There was no way of knowing that today would change my life.
Sure, I knew it would be an amazing boost to my career and it would definitely secure my future as a journalist if everything went well. Little did I know, however, that it would also bring up a distraction that I had tried so hard, for so long, to keep in the past.
It had only been twenty-four hours -- one day -- with him three years ago, but it seemed to change everything for me. It was twenty-four hours I could never forget, even if I wanted to. Because of him, I had an excuse, if only for a day, to forget about everyone and everything around me and focus on what really mattered: me. Him. Us.
Listen, I know it sounds crazy that after such a short amount of time, I could be so certain about something, someone. I don't expect anyone to understand. That's why I haven't told a single soul about what happened between the two of us. I was worried it would ruin everything. I also knew no one would believe me, anyway. But ultimately, I was afraid that talking about it with anyone but him would make it even more difficult to deal with the fact that I would never see him again.
Well, until today. As soon as I caught sight of him, my breath hitched in my throat. He was here. To meet with me. Surely, I had to be dreaming. To be certain, I pinched my leg under the table as he sat down. There was no denying those familiar green eyes - shining bright from across the table, staring a hole right through my own, setting fire to every fiber of my being - and his hands - thumb and forefinger tugging at his bottom lip, with more rings than I remember around his slender fingers - were real, and sitting three feet away from me.
Those eyes, that mouth, his hands had been the shining distraction in the back of my mind for three years. Now, it seems they have moved right to front of the line and, although I was utterly terrified, I wasn't going to let them disappear to the back again.
I hate being late. In my opinion, if you aren't at least ten minutes early, you're late. Being late is annoying. It's inconsiderate and, frankly, immature. Honestly, how hard is it to be on time?
That's why, at this very moment in time, I hate myself because, boy, am I running late. And I do mean running. The soles of my shoes slap hard against the pavement as it disappears beneath me, crunching over yellow and orange leaves along the way. I try my best not to run into any of the people I pass on my way while also desperately attempting to send a text message containing my coffee order. I am lucky enough to live only a few blocks away from my office building but, let me tell you, running through the crowded sidewalks of downtown Chicago, on a Wednesday morning, in three-inch heels, no less, is not something that luck has anything to do with.
Naturally, I only have my boss (and the fact that I neglected to check my email before going to bed) to thank for my current situation of utter distress. My alarm clock this morning was my phone vibrating angrily on my night stand with an incoming call from the woman who has driven me mad for the last three and a half years. Don't get me wrong, I am incredibly grateful to her for taking a chance on me and giving me all of the opportunities to advance my career but, my goodness, the woman was undeniably intimidating.
"Hello? Matilda?" I had answered the phone while still buried underneath my warm, cozy comforter, sounding rather groggy. I hoped she wouldn't realize she had woken me and that I remained comfortably in bed. When I heard her on the other line, I cringed.
"Charlie? What the devil- you sound like you're still asleep." Her tone was incredulous and dripping with disdain. "Even so, you'd better get here as quickly as your feet can carry you," she demanded, her British accent having done nothing to soften the screeches of her voice that early in the morning.
On any other day, rushing to the office at seven in the morning would make me extremely early. Today, however, is not a normal day. Before ending the call, Matilda informed me she has a very important client coming to town for an interview and can only trust a select few of us with the information. I never realized I was part of the privileged crowd. Go me? After I hung up the phone, I flew out of bed and scurried around my apartment, frantically, trying to get myself ready as quickly as I could in order to get to the office in record time.
When I finally make it inside the doors of the building where our office is located - situated comfortably on the eleventh (top) floor - I need to take a moment to catch my breath, as well as attempt to correct my disheveled appearance. I smooth down my pencil skirt and swoop the blonde hair out of my eyes before making my way to the elevator. I catch one of the security guards watching me, amused smirk plastered on his face, and, with the mood I'm in, not to mention I haven't had a single drop of coffee yet, it takes everything in me not to flip him off. I simply press the button to the eleventh floor and smirk right back at him as the doors close in front of me.
While the elevator ascends, I take the time to peek at my phone only to realize I've missed another call from Matilda. Knowing I don't get any service in the lift and that I will be there in a matter of seconds, I huff out a breath and hope that, by some miracle, this elevator will move faster.
I'm filled with panic and a tinge of curiosity when the elevator finally stops on my floor and I'm out the doors before they are completely open. My thoughts are all over the place trying to figure out who could set my boss into such a frenzy that she'd feel it necessary to summon me here before the sun was up. We've dealt with many high-profile individuals before today. We are a magazine, after all. A decently popular one, at that.
Rushing to my office to discard my jacket and purse, I notice that Matilda's office light is the only one on in the entire place. When I catch sight of her, she is pacing in front of her desk, looking extremely calm considering she was a mess on the phone a mere fifteen minutes ago. I rush over to my desk once I've turned my own light on and rip my coat off as quickly as I can. Before I can leave to make my way to Matilda's office, I hear the elevator ding and I can only hope it's Greer inside of it. When the doors open and my eyes land on her face, my body physically relaxes and I let out a heavy sigh of relief. Not only do I need the support of my work wife right about now, she's the one bringing the coffee this morning.
I let out a tiny chuckle when I see her rush toward my office, doing her best to keep the paper cups from falling out of the tray. Her short, black hair seems to be a bit of a mess on top of her head, likely caused by the wind I encountered only moments ago. She breezes through the door to my office and shoves the tray of coffees at me.
"What in the damn Hell is going on this morning?" Her breath is coming out in short pants as she unwinds the scarf from around her neck. I shrug as I take a sip of my drink: dark roast, two creams, two sugars.
"I haven't a clue," I reply, handing the other cup to her as she throws her coat on one of the chairs in my office. "I have been driving myself crazy trying to figure out who has got Tilda's knickers in such a twist."
Greer pulls a rather disgusted face and moves her drink toward her mouth. Before taking a sip I hear "Please don't talk about our boss's underwear this early in the morning." I can't help but laugh, linking my arm through hers as we make our way toward Matilda's office.
"Who else has she called in this early," I whisper to Greer while we slowly approach the corner office. "Do you know?" She throws a quick glance at me before shaking her head.
"No idea." She takes another quick pull from her coffee cup before continuing. "I figured you'd be here. I was shocked she'd called me in. I'm guessing Rad and Fallon will be here, too." She shrugs her shoulders and I put on my best hopeful grin when we reach Matilda's office.
"Ladies, you're here! Finally." She throws her hands in the air, as if she is going to pull us into some sort of embrace. Instead, she gestured for us to make our way into the conference room next to her office. "Please, go make yourselves comfortable. I'm hoping the others will be here any minute now."
I am a mess of nerves as we sit and wait for the "others" to arrive. I can only hope that it is, in fact, Conrad and Fallon. If this is such a big assignment, I wouldn't want to have to work with anyone other than those two and Greer. When I hear the elevator ding yet again, my heart rate speeds up a bit while I wait to see who it will reveal.
When I see the only two faces I could think of, I am elated. I don't even know which client we will be dealing with or what our assignment even is but now, it doesn't matter. As long as I get to work with my best friends, who also happen to be some of the most talented writers I know, it is sure to be a slam dunk.
Fallon is the first of the two to enter the conference room, anxious grin on her face. She takes the seat next to mine, doing her best to tame her long, fiery hair before she speaks.
"Ok, what is this all about?" The tone in her voice is a bit frantic and she looks from me to Greer and back to me. We both shrug, shaking our heads as Conrad walks in. He sends his hand up in a quick wave to all of us before taking the chair next to Greer.
"Ladies. Interesting morning so far, yeah?" He is the only one of us who brought anything to take notes with, as usual. I watch as he opens his small notebook to a fresh page and lines up a couple of pens on the table in front of him. It is as if he is here to take notes for an hour long lecture, and not a simple meeting with our boss.
"Rad, do you have any idea what's going on?" I ask the question in a whisper yell, worried that Matilda will come in any moment. If anyone is going to have any inkling as to what's about to happen, it's Rad. Before he has a chance to answer, he looks from my face to just behind me and I know that she's arrived.
"Alright everyone. Thank you all for coming in so early this morning," she greets us as she makes her way around to the head of the table before taking a seat. She looks at me and continues. "Charlie, sorry to have to be your alarm clock this morning. I'm guessing you won't forget to check your emails after today." She quirks up an eyebrow at me and I blush.
"No, definitely not," I assure her, feeling rather irritated that she would call me out in front of the other three. I was the first one to make it in this morning, wasn't I? I take another large drink from my coffee cup, willing Matilda to carry on with the reason for this meeting.
"Anyway, as for why I've called you all here." She straightens in her chair and adopts a rather wide smile. Too wide, if you ask me. Almost a bit mischievous, really. "I've been contacted by a family friend, requesting an exclusive interview." She eyeballs us, one by one, as she makes her announcement. When she doesn't get straight to the point, the anxious knot in my stomach pulls tighter. To make matters worse, she's staring at me again.
"In fact, we've interviewed him before," Matilda informs us and I can see confusion spread across everyone's face, my own included. She smirks again before proceeding. "It's been a few years but I have no doubts you will all recognize the name." OK, she's being extremely cryptic and it's making my eye twitch. Thank goodness Conrad is getting fed up with the mystery.
"Matilda, what exactly is going on?" He sounds annoyed and I can't help but smile when I look at him. Greer and Fallon seem horrified that he'd interrupt Matilda and it doesn't do anything to wipe the smile from my face. I only adopt a more somber expression when Matilda meets my eye once more.
"He's actually requested that Charlie be the one to do the interview." There's that evil sneer again. When she notes the baffled expression written all over my face, she winks. "He says he won't do the interview with anyone else." She's toying with me now.
"Who is it, Tild?" I have to ask. The suspense is making me feel physically sick. She shakes her head the tiniest bit and her face adopts a rather smug look.
"Harry Styles, of course." As soon as the name leaves her lips, my stomach lurches and I can feel all of the color drain out of my face. If I didn't feel sick before, there was no denying the nausea now. I only manage to blink a few times before slumping back in my chair and zoning out completely.
I am aware of the others around me chattering on and asking Matilda follow up questions. Will the other members of One Direction be there? Why is this such an exclusive? Will they or he be announcing a new album? Tour? Book? Anything? They carry on while the only thing I can seem to do is stare blankly past them, not really registering or absorbing anything being said. I am frozen, numb, petrified in my chair.
My mind is racing at a thousand miles a minute, trying to figure it all out; what, why, how? This was bound to happen eventually, right? I mean, it's been three years. My stomach twists and turns on itself and I have to resist the urge to get up and leave that conference room because I'm afraid I will scream. Only when I hear my name being called do I snap back to reality.
"Charlie?" Matilda is glaring at me, exasperation clear on her face. "I asked you if you are going to agree to do this interview for me? For us?" The miffed tone of her voice is enough encouragement for me to nod.
"Yeah. Uhm, I mean, yes, of course I'll do it," I am aware of the other three's eyes glued to me but all I can do is move my head in affirmation a few more times and send Matilda a weak, reassuring smile, before she nods once, stands up, and dismisses herself.
A few moments pass with my eyes fixed on the spot where Matilda once stood, before I rip my focus away and look at Greer. A mixture of worry and uncertainty passes over her face before she finally speaks.
"Charlie. What is going on?" Greer looks from me, to Fallon, then Conrad, and back to me. "You look like you've just seen a ghost." The hint of fear I pick up in her tone causes a pang of guilt to poke at the knot in my stomach. It is several seconds before I shake my head, trying to rid myself of the trepidation I'm feeling.
"Commons Club. After work." I don't answer the question. I can't answer it. Not here. Not yet. "I'm going to text Kate, too." Without another word, I stand up and somehow make it back to my own office, wondering all the while how I am going to make it through the rest of this work day.
I spend most of the morning gaping at my computer screen, seeing but not registering anything in front of me. Throughout the day, Greer, Fallon, and Conrad take turns checking in on me, growing more impatient with each visit (I'm sure) when I refuse to give them any hint of what is going on in my brain. Greer is the only one to ask the dreaded question again, later on in the afternoon. She is genuinely concerned and I feel awful.
"I'm sorry, G, but I can't discuss this. Not, uhm-- not here," I finally inform her, hoping she doesn't detect the very present unease in my voice. I don't want her to think it has anything to do with her. It definitely doesn't. It has everything to do with him.
I sat in my stupor the entire day, accomplishing nothing and exploring old moments I had swore to myself I wouldn't go near again. Anything related to Harry and the time the two of us shared outside of the interview that day, had been hidden away in a box in the back of my memory and I had subconsciously thrown away the key. Now, I had no choice but to pick the lock and confront it all once again. I was hoping that doing so would help me to remain neutral and, more importantly, rational when I would come face to face with him and his smile -- that smile that I fell in love with, that, if wide enough, would indent the cutest dimple into his left cheek, the smile I could stare at for hours -- for the first time in three years.
To say the entire situation was horrifying would be an absolutely troubling understatement.
When five o'clock finally hits, I round up the troops and we make our way to the Virgin Hotel, home to The Commons Club and my favorite spot in the city. I send a quick text off to Kate, my roommate, to let her know we are on our way, as I walk in silence, still trying so hard to wrap my head around what I had learned this morning, nine hours ago.
Upon arrival, we find Kate already at a table and I immediately flag down a server to order tequila shots (two for me) and a round of Heinekens for everyone. When Fallon tries to argue that she'd prefer a Sauvignon Blanc, I assure her that she is going to need something stronger than that.
"So, are you going to tell us what's going on?" Kate is the first one to ask me once we are all sat comfortably at the table. She has no idea the blow Matilda had delivered but she seems incredibly worried. "It has to be something pretty awful for you to have made these plans before eight in the morning." An uncomfortable laugh escapes my lips without my permission and I quickly cover my mouth with my hand to stop it.
Everyone's attention turns to me and, as if on cue, the server returns with the tray full of our drinks. She takes her time passing them out to everyone and I can't help but feel a bit irritated. When I come to the conclusion that I'm being unreasonable and projecting my frustration on this poor girl, I smile politely and thank her for bringing our beverages. Before leaving the table, she asks if there is anything else she can do for us. Conrad insists we are fine and she finally leaves us alone.
"Alright, ladies. Oh, and Rad," I announce, before throwing back a tequila shot. No salt, no lime. I let the liquid burn down my throat before taking a pull from my beer. They are all staring at me, mesmerized, silently pleading for me to say more. I quickly knock back the second shot of tequila before I continue. "Get settled in. You're about to hear the fascinating tale of the life-changing day I spent with none other than Mr. Harry Styles."
August 23rd, 2015
"Is that really what you're going to wear," Kate asks, incredulously, as she eyeballs me from head to toe. I quirk up an eyebrow at her over my coffee cup while I take a long sip. It is Sunday and I have to do an interview for the magazine. Of course this was what I was going to wear.
"Kate, why wouldn't I wear this?" I match her tone and move from behind the counter in our kitchen before taking a look down at my outfit. Sure, I was wearing a well-loved Rolling Stones tee shirt and some (possibly too) short denim cutoffs but at least I'd made the effort to throw on a blazer and ankle boots. "Matilda told me business casual." I shrug my shoulders when I meet her eye once more.
"Right, and you're going heavy on the casual, yeah?" She is smirking at me now, shaking her head. "Aren't you set to meet with one of the biggest boy bands in the world this afternoon?"
"So? If anything, they'll appreciate my outfit choice." I wink at her before I head to my room to grab my purse and my computer bag. I can hear Kate laughing while she rummages through the cupboards, whining about a hangover.
Although I'm sure the boys I'm about to meet will have no issues with what I'm wearing, I can't help but worry what my boss will say. Matilda is wound extremely tight sometimes and I don't know which version of her I will get today. When she was begging me to help her with this interview, she made it a point to "sweeten the deal" by telling me I could do casual instead of formal. That was two days ago. I might get a completely different side of Matilda today.
I do another once over of my desk to make sure I've got everything I need and then make my way out into the kitchen and living room area once again. When I catch sight of Kate, she is hunched over a bowl of cereal at the counter, hood from her sweatshirt yanked up over her head. She must have had quite the evening last night. I can't help but giggle at her expense.
"Rough night, cupcake?" I snatch up my coffee cup from the counter to finish off my drink. I only laugh harder when I receive a double middle finger from Kate, dropping her spoon into her bowl dramatically. I send a frown in her direction before turning to the sink to wash out my mug.
"You know, you seem very chipper considering what you're about to walk into with this interview," Kate states, the mouthful of cereal making her a little difficult to understand. When I turn around to look at her, she has removed her hood and is already staring at me. "Aren't you even a little bit nervous?" She proceeds to shovel another bite of soggy cereal into her mouth before I can answer.
"Of course I'm nervous," I begin to tell her while I reach into our fridge for a bottle of water. I point the bottle toward her quickly, wordlessly asking her if she'd like one also. When she waves her hand to decline, I hurry to close the door before continuing on. "I'm nervous but I'm also extremely prepared so I'm not sure I have anything to be nervous about." I take a sip of water as I watch Kate mull over what I've just told her for a brief second.
"Yeah, I know how prepared you are." She practically snorts when she finishes her sentence, cracking herself up. When she notices the obvious shade of confusion on my face, she shakes her head. "Your internet history is stuffed with google searches and twitter feeds about these guys!" She almost falls off her stool because she is laughing so hard.
"Right. Kate, honey, that's called research." I inform her, a bit unsure why she is acting like this is all of a sudden something out of the ordinary. "I do that before every interview."
"No, nuh-uh, not like this," she counters, shaking her head rather violently. She has abandoned her bowl of cereal by now and I can't decide if it's because it's doing nothing for her hangover or if it's so she only has to concentrate on one thing at a time because of that hangover. "You have never done this much 'research' with anyone else," she declares, throwing air quotes around the word research, implying that that isn't exactly what I was doing.
"Care to explain," I challenge, pursing my lips and quirking up my eyebrow, yet again, in her direction. I cannot understand why she is making this such a big deal in the first place but I'm willing to humor her for now. I've still got about twenty minutes before Matilda's car gets here.
"You know what I'm talking about," she screeches, pointing at my computer bag, as if it holds all the answers. "I've seen you drooling on your keyboard while you look at photos of those boys until the wee hours of the night." When I shake my head to disagree, she throws her head back and laughs.
"OK, so what if they are hot," I question, still unsure as to what this has to do with anything. "Now I'm not allowed to appreciate a good-looking man or two if I'm set to interview them in less than an hour?" The shit-eating grin on her face makes my stomach turn slightly.
"See. I knew you were nervous," she responds, adopting a grin that is too smug for my liking and stands up to bring her cereal bowl to the sink. I roll my eyes at her before I grab my glasses that I notice sitting on the table near our front door.
"Please, wash that bowl before you leave today," I beg, deciding to ignore her statement regarding my nerves and choosing, instead, to acknowledge her sad excuse for proper kitchen etiquette when you live with other people. I laugh to myself when I hear her groan in the hallway. I pop back into the kitchen just in time to see her flipping me off one more time before disappearing into her bedroom.
My stomach flips without my permission when I hear my phone ping, notifying me of a text message. I pull it out of my pocket and feel another jerk in my gut when I see that it's from Tilda, letting me know the car will be outside of our building in a matter of minutes. OK, so I guess I'm a bit more uneasy about this afternoon than I realized. I don't understand why, though.
It has been about seven months since I was hired on to work for Matilda and, in that time, I'd written dozens of articles and interviewed plenty of celebrity clients for the magazine. I've done this so many times I have no reason to be this jittery. Right? Maybe the magnitude of their stardom was finally sinking in. Not to mention, they definitely were all so hot. That had never been an issue for me before today and it was a bit bothersome.
During my rather short time working at the magazine, I have also made my way into Matilda's good graces and seem to be somewhat of a threat to the others in our office. Greer, however, likes to make fun of me any chance she gets, although it's usually with some sort of crude lesbian joke.
"Finally playing for my team and you pick our boss over me?" She had asked me one day while we were having lunch. Matilda had made it a point to show me a little extra praise in a morning meeting and Greer had most definitely noticed. I could always count on her to keep me humble. I had to laugh when she acted heartbroken, dramatically placing her hand over her heart. "I am hurt, Charlie. Absolutely shattered." It became too much when she pretended to cry into her napkin and I had to awkwardly smile at the other people in the restaurant who were gaping at us. She started laughing when she knew I was properly uncomfortable, only after I assured her I was still as straight as they come and most definitely not canoodling with our boss.
While I am usually the one Matilda chose for the bigger interviews, I am still a little bitter toward her today for asking me to work on a Sunday. She knew I could never say no to her and she took advantage of that, big time. I can't be too upset, however, because this interview today was my most important one to date. It is guaranteed to open a lot of doors for my career and I will only have Matilda to thank for that in the future.
I send a quick response text to Tilda, promising I will meet her downstairs when she arrives, before walking to the end of the hallway to inform Kate that I'm leaving.
"Good luck," she yells from her room, not bothering with the extra effort it would take to meet me in the foyer to see me off. "Don't wait up, either. I'll be at Eric's tonight."
Ah, yes. Eric. Kate's sort-of-but-not-really boyfriend. The jury was still out on whether or not I liked Eric with Kate. He is a nice enough man but something about him is... off and I haven't yet been able to put my finger on what it is.
I shout back my usual "be safe, have fun" spiel before turning to make my way out of our front door and down the hallway to the elevator. I can feel the sweat forming on my palms and it reminds me of the nerves I've been trying to ignore all day. All weekend. I am now officially on my way to interview the men of One Direction and there is no denying that I am absolutely, positively losing my cool. I draw in a few deep breaths while the elevator descended to the main lobby of our building and nearly trip on my way out when the doors finally open. Thankfully, no one else is around to add to the humility.
I practically sprint through the front door, bursting into the August heat and almost falling down the steps, hoping that Matilda didn't see any of it. The car is pulling up to the curb as I reach the bottom of the stoop and, even though the windows are tinted and I can't see inside, I put on a confident smile so Matilda won't notice the anxious mess I have become within the last five minutes. I am met by a welcome blast of cool air when I open the door to the car in front of me.
"Hello, darling Charlie," Tilda greets me and it occurs to me that she is in a delightful mood. This can only be good news for my outfit choice. I meet her eye as I close the door behind me and she sends me warm smile. "Ready to meet these fetching gentlemen, I assume."
"Obviously," I reply, rolling my eyes and chuckling a bit. "Although, I'm more excited to be spending most of my Sunday with you." I can't keep the insanely cheesy smile from spreading across my face and the tension in my stomach eases every so slightly when Matilda laughs at my joke.
"Ever the charmer, you are." She removes the oversized sunglasses from her face and her smile drops a bit before she opens her mouth again. "If that's the case, I'm afraid I've got some bad news for you." The relief I was starting to feel disappears and I can feel my cheeks getting hot.
"What? Tild? You won't be there?" I am trying desperately to sound less frantic than I feel at this moment. The only shred of hope I had for getting through this interview without losing my composure was swiftly slipping through my fingers. The look on her face after my question wasn't helping my cause at all.
"Well, I will be there," she starts, restoring a little bit of faith within me, but when she smirks at me before going on, I am completely stumped. "We will be interviewing them separately."
I am unquestionably puzzled when Matilda doesn't immediately go on to explain what she could possibly mean by this. After a few agonizing moments, she finally divulges the details: they will be splitting the band up into sets of two, with Tilda and I interviewing one pair by ourselves. From my research, I remember that they have done something similar to this many times in past interviews so it doesn't surprise me that they'd do it today. Oddly, it helps to calm the hysteria going on in my stomach. I nod along in understanding as she explains that we will only be working with one of the two groups each and that we will have to collaborate on the article that will result from our meetings.
I don't have the chance to ask her how they will be paired up or who I will be working with because I notice that we have already reached our destination: Soldier Field. The boys are in the middle of their On The Road Again Tour and are set to play for an enormous crowd tonight which means we will be interviewing them somewhere in the depths of the football stadium. Being an avid Bears fan since birth, way before I'd even moved to Chicago, I am more than familiar with the concessions stands, bathrooms, and seating in the arena. I have no idea what to expect when I walk in today.
Matilda and I stumble out of our car and are met by a member of Soldier Field security at an entrance I've only dreamed about using. Matilda walks next to the broad, muscled man as he leads us around turns and down long hallways, speaking in hushed tones so I'm not able to make out any of the conversation floating between them. I can't be bothered to try to listen in, anyway. I am doing everything I can to keep myself from fangirling over the fact that I am in the restricted areas of Soldier Field, areas that only a select few privileged individuals have ever been.
I am so caught up in my own head with thoughts of possibly running into Jay Cutler or, my personal favorite, Matt Forte that I don't even notice that Matilda and the security guard have stopped walking and we have found our way to a relatively large room with a few other people. I am brought back to reality when I hear by name being barked out by Matilda.
"Charlie, hello!" She is waving her hand in front of my face, her usually flawless composure rattled just enough so that I can tell she is annoyed with me in this moment. My face adopts an apologetic smile when her eyes go wide.
"Sorry, Tild. I got a bit lost in my thoughts." I offer her my best puppy dog face which, I'll admit, I'm not ashamed of, especially because this seems to soften her a bit and she is able to smile at me.
"Right, well, find your way back," she pleads, nodding her head toward a group of people I hadn't noticed until now. "We've got work to do."
With that, she whips around to acknowledge the others in the room and, for the first time since we arrived, I take a second to look at the faces of everyone else around us. I don't recognize most of them but I do my best to look anything but confused as we make our way toward where they all seem to be standing. I smile widely when I meet the eye of a beautiful woman with silver hair and bright red lips. I'd come across her face quite a few times during my research and I vaguely remember her as Lou Teasdale, the band's hair and makeup expert. She returns my smile and bows her head slightly, causing me to send a quick wave in her direction.
Throughout this tiny exchange, I can't help but feel that I am being watched by someone other than Lou. I morph into a frenzied mess as I twist and turn my head around, scanning through the faces before I land on the one I'm searching for. When I find it, however, my breath catches in my throat and my heartbeat picks up rapidly. I am met with a sea of green staring back at me and it becomes difficult to form words or cohesive thoughts. Walking also seems to become problematic as I have stopped dead in my tracks. I can't bring myself to do anything but stare at these emerald eyes, silently wishing I never had to look at anything else ever again.
Only when I take the chance to glance at the men standing next to him do I comprehend that Matilda is speaking to them about something. I have to make a physical effort to pay attention to what she is saying, which would be so much easier if I couldn't feel his eyes on me, his gaze never having left my face since I stepped in the room.
"It's wonderful to see you all again," Matilda declares, giving each of the four of them a warm hug. I get a minuscule moment of relief from his stare when he greets Tilda with a hug and kiss to the cheek. However, I can feel his eyes on me once again when Matilda turns to face me.
"I'd like you boys to meet Ms. Charlie Sorbo," she introduces me with a proud smile and I do all that I can to mirror her expression. I am eternally grateful when she leads me over to meet them, one by one. I extend my hand to Liam, then Louis, to Niall, and finally, him. Harry. They all lean in to kiss my cheek but, when it is his turn, Harry lingers, whispering a fragile 'hello' into my ear and sending a shiver down my spine. The smirk I see on his face as he pulls away makes it undoubtedly clear he had noticed. It takes every ounce of strength I have to tear my eyes away from his and address the four of them as a whole.
"It's incredible to meet all of you," I beam, smiling brightly as my gaze passes over each of their faces. They all appear to be devastatingly handsome. Sure, through my research I'd found out that they were all exceptionally good-looking but I was not prepared for what I'd find when I was face to face with them. Liam was stoic, with strong eyes and a boyish grin; Louis had a perfectly angled face and a rather impressive head of hair. You could drown in Niall's sea blue eyes while simultaneously feeling safe and secure as long as he was smiling; and Harry... goodness, Harry was excruciatingly beautiful. Whether it was the jade green of his eyes or the way his jaw seemed to be chiseled by the Gods or the immaculate way his chocolate brown curls fell delicately over his shoulders, you'd be hard pressed to pick out a flaw in this man's appearance. As if I wasn't struggling to find anything else to give my attention to, when his thumb and forefinger rose up to tug at his bottom lip, I let out a nearly inaudible gasp and immediately cringed in embarrassment, certain there was no way they didn't hear it.
"So, shall we get started?" Matilda claps her hands together once and moves her gaze around the room, looking from one face to the next, watching as we all take our turns nodding in her direction. When she is satisfied with our response, she continues on. "Fantastic. Ok, Charlie, you will be interviewing... Niall and Harry." There is that infamous smirk of hers once again. "I trust you boys can find a quiet spot to chat with our girl for a bit, yeah?" The subtle fist bump and sneers shared between the two of them almost goes unnoticed by me.
Niall is the first to speak.
"'Course, Ms. Webb," his Irish accent makes him even more adorable, if that's possible. He turns his attention to me and, when our eyes meet, he shoots me a devilish wink. "We know just the place."
Delighted, Matilda gathers Liam and Louis, gives me one last grin, and then proceeds out of the room and down the hallway. In this moment, as I watch my safety net leave me behind, I can feel eyes on me again and am surprised when I find both Niall and Harry gaping at me in anticipation.
"Shall we?" Niall breaks the silence after a few long moments and all I can do was nod in return, knowing that nothing intelligible will come out of my mouth if I try to verbalize a response. An amused grin breaks out across his face as he waves for me to join them. "Follow us, Charlie."
I do as I'm told and trail behind the two of them, not paying enough attention to my surroundings, only doing all that I can to remain calm and collected. I am so deep in my own thinking that I practically jump when Harry speaks.
"So, Charlie," he begins as we round a corner and continue down a short, dark hallway. I can see him divert his head back in my direction and I search to find his face, giving him a half-smile when he raises his brows as our eyes meet. "Is that short for Charlotte?"
He barely finishes his question when Niall erupts in a full laugh. "Smooth," he exclaims between giggles and I have to keep from joining Niall's chuckles when I spy Harry send a look of utter disdain toward his friend. I give myself a few seconds to contain the bubbles of laughter that are threatening to escape before I answer.
"No, believe it or not. But I've lost count of how many times I get asked that question." I laugh a bit when I deliver the end of my response. I feel a pang of guilt when Harry looks back at me, worry written across every inch of his face, as if I'm implying he has offended or annoyed me. I wave a hand at him, attempting to dismiss his apprehension. "Oh, please, don't worry. It doesn't bother me that you asked." I am speaking so fast I'm afraid I sound like a panicked monkey.
Thankfully, I've got Niall to save me from myself.
"Ah, yes. Something our Harold here is quite familiar with himself, eh lad?" Niall throws a cheeky grin over his shoulder and I can't stop my brow from crinkling in question. He takes notice and goes on to clarify. "Harry get's the Harold question a lot but his name's not short for Harold." This causes Niall to laugh yet again and I notice Harry glance back at me with a shrug. I can't tell if the gesture is meant to empathize with me or to apologize for Niall's frenzied laughter. Either way, I can't help but smile boldly, feeling marginally at ease.
The three of us march on, relatively silent, for a few more minutes until we reach a rather small room at the end of a hallway. Inside, we find a decent sized coffee table with a sofa and a set of cushy arm chairs on either side. Harry enters the room first and points toward the set up, motioning for me to choose a place to sit down and settle in. I pick one of the arm chairs to cozy up in and begin to remove everything that I will need from my work bag while the boys take a seat together on the couch. I've got my notebook opened up to a clean page and I've set my tape recorder on the table when Niall clears his throat.
"So, I don't know if anyone told ya but we'll be doin' this interview a bit different," he informs me, his painfully Irish accent making it almost impossible to keep up. His straight-faced expression does not crack when I ask him what he means by this. He stares deep into my eyes, as if he's searching for my soul, and gives me more details, "We will be askin' the questions and you'll be answerin' 'em."
What kind of fresh hell is this?
I can't do much other than continue to sit, completely perplexed, and wait for him to elaborate. When he doesn't, and after a few long moments have passed us in silence, I shake my head and attempt to say something. Before any words or sounds have the opportunity to leave my mouth, Niall looks over to Harry for assistance.
"Don't worry, love," he comforts me and the way that word sounds in his accent -- luve -- is all the reassurance I need that this is going to end up alright. I smile half-heartedly, fully aware that he must be able to see right through me, as he finishes his statement. "We will answer the same questions we ask, but you've got to go first." He tops off the sentence with a wink and I have to look down at my notebook to avoid spontaneous combustion.
I study the two of them for a long, quiet moment, before nodding my head in agreement.
"You've got yourselves a deal." I flash them my best journalist smile before reaching over to make sure my tape recorder has been catching everything they've just said. When I'm satisfied, I ready my pen and look back toward the pair of them. "First question?"
Niall lips quirk up in a mischievous smirk and I'm suddenly very worried about what I've gotten myself into. The look on Harry's face isn't much better and I physically brace myself for what might come out of Niall's mouth.
"We'll start with an easy one," he declares, leaning forward in his seat on the couch. I nod and urge him to go on. "What's your favorite One Direction song?" The grin on his face is so delightfully charming, it causes a giggle to spurt out without my permission. I take a second to ponder my answer, silently praying that they won't catch on the to fact that I hadn't exactly heard much of their music until a few days ago. Then, I'd been on an all-out binge since. A particular tune that has stood out the entire time pops into my mind and I practically shout the title.
"Fireproof, for sure," I blurt out, shrinking back in my seat a bit when I realize I've been a bit aggressive with my response. Niall nods before looking to Harry, his lips pursed slightly, as if he is considering my answer. Harry glances over at Niall briefly before meeting my gaze.
"Fair enough," Harry concedes with a curt nod as he scoots himself forward, closer to the coffee table that separates us. He smirks before saying, "even though neither of us wrote that one."
My mouth falls open and I feel stab of guilt in the pit of my stomach. Clearly, all my research did not provide me with all of the necessary information I needed for today. I rack my brain trying to figure out how to keep from digging myself into a deeper hole when Harry lets out a boisterous laugh. I cock my head to the side as I look at him again, not sure why this is funny.
"Charlie, I was joking!" He stops laughing long enough to put an ounce of the shame I'm feeling to rest and there is nothing I can do to stop the smile from spreading across my face. I shake my head at the pair of them, both fully enjoying my humility, before Niall composes himself enough to chime in.
"It's a great song, no doubt," he agrees, wiping a few small drops from the corner of his eye. The fact that he had been laughing hard enough to conjure up tears was reason enough for my stomach to turn over on itself. Kick a girl while she's down, eh boys?
After another (fairly annoying) round of chuckles from the two comedians, they finally get ahold of themselves enough to give me their answers. I learn that Harry is rather fond of Happily, as it was one of the first songs he had a hand in writing, and Niall is quite proud of Don't Forget Where You Belong, for the same reason.
The two of them continue to fire off questions for me, taking up a fair amount of time. We spend the duration laughing at each other's answers and I can't help but think that this is the most fun I've had during an interview. I get the most joy out of answering their silliest questions, such as what my favorite color is (green), which movie could I watch every day for the rest of my life and never get sick of it (You've Got Mail); and what my go-to album is. When I tell them it's a toss up between Rumors by Fleetwood Mac and Sticky Fingers by The Rolling Stones, they both appear strikingly impressed and I mentally pat myself on the back for dazzling two of the biggest pop stars in the world.
"I assumed you knew something about good music when I saw the shirt," Harry admits, pointing toward my chest, referring to the band displayed proudly across the front of it. For a second, I forget which shirt I have on and glance down, smiling when I see the infamous tongue that has become the symbol for Mick Jagger and company. "I must say, I'm quite taken with you at the moment."
Niall whips his head around dramatically at those words and feigns disgust at what his friend has just confessed. Harry's gaze, however, has never left my own eyes and I feel something unfamiliar lurch in my stomach. I hold his stare for a handful of seconds, treating myself to that delicious shade of green, until I am distracted by Niall speaking.
"Back off, Harold," he warns, earning a small giggle from me, a jolt of heat coursing down my spine when I discover that Harry's full attention lingers on me for a brief second longer before turning to his friend and holding his hands up in defense.
"Sorry, mate," he offers, chuckling a bit as he sits back against the sofa. He pats Niall on the shoulder and leans in closer before he whispers, "I'm not sure you've got a shot with her, though." He lands another chummy slap on the blonde's shoulder blade before his face splits into a wide grin and he proceeds to chuckle.
I can't stop the fit of giggles that has taken over my own body, enjoying not only the back and forth between these two creatures in front of me but also taking the chance to relax, if only momentarily, while Harry's focus is on someone, something, anything other than me. I use the excuse to study him, taking in every angle of this man, slowly, as not to forget a single inch. The way his eyes squeeze shut when he's found something to properly laugh at. I notice how large his hands are and the silver rings that sit on a few of his fingers, sparkling at me from a few feet away. The luscious brown hair that he has quickly thrown on top of his head, secured in a knot, looking better than it should on a man.
I allow myself another second to drink him in before I ask them if they have anymore questions for me. Whatever bubble they had been in has been popped in this instant and Niall doesn't waste any time with his next question.
"Best song to snog to?" I can see Harry's cringe before Niall has even finished his question and, once again, my jaw hits the floor as I gawk at him, hoping I'd misheard him. The minute he passes his gaze from me to Harry and back to me, he realizes I am confused and, if I'm honest, a bit thrown off, he is quick to correct himself. "Oh, for cryin' out loud, you two, I meant-- jeez. I said snog, not shag!" He is shouting now, so obviously rattled and it brings up another fit of giggles from me.
"Are you asking me if I have a song I prefer to make out to?" I flash my eyebrows at him a couple of quick times, attempting to help him relax. When he nods and covers his face in shame, I laugh once more before answering, "It's a toss up between two songs."
Harry is sitting straight up in his seat, anxious to hear my remark. Niall also appears too eager for my response and I suddenly feel a bit shy, not confident that I should actually give in to this question. I take a moment to myself before breaking down and giving them my answer.
"I can't choose between Girls Your Age by Transviolet, or a Lana Del Rey song, Million Dollar Man." My heart is racing, inexplicably, by the end of my sentence, and my chest feels tight, as if I revealed a bombshell secret, as opposed to chattering off a couple of song titles. I can't decode the looks spread across either of their faces, although I detect a hint of bewilderment, subtly weaving its way through the fog of incoherent emotions.
No one says anything for a long time and only when my tape recorder clicks off, indicating that it's been well over an hour and I have run out of space on one side of the cassette, do any of us snap out of our daze. I grab the small device from the coffee table, not sure if I need to flip the tape to the other side, knowing full well that Matilda will turn up any minute now if I don't wrap this up soon.
Like clockwork, as soon as the thought passes through my mind, I feel my phone vibrate sharply in my pocket. I hold a finger up to the other two, excusing my attention for a moment to check the message I have just received.
Have you about wrapped up? I've been informed they've got a sound check soon and we can't locate the three of you...
My thumbs fly over the screen on my mobile, punching out a response as quickly as I can.
Yes, finishing up the last of my notes now. Will find you in a few.
I hastily shove my phone back into my pocket and I start to gather all of my things up from the coffee table. I am met with absolute disorientation when I take a second to glance up at Harry and Niall. I wince a bit when I realize I must look like a mad woman.
"Sorry, fellas," I apologize, stuffing the last of my belongings into my messenger bag and standing from my seat. "We've run out of time and Tilda is losing her mind trying to find us."
I watch them as they both take their time getting off the couch. I see a blur of apprehension float in front of Harry's gaze, as if he needs to say something but isn't sure how to. Niall has already made his way toward the door when I ask Harry if everything is alright.
"Stay for our show tonight?" The words come bursting out of his mouth, in more of a question than a statement, so loud I think I see Niall jump a bit when he hears them. I can feel my face scrunch up immediately, my brain handing over the reigns to my confusion. He gives me a half smirk, running his hand through his hair, stopping at the nape and rubbing the back of his neck. "I mean, if you'd like. It could be fun."
"Yeah, Charlie," Niall adds and walks back over to the two of us, throwing his arm around my shoulder and smiling down at me. "We put on a helluva show, don't we Haz?"
I turn my head up to look at Niall, my heart doing a small dance when I notice his smile. Quickly, my focus moves to Harry, whose smile has an entirely different effect on my heart. One that I can't narrow down but I am positively dying to explore. The shy smirk that has replaced his unsure grin is enough to make my knees go weak. I see him shrug once and that's all the assistance I need to make my decision.
I roll my eyes and let out the smallest chuckle, shaking my head and silently willing my wild heartbeat to calm itself. If it continues at this rate every time I look at those green eyes, there is no way I will make it out of this venue in one piece... or alive.
"What the hell, why not?!" My confirmation seems to please the both of them, as I can see Harry physically relax, letting out a long, loud breath. Niall's arm hugs me a little tighter as the two of them high-five each other, escorting me out of this tiny room and back toward Matilda and the rest of the band.
While we walk down the dark hallway, I can't help but wonder what Harry's motive was for insisting that I stay for their concert. His body language was tough to read but I was able to pick up on the slight hesitation in his demeanor, as if he was afraid of my answer. What if he had only asked me to stay in order to be polite? What if he didn't actually care either way if I was there or not? What if all the signs and feelings I'd been reading into were utter nonsense and completely made up by my cruel mind?
I don't have much time to spiral any further into self-doubt because, at the moment I choose to look ahead of me, I find Harry's eyes on me once more and, when he realizes he's been caught, he drops one of his lids in a wink and smiles softly before turning back around.
There is no denying this attraction now and I can only imagine what the rest of this evening has in store.