“Memory is all we are. Moments and feelings, captured in amber, strung on filaments of reason. Take a man’s memories and you take all of him. Chip away a memory at a time and you destroy him as surely as if you hammered a nail through his skull.”
–Mark Lawrence, King of Thorns
A stranger greets Louis whenever he looks in a mirror—a stranger with sunken eyes, sharp cheekbones and hollow cheeks, whose strands of mousy hair tangle into intricate knots; curl into something akin to a broken halo.
The man stares back with suspicion, terror, and perhaps, fatigue—because this happens to him every single day, for as long as he can remember, and he’s tired of it all, really. Tired of not being able to recognize his reflection.
Every morning he recites, speaks to no one but himself so he could try and remember that, “This is me. This is how I look like.” The simple act is done so often that it has become more like a ritual than a routine; and even then it’s only part of what he must do the second moonlight dies and day breathes again.
Along with the rebirth of daylight, even though his mind is not yet connected to his dry lips and his words are still lodged in his throat, his hands flail blindly in the still-dark room to find the leather-bound notebook that forever rests on his bedside table. Despite its old age, and though some of the yellowed pages are missing, still within it are little things, seemingly insignificant notes incomprehensible to anyone but himself. Minute details people take for granted like: ‘Tori, female, neighbor, 32 yrs. old, dirty blonde hair, crooked smile; Jake, male, regular plumber, 45 yrs. old, dark brown hair, a mole on his nose.’
Louis needs to do this; it’s a necessity—for the simple pleasure of carving a person’s image in his mind was never his to begin with.
There is an endless storm within him, creating havoc and wrecking his entire being, a dangerous mix of anger, desperation and sadness. It is a never-ending tempest, which killed him years ago when he overheard his mother cry over the fact that her baby wouldn’t ever remember her. Although it is only partly true, because despite the fact that her face is a blurry picture in Louis’ messed up mind, he can still remember how her airy laugh sounds like, how she drowns other noises in the room with her charisma, and how her sweet, lily-scented perfume smells like—but it wasn’t enough. It’s never going to be enough.
And though Louis is a twenty-two-year-old adult, he still isn’t able to dispel the loneliness blanketing his being, choking him slowly to his death, but he supposes this is the right thing to do. If he were to stay with his mother, then as each day passed, he would only break her heart even more, or what’s left of it anyway.
So he swallows his sadness and bathes himself in the faux bliss of solitude, and faces another day, because it is the only thing he can do to hold himself intact, lest he shatters under the omnipotent weight of isolation.
Louis has no destination in mind, he never does.
He lets his feet guide him wherever, because he believes that his body knows where his heart wants to go; where his mind won’t let him go.
An overbearing feeling, which may be a combination of curiosity and anxiety, clutches his heart, squeezing his chest until he is left breathless. And the worse thing is, he doesn’t know why. The answer he always yearns for, the companion to the question, ‘Why am I here?’ always avoids his grasp, slips away from between his fingers. The thing is he knows, though the fact is obscure in his foggy memory bank, where he’s going. He’s going to that bakery at the end of the street, the one across the beach, overlooking the infinite blue and the endless horizon. But he doesn’t know why. Surely he doesn’t always need a loaf of bread for breakfast, and he certainly recalls of another bakery that sells better-tasting muffins than the one he thinks he’s heading to, at least.
When Louis reaches the bakery, however, which is oddly named ‘Twisters’, that powerful mix of feelings grow even stronger, pulsing in his veins, turning his blood to lead right then and there. The fact that reason escapes Louis agitates him even more so, and yet, even with nerve endings standing on edge, Louis still turns the doorknob anyway, and is greeted by the cheerful ringing of the bell, the pastel walls, the enticing aroma and the unfitting monotonous tiled-floor. The atmosphere is comfortable and warm, and it cloaks him with a strange kind of childish giddiness strong enough to lift the burden off his shoulders a little.
Louis admits that the place is small but quaint; radiating a cozy and homelike feeling that gets to him in a way he never imagined possible, fills a hole in his heart, though only partly. But, when he hears the deep, welcoming voice he recognizes so, so well across the room, resonating off the walls, he starts to suspect that maybe, it’s not the comfy interior design of the bakery that attracted his being like the arrow of a compass to true north.
It is nearly impossible to describe the disappointment that crosses Louis’ heart when his sad, blue eyes land on a figure of a tall man with unruly brown curls—a man whose voice he knows by heart, but whose face he can’t recognize.
The man swallows, and Louis is somehow transfixed by the way his Adam’s apple bobs up as he does so. After what feels like an eternity of staring at each other, the man breaks the silence and says, in a tone similar to the one he used earlier but much milder,
“Is there anything I can help you with?”
Louis advances gingerly, slow as if he were walking on a landmine, for a reason he can’t quite place himself, and says, “I, uh, don’t actually know what I’m looking for.” Up close, he can clearly read the letters on the nametag adorning the man’s cream-colored uniform. It says, ‘Harry.’ So he continues, in a vain attempt to break the ice, “Maybe you can suggest something, um… Harry.”
Harry recoils a little, the movement so subtle that it is almost impossible to notice. His lips open and words roll off his tongue with a tiny bit of strain, “Well, since it’s Twister Thursday, we serve a very special menu. Would you like to see? Oh, and stock runs out very quickly.”
“Sure,” Louis agrees, lacing his fingers on top of the cashier’s glass table. “Let me see it then.”
The brunette nods and rushes back into the kitchen, and while Louis is left alone, his thoughts grow even louder than ever before without the presence of someone else’s voice to block them out.
The memories are there, intact but shapeless, leaving only tiny, albeit significant bits of information. When Louis spreads his fingers and feels the coldness of the glass seeping into his fingertips, he recalls of happy, golden days, of smiles, of hugs and of kisses. When Louis breathes the sweet air that melts like honey when it touches the back of his throat, memories—of warm mornings, of sunlight basking darker pastel walls, of unadulterated confessions whispered within sheets—are evoked in his mind. In all of these recollections, Louis knows that he wasn’t alone. There was someone else to experience infinity with him, but for the love of God, he can’t remember how the person looks like. He desperately craves for an image to flash in his mind so that he could savor the underrated pleasure of remembering the face of your loved ones, but it doesn’t come. He is fully aware that it never will, so he lets his body go slack with dismay at his lack of remembrance.
When Harry loudly bursts through the kitchen door with a black-and-white package—which resembles a circus tent with the top twisted, topped with a golden star with ‘Twisters’ written in cursive—Louis’ body turns rigid. The kid sure knows how to startle someone.
In stark contrast to his theatrical entrance, Harry places the box gently on the counter and rapidly punches several buttons on the cashier machine, coming up with numbers without even a single word passed between them.
“Harry,” Louis interrupts.
“I don’t remember agreeing to buy it just yet.”
The employee’s hand halts midair, and his eyes, which are radiating with panic, stare back at Louis. Moments pass just like that, with Louis’ eyebrows arched in confusion and Harry’s index finger frozen just inches above the buttons of the machine. Then, almost comically, he whispers an audible, “Oops.”
The laughter that Louis tried to stifle manages to escape and within seconds the air thaws—the walls don’t seem like they’re shrinking anymore; it expands, broadens as his cheery laughter drowns the bakery. Truthfully, it wasn’t even that funny, but Louis is so, so glad for some reason. He’s happy that the tension has disappeared, completely unaware that he was bothered by it at all in the beginning.
“Do you want me to cancel the purchase then?” Harry asks, grinning crookedly, as soon as Louis’ laughter dies and ebbs away.
“Nah, it’s fine.” Louis reaches for the wallet in his back pocket. “But it better be as amazing as you said it was, or I’m coming back for a refund.”
For a moment Louis thinks that Harry prefers the latter option, but the thought passes as quickly as it came.
“Of course it is.” Harry gives Louis a smile, putting his dimples up for display. “I always tell the truth.”
At the mention of ‘always’, fragile fragments of memories, strung on silvery strands of hope, love and patience, resurface and Louis remembers—for a fraction of a second—of arms wrapped around his body, of heat seeping into his skin, of lips on his ears, whispering a sacred promise that’s utterly unbreakable.
Reality hits him hard and stings like freezing water splashed on overheated skin, and he recollects himself, holds his being together so he wouldn’t tremble and fall apart under the intense surge of unfamiliar emotions.
Louis dismisses Harry’s looks of concern—denies the man’s thoughts of him having said the wrong thing, pays and leaves the bakery, committing the sound of the bell, the squeaky door, and the dull tapping of boots on tiled-floor into memory before he heads home.
As soon as he steps into his house, the notion of solitude resumes its reign, and though its pitch-black tentacles start to curl around his lithe limbs, he is still able to ignore it for a few blissful minutes.
Louis heads to the living room and throws himself on the sofa, opening up the package meticulously because he’s afraid the delicate box may break if he’s too careless and impatient. The scent wafting through the slight openings he manages to create causes his mouth to water, and when his eyes feast upon the ‘Twister Thursday’ that man spoke so highly of, he does not regret purchasing the special menu.
They’re pancakes and are unbelievably thin, five layers laid on top of one another, maple syrup spilling over the edges, butter melting on the top—just the way Louis likes it.
As Louis digs in, he’s once again bombarded with memories, triggered by the way the maple syrup slides down his throat and how the butter melts even further on his tongue—there are images, images of a tall man, his hair a mess of brown curls, his body muscular but not to the point of being ‘too buff’. He is reminded of calm mornings, of velvety aromas, of intimate pecks on foreheads. The pictures bring him a sense of belonging; a sense of being loved, even though he does not know to whom he owes the gratitude to.
But when the figure turns, Louis doesn’t see a face. He sees everything but a face, and that disturbs him so, infuriates him because he knows his heart realizes the importance of this man, but his mind is too stubborn to be able to recall. He can’t. No matter how many times he tries, he can’t. He can’t even recognize his own face in the mirror.
The pancakes are delicious, fantastic, but they revive too many memory fragments of a man Louis desperately wants to remember but isn’t able to. It’s too bittersweet for his liking, so he places the remains of the pancakes and places it in the fridge, though he is unsure he’ll ever touch it again.
Retreating to the safety of his room, Louis grabs a pen and reaches for the leather-bound notebook by the side of his bed, and quickly scribbles in the details he’s repeated countless times in his head.
‘Harry, male, Twister employee, around 20 yrs. old (?), tall, messy brown curls, deep voice, ‘forced’ me to buy Twister Thursday, Oops.’
Then, he rips out a blank page and writes boldly: ‘check back on Harry tomorrow. Say that pancake sucks, demand for a refund!’
Sunlight breaks into the room, disperses into something unearthly and causes ghostly images of something similar to butterflies across the walls, before illuminating Louis’ body. The light warms the patch of bare skin it hits and stirs him up. As soon as his eyelids open, puffy from lack of sleep, he gropes for the book and finds a note he’s written the night before. Louis squints his eyes despite knowing that it won’t help him read any better, but after a couple of seconds trying to decipher his own words, he finally gets the message.
He doesn’t feel like he knows anyone named Harry, so he consults his notebook, flips to the latest entry and is relieved when images of a faceless man break surface and linger in his mind long enough for him to make his way to the bakery, and identify the person standing idly behind the counter, who’s wearing the same cream-colored uniform. Strands of his hair are twisted and swooped up in places, and his voice booms, ricochets off the walls.
Louis can’t make sense of the man’s face as a whole—he can see the emerald green eyes, and the slight curve of his lips, but he doesn’t possess the ability to connect all these facts together coherently—so he relies on the sound and weight of the man’s voice, the color of his uniform, and the nametag that undoubtedly has ‘Harry’ written across its plastic surface.
“Welcome to Twisters,” the curly-haired man greets, trying to sound nonchalant. “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Yeah.” Louis places a box—not the original packaging, but a red and golden one he bought from another store—on top of the counter. “I’d like to get a refund.”
With a slight cock of his head, Harry opens the top of the box, sneaks a glance inside and says, “I’m sorry, but I can’t give you any.”
“But I thought we agreed that I’d get a refund if I didn’t like it.”
“Well, you must’ve liked it a little, since you ate half of it.”
“That’s because I’m a good customer and didn’t want to hurt your feelings.”
There are words on the tip of Harry’s tongue, begging to be voiced out, but he decides against it and retries, “I’m very sorry. I can’t give you a refund.”
Louis can’t quite place it himself; he doesn’t know why he says,
“Maybe you can do something else, like helping me finish the pancakes.”
Was it pure curiosity that drove him to ask such a question, or was it solely because he yearns for the companionship he’s never had? Or perhaps, was it because his heart screams, declares he knows this man, knows the contours of his body, the softness of his hair, the gentleness of his touch? Louis isn’t sure.
He spots it, the subtle change in Harry’s demeanor, the way he’s thrown off balance as he forms his lips into a thin, straight line. In his eyes, Louis catches something akin to restraint, like he is constantly holding himself back, trying to create an infinite gap between the two of them.
Louis feels that his heart would stretch over that distance no matter what, determined and intangible—because there’s something within this man, a whole new level of charm that’s able to lure Louis to the edge, attracts him like pure magnet.
Harry tries to conceal his gloom, but Louis picks it up anyway. “I can’t. I’m taking all the shifts for today so I’m gonna be here for a really long time.”
Louis’ stubborn streak breaks through, “I can wait.”
The spontaneous sentence strikes Harry hard, leaves him as motionless as a statue, eyes wide and filled to the brim with what Louis thinks as nothing but absolute surprise, touched with a hint of rebellious nature.
“I have to attend to customers though,” Harry says, and as if on cue, a plump woman in a yellow sundress enters the room, her steps light and cheerful as she loudly greets the man in uniform like she’s known him since forever.
“Hi, Tori!” Harry says with as much enthusiasm as she displays, or maybe even more.
The woman called Tori then notices Louis and gives him a silent nod of her head before looking away—and the simple act itself speaks a thousand words.
“It’s okay. I’ll just wait outside.” Louis points his thumb to the beach, ignoring the way the woman treated her. “Come to me when you’re done.”
He leaves as the last word departs from between his lips and he’s able to recall the unique ring of the bell, the creak of the door, and his footsteps on the monotonous floor.
Time is nonexistent. It flows easily like a river current, constant, serene, always moving. Louis spends the hours, lets the seconds tick away and observes as the sun sinks below the horizon, leaving traces of reddish-orange behind—scars on the vast blue sky.
He remembers every little detail with ease: the way the water licks at his shoes and the way it pulls the sand as it retreats, as if the little crystals were earthly souvenirs unfamiliar to the cold, deep ocean; the way the moon bleeds its silvery light on the golden beach; the way the breeze plays with his hair and warms his insides even though it’s freezing—yet when he stares into the water, he sees only a vague outline of a person, its image murky and distorted, just like how he normally sees his reflection in a mirror.
It’s a scary thought, not being able to know who’s looking back at you from behind the glass. It’s an even scarier thought, not being able to fully remember how your mother looks like after such a long time apart. But the most terrifying thing is, you hurt not just yourself, but others too, when you fail to identify them. They think you’re rude and stupid, because you don’t remember them even after all the time spent together.
Louis thinks that the universe is against him, and maybe he’s meant to be alone. Perhaps that way, he won’t be able to hurt anyone but himself, won’t be able to cause anyone else pain. Louis reconsiders his earlier offer to Harry and thinks of abandoning it when he hears that same voice that messes up his being, stomps around his heart like it’s reclaiming its territory, and Louis knows that it’s too late to back out now.
“Sorry for taking so long,” Harry apologizes as he sinks beside Louis on the damp sand, making sure to establish an invisible line between them.
“Don’t worry about it,” Louis dismisses the thought with a wave of his hand.
Silence passes between them as they stare into the sea in awe, permeates all the empty spaces, and fills Louis’ lungs to the brim, light like air itself—it’s sweet silence, a silence that cloaks their bodies with warmth, the kind that a man is reluctant to break. And Louis is out of words anyway, due to the recent argument with himself regarding the matters of standing Harry up.
After a while, Harry sighs and lies on his back, his arms propping up his head as his emerald green eyes bore holes into the galaxies above.
Louis follows suit, but keeps his fingers intertwined above his stomach. “It’s such a nice night, isn’t it?”
Harry nods in response, points lazily to the stars dotting the sky like little diamonds on black cloth. “The stars aren’t hiding anymore.”
Louis nods as he says, “Yeah.”
“We don’t get to see them often, though. Damn clouds hogging up the spotlight,” Harry says, unknowingly letting his mask slip off little by little.
“What do you expect? They’re up there most of the time. Little attention whores, that’s what they are,” Louis jokes, curses lightly and evokes laughter between them, which lasts only for a few seconds but even that feels like an eternity of happiness. “I much prefer the sky like this,” he continues.
Harry chuckles a little and says, “I know.”
The words were soft-spoken, the tone he used was barely even audible, only a little bit more than a subtle, ghostly whisper, but Louis hears it. And his heart tugs in a peculiar way, tries to get him to notice, for his broken mind to recall a memory tucked neatly in a corner, for him to stop and remember.
In the blink of an eye Harry’s body jolts upright, the motion quick and driven by impulse, as if he realizes he’s said something he shouldn’t have and tries to swerve the topic elsewhere, tries to escape the headlights. His hand reaches for the box next to Louis and opens it in mock eagerness.
“Let’s eat, shall we?” he asks.
Louis gives a nod as an answer but he does it half-consciously, still trying to decode and give meaning to the two most important words Harry’s said all day. He’s only broken out of his reverie once Harry snorts and says,
“You didn’t bring a spoon.”
Louis looks over Harry’s shoulder and confirms his statement. He never intended to eat it anyway in the first place. “Oh yeah.”
“Now how are we supposed to eat?” Harry asks, the amusement mostly hidden underneath his careful tone—a tone that suggests closeness and yet distance at the same time.
In response, Louis’ hand aims to pinch off a bit of the pancakes when Harry lifts the box out of Louis’ reach, claiming that it is unhygienic and his hands are dirty from sitting on the sand all day. No matter how many times Harry says no, however, Louis is persistent and stubborn, still tries to get a piece of the flat cakes but Harry never lets him. Not long after, they become invested in a game of ‘who gets the pancakes first’.
“How else are we gonna eat it?” Louis whines. Nevertheless, he is secretly happy that he’s managed to cause Harry’s façade to break a little further, letting him take a peek of what’s inside. Louis is starved from the image, and wants to see more of him, the real Harry.
“You’ll soil the pancake,” Harry says again for the hundredth time. “Look, I’ll just go get a spoon from the bakery, okay?”
But as soon as Harry gets up to leave, a hand weighs him down like the anchor to a ship, and he is met with blue, blue eyes staring back at him—and at that moment, he feels as if he could combust with want.
“Forget it. I don’t want to eat anymore,” Louis says, voice loud against the deafening silence. He holds on still, keeps holding on and they stay like that: deep green eyes locking with sky blue ones. Louis doesn’t know why he doesn’t let go, why he doesn’t want to.
Louis stares at every inch of Harry, skipping the face because he can’t make sense of all the features, and instead shifts his focus to the way Harry’s skin feels under his fingertips—soft, smooth and yet velvety, cold but damp with sweat at the same time. The texture, the weight of Harry’s palm in his, snaps Louis back to reality, drags along a memory not long forgotten but sealed at the back of his mind, the storm in his heart clashing with the waves of emotions that surge through his being, thrive in his veins.
It is only when they touch, when their cores unite until they’re just a hot bundle of mess—Louis remembers. For the love of God, he does.
“I know you,” Louis murmurs, but Harry doesn’t hear.
“What?” he asks.
Louis stands up, grips Harry’s forearms tight, so tight that his knuckles become white and the man’s wincing under his grip. Louis is afraid that the man will disappear if he doesn’t hold on to him. “You’re Harry,” he repeats.
“I know,” Harry says, unable to grasp at his own thoughts, doesn’t understand the words coming out of Louis’ quivering mouth. “I thought you knew that already.”
“No, you twat.” Louis’ lips are purplish because he’s freezing but he doesn’t care. “I remember you.”
And Harry’s heart stops.
The sky comes crashing down, bringing along the stars strung on invisible golden threads, and Louis feels as if he’s drowning in the man’s infinite greens; he doesn’t want to break surface, ever.
In truth, Louis doesn’t know what to expect: is Harry going to smile and hug him tight, or stand there and stare into each other’s eyes forever? But Harry does neither, tightens his fists and turns to leave just like that.
His back glows as moonlight kisses his bare skin, sweeps his black t-shirt, and illuminates him, making him glow as if he were a being made up of light itself.
“Harry!” Louis tries to catch up to the man, who’s walking fast and still gaining speed by the second. “Haz, stop!”
“Don’t call me that!” Harry shouts over the roaring wind as he jogs into the night, never once looking back.
“Why are you running away?” Louis’ voice is loud but breathless, as he has to run in order to catch up.
“Why are you chasing me?” Harry retorts.
Louis stops and heaves, takes in huge gulps of air, lets Harry run a few meters away before he cups his hands around his mouth and shouts, “Goddammit, stop running you twat!”
The man flinches, his body losing its vigor and feet shedding its speed, shifting to a slow walk until he halts altogether. But he doesn’t look back.
“Turn around and—look,” Louis’ words tumble out of his lips in bits and pieces as he takes breaths in between, “—at me.”
The moonlight-kissed back remains perfectly still; Harry doesn’t turn.
There is only one question that’s eating away at Louis’ heart like a parasite, causing a constant stinging pain that’s impossible to ignore, and that’s, “Why?”
Harry’s body goes slack for a fraction of a second and Louis takes this as a sign to continue.
“Why won’t you look at me, Harry?” It’s hard to bury the hurt deep inside; in fact, it’s impossible, because it stays and thrashes around, tries to get Louis to notice and keep noticing once he does.
Silence is the only answer Louis gets, and his voice breaks a little when he asks, “You don’t want to see me anymore?”
A sigh escapes Harry’s lips, and though it’s supposed to be muted it rings throughout the lane, bouncing off the ground and the rocks and the waves hitting the sand.
“Harry, don’t you love me anymo—”
“Don’t,” Harry warns, his voice stern. He turns around, finally, and his eyes soften when he sees the sadness creasing the lines of Louis’ forehead. He turns to mush and relents. “It’s not like that.”
“Then what is it like?” Louis clenches and unclenches his hands, palms to fists and fists to palms and back again. It takes everything within him to stay composed like that, lest he becomes broken beyond repair.
Footsteps echo along the path, indicating that Harry is nearing—until Louis feels the hot breath on his bare skin and knows Harry’s there, right then, with him.
Louis hears the sound of crumpling paper and is met with the sight of Harry holding up a few yellowed ones, its edges torn. They’re identical to the pages of his leather-bound notebook.
“Those are—” Louis starts before he is cut off.
“Yours.” Harry lets Louis retrieve the small sheets of paper from his palm. “But you can say they’re mine as well, I guess.”
The pages have different contents within them, different words written neatly across the crumpled sheets. But they all have a constant; a word that shows up in each page, written so delicately to express the fondness Louis has towards the subject: ‘Harry.’
‘Harry, male, Twisters employee, 20 yrs. old, 1st February (his birthday, don’t forget), strong arms, lithe body, brown curls (which I adore very much), light complexion, dimples, big green eyes, seemingly innocent smile.’
‘Harry, male, Twisters employee, 20 yrs. old, boyfriend (December 24th), cute nose, shapely lips, shows off his dimples all the time, remember to look into his eyes—focus on one feature at a time so I’ll recognize.’
‘Harry, male, Twisters employee, 20 yrs. old, smells like cinnamon and autumn leaves, really likes to kiss, loves to cuddle, makes amazing eggs on toast every morning; don’t forget to see him at work during the day!’
All these pages are dedicated to Harry, Harry, Harry, and no one else. The fact that they aren’t within the safety of Louis’ notebook deters him and he says, out of spite, “Did you rip these out?”
Regret drowns his words but they still float to Louis’ ears. “Yes.”
“Why, Harry?” The accusation is a stark contrast in Louis’ tone, standing out against all the other words.
Harry bites his lips; the answer is lodged in his throat.
“Did you want me to forget?”
Harry shakes his head, fatigued, spent from trying to hold back. “You told me to, Lou,” he whispers.
“What?” Louis asks, incredulous. “I would never.”
“But you did,” his façade shatters under the sadness and grief as he speaks. “You wanted to test yourself, you said. You wanted to see if you could remember my face without the help of these notes.”
“But I…” Louis trails off. He certainly thinks he’s one to do such a thing.
“One day, you said—” Harry’s voice breaks for a second, so he stops and pinches the bridge of his nose before trying again. “You said that if you didn’t remember my face the next morning, then we should stop seeing each other because the further we take this, the more we’ll be hurt. You said that I should leave if you didn’t remember.”
And Louis hates himself. He loathes his being so much—because he’s hurt Harry by making him leave, basically breaking off the only bond he swears he’ll ever have.
“So I did,” Harry continues, with a straighter face this time. Calm, composed, as if he’s been practicing that sentence over and over again in his mind. “And for these past few weeks, I stayed away. So please, don’t make me break my promise to you.”
“Haz, but, I don’t want to forget,” Louis says, broken beyond repair. “I want to remember, please, let me remember.”
Even though it kills Harry inside as well, even though it cuts him open and bleeds him to death, he stays firm, stays true to his promise.
“And you said,” Harry continues, trying so hard to stay strong, “to throw away all your notes of me. But I didn’t, because I wanted to keep them, Lou.” He takes the sheets of paper away from Louis, hold them tight to his chest, clutching onto them lest they turn to ash and scatter into thin air. “I wanted them so badly, but you were right.” And he turns away once more, heads to the breaking waves against the gleaming sand.
The man treads deeper into the water, lets it swallow his legs up to his knees, splashing against his torso and everything else, making his hair damp and glisten with droplets that refract the moon’s soft light. He crumples the paper, forms them into a tight ball, lifts his hand and—
—throws far, far away. The paper ball is flung towards the horizon, and disappears into the dark waters, descending into the unknown below. When he looks back, the moon is behind him and highlights the lithe outline of his body, the one Louis knows so well. He stares into the green, green eyes, which hold such courage, strength, and yet, all-consuming regret.
By the end of the night, no notes of Harry are left, not even the ones Louis wrote the other day, because Harry finds and disposes of it.
Minutes turn to hours, morph into days, and soon pass to weeks.
In Louis’ case, time does not heal. It does not mend his wounds, nor does it let them scar—it reopens, each and every time he meets a person he thinks he should know, but fails to recognize. He doesn’t know whether it’s paranoia or not but he senses that people are starting to avoid him, not even bothering to get to know him because they know he’ll forget them anyway. And no, he doesn’t feel at all sad at that; maybe just a bit lonely, but if avoidance means that he won’t be able to hurt anyone but himself then he’s completely fine. He can make it on his own.
Watching movies is for naught, because Louis finds it difficult to discern one character from another, so he spends his time creating music, singing and learning to play the guitar and listening to the radio, the wind chimes, and everything else unrelated to facial recognition. Oh, but watching cartoons is fine, because it’s far easier to distinguish a cartoon character than a real one—they all have trademarks they always wear, and some parts of their faces are so out of proportion that it’s easy for Louis to recognize.
He sometimes wishes people were like cartoons; wishes they’d wear the same clothes every day and maybe have blown-out-of-proportion facial features, but that’s just wishful thinking.
There is an always-present feeling of despair within Louis but he can’t quite fathom what causes it. He gets it so often that he cheekily names it ‘daily blues’, because yes, they get to him every single day and dampens his mood. Is it because he’s not making good enough music? Or is it because there’s no one to enjoy his music with? Or perhaps, is it because he yearns for a presence he can rely on, a constant in his life?
There is a man, he notices, who works behind the counter in Louis’ favorite bakery, Twisters. He’s always clothed in cream-colored uniform, wears a beanie to conceal his dark brown hair, but doesn’t wear a nametag, which should be a part of any employee’s dress code. Whenever Louis asks the man about it, he becomes rude, distant and cut-off, and really, Louis has never seen such an unlikable employee before. He thinks of reporting the man’s inappropriate behavior to his manager, but decides against it when he realizes that the man, with the black beanie concealing most of his hair, is absolutely charming to any other customer but him—thus he pays not much attention, as the man obviously harbors personal distaste towards Louis only.
Louis never writes anything about the man behind the counter because he doesn’t like his attitude and doesn’t want to waste even half a page dedicated to that grouchy man.
Though the storm still causes havoc in his heart, Louis manages to numb the feeling a little; he’s getting used to it, living whilst being basked in solitude and independence. Many people crave to have a house to their own, desires for the freedom they believe they do not have, but Louis thinks they’re taking everything for granted. Having someone else in the house means you have a friend to share stories with, to laugh and cry with, make inappropriate jokes and occasionally delving into more serious talks with. You’ve got someone to enjoy life with, and that’s something you have to appreciate while it lasts.
But there’s still that constant sting in his heart, that parasite that’s consuming him from the inside out until he’s left with nothing but bones—and no matter how hard Louis tries to diminish the feeling, to forget just like how he forgets people’s faces, forgets their identities, he can’t. Every attempt he makes to block the ominous feeling out ends in vain, and what irritates him so is the fact that he doesn’t know where it’s coming from.
If he were presented with a chance to quell the persistent sting within him, he’d take it without a doubt. And so one day, as he walks lazily, leaving trails on the sand that are washed away by the water as soon as he makes them, he gets his wish.
As bizarre as it may be, there is a piece of yellowed paper—helplessly torn all around the edges, damp and at the brink of breaking apart—buried halfway in the sand.
Though it defies all odds, the mighty force of nature that’s the ocean itself, there are words written so very neatly across it, in a handwriting he recognizes as his own. The paper reads, ‘Harry, male, Twister employee’. That’s it. He assumes there’s a continuation to the sentence as he sees a vague tail, which may be taken as the number two, right after the word ‘employee.’ When he finishes reading and re-reading the words, he runs the pad of his finger across the material and the paper breaks apart, turns to a yellowish pulp between the tip of his index finger and thumb.
For all Louis knows, he only writes something extra neatly when it is of great value to him, and is of utmost importance. Yet, the name ‘Harry’ does not ring any bell for him, nor does he remember taking down notes on a male Twister employee. So he heads to the bakery to investigate, and allows a passing moment to relish the very familiar sound of tinkling bells and the alluring aroma of freshly baked bread.
Louis hears an automatic welcome from behind the counter and realizes that Twisters do in fact have a male employee. He can make out some features of the man’s face, but only when he concentrates on one at a time, because as soon as he takes in the whole face, the image becomes blurry and the features scramble together into something otherworldly, very much unlike any human being. He finally remembers that this guy is none other than the grouchy man, who seems to loathe Louis so much.
He makes his way to the counter, fixes his eyes on the green ones of the employee’s, and senses mixed emotions churning deep, intertwining with one another until it’s impossible to make out each individual feelings.
The man says, in a forced, hoarse voice, “Is there anything I can help you with?”
“Uh, yeah,” Louis says. “Is there, by any chance, any other male employee working here?”
“Only me,” the man answers brusquely.
“I see.” Louis thinks he doesn’t want his suspicions to be right, considering how this man is treating him, but he asks anyway. “I was wondering… is your name Harry?”
The man’s hand instinctively rises to his chest, as if to check whether the nametag is there or not, even though he’s sure he deliberately didn’t put it on this morning. Louis may be face blind, but he can see emotion, can feel it from miles away, and he can say without a doubt that it is panic that flashes through Harry’s eyes, stays for a moment but doesn’t linger.
“No,” the man responds, straight-faced.
Louis can’t explain why his heart feels like it’s sinking to the bottom of his stomach, can’t explain the hollow feeling in his heart as if there’s a huge hole in the middle of his chest. So he thanks the man and turns to leave, gets ready to forget he ever saw the crumpled sheet of paper—until an unknown force tugs at him, makes him turn his head, look over his shoulder. He witnesses as the man’s façade breaks apart, watches the way the man’s shoulders sag, the way a heavy air hangs above his slack body, and the pure, passionate desire within him, combined with a touch of regret, hope and desperation—and everything clicks in Louis’ mind right then.
He is the man Louis has fallen in love with, the man who made Louis feel loved, wanted, and missed. The man is Harry; always have been, always will be.
“You twat,” Louis says. “You lying twat.”
And Harry sees Louis again; his Louis, and the iron fence that encases his heart crumbles right then and there, making him feel naked, raw and vulnerable. But this time, he doesn’t swallow his desire. Instead, he rushes to Louis’ side, wraps the smaller man with his long arms, hugging him tighter than he’s ever hugged any other human being before.
Heat exudes from Harry’s body, seeps into Louis’ and he treasures the moment, commit them to memory, swearing on his life that he’ll never forget this—the weight of Harry’s arms around his waist, the hot breath on his skin, the nose nuzzling the crook of his neck, the messy brown curls tickling his cheek.
“I’m sorry, Lou,” Harry croaks, not bothering to fix his broken voice. “I can’t stay away. I don’t know how. And I sure as hell don’t want to.”
“I’m sorry too, Haz.” Louis tightens his grip around Harry. “Fuck, I don’t want you to go away. I was stupid, okay? Was I drunk when I made you do that?”
“Maybe a little,” Harry teases, albeit only half-meaning it because he’s too busy smiling and hugging and remembering how to breathe.
“Don’t listen to me when I’m drunk, okay, Haz.” Louis takes Harry’s scent in, filling his lungs to the brim with Harry, Harry, Harry and nothing more.
“Okay,” Harry mumbles into Louis’ skin.
When Louis breaks away, Harry misses him already. The feeling, however, is fleeting, for it is gone as soon as Louis touches Harry’s lips to his, and their beings fuse, intertwine with each other until it’s impossible to set them apart—they are no longer floating in a lonely, infinite space. The boundless distance between them closes instantly at that very second, and they combust like two galaxies colliding into one another.
When they finally stop kissing, though their lips are still touching, Louis asks softly, as if afraid of hearing Harry’s answer,
“Will you still love me, even if I can’t remember you?”
Harry does not hesitate; leans closer, trying to eliminate the non-existent distance between their overheated bodies.
“Of course, you twat. I’ll find my way back to your heart. I always will.”
They promise to be strong. They promise to always stay by each other’s side, to hold the other’s hand when they stumble and fall—holding on tight to each other like lifelines.
They try something different each day, do countless of trials and errors to find Louis’ comfort zone.
“Everything has a weak spot,” Harry says. “We just have to be stubborn enough to find it.”
And so they pursue this goal of finding a way to outthink Louis’ disease, to outsmart even an illness deemed as ‘incurable.’
One day, Louis wakes up with a cold spot next to him on the bed.
The sun’s blaring heat penetrates the window’s glass, indicating it’s noon and that Louis should get up and get dressed. After consulting his leather-bound notebook and getting to know his face—again—in the mirror, he makes his way down the stairs and finds a man curled up on the sofa, nose deeply buried in a book. Upon closer inspection, Louis notices the curly hair, realizes the man’s identity.
“It’s nice to see that you’ve finally taken a liking to reading,” Louis teases as he approaches the figure so engrossed with the reading material in his hands.
Once Harry notices Louis’ presence, he hurriedly closes the book and places his hands on top of its cover, attempting in vain to hide it from Louis’ sight. “Oh, hi, Lou.”
“What’re you reading?” Louis asks, furrows his brows and tries to pry Harry’s hands off the cover.
“Nothing,” Harry says, holding on tighter to the book.
“Let me see, H.” Harry does not relent to Louis’ stubbornness, but in the end, fails to keep Louis from snatching the book anyway.
The book is plain white, except for the bold, golden words that decorate its front. It says, ‘Living Without Knowing Faces’ by Chuck Lee.
“What is this?” Louis asks, flips the book over and reads its summary.
“An autobiography,” Harry says with a sigh of defeat.
“‘This is the story of how I learned’,” Louis recites the author’s words, “‘to live with prosopagnosia, an ‘incurable’ disease that has rendered my ability to recognize faces useless’.”
Louis looks up to meet Harry’s eyes, in awe, amused and confused at the same time. “A guy I can empathize with.”
“I want to know how he dealt with it,” Harry confesses. “And maybe I can learn a thing or two from him so I could help you.”
“That’s sweet, Hazza,” Louis says, smiling toothily. “Why did you hide it, though?”
Harry shifts his gaze downwards, embarrassed, and says, “I wanted to surprise you. When I figure out how to make you recognize my face, I wanted you to think that I thought of it all on my own.”
Louis leans in, kisses Harry’s forehead. “That’s great, but it seems unfair to this Chuck Lee guy, don’t you think? Stealing his idea as your own.”
“Hey,” Harry protests. “I was gonna borrow.”
“Whatever.” Louis plops himself down next to Harry. “Have you found anything worth ‘borrowing’?”
“Not yet.” Harry takes the book away from Louis’ hands and opens it to the page he was on earlier. “Haven’t gotten to the interesting part yet.”
A tender feeling floods Louis’ heart, patches up each and every hole inflicted by his sadness, and he doesn’t think his grief would be coming back any time soon—until the phone rings, and an aura of urgency blankets everything.
When Louis picks up, greets the speaker, he is surprised to hear a familiar voice on the other end of the line. But that voice is broken, hoarse from what sounds like sobbing.
“Louis,” the voice says.
It doesn’t take long for Louis to respond. “Yes?”
“It’s me, Lottie,” his little sister says. Though he is sure she’s not that little anymore.
“How are you, Lotts?” Louis asks lightly, even though he is impatient to know the reason behind her sobbing.
“Come home,” she pleads, ignoring her brother’s small talk. “Just come home.”
That feels like a blow to the chest, hard and relentless. “Right now?”
“Yes, just for a day,” she says, sensing Louis’ discomfort in being asked to return home after such a long time away, after being indirectly kicked out. “Then you can leave, if that’s what you want.”
It takes a moment for Louis to dislodge the question in his throat. “Why?”
As soon as Louis hears the muffled answer, he ends the phone call with ‘I’m on my way’ and leaves, dragging Harry along with him.
On the way there, which is a 3-hour ride from Louis’ place, Harry keeps trying to coax Louis to talk to him, because the man has completely fallen into the worst state of trance he’s ever been in, despite how lucid he seems to be. It is to no avail, however, because Louis ignores him, pretends to be asleep. Harry is completely aware of this, and so he also makes the decision to keep his eyes fixed on the road, letting Louis have the peace he desperately needs but refuses to have.
The dark, heavy air hanging over the Tomlinson’s house presses down on Louis’ chest, makes it hard to breathe; and the cars parked out front don’t help at all. Everything is a mass of moving bodies to Louis, as he doesn’t even try to discern one person from the next, doesn’t even try to notice some of their distinguishable features. He lets Harry guide him through the sea of people, of bobbing heads, of clusters of guests huddling, whispering to one another, patting backs, kissing foreheads.
Louis only remembers Lottie’s figure as a little kid, and now that she has surely shed that image, he does not know which one among these people is his sister, but he assumes the teenager who’s at the center of a dense crowd to be her.
Harry helps Louis move through the throng of people, makes a path towards Lottie. And once they’re standing by her side, she notices not the curly-haired man, but the one next to him, the one with blue, blue eyes which mirror her own.
“Lou,” she says as she holds him in an embrace.
Louis is awkward, his limbs feel foreign, but he tries to return the hug anyway. “Did you start without me?”
It takes a while for Lottie to answer, because she’s so overwhelmed with grief, but she says it anyway. “Yeah. And we just finished an hour ago.”
There’s a question that has been nagging in the back of Louis’ mind ever since he left the house, but it refuses to be voiced out, becomes stuck in his throat. But he doesn’t need to ask anyway, because Lottie knows what he wants to say, and answers his silent question.
“You might think it was selfish of her,” Lottie says, slowly. “But Mom wanted to spare you from seeing her on her deathbed.”
“I don’t understand,” he says, unable to speak the words that come after. I don’t understand why she still refused to see me even when she was dying.
“It’s complicated,” Lottie admits. “She didn’t want the first and last thing you remember of her to be her dying self, after so many years apart.”
“She just didn’t want to see me,” Louis says bitterly, unaware he’s capable of making such a tone. Perhaps, the dam he’s built to hold the hatred harbored from loneliness, sadness and disappointment finally give way, rendering him to a complicated wreck of emotions. “She didn’t want to see the son who can’t recognize his mother’s face, right?”
“Lou!” Lottie scolds sternly, attracting the eyes of some of the guests. She settles down until the eyes are pried away from her and continues, “Don’t say that. It’s not true, okay?”
Harry squeezes Louis’ arm tightly, a warning to not start anything even though he’s on Louis’ side. And so, Louis bites his tongue, refrains himself from asking the questions that have been haunting him all these years, questions that all begin with the word ‘why’.
“Here.” Lottie hands her brother a letter and a piece of paper. “Go to her gravesite, and open this letter once you’re there.”
Louis is about to protest but is interrupted when Lottie continues, says,
“That was her last wish.”
Harry keeps quiet on the short, 10-minute ride to the gravesite, loathing the depressing air that chokes them both but is powerless to lift it. The first word Louis says, that doesn’t involve him replying to anything, is uttered only when they arrive and Louis is standing over the glossy marble, which has his mother’s name carved into it.
“Unbelievable,” Louis says vaguely to no one in particular.
Harry stares at the gravestone, too, and does not say a single word.
With a sigh, the older man opens the letter, reads it silently with a dejected heart. He grips the paper tighter and tighter with every word read, and he releases a breath he doesn’t realize he’s withheld when the letter ends. Louis tries to hide his emotions, tries to put out the grief, anger, and disappointment that drown his sky blue eyes, but Harry notices; he always does.
Harry is curious, immensely so, of the words Louis’ mother wrote that make Louis look so torn apart, but he denies reading the letter himself when Louis hands it to him. Harry regards something like a mother’s last wish to be personal and private, meant only for Louis’ eyes to read.
Louis tucks the letter in his coat pocket, lets a few moments of silence to pass before saying,
“I don’t know what to feel.”
Harry keeps quiet and stares at Louis instead, indicating that he’s listening, and intently at that.
“For years I thought that she hated me,” Louis continues, his eyes devoid of emotion unlike his weary voice. “I was certain of it, as years went by without a word exchanged between us. I don’t know why she never called, or why I never did. Maybe too much time passed without a single word spoken that it would’ve been weird and forced to suddenly ring the other. Or maybe we were both afraid to admit that we had grown to be strangers. But there were a few things that always bugged me.”
Louis forms his palms into fists, says, “When she said that I should move, did she say it so I’d learn how to be independent, or did it mean she never wanted to see me again? Was it because she thought I was… abnormal? Was she ashamed of having me?”
Harry desperately wants to comfort Louis; desires to embrace him so that he could reassure the man that no matter what, he still has someone who loves him, more than he could ever imagine, but he does not move. Then, Louis says,
“To this day, I still don’t know. But what I’m sure of now, is the fact that she’s deeply sorry for all she’s done, for not being a good mother.”
He smiles, even though he’s broken inside. “You’d think a flimsy written apology wasn’t going to cut it, but I don’t know. I accept it. I forgive her, and I hope she forgives me too, because I didn’t try hard enough to stay.”
“What bothers me, though,” he continues, “is the fact that I won’t recognize her face in pictures, won’t remember how she looked like as I did with Lottie. I hate it, Haz—”
At the mention of his name, Harry looks up and meets Louis’ eyes, holds him in place as Louis continues,
“—because people who pass away live in the memories of their loved ones. They won’t die as long as they’re remembered, so doesn’t that make me some sort of murderer?”
After goodbyes were spoken and hugs exchanged, the sun is already sinking below the horizon.
During the 3-hour drive, they are basked in tense silence, and so Harry decides that they need to sidetrack for a while, and pulls a stop at the beach, which holds so many treasured memories of Harry and Louis: their first date, their first kiss—it is the place where everything began.
Louis is still silent as he sits on the golden sand, still refusing to utter a word even though Harry’s bare-chested and running towards the crashing waves with a massive cheer.
He watches instead; observes how Harry giddily dives into the sparkling blue and breaks surface, spurts water from his mouth like a fountain and flail his arms around, splashing, thrashing, trying to wash away the sadness and grief cloaking him the entire day. He beckons Louis over but the man politely declines with a smile and a gentle shake of his head, pretending to not see Harry’s slight pout. Minutes pass like that, with Harry trying to persuade Louis to come into the freezing water and Louis, shaking his head each and every time.
Harry gives up soon after and makes his way back to Louis, plops next to him whilst still dripping wet. Finally, he asks the question he’s been meaning to voice out ever since they got back from the gravesite. “You alright?”
Louis nods half-heartedly, to which Harry replies with great worry in his voice, “Lou, spit it out. What’s wrong?”
Seeing Louis so irresponsive scares Harry; strengthens his determination to figure out what’s bothering Louis, so he kisses Louis’ forehead, eyelids, nose, and lips. He keeps sprinkling soft kisses on Louis, keeps kissing him even though he’s not responding much, until he pushes the older man down gently, secures his hands on either side of Louis’ head. Now it’s the dying sun that’s highlighting the contours of Harry’s body instead of the faint moonlight, making his damp hair look like a halo, and right at that moment, a dangerous mix of emotions overcomes Louis—terror, grief, regret, and most peculiarly, love. His blue eyes turn glassy, just a little.
“Hey, hey, Lou.” Harry stops bombarding the man beneath him with loving kisses.
“I’ve been thinking,” Louis admits. “My mother’s image is vague, and it’ll disappear soon, I know it. I don’t want to forget her still. What if a time comes when I won’t even remember I had a mother at all?”
“You’ll remember,” Harry consoles. “No matter how blurry she looks like in your head, she’ll always be there.”
Louis shakes his head as if saying ‘you don’t understand’, sits upright and stares into the only thing he can focus on then: Harry’s deep, emerald green eyes. He says,
“If I can’t touch her, hear her voice, her image will fade. And that means she’ll die twice. I don’t want to be a—”
“Don’t,” Harry interrupts, eyes turning hard as stones as the words tumble out of his mouth. “You won’t forget her.”
Harry holds Louis’ gaze, means every word when he says, “I’ll make sure that never happens.”
Louis shatters at that moment, torn because there’s still another deadly thought that’s killing him inside, but he’s afraid to voice it out, lest he gives it even more power than it already has.
“What is it?” Harry asks, sensing Louis’ unspoken words.
But Louis is more afraid of creating a distance, another infinite trench between Harry and himself, than he is of the ominous thought, so he says it anyway, “What happens when you die, Harry?”
The sentence takes Harry by surprise.
“I won’t remember you,” Louis continues, the words tasting like poison on the tip of his tongue. “I’ll only be left with a ghost of you—invisible, untouchable. What do I do then?"
Harry’s mind reels, processes his own thoughts so that he could form a coherent sentence, but he’s out of words to say. He doesn’t want that to happen, doesn’t want Louis to forget him, because if that happens then it would be as if Harry never existed at all. He denies such a thought exists, but its possibility seems so pressing and real. Yes, Harry, what happens when the love of your life forgets you completely? What happens then?
But Harry swallows his fears, throws his worries to the ground and burns them so the entire world can see—he swears on his life that he will never let Louis forget, no matter what. And he believes in Louis wholeheartedly, believes he won’t do such a thing.
“You’ll remember,” Harry says, in such a confident tone that deters both Louis and himself for a second. “I trust you.”
“But I’ve been trying for years,” Louis says, even though he desperately wants to believe in Harry’s words. “I still can’t even recognize my own face in the mirror.”
“Don’t worry, Lou. One thing I know for sure is that you work best under pressure.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Louis asks, confusion dripping from his voice.
“It means,” Harry says, slowly, not even sure what’s coming out of his mouth but absolutely trusting the words anyway, “that when the time comes, you’ll remember.”
Louis catches the implied message, immediately notices the danger and recklessness of the sentence. He replies, with a much more careful tone, “…Then I don’t want to remember, because you’ll have to die first before I do. And it’ll be too late then.”
“No, I won’t.” Harry’s eyes are glinting with certainty. “I’ll always be here. I promise, Lou. I’ll be here when you remember me. Why would I miss the happiest moment of my life?”
There’s still doubt in Louis’ eyes, hesitance in his voice when he says, “I don’t trust myself, Harry.”
It takes a moment for Harry to figure out the words he’s about to speak. “Do you remember that time when I threw your notes of me into the sea?”
Louis nods, as an image of Harry’s moonlight-kissed back facing towards the endless sea, into the horizon, flashes through his mind.
“Well, I didn’t throw all those notes away,” he admits blatantly. “I kept some, even though you told me to get rid of them, even though I had to throw some in order to push you away, because I believed in you. I believed you were gonna remember.”
“So it’s okay if you don’t trust yourself,” Harry finishes. “Because I do. I always will.”
“Always?” Louis asks to reassure himself more than anyone.
“It’s such a strong word, though, Harry.” Louis says.
“It’s not just strong. ‘Always’ is a sacred word for us,” Harry responds as his faith strengthens his being. “We never say it unless we mean it. And we always mean it.”
That night, they embrace in the dark, Louis’ back is held against Harry’s torso, who soon closes the infinitesimal distance between them, presses tightly and holds him so close.
“Can you feel it?” Harry whispers against Louis’ ear.
There is no need for more words to be spoken because the thunderous beating of Harry’s heart penetrates through Louis’ back, soothes him with its irregular tempo; and so he turns, stares into infinitely green eyes and says,
Then their lips meet and everything else around them dissolves, and it is only the two of them living the moment, the two of them on the whole wide world and they don’t give a single damn. It doesn’t take long for it to morph from an innocent peck to a passionate kiss, of battling tongues and clashing teeth, of lip-biting and heavy breathing.
“Remember me,” Harry says in between kisses, “and never forget.”
“I’ll try,” Louis says, because that’s the closest to a promise he can get.
He desperately tries to close the invisible distance between them, craves for Harry’s heat to interlace their body and souls together.
When they finally break apart for air, Louis’ eyes scans the entirety of Harry’s face but he soon shuts them tight, furrows his eyebrows, infuriated because he can see everything else clearly—Harry’s chest, his toned arms, his messy hair—but his mind shuts down as soon his eyes land on Harry’s face, his every feature scrambling together, fades in and out; it’s so hard to draw a clear picture.
“Hey,” Harry says, kisses both of the older man’s closed eyelids. “What’s wrong?”
Louis presses down on his closed eyes. “Your face. I can’t see, I can’t—”
“Lou, open your eyes.”
Louis obliges, albeit rather slowly.
“Focus,” Harry instructs. “Focus on one thing at a time.”
Blue orbs ghost over the slope of Harry’s nose, the curve of his pink lips, the arch of his eyelashes, but disappears under eyelids once more. “I can’t.”
“You can, Lou. Come on,” Harry coaxes, softly. Call him selfish, but he doesn’t want Louis’ gaze to avert from his face. He wants Louis to stare deep into his eyes, see for himself the scorching inferno that burns for him only.
“It’s hard, H,” Louis admits. “You make it so hard to focus. How can I concentrate on just one at a time, when I want to see everything all at once?”
“Fuck, Lou,” Harry whispers against Louis’ mouth. “Come on. Focus.”
Louis retries, locks his eyes on Harry’s face, determined to burn his lover’s image deep to his mind, so deep that he’d see him even when he closes his eyes. Harry decides to help, trails his hands down Louis’ arms, the tips of his fingers feel featherlike, unearthly. Louis shuts his eyes immediately, inhales sharply.
“Keep looking at me,” Harry instructs as he gently caresses Louis’ curves.
It takes everything within Louis to crack his eyelids open, too overwhelmed with the wonderful feeling of Harry’s fingers sliding across his skin. It’s even harder to keep self-control when Harry starts peppering his nose, forehead, cheeks, lips and everywhere else with kisses. Louis shifts a little, wiggles under Harry’s weight and their centers collide, their heat meeting one another and Harry lets out an obscene, shameless groan.
Even when they were apart, when they couldn’t even touch one another, the desire within their beings still burns, still flaming so vehemently and it only takes a few minutes for them to be craving the sensation of skin against skin, of mouth against mouth, of noises harmonizing into one beautiful euphony. And as their bodies dance, move against one another like partners doing an intricate tango, Louis keeps his eyes open, fixed on the only image he wants carved into his mind.
That morning, the sun thaws the world and wakes it from its deep slumber, floods the dark room with its surreal light, its rays tickling life into the two men who are curled and fitted around each other like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
Harry is first to wake up—his arms feel numb around Louis’ waist—and he uses this moment to stare at Louis’ back—adoring the elegant contours of his body, his soft, feathery hair and breathes in his scent: earthly and absolutely mesmerizing—and places butterfly kisses all over: one to his nape, two to his shoulder blades, a peck to his ear, as if marking the places where he’s been like, I was here, and here, and here, but then Louis stirs awake, knowing from the all-to-familiar heat that it’s Harry embracing him from behind.
“Morning, Lou,” he whispers, tightening his embrace and burying his face in the crook of Louis’ neck.
Louis is suddenly reminded of the night before, so he stiffens, doesn’t turn, doesn’t move; doesn’t breathe.
Instead, time passes just like that, with Louis’ back fitted nicely against Harry’s torso, with sunlight flooding into the room, leaving no crook and cranny hidden from plain sight. It’s beautiful, Harry thinks. He wants to preserve this moment, capture it in amber and tie it around his entire being, so that he won’t forget the way Louis’ chest rise and fall as he learns to breathe, the way daylight breaks and scatters throughout the room like little translucent opals, the way his heart beats faster with the thought of Louis and nothing else.
“Morning,” Louis finally replies. As soon as he turns around, Harry touches Louis’ lips with his, soft and tender.
“Lou, I finally found something worth borrowing,” Harry admits breathlessly. “From that Chuck Lee guy.”
“Oh yeah?” Louis trails his hand over Harry’s forearms, up his shoulders to his neck, and stops on his cheek. “What is it?”
“Well, while I was reading the book I thought, what if we were in a crowded place, like a party? Maybe I’m on the other side of the room. How would you identify me out of all the people in there then?”
“Good question.” Louis furrows his eyebrows, visibly trying to wreck his brain for ideas. “I mostly rely on ‘touch’, but distance is its greatest flaw, really.”
“Though I can just come and kiss the fuck out of you but,” Harry muses, taking pleasure in the glare Louis gives him, “I’m sure you don’t want that.”
“It’s weird and I’d probably run away since I won’t recognize you initially,” Louis says. “Remember that.”
Harry chuckles; his laugh is light and airy, bathes the room with the kind of warmth that could outmatch the sun’s rays. “And that’s when I read the part where Chuck made his wife get tattoos, so he’d remember her more easily.”
“So you’re thinking of getting tattoos?”
Harry nods enthusiastically.
As Louis lazily draws his initial on Harry’s skin with the tip of his index finger, an idea dawns upon him and he lights up as he says, “Or better yet, we could get tattoos.”
“Yeah.” Louis is sitting upright now, though his hand is still sprawled on Harry’s chest. He feels Harry’s heart flutter under his palm. “You know, matching tattoos. So I’d always remember that you’re mine too.”
“Fuck.” Harry leans in to kiss Louis, open-mouthed.
“What?” Louis says instead, not responding to Harry’s heated declaration of love. “I think it’s a good idea.”
“No,” he smiles, fully displaying the dimples on both sides of his cheeks, “it’s fucking brilliant.”
On the way to the tattoo parlor, Louis and Harry share a heated discussion about what kind of tattoos they should get. Harry wants something eccentric and has deep value—he wants the tattoos to be personal, so that they are the only people in the world who are able to understand the ink drawings on their skin. Louis agrees and adds that they should make the tattoo big enough so that it’ll be visible even from miles away.
“We should get more than one,” Harry suggests, eyes never leaving the endless road in front of him as he swerves the car left, then right, then left again. “That way you’d have more triggers.”
“It’d hurt like a bitch though,” Louis says in retrospect, imagining a sharp needle piercing through his skin, creates permanent drawings on his body.
“Oh, come on,” Harry persuades, his tone light but alluring at its edges, the one that’s able to tempt Louis into doing anything he wants. “You’ll be fine, trust me. And besides, I know how to make the pain go away.”
Harry doesn’t have to look to feel Louis’ burning glare on his skin.
After a few words were exchanged to coax one another and more than a few kisses to shut the other one up, they come to a mutual agreement that they’ll get two tattoos each, period. Harry wants more, because he likes the thought of Louis’ skin being brandished with tattoos that match his, telltale signs that Louis is his, and his only, but Louis doesn’t want to go crazy on their first time.
They decide on a realistic compass on the inside of Louis’ right arm which points to the ship adorning Harry’s left bicep like a peculiar piece of jewelry; and a rope on the inside of Louis’ right wrist that perfectly matches the anchor just below the back of Harry’s left hand.
If they were to stand side by side—Louis on Harry’s left—their tattoos would align perfectly: the rope tied to form the symbol of ‘infinity’, which commemorates the first thought Louis had when he stared into Harry’s eyes, complements the anchor below the back of Harry’s right hand, an anchor that keeps them grounded and humble even through rough times, through perilous waters; the compass on Louis’ arm points to Harry’s ship as if declaring that Harry is true north, and that he is his home.
That night, they unite in smoldering passion, bodies tight and folded against each other, filling up all the empty spaces between them, lips ravishing patches of bare skin, igniting flames one kiss at a time. They’re set ablaze like two infernos feeding off each other’s heat, glowing stronger and stronger by the minute.
Louis’ hand ghost over the bandages on Harry’s left arm, covering the ship and the anchor, caressing his skin as softly as humanly possible, and yet Harry feels as if his skin is still on the brink of turning to ash.
“Lou, wait,” Harry rasps as he lifts of the older man’s hand off his arm. “No touching.”
“But I thought you liked it when I touch you,” Louis teases. “Thought you wanted me on you all the time.”
“I do,” Harry groans. “I really do. But I don’t want you to keep relying on touch too much.”
Louis nods, softly says, “Okay.”
Harry sees the anxiety in Louis’ blue eyes, sees how they slowly fog up with worry and terror like ominous clouds hovering across the morning sky, so he says, “Alright, Lou,” picks up the flustered man’s hand and traces circles on the back of it with the pad of his thumb. Louis visibly relaxes, feels as if Harry’s got him on the other end of the line, pulling him away from the edge. “We can hold hands until morning comes, okay?”
“Don’t let go of my hand until then,” Louis pleads, because he needs Harry’s heat, needs to feel the pulse under his skin to reassure him that everything’s going to be fine.
Harry brings up Louis hand to his face, kisses it slowly and lets his lips linger. The skin under Harry’s mouth feels hot and pulsates with desire. “I won’t.”
“Promise,” Harry says against his lover’s hand, as if marking his existence to Louis’ very being. “I’ll be here for you. Always.”
The next morning, Harry stays true to his promise, and they share the bathroom to take the bandages off carefully, using warm water and leaving the skin to dry off naturally, all on its own. The tattoos look glorious under the light, and the fact that it’s permanent signifies their love, Harry thinks. It cannot be undone; it’s eternal.
“Do you remember Niall?” Harry asks, once they’re seated on the sofa, comfortable against each other. “Niall Horan?”
Louis wrecks his mind, tries to come up with an image, but only receives vague information in the end. “Uh, kind of. Blonde and Irish?”
“Yeah,” Harry says. “He’s throwing a party at his house tonight, and I think we should go. You know, test out our tattoos and all.”
Louis is a bit uneasy, but if Harry’s willing to check it out then so will he. “Okay.”
“We’ll get to socialize, too,” Harry adds.
“I’ve never been very good at that,” Louis says, and Harry makes a face, as if he couldn’t believe what came out of Louis’ mouth.
“I can’t remember people’s faces,” Louis reasons. “That doesn’t make me very likeable.”
Harry thinks for a while then gets up. “But we can change that.” Then he runs up the stairs, the sound of his feet stomping echoes throughout the entire house.
“Harry, what are you doing?” Louis calls out, hears a reply but it’s too subdued to be audible.
Not long after, Harry hurries down the stairs with Louis’ notebook in his hands. “Maybe you’ve been doing it wrong.”
Once Harry’s seated next to Louis, he waves the notebook in front of him and continues, “All this time, whenever you meet a new person, you write their traits in here. But do you actually keep in contact with them? Do you meet them on a daily basis?”
Louis shakes his head slowly. He doesn’t know where Harry’s going with this.
“That’s the problem,” Harry says animatedly, giddy as if he’s finally figured out the answer to a lifelong question. “Chuck Lee said that he always spends a lot of time with the new people he’s met. Keep in contact, figure out little things other people don’t pay attention to, and he’s able to remember them clearly.”
“It makes sense, actually,” Harry continues. “You remember me most out of the other people you’ve met because you pay a lot of attention to me, right?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself, H,” Louis says in mock arrogance. “But yeah, I guess so.”
“So, how about this,” Harry says, flips the yellowed pages from beginning to end. “We meet all the people you’ve listed here, and spend quality time together with them. Get to really know them.”
“That’s crazy,” Louis retorts. “I’ve listed lots of people and there’s no way we’ll be able to meet them all today.”
“Just some then,” Harry says. “Until the party starts.”
“I don’t know…”
“Come on, Lou,” he persuades. “You won’t be alone. I’ll be right there with you.”
And though the reluctance in his heart is immense, Louis agrees.
“Great!” Harry exclaims. “Oh, and let’s make a promise.”
“Once you can remember people without needing to take down notes, promise me that you’ll throw this notebook away into the sea. Just like I did with some of your notes.”
Hesitance exudes from Louis, drowns his words, “But it’s been with me all this time.”
“It’s been with you and your prosopagnosia,” Harry says, almost tripping on the last word. “Throwing it away when you don’t need it anymore is a sign of victory.”
The idea seems appealing to Louis right then; he likes the thought of him winning against his so-called ‘incurable’ disease, and so he promises, with as much vigor as Harry is emitting.
The first person on the list is Tori. She’s Louis’ neighbor, and was kind when he first moved here, but she gradually grew distant as Louis kept forgetting who she was, even though he’d written her features in his notebook. Sometimes it’s still hard telling who’s who even if he’s got their features jotted down on paper, because Louis’ choice of words aren’t pictures—they paint an image but are still vague nonetheless, will never be as clear as a photo.
Harry thinks that it is proper manners to bring gifts when they visit, so he drives to the bakery to pick up blueberry cheesecakes and places them in trademark Twisters boxes. Once he returns, they walk the minute distance to Tori’s house.
Louis has his heart is in his throat as he knocks on the front door, and he feels like he’s experiencing eternity even though only five seconds has passed. When the door opens, and a plump woman with dirty blonde hair, dressed in comfortable white T-shirt and jeans, shows up, Louis becomes so nervous he’s unable to speak. So Harry starts off for him and says,
“Hi, Harry,” she responds. She throws on a crooked smile, her trademark, and looks at Louis, trying to suppress her curiosity. “Louis.”
“Hi, Tori,” Louis says after finding his courage and will to speak. He can’t let nerves win, not now. He has to do this, has to succeed. So he gives Tori his brightest smile, holds the box in his hand up higher and says, “We wanted to pay you a visit. And we brought cake for you, too.”
Surprise and confusion is still etched on every crease of her forehead, but she conceals it with a smile as she takes the gift from Louis’ hands. “Thank you. Well, come on in.”
As they do so, Louis smells fresh paint and discreetly takes in Tori’s features—her dirty blonde hair is matted, plastered to her forehead with sweat, her nails are chopped and her fingers are calloused—so he makes an assumption and let the words roll off his tongue.
“Nice place you’ve got here,” Louis says. “You’ve done a fantastic job touching up.”
Tori can’t help but grin at that; she doesn’t expect anyone to notice that she’s in the midst of redecorating her place. “Thanks. Spent weeks just to get all the hallways painted.”
“Well, you certainly spent it well,” Louis says, whistles as he marvels at the lack of white spots on the walls. “You didn’t miss a single spot.”
“Appreciate it,” Tori thanks, chuckles with glee. “Certainly didn’t think any of you boys would notice, but who would’ve thought? Anyway, can I get you boys anything? Coffee, tea?”
“Tea would be nice,” Harry says.
“I’ll have what he’s having,” Louis says, his earlier discomfort diminishing completely.
Tori gives a cheerful nod and makes her way to the kitchen. Once she’s out of earshot, Harry says, dubiously, “Thought you were nervous.”
“I was,” Louis admits. “But I think I’m getting the hang of it.”
“You’re a natural, Lou,” Harry complements, laughs when he sees Louis pull a mock arrogant ‘of course’ face.
And after Tori returns, with two cups of tea, one coffee and three plates of blueberry cheesecake in hand, the conversation sparks and rolls from there; Louis makes jokes at the appropriate moments, makes fun of Harry when he makes terrible knock-knock jokes, and joyful laughter soon resonates off the walls, lights up the air with its vibrancy. Tori is warming up to Louis, gradually, and he always tries to inconspicuously take note of her distinguishable traits in his mind—he notices a birthmark, which looks like a crescent moon, in the hollow of her neck; he sees a little scar across her left eyebrow; he reminds himself of the way she walks and holds herself—elegant but full of buoyancy, as if she can be charismatic and act foolish at the same time. All these little things, he takes into heart and burns into memories, so that he’ll never forget.
Three hours melt away so quickly when they are having fun—and after they almost died from laughing when Harry fell face-first as he tried to do a handstand, the two men decide to leave. Tori sees them off with a heavy heart and a slight frown, and she makes them promise to visit her the next day, as she will treat them to a gigantic homemade meal. Louis tells her they cannot wait, and leaves her house, all warm and jittery inside.
The next house is the last for today, and it’s decided that they’ll drive to Jake’s, Louis’ regular plumber.
“I don’t know who Jake is,” Harry says in the car. “So you have to open up a conversation yourself.”
Louis, though a little bit nervous as he got the initial vibe that Jake is not as easy-going as Tori, nods nonetheless and says, “I just hope he likes blueberry cheesecake.”
Harry makes an exaggerated shocked face. “Everyone likes blueberry cheesecake.”
And Harry turns out to be right after all. Jake absolutely adores the dessert, and even though he seems threatening with his muscles and burly moustache, he turns out to be a kind man, who’s got a soft spot for blueberry cheesecake and horses. He admires horses with a passion.
“Horses are strong,” he says. “They’re fast and incredibly nimble. An average horse weighing five hundred kilograms travels on the same bones as would a human on tiptoe!”
He’s always so engrossed in his talk about horses that Louis doesn’t even need to lay low, he can just stare and Jake wouldn’t even notice. He takes into account the way he sputters whenever he says words containing the letter ‘s’; he notices that Jake’s left pinky is a missing due to a plumbing accident; and he memorizes the horseshoe tattoo on the back of the man’s neck.
The time with Jake passes as quickly as it had with Tori, as they participate in a heated argument over what would win in a fight: a horse or a shark. Louis bursts into laughter every single time Harry tries to mimic a horse swimming away from a shark whilst saying ‘they wouldn’t get to shore because they’d be too busy sinking!’ to which Jake would reply ‘they can kick the sharks in their eyes with their horseshoes!’ so passionately, Harry doesn’t even notice all the spit that Jake’s sputtering out. The funny thing is, Harry really does seem as engrossed on this discussion as Jake is.
When they leave, Jake gives them a quick hug and pats their backs, and they promise they’d see him soon, and Jake calls out that their argument is not over yet. Harry says that he accepts the challenge.
By the time they get to Niall’s house, it’s already well past one in the morning but the party’s still going—the two-story house is lit up with colorful lights, and pulses with thunderous music that’s sure to disturb neighbors within a couple mile radius. Good thing Niall’s place is quite isolated, which means that they can party as loud, and as long as they want. Before they leave the car, Harry says quizzically,
“I still can’t believe anyone would think a horse would win in a fight with a shark.”
“I still can’t believe you actually fought him about it,” Louis retorts, opens the door, motions for Harry to follow.
They stop before the front door, feel the thumping of music beneath their feet, and look at each other.
“I’ll go in first,” Harry says. “You wait here for ten seconds. Then, come find me.”
“Okay,” Louis says, his voice sounding strained and forced.
“When you find me,” Harry says, and despite the ‘no touching’ rule for the time being, he grabs hold of Louis’ neck, brings their faces so close together until the tip of their noses are touching, “I’m gonna kiss the fuck out of you.”
He opens the door, closing it abruptly afterwards, leaving Louis with his mouth agape and eyes blown with lust. It’s too long since they’ve last touched—though Louis is sure last night they did more than just touch, but that moment feels far, far away. And Harry’s reward only fuels his already-burning determination.
He counts the seconds down:
Ten, nine, eight—
He thinks of Harry’s full lips on his, soft and hot and full of lust.
Seven, six, five—
He thinks of Harry’s tongue between his lips, parting them open slowly, inhales as he licks inside.
Four, three, two—
He thinks of Harry’s lips playing with his tongue, thinks of Harry’s teeth pulling on his bottom lip with enough force to make the sensation feel amazing, yet without drawing blood, so good until he melts and his knees buckle—
He bursts into the house, hell-bent on looking for Harry, because he needs his lips on him now.
People turn to stare at him but he doesn’t care; it’s only a mass of faceless, moving bodies anyway, and soon enough they avert their gaze from the crazy-looking guy with the glazed-over blue eyes. He scans the room, searches for a ship or an anchor tattoo; it’s useless trying to pick out Harry’s trademark, brown, tangled strands of curly hair as he has covered his head with a blue beanie, which a lot of guys here are wearing.
The music is loud, and it pulsates up his feet and through his heart, making it feel like its beating is irregular even though it’s not. The useless chatter and the booming of the beats fuse together to form a dangerous cacophony, roaring until his brain melts out of his ears—but he tries to ignore it best he could. Louis focuses on each individual person, desperate to find Harry in the sea of people, but the bodies moving up against him, either accidentally or deliberately, are so distracting that it takes him longer than need be to navigate through the crowd.
It takes everything within Louis not to trip and fall and shame himself in front of all these people, but it’s getting increasingly difficult with the sudden rise in tempo, which causes people to dance faster and, as a result, bump into him more often.
The thrumming in his veins makes Louis thinks that he has the music as his blood, the bass-drops as his pulse, and the drums his every heartbeat. It’s not such a terrible feeling, if he weren’t so distracted with lust and the goal to find Harry, which seems impossible as of the moment.
But just when Louis is weighing the option to cheat and shout Harry’s name loud enough to be heard over the music, he spots him—there, the tall guy in the black tank top, showing both his toned arms and the tattoos which adorn his left, holding up a drink to his mouth. He’s talking to a blonde guy who Louis can only guess as Niall, the owner of the house. Louis literally has to shove people to get to Harry, gets curses thrown at him even though he apologizes as he rushes to the younger man with such shameful haste.
When Louis is standing right behind Harry, he turns him around violently, smashes his lips into Harry’s and kisses him as if he’s starving—teeth clashing, tongue-biting, open-mouthed and sloppy. Louis hears Niall whistle and chuckle, hears something along the line of ‘well, have fun, lads’ before disappearing, both from sight and Louis’ care.
After they break apart for air, Harry’s eyes are dilated and his lips are swollen to a reddish-pink. “I thought I was gonna kiss the fuck out of you.”
“Same difference,” Louis mutters against Harry’s lips. It’s as if he couldn’t get enough of him, and he has to keep kissing him to breathe, to live.
“Lou, stop,” Harry says, groans when Louis presses their body together at just the right angle with the right amount of pressure. “We’re not doing it here.”
“Then let’s go home,” Louis says breathlessly, whines into Harry’s mouth.
“We just got here,” Harry tries to reason. Louis is making it more difficult for Harry to form a coherent sentence. “And we’re not gonna do it in some guy’s room.”
“But Haz,” Louis says, between kisses. “I need you. I want you on me now.”
“Don’t you dare pull that card on me, Louis Tomlinson,” Harry groans, but it’s all just empty threats.
Even though Harry keeps protesting about not using Niall’s room, they end up using it anyway.
Harry makes a mental note to be nicer to Niall from now on.
They leave the party at three in the morning, even though it’s still going strong. It’s a wonder how those people can keep going, really. Two hours in and already Harry and Louis feel so beat they can barely move; or maybe the fact that they made rough love while everybody else was too busy dancing and drinking makes the difference.
Just as they did after they came back from the funeral, they decide to sprawl on the beach and wait for sunrise, which is due two hours from now.
Bodies spent and too hot for comfort, they find relief in the freezing water licking at their feet, cooling them down enough for them to speak.
“Best party ever,” Harry says, winded.
“Best sex ever, you mean,” Louis says shamelessly, earning a laugh from Harry.
“You got me there, Boo.”
They pass the moment in silence, regaining the energy they’ve lost little by little, until they can finally move again and Harry’s the first to sit upright. He marvels at the endless horizon, at the star-spangled sky, at his lover laying on his back right beside him. He thinks if he were to die at that moment, he’d die with a huge grin on his face.
“Soon, you’ll be able to remember me,” Harry voices his wish aloud, “without even glancing at my tattoos.”
Louis smiles, props his body with his elbow and stares at Harry, focuses on those emerald green eyes he adores so much. “I just wish soon would come sooner.”
“Me too,” Harry says.
They stay like that, Harry’s eyes locking with Louis’, green meeting blue, Earth touching Sky, and they swear they are floating in eternity, in the limitless space between the moon and the earth; and if they could freeze time, they’d freeze it at this moment—with the alluring sea sweeping their feet, beckoning them to come over, the cold night wind playing with their hair, like ghostly fingers running down their scalp, Harry’s loving gaze and Louis’ intact memories.
“I love you,” Harry confesses. He closes the finite distance between their bodies, holds the back of Louis’ neck, leans in and kisses him tenderly, stealing the words from Louis’ lips. “I love you so much that it hurts.”
Louis forms his mouth, tries to reply with as much intimacy and fondness he’s feeling, but Harry’s taking the words literally off his lips, making it impossible to say anything. He could only stare, focus on Harry’s features one at a time: green eyes, burning with passion, curved pink lips, soft like feathers, high-bridged nose that pokes Louis’ cheek every time they kiss. When Louis breathes in enough air between their kisses he finally manages to say the only thing flooding his mind right at that moment,
“Haz, why are you so beautiful?”
“I ask that question to myself everyday,” Harry says cheekily. “But, Lou, I’m here, breathing you in like I’m suffocating, because you’re so amazing that it hurts; hurts like a bitch when I stayed away, hurts even more when I’m near you, because you make me feel like I’m always starving for human contact.”
“Wow, Haz,” Louis teases, flashing Harry a toothy grin whilst running the tips of his fingers along the other’s forearm, forming goosebumps as he goes. “Big words.”
“Sometimes you make it so hard to love you,” Harry says, ignoring Louis’ tease. “Because it hurts so much when you couldn’t remember, when you told me to go. I wanted to hate you then, because it’ll be much easier for the both of us, but—”
Harry holds both sides of Louis’ head, stares hard, directly into those beautiful blue eyes. “—I can’t. I can’t un-love you, Lou. It’s like when I fell for you, I’m fucked to the ends of the earth, because I see you everywhere, every day.”
Louis is out of words, so he only stares back at Harry with as much passion he’s emitting.
“I love you,” Harry repeats to conclude. “I just love you so much, you twat.”
Louis processes Harry’s words; commit them not to mind only, but the soul and body. “Harry, that was the most amazing speech I’ve ever heard. I can’t compete with that.”
Louis touches his lips to Harry’s, so tenderly and slowly—savoring the sensation, every inch of skin meeting skin—as his way of saying ‘I love you so much, words just can’t describe’, but he tries and says it anyway,
“I love you, too, Harry.” It sounds weak so he repeats, tries with a stronger tone this time, and laces it with much more affection and honesty in an attempt to capture the depth of his feelings toward this dorky, curly-haired guy. “I’m in love with you—always have been, always will.”
And with every kiss, Louis adds, “Always.”
It soon becomes a chant of ‘always’, some kind of prayer Louis will repeat over and over again until the day he dies.
“That’s even better than my speech,” Harry says with a laugh when they break apart. “You don’t understand what you do to me, Lou.”
“Speak for yourself,” Louis says, rests on his palms as he watches the horizon in the far-off distance.
There’s something Harry’s been meaning to say all this time, but he’s never managed to muster up enough courage until now. After finally learning that Louis returns his love with as much passion as he harbors, he gets the feeling that this is the right moment to bring the matter up. But the thing is, because he’s Harry, he always has to say things of utmost importance with wit, never knowing how to deliver it in such a serious tone because he’ll end up laughing at himself. So he thinks for a while, and as the wind quiets down and the birds stop squawking as if to let him speak, he says,
“We’ll bring our kids here someday, and years later they’ll bring theirs, then our kids’ kids will bring their own—and we’ll be old, happy granddads sprawled on the beach like this; and we’ll still be all over each other.”
It takes a moment for Louis to absorb Harry’s words, and it takes another moment for them to click in his head, but when they do, his eyes seem like they’re about to pop out of their sockets, and his mouth hangs wide open. “Harry Styles, are you proposing to me?”
“It depends,” Harry says wittily, but holds Louis’ gaze once more, with as much zealousness as before. “Would you say yes if I were?”
The thing is: Louis has always been attracted to Harry from the get-go. Perhaps it was his wit, or his unpredictable sense of humor, or his alluring charm, Louis doesn’t know. The initial attraction was mutual, and Louis found himself falling harder and harder for Harry, and it’s come to the point where he thinks it’s impossible to love a person any more than this. Louis loves everything about Harry—his dimples, his curly hair, his green eyes, his knock-knock jokes, his cuddles, his kisses; his everything. So it doesn’t take long for Louis to respond, doesn’t take long for Louis to say fervidly,
“Of course, you twat.”
“That settles it, then,” Harry says. “I love you, Louis Tomlinson, and I’m proposing to you.”
“No rings?” Louis asks, though he only half-means it. With or without a ring, Louis would forever say yes to Harry.
“Ring comes after,” Harry says, green eyes twinkling. “I have my own way of doing things. Stand up.”
Louis does, but Harry stays on one knee, grasps Louis’ hand with both of his, and holds it close near his heart.
“Louis Tomlinson,” he begins, and already Louis is grinning like a madman, “will you marry me?”
“Yes,” Louis answers without hesitance, embraces Harry like there’s no tomorrow. “Yes, I will.”
“Will you always love me?” Harry whispers the question Louis has asked long ago to the man’s ear. He knows the answer but needs to hear it come from Louis’ mouth so that it becomes eternal.
“Always,” Louis says their sacred word, repeats it once, then twice. “Always.”
And they stay in each other’s arms until dawn approaches, slowly as if it has been asleep for an eternity, and the couple watches the sun rise, creeps above the horizon, floods the sea with its glittering golden light.
The following days, Louis triples his effort to remember people’s faces better, especially Harry’s. He refuses to not recognize his soon-to-be-husband’s face.
He knows he’s promised Harry to not use the notebook, to not rely on its yellowed pages, but old habits die hard, and he finds himself writing about Harry when the man’s not staring, which rarely ever happens. He writes little notes, such as:
‘Focus on one thing at a time. Focus on Harry’s deep green eyes. Focus on his lips, or his nose. Associate the tattoo with Harry’s image. Don’t forget.’
‘Need to stop using the tattoos so much. Need to remember Harry’s face without them. Use Harry’s eyes as an anchor. They’ll remind me of his image.’
And one day, when he grows restless because his notebook isn’t helping him much, Louis decides to read Chuck Lee’s autobiography himself for inspiration, and Harry doesn’t protest.
All these years Louis has been trying to ignore the fact that he has prosopagnosia, doesn’t accept the fact that he’s ‘different’ from others, doesn’t like the idea of him being deemed as handicapped. But once Louis reads Chuck Lee’s words, all his hatred and self-pity dissolve at that moment.
‘Truly, I hated it when people saw me and did not utter a word; but their eyes spoke volumes on how they looked down upon me, how they thought themselves as superior than myself due to my disease. From there, I developed an arrogance I’m not proud of—I thought that avoidance was the only real option so I’d only hurt myself, but really, that was me being selfish. By telling myself that I wouldn’t hurt anyone else, I’m indirectly putting the blame on society for not accepting me, for not stopping my actions of self-harm.’
‘That was wrong of me. In truth, society wanted to help. They weren’t as bad as everyone like me thought they were, in reality. I just needed to stop pushing people away and get them into my life instead. So I decided to try my best and remember the people I’ve met.’
‘It was hard at first. I kept a tape so I could record a person’s data, but I didn’t think it made much of a difference. It was still hard for me to remember, so I tried to figure out what I had done wrong. One day, I was sitting on the couch fussing over my tapes and my wife told me to get out, get some fresh air and hang with people, lest I become too engrossed in trying to outthink my prosopagnosia. Then it hit me. The key for me to remember other people was by spending time with them, notice all the little details other people tend to overlook.’
‘And once I figured out the trick, everything else came easy. I didn’t need the tapes anymore, to be honest. I’d just pay extra close attention to the people I meet and try to spend more time with them; and I remember all of them clearly now. I can see their emotions, too, and some parts of their face if they don’t move around too much. But you know, dear reader, if you’re suffering from prosopagnosia just like me, know that even though it seems incurable, you can think outside the box and beat it at its own game! The key is paying more attention and spending lots of quality time together. Really, we’re actually not bad at socializing; in fact, we may be the best at it considering all the effort we put to memorize other people’s smallest details. So don’t give up. Fight back. Who knows, maybe one day you can finally see the face of your loved ones as clear as a picture…’
This is golden information; sure it’s only repeating what Louis has learned from Harry, but reading by himself the words of a person who’s won over their prosopagnosia makes the possibility of his own victory even greater, makes it seem realer and within reach. So Louis tries even harder in disregarding his notebook, pays more attention to Harry’s stance, the way he walks, the way he falls asleep. He’s determined to win; and he’s sure he will.
One morning, Louis tries to do something different, wakes up an hour before dawn and heads for the kitchen.
Usually it’s always Harry who makes eggs on toast every morning before they go their separate ways to tend to their daily necessities, but Louis wants to surprise him for a change. Harry’s the one that does the surprising quite often lately—with the sudden increase in humor, the promotion and the doubling in his pay—and Louis doesn’t want to lose.
The night before, Louis searched the web for a meal he’d be able to cook: a grandeur, but relatively easy dish to make. He came across recipes for blueberry waffles, homemade granola, sausage casserole, hash browns—nothing really stroke his interest. But then he stumbled upon a menu he thought he’d try, even though it wasn’t a typical breakfast meal.
Good thing his fridge is filled to the brim with ingredients, so all he has to do is sort through it and find the materials he needs.
Once he has them all, he inhales deeply, and starts to work.
The delicious, mouth-watering aroma wakes Harry up, makes him go down the stairs even though he’s still in a half-asleep state, still shuffling, tripping on his feet. When he sees Louis’ figure bent over the stove, hands flailing in a careful manner, obviously working on the dish he’s making, Harry reels back, surprised.
“Lou, you’re cooking,” Harry states the obvious.
“Yes, I am. Surprised, Haz?” Louis says, his back still facing Harry.
“Wait, so,” Harry starts to walk towards Louis before the man waves his hand to shoo him away, “this is your first ever cooking experience?”
“And you’re not letting me see?”
“You will, soon enough,” Louis reassures. “Just sit down and wait, H.”
Harry does, but he’s sitting on the edge of his seat, impatient to see what exactly Louis is making, even more desperate to taste it.
Minutes pass and Harry almost explodes with excitement, on the brink of going up in flames like a firecracker, until Louis hands out a plate of steaming chicken in front of Harry. The scent is enough to make him go haywire with hunger and gluttony.
“Here it is,” Louis proudly declares. “Chicken breast wrapped in ham, with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy. Enjoy.”
Louis sits across from Harry who thanks him loudly and digs in. He watches as the younger’s eyes emit joy, glee, and pride at the same time, and at that moment Louis thinks he’s made the best achievement of his life. He cherishes the thought that his food, which he prepared with so much love and tender care, makes his lover light up like a beacon.
“Wow, this,” Harry says even though his mouth is still full, “is amazing. You’re incredible, Lou. I love this a lot. Thank you. You should make this more often.”
Louis feels pride rise up to his cheeks, makes his heart flutter in an irregular tempo. “You’re welcome.”
There is no describing how much Harry’s next words elevate him to the heavens, makes him reluctant to touch his feet to the ground.
“You’re gonna be a great dad, Lou.”
It’s unfair how days go by too fast when you’re spending it with joy, laughter, and love.
Louis is getting better at telling people apart, and is almost a professional with picking Harry out from a crowd. He just knows the contours of Harry’s body, the curls of his hair, the tattoos on his arm and they way he holds himself so well, that it doesn’t take much effort at all. Harry is proud of Louis because of a variety of different reasons: he’s proud that Louis is slowly shedding his self-pity, gradually learning to accept his prosopagnosia and tries to live with it, getting better at both socializing and showing his immeasurable fondness for Harry.
Not a day go by without them touching their lips in heated passion, without their bodies dancing, moving against each other, without their sweat mixing and noises harmonizing into one beautiful euphony—a song that Louis wants playing for an eternity.
It’s gradual, but Louis is starting to ignore the notebook by the table, lets it forever sit there accompanied by its loneliness. Even now, when he looks in the mirror, he’s not as surprised as he used to be, and he can safely say that there is no stranger there; only a healing man looking back at him with content in his sky blue eyes.
The little glass jar with the words ‘For Our Future’ is slowly filling up with small changes and little dollar bills. When it’s full they aim to finally purchase engagement rings and make the necessary transactions to hold a proper marriage. Yes, they’re already a married couple at heart and soul, but Louis says they need it official because he wants everyone to know. And the thought of Louis wanting to brand Harry as forever his, ignites a fire within Harry’s center so vigorously that he thinks it’s impossible to get even more aroused than that.
The storm can be classified as one of the most vicious this month, as if mimicking the merciless typhoon that took over Louis’ being long ago. Thunders boom and lightning splits the night sky in two. The raindrops are like bullets pelting the windows, so hard that Louis thinks that the glass may get scratches all over or worse, break from the assail.
Louis is reluctant to let Harry go out in the storm, but the man does not listen as he cannot wait even a second longer to purchase the engagement rings they’ve been dreaming about, as their jar is finally filled to the brim despite being opened countless times to fix leaks on the roof, cover holes in the basement, et cetera.
“Just wait until the storm dies down,” Louis pleads. “It’s too dangerous to go out.”
“But I know a store that has this pair of gorgeous engagement rings,” Harry says, hand already on the doorknob. “They only have one left in stock last time I checked, so I have to go there. I don’t want to risk losing it.”
Worry overcomes Louis, clouds his eyes like another thunderstorm, but Harry kisses him to clear it away. “I’ll be back soon, Lou.”
Louis holds Harry’s forearms tight, and though he is reluctant to let go, he does so anyway with a heavy heart and says, “Promise you’ll come home safely.”
“I promise,” Harry says, plants a tender kiss on Louis’ forehead, “that you’ll definitely hear from me.”
Before Harry heads out, before his figure is swallowed by the raging storm outside, he yells, loud so his voice can be carried out for miles, “I love you, Lou!”
“Love you too!” Louis shouts back, but Harry is already running towards his car.
The night drags on with Louis curled into a ball by the fireplace, a blanket covering his shoulders, praying hard so that Harry comes back to him without a scratch. He chants the words ‘he always keeps his promises’ in his mind until it morphs into a single ‘always’, but Louis is still repeating it over and over, as if the sound of the word itself is his source of strength.
It’s difficult to see the road ahead with the rain smashing hard against his windows and the fog cloaking everything around him. So, Harry drives slowly, cautiously, turning on his headlights, hoping they reach as far as they could.
Louis does everything he could to not fall asleep. He busies himself by making coffee, wakes his body by drinking it, and keeps himself warm by the fire. He turns on the radio and picks a channel he likes, the one that plays music 24/7, and he breathes a sigh of relief when an upbeat tune comes to life, shaking the sleep away from his being. He occupies his mind with the thought of Harry, and Harry only.
The snail-like speed he keeps slows his down greatly, turning the usual 45-minute drive to an hour and a half, but he exhales a breath he’s not aware he’s been holding, when he finally reaches the 24-hour jewelry store. He hurries inside; his hand buried deep in his coat pocket, holding onto the money they saved up, their ticket to their dream, a perfect tomorrow.
Reason escapes Louis’ mind, but he thinks that he has to stay awake until Harry arrives. An urgent feeling inside him orders him to remain lucid, to fight off the sleep that’s already holding him in a death grip. For all intents and purposes, he must stay awake, no matter what. So he turns up the volume of the radio, the music blaring throughout the house, the sound ricocheting off the walls and becomes his second heart—he feels that familiar sensation again: the music surging up his feet and through his heart, becomes his blood; the bass-drops, his pulse; and the drums, his every heartbeat. He is suddenly thrown back to that party long ago, but is only reminded of Harry’s body flushed against his, lips on lips, hands groping and clothes flying everywhere, desperate for their skin to touch and heat collide.
The woman in the navy blue uniform greets Harry when he enters the store. Without another second going to waste, he asks whether the store still has the engagement rings he wants in stock. He swears he feels like he’s going to crumble into nothingness when he sees the disappointment in the woman’s face, but that feeling is soon replaced with hope as the employee lights up, suddenly remembering that they still have one pair left in stock.
She congratulates Harry on his engagement; only reels back a little when he says,
“Louis is gonna love these.”
Harry’s sure of that, because the rings are simple but made out of pure gold—and it has the words ‘always’ written in cursive, carved elaborately, and yet so delicately, into them. That simple word makes the rings feel sacred, feel so intimate to Harry that he does not hesitate when he makes the purchase then leaves, disappearing once more into the unrelenting storm.
The radio is still on, blasting on full volume, but the music suddenly shifts into a soft piano tune, and though Louis tries hard to fight it, the accursed melody lulls the man, pushes him further to the edge of sleep—and he falls, tumbles down the cliff with no one there to pull him up.
Harry is still careful during the drive home. He has the box that contains the pair of rings on his lap, and he steals a glance of it every now and then. He knows it’s dangerous and he shouldn’t do it, but there is no helping the enthusiasm that’s building within him, about to explode like fireworks adorning the sky. But he keeps his pace anyway, and smiles wider with the thought of the engagement rings, a happy, married life, and Louis. Louis, Louis, Louis.
The sunlight is as relentless as the storm that wrecked apart the town the night before, breaking through the glass and glaring on patches of Louis’ bare skin, stirring him violently awake. He doesn’t need his mirror to know how he looks like, because he already feels like a mess, doesn’t need his notebook to remember his lover’s image—and it suddenly dawns upon him that he’s fallen asleep without waiting for Harry to come home.
Louis hurries to the front door, and though panic shoots through him when he doesn’t find Harry’s shoes precariously thrown by the front door, he tries to ignore it best he could and hurries up the stairs, calling out the name he knows by heart.
He checks every room, every nook and cranny, but his search ends in vain as there is no answer to his call, not a squeak from the voice he’s so desperate to hear from. Louis thinks of heading out to conduct a search party by himself when the phone rings and he grabs it as if it’s his only lifeline left.
Relief washes over him when he hears a familiar voice, belonging to Sarah, a Twisters employee. It dawns upon Louis that the storm had perhaps forced Harry to seek refuge in the bakery overnight.
“Hi, Sarah,” Louis greets. “Is Harry there?”
He’s never driven something, let alone a car, that fast before in his life. He needs to see Harry, right at that moment or he swears he’s going to break apart and it’ll be impossible to put him back together.
Louis breathes out, says to himself that Harry’s fine and he’s going to see him grinning like an idiot again, showing off his dimples to the world.
Though there are annoyed eyes staring at the back of his head due to his loud and rushed entry, he doesn’t care. He only thinks about seeing the only person that fills his mind with his image, leaves Louis’ mouth craving for a taste of his kiss.
When he finally meets Sarah, he notices the lack of buoyancy in her posture, but Louis dismisses the thought away and says, “Where’s Harry?”
Sarah looks at Louis but it takes a while for Louis to recognize the mole under her right eye. She holds up a box, still damp from being washed earlier, and says, voice barely even a whisper, “The doctors are working on him. Here. This is for you.”
Louis’ trembling hands make the act of opening up a simple box seem like an impossible feat, but after countless retries he finally succeeds. Two gold rings, with their sacred word, ‘always’, carved into the inside of them. Louis thinks he’s never seen a more gorgeous pair of rings than the one in his hands. He closes the box, rubs the pad of his thumb over it and stares hard into where he thinks Sarah’s eyes are, and says,
“Why do you sound so worried?” Louis asks. “He’s only got a few minor fractures, Sarah. He’ll be fine in the morning.”
Sarah understands; she knows the reason behind Louis’ peculiar behavior, knows very well why he’s doing that to himself. But she needs to snap him out of it, before he drags himself even further to the edge of oblivion. “Louis, I told you over the phone, didn’t I?”
“You told me Harry got into a car accident,” he recites. “But you told me he’s gonna be okay.”
“I didn’t say that,” Sarah voices out, even though the words are bitter in her mouth, even though she hates herself for saying it. “Louis, I told you Harry got into a serious car accident, and he’s… far from okay.”
Louis’ heart stops at that moment, his blood runs dry and the color is drained from his cheeks, his entire body. Somewhere in his memories, he recalls Sarah citing those words, but he’s not aware of the fact that his mind deliberately blocked those horrible pieces of information out, cut and trimmed the sentences to make the blow feel less painful, less real.
“No,” Louis says nonetheless, still wearing a smile even though it’s broken and crooked. “You’re joking.”
Sarah remains silent, and the worry, the anger, the concern in her eyes reach Louis’, and he hears the words she doesn’t dare speak aloud, ‘Harry’s dying, Louis.’
“You’re lying, right?” Louis asks, his voice breaking as tears prick the back of his eyes. He takes a step back, almost stumbling on his feet. “You’re just trying to pull a prank on me, aren’t you, Sarah?”
“Well, it’s not funny!” Louis snaps, batting Sarah’s arm away, refusing her sympathy. “Whatever you’re trying to do, stop it now. Harry’s fine, and he’s probably already awake in his room, waiting for me to come pick him up.”
Louis rushes past Sarah, heads straight to the room where he knows Harry’s in, ignores the woman’s plea, “Louis, stop!”
The room is just up ahead, and Louis is rushing towards it, desperation and worry fogging up his mind, but he stops in his tracks when he sees faceless adults, dressed neatly in lab coats spilling out from the room. He catches up to one of them, grabs him tightly and his eyes flutter around the doctor’s face, trying to hold his gaze. When he finds the doctor’s eyes, he says, the words tumbling so fast out of his mouth that it’s a wonder the doctor can keep up.
“Is he okay? Is Harry going to be fine? Is he awake? Can I see him?”
After a moment of silence, the doctor finally admits, stares into Louis’ blue eyes and says, with a careful response that holds an air of practiced sympathy. “We did everything we could, Sir. But regrettably, Mr. Styles has fallen into a coma.”
Louis feels like he’s just lost a limb or two. “Will he wake up soon, though?”
The doctor’s silence speaks a thousand words.
And so Louis says, as his heart breaks apart and falls into pieces, “Can I see him?”
The doctor nods, moves away so that Louis can enter. He closes the door just as the man, who looks dejected, lifeless, slumped, sets foot into the room.
Louis stares hard at the floor for a couple of seconds before he collects enough courage to look up, and when his eyes land on Harry, he doesn’t see the tattoos and his mess of curly hair because they’re concealed, but he sees his lover clearly for the very first time. It’s pure miracle, really, because all these years Louis couldn’t even recognize his reflection in the mirror—but when he looks at Harry, he sees all of him. He sees the entirety of Harry’s face even though it’s mostly hidden behind an oxygen mask—the gentle arch of his eyebrow, the curl of his eyelashes, his high-bridged nose, and his full, curved lips all at once, and though he is happy, it saddens him greatly at the same time.
As Louis nears Harry he notices all the tubes attached to his body, the tubes that are keeping him alive, and the thought of vibrant, lively Harry suddenly becoming so dependent on machinery to keep him alive, tears Louis apart, piece-by-piece, so torturously slow, prolonging his agony to the ends of the earth.
Louis caresses Harry’s hand, with an IV attached to the other end, whispers, “I see you. I can finally see every part of you. It’s here, in my messed-up brain. So, don’t dare leave me, Harry Styles.”
The only thing responding to his plea is the constant beating of the heart monitor, the pace a reliable motion, a predictable set of beeps; and ironically, Louis finally gets his wish: he gets a constant in his life. “You told me ‘always’ is sacred to us. You told me it’s never meant to be broken.”
“You promised me you’d always be here,” Louis continues, already breaking. “And I believed you.”
“I wasn’t sure at first,” he confesses, unable to withhold the tears from falling down his cheeks. “I didn’t know whether you really meant it or not. But I chose to believe you, Harry.”
Louis leans in close, rests his forehead on Harry’s cold one and whispers, wishing that Harry would hear and his words would reanimate him back to life. “You can hear me, right? And if you want me to keep believing, you better wake up now.”
Harry remains silent. Louis keeps their forehead touching.
“I mean it, Harold,” Louis repeats. “I’m gonna count to three. If you don’t wake up then, I’ll take you as a liar.”
“One,” he starts.
This is reckless and stupid, Louis knows. But he can’t stop his wishful thinking.
This is pointless; so, so very pointless.
But Harry doesn’t wake up, and the ‘always’ they hold so high in regard tumbles down, loses its meaning, its sacredness.
Despite everything he’s said, the empty threats he’s uttered into Harry’s ears, he still has the box, which holds their engagement rings, in his jeans pocket. He carries it everywhere he goes.
Louis starts distancing himself again from the people he’s befriended, betraying his promise to Harry just as the younger betrayed his own, but unlike what Louis thinks, the people he’s bonded with actually stick with him—even though he’s acting distant, they’re still there to support him, tend to him whenever he needs without hesitance.
Harry has successfully extinguished the storm in Louis’ heart, the loneliness that overtook his entire life. And for that, Louis is, and will always be, eternally grateful.
Louis can’t stay away from Harry just as the younger man couldn’t stay away from him years ago. Every single day he never fails to visit him, using up his visiting hour sitting there by his bedside, staring into the face he still can see, but less clearly. It makes sense, because miracles rarely ever happen, so when they do, it’s our job to relish them best we can.
He can never stay quiet when he’s next to Harry, keeps telling him things that happened that day, without fail.
“I couldn’t win the argument with Jake,” Louis admits, hoping that Harry hears. “He’s just too stubborn, that guy. I’m sorry, Haz, I failed you.” But then Louis lets out a chuckle, and even though it’s forced, it’s as genuine as it can get. “You would’ve won hands-down, though.”
The constant beeping of Harry’s heart monitor keeps Louis company, and then he continues,
“I didn’t mean it when I said you were a liar, you know. I was just really upset.”
Louis grasps Harry’s hand, traces lazy circles on the back of it just like Harry used to do. “I still love you, Haz. But please, I need to know…”
The grip on Harry’s hand becomes tighter. “If you can hear me, say something.”
That wish is too far high up above the clouds, so he retries, “Or, give me a sign. Anything. I just need to know whether you can hear me or not.”
Louis does not get the reply he desperately craves for. So he shuts his eyes tight and runs a free hand through his hair, whilst still holding on to Harry’s hand with his other. “It’s just… I’m sorry, Haz. I’m sorry that you make me strong. I’m sorry that I need you in my life to keep me going. But, please, I beg you. Give me some kind of sign, anything, so I could keep my promises to you.”
Louis doesn’t expect to get anything from Harry, as the man is in a state of deep sleep, alive but barely, only breathing because of the machinery that pumps air in and out of his lungs. But then, Louis feels a twitch under his palm—a movement that’s coming from Harry.
Blue eyes immediately glow with hope, which diminishes slightly when he realizes that Harry is still not awake. But that was the sign. That was the sign that tells him to go on, to resume life just like how they left it.
Days turn to months, and they fly by like airplanes, fast but the engines still roar in Louis’ ears, still surge through his entire being.
Louis is closer to people now; he can tell them apart better, can remember more clearly. He doesn’t forget people’s names as often as before, still keeps the routine of paying attention and spending quality time together. Soon, Louis is the most well liked guy in town, and everybody flutters around him like butterflies to sweet nectar.
When Louis thrashes and screams in his sleep, Tori is already knocking on his front door, checking up on the restless man. She keeps him company throughout the night, tells him hilarious stories to calm him down. When she’s asked whether she’s bothered or not, she laughs the question off, hugs Louis tight as her way of saying ‘of course not, you silly boy.’
When Louis needs help with tending to his house, Jake is there for him, giving him free repairs. And if that isn’t enough, Tori comes for a visit, bringing cookies along with her and the three of them share wonderful evenings on the porch, talking about life, the possibility of doing handstands, and horses. Especially horses, just to make Jake happy.
And of course, Louis never forgets to visit Harry every day, bringing along chicken breast wrapped in ham, with homemade mashed potatoes and gravy, which Harry adored so much, on Mondays because he said that Louis should make the dish more often. In the end Louis always eats half of it alone, leaves the rest there for the nurses—Anne and Lena—as per their wish.
Before he leaves Harry after he uses up his visiting hours, he plants a long, lingering kiss on the younger’s forehead, as his own little way of saying ‘always.’
It’s gotten to the point where he literally doesn’t need the notebook anymore. Louis remembers everyone he’s met and swears he’ll memorize the new people who come into his life, but still he can’t let go of his notebook. Yes, it’s gathering dust on his bedside table, but he doesn’t have the heart to throw it away just yet. Louis doesn’t really know what he’s waiting for, but he listens to the small voice in his heart anyway, and keeps the book as his company.
That day is particularly slow; time seems dragged out, even though he’s hanging with Tori, chatting with her on her porch. Usually time rushes like there’s no tomorrow when he’s not alone, but that day seems strange even from the get-go.
Because Louis is with Tori, his house is empty so he doesn’t hear the constant ringing of the phone. After numerous failures of trying to reach Louis Tomlinson, the caller finally decides to phone the man’s neighbor, Tori. Louis is confused when Tori hands him the phone, but greets the person on the other end of the line nonetheless.
The person doesn’t greet back, stutters on her words so terribly that nobody else would understand, except Louis. He ends the call, recites broken pieces of the conversation to Tori, plops into his car, starts it and the engine sputters to life.
He makes the same exaggerated, rushed entrance again, but fewer heads turn this time. Maybe people are getting used to Louis’ almost theatrical entrance, which he swears he’s caught from Harry.
The hallways are a blur as he runs to the one room he knows best, the only room he remembers the number by heart, and rushes over to Sarah, who is walking in circles, biting her nails. When she notices Louis, she says,
“Go! He’s asking for you!”
Louis doesn’t need any more motivation and almost breaks through the door, even though it isn’t even locked. There’s a doctor standing by Harry’s bed, and he abruptly heads to the door after seeing Louis’ hasty entrance, leaving the two lovers alone in the room.
Louis is so used to the sight of Harry’s closed eyes, with an oxygen mask strapped to his face and tubes sticking to patches of his skin, that it takes Louis completely by surprise when he sees the man mask-less, smiling cheerfully at him despite the fact that his face seems pale and washed out.
“Hey, Lou,” he croaks, tongue unfamiliar with words after such a long time unused.
There are no words that need to be spoken; Louis rushes to Harry and embraces him tightly, so tight because he’s too afraid to let go, lest the man disappears forever from his sight.
“You’re crushing me,” Harry says weakly with a laugh, but Louis only relaxes his hug a little. “It’s nice to see you too.”
“Fuck you, Harry,” Louis says. He can’t believe the first thing he says to Harry, who is finally awake from his coma, is a curse. “I hate you so much.”
“That's a lovely thing to say,” he teases. Louis can’t ignore how dangerously thin Harry’s cheeks are, how cracked his lips appear to be.
“You made me wait,” Louis’ voice breaks, “for so long. I was so worried.”
“I’m sorry, Lou,” he says, tries to lift his hand to stroke the older man’s cheek but it stops midway, and Louis grips the hand instead. “If I had seen the truck coming—”
“Shh,” Louis interrupts, refusing to relive the pain. “Don’t say it. It’s okay now. Everything’s going to be fine.”
“That’s funny.” Harry’s laugh is still light and airy, still warmer than the sun’s rays. “Usually I’m the one who does the consoling.”
Louis smiles, nods, and lets Harry continue with his slurred words,
“I could hear you, you know.”
Surprise almost causes Louis to take a step back. “You did?”
“Every word of it,” Harry confesses. “Disappointed that you didn’t win that argument with Jake, though.”
“I just didn’t feel as strongly about it as you did.” It’s Louis’ turn to laugh.
They stay like that for a while; letting the laughter die down, stop resonating off the walls before Harry asks,
Louis digs for the box that’s forever in his pocket, no matter which jeans he chooses to wear, presents it in front of Harry, who opens the box and stares in awe at the marvelous glory of the two gleaming rings, meant to unite the two of them, fuse the threads of their fate together into one, bright future. At that moment, Louis finally figures out why he’s been waiting all this time. The answer hits him hard, makes him feel foolish for not realizing it sooner, but he voices it out anyway,
“I wanted us to wear it to each other. So I guess, deep down, I knew you were going to wake up.”
Harry’s deep green eyes flood with affection, fondness and love, drown his being and drags Louis down with it. After waiting for so long, after only repeating those three words in his trancelike mind, Harry finally says it aloud, “I love you.”
The confession doesn’t take Louis by surprise because he knows, everybody knows, how true it rings in his ear. So he kisses Harry, and it feels like their first kiss, all nerves but hopeful, like sitting on the edge of their seats or standing on their tiptoes, yet it exudes the kind of deep love unfamiliar to all first kisses.
And that’s Louis’ way of saying, ‘I love you too, words just can’t describe.’
Even though the accident is in the past, happened two years ago, Louis still thrashes and screams until his mind can’t take the nightmares anymore and he jolts awake, unable to fall back to sleep.
Two years ago, he woke up alone in his bed, breathed a sigh of relief when he heard Tori’s urgent knocking on his front door.
Two years ago, he would cry until dawn approached, long after Tori retired back to her house.
Two years ago, he was almost overwhelmed with anger, loneliness, and grief that if it were not for his friends and the thought of Harry, he would surely fall into an endless pit of insanity.
But that was two years ago.
Now, there’s an all-too-familiar heat penetrating him from behind, curls around his heart and lingers there. Now, there’s someone who holds him as he breaks apart, picks him up piece by piece and restores his broken self.
That night, when Louis wakes up screaming, Harry is there to hold him through the worst of it, holds him together and chants soothingly,
“It’s okay, it’s okay. I’m here. I’ll always be here.”
It’s only minutes away from sunrise and the married couple is standing there on the beach, holding hands, their matching tattoos complementing each other and their golden rings—which is both their wedding and engagement rings soldered together—glitter as traces of moonlight hit them.
“You’re ready for this, right?” Harry asks, grips Louis’ hand tighter.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” Louis responds, his confidence mixing with a hint of nerves.
“You’ve won, Lou,” Harry says animatedly, grinning and beaming with pride.
“We’ve won,” Louis corrects. “But we haven’t won yet, not really.”
“We just have to wait a little longer,” Harry reassures.
They are stuck in that infinite moment between night and day, between the dying of moonlight and the rebirth of sunlight, but they sail past it, their intertwined hands and complementing tattoos becoming some sort of time machine, and suddenly they’re about to witness the sun peeking from the boundless curve of the horizon, watch as reddish-orange paints the sky to life.
“Wait for it,” Harry says. When the sun is halfway up, he grips Louis’ hand even tighter until his knuckles become white and yells, “Now!”
Louis throws the leather-bound notebook away right on cue, sending it flying, hurtling above the sea until it finally plunges deep within the sparkling blue, swallowed by another infinite being with a loud, satisfying splash.
The simple act is a graceful symbol: throwing away the past as a new day begins.
It simply means that Louis is ready to start anew, no longer alone, but is instead accompanied by his loving husband, forever standing by his side.
“Great throw,” Harry compliments, kisses Louis tenderly on the mouth.
They breathe each other in—not starving this time, but calm, as if they know that both of them are eternal and there is no need for haste, no need for rushed gulps of air because they’re frozen in their ‘always’.
The kiss soon turns passionate, with Harry’s hand on the back of Louis’ neck, the other around his waist, hugging him closer even though there is barely any distance between them.
“Remember me,” Harry says in between kisses, “and never forget.”
“I won’t,” Louis says surely this time. He believes it with all his heart. And so he closes the sentence with an eternal, unbreakable, “I promise.”
Everything around them dissolves into thin air right at that moment. And it is only the two of them; hands interlaced, tattoos aligning, golden rings knocking together, foreheads touching, breathing each other in deliberately slowly—infinity between each gulp of air.
“Always?” Harry asks just to make sure.
Louis nods, closes the infinity between them with a fervid kiss and a sacred, “Always.”