Zayn almost doesn’t recognize her. It’s only her side-turned snapback and trainers that really give her away. Niall’s taller than she was a couple of months ago, taller and a little thicker. Her boobs are, well, they exist, and that’s a lot more than he can say about what they looked liked just before summer holiday. She’s got braces now, and it changes her smile – it doesn’t make it better or worse, just changes it.
Niall’s laugh is the same. She’s wearing the same clothes as she would have done before her holiday, but the shirts that used to hang off her frame cling tighter now. She pulls Zayn close for a hug, and he wraps his arms around her waist. She might be taller than she was a few months ago, but she’s still not as tall as Zayn. That’s something at least.
She’s hot now and Zayn feels like he’s staring. No, he’s definitely staring, and so is everyone else.
He doesn’t realize she’s talking to him until she thumps him on the chest. “Oi! I was talking to you. Are you on another planet or something?”
“What? Oh, sorry.” Zayn takes a step back. “Did you want to go to the chip shop?”
“What kind of a question is that? Don’t I always want to go to the chip shop?” She rolls her eyes and links her arm with his, leading the way down the street.
Zayn isn’t sure if it’s his imagination or if everyone that passes by them is actually staring at Niall. He kind of wants to hit all of them. He’s not sure if it’s because he doesn’t think she wants to be stared at or he just doesn’t want anyone staring at her that isn’t him. He’s going to pretend that there’s no chance of it being the latter.
Zayn is aware that he isn’t saying much, but he’s afraid of letting his words betray him. He knows he’ll say something stupid like, “When did you get braces?” or “Why did you let your hair grown out?” and Niall will figure out that he’s looking. Zayn’s aware that the feeling may not be entirely rational.
“You’re acting like a weirdo,” Niall says, and then she kicks him under the table. She kicks him hard enough that he jerks his knee up and bangs it on the underside of the table.
“Ow!” He rubs his knee and for a second forgets that Niall has gone from his goofy, sweet, round-faced, flat-chested best friend to this hot girl that he’s trying not to stare at.
That doesn’t last long.
On Saturday night, Niall shows up at Zayn’s house in a mini-skirt and low-cut top. Zayn’s been in her room a million times. He’s been in her closet a million times, and almost everything in it used to belong to him. He doesn’t remember seeing tiny skirts or shirts that are made to show off any sort of skin. He has no idea where this outfit came from.
Zayn needs a pint or ten to deal with this.
It turns out, Niall has similar plans because she drags him out to a pub across town and introduces her to a couple of guys that Zayn has never met before. He wonders where she met them. He knows that Niall’s always been friendly. She usually picks up friends wherever she goes, and that’s one of the things that he loves about her. These guys are different though. She’s close to them in a way she’s not close to the random mates that she picks up at football matches or pubs. They have jokes, and there’s a lot of flirting. Zayn wonders what happened to them that Niall suddenly has best mates that he knows nothing about. Louis and Harry are charming enough, but Harry keeps leaning over to whisper in Niall’s ear. She giggles - giggles - and it’s making Zayn a little crazy. He doesn’t remember Niall ever giggling before. She has a loud, hearty, infectious laugh. She’s never been the type to lean into a guy and laugh at everything he says. She leans further in and pats Harry’s thigh. To his credit, Harry at least looks like he doesn’t notice how her shoulders scrunch in and her cleavage gets more noticeable. He doesn’t seem to notice how her black bra peaks out just over the top of her shirt. And when did she start wearing lace underwear anyway?
Zayn definitely needs another beer.
Maybe that’s an exaggeration of what’s happening with Harry, but it certainly does seem like it to Zayn.
Niall kicks him under the table again, and when he looks up she’s grinning at him. He can’t get used to her braces. He can’t get used to her anything. “Zayn Malik, I was talking to you.”
“What? Oh, sorry.” He knows he’s been saying that a lot lately.
“Sure.” Niall stands. “I’m going to the toilet.” She walks off. She sways her hips in a way that seems almost deliberate to Zayn. He’s sure it couldn’t be though because Niall would never do that. She skips sometimes, or she walks like if she doesn’t get to the bar now all of the pints will be gone when she gets there. She walks while struggling to keep her jeans up. She doesn’t walk like she’s auditioning for Top Model.
Harry and Louis look at each other and then whisper for a moment before excusing themselves. Zayn doesn’t think much of it, just feels relief that Niall won’t be pressing her body against Harry’s anymore or laughing under her breath at stories about inappropriate nudity.
“Oh, I see you’ve successfully managed to scare them off.” Niall is standing over him, arms crossed over her chest and an expression he hasn’t seen aimed at him since they were thirteen. “Not surprising, since you’re being a total dickhead.”
“I’m not being – “
“Yes you are. You haven’t said two words all night, and you’ve been all weird and quiet ever since I got back from holiday. And generally I don’t care. I know you’ve spent years trying to perfect this quiet mysterious whatever, even though you secretly wear Incredible Hulk boxers and film yourself dancing to ridiculous music. But you’re really starting to hurt my feelings. I thought we were best friends. Is this because I have tits now? Are you just freaked out because suddenly I’m not one of the blokes anymore?”
“What? No!” It’s not totally a lie.
“Sure.” Niall drops down next to him. “Stop being so fucking weird. I can’t handle it. I’m getting all of these weird stares, and you keep going all awkward and silent, and I refuse to let you be a dick to my new friends.”
“Maybe people wouldn’t stare at you if you covered up your tits.” He knows it’s the wrong thing to say as soon as it’s out of his mouth. He looks down at the table. “Wait, that came out wrong. Sorry.”
He’s still not looking at her, but he knows that Niall has gotten up from the table. “You know what? No. I’m done. You can find someone else to not speak to. Go fuck yourself, Zayn.”
He doesn’t have to look up to know she’s gone.
It’s been a week, and he hasn’t even tried to call Niall. She hasn’t tried to call him either, not that he can blame her for that. He’s mostly moping around, feeling sorry for himself. It probably isn’t fair, considering he’s the one who got angry with her just for being so female and hot all of the sudden. Zayn just can’t deal with all of this change at one time. So he’s moping.
He looks at his phone for probably the fifteenth time in as many minutes. He doesn’t know what he expects because she’s not going to call him. And, really, why would she? Zayn sighs and types in a text message. I’m sorry. Can we talk?
He leaves it sitting on the screen and doesn’t hit send. Really, what’s there to talk about? Just because she decided to come home with boobs and legs and tiny mini-skirts. It’s not his fault she left for holiday as his best friend who wore baggy clothes and shirts stolen from his closet and then came home with mini-skirts and high heels. It’s not his fault that she got hot and started fucking with his mind. He punches his pillow because he’s always heard that’s a good way to calm down when you’re frustrated. It doesn’t work. Instead he takes the pillow and puts it over his head, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his gut telling him that this is all his fault.
School starts back on Monday, and Zayn still hasn’t spoken to Niall. He’s got his last text saved as a draft, but he hasn’t had the guts to send it. Even if she did speak to him, he’s not sure what he would say. Sorry I insulted you and told you to put your tits away. It’s really because I feel like I should be the only one who stares at your tits. Somehow he doesn’t think that would fly with her.
He hears a noise, and then two more in quick succession, before he realizes that it’s rocks hitting his window. He opens it and looks outside to see Niall standing there in jeans and a loose hoodie that’s pulled up over her head. Zayn doesn’t know what to say, so he doesn’t say anything. He figures it’s his mouth that got him into trouble in the first place, and to speak might land him back in the same place he was before.
“So, I’ve worked it out,” Niall calls out to him. “And I’ve decided that I’ll speak to you again.”
“Hang on.” He pulls back inside, briefly wondering how he became the love interest in some reversed-role romantic comedy. He throws on a jacket and goes outside. She’s sitting on the steps leading up to his house, and he drops down next to her. “What’ve you worked out?”
“Well, mostly that you’re an even bigger idiot than I originally suspected.” She sighs. “After weeks of trying to figure out why you suddenly became such a jerk one day, I finally realized that you are obviously crazy about me. Not to say that I’m surprised. I’m quite the catch.” Niall pokes him in the side. “You didn’t have to be a jerk about it.”
“I don’t fancy you. You’re my friend. It’s just …weird.” He looks down at his feet. “You’ve got the long hair, and the tits, and you’ve started wearing these tiny miniskirts. People stare at you, and I don’t like it.” He kicks his toe at the ground. “It makes me – “
“Jealous?” She starts laughing beside him, really laughing, like Niall has always laughed, and not the light, soft giggle from when she was fawning over Harry at the pub; that at least makes him feel some relief. At least he’s not going to lose his best friend. “Oh my God. You were jealous? Of Harry? That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Not jealous.” Zayn sighs. He picks at a loose thread that’s hanging from the bottom of his shirt. “I’m sorry about being a jerk. I didn’t mean what I said. You can keep your tits out if you want to.” He mentally kicks himself. “I’ve got to stop saying it like that.”
“It’s fine. And yes, you’re right; I can keep my tits out if I want to, and I quite like dressing like that.” She wraps her fingers around his wrist. “But I get it. All last year when that dumb girl in your Literature class stared at you bum and laughed at your stupid jokes, I was seething.”
“I’m not jeal – “ He looks at her, letting her words sink in. “What?”
“Like I said. You’re an idiot.” Niall shrugs. She’s always been better at going with the flow than Zayn. She doesn’t let things get to her or stress. She told him once that she refused to live on ifs or maybes, and it was better to let things happen. “You had your awakening when I came home with boobs. I had mine when you showed up to school one day suddenly four inches taller and without your baby fat. It happens.”
“So you – “
“Have had some late night thoughts about snogging you? Yes. Among other things.” Niall laughs, without a bit of shame or nervousness. “Don’t look so surprised. You’re attractive. I’m attractive. Plus no one knows me better, so.”
“Alright.” Zayn nods. “Alright.” He sucks in a breath and then leans forward, pressing his lips to hers. They’re softer than he expected. She kisses him back, soft and easy. It’s not urgent and there’s no rush, but it’s nice. It’s good. Zayn’s kissed girls before, but this is different. He wants to say it’s nicer, but nice isn’t nearly a strong enough word to describe how kissing Niall feels.
Niall pulls back and grins. “Was that so hard?” She tugs at his hair. “You know, if you’d done that three weeks ago, we could have avoided this whole mess.”
“I didn’t think I wanted to do this three weeks ago,” Zayn says.
“And now?” Niall tugs at her zipper. “Was that a one off or – “ She makes an oof sound when he kisses her again. He can’t believe how long it’s taken him to get here.
Then again, maybe that’s part of the fun.