Chapter 32

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Ryan catches me in his strong arms when I nearly collapse on top of him, hugging him so tightly I almost pass out from the exertion.

   “What? What- what’re you…? How did you…? When…?” I blubber against his chest, unable to form a sentence. The five boys stand around us in a semi-circle, beaming.

   “Happy birthday, Hales,” he says in response, hugging me back. Ryan introduces himself to the others while I try to regain some composure. I turn to Harry and lock my arms around his neck. I know that he did this.

   “Thank you,” I whisper.

   “I love you,” he answers. I quickly press my lips to his and when we pull apart, he catches one of my tears as it falls.

   Soon I learn that Harry also flew out my mother, Gail, and Catherine, who appear half an hour after Ryan, escorted by Paul. I step away from Harry at the sight of Paul, but he doesn’t stick around. I am ecstatic to see my family and friends. In this life, it’s easy to get caught up in the craziness of the moment, but I’ve missed them at all. At night, when I am alone in unfamiliar hotel rooms and unfamiliar cities, my mind always returns to them.

   At one point during the small party, I am standing alone against a wall, watching my life unfold in front of me. Ryan and Zayn seem to have really hit it off, they have been standing in a corner talking for over an hour. I watch as Niall and Liam attempt to show Gail how to play darts, but neither of them are very good at it either, so they all fail repeatedly. My mother is seated in a chair next to Catherine, where they are both being entertained by Louis, who is undoubtedly cracking jokes every minute. My heart is full to bursting when my eyes meet Harry’s across the room. He is leaning against the opposite wall, seemingly doing the same thing I’m doing, observing. He pushes away from the wall and walks over to me, smiling. I don’t care who is watching, I don’t care who knows and who doesn’t know. I fold myself into his arms and hold him tightly, unable to believe what he has done for me. Harry put forth a lot of thought and effort to provide me with gifts that would mean more to me than anything else.

I want to thank him again, but I know the attention makes him uncomfortable. I don’t say anything, just rest my head on his chest. His hand plays in my hair and we both lean against the wall. If anyone is paying attention to us, they don’t show it. For the next several minutes, Harry and I watch our friends interact. We both watch, wide-eyed as Ryan’s arm wraps protectively around Catherine’s waist. The way she leans into him suggests that there’s more to it than a friendship.

   “What?” I hear Harry’s sharp intake of breath next to me.

   “What?” I echo in disbelief. Ryan catches us staring and throws me a wink, pulling Catherine in closer. I laugh a little breathlessly; I had not seen that one coming.

   Eventually we all have to leave. The boys have a show tonight, and the party already caused them to miss sound check. I ride back to the hotel in a car with Gail, my mom, Catherine and Ryan. We are all going to the show tonight and I’ve been given the night off. I can’t wait to see the show from the sound booth, an opportunity I’ve always been offered but never taken.

   We go straight to the arena and in through the back. I forget how odd it is the first time, Gail is looking around in complete awe and my mother seems terrified. We meet up with Paul backstage and I am beaming with pride as I introduce him to my family. Catherine and Paul share a warm handshake; I had almost forgotten that they’d had plenty of interaction before now.

   I lead us out onto the arena floor, making my way back to the sound booth. As we wade through the small crowd of people already gathered, I am stopped multiple times by fans. I have not been able to maintain as low of a profile as I would have liked, but spending 90% of your time with the most famous boys in the world will do that. Ryan is laughing and slightly awestruck as he snaps picture after picture of me with small groups of girls. I remember back to the first show I ever came to, where the girls went crazy screaming Paul’s name. It is hard to believe that they care so much about me, about us, just because we are close to their favorite band.

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