"Louis, can you tell us a bit more about how the band was formed?" the woman interviewing them asked. "You didn't know each other prior to Escapade, did you?"
Louis shook his head, leaning back in the comfortable chair. A camera was pointed at his face, Liam sat to his right, Zayn to his left. "No, I didn't know these boys before we were put together in the band. We're all from completely different places."
"But all of you were involved with music beforehand, weren't you?" the lady asked. Louis quite liked her. She hadn't asked about girls yet, had only focussed on their career and music.
"In a way, yes." Louis pointed at Liam. "He had tried out for X Factor before, but hadn't made it past boot camp."
"I was too young," Liam added. "Simon sent me home, telling me to come back in two years time. Before I got that chance, he called me up a year later, offered me a place in Escapade."
"How about you, Zayn?"
Zayn shrugged and Louis knew he wasn't comfortable with that question. "I sang at a few events, like weddings and stuff? It was just to earn a bit of money to go to uni. One video got really popular on Youtube, and some day I got an email from Syco."
"Like Justin Bieber," the woman noticed.
Zayn laughed a little, sounding fake and forced. Louis knew how much he hated that comparison. "One could say that, yeah."
She turned to Louis. "You were in a another band, weren't you, Louis?"
"I sent in a demo tape," Louis avoided the question. "Proper old school. And I heard back from them a few months later, when I had forgotten about it already. It came as a surprise, but I guess it was meant to be."
He left out all the details of how his heart had dropped reading that email, fear taking over, insecurities weighing him down. It had been surprising in more than one way. And maybe that had been on purpose.
"Part of your success is the great chemistry you guys display." The woman looked between them, smiling nicely. "Are you guys getting along as genuinely as you make it out to be?"
Liam laughed. "Actually, we hate each other. It's all just for the cameras."
"I don't think you can fake a friendship like that," Louis added.
"Like, these two know exactly what it's like. We all have friends outside the band," Zayn mused, "but none of them get what this is like? I can talk about anything to Louis and Liam, and they get it, because they are in exactly the same position."
Louis nodded. "It would've been awkward if they had put an arse in the band. Fortunately, we're all rather chill and cool with each other."
Liam lifted a brow, grinning at Louis.
"Keep it," Louis simply warned him, and Liam winked.
The rest of the interview kept the pace and atmosphere, so by the time the woman was gone, Louis didn't feel especially exhausted. He usually did after a day of interviews, answering the same questions over and over again.
"A car is parked outside to take you back to the hotel," a member of their team said. He was fairly new and Louis couldn't remember his name yet. Marcel, probably. He looked cute in his button down with a slipover and the grey trousers. His glasses were way too big for his face. He reminded Louis of a certain someone when he clumsily handed out files and tripped over his own feet. That was why Louis tended to ignore Marcel most of the time. "You'll have about two hours. Lou and Caroline will help you get ready for the Grammys tonight."
They were led outside, and as soon as they sat in the car, Zayn rolled up by Louis' side. He snuggled in close and sighed sleepily. "Wake me up when we're there."
Louis slung an arm around Zayn's shoulder, his fingers slipping into the short, dark hair at the nape of Zayn's neck.
"He's really using every chance he can get to sleep," Liam said, sitting across from them in the spacious van.
"It's healthy," Louis hummed. "I always feel sleep-deprived."
"It's the jetlag."
"It's this job."
Liam stretched his legs and gently kicked Louis'. "You love it."
Of course he did. He loved every single bit of his life. Especially Zayn and Liam -- if it weren't for them, Louis wouldn't be anywhere near where he was now. That was the most reassuring and at the same time, most depressing thought about it.
On his own, just by himself, Louis would still be stuck in a small town in England, singing and playing the keys in a band that wasn't going anywhere, that was just about the fun. He'd be studying to become a teacher in Manchester, working part-time in a shitty bookstore, going for a pint in the pub every night with his friends.
He'd come home to a boy with pretty curls, bright eyes and the kindest heart every night.
Taking a deep breath, Louis averted his gaze from Liam's face and looked out of the tinted window. Los Angeles flew by, fast and blurry; there was nothing Louis could focus on for even just a second.
"What do you have planned for when we get back to London?" Liam asked suddenly.
Louis shrugged, still looking out of the window. Zayn breathed steadily against his shoulder, the fabric of his t-shirt absorbing the damp warmth. "Sleep," he answered. "Visit my mum and the girls. The usual."
"We'll be off for two weeks, mate," Liam reminded him. "I'll definitely go see my family, but there's gotta be a holiday in there. What do you think of Puerto Rico?"
"Nice," Louis admitted. "Especially since it'll be freezing in England."
"You should think of a place, Lou," Liam told him. "And just take off. Get some proper rest and relax in the sun, have a personal butler bring you cocktails and chill on a private beach. It's what we're working so hard for."
"Take your family," Louis suggested quietly. "They'll love it."
"Louis." Liam's tone carried resignation.
"I'll just stay in London, hole up in my flat and watch shitty telly for two weeks straight," Louis decided. "That's what I need right now."
Liam sighed, but nodded. "If you say so."
Louis glanced at him, smiling in what he believed was a convincing smirk. "I do."
Turning his head, Louis looked directly into the lens of a camera, a flash blinding him, but he didn't even blink an eye. A crowd of paparazzi had pointed their cameras at them from behind a barrier, yelling Louis, Zayn and Liam's names to get their attention. Zayn stood quite still next to Louis, only moving his head every now and then. Liam was on Zayn's other side, waving and smiling openly.
It lasted for another thirty seconds, then a member of their team chased them to the other side of the red carpet, where fans were waiting. Louis felt more comfortable with that part, shaking hands, giving hugs and taking photos. The girls screamed in his ear, shrill and high, but Louis didn't mind all too much. At least the reactions were genuine, and of positive nature -- other than the paparazzi who were always after a shot that could possibly ruin the boys' lives.
Louis signed a few more books, pictures of himself, as well as CDs, before they walked down the red carpet to the huge door leading inside.
Another round of interviews began in the huge atrium, their manager leading them from one point to the next. Most questions revolved around them being merely guests tonight, not being nominated for any of the categories and being none of the bands honoured performing. They were getting to present Best New Artist, though. Any screen time was promotion, their manager had told them, and he was most likely right.
"It is what it is," Louis answered, shrugging. "Next year it'll look different, perhaps."
Although it was the Grammy’s, Louis didn't feel too different from all the other award shows he had attended within the past two years. He wore a black Armani blazer, a white dress shirt but no tie, still looking proper posh. Zayn had gone for a bit more classic style, while Liam looked like a young David Beckham. That particular recent development felt quite disturbing to Louis.
When they finally entered the hall and were led to their seats, Louis took in the papers clipped to the seats surrounding theirs.
"Taylor Swift," Liam pointed out. "Right there in the seat next to you."
"I'll have to look happy if she wins then, won't I?" Louis frowned, sitting down.
Their manager took the seat behind them, leaning in to quietly talk to them. "That guarantees you guys will be seen on screen quite often. So remember to keep posture at all times. Clap for every performance, smile happily for every winner."
Louis glanced at him. Richard Griffiths had been their manager from the very beginning, taking care of their image and the media coverage of the band. Not a single word was printed that he hadn't approved of beforehand. Unfortunately, Griffith approved of every kind of press. He claimed a good scandal was what kept them interesting -- that's why Zayn had cheated on each and every girl he had ever dated, Liam was a reckless dumbass, and Louis was an obnoxious, loud asshole.
Well, that was probably what Louis really was -- it just wasn’t all that he was. He was more than that, but people didn't really get to see that if they didn't bother to take a closer look.
"Bad boys sell better than the boy next door," Griffith used to say.
It wasn’t like Louis was in any way the boy next door -- he had never been. Still, he wasn't what the media made him out to be, either. He simply wanted a team which understood and let him act like himself instead of forcing strange actions upon him. Louis couldn't wait for their three-year contract to be up and for them to find another management team. It wasn't long now. By the end of this year, the contract would expire, and Louis was already in contact with several other companies, which didn't make it feel that far away anymore.
"You got that?" Griffiths asked.
Louis shrugged, turning back to watch the stage. Technical equipment was still being installed, cameras placed all around the hall, and it slowly filled with people.
"Look who's here," Louis heard a snarky voice say, approaching them. He turned his head and first took in Liam's ice-cold expression, his hands fisted tightly.
"Who invited you?" Zayn asked back.
"I don't know if you've heard, Malik," Jake answered, taking the seat in front of them, "but I'm nominated for a Grammy tonight."
"It's your third nomination, isn't it?" Liam asked, raising a brow. "You have not yet taken one home, though."
"I'm being considered, at least," Jake shot back. "Not only asked to present an award to people much better than myself."
Louis rolled his eyes and decided not to comment. If he said a word now, that would only end up in a fight that they would probably transfer to Twitter afterwards -- and Louis really didn't have the time or nerves for any of it.
Jake Bugg had been an arse from the very beginning. He felt superior, because he was a solo artist and wrote all of his songs himself. Louis was determined to get to a point where he would write his own songs too, they just weren't in that stage yet. Artistic freedom for them came bit by bit. Louis hated Jake for adding insult to injury -- obviously, none of them were happy with the restrictions that came with their musical contracts.
It didn't make them any less genuine artists, though.
When Jake turned to him with a mean smirk that implied that he felt like winning against them, Louis just looked away, averting his gaze to Taylor Swift arriving and taking the seat next to him.
He was determined not to play into it.
Of course that hadn't worked out.
Next morning, Louis was dragged out of bed at arse o'clock, when it was still dark outside. His phone rang obnoxiously loud right next to his head, and when Louis rolled around and pulled a pillow over his head to drown the sound out, someone knocked on his door.
"Louis, get up," Marco yelled. "Open the door."
"The fuck?" Louis groaned, pushing off the duvet and rolling out of bed. He tried to pat his hair down, getting it at least a bit sorted out, when he opened the door. "You know it's in the middle of the night?"
"It's almost five a.m.," Marco answered. He had been part of their management team from the very beginning. "Morning."
"Middle of the night," Louis repeated.
"We have a meeting in twenty. Your flight back to London is at eight."
"Why do we have a meeting?"
Marco sighed. "Because you are a serious fuck-up, mate. Now, get dressed. Twenty minutes, Griffiths’ room."
Louis growled, shut the door without another word and stumbled to the en-suite bathroom to hop under the shower.
When he came into the room down the hall from his own twenty minutes later, Liam was already sitting in a chair, one leg jittering nervously. His eyes immediately found Louis', a question in his look.
Louis shrugged and sat down next to him. "What is this about?" he asked.
Griffiths had so much as a glance for him, acknowledging Louis' presence with a raised brow, before he got back to typing something out on his tablet.
Louis rolled his eyes. He had an idea what all this was about -- it always was about them being caught saying or doing something they shouldn't have. Too many cameras in a room were a waterproof guarantee for any fuck-ups surfacing.
And Louis knew he had fucked up last night.
Zayn came into the room ten minutes later, looking tired. He plopped down onto the bed, curling up.
"Would you sit straight, please, Zayn?" Griffiths asked. Marco stood behind him, gesturing for Zayn to sit up.
Zayn mumbled something but lifted his upper body, sitting on the foot of the bed.
"Now, I thought we had been clear when I told you to act respectfully yesterday night."
Louis suppressed a groan, averting his gaze.
"Unfortunately though, the internet is flooded with footage of you, Louis, giving Jake Bugg the finger and very obviously telling him to fuck off." Griffiths lifted his tablet, held it up for them to see. A video started playing that showed Louis standing only a few metres from Jake on the red carpet. It had been filmed during the ending ceremony and Louis vividly remembered the moment.
"He kept making comments," Louis defended himself. "About how we'd never get there, weren't worthy of any award we've ever received. The same old shit."
"If it was the same old," Griffiths pointed out, "why didn't you just ignore it?"
"Because he's a freaking arse."
Griffiths put the tablet down. "You need to bridle your temper, Tomlinson. It gets all of you into trouble." He glanced at Marco.
"Escapade's Tomlinson throws jealousy fit at Grammy award show," he reads out from his own tablet. "Louis Tomlinson's being a sore loser after Jake Bugg wins Song of the Year. Tomlinson giving Bugg the finger---"
"Got it," Louis growled. "I got it."
"Do you know what that looks like to the media?" Griffiths sighed heavily. "As if you don't grant him his success."
"I don't," Louis pointed out.
"But the media is not supposed to know," Griffiths reminded him. "In front of them you are ought to act as if they deserve everything they achieve."
"I didn't say a bad word about him in front of the cameras," Louis argued. He knew it was pointless. The damage had been done, and he knew it was his fault. Admitting it was just a bit harder to do.
"You'll make an official statement, and we'll send an apology to Bugg from your twitter in a few hours," Griffiths went on without even acknowledging Louis' last comment. There is no use in making it look as though this had been anything other than it had been. You will have to look honestly sorry for it, Louis."
"I'll have to do it in front of a camera?"
"There is no way they won't ask the next time they get the chance. We scheduled an appearance on Alan Carr for Thursday night. He'll ask, you'll give your answer, and it'll be out of the world. Until then, all of you avoid the press. No comment about this to anyone. Got it?"
"We were supposed to be off. I planned a trip," Liam pointed out. "I'm not in the UK on Friday."
"Well, give your thanks to Tomlinson, because now you will be." Griffiths got up. "We're leaving for the airport in an hour."
Louis knew that it meant the discussion was over. There was nothing to add, nothing he could change about what management had decided. They never had a say in any of this.
Once they had left the room, Louis crowded into Liam's space, tentatively curling his fingers around his wrist. "Li..."
"Don't, Lou," Liam said, sounding tired. "Just, don't."
Louis bit his lip, glancing at Zayn, who wasn't much of a help, a helpless shrug being his only answer. "I never meant for--"
"I know Jake is a pain in the ass," Liam cut him short again. He jerked his arm away, breaking free from Louis' grip. "They're right, Lou. Your temper is getting out of hand lately."
Louis looked down, lacing his fingers to keep from reaching for Liam again. "I'm sorry."
"I know you are." Liam glanced at him, Louis could feel it burn into his skin. Then, he repeated, softer, "I know, Lou. That doesn't change it, though." He turned to look at Zayn. "I'll be in my room, packing. See you guys later."
Louis watched him leave and then turned to Zayn.
"He knows you didn't mean for this to happen," Zayn assured him. "But, man, this really is shit. We've all been looking forward to have some weeks off."
Louis didn't even know what to answer. Of course they had. He had been looking forward to the break, too. His anger had brought them to this point, so Louis had no idea how to channel the anger he felt for himself now. Throwing a fit was not an option, as wasn't complaining to Zayn and Liam.
It was all on him.
"He's right, you know." Zayn stepped closer and squeezed Louis' shoulder lightly. "You've always been short-tempered, but you used to have better control of that. It's not that long anymore. I know it's hard, Lou. I'd like to just lose it and go on a rant about what is wrong with this world we slipped into, but," he trailed off, shrugging a little. "There really is no use. It's just making it worse."
Louis simply nodded, short of any other answer he could possibly give.
Zayn walked away too, leaving Louis behind and to himself.
He hadn't always been like this, Louis thought, burying his hands in his pockets. There had been a time when he had known how to fight his temper down.
That method didn't work anymore. It wasn't even an option.
The pale morning sun hit Louis face when he left the hotel an hour later. A black van was parked in front of the gate, and Louis had to blink several times, squint his eyes against the bright light.
Liam and Zayn both rushed into the car, taking their seats. Zayn was on the phone, talking to his father in a quiet, muted voice. Liam yawned, staring out of the tinted window.
For a moment, Louis kept standing by the front door of the hotel. Their handlers were not yet there anyway, so there was no need to get into the car yet, other than to be out of sight. They'd return to rainy, grey London, though, and Louis wanted to take in a little more of the weather here.
The sun wasn't fully up yet, the air smelled of a fresh morning and heat, Louis' skin feeling moist and warm. A slight breeze moved the short sleeves of his t-shirt and tugged at the few strands of his hair that poked out from underneath his beanie.
He missed London, but he certainly didn't miss the bloody rain.
"Louis, you comin'?" Liam asked suddenly, and Louis turned his face from the sky back to the car.
"Yeah, sorry." He climbed in on Zayn's side and put his feet onto the seat next to Liam. Someone closed the door, and a moment later, the car started moving.
They spent the ride in silence, all of them too tired from a long night out, and a short night of sleep. Liam played something on his phone, beeping sounds cutting the silence short.
At the airport everything went as usual, rushed and hectic. They were escorted inside by police, checked in for business class and were sent through security separately from everyone else.
As always, a few girls recognised them, chasing them to the gate and asking for pictures. Louis stopped for all of them, making funny faces and flashing peace signs.
"Jake Bugg is an idiot," one of the girl said, sounding sincere. "I love you, Louis."
He smiled at her giving her a quick hug, before they were ushered through a security door and into an isle that led them inside the plane.
It was boon and bane of their lives, really -- the support of their fans. It was nice to know there were people behind them, always having their back and loving them so unconditionally. Then again, Louis thought as he sat down and fastened his seatbelt, it was also scary to have someone support him even when he was behaving like a little shit. Those kids were not supposed to support Louis acting like an arsehole, and he wished he could have been a better idol.
The plane took off just a few minutes later, rising above the clouds where a blinding sun hit Louis' face through the small window. He stared into it until his eyes started to burn.
When he closed them, red and orange sprinkles danced in front of his lids and lulled him into sleep.
"What is that?"
The question was out before Harry could have even greeted him. He had opened the door with a bright smile -- as if that would have been enough to distract Louis from the cut on Harry's lip and the purple bruise around it.
Harry shrugged, stepping aside to let Louis in. He raised his fingertips to his bottom lip. "Nothing."
Louis glanced around the corridor, waiting until the door had closed behind him, then he lurched forwards to touch Harry's cheek. "Harry, what happened?"
"Just--" Harry avoided looking back at him. "I'm clumsy, you know that. Just fell. Tripped over my own feet."
Louis shook his head. "And you fell on your lip?" He tilted his head, frowning. "Harry."
Harry was about to answer, but Louis could hear steps approaching, so he quickly stepped back and buried his hands in his pockets.
"Louis," Anne greeted him. "Good to see you, love."
"And you, Ms Cox," Louis greeted her back politely.
"Did you have dinner?"
Louis shrugged. "Not yet, no. I don't want to--"
"I'll lay the table and call you boys when we're ready to eat," she simply said and winked before she rushed back into the kitchen.
"Can we," Louis started, pointing upstairs, without finishing the sentence.
Harry nodded, leading the way upstairs in silence. Only when he closed the door behind them, did Louis dare to reach out for him again.
"Who hit you, babe?" he asked, carefully running his thumb over Harry's split lip.
"Nathan," Harry finally admitted. He nuzzled his cheek into Louis' touch. "Said I deserved it."
"Fuck, if I was still there, he'd never get even close enough to---"
"No, Lou," Harry interrupted. His big, green eyes looked earnest, the slightly chubby cheeks pale. He was only sixteen, way too young to have to go through anything like this. He had angelic, pretty curls, and he was genuine, always nice and polite. Louis had no idea how anyone in the world would ever want to hurt him.
It equalled kicking a puppy. Who the hell kicked helpless puppies?
"You are not there, and even if you were, that's not a solution," Harry argued, voice firm.
"You didn't even fight back?" Louis asked, eyes widening.
"I don't think that would have helped the situation," Harry mumbled.
Louis moved over to the bed and pulled Harry with him, until they were lying down, Harry snuggled close to Louis' side. "What did he say?"
"He said he wanted me to stop looking at him," Harry answered quietly.
"Looking?" A pang of jealousy hit Louis' chest.
"I wasn't," Harry clarified. "Not like that, anyway." His fingers trailed over Louis' hip, gently playing with the hem of the jumper Louis wore.
"So he simply took out his anger on you?" The idea made Louis feel sick, the image of Harry just taking it without any resistance playing in his head. Louis wanted to turn back time to be there, wanted to protect Harry.
"He's not stupid, Lou," Harry said. "He knows it. He can see it."
Louis frowned and the hand that had been lazily stroking up and down Harry's back stopped. "What?"
"He said I should stop looking at him like a faggot." Harry's voice was muffled, coming out a little tight.
"That is not what you are," Louis growled lowly. "What an arse."
They weren't out, was the thing. Louis had been seeing Harry for almost a year now, but they had decided that they didn't want to come out yet. Living in a small village didn't make it easy, but especially made it harder to hide. They also knew what it would be like if they stopped hiding.
Louis changing schools had made it a little easier. Since he had transferred to the sports college in Crewe, the situation was a bit more relaxed. Seeing Harry every day in school had been a tough task, acting as if they were just friends. And even just being friends had been tough. Explaining everyone else why he was suddenly hanging out with a quirky tenth-grader? Louis had got pretty creative there.
As it was now, they only met outside of school, so no one really took notice of them spending so much time together. In a way, it was a lot harder, too. Louis definitely didn't see Harry as much as he wanted anymore.
"That guy pisses me off," Louis complained, shifting, so he could face Harry. "I'll give him a black eye next time I see him."
Harry just looked at him, his face close. His lashes threw shadows over his cheeks, and his lips were pink and shiny, except for the ugly bruise. He slowly shook his head. "If I wanted him to have a black eye, I would have given him one myself," he pointed out. "But that's not the kind of guy I want to be."
Louis blinked, catching Harry's breath against his own lips, eyes focusing on Harry's.
"And it's not the kind of guy you are. If he thinks he has to smash my face because I fell in love with the most amazing boy in this world, I can take it. I'm above that." Harry leaned in, closed the small gap between them and gently kissed Louis' lips. "So are you."
Louis reached out a hand to touch Harry's hair, shifting closer and tangling their legs. "He hurt you."
With a smile, Harry took Louis' unoccupied hand and laced their fingers. "I love you too."
There were a million things Louis could have said that moment, but he settled on squeezing Harry's hand, holding on, and gently kissing the bruise. Harry closed his eyes and nuzzled in closer, until his forehead rested against Louis' chest.
"I know you're angry," he said, voice muffled against Louis' jumper. "Just promise me you won't do anything reckless."
"You can't ask me not to do anything about it," Louis argued, lips pressed into Harry's hair. Harry was warm, and his hair soft. He smelled of some fruity shampoo he had most likely stolen from Gemma, and his palm was a little sweaty.
Louis didn't think he'd be able to ever let go of this boy. He had lost his heart to Harry, all of it, and he didn't want a single piece of it back. It was safe with Harry, just like lying here with him, holding him close and breathing in time felt safe to Louis.
"You can kiss it better," Harry suggested, and Louis didn't have to see his face to know he was smirking. "We get more out of that, anyway."
"Louis, wake up."
Louis blinked his eyes open, looking confused at Zayn's face in front of him for a moment. Just a second ago, he had Harry snuggled up to him -- his presence had felt so real, his warmth so close. Louis could even still feel it. He looked down at himself and found a blanket spread over his body.
"You slept through," Zayn explained. "Been out for the whole flight."
"Yeah," Louis answered lamely.
It had been a dream. Well, a memory, but Louis never allowed himself to recall any of those. He didn't have much control over his dreams, though.
"You coming?" Liam asked.
Louis threw off the blanket, trying to throw off the feeling in his chest the same way, which sadly didn't work that well. Wilful Ignorance, it was then. That had worked for the past three years, and it would keep working now.
At the airport, they waited for their luggage, then took off to the exit. Before they went out, Liam stopped and wordlessly opened his arms. They knew that once they'd walk through that door, they wouldn't get to say a proper goodbye. Louis buried himself in Liam's embrace, holding him close and trying to convey all the apologies he couldn't form with words. Liam nuzzled his cheek against Louis' head, his grip firm.
"Take care. See you in a few days," Liam said quietly.
"You too," Louis answered. "Get some rest."
Next was Zayn, practically dragging Louis out of Liam's arms and into his own. He didn't say anything, just hugged Louis tightly, before he let go and turned to Liam to hug him just as closely.
"Ready?" Paul, head of their security, asked then.
Liam let go of Zayn, nodding, eyes darting to Louis once. They grabbed their luggage, preparing for the crowd outside. As always, fans were loudly screaming their names, trying to get their attention, and Louis felt bad for not stopping, but the security rushed them along to the cars parked in front of the doors for them. Paparazzi were there, flashlights following their every move and Louis couldn't make out a single word they were yelling.
Just as Louis had expected, it was raining, drops scattering his shoulders and beanie, drenching through the fabric only from the short passage between the door and car. It was too early in the morning, the sky still dark, so Louis couldn't see the rain as much as he heard it when he looked out of the window.
"To your flat?" the driver asked.
"Yes, please," Louis answered.
Moving, Louis thought, tiredly watching drops painting a formless, colourless picture on the glass. They were always moving. It was different cars taking them from one point to the other, planes taking off early mornings and late nights, and half of the time Louis didn't know where he would wake up.
He was in London now, rainy, cold and grey London, and although it should have felt like home, Louis didn't feel like he was coming home at all. There was no excited feeling in his bones, not the anticipation of finally walking through a door and finding a familiar view.
That was why he didn't even unpack when he finally came into his flat. He simply dragged another bag from the closet in his bedroom and stuffed it with clothes and whatever he needed, taking right off again.
People were probably right when they said home was not a house or a place. In Louis' case, home was wherever his mother was, and his mum was in Doncaster now.
She had been commuting between Holmes Chapel and Doncaster for almost a year, which had been very straining for her. The job offer in Doncaster had been what she had always dreamed of, though, so Louis had encouraged her to take it. She had barely been home, always exhausted when she had been, tired and worn out. So Louis had taken a lot of responsibilities around the house. He had dropped off and picked up the girls from school, had taken care of the grocery shopping.
Then he had dropped out of school to follow his dream, and at least Lottie had been old enough to take over some of the chores. His mother had not wanted to move to Doncaster, not with Louis being in the middle of his A Levels, and the girls having their roots in Holmes Chapel.
After Louis had left, things had got harder, definitely, and he still felt sorry for acting so selfishly. He had made up for it by buying a house for his mother in Doncaster, big enough for all five of them. The twins didn't even have to share a room anymore.
Louis had not once returned to Holmes Chapel -- there was no reason to. Home was now in Doncaster.
"Louis," his mother breathed, surprised when he sneaked into the house. It was almost nine in the morning, and although Louis had slept through the whole flight from L.A. to London, he felt as if he had been up for days. Seeing her face took some of the tiredness off his shoulders.
She was in the kitchen, sitting at the table, the newspaper in one hand, a cup of tea and an empty plate in front of her. When Louis walked in, she raised her head, staring at him with wide eyes for a few seconds.
Louis was convinced Johanna Darling was one of the very few women not aging at all. She looked pretty and lively as always, skin peachy and fresh, hair cut classy and dyed in a dark brunette.
She got up and rushed over to hug her son. "Baby, when did you come back?"
"Landed very early this morning," Louis answered, hooking his chin over her shoulder. She smelled of the perfume she had been using ever since he had been a child, her hair was tied in a knot, but a few strands had fallen out and tickled Louis' cheek. "I hope it's okay I came here."
She pulled back, framing his face. "Don't be stupid."
He smiled, kissing her cheek. "Happy New Year."
"Right, haven't seen you yet." She kissed his forehead, gently stroking his hair. "It's so good to have you home. I have to leave in a few, though."
Louis shook his head. "I'll stay for a few days. Only have to be back in London by Friday."
"The girls will be thrilled." Jay beamed at him, not pulling her hands from his face. Worry overshadowed her smile then. "You look tired, baby."
"It's just jetlag," Louis answered. "Just need a proper rest."
"Your bed is made," Jay told him. "I changed the sheets after you left last time, so you can go upstairs and catch some sleep, if you'd like."
"I'll try to stay awake until tonight," Louis said. "Slept on the plane. Should I pick up Daisy and Phoebs from school later?"
"That would be lovely." His mother let go of him and made for the entrance, grabbing a coat and putting it on. "I'll cook tonight. If you don't mind you can take the girls to town and get whatever you'd like to have for dinner."
"Roast Beef," Louis answered immediately. "Missed some proper homemade meals from me mum."
She grinned and pulled him back into her arms again. "It's always good to have you home. I'll see you tonight," she said quietly, kissing his cheek.
Louis waved her off, watching her steer her car out the driveway until he couldn't see it anymore. Silence engulfed him when he closed the door again.
The house would soon enough be filled with noise. Then, he'd finally be home.
"It was so embarrassing, Mum," Fizzy complained, poking her peas with her fork. "He stood right in front of the gates and waved at me."
"That was not embarrassing," Louis argued. "Everyone else was very happy to see me. Except for you."
"It's not that I'm not happy to see you," she amended. "Just, not in front of my school."
Louis frowned. From the amount of pictures he had taken with Fizzy's friends and girls going to her school, he thought that him appearing there had been more of a success. "Your friends were all very polite."
"They are fans, Lou," she pointed out. "And most of them wanna marry Zayn anyway."
Louis pulled a face. "They'd be stuck with a messy, random hobo who passes out without warning if he's not working on some graffiti, really."
"He looks good on posters," Fizzy simply said. "God, boy bands are so embarrassing."
"Excuse me, but your brother is part of one of those," Louis reminded her, scuffing. "What is your problem?"
"The problem is that Gordon thinks boy bands are stupid," Lottie butted in.
Louis thought he had a stroke. He had most possibly just experienced a stroke. "A boy? Are you seeing a boy?" He turned to his mother. "Aren't you keeping an eye on her?"
Jay laughed, sipping from her wine. "Fizzy, if that boy talks bad about your brother, he's probably not worth your time."
"He doesn't know about my brother, is the thing." Fizzy put down her fork, giving Louis a glare. "But thanks to you he is well aware now, and that will ruin my chances with him."
Rolling his eyes, Louis sneaked the meat she had left untouched on her plate. "In that case my goal is accomplished. I've done everything right."
Fizzy kicked him under the table and Louis choked on a pea.
After that, it turned into a big, ugly fight that only ended when Jay grabbed Louis' ear and pulled hard.
"Louis William Tomlinson, would you stop being such a bad example to your sisters?"
Pouting, Louis rubbed his stinging ear, once she had let go of him. The girls dashed off into the living room, and Louis glared after them while clearing the table.
"You're not gonna let her replace me with a boy who thinks I'm stupid, do you?" he asked when he sorted plates into the dishwasher, his mum cleaning a pot in the sink.
She laughed. "None of the girls will ever replace you, Louis."
"They shouldn't hook up with boys who don't like me, though."
"They're certainly not gonna marry any of those," Jay hummed.
Louis' stomach flipped, leaving him a little dizzy. "Okay, let's talk about something else."
His mother laughed, splashing some water at him. "Did Lottie tell you that she slept over at Martin's after Christmas?"
"Okay, sorry to leave you with the dirty dishes, but I need some fresh air," Louis announced, fleeing the kitchen. He stopped in the doorway to the living room, watching his sisters all huddled up on the sofa. Some film was on the telly, and all of them were focussed on the screen. Phoebe and Daisy had spread a blanket over their laps, feet dangling from the sofa, not yet reaching the floor.
They soon would.
For a moment, Louis pondered joining them, butting in between Phoebe and Fizzy, having his sisters surround him. He turned away instead, grabbing his coat from where his mother had neatly hung it over the wardrobe by the front door. He quietly opened the door and stepped outside.
It was cold, the smell of rain gone. Instead, it smelled fresher, of the night and the stars of a January night. Louis tilted his head back and looked at the sky, found it dark and cloudy. He rounded the house and strolled over to the single swing he and his mother had set up in the back garden. Fizzy and Lottie had both grown up with a swing in the garden, and Louis had always been the one pushing them for hours. His mother had wanted one here for the twins too, so Louis had bought her one.
He hadn't once pushed any of the twins on this swing, though. He stored that away in the back of his mind, making a mental reminder for himself to play outside with them tomorrow.
For now, Louis sat down on the swing himself, his feet touching the ground. He wasn't tall enough to make it awkward, though, so he gently started rocking, staring ahead at the house. The terrace connected to the living room was dark, only a bit of light streaming through the windows. Louis couldn't see much of what was going on inside, only his mother walking into the room with mugs and leaving again with empty hands.
Tomorrow morning she would open the newspaper and read another article about her son's sour behaviour. Louis thought of giving her a warning; then again, Jay had learned to ignore the press. Especially bad press, since most of what the media wrote wasn't true anyway.
This story was true, though. And although it wasn't that much of a big deal, it didn't really leave Louis' mind. He felt like it had been a step too far, the straw that broke the camel's back. It had probably been too much, and Louis just really needed the break they had ahead.
At least they wouldn't have to travel as much anymore until the tour would kick off in February. They would promote the new album a little more, would give interviews and have photo shootings, attend the Brit Awards next month.
It was a dream, really, so much of a dream, that Louis got to lead this life. He was lucky and blessed -- and a total twat for complaining or being unhappy about anything. He didn't have a right to be unhappy.
Averting his eyes from the house, he lowered his look to his arm, pushed up the sleeves of his coat and his jumper, until his finger traced black lines that had by now become even with his skin, inked into his arm. Just four little letters, so random. A million people had asked about it, had wanted to know the meaning.
It had stopped feeling like a lie whenever Louis answered that it was just a joke, random and didn't hold a specific meaning.
When he heard the terrace door open, he lifted his head, stared at his mother approaching him. She held a shawl in one hand, way too long and bright red.
"You'll catch a cold if you sit out here like that," she said, gently draping the shawl around Louis' neck. The ends hung down loosely, barely centimetres away from the ground. It was long enough to keep two people warm.
That memory clutched Louis' heart, a tight fist squeezing around it and making it hard for him to breathe. He forced the memory away, focussing on his mother. "Thanks."
"It smells like snow," she said. "I guess we'll get to take the girls for a snowball fight tomorrow. It's been ages since it last snowed."
Louis nodded, fingers digging into the soft red wool pooling in his lap. "Five years," he said. "The last time it snowed was five years ago."
Jay laughed. "That long? No wonder Phoebe and Daisy can't even remember."
Louis kept his gaze glued to the ground. He wished he wouldn't remember either, but remembered all too well.
"Are you coming back inside?" Jay asked, pulling up her shoulders and crossing her arms to keep the cold out.
Smiling, Louis gestured to the house. "You go ahead, Mum. I'll be there in a minute. Can I get some hot chocolate?"
She nodded, giving him a knowing look. "Don't be too long."
Louis watched her leave, and then started rocking again. His toes dragged across the ground and the shawl swayed with the motion. Warm light spilled from the house, silence absorbed the quiet squeaking noise of the swing.
A first snowflake fell onto Louis' lap, outstanding against the red wool. It melted within seconds.
Louis lifted his head again, looking up and staring at the snowflakes that were gently, quietly falling down at him. He turned one palm and held it up, the cold sprinkles melting on his skin. His breath fogged up in front of his face when he exhaled shakily.
At what speed does a snowflake fall, what do you think?
Louis focussed on one and watched it float down to the ground, where it was followed by a next, and another.
Slow, he thought and wound the shawl tighter around himself, rocking back and forth on the swing. The snow kept falling, spreading a thin layer of white over the ground, the house, and Louis.