The rest of One Direction had arrived yesterday. Akhila had accompanied Harry and Eleanor to the airport and stared in awe and adoration as Liam Payne, Zayn Malik, Niall Horan, and Louis Tomlinson - and did she mention Liam Payne? - strolled elegantly in her direction.
Harry had greeted the rest of his band the way all boys greet each other: he ran and jumped in their arms and they all squeezed each other to death like boa constrictors.
It was slightly disturbing.
Eleanor had skipped straight to Louis, naturally, and gave him a long, intense kiss. Akhila barely managed to hold down her barf, but she did because suddenly Liam Payne - Liam Payne! - was in front of her and holding his hand out for her to shake.
"Hello," he greeted with a polite smile. "You must be Harry's best friend, Akhila. He talks about you quite a bit."
Akhila had squeaked, much to her mortification.
Oddly enough, Liam only smiled at the sound, instead of laughing or even chuckling, as she had expected.
Belatedly, Akhila shook his hand and replied, "It's awesome to meet you."
"Likewise," he said and walked away.
Akhila had been shell-shocked and disappointed. Could her favorite idol of all time really be this cold?
"Well, you can't really blame him. I mean, he just had his heart broken," Eleanor reasoned to a sulky Akhila.
This was not news to Akhila, being an avid Directioner who followed any and all news about the band, and especially about Liam. "But still!" she whined.
"Don't be such a baby," Eleanor scolded. Sighing, she mumbled, "Hopefully he'll be better by Monday, but it's really quite doubtful."
"Why did she break up with him anyways?" Akhila wondered aloud.
"She felt he didn't pay enough attention to her. I understand her sentiments and all because Louis really does spend a lot of time with the band, but she should be supportive of Liam." Eleanor exhaled angrily. "It isn't as if she didn't know what she was getting into, dating him."
Akhila nodded but inside she was planning. She wanted to be the one to cheer him up. But what could she do? More importantly, how would she do it? She seized up from intimidation every time she was around him.
"You know, maybe you should try to hang out with him and cheer him up, Akhila," Eleanor suggested slyly.
"Er, well, yeah I was thinking about it," Akhila confessed, "but I don't think I can. I can barely think when he's around."
"Sounds like someone's in love," Eleanor snickered.
"Oh, shut up!" Akhila blushed and threw a pillow at her best friend.
"Ooh, you asked for it!" Eleanor picked up another pillow and tossed it into Akhila's face.
The pillow fight lasted all of five minutes, after which both girls sprawled on the carpeted floor, exhausted already.
The door swung open. "Hey Akhila, Eleanor, do you - what are you two doing on the floor?" Harry shook his head, curls swinging. "Women are so strange."
Akhila glared and playfully stuck her tongue out at him. "We're tired. We just had a pillow fight."
"Anyway," said Eleanor, who was struggling to sit up, "what's up?"
"Well, the boys and I wanna go out and do something, except for Liam, naturally. What a party pooper." Harry frowned.
"Hm. Well, I'm up for it!" Eleanor patted Akhila's leg pityingly. "Too bad Akhila is feeling nauseous from our pillow fight. Guess you'll have to stay home!"
Akhila furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. "What? I'm not - oof!"
Eleanor had smilingly smacked a fluffy pillow onto Akhila's stomach with the power of an elephant stomp. In other words, it hurt.
"Alright there, Akhila?" Harry questioned in concern. "Do you want us to stay with you?"
Akhila groaned in pain as Eleanor stood and ushered Harry out of the room. "No, no! She wouldn't want us to miss out on some free time because she's feeling disagreeable.," Eleanor answered for Akhila. "No worries, it's just a bit of nausea since she hasn't exercised in months. You know how she is. I'll be right out after I check up on her." Then she slammed the door and locked it.
"What was that for?" Akhila demanded, still wincing. "That hurt like hell! And I'm not sick at all!"
"Shut up and listen," Eleanor said soothingly. "This is all part of the plan to get you and Liam together."
"What?! Since when?"
"Since two minutes ago. Now let me explain!" Eleanor took a deep breath, paused, and said sheepishly, "Oh, sorry about your stomach, by the way. I didn't mean to use so much strength."
"Yeah, right," Akhila snorted. "Are you gonna explain or not?"
"Right. Well, don't you see this is the perfect opportunity? Everyone else will be out of the house except you and Liam!" Eleanor beamed and clapped her hands happily at the perfection of it all. "You can cheer him up and then he'll fall in love with you and you're already in love with him so it all works out!"
"Uh, except that my family is here too?" Akhila reminded her best friend. "I'd rather not try to flirt with a guy in front of them, you know?"
"Oh, I forgot them!" Eleanor looked chagrined until she was hit by sudden inspiration. Akhila could practically see the lightbulb go "Ding!" above Eleanor's head. "Take him out somewhere then! You can offer to show him some of your favorite places or something. That's even better than staying at home, actually!"
"Yeah, well, this is all assuming that I can even form a full sentence around him and that he wants to go anywhere with me," Akhila muttered.
"Of course you can and of course he does, dear." Eleanor dismissed Akhila's concern with a wave of her hand. "Now, I should go before Harry thinks you've died in here. Good luck, Akhila!"
Akhila could only stare as Eleanor tossed her a brilliant smile and flounced away.
Well, Akhila thought, I guess I have nothing better to do. Might as well go try my luck with Liam.
Akhila tiptoed into the kitchen where her mom was puzzling over a recipe. "Hey Mom. Have you seen Liam?"
"I think he's still in his room. Why?" her mother asked suspiciously.
Rolling her eyes, Akhila replied, "Just wondering."
"Ooh, does someone have a crush?" Her mom smirked. It was horrifying.
"Oh my holy - ! Mom, don't ever make that face again, I beg you!" Akhila shuddered and imagined the nightmares she was bound to have while backing speedily out of the kitchen and down the hall.
And promptly crashed into someone.
"Whoa!" Akhila's arms pinwheeled as she struggled to keep her balance but she could already feel herself falling.
So long, Life. It was fun while it lasted.
But she was saved from certain and immediate death by a pair of warm hands on her waist. She blinked in confusion and looked up into Liam's gentle brown eyes.
"Whoa there. Are you alright?" he asked with concern.
"Huh? Oh! Y-yeah, I'm totally fine," Akhila stammered, intensely blushing. "Um, thanks for saving me. And sorry for bumping into you." She was conscious of his hands which were still holding her upright.
"No, it's my fault. I should have been paying more attention." He smiled briefly at her before letting go of her waist - she felt tremendously disappointed - and stepping back.
"So, um, why didn't you go with the others?" Akhila asked him hesitantly.
He shrugged. "Wasn't really in the mood."
"Oh." She didn't want to pry any deeper but now she was at a loss for words.
"Why didn't you go?" he asked her.
"Oh, um, I was feeling a little sick before, but I'm okay now."
Silence reigned. It was starting to feel painfully awkward.
"Alright, well - " Liam began, but Akhila suddenly blurted, "Wanna go somewhere with me?"
"Uh - what?"
Blushing even more fiercely, Akhila tried to explain her outburst, which had surprised both of them. "I mean, since there's not much to do at my house, I was just thinking I could show you some places around here...Actually, forget I said anything." She turned to flee, but his hand caught hers.
He pulled her back around and looked at her. "I would like it if you showed me around."
"Wait, really?" Wasn't he in a bad mood?
"Yeah, why not?"
"Are you sure?" she persisted.
"Do you want me to change my mind?" He raised his eyebrows at her.
"No! I mean, no. Um, so do you wanna go now or..." She trailed off.
"Might as well, if you're ready." He pulled out a pair of dark sunglasses from the pocket of his jeans.
"Okay, let me just grab my keys." Akhila sped away to find her purse and car keys while she silently thanked Eleanor and God for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
The car ride was quiet and awkward, except for bits of forced small talk every few minutes. Akhila couldn't focus on driving and him. Luckily, he didn't seem like he wanted to talk.
Why is he even coming? Akhila wondered as she surreptitiously glanced at Liam's stony face, but she couldn't tell what he was feeling because of his sunglasses. But really, he didn't seem very enthusiastic. Why did he agree to come with her when it was so obvious that all he wanted to do was sulk his ass off alone?
"Um, we're here," she announced after ten minutes of silence. She parked and got out of the car, immediately feeling a little happier at the sight of her favorite café.
"And where is 'here,' exactly?" Liam asked, getting out of the car as well. He looked bored.
Akhila's eye began twitching from his indifference, but she forced herself to smile brightly. "Just my favorite café," Akhila replied. "It's really nice and calm inside and sometimes there are poetry slams."
"You write poetry?" asked Liam, now looking mildly impressed.
"What? Oh no," she hurried to correct him, "I just like to listen. Anyways, I like to come here to have some peace and quiet."
She beckoned him over and pushed open the door. The heavenly scent of freshly brewed coffee wafted out. A little bell jingled their arrival and the cashier and waiters looked up, smiling, and waved. Akhila waved back, grinning.
Sighing dreamily, Akhila turned to look at Liam with a relaxed smile. "Great, isn't it?"
Liam made a noncommittal noise and walked past her to sit at one of the tables.
Akhila gaped as he strode away. That was it. No one, not even Liam Payne, brushed past Akhila without a word. She stomped after him to give him a piece of her mind.
"Okay, listen up," Akhila snapped aggressively. "I've put up with your moodiness but that was the last straw. I don't care how heartbroken you are, you do not get to be a rude prick and dis my favorite place. I took the time and energy to be nice to you and invite you to come here with me but you need to learn some manners. Got it?"
Liam stared at me silently for several beats before bursting into laughter.
"Um, what?" Akhila was flustered and bewildered. Why was he laughing? She'd just yelled at him!
"Did you just," he said, mirth still apparent in his voice, "scold me?"
"That's brilliant!" He grinned at her. "Everyone's been walking on eggshells around me and I've been downright vexed over it. You're the first person in days to treat me normally, though it really took you quite a while."
Akhila blushed. "Well, excuse me, but I've never dealt with the heartbroken!" Only after the words left her mouth did she realize how offensive that sounded. "I'm sorry. I'm not trying to be mean."
Liam's smile had dimmed down at the word "heartbroken." "Yes, I suppose I am heartbroken. I know you mean no offense, but it's still a delicate topic with me. I'd rather not talk about it."
Akhila sat down in the chair across from him, suddenly feeling much more at ease with her idol. He was a normal human with flaws, just like her. "No one expects you to be okay. That would be weird. But if you ever want to talk, I'm here." She offered him an encouraging smile.
"Thanks." He looked at her and sighed. Running a hand through his hair, he confessed, "Normally I'd talk to the boys about something like this, but they've been avoiding me."
"Well, you can't really blame them. They just don't know what to say to you to make you feel better. They're afraid to hurt you more because they don't know what you want. What you need to do is tell them," Akhila advised sagaciously, wondering what the heck she was doing giving advice when half the time she didn't know what was going on in her own relationships.
"But how can I tell them if they're avoiding me?" Liam asked imploringly.
"Well, don't let them avoid you!" Akhila replied as if it was obvious, which it was. "It's not that hard. Just gather them up and say 'You better listen to me or else.'"
Liam glanced at her skeptically. "Really."
She shrugged. "Always works for me."
"Right. Well, I'm not you, and I'm not that" - he searched for an appropriate word - "aggressive."
"I'm not aggressive!" Akhila insisted adamantly.
Liam's eyebrows inched up his forehead but he only said, "Sure." Cautiously, he took off his sunglasses, giving a sigh of relief when no fans stormed their table. He grimaced and tossed the glasses down. "I hate these things. Makes everything look odd."
Akhila snickered. "You're lucky this place is so low-key, otherwise you'd be stampeded by now."
"Believe me, I know."
"Well, someone has a big head," she murmured.
"Nothing!" she said brightly, grinning at his suspicious look. "Anyway, you want anything to eat or drink? They have the best tea here and I love their croissants."
"You drink tea?" He seemed surprised.
"Yeah, why not? I mean, I love their coffee too, but I'm more of a tea person." She narrowed her eyes at him. "Why are you so surprised? British people aren't the only ones who drink tea regularly, you know."
"I know, I know, it's just..." He trailed off.
"Just?" she prodded.
"Just odd how similar our countries really are. America has always seemed so exotic to me, but it's surprisingly normal. It's nice."
Laughing, Akhila said, "America's not normal, it's boring. Britain's so much more interesting, isn't it?"
"What are you talking about? It's so dull. Where did you hear that?" He looked baffled.
"Uh, Yahoo?" she offered tentatively.
He laughed at her for the second time in five minutes. Akhila never realized she was so hilarious.
They ordered tea and chatted comfortably for what seemed like hours. Akhila still found it hard to believe that she was sitting in her favorite café with her favorite idol, talking about everything and nothing. It was so ordinary that it was extraordinary.
Akhila was talking about something random when she realized that Liam wasn't really paying attention to her anymore. "Liam? You okay?"
"Hm?" He was jerked out of his reverie. "Oh yeah, just...I think something's happened to that boy over there."
"Where?" Akhila looked out the window and immediately spotted a little boy, no more than six or seven years old, bawling his eyes out on the sidewalk. "Oh! I wonder what happened. Maybe he got separated from his parents?"
Liam didn't reply. He seemed to deliberate for a few seconds before nodding decisively and standing up. "I'm gonna go find out what's wrong. I'll be right back."
"Wait, I'll go with you," Akhila volunteered, but Liam hesitated. Akhila frowned, hurt. "What, you don't want me with you? Fine, I'll stay."
"No, it's just...never mind. Let's go." He turned and walked out the door, the bell jingling brightly behind him.
"Hmph. Who does he think he is, ordering me around," Akhila grumbled under her breath as she rushed out after him.
By the time she caught up with Liam, he was already comforting the boy and asking what happened.
"I-I lost m-my" - hiccup - "my m-m-mommyyyyy!" the boy wailed. "I'm s-scared!"
"Shh, shh, don't worry, we'll help you find your mum, alright? Do you want us to help you?"
They boy sniffled and nodded, wiping his tears off his face. "Thank you very much," he said in an adorably polite voice.
Akhila had to bite her lip from cooing. "Okay, so where did you last see your mommy?"
"I think it was the park...but I don't know which way it was." The boy glanced around with a blank look.
"Do you remember which park it was?" Liam asked.
"I dunno what it's called...but it had a biiiig black circle slide thing that I love to slide down!" The boy beamed happily as he thought about it.
"A big black circle slide?" Akhila muttered.
"Do you know what park he's talking about?" Liam asked her quietly.
"I'm not sure...I think so, but-"
He interrupted, "Then let's try it."
Akhila shrugged. "Okay. Waterslide Park it is."
They strolled casually towards the park with Akhila in front, leading the way. The adorable sight of Liam and the boy who said his name was Johnny walking and playing together was almost too much for her heart, but she managed not to melt into one big gooey puddle.
After a long, tiring walk, they finally arrived at the entrance of Waterslide Park. The name was more than apt, for all the slides in the park seemed like they should lead into a huge pool.
Johnny immediately ran toward the large black tube slide. "This one, this one!" he yelled triumphantly.
"Johnny? Johnny, is that you?" A woman ran towards the boy and scooped him up. "Oh Johnny, don't you ever scare us like that again!"
"Sorry, Auntie Tess," Johnny apologized. "Where's Mommy?"
"I'm calling her right now." The woman set Johnny down and fumbled around in her purse, pulling out a cell phone and dialing impatiently. "Kathy? Kathy, Johnny's here, he's back! Okay, see you then."
Liam and I stood there awkwardly on sidelines. Now that Johnny was safe and sound, we turned to go, but just then the aunt hurried over to us and hugged us, showering us with gratitude.
"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you so much for bringing Johnny back to us! Oh, how can we repay you?" she cried.
"It was nothing, really," Liam dismissed. "Anyone would have done the same."
"Well, actually," Akhila began but Liam shot her a silencing glare.
Another woman came barreling past and crushed Johnny in a hug. "I told you to stay near me! What if something happened to you?"
"Look Kathy, these two angels found Johnny and brought him back to us!" the aunt declared joyfully for the world to hear.
The mother turned to them with worship in her eyes. Akhila was afraid that the woman was about to fall to the ground and kowtow.
"Yes, you are angels! Thank you, God, for sending them to us," she prayed.
Akhila and Liam shifted uncomfortably.
"Er, we're not-" Liam began to object, but suddenly there was a scream.
"OH MY GOD! IS THAT, LIKE, LIAM PAYNE? FROM, LIKE, ONE DIRECTION? OH MY GAWWWD! LET'S GO, LIKE, GET HIS AUTOGRAPH!" yelled a ditzy blonde girl who had been passing by with a clique of ditzy blonde friends.
"Uh-oh," Liam said under his breath, "time to get out of here."
Akhila couldn't have agreed more. She looked around for a way out. There wasn't one.
"This is looking bad," she said unnecessarily as Liam whirled around and around looking for escape.
"Are you celebrities too?" the mother asked them in awe.
"He is," Akhila pointed, "but not me."
"Akhila! What was that for?" he hissed at her.
Akhila shrugged. She was only telling the truth.
"We'll help you! We'll hold them off while you run through the trees over there. There is a small path. Hurry!" the mom shouted as she ran toward the sprinting fangirls and dragged the aunt with her. "Johnny, get on a slide and stay there!"
Akhila and Liam watched with respect as the two women yelled at the top of their lungs, scolding the growing group of giggling girls.
"Quick!" Liam whispered and tugged on Akhila's wrist. "Let's go now!"
"Oh, right. Thank you!" Akhila yelled at the women, who just shooed them away and continued scolding.
"Bye!" Johnny hollered from his vantage point on top of the black slide.
Akhila and Liam waved as they ran. Soon they were amongst the trees and out the other side. Akhila led the way back to the café and as they ran, she realized two things: one, that Liam had willingly decided to help Johnny despite knowing that hordes of fangirls might have recognized and stormed him; and two, that he had tried to protect her from it back at the café when she volunteered to go with him and he'd hesitated. She had thought he didn't want to be around her, but he was just thinking about her safety. His concern made her feel warm and fuzzy.
Oh no. She already idolized him, but now he was making her actually like him. But there was no way he'd ever like her back. She needed to get over this crush ASAP. But he was too nice. Why was he so nice?
"Liam, I..." she began, but stopped, unsure of what she wanted to say.
"I...uh, never mind." She blushed at her lameness.
Chuckling, Liam slowed down as they caught sight of the café's parking lot. "Keeping secrets, are you?"
"No, I just forgot what I was going to say," she lied.
"Right," he agreed dubiously, but said no more.
They walked in silence towards the car. As Akhila unlocked the doors and got in, he said thoughtfully, "You know, I had fun today. Against all odds, I really did."
She started to smile happily, until all his words sunk in. She whipped around to glare at him and found him grinning at her. "What do you mean 'against all odds'?" she snapped, but it didn't come out as aggressive as she'd intended because his genuine smile, the smile that had been missing for a long time, was staring her in the face and the full force of it was breathtaking.
Though of course, she was just winded from the running, not his smile. Of course.
"Really, though, thank you for today," he said softly, surprising her. "I haven't felt so normal in...weeks, I think."
"My pleasure," she said.
"I hope you won't mind if I ask you to be my tour guide tomorrow?"
"No problemo," she replied, but inside she was thinking, Get out before you're in too deep. Get out, Akhila, because Liam Payne is way out of your league.
A/N: Hello again! Yes, I'm posting two chapters IN A ROW IN THE SAME DAY, OH MY GOODNESS, because I had the first chapter written for weeks now and I just finished this chapter like two minutes ago and I don't wanna forget to post. So yeah. Enjoy!
BTW, there will only be two more chapters, but they may take a month or so because I can only write sparingly. Rest of my life is dedicated to school. Ah, youth.
Write on. Read on. That's my motto.
© Copyright 2012 by The Siege