It was never the same when one of us was missing. I always felt slightly out of sync; slightly behind everyone else. Of course, I still had Lexi but it could never be the same without him. I felt like a small child who, without explanation, had been dropped into a new school, a new routine, and just expected to carry on. Of course life went on, of course I could still function, nobody from the outside could tell anything was wrong, but we could feel it.
And it was different this now. It wasn’t like he’d simply gone. It wasn’t as if I could reason with myself and tell myself that he had gone away and I just couldn’t have him for a while, cos I still saw him. I saw him everywhere- but at the same time, he was so far away. He was living a new, strange life, that neither of us could relate to. He was living a life without us.
But that feeling wasn’t bitter. At first, it was hard. I remember when this life was new to him, new to us.
We had sat around the TV every week, watching him sing. Watching him follow his dreams. We went to the live shows a few times but it was so adrenaline fuelled, so surreal that it didn’t feel like we’d been watching him perform at all.
After the moment all our hearts broke, he came back to us.
Despite the feeling of losing him, we wanted him to win. We wanted them to win. To follow their dreams. We had thought it was all over. Lex and I sat and cried on the living room floor, watching their faces as their names weren’t called at the precisely the moment they needed to be.
But it wasn’t over. The boys were given a life line, a second chance and their dreams were set back on track. They signed a record deal and they were a proper band.
Since that, their life had irrevocably changed. He moved away from his home,our home, down to London. But they were never there for long. They were jetting around the place almost all the time.
That was where Liam was now. He was coming home today though.
I was sitting in his apartment right now, waiting for him, and Lex was here too.
‘Heidi!’ Lexi called from the other room.
‘What!?’ I shouted back, too lazy to go looking for her.
‘Come here!’ She continued.
‘No! You come here!’ I replied. This was followed by rushed footsteps through the flat and the door creaking open.
‘Look what I found!’ She grinned proudly, holding up a strip of photos. I took them from her hand and inspected the three smiling faces. Liam, Lex and me. I briefly turned the photos over to read the writing on the back: Alexis, Liam and Heidi, Southwald 2002. I turned back to the pictures, I smiled. I remembered these photos being taken. It was a week after Lex had moved in with Karen and Geoff. In that little photo booth by the sea side was the first time I had smiled since it had happened.
Lex and I had always been close; maybe that’s why our parents were so close too. It seems almost obvious now, though it wasn’t at the time….
I was distracted from my reverie by the sound of keys in the door. It was Liam.
Lexi bounded for the front door and I heard her yell ‘LIAM!’ I pushed myself off the sofa, progressing towards where I knew he’d be.
I pulled open the door to reveal the scene. Liam engulfed Lexi’s hug. Liam was a head taller than Lex and his eyes met mine.
‘Jee!’ He grinned, the smile I had been waiting for, using my familiar childhood nickname.
He squirmed free of Lexi’s grasp and strode over to me. ‘Alright?’ He said casually, still standing a few feet away from me.
‘Suppose,’ I mirrored his blasé tone. ‘Yourself?’
‘Yeah… I’m good..’ He replied and we fell silent. We stood in silence for a few seconds before we snapped. We both laughed and Liam took the last steps forward to pull me into a bone crushing embrace. I breathed in to encounter the familiar musk and nestled my face into his shoulder. We stood like this for a few moments, perfectly contented.
‘Well this is awkward..’ Lex joked after our hug lasted a few seconds longer than it should. She chuckled as we pulled away.
‘How’re you!’ I grinned at Liam.
‘I’m fine,’ He replied, a familiar lilt to his words.
Not only were we best friends with Liam, but the rest of the boys and we were all close. Both Lex and I lived with Liam. We had done since we moved to London; we had just never actually found our own places… Plus, Liam was all too happy to have us with him.
I like it here with Liam and my boyfriend Riley didn’t live very far away either.
Liam and the boys were inseparable as well and within one hour of him arriving home, we were all herded up to Louis and Harry’s flat for dinner.
‘Hello guys,’ I greeted them and hugged each of them. ‘How was Oz!’ I smiled, slumping into one of the chairs in the living room.
‘Amazing!’ a very tanned Louis replied, chucking me a bag of crisps.
It was weird, sitting among this group of 5 boys, to think that we were strangers 3 years ago.
Liam, Lex and I had known each other since we were babies; Liam and Lex were cousins. I had been pushed into the family by an unfortunate chain of events had left me without a real place to call home. The Payne’s were more my family than my biological parents were. I never formally lived with them full time but I spent so much of my time round there, I might as well have done.
When Liam auditioned for the X Factor the second time round, I felt like we were losing him. He had joined this group of 4 other boys, made new friends; he was leading a new life. But he came back. He had to move down to London but asked us to come with him, so we did. We still hardly knew the boys who we had met only three times before. But the day we moved in to Liam’s flat, that all changed. Lex and I never felt like outsiders; we were always treated like one of the group. We learned to know Louis, Harry, Niall and Zayn as our best friends; not just the people who Liam was in a band with.
‘Leeeeyammm..?’ Lex said, batting her eyelashes.
‘What do you want?’ He asked, raising an eyebrow.
‘I need to get a new phone charger- I dropped it earlier and now it won’t charge!’
‘And that concerns me because?’ He asked, smiling jokingly.
Lex just looked at him, eyebrow raised.
‘Can’t you live without it for one night?’
‘Nooooo!’ She moaned and as usual, Liam was won over.
‘C’mon then! But you are learning to drive soon cos I’m fed up of being your chauffeur!’ He smiled despite trying to be fed up. ‘We’ll be back in time for food,’ Liam nodded to the boys and me.
With that, Liam and Lexi left.
Moments after their departure, the flat buzzer rung. ‘It’ll be Liam having forgotten his keys,’ Niall nodded, making no move to get up.
‘Oh, I suppose I’m getting it then!’ I huffed, standing up but laughed with the boys too.
I walked toward the intercom by the front door and picked up the little phone, lighting up the small video display. But the face on the monitor wasn’t the one I was expecting.
‘Riley?’ I asked, sounding rather surprised. The dark haired boy stared up at the little camera.
‘That’s me,’ he half grinned. ‘Lex was texting me and told me to come over,’
‘Oh. Yeah. Come on up,’ I smiled, pulling myself together. I pressed the button to let him in the building, undid the lock on the door and went to sit back on the sofa.
‘Ri’s here,’ I commented as I sat down.
‘Nice one,’ Zayn smiled. I was glad all the boys got along with Riley, it made it so much easier to see him.
Sure enough, a minute Riley entered the flat. His pale grey eyes searched me out and then walked over to us.
‘A’rite lads,’ He smiled, his deep Liverpool accent influencing his words.
‘Yeah, y’arite mate?’ Niall grinned, taking his hand and knocking shoulders. He did the same with Zayn, Lou and Harry before finally reaching me.
‘A’rite babe,’ He smiled, pulling me up from the sofa, straight into a kiss. His lips pressed hard against mine as his muscled arms pulled me into his body, pressing himself against me.
After he pulled back I breathed, ‘Yeah, thanks,’ just before he sat on the sofa and pulled me onto his lap.
The boys fell into a conversation, discussing Australia where they’d just got back from. Riley’s fingers trailed absentmindedly up and down my leg.
‘I’m starving,’ Harry stood up and walked to the window to look down at the car park like somehow that would make Liam and Lex or the food arrive here quicker. ‘I spy with my little eye, Liam and Lex,’ He grinned proudly, like he had hurried their arrival himself. ‘And, look! I see the delivery guy pulling up too. Perfect timing,’ he smiled smugly.
We waited for the few moments until Liam and Lex reached the flat, followed only seconds after by the food.
‘FOOD!’ Liam yelled as he entered, rounding the troops.
‘Never have I been more glad to see you,’ Niall laughed.
Liam walked over to us, followed by Lex who was trying to unpack her charger from its box. He did a double take when he counted 6 of us, turning back to Riley. He looked a little disappointed…
‘Hi Liam,’ Riley raised his hand in a casual wave.
‘Hi,’ Liam replied, turning to get drinks from the kitchen.
They boys had just come home from travelling which meant they ate everything in sight. Riley went to get a drink top up and Liam plonked himself next to me and smiled. ‘So, how’ve you been?’
‘Alright thanks. Riley’s been looking after me,’ I laughed. He smile slightly faded; a minute change only noticeable to me. Still, he carried on.
‘Good!’ He continued. I often saw that look in his eye when I mentioned Riley, though I could never understand why. ‘Australia was incredible!’ He changed the subject.
Riley sat down on my other side, immediately drawing a tanned arm around my waist, pulling me into him.
‘Ri, I’m trying to eat!’ I said, lightly annoyed.
He didn’t say anything, just slightly readjusted himself and then continued.
‘Yeah? How did the tour go?’ I carried on my conversation with Liam.
‘Amazingly! The fans were incredible!’ He was more animated now, explaining how mad it was at their signings and how they got to hold a Koala bear, which prompted Niall to produce a picture on his phone with the boys holding a sleeping, grey ball of fluff in their arms.
‘Aww! Zayn! It looks like you!’ Lex joked, pointing to the unusual tuft of dark hair which mildly resembled his signature quiff. Zayn smiled sarcastically before joining in the laughter.
‘So, Jee, what’s guarn back over here? Apart from that genius breaking all her stuff?’ He mocked Lexi friendlily.
‘Babe,’ Riley interrupted before I could answer. ‘Why do you get called Jee?’ He asked.
‘Blame Lex! Heidi to Hy-dee to Jee. Yeah… Lex couldn’t say my name when we were little and I suppose that’s why she called me Jee… Weirdo… Only my best friends are allowed to call me it though,’ I bobbed my head, referring to Liam and Lex.
‘Nice,’ Riley shrugged indifferently, not really taking notice of my answer. He then proceeded to press his lips against mine again, and, discarding the food we had left, pulling me towards him.
‘Not again!’ Liam sighed whilst the others laughed. I heard him walk over to the others. As soon as this happened, Riley pulled away.
After a while, it was time for us to go. The boys were all exhausted and Zayn had already fallen asleep.
‘I’m going to sleep now,’ Liam croaked mid-stretch.
‘Well we better go home then,’ I sighed, pushing myself up from the floor.
‘Bye Riley,’ I said, hugging him around the waist before he kissed me.
‘Bye,’ He passed coolly, before leaving.
After that we all dispersed back to our own flats and we got ready for bed.
I lay in the darkness, staring up at the ceiling, unable to sleep. It was unseasonably warm and ever with my covers kicked off, it was still humid.
There was an interruption to the quiet dimness; my door creaked open, letting a slither of pale light seep in from the hallway.
‘Jee,’ The voice sighed and I knew it was Liam.
‘Can’t sleep either?’ I asked, sitting up and flicking the switch on my lamp.
He shook his head, pouting his lips a little before he threw himself onto the end of my bed.
Liam looked quite different from when we had waved him off a month ago. His skin was tanner and his dark blonde hair was sun bleached with slivers of gold. I held my arm next to his and compared the pasty white to his bronze. ‘Damn,’ I cursed jokingly.
He laughed before chucking my blanket completely off the bed.
‘Seriously though, we missed you,’
‘I missed you too. It’s been way too long,’ He exhaled, a slight frown on his lips.
‘Look what Lex found earlier,’ I smiled, picking the photo from the side and handing it to him.
‘I remember this!’ He laughed. ‘We all look so little!’
‘I think that was the first time I was happy since…’ I cut off and Liam nodded, knowing I didn’t really want to say.
‘Where did she find this? I wonder if there’s more?’
‘I think she was tidying up, for once, and found it,’
He chuckled softly, ‘I’ll have to get mum to email me some old photos, I’ve barely got any here!’
‘I’ve actually got a photo album here,’ The thought popped into my head and I leaned over the side of my bed to grab a big black photo album out from under the bed. ‘Forgot about this!’
‘Let’s have a look!’ He smiled.
I patted the space next to me, gesturing for him to put his head on the pillow beside me.
We flicked through the photo album now, laughing at all the pictures of us as kids.
We fell asleep looking at these photos; There were so many fond memories frozen in the ink of these photos; smiling faces of children who had not known much of life’s troubles- just happy being three best friends.