed to be reserved for his son.
“I can’t think of a moment where she wasn’t the only source of life in my reign of darkness. Ladies and gentleman, Maura Horan.”
With a weird hand gesture, he introduced his mother, who was looking at him with a fond smile. She couldn’t help herself and chuckled at his son’s strange antics. She then proceeded to look straight at the camera with a gentle smile lightening her face. There was an odd aura of youth surrounding her, even if she was far from being whatever society considered “young”.
Tiny lines of laughter were riddling the angles of her mouth along with a few wrinkles blossoming in different parts of her face, but they weren’t ugly scars of time; they told a million stories with different endings, marking the tender skin with experience. Her lithe body was embraced by the soft Cashmere of her favourite lilac dress, casting shadows in all the right places. She wasn’t wearing any sort of make-up and her dark blonde hair managed to cascade at both sides of her cheekbones, framing her face like a precious masterpiece.
“Hello, there,” Her cheeks blushed profusely after saying this and a nervous giggle managed to escape the confines of her throat. She leaned closer to his son and placed her right hand in front of her mouth, shielding her next words as if they were meant to be a secret.
“Niall, this is bloody weird. Are you sure there are people watching this? I feel like a complete nutcase!”
Niall couldn’t help but bursting into a fit of laughter as soon as she finished saying that. Maura was rendered speechless after watching his son’s reaction, her hand still freezed in front of her. When she regained she finally seemed to regain her motor skills, she just smacked Niall on the back of his head; muttering a silent “rude” whilst doing that. Niall just tried to soothe his smacked head by softly caressing it, mumbling a tiny ‘owie!’ and pouting for good measure. Maura just grabbed his pout with both her thumb and pointing finger, cooing softly at his son’s childish ways.
“Well, I’m Maura, Niall’s proud mother and it’s a pleasure to meet you all!”
Niall was watching his mother with wry smile, as if he was sensing the moment that was soon approaching. He managed to pull himself together fast and started talking again, reverting back to his previous dark state.
“You might be wondering why I brought her here, especially on a day like this”, He said, and it was easy to see that he was utterly nervous now. His hands were hanging on both his sides and they were slightly trembling. Maura noticed that and tried to reach for his left hand, softly intertwining her fingers with it. But all attempts of calming him seemed to be fruitless. ”Well, actually, she was the one who asked me to be here…” He glanced shyly at his mother, almost looking like a kicked puppy. He took a huge breath and said, “I guess she’ll tell us why, now.”
Maura nodded in response, then she tried to sit up straighter in her chair and after a little clearing of her throat, she started talking.
“I remember the day I saw my world crashing down, shattering in such tiny pieces that I didn’t have any other option but blowing the dust off, and hoping to be able to carefully craft it back again.”
She was staring directly at the camera, almost trespassing upon the barriers of technology with her soft yet penetrating gaze. She sighed softly and looked almost pained to say the next words.
“One is never trained enough to deal with the heavy weight of reality, especially when it’s placed on the tiny shoulder of your child.”
Niall flinched abruptly, widening his eyes slightly towards his mother but making no move to stop her story. With a shivering breath, he tried to get a little bit more comfortable in his chair, silently demanding his fingers to stop fidgeting so fucking bad.
At the end, he suppressed his reflex act by sitting on his hands, ignoring the numbing sensation that was starting to creep through his nerves
Maura seemed to not notice how abruptly his whole demeanour seemed to crumble, although she knew that something like this was bound to happen.
This needed to be done.
“I can still picture the chipped tiles of the kitchen; it was bloody difficult to clean them properly as they were really old, so you had to be really careful. It was a cold Friday in Mullingar and all the windows were closed. I managed to wake up my two sons without any problem and they were off to school. I still had this odd heart-wrenching feeling enclosed within my chest, and even to this day I can’t still explain it properly. I felt like every nerve in my body was bracing itself for the imminent crash and I was in alert mode all throughout that morning.”
Maura’s hands started to seek for his son’s warmth almost by instinct. By this time, Niall’s hands had escaped the confinement settled under his bum and where shaking almost uncontrollably. When both of their hands where finally clasped together, her grip on his hands tightened in a reassuring manner.
Niall’s eyes were casted towards the floor and it was obvious that this certain topic was something really painful for him to bear.
“Greg wasn’t going to return for lunch that day, as he was going to stay at his best mate’s house, so it was only Niall and me. I managed to round up with the house chores just in time to start dealing with lunch.”
Maura looked at his son worriedly, a plethora of emotions stampeding through her eyes. She disentangled her hand from his tight grip and reached for his chin instead, lifting his face in order to look straight to her eyes.
His eyes, the ones that after opening for the first time had created a door to paradise, had taken a glassy appearance, clouded with angst and something akin to shame.
She couldn’t believe that this was her son, the one whose soul was crafted by the sun itself as a memento for the human race.
Fighting the unbearable stinging sensation hidden behind her eyes, her fingers allowed Niall to lower his eyes once again.
“Throughout that week, Niall had been oddly quiet, eerily so. His ever-present smile didn’t seem to reach his eyes and each one of his movements was coldly calculated. Since the day he was born, I only seemed to find solace whenever the house was filled with those tiny notes of laughter that trailed behind Niall’s smile. He was sunshine and without him there was no light illuminating us. Even Greg had grown worried for his little brother, constantly trying to coax a smile out of him but all attempts to wipe the fake away from his feature were fruitless. He had to brace himself to simply watch from the sidelines, ready to sprint into action whenever he had to.”
“As a desperate attempt to cheer my little boy up, I decided to cook him his favourite dish: ‘Maura’s chicken’ as he often likes to call it.” After saying this, Maura started to lightly poke his tummy, trying to coax a smile out of her boy. She didn’t know if that little smile tugging at the corner of his mouth was because of her comment, the little pokes at his stomach or just the thought of food but she wouldn’t question it.
It was a smile, nonetheless.
”It was a simple dish, a tender piece of Chicken breast marinated in a mixture of garlic, mayonnaise, and different spices; rolled into a bowl of bread crumples and fried until it took a beautiful golden shade. As a side-dish, I mashed a good amount of potatoes, a little butter, milk, cheese and, of course, salt and pepper.”
And, for the first time in the history of their relationship, Niall didn’t react at the mention of food. Maura was astonished, to say the least but the sinking sensation of how upset his baby was over this whole ordeal still pierced her soul.
But, she couldn’t stop now.
Plastering a cheeky grin, she leaned closely to the camera as if she was going to tell the audience a secret.
“An advice to all of you viewers out there: if you try to get a way into my Niall’s heart by replicating this dish, you will fail. There are a lot of things I have to make sure in order to properly do this dish and they are going to be a secret for me to keep. Sometimes you just have to make sure there’s something guiding your loved ones back home, and even though I know my baby isn’t going to abandon me, I still have something that is purely ours.”
She winked softly at the invisible audience, managing to recline back into her previous position. Once he was properly settled in the chair, she continued with a warm smile.
“I encourage you to try and make something that’s only reserved for you and him, and don’t worry, he’ll eat anything you cook him unless it has broccoli or celery.”
At this statement, Niall just stuck his tongue in disgust, scrunching his face in a cute childish way. A hint of a smile was adorning his face, glad that his mother was trying to make this whole thing a little bit lighter.
“Don’t try to make him eat vegemite either or he’ll squeal like a baby racoon.”
Suddenly, a cute blush was spreading fast across his face, even reaching his neckline. The look of outrage that was directed towards Maura was truly laughable.
“Mam, that was only once!”
“I know baby, but you looked so adorable flailing your arms and running across the kitchen with your tongue stuck out of your mouth!”
“Okay mam, we get your point!”
It was obvious that she was just trying to diffuse a little tension from the atmosphere, as she was aware of the discomfort his son was feeling while walking around those particular memories. She was so proud of his son, and she couldn’t help but feeling like he was growing up too fast for her liking.
“As the usual time of arrival was fast approaching, I started setting the table for our lunch. I was thinking of different approaches I could try in order to coax any sort of explanation from Niall. I was never one of those parents who are constantly gravitating around their children, as that kind of behaviour isn’t what I consider “good parenting”. I always encouraged them to be completely honest with me; I found that it was the only way we could really grow up as a family and as individuals. So I had to make him feel comfortable enough to talk to me.”
Finally, it seemed that the moment Niall was dreading had finally arrived. He gulped loudly and tried to pull his bravest face to the camera. Maura placed a reassuring hand on his lap and mouthed an inaudible ‘proud of you’ to her son.
“When I heard the tingling of the keys, I stood up from the couch I was sitting in and turned off the telly. I untied the laces that were holding my apron and I placed it on the small dresser that was strategically placed on the dining room. The door opened softly and a shuffling noise was heard, then it was closed again. I was waiting for Niall to enter the room and for our usual greetings to be exchanged but nothing happened. It was in that moment when I heard the scuffing of his shoes heading towards the staircase; he was avoiding confrontation.”
Maura paused for a moment, rubbing his son’s shoulders in a soothing yet firm manner. She knew that the worst was yet to come and to be honest; she needed a moment to process this, too.
Once both of them regained a grasp of tranquillity, Maura proceeded with her story.
“I knew that the sudden shift in the atmosphere meant something, I just didn’t know what it was. Or maybe I didn’t want to know.”
For the first time in the whole time the video was recording, Maura seemed to crumble. Her eyes where suddenly filled to the brim with tears and a sob managed to escape her throat, startling Niall from his self-induced oblivion.
“If I’m being honest here, I would have never wanted to know. I couldn’t bear to breathe the same air they were breathing.” Her voice was tainted with sorrow and guilt, almost pleading for mercy to them, to anyone who could give it. “I had held him in my hands when he was born, a tiny miracle that I swore I would always protect. I had dried all his tears, making sure to kiss all the pain away until it was just a memory. I had been his heroine, for so long and I felt like there was nothing I couldn’t fight when he was by my side. And even when—” She shucked a shivery breath as her hands were fruitlessly trying to wipe the tears away, “when Bobby and I got divorced, I knew that there was something that will chain us together for life, and those bright, strong chains were them, our sons. The ones we loved — we love — more than anything.”
Maura was full blown crying at this point. There was nothing holding her back now, all her strength seemed to drift away whenever reality crashed against his memory. Niall just embraced her tightly, managing to accommodate her face in his neck; allowing her to cry for his lost innocence.
What he didn’t know was that her innocence was lost as well.
Pulling himself together, Niall decided to finish the recording in that instant. He managed to untangle himself from his mother’s vicious grip and with a pat in her back, he stood up.
As he was making his way to the computer, Niall seemed to freeze in motion. The blank expression that had been accompanying him throughout the video turned into a thoughtful, almost pained grimace. There was a nagging thought painting his insides with a blurry sense of hope.
Niall found himself standing in the middle of a monsoon of memories, threatening to collapse every resemblance of future in front of him.
There was unrelenting fear bubbling in his stomach, a fire that was vandalizing every corner of his body; a sudden strength stomping into his soul, burning every trace of second-guessing living within him.
Suddenly there was a warm pressure surrounding his shoulders, and an umbrella was placed above him, shielding him from the rain. When he turned his head to give this stranger a grateful smile, he realized that he wasn’t alone.
There were countless umbrellas surrounding him, each one of the owners was looking at him with a reassuring smile plastered in their face.
They were wearing simple white t-shirts with bold black letters printed on them. After a taking a closer look, Niall was able to see that each t-shirt had a different print, almost like a signature…
They were… usernames?
Realization dawned him, then and he couldn’t help but beaming brightly at the sight in front of him. They were his subscribers, those who poured his soul in the comment section of his videos, those who laughed at his antics and started playful banter between them, coaxing laughs from the Irishman every time.
They had his back on this, how could he doubt that?
It was time.
After sitting awkwardly next to his (seemingly) much calmer mother, Niall just managed to take a huge breath, trying to calm his racing heart. When he felt a little bit better, he stared straight at the camera and began to talk.
“I don’t know how to say this properly.”
A nervous laugh bubbled from the confines of his sore throat, and he couldn’t help but averting his eyes from the lens of the camera. In a sudden motion, he reached his hand to the nape of his neck, scratching it a couple of times, retreating his hand back to his lap after doing that.
“In all honesty, I never thought that I would have to face all my demons again, as I previously stated. I just tried to ignore their voices, and especially, my own voices; those who were relentlessly storing all their hurtful words for the winter.”
His hands were making lazy motions over his thighs, apparently trying to soothe his nerves.
“After you’d been told countless times how disgusting, how unworthy of love you are, well, it gets stuck in your mind. I just wanted a chance to be free from those invisible wires they tied around my throat, my wrist; tightening them with unnecessary force every time they spat words at me.”
A single tear started his trip from his eyes, purifying the path it was passing with something akin to redemption.
“I never had to face any kind of problems when I was a child. My parents managed to shield me from anything that could potentially hurt me and whenever they couldn’t do it, Greg was there, tossing me over his shoulder and carrying my shrieking self back home.”
A light chuckle escaped his mouth at that certain moment, and a delicious shade of red blossomed from his tear strained cheeks.
“When my parents got divorced, I got a taste of real life. There was no shield standing in front of me, as it seemed that my shield had cracked in a way that couldn’t be repaired. So I had to toughen up a little bit. But nothing prepared me for high school…”
Louis was gripping the edge of the mattress tightly as he was staring intently at the bright screen in front of him. The lights around him were dim and all the shutters were closed so no sunlight could get into the room. The sheets were lazily hugging his tiny frame, shielding his warmth from the incessant coldness that was creeping between those four walls.
The artificial lights of the laptop were being reflected by the silent tears cascading through his face, making them glisten like tiny diamonds in the sky. The hem of his tattered ‘have a nice day’ was completely damp at this point, being on the receiving end of a concentrated dose of liquid sadness.
After a long, uncomfortable silence were muffled whimpers were the only things that could be heard, Louis lifted his right hand to rub his moistened cheeks.
He had been lying on the bed for almost 5 hours, getting blissfully lost in the pixels of the screen. His pounding heart was beating erratically, setting an incessant beat that served as a theme song for the torrent of emotions that were flooding his body.
In a sudden motion, Louis raised a shaky finger to the screen, stroking softly the frozen pixels that made out Niall’s digital existence. A light smile was illuminating his face whilst doing this, allowing his beautiful features to stand out in the darkened room.
Niall Horan and Louis Tomlinson were best friends, even if there was a side of the relationship that was blissfully unaware of this statement.