Harry turned and waved at me before he walked through the jet bridge and I smiled and waved back at him.
"See you in a week." I called to him.
"See you in Dublin!" he called back and then he was gone.
I grabbed my bag off the ground next to me and started walking off to find my gate. I had to repack everything in my new duffle right before work today to appease Kaine but I didn't mind, it was an insanely nice bag. It looked great with my leather knapsack even though I was wearing out the straps on it now.
My gate wasn't far from Harry's so I planted myself down next to an outlet and started charging my phone. It seemed like there were millions of people here earlier today but the crowds were finally starting to thin out. It took me and H over an hour to get through customs and the security lines were even worse. It was nice to finally have a little peace. I was answering a couple emails when a text came through.
Made you a playlist to listen to on your flight, enjoy
Can't be as good as the one I made you
It might be, has a lot of the same artists
Thank you, I'll give it a listen
Text me when you land please
I smiled and took out my headphones eager to pass the time by. I opened up the Spotify link she sent me to see a playlist cleverly named "in de-niall without you" which made me smile even more.
Talking to Kira yesterday made me realize she did have a point. Me and Kaine didn't act like friends, but there was no way we could be acting like a couple, because we weren't. We couldn't do any of that stuff, there was Everett. And now that I knew all the intimate details of when Kira was cheating on me, I'd never wish that on any other guy. But there was just something else about mine and Kaine's relationship, maybe there was that spark Kira was talking about. My thoughts got interrupted when a call came in over my headphones.
"Hello?" I asked answering.
"Hey, Niall, I'm glad I caught you before you took off." a voice said.
I looked down at the name on my phone to figure out who I was talking to, Arlo.
"Hey mate what's up?" I answered.
"My wife and I always have this big New Year's Eve party and I wanted to extend the invite to all you guys from work. Could you spread the word to them, I don't have all their numbers." he said.
"Yeah sure." I nodded.
"You, H, Liam, Louis, Kaine, Nate, Van, and anyone else you might want to bring. We dress formal but it's basically the caliber of a college party. We always have pong set up and flip cup and a ton of other dumb shit and it just turns into a shit show every year. Incredibly fun though." he said.
"That sounds awesome, I didn't have plans yet so you can count me in, I'll let them all know though." I said.
"Perfect, I'll text you my address, it's like 20 minutes out of the city. My younger brother always brings a bunch of his friends too, he's about the same age as you all." he said.
"Alright great, I'll be looking forward to it. Thanks Arlo." I said.
"Have a safe flight. See you in a couple weeks then." he said.
"Thanks, later mate." I said hanging up.
The music started up again and I passed the time before boarding texting everyone about Arlo's party. It was going to be my first New Year's single in four years, I might need to get blackout drunk. Normally I'd tag along to one of Kira's fancy parties and force H to come with me but this sounded like so much more fun.
Finally my boarding group was called and I grabbed my things and stood in the queue to get on the plane. I handed my boarding pass over to the women who looked me up and down making me self conscious. My hand shot up to my right eye remembering it was still black and blue. She rolled her eyes at me, probably praying I didn't start any trouble on the flight, and motioned me down the jet bridge telling me to have a nice flight. She was not being genuine.
I gave myself a Christmas gift this year and bought a first class ticket for the flight there. I needed the leg room and a softer seat to sleep in. Whenever I flew home I always did red eye flights so that it didn't feel like I was wasting a day on travel but whenever I was in economy I slept like shit. My Ma always put me to work right when I got home to combat jetlag but I was hoping that being in the nicer section would help me out.
I put my bag in the overhead compartment and then settled into my seat with my charger, phone, and headphones still in hand. I waited for the descent to get over with and once it was smooth sailing I placed my headphones in my ears and shut my eyes listening to the music.
Sleeping on planes never went over as ideally as I would like it to but I managed to only wake up a couple times during the flight. I felt more well rested than I ever had coming off of a red eye flight. Waking up in Ireland was the best feeling of them all, even though we were still on the tarmac in Dublin I had the sense of being home already. I switched out my SIM card while we were stuck on the tarmac for a while and proceeded to text my Ma that I landed.
All I brought with me was my duffle and knapsack that I carried on. I still had a ton of clothing at my house here and I mostly wore the same sweater and pants during the time I was home. I grabbed my stuff from above me and exited the plane and went straight to the bathroom to use it and brush my teeth. I looked up in the mirror and when I was satisfied I went down to the lobby to find a ride. I wandered around the floor trying to find a place to call a cab glancing over everyone's faces.
"Niall?" I heard a voice call. "Over here!" I looked in the direction of the voice.
"Shane! How the hell are you?" I asked walking over to him and giving him a hug.
"I'm good yeah, what on earth happened to you?" he asked.
"God it was a mess, I'll have to tell all the lads when we see them." I said.
Shane was a riot, he lived in Mullingar and was within my close knit group of friends there. We grew up together in the small town and he was one of the guys I tried to talk to from time to time when I'm in the US.
"You headed home? Or back to New York?" he asked.
"I always come back home for Christmas, gotta see my Ma and brother and nephew. What about you?" I retaliated.
"Home of course. Flew out of Heathrow, I've been working in London for about six months now." he said. "Need a ride back to Mullingar?"
"Serious? Thank you, I'll pay for gas." I said.
"Come on then, let's get a move on. Laura is here to get me." he said.
"Still dating her?" I asked.
"Living with her and proposing to her mate. She just left a couple days earlier than me to come home." he said leading the way to the lot.
"Oh, wow congrats. When you doing that?" I asked.
"Sometime within the week, I don't want her to expect it." he explained.
"Good for you Shane, it's been nearly what, six years?" I congratulated him.
"Close to seven, it's time. How about your girl, Kira?" he asked.
We were outside and Laura was frantically waving her arms from a car in a no parking area. She was sweet, started coming around when we were all visiting home from uni. She was hopelessly devoted to Shane and he deserved nothing less.
"Eh, not my girl anymore, that goes hand in hand with the black eye. You'll hear all about it." I said tossing my things in the trunk.
"Hi, love." Shane said kissing Laura.
"Laura, it's been too long." I said giving her a hug.
"What a nice surprise Niall, hope you don't mind the dog's in the backseat too." she said.
"No problem, I can manage." I said sliding in the back.
The dog, Pudge, was a black lab and he was still as hyper as he was when he was a puppy. I remembered when Shane got the dog almost ten years ago and it was nice to know the old guy still remembered my scent when I was around. He laid his head on my lap once he calmed down and I pet behind his ears for the majority of the drive.
The ride to Mullingar wasn't much more than an hour, it wasn't a bad ride, I had done it enough in the last ten years. To and from the airport countless times, hundreds of pounds spent in cab fair, but all worth it to be able to spend a few weeks home a year.
"My mate Harry is coming in on Sunday night, probably bring him out to Wallace's for a brew then, want to get the lads together?" I asked when we pulled onto my street. "And of course your girls." I added to appease Laura.
"Yeah of course. Where's he coming from?" Laura asked.
"Cheshire, but flying through London, his sister lives there now." I said.
"It'll be nice to finally meet the guy." Shane said.
"I'll text you this week. Thanks again for the ride guys." I said before getting out of the car and patting the dog on the head.
"Bye Niall, glad I ran into you." Shane said shaking my from the front seat.
"See you soon mate." Laura said popping the trunk.
I grabbed my bags out of the back and waved them off before approaching my childhood home. I always felt so happy coming back here but I never knew whether I was supposed to knock at the door. Just as I was about to raise my free hand to knock the door opened and I was engulfed in a hug.
"Hi Ma." I said dropping my duffle and squeezing her back.
"My sweet boy." she said rocking me back and forth.
"How are ya Ma?" I asked feeling tears coming into my eyes.
"So happy to see you." she said pulling back and holding onto my arms. "Oh, Niall dear, what the hell happened to your eye?"
"They're just tears Ma, I'm just so happy to see you." I said dodging her question.
"You are just as fresh as ever." she said pulling me back into another hug. "And don't you dare try knocking here, this is still your home."
"Alright, alright if it's my home then let me in." I said releasing her again.
I grabbed my bag off the stoop and followed her inside dropping my things off on the couch and peeled off my jacket.
"What are you cooking so soon?" I asked.
"I've got a roast in for tonight." she answered.
"I am so happy to be home." I said planting myself down in a chair.
"I'm glad you're home, I've been so worried about you." she said. "Now, about that eye."
"Oh, I'm gonna be telling this story hundreds of times this week." I groaned.
"Come on now, we've got a lot to catch up on."
So I told my mother about everything, I started with September and told her everything I could remember from when things started going to shit. Ma was the best listener out there, she took in every word you told her and was completely empathetic. It was easier to include all the details talking to her in person. I felt like I could just say more seeing her rather than just hearing her voice over the receiver.
The stories I told her were the same ones she'd already heard before with the exception of the past few weeks. It had been so chaotic at work I couldn't manage to fit in a long call with her. So I told her about Kira cheating on me for a month, and how Nate's roommate was the guy and how I got in that fight at that bar. I told her about how I tried to make amends with Kira and how she was going away and while I confessed everything to her I realized what a big void I felt. It seemed like everything was real now that I was telling Ma all of it.
"Sweetheart, I had good reason to be so worried about you then." she said.
At some point we had moved to the kitchen and she was taking dinner out of the oven.
"You absolutely had good reason, I was a shit show for nearly all of October." I laughed.
"Has there been any light in this whole situation?" she asked.
"Harry's been the best friend I could ever have for this whole time." I said. "Jesus, I sound like I'm eight again with all this sob story." I added.
"No you don't you're just very appreciative of all the people you have rooting for you." she said. "Anything else good, besides your wonderful mother?"
"Have I told you much about my friend Kaine?" I asked.
"Not much, just that he exists." she said.
"She, she exists." I laughed lightly.
"Oh, right I knew that I do listen I promise." Ma said.
"Well she's been great too, she's the one who lives near Green Bay." I said and she gave me a puzzled look. "Wisconsin." I clarified.
"Oh, yes that's right. You went to her parents for Thanksgiving." she nodded.
"Yeah, you've got it. She's been great too, she's lovely." I said.
Then I got into the Kaine conversation. I told her all about her, and how she sometimes screwed with my head. I told Ma about the way she managed to cheer me up when the breakup was fresh and how I started to grow attached to her. I told her about Everett and how committed she was to him regardless of how close her and I became. But last I told her about the conversation I had with Kira, about how Kira felt that spark with Ethan and how she thought me and Kaine might have that spark. And I didn't want to deny that spark, but I didn't want to fuck things up either.
Dinner was set out and while we ate I saw Ma's face go through her thought process. She was taking in everything I said probably trying to come up with some answer to all of my problems. She was always good for that but it seemed my problems were bigger than normal.
"Don't hurt yourself trying to come up with a solution." I joked while eating the roast on my plate.
"I'm just trying to absorb it all, it's a lot." she said.
"It is, a lot has happened." I said.
"Just let the Westmeath air clear your mind, don't think about it all so much." she smiled.
"I'm trying Ma." I nodded.
"Some parcels came for you here over the last month or so, I've just been putting them all up in your room." she said.
"You're not peeking in on anything are you?" I teased.
"Of course not, I figured they were all gifts for me I wouldn't want to ruin it." she smiled.
Jetlag finally hit me around 6 that night, I was struggling to keep my eyes open but Ma was keeping me busy doing all sorts of things for her. I was fixing cabinets, reaching the linens off the top shelves, hanging pictures, and doing basically anything I could for her. But it wasn't hard, I'd do anything for Ma.
She let me go up to bed at nine that night realizing I was getting too tired to function. I grabbed my bags and went off to my small childhood bedroom. There was a twin bed that took up most of one wall and then a dresser next to the closet door. That was all that could fit in there but every time I came back in here the nostalgia hit me like a ton of bricks. Ma had already made up my bed for me so I started putting some of my things in the drawers. The only difference in the room was the pile of boxes that I had to wrap up for Christmas. I still had tee shirts and trousers in the drawers and in the closet there were a few wrinkled button downs and one of my brother's old suits I wore for Christmas mass every year. Even though my brother's old room was bigger than mine I always stayed in my room. It just felt right.
I was asleep almost instantly and I woke up the next day around nine feeling a little more refreshed. Ma had made a full English breakfast and it was better than I could ever remember, then I started doing more chores around the house for her. Then later in the night I was set to meet up with some of my mates down at one of the pubs. Each day leading up to Christmas went like this and I felt so much more relaxed than I had been in months. Doing things with my Ma, wrapping gifts, seeing my lads down in one of our old hangout spots, getting buzzed then walking back home. It was like I was back in uni again just doing whatever I wanted day to day, not having to worry about responsibilities of work or love. It was freeing.
Thursday night was Christmas Eve and Ma and I went to midnight mass where I saw a bunch of the Mullingar locals. A bunch of Ma's friends all hugged me and pinched my cheeks just like they did when I was a kid and asked me how everything across the pond was going. Everything was so calm at home and everyone was so kind, I didn't even want to go back to New York.
My bed was small and I was cramped in it but I felt so at home in it. I woke up on Christmas morning already hearing loud chatter downstairs. I grabbed my few gifts and head downstairs to put them under the small tree in our living room. I rounded the corner in the kitchen to see the whole table full.
"Merry Christmas." I said walking in to grab myself some coffee.
"Don't walk past me get in here and give your brother a hug." Greg said standing up from his seat.
"How've you been Greg? Missed you guys like hell." I said giving him a squeeze.
"I'd be lying if I didn't say I missed you too." he said back.
"Hello Denise, how are ya?" I asked giving her a kiss on the cheek.
"Good, glad your home." she smiled.
"Theo, honey, say hi to your Uncle Niall." Ma urged.
"Hey bud!" I said lifting him out of his seat.
"Uncle Niall! Where have ya been?" Theo asked me wrapping his arms around my neck.
Theo got old, really old. I couldn't believe it. He was nearly seven now and had grew up dramatically in the past few years but he was still a small little guy for his age. I hated that I couldn't get back here enough to see him or even fly my family out to New York to see him. I feel like I was missing so much with him only seeing him two or three times a year.
"New York bud, working, you know that." I smiled. "But I did meet someone who reminded me so much of you when I was visiting my friend's family. So know that I'm always thinking about you bud."
"Good. I'm unforgettable." he joked back.
"I've got you a gift. Wanna go find it?" I asked him.
Theo looked to Greg and then Denise with big eyes and they nodded with approval. I put him back down on the ground and we walked back into the living room together. I sat on the couch while he looked under the tree for his name on my gift and the rest of the family followed us in.
"Here, kid." Greg said handing me a cup of coffee.
"Thanks." I said taking it in my hands.
"How've ya been? What's with the eye?" he asked.
"You can still tell?" I said looking to my Ma.
"It's just a little discolored now, can hardly tell. But we can talk about that later it's Christmas morning come on now." Ma scolded us.
Greg and I got in a lot of trouble together when we were kids. My dad never could really get a handle on us when we were wild but whenever we were with Ma and she got angry with us we were scared shitless. It still worried me when she lowered her voice with us I felt like a kid again. The look in Greg's eyes made it seem like he felt the same way.
"Airplanes Uncle Niall?" Theo said tossing the wrapping paper beside him.
"Yeah, you know when you and Dad go visit Grandpa and he's got tons of model planes in the room you stay in?" I asked and he nodded. "Me and Dad built all those planes with him and I'm sure he'd love to do it with his grandson too."
"Thank you!" he said coming to hug me.
He continued going through his gifts opening them along with the rest of us. I got Denise a watch from Kate Spade that I had Kaine pick out over a month ago and Greg I got him a pair of loafers from Brooks Brothers. While he opened them he looked up at me confused.
"What are these?" he asked.
"You've worn the sole in that old pair of yours just take 'em." I said.
"Ma, grab our gift to him then." Greg said.
"Here Niall." Ma said handing me a box of a similar size.
I ripped off the paper and lifted the lid off the box.
"I guess we had a similar idea, yeah?" he said.
They were these neat monk strap shoes in a brown leather. They were Paul Smith, like my suit from Harry.
"These are too expensive what are ya doing?" I asked placing the shoe back in the box.
"Well Harry called to talk to me about a month ago wondering if I knew your suit measurements and he said he was getting you one from there, and while we were in London window shopping we stopped into the store and you know Niall, that kid knows you well it's all very your style. Thought maybe we could go in on a pair of shoes. They were on sale, and they looked like something you'd wear. Plus your old shoes you've worn the soles in too." Greg explained.
"Harry called you?" I questioned in disbelief.
"Yeah." he nodded.
"How'd he get your number?" I asked.
"He called me from your phone, nice kid, hope to meet him someday soon." he said.
"Well thank you all." I said leaning over to kiss Ma's cheek then Denise's.
"Ma now open mine come on." I said urging her.
I got up to grab it for her and put it on the coffee table.
"Niall, what is this. You being home with us is a present enough." she complained.
"Open it." I said.
She gently peeled off the paper of the big box and placed her hands over her heart when she saw the label. I got her a nice KitchenAid mixer, something she's been wanting for as long as I could remember. With the promotion and the raise and returning the wedding ring I felt like I had enough money this year to really justify buying all the expensive gifts I did for my family and friends and I didn't regret it at all. Just seeing their smile was all that made it worth it.
"Honey, you shouldn't have." she said taking one of my hands in her free one.
"It's time you finally got one, but don't go lifting it on your own it's heavier than I thought. The delivery man must've had a hernia getting it onto our stoop." I joked.
She smiled and we all gathered again to get into the kitchen for more coffee and cinnamon bread from breakfast like we did every year. I sat back in my chair next to my nephew and wished I could do this every single day forever.
The rest of Christmas day went by slowly and just how I wanted it to. Greg, Denise, Theo and I drove up to see my Dad in Cavan for the second half of the day and we went along on our annual walk through the freezing cold and carved our names and the date into the same tree every year. I hadn't missed a year yet and I didn't plan to.
Sunday night I ended up in a pub called Wallace's with all my best mates. Harry was sat next to me at the bar laughing along to all of our old stories from our past. We came straight from the airport to meet them and I was so glad he was finally able to meet everyone. Shane and his now fiancé Laura were there, and my best mate from home Deo, Eoghan, Angela, Kim, and Connor, and so many more. It was lovely having everyone I loved so much with me. We spent a long time at the pub and Harry got along so well with all of my friends that we just wanted to stay for so long. We were both too buzzed to drive so we were walking home laughing with each other at three in the morning carrying his bags from my Ma's car.
"How's little old Mullingar treating you then?" I asked Harry.
"Great already, your mates, they're great." he replied.
"Dumb as it is, I missed you over the week mate." I said when we approached the door.
"I did too. You're my brother man." he said.
The door did it's thing where it opened on cue with my Ma waiting behind it.
"Where have you boys been, I've been waiting up for ya." she said pulling us inside.
"Hello Maura, 'ave you gotten younger since I saw ya last?" Harry asked pulling her into a hug.
"Stop it Harry, it's nice to see you again sweetheart, I'm glad you could come for a couple days." she said pulling back and kissing his cheeks.
"It's late Ma, we all better get to bed before we have to wake up." I said.
"You're right we should." she nodded. "I've made the bed in Greg's room for you Harry, call me if you need anything."
"Thank you for having me Maura." he said again.
I led him off to Greg's room and he looked around.
"Home's not quite the size of Kaine's house but it's still just as great." I said placing his bag on top of the dresser.
"It's that old English charm now. My home's just the same way, it's how I prefer it." he said laying back on the twin bed.
"Night H, I'm next door if you need something. My home is your home." I said.
"Thanks Niall. You feeling clear since you've been home?" he asked.
"It's like a fresh start whenever I come back here." I nodded.
"Your mother is the sweetest ever." he said.
"I know it, she's a lifesaver for me. The voice of reason always." I said.
"You mama's boy." he teased.
"Goodnight H." I reiterated laughing and blushing a bit.
"Night pal." I nodded. "You look like a giant in that bed."
I closed the door behind me and heard him lowly laughing through the wall.
If you're interested in listening to the playlist "in de-niall without you" then here's the link. It's called "in a mood" on my Spotify because who wouldn't be moody if Niall was gone? Songs to make the sadness of him being gone for Kaine, and me. Enjoy.