The first thing Louis noticed when he opened his eyes was that this was not his bed.
It was a lot like his- same metal frame, same cinderblock walls beyond it, same slightly musty smell of boy to it. But it was the details that were all wrong. The duvet was red instead of blue. There was only one pillow (Louis had five). And of course, there was the odd occurrence that Louis was on the floor next to the bed and another boy was actually in it.
As he sat up, the events of the night before came back to Louis. He’d met some guy at the bar down the street that everyone from King’s College went to, and they’d hit it off. Louis was far enough along in drinks to be tipsy, but still in control. The guy (John, was it?) had invited him back to his dorm… and the rest was just details.
The sun was streaming through the window but John appeared to still be snoozing away in bed, so Louis found his phone and checked the time. 11:50. So I’ll probably be late for my 12:00 class, then.
He put serious thought into not showing up at all- there was no way humanly possible he’d make it across campus and into his seat in the next ten minutes. He could go back to sleep right here- or better yet, go back to his dorm and sleep in his bed.
But Louis rose quietly and gathered his belongings, because Liam was in that 12 o’clock class and he’d be annoyingly worried if Louis didn’t at least make an effort to show. John didn’t even wake up as Louis slipped out of the bedroom and shut the door behind him.
Maybe someone else would have found the Walk of Shame more, well, shameful. Louis just spent the time it took him to pick across the campus worrying about whether his hair looked okay enough or if he should maybe go home and shower really quick. In the end, he skipped the shower and opted for the old, “15 minutes late with Starbucks” plan.
Liam rolled his eyes so hard it had to have hurt when Louis finally slipped into the seat next to him at the table in the far back of their lecture. “Seriously, Louis? You couldn’t be arsed to set your alarm this morning, but you could spare the time to get coffee?” he whispered.
“How much would it help my case if I told you I brought you some, too?” Apparently quite a bit, because Liam scowled a lot less with a hot latte in his hand. “And for the record, it wasn’t my fault. I’m sure my alarm clock went off just fine without me, I just couldn’t hear it all the way across campus.”
For a second it seemed like Liam wouldn’t answer, too busy scribbling in his notebook to be bothered with Louis’ story. But then Liam pushed the pad towards him, his neat handwriting spelling out a message.
don’t be so loud, people are trying to learn!! but spill- where WERE you last night? I was worried
With your mum.
I think we both know she isn’t your type
Fine. Some guy I met at the campus bar.
you spent the night with him???
Sorry mother, I know I should have checked with you first.
Did you guys…
Did we what?
If you’re asking whether I stuck my cock up his ass, the answer is no.
do you have to say it like that?!
We’ve had this discussion before, Liam. You need to use your words to express yourself. I can’t read your mind. You’re twenty years old, you have the vocabulary to communicate your needs and emotions.
don’t bullshit me mister, you practikcaly read my mind as it is. And you’re twenty-one, shouldn’t you have the vocablary to say it a little more decent?
Decent? Unfamiliar word. Please define.
I’m ignoring you. But srsly though, you didnt sleep with him??
NOPE. Not even in the literal sense. I woke up on his floor ten minutes before class started.
Presumably because I went to sleep there.
could you for once in your life not be a twat
For you, Liam? I’ll try my best. The short version is that I knew if we fucked he’d get very attached, and he’d be heartbroken when he found out I wasn’t looking for anything more than that. So.
You didn’t want to break his heart awww
See, I think THAT makes me sound like more of a twat than anything I said.
what DID you do all night, then why didn’t you come back to the room?
His roommate was out, so we sat around and talked. Sort of a free therapy session. Mommy issues and still not over his first love.
Liam didn’t write anything back, but it was only because he’d heard all he needed to. Louis could joke all he wanted, but Liam knew the truth about what kind of person lay beneath all that sass.
When class ended at two, Louis had to be woken up to leave. (“Well I’m sorry, Liam, but someone had to stay up all night and counsel that kid out of an Oedipus complex.”) From the second his eyes opened, though, he was running calculations on whether the offense of snoozing in Social Psychology was really worthy of the scowl on his best friend’s face.
“What’s wrong, Li?” He asked as they were walking out of the building. “And if you try to say it’s about something I did, I’d like to remind you that I’ve been studying body language for three years and can spot one of your shitty lies.”
Liam rolled his eyes and didn’t even try. “Nervous.”
“Exam tonight in my 5 o’clock class. I’ve been revising for it all week.”
“Then what do you have to be nervous for?” Louis asked, peering closely at the other boy. “I know your study habits, Liam, and if you’ve studied for a week you’re more than prepared.”
“Yeah, but this is in that Sociological Theory class, and I only understand about twenty percent of what we talk about. This exam is worth an enormous chunk of my grade, and if I flunk it-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa,” Louis interrupted, moving in from of Liam and stopping his walk with a hand on his chest. He could feel the stressed heart rate through Liam’s polo. “Take a deep breath for me, first of all. Good. Now listen. How many exams have you failed at uni?”
“How many exams have you taken?”
“Jesus, Lou, I don’t know…”
“A shit ton, that’s how many. You’ve been revising all week, you go to every lecture, you take notes, and you’re a fucking brilliant student. Is any of what I said untrue?”
“Then there’s absolutely no reason why you won’t do well on this test, alright? Seriously. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll ace it. And after you’ve aced that exam, you and I will go out and get absolutely fucking smashed, yeah?”
Despite himself, Liam laughed and looked like he felt much better. “You don’t fool me, you know,” he noted after a pause. “You act like you’re some party boy asshole, but you’re just a softie. Giving pep talks to your friends. And looking out for that kid last night.”
There’s a special kind of fondness that Louis doesn’t give to just anyone, but his gaze was full of it now as he gazed at Liam. “Well don’t fucking tell anyone, you prick,” was all he said. “I’ve got a reputation to maintain.”
“Mmhmm. Where are you off to?”
Louis screwed up his face in thought. “What day of the week is it?”
“You need to lay off the alcohol, seriously. Friday.”
“Then I’m going to the library to meet Niall. We’re studying for Developmental Psych.”
“You? Studying? Whatever. Go bother the Irish one, then. Will I see you tonight?”
“I was serious about getting shit-faced,” Louis replied with a grin. “Especially now that I know it’s Friday! What time does your exam let out?”
“Perfect. Text me when you’re done and we’ll go, alright?”
“Okay,” Liam agreed good-naturedly, starting to walk away.
Before he can get more than a few steps, Louis catches up and ruffles his hair. “I’m serious about that exam. You’re going to smash it.”
“Go get ‘em, kid.”
Louis was still all full of fondness when he got to the library- early for once- and met up with Niall. The latter seemed delighted to be matched in enthusiasm for once; the first thing that everyone noticed about Niall was how genuinely delighted he was at just about everything. There was a joy in him that could neither be tamed nor easily understood.
“Hey, Louis!” Niall grinned when he entered, looking at Louis with that usual gaze of ‘you are what the earth revolves around.’
“Hello, Nialler. Alright?”
“Yeah, I’m good! Just been chillin’ out me dorm, watching telly. You?”
“Class with Liam just before this, but still alright.” Louis lowered himself into the chair across the table from Niall. The study room they’ve reserved includes four spinny chairs around a table and a computer hooked up to a TV controlled by a wireless keyboard, which Louis immediately seized control of.
“You know we really need to focus, right?” Niall said, but by that time Louis was already pulling up YouTube. “Our midterm is on Monday.”
“I’m not all that worried about it.”
“You haven’t attended a lecture in two weeks.”
“That’s true. Do you have a point?”
“My point is that Liam and I both agree that if we don’t force you to study a little, you’re going to flunk out.”
“Niall!” Louis exclaimed, abruptly wounded. “Aren’t you supposed to be on my side?”
At least he has the decency to look a little ashamed of himself. “I am on your side. And so’s Li. Just so happens that we’re all on the side of you studying, mate.”
“I don’t like this. I don’t like you and Liam being in league,” Louis scowled. “It’s an unhealthy relationship, yours. But if you insist…” He closed out the YouTube video playing on the big screen and grabbed some papers from Niall’s stack of messy notes. “Satisfied?”
And Niall was, even when forty minutes had passed and Louis’ “studying” had devolved into him just scribbling little drawings in the margins of Niall’s notes. The latest masterpiece was a stick figure riding a skateboard down a hill, and Louis is quite proud of it, thankyouverymuch.
By the time 3:45 rolled around, Louis was on his phone and done pretending that he was studying at all. “As riveting as this is,” he said to break the silence, “I’ve got to be going. Important things to take care of.”
“That new Marvel movie. 4 pm showing.”
“You’re going to flunk!” Niall called, but Louis was already gone.
Later, as the lights came up in the theatre and he was bursting at the seams with disgustingly fattening popcorn, Louis bothered to look at his phone for the first time in hours. He had several texts off Liam, he noticed immediately.
(Liam, 4:02 PM) niall told me you ditched him to go to the moviessssss
(Liam, 4:05 PM) u know that kid worships u, rt? probably broke his heart :(
(Liam, 4:06 PM) now ur karma from the one last night is all cancelled out bad bad louuuiiiiisssss
(Louis, 6:34 PM) Really, because Niall told ME that you two have been talking about my study habits behind my back.
(Louis, 6:35 PM) Just take your exam and text me when you’re done, twat. I’m going to be at the diner.
So Louis made his way from the theater to the diner he liked but Liam hated, ordered a tea to settle his stomach, and got comfy in the booth with his tea and his phone. Liam would be another hour, probably- just enough time for Louis to valiantly try but ultimately lose all of his lives on Candy Crush.
He made it through 30 minutes of interruption-free gaming before he got restless. There were too many people around, too many things to watch. He put the phone down and sipped his tea, lavishing his full attention on the other customers in the diner instead of the surreptitious glances he’d been throwing around the whole time.
He’d noticed the curly-haired boy on the other side of the room right away. Of course he had- how could he not? The kid was gorgeous. Not in the runway model way, not really, but in that bonafide, I-was-born-this-way-and-couldn’t-be-ugly-if-I-tried way. He was sort of curled in on himself, but it was still obvious that he had long, thin limbs. His head rested on his arms, face towards Louis and eyes closed, maybe sleeping there on the table with headphones in and food abandoned.
But then he stirred, opening his eyes to pick up a chip and put it down again with a heavy sigh. Before he had even resettled on his arms, the boy had made it obvious to Louis that there was a deep sadness there.
It was sort of breaking Louis’ heart. And he didn’t even know the kid.
Ten minutes later when the waitress came over to check on him, Louis was still thinking about the sad boy over at the far table. He pushed down Liam’s voice in his head (“Louis, leave people alone. Not everyone wants your help or your opinion, okay? Just leave them be.”) and cleared his throat.
“Hey. This is kind of weird, but- can I ask you for a favor?”
The girl hesitated for a second, but when Louis’ most charming smile didn’t waver she gave a little shrug. “Um, sure?”
“You see that boy over there?” he asked, tilting his head ever so slightly in the direction of the mane of curls. “The one with the dark hair, in the grey tee.”
“With his head down?”
“Yeah, that one.”
“Okay. What about him?”
There was a blush creeping up his neck, Louis knew, and he hated that. “If I buy a cookie, will you go give it to him and tell him that someone wants him to cheer up?”
The look the waitress gave him was a pretty firm indicator that this was not exactly run-of-the-mill here. “You want to send someone a cookie to cheer them up?”
“Oh come on, don’t make it weird. It’s just like buying someone a drink at a bar! Except I don’t want you to tell him who it’s from. And I’m not trying to get him to sleep with me.”
The girl- Frances, he took the time to read off of her name tag- snorted a little at that. “Okay, alright. What kind of cookie?”
“Uhh… the one with the M&Ms in it.” He looks like the type to be amused by brightly-colored objects.
As Frances walked away to get the cookie, Louis hurried to make himself look busy on his phone- Candy Crush, level 176. He propped his feet up on the seat across from him, tugged his beanie down, and tried very hard to pretend like he had no interest whatsoever in what was going on across the restaurant.
But Louis was definitely watching- and listening- as Frances approached the boy’s table. “Excuse me?” she said quietly, reaching out to brush her fingertips across his upper arm. “Sir?”
The curly head popped up at her touch, the boy blinking and tugging the earbuds from his ears. “Uhm. Yes?”
“This is for you,” she said, offering him the cookie.
He didn’t even look surprised. “I didn’t order that.”
“I know. It’s from, erm, someone else. A customer. They want you to cheer up.”
Maybe it wasn’t exactly as smooth as Louis would have liked, but she got the job done. The kid reached out slowly, hesitantly, to take the treat Frances held out to him. “Thank you, then. I guess.” And then he smiled –a tiny, unsure, barely-there smile, but a smile nonetheless.
Mission accomplished. Louis tried to keep the satisfied smirking to a minimum as he hunched over and returned his attention to Candy Crush. Level 176 was almost vanquished when something came gently to rest on the table just beyond where his phone was laying.
It was an M&M cookie.
It was hard to tell which shot up faster, Louis’ eyebrows or his head. The boy was just standing there by Louis’ table, gazing quietly at him without saying anything. “What’s this?” Louis asked when inquisitive glances were met only with silence.
“You bought me a cookie.”
And Louis wasn’t one to lie- he would bend and twist and trick the truth all day, but when it came right down to it, he’d do just about anything to avoid a bold-faced lie. So he just gazed quietly back at this boy and asked, “Why would I do that?”
He looked slightly taken aback. “I don’t know. Maybe you took pity on me. Thought I was too skinny or something. Or that I couldn’t afford it.”
Louis couldn’t help but let his eyes flick over the kid’s body. He was thin, the drawn out kind of slenderness that happened when teen boys got caught in their never-ending growth spurts. And maybe his clothes looked a little shabby, but not in the way that would make you think he couldn’t afford to eat. He just looked like a normal teenager.
“If whoever bought you that cookie did it because they thought that,” Louis began carefully, “they would be stupid. You look fine, I promise.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
You didn’t have to be a professional people-person to hear the submissive tremor in that short sentence. Louis watched him shrink in on himself as he waited for a response.
“It means that you don’t look too skinny or too poor or whatever. You look fine. Listen, someone wanted you to have the cookie, so just take it and enjoy it, okay?”
“I know it was you.” Louis was still trying to come up with a response that didn’t involve a lie when the boy pulled the end of his headphones from the pocket they were tucked into, showing off the bare connector. “I wasn’t listening to anything. I heard you talking to the waitress.”
“Why’d you have headphones in if you weren’t listening to anything?” Louis hedged.
“So no one would bother me.”
“And yet you came all the way over here to chat with me.”
Immediately, the pale skin of his cheeks lit up in a blush. “I’m sorry. Should I not have? I’m sorry, I’ll just-”
“Jeez, kid, I’m only teasing,” Louis said, stopping just short of catching the boy’s sleeve as he started to walk away. “You can talk to whoever you want to, me included. Me especially.”
“What does that mean?”
He seemed to be asking that sort of question an awful lot, Louis noticed. “It means I’m friendly. I won’t bite, I promise. I buy rainbow cookies for strangers, so if you think about it I can really only be but so mean.”
And for once, Louis had been asked a question where he couldn’t figure out what they wanted to hear just by reading their mind. “Wh- what?”
“Did you choose rainbow because I look too gay?”
There were a few long, tense seconds before Louis could shut his slack-jawed mouth and think of something to say. When he did reply, it was with all of the diplomacy three years of university had taught him. “You can’t “look” gay,” he began slowly. “Sexuality and appearance are two completely different constructs. But if you’re asking whether you look like the popular media stereotype of gay, the answer is no.”
That must have been the right answer, because a little of the defensive hunch left the boy’s shoulders. “Oh. Okay. Good.”
Louis didn’t ask why not looking “gay” was so important to him. Not your business, Tomlinson.
But this stranger seemed more than willing to volunteer information about his personal life. “But I have a boyfriend. So I still can’t take this cookie.”
The word did not escape Louis’ notice, but he didn’t comment. “I sent you a baked good, not an invitation to fuck,” he said with a grin.
The younger boy’s face turned so abruptly to distress that Louis wished he could shove all of his words back in his mouth. Boundaries, Lou, what the fuck! he scolded internally. Out loud, he just focused on damage control. “Shit, kid, I didn’t mean to freak you out. I just meant- I just wanted you to cheer up, okay? Because you looked down. And rainbow M&Ms are cheerful. As is chocolate. Ergo the cookie.”
“Listen,” Louis sighed, “if you heard me talking to the waitress, you heard me tell her that I was trying to cheer you up, and that I didn’t mean anything by it, right?”
“Then there you have it. That’s all it is. Just a stupid cookie.”
“But you’re being really nice for no reason,” the boy says at last. “Why?”
Doesn’t your boyfriend ever buy you things to make you smile? Louis wants to ask, but doesn’t. He’s smarter than that. Plus he can hear Liam’s voice in his head muttering about boundaries some more. “I told you, I buy rainbow cookies for strangers. I can’t really be all that mean, can I?”
And there it is, another little smile. He gives it up almost reluctantly, like he didn’t intend to smile at Louis but also didn’t have a choice. “Well. Um. Thank you, then.” His fingers inch towards the cookie on the table, waiting for Louis to tell him he isn’t allowed to have it anymore.
Louis doesn’t tell him that. “What’s your name?”
“No, the other lad I’m talking to. Yes, you. Silly,” he adds to soften it.
“Oh. Um. Harry.”
“Very nice to meet you, Harry. I’m Louis.” And then, despite his better judgment, “Would you like to join me while you’re enjoying that cookie?”
Harry looks more surprised than offended though. “You want me to sit with you?”
“That’s why I asked, yeah.”
“Where everyone can see us?”
Louis filed that one away in the back of his mind, right next to the spot where he was keeping all of the other strange things Harry had said. “If you don’t want to, you don’t have to. I’m not trying to make things weird or anything, I just figured I’d offer.”
“No, I- um. Let me grab my stuff.”
The grin didn’t split Louis’ face until Harry turned to shuffle back to his seat. When he returned, Harry was carrying a worn rucksack and his long-forgotten basket of chicken strips and chips and Louis was as cool, calm, and collected as ever.
He tipped his chin at Harry’s food. “Aren’t those cold by now? You haven’t touched them in half an hour.”
“You’ve been watching me for half an hour?”
“I watch everybody all the time, thank you very much. It’s called being observant.”
Harry doesn’t buy it, but doesn’t comment, either. “I’m a uni student, I’m used to cold food. Plus I need the calories. Boyfriend says I look like a stick figure.”
It takes all of Louis’ minimal tact to skip the counselor lecture on letting other people’s opinions define our self-image. Instead, he goes for a casual, “Oh, you’re in uni? Where at?”
“Kings College. First year.”
“Me too, but I’m in my third. What’s your major? No, wait,” Louis interrupts before he can get a response. “Let me guess. You’re studying… business. Am I right?”
He looks too young to be at uni when his eyes get all big and shocked like that. “How did you know?”
“You must not have met very many psychology students. We know things.”
“Psychology?” Louis nods his head in confirmation. “Are you going to be like, a shrink?”
“Something like that. Maybe. Haven’t decided yet.”
Harry seemed to mull this over very seriously for a few moments, demolishing chip after chip like it was his job to eat and he was going for employee of the month. “That fits,” he decided. “You’d be good at that.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“Well first of all, you ask a lot of questions,” Harry says slyly, which makes Louis blush because he can’t help it if he needs to know everything, okay? “And you’re really nice and you like to help people. So. Isn’t that pretty much what a therapist does?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” confirms Louis. “Do you live on campus?” he continues, because he’s really more comfortable getting inside other people’s heads than letting them get in his.
Both of them notice that’s yet another question, and Harry’s smirk because of it is aimed right at Louis. “No, I live in a flat.”
“With your parents?”
“Nah. Art major named Zayn.”
“Yeah.” Harry is surprised again. “Do you know him?”
“I know of him. We had a class together last year. Second year, right? Seemed like a cool lad.” And he was cool- pretty much the definition of it. Zayn Malik was all tattoos and smoke rings and spray paint murals on the back of the library. He was also one of the few openly gay dudes on campus who was still universally adored. “Is that your boyfriend?” Louis pried.
He’s blushing. “Zayn? No, no, he’s not- he’s just a mate. My boyfriend is Thomas. Well- not boyfriend, not really.”
“Ah. Unrequited love?”
“No, nothing like that,” replied Harry.
It seems like an odd response to Louis, because he’s pretty damn good at reading faces and Harry’s face is positively radiating ‘I love him but he doesn’t know I exist’ vibes.
But he doesn’t tell Harry that, of course, because he’s got a calm voice in the back of his mind reminding him that you’re an acquaintance, not his therapist. You don’t get to ask personal questions unless he’s volunteering details. He settles for “Oh.”
Again, Harry is a wellspring of information that Louis dared not ask for. “I mean, we’re a- a thing, but he’s not, um.”
“Out?” prompted Louis.
“Yeah. So we’re not like, public or anything.” And just like that, Harry’s face is clouded and worried. “Actually, I probably shouldn’t have said anything. You can’t tell anyone, okay? I told him I wouldn’t tell anyone-”
“Whoa, whoa, calm down,” Louis said, leaning forward and quieting Harry with his earnestness. The boy looks like he’s about to have a panic attack. “Of course I’m not going to tell anyone. Don’t worry about it. That’s his decision, and yours. I don’t even know any Thomases, anyways.”
That seems to have calmed him down at least a little. “Okay. Good. I mean thank you. But just- in case we see each other on campus or something.”
“Oh, you think that just because I invited you to sit with me we’re friends now? That’s a little pretentious.” But Louis sees Harry’s mortified blush and cuts him off before he can say a word. “I’m teasing, kid. Of course we’ll see each other around. We’ll hang out sometime, yeah?”
He looks incredibly hopeful. “Really?”
“Yeah, of course. We’ll find something we both like to do and we’ll do it. What do business majors do for fun, anyways?” Louis joked, stealing a chip off Harry’s basket. It’s frigid and disgusting. He must really be hungry.
Harry doesn’t seem to mind. “Well. I like music a lot.”
“Even though you don’t have an iPod.”
“Well I had all my music on my phone. But. I broke it.”
“What did you do that for, then?”
“It was an accident,” replied Harry quite seriously, before his lips broke into a smile. “Wait. You’re teasing again, aren’t you?”
“I nearly always am, sweetheart.”
“Right. Well I accidentally washed it. Or. Thomas did, actually. He went to wash a load of my laundry and didn’t check the pockets first.”
“Newbie. It only takes one or two incidents of lip gloss exploding in your dryer to learn that you always check the pockets first.”
“Do you often leave lip gloss in your pockets…?”
“I have a lot of little sisters, thank you very much.” Louis sniffed, which only made Harry laugh. It’s a loud, unbridled laugh that’s probably too big to be appropriate. Louis likes it, he thinks.
“So music then?” Louis said casually when Harry was finished. “What kind of music do you like?”
“Everything, kind of. I just like all music,” answered Harry after careful consideration. “But right now I’m really into The 1975. Do you like them?”
Louis’ never heard of them. “Do they have any concerts around here coming up? I’d love to see them play.” It isn’t a lie. He wants inside that part of Harry’s head, too.
The trickery was worth it, because Harry was all lit up in a smile again. “Next week, actually. I was thinking about going… Do you, um- do you want to come?”
“Absolutely. I’d love to,” Louis said warmly, enjoying the way that when Harry grins, his whole body gets involved. All of him is smiling. “Give me your phone, I’ll put my number in it- oh. Shit. You don’t have one.”
Harry winced, and Louis had just enough time to start worrying if Harry knew he was teasing him again before the younger boy was back to eyeing him in nervous excitement. “You could write it down for me? I should be getting a new phone soon. So. I could text you or something.”
There’s a pen in one of Louis’ pockets, and he didn’t have to be told twice. The cookie he sent to Harry was still laying on the table between them, so Louis scooped it up and scribbled his number on the little paper wrapping. “Eat the cookie,” he told Harry, thinking of how eagerly he gobbled up the cold, greasy food, “but don’t lose the wrapper, okay? I’m expecting a text from you, mister.”
Curls bobbed eagerly as Harry rushed to assure him that he would be texting the moment he got a new phone, but he needn’t have bothered. After all, Louis is very good at reading people.
“Hey, mate,” a familiar voice called from somewhere beyond Harry, and Louis looked past him to see Liam coming in from the cold. One eyebrow was quirked up curiously as he glanced between Louis and the mane of curls that was all he could see of Harry from this angle. “What’s up?” Translation: who’s this?
Louis didn’t give him what he wanted. “Liam! How’d the exam go?”
“Easier than I expected, actually. Nothing I hadn’t studied for. Although I think I got the date wrong on one of the short answers…”
“Oh, so you aced it.”
Liam sighed. “Lou…”
“If only there had been someone there to assure you how well you were going to do. Someone to support and encourage you. Someone handsome and intelligent, perhaps.”
“Can we not do this right now-”
“Oh, wait! That was me. I did that. What a lucky lad you are.”
“You’re a prick. And you are…?” Liam said smoothly, turning his gaze from Louis to Harry and raising his eyebrows in curiosity.
Harry, who had been bouncing his head back and forth between the two as he tried to follow the banter, looked surprised to be addressed. “Oh-me?”
The fact that there was no sass in Liam’s reply was a lovely example of the difference between him and his roommate. “Yeah, I’m not sure we’ve met before.”
“You haven’t,” Louis jumped in. “Harry, this is my roommate, Liam Payne. Liam, this is Harry- erm?”
“This is Harry Styles. We’ve only just met,” added Louis before Liam could start making things awkward with his over-protective father Spanish Inquisition routine.
He could tell Liam wanted to ask anyways -How did you meet? Why are you sitting together? Why are you warning me with your eyes?- but Louis wouldn’t let him. It was enough that Harry seemed delighted to have both of their attentions. Nosy roomies would have to wait until later to satisfy their curiosity.
“My pleasure,” was all Liam replied, offering a hand to Harry to shake. He did so, hesitantly, and a moment of only slightly uncomfortable silence passed before Louis was once again addressed. “We still on for tonight?”
A laugh bubbled up out of Louis’ chest. “What’s this? Liam Payne actually volunteering for mischief instead of being dragged against his will? Never thought I’d see the day.”
“When I said I aced that exam, I meant I aced it,” Liam winked.
“Well then, by all means- let’s go get you properly inebriated!” His words were sure, but Louis’ eyes were hesitant as they flickered between Liam and the fresh-faced boy in front of him. “Harry, did you- do you want to come along with us for some drinks? If you’re even 18- shit, you are eighteen, right?”
“I’m nineteen,” he replied, a little affronted.
“No offense, I was just checking,” soothed Louis. “You’ve got a baby face, I hate to break it to you.”
“It’s true,” Liam helped.
“Thank you, Liam. Now, Harry, do you fancy joining us?” The hesitation was written all over Harry’s face, so Louis softened the charm a little. “Hey, no worries if you don’t want to. In fact, I’d generally advise that you didn’t go along with strangers and lose control of your faculties. But. I’m a Psych major and Liam’s Soc, so we’re both people persons and we promise not to take advantage of you. So.”
Harry shook his head quickly. “No, it’s not that. I trust you,” he says, and Louis almost swallows his tongue during the Herculean effort of not commenting on that. Harry didn’t notice. “It’s just- you won’t like me when I’m drunk. I act… weird.”
“Can’t be weirder than Louis, though,” Liam teased. “Get enough drinks in him and he gets to be a total slag, dancing all over random guys. Can hardly take him anywhere, this one.”
“I can’t even deny it,” Louis solemnly confirms. He’s biting back words again, trying to quell the overactive imagination that’s currently running scenarios of what drunk Harry must act like if it’s enough to make him blush like this. “It can’t be all that bad.”
But Harry’s not budging. “I shouldn’t. Maybe- maybe some other time, though.”
And that has to be enough for Louis. He gives Harry the warmest, least threatening smile you can manage with eyeliner and tattoos covering most of your body. “Of course,” he assures quietly. “I should probably get going, then, before Liam remembers he’s a good boy and decides to waste another Friday night studying. You’ll text though, when you get a new phone?” he asks, throwing cash on the table for his meal and rising.
Harry stands too and smiles brightly at Louis. “Yes! Yeah. I will.”
Privately, Louis thinks to himself that Harry’s curls were made to be messed up, but he tucks his hand into his pocket before it can reach out and do something it shouldn’t, like rifle through said curls. “Right. Well I’ll see you around then, yeah? Hopefully sooner rather than later.”
“Hopefully,” Harry beams.
Louis turns away from the 1,000-kilowatt smile –he has to turn away from the 1,000-kilowatt smile –and looks to Liam. “Ready, mate?”
With a nod of confirmation and a friendly farewell to Harry, Liam leads the way from the diner and into the night. It’s cool outside, feeling every bit like September. The air feels nice against Louis’ flushed cheeks.
Liam let them get all the way around the corner before he pounced excitedly. “Alright, man, spill! What’s the story?”
The shove Liam gave him was probably intended to be gentle, but Louis was slender and Liam was massive and it wound up making him stumble a bit. “Sorry, sorry,” Liam apologizes, reaching out a hand to steady him. “But don’t be coy. The story with Harry. It’s not like you to go around flirting with guys you’re not even positive are legal.”
“I was not flirting!” Louis protested. “It’s called being friendly. I do have a setting between arsehole and Casanova, you know.”
Liam raised his hands in surrender. “Alright, alright. Not flirting, then. But seriously, how did you two start talking?”
“Well it wasn’t like it was some big thing, Liam,” sighed Louis. “I just saw him at the diner looking sad and took pity on him, so I bought him a cookie. And then he talked to me. And that’s that.”
“You bought him a cookie?”
“That’s what I just said, yes.”
“And how did that turn into exchanging numbers and trying to take him out for drinks, then? I mean, since you were definitely not flirting and all.”
“You have my phone number. We’re going out for drinks. And how many times have I sucked your cock, eh?”
“Well, none, but-”
“Exactly. I was being nice, Liam, not trying to get in his pants. For fuck’s sake.”
Liam lets it drop after that, because he’s a good friend underneath all of the teasing. He’s also a good friend in the way he conveniently doesn’t mention that Louis tends to get weak in the knees for green eyes, or that Louis once confessed under the influence of alcohol that long hair was the best because it gave you something to grab hold of. Liam remembered these things and kept his mouth shut. Louis remembered these things and silently thanked his best mate.
Louis understands everyone. But Liam, at least, understands him.