I found love where it wasn't supposed to be .
When they fight, it sticks with her for days to come.
Like toxic in the air she breathes, like second skin that she's desperately trying to scratch at but won't ever fall, not until she's bit her lip and looked at his eyes and apologized.
But she doesn't want to. She doesn't want to apologize - at least not for wanting him.
It feels wrong to pretend when she's with him, when she's standing in front of him with her nails digging indents on her inner palm. She doesn't want to pretend that she's sorry. And on any other occasion, during any of her past relationships, she would have easily opened her mouth and screamed exactly that. She would have spit venom with her angry words, and quite possibly have ended up in a fight that involves plates and glasses shattering by her polished Giuseppe Zanotti heels.
But Liam's eyes shine with unshed tears when he gets mad - furious even, because along with his anger, comes regret, thoughts that he'll let her down, thoughts that he'll lose her. And Cheryl knows this, and she knows he is scared and it makes her even more frustrated because she also knows that it might always be like this.
She just sucks at keeping relationships together.
(It's even worse that she's scared too, scared shitless that she might say the wrong thing at the wrong moment and they will go up in flames like they were always destined to burn.)
And because Cheryl hates the sheen settling over Liam's eyes when he sighs and leans back on the kitchen counter with a hand in his pocket and the other on his cell phone, she sucks in some air, digs her nails even deeper and apologizes - again.
She apologizes and barely holds the tears in as she changes her Instagram bio to something less provocative.
(It was only meant to be a joke.)
"You're fucking a boy," she states.
She takes a deep breath, watches her chest rise and then fall as her eyes flit down the mirror. "You're fucking a 23 year-old boy," she tries again.
Then, she waits. And waits.
She sighs and slams the door on her way out of the bathroom.
Nope, she still doesn't regret it.
It all starts with that stupid performance.
(Children in Need isn't stupid per se, of course, but she still holds that whole damn thing responsible for getting her here in the first place.)
She's tired, desperate to get out of the tight white dress her stylist forced upon her tonight, and most of all, she's drowning - she hasn't even left the building yet and there's whispering amongst the audience spreading like wildfire.
"At least she wasn't lip -syncing."
"Biggest joke in the industry."
Shut up .
Shut up .
Shut up .
To her own horror, she discovers her hands are trembling as JB throws an arm around her waist in the car, his lips morphing words that she hears but doesn't register.
Her heart picks up its pace and her eyes flutter against the familiar but unwelcome feeling of nausea, that dreadful metallic taste in her mouth that tells her she might retch her guts out within the next ten seconds.
Get your shit together Cheryl.
She inhales deeply and stares outsidethe window, her hand lying limp by her thigh on the car seat.
"Hey," JB speaks softly, a finger brushing Cheryl's stray hair away from her slightly damp cheek. He doesn't bother to ask if what he touches is the result of tears, of panic attacks or just exhaustion, he never does, but Cheryl shuts her eyes against his calloused forefinger anyway. "Maybe I can take you out somewhere nice tonight, no?"
And in that moment she wants to breathe out and cry. She wants to bury her hands in her hair and tear off the bobbles holding it together to perfection, so similar to all the strings that seemingly hold her together.
Instead, she smiles. She smiles, making sure that her dimples show as she throws a glance at him and nods. She smiles even though it twists her insides that the man she has married doesn't realise she's ever so steadily falling apart.
(Even though it kills her that her hand in his, is, in fact, as if trying to force two wrong jigsaw puzzle pieces together.)
She calls him, first.
She has a bottle of Cristal in one hand and a cigarette hanging loosely in between her fingers on the other, as she presses her phone to her ear and leans back on the lounging chair.
The moon is shining bright above her and yet no stars are visible - England is a fickle bitch when it comes to weather. England is a fickle bitch when it comes to time, too. Like, why couldn't time roll forwards the same way as it does in America? Why couldn't Earth bring Europe and America closer?
Why couldn't Earth fucking push Liam to come the fuck back?
(She's do desperate it's physically painful.)
His voice is dipped in bass and low tones, and Cheryl almost drops the bottle as the word shoots down to her core and instantly warms her up, like old whiskey during a cold winter.
(Not that she's ever drunk whiskey, thank you very much.)
For a while, she doesn't answer. She listens to his deep breaths on the mic, and closes her eyes, wishes the vibrations rippling through her body would stop so that she could enjoy this stolen moment to the fullest.
"Hey, is anyone there?" Liam asks again, and this time, Cheryl sighs, fiddling with the fag between her index and thumb. He obviously didn't check the caller's ID when he picked up. Cheryl knows this because she also knows that if he had, he would have seen a picture of them fooling around with pasta, like 12 year-olds. And she knows that because she put the picture there.
"I am." She whispers, wind blowing slightly against her and sweeping her hair in small circles.
She's selfish, that's what she is.
Selfish and throbbing, with want and need, to feel Liam underneath her fingertips and have him fuck her until all her doubts wash away along with his grunts and her moans.
"Chez?" His voice, God. She can imagine his brow furrowing, his lip twitching at the mention of her name, his eyes fluttering to the ground for a moment as he tries to figure out if it is, indeed, her.
She misses him terribly.
"Hi," she breathes. Stutters, almost chokes on her ciggie as his laugh penetrates the silence of her balcony. So many words she could say to him and yet she chooses silence once more.
"You numpty, what are you doing up so late?" He asks cutely. "It's like," he pauses and she smiles at the image of him looking down at his expensive watch and trying to figure out the time difference, "3 a.m over there."
It's 4.17 a.m, actually, and Cheryl knows because she's been counting down the minutes since he left, the seconds, has the time differences between each state he goes to and London down to a T.
She sighs again, licking her bottom lip and tracing nonsense patterns on the neck of the bottle with her thumb. "I couldn't sleep." She admits, slowly.
"Is everything alright babe?"
As the night gets a bit more chilly, and a siren sounds at the distance, Cheryl feels her eyes burn without her permission. She watches as her fag dissipates underneath the sole of her foot, and she tucks some hair behind her ear, gaining time.
"Yes," she finally replies. Lying. She's gotten so good at that. She's almost proud of how far she's come.
It's silent again and this time it suffocates her, so much so that a tear escapes and she wipes it away quick.
"No." She clarifies, her voice foreign to her own ears. Wobbly and weak, just as she felt on the inside.
"Talk to me, baby." He says almost instantly, and Cheryl can hear some rustling from the other end of the phone, a door close, and him adjusting his phone on his shoulder.
She smiles, and the tears fall down further.
"I can't," she mumbles, staring at her feet. Her voice is watery and her thoughts are all over the place, like Cristal jumbled them up and threw them around in her mind until all that came out of this terrible mix is Liam, Liam, Liam. "I'm sorry," she whispers then, but she's not sure why. She's so used to apologizing to him that it's become a habit.
(She doesn't want to lose him, but at the same time being called a pedophile is something she can handle only for so long.)
She hears him sigh, pictures him run his fingers through his short hair that have only just started to grow from that buzz cut.
"I can't believe you're doing this to me right now."
She presses her eyes closed so tight that she sees stars, and takes a swig out of the Cristal.
(Selfish, that's what she is.)
Her breaths are short and her hands are shaking, but she speaks the next words with the resolution of a woman who knows when the time's up.
"They hate me." She states because it's true, and she knows it's eating him inside as well.
He breathes and it's deep, a bit sloppy, but always calm, calculated, like the man she's come to fall in love with. "Give it time, Chez."
She shakes her head. "I hate me." She then says, leaves the Cristal on a table as she heads back inside and sits on an empty, large bed that is so big it's choking her.
And then -
"I love you."
(Like always, it shuts her up.)