“Well, you don’t need to worry,” Louis said confidently. “Because I’m not lonely, and I’m not all alone in the big city. I’ve got a boyfriend.”
There, if that didn’t stop his mum worrying he had no idea what would. It wasn’t enough he lived with Zayn, it wasn’t enough he’d managed to get an actual paying job at a shop and keep it for more than three months now; she wouldn’t hear anything but that he was homesick and miserable. And… well, he wasn’t not those things, not with all the girls at home and his mum about to have twins. But the last thing she needed to worry about was him. Louis was on the verge of actually properly having his life together, nearly.
“Have you?” she asked, sounding not fooled at all. “Who?”
“Ah,” said Louis, because hadn’t thought that far through his lie. “Well, I mean, it should be obvious. Who d’you think it is?”
There was a pause. Was she working out that all of this was a lie? Louis hoped not. “Oh,” she said. “Oh, that’s nice, then.”
“Yes,” said Louis. “Uh, so clearly you know I’m seeing—“
“Liam,” his mum said. She really did sound pleased.
“Liam,” Louis repeated, slightly outraged. “Why didn’t you think it was Zayn? I live with Zayn!”
“Because I’ve met Perrie,” his mum said. “Why didn’t you tell me? Oh, Liam’s such a sweetheart. Are you being nice enough to him? Last time I was down to visit you spent the whole time chucking spoons at his head.”
“He’s afraid of spoons, you see,” said Louis distractedly. Why on earth would she jump to Liam? Surely Niall made more sense, since they worked together, or Harry, even, because they’d been mates for ages. Liam was a friend of Niall’s, always tagging along after all of them, being silly and laughing at Louis’s jokes harder than they deserved. Sometimes he helped Louis with pranks and more often he ended up the victim of them, looking well fit all the while.
Actually, that was sort of flattering, her thinking he could pull Liam. Liam had proper muscles and paid his rent on time; he had a real professional job and a dog. Liam was like an actual person, unlike Harry, who just lived on people’s sofas and paid them in charm, or Niall, who was about eighty percent cartoon character. And Zayn obviously wasn’t real, not with those cheekbones.
“Yes,” said Louis definitely. “Liam. I’m seeing Liam.”
“Why on earth would he go out with you?” Jay asked.
That was a fair point. “Er,” said Louis. “He thinks I’m really funny. You have to love a boy who makes you laugh, right? And I’m nice to him in bed.” He would be. Well, probably. Actually he might not be; Liam always made the most hilarious faces when Louis poked and tickled and pinched him. If he got Liam naked he’d want to do that, too, and that was a weird train of thought to have about a mate of Niall’s who’d become a mate of Louis’s in the last couple of months, so Louis should stop.
Except Liam was well fit, wasn’t he? Even with that stupid bandana hanging out of his jeans he looked hot. Girls were always flirting with him. Blokes, too, actually. Imagine a world where out of all those people he’d want Louis most of all. Louis laughed.
“Oh, that’s nice,” said Jay. “Treat him well, Louis, he’s a nice boy. You never keep the nice ones around, only the arseholes.”
“Hey,” Louis objected, although it was sort of true. And then Jay started telling him about her morning sickness, which was gross, and he forgot all about the whole conversation.
The next time he thought about it at all was a couple of weeks later, when Jay said, “The twins and I are coming up for the weekend to do some baby shopping. We want to have lunch with you and your boyfriend.”
“My what?” Louis asked. “Oh! My boyfriend. Liam, my boyfriend. You mean Liam.” He threw himself onto his sofa and tried to think. A spring was poking him in the back. Across the room Zayn raised both his eyebrows and mouthed What? “Sorry, Liam’s out of town this weekend. And I have to work. So Sad.”
“You don’t work on Sundays,” said his mum. “The music shop is closed.”
Fuck, Louis thought. Why did she remember everything? “Oh, Sunday. You meant Sunday? Well, Liam can’t come. He’s out of town. He’s doing something terribly important out of town.”
“Nonsense,” said Jay. “Harry says he’ll be around, I texted him.”
Louis was going to murder Harry next time the opportunity presented itself. “You texted Harry to ask if Liam was in town this weekend? Why on earth—”
“I know how you get about us meeting your boyfriends,” she said. “But we’ve already met Liam, so don’t worry about it. Just book us a table for five on Sunday. There’s a love.”
“Liam’s shy,” Louis said. “Terribly shy. He can’t possibly—“
“Tell him to get over it, then,” said Jay, and hung up on him.
“Fuck!” Louis shouted. “Fuck, Zayn, I’m fucked!”
Zayn was doodling something with a tablet and an electronic pen in the kitchen. Their flat was small enough that living room and kitchen were really the same room, just at different tables. “Did you just lie to your mum and tell her that Liam is your boyfriend?” Zayn asked, managing to sound bored and amused in the same breath.
“No,” Louis said. “I lied to her ages ago and then I forgot. And now she wants to meet him. Meet him again, I mean, this time as my boyfriend.”
Zayn was clearly trying not to laugh. “Does Liam know he’s your boyfriend?”
“No,” said Louis crossly. “Of course he doesn’t.” He picked up one of the sofa cushions and held it over his face.
“Well, you’ve either got to tell Liam he is your boyfriend, or your mum that he isn’t.” Zayn shrugged unhelpfully. “Choice A or choice B?’
“Choice C, throw myself into traffic,” Louis said into the pillow. “Fuck, what am I going to do? Fuck!” He tried to imagine himself pretending to see Liam. He could see it vividly, was the problem; spending lazy afternoons with Liam on the sofa, and going out to dinner, and kissing him, and –
Zayn threw a shoe at him and Louis threw the pillow at him in return. “Don’t be such a wanker and don’t lie to your mum,” Zayn said.
“Yeah, I’ll just go back in time, shall I, and let her worry about me instead? Fuck, Zayn, do you suppose Liam would pretend? Just for the afternoon? I’ll buy him lunch and then after mum has the twins we can have an amicable break up.”
“That is the worst fucking idea I’ve ever heard,” said Zayn.
Louis was already three-quarters decided. “How do I ask Liam to pretend to be my boyfriend?”
“Buy him flowers,” Zayn advised. “Tell him you like his eyes.”
Louis looked around for something else to throw at Zayn. He settled on a handful of love hearts. Their flat was an absolute tip. “I only want him to sit there and smile politely at my mum for an hour. I’ll just give him twenty pounds or something.”
“Have you got twenty pounds?”
“No. Fuck. I’m calling Liam anyway.” Louis picked his phone back up. “Shit, what if he’s actually busy this weekend? What if he’s out of town?”
The phone rang four times before Liam answered it. Louis’s heart was pounding in his ears. What a stupid situation. How utterly ridiculous. “Louis?” Liam asked.
“Are you here this weekend? I need a favor,” Louis blurted.
Zayn mouthed Smooth! and gave him a thumbs up.
“I’m around,” said Liam, laughing a little. “Got to take Loki for a walk, and tidy my flat, and take a trip to Primark, but as long as you don’t need my whole weekend I’m around.”
“Just an hour or two on Sunday,” said Louis. He tried to sound really cheerful and relaxed. “I need you to come have lunch with me. And my mum. And my sisters.”
“Okay,” said Liam agreeably.
Louis frowned at his phone. “Don’t agree yet, you don’t know why.”
“Right,” Liam said, still sounding amiable. “Why?”
Zayn was watching like this was the best television programme he’d ever seen, chin on his fists. Louis flipped him two fingers.
“It’s nothing, honestly, it’s just the tiniest little thing, just that my mum thinks we’re boyfriends,” Louis said quickly. “You won’t have to do anything, just pretend you can stand me for an afternoon and then we can break up later. Please? I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t an emergency, Liam. Please?”
Zayn picked up the cushion so he could muffle his giggles. Louis hated him so much sometimes.
There was a long pause. “Wow,” Liam said. “Well, I suppose if it’s an emergency I can be your boyfriend for an afternoon. I’d like to think I’m a good mate in an emergency. And I’m definitely a good boyfriend.”
What sort of a thing was that to say? He probably was a great boyfriend. Louis didn’t want to consider it. “You’re fantastic,” said Louis gratefully. “I’ll tell you where and when and pay for your lunch and just let my mum think whatever she thinks, okay? I’ll explain it all later.”
Liam sounded cheerful again. “Hang on, if you’re my boyfriend surely I’d pay for your lunch.”
“We can trade off,” Louis said. “Paying, I mean. Or we could if this were an ongoing thing. Thanks, Liam. Thanks for not being weird about it. You’re the best.”
Zayn was laughing so hard it looked like he might fall out of his chair. Louis hung up and glared at him. “Shut up,” he said.
“Can I come on your date?” Zayn asked. “Please?”
“No,” said Louis, and threw a trainer at him.
Louis tracked Harry down the next day at the pub after work. Tomorrow he was going to have to pretend to be seeing Liam. “Why would you tell my mum about Liam’s weekend plans?” Louis shouted.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were seeing Liam?” Harry asked frowning, his lower lip stuck out in a pout.
“We aren’t going out,” said Louis. “I was just trying to make my mum worry less.”
Harry considered that deeply, staring at his Coke. He shook his head. “You shouldn’t lie,” he said. “Not to your mum.”
Louis felt a twinge at that. “No,” he said, “but I shouldn’t let her worry, either. It’ll bring on preeclampsia.” It was nice, sometimes, having a mum who was a midwife, because Louis knew all sorts of medical words. And it let him lie more easily.
“But now Liam’s got to lie to your mum,” Harry went on gravely.
Louis felt another twinge. “He’s doing it for the greater good,” said Louis after a minute. “It’s all for the best, really. We can fake break-up any time! It’s not like he’s got to marry me.”
“You could only do a civil ceremony anyway,” Harry said.
“But why did you tell my mum about him?” Louis asked. “Why would you think—“
Harry stared at him. He looked puzzled, then serious, then delighted, then serious again. It was like having a drink with a muppet. “Louis,” Harry said. “You and Liam sit on each other’s laps.”
“Yeah, it annoys him,” said Louis.
“One time you and Zayn and Niall held him down so you could pull his clothes off.”
“Yeah,” said Louis, getting annoyed. “Because it was funny!”
Harry floundered for a minute, then narrowed his eyes. “Doesn’t it seem funny to you that you asked him to pretend to be your boyfriend and he just said yes?”
Actually, yes, it seemed very strange. “He’s my mate,” Louis blustered. “You’d pretend to be my boyfriend, wouldn’t you, Harry?”
“No,” said Harry. “Imagine us, boyfriends? No one would believe it.”
“But they’ll believe me and Liam?” Louis asked sarcastically.
Harry nodded. “I think they probably will. Something about the way you stare at each other, and spend every weekend together, and whisper together, and you’re always giggling with your heads together.”
“That’s so we can keep secrets!” Louis shouted. They didn’t spend every weekend together, did they? Just… practically every weekend. Just most of them. They just liked a lot of the same things, was all.
Harry shrugged. “Looks like boyfriends,” he said. “Good luck with your mum I guess.”
Louis wanted to argue, but he realised he actually spent loads more time with Liam than he’d thought. Usually with Zayn, or with Niall, or with Harry, but if they couldn’t go sometimes it was just him and Liam watching Captain America, or White House Down on the sofa, or singing drunk karaoke at a pub. And football on the weekends, obviously, and the odd concert.
Not enough to look like boyfriends Louis thought scornfully. But enough to be friends. Good friends, even. Maybe “Liam is just a friend of Niall’s” wasn’t quite accurate anymore.
“Liam’s doing me a favor,” said Louis. “But don’t tell my mum anything else, okay?”
“Well, if she texts and asks me if Liam’s proposing I can honestly say no, not yet,” Harry replied. Louis pinched him and Harry laughed and swatted his hand away.
Liam turned up to lunch wearing a smart shirt and carrying flowers. Louis, who was wearing a dirty t-shirt and hadn’t showered in a couple of days, stared at him. “Why do you look so smart?” he asked. “Did you bring me flowers? That’s a bit much.”
“They’re not for you, they’re for your mum,” Liam said. It was sunny on the pavement and Louis squinted anxiously into the car park, wondering when his mum would wrangle the girls out of the car and come close enough to overhear.
“She’ll never believe anyone seeing me would bring her flowers,” said Louis flatly.
Liam looked offended. Offended and terribly, horribly handsome. “Well, that’s too bad, because I would definitely bring my boyfriend’s mum flowers,” he said.
Liam was either taking the whole thing much too seriously or he was taking the piss with a very straight face, and Louis couldn’t honestly tell which. “Stop making all my other boyfriends look like knobs,” Louis complained. His mum was walking over with Daisy and Phoebe.
“You have other boyfriends?” Liam asked, pretending to scowl.
Damn it. He was being so cute. “No,” Louis said, “but I will eventually and you’re making them look bad.”
“I thought you picked me because I’m such a good boyfriend,” Liam protested. Louis pinched his arm. “Oww,” Liam complained, not moving away.
“I picked you because my mum somehow already thought we were boyfriends,” Louis hissed.
Liam looked confused at that. Good. “Why would she think—“ Liam started.
Too late; she was close enough to hear. “Louis, sweetheart,” she said. She was wearing an enormous floppy hat and a sun dress; she was looking just about pregnant enough to pop any day, even though she had at least a month left to go. The girls were in jeans and sandals. Louis reached over and grabbed for Liam’s hand, yanking Liam a step closer. “And Liam, darling, what a pleasure it is to see you. Oh my god, did you bring me flowers?”
“See, I told you she wouldn’t—“ Louis whispered.
“Of course,” said Liam. He handed her the bouquet. She smiled at him like he’d done something amazing and wonderful. She leaned in and he kissed her cheek and gave her a hug, while Louis’s sisters whispered and giggled.
Oh right, he’d forgotten; they thought Liam was just about the fittest person on the planet. Well, they could get in line; he was Louis’s boyfriend for the day. “Are you too old and cool to give me a hug or what?” Louis demanded loudly.
“Hi, Liam,” giggled Daisy.
She hadn’t even heard Louis. He was yesterday’s news, apparently. “Oi,” said Louis. “Stop ogling my boyfriend, you.”
They both turned on him then, embarrassed and annoyed. “We weren’t,” said Phoebe, as Daisy said, “And he’s too cute for you anyway.”
Yes, Louis knew that. “I’m disowning both of you,” he said.
“Are you kidding? Your brother’s the fittest guy I know,” said Liam easily. “You should see him playing football.”
“Eww,” said Phoebe. “Please don’t tell us that.” They both hugged Louis, slightly grudgingly, and then Liam, and Louis saw how their hands lingered. He huffed slightly and shooed them off his boyfriend. Pretend boyfriend. His Liam. Whatever.
As they walked in to the restaurant Louis leaned in to Liam’s ear and whispered, “If you keep acting like you like me this much they’ll know you’re lying.”
“What?” Liam whispered back. His breath was hot on Louis’s neck. “I like you loads, what are you talking about?”
“Fittest guy you know,” Louis whispered sarcastically.
Liam shrugged. “You’re not as pretty as Zayn, I guess, but you aren’t exactly a troll. Besides, I think – I mean, if I were your boyfriend I’d think so!”
“I’m pretty fit,” Louis said. “But I’m not brag about me to other people fit.”
Liam looked offended. “That’s my pretend boyfriend you’re slagging off,” he said. “Hasn’t anyone ever bragged about you?”
“What’s to brag about?” Louis asked.
Liam looked really, honestly upset, but then they were seated at the table and it was too late to whisper about anything anymore.
Both twins wanted to sit with Liam, but Louis grabbed his hand again and said, “Well, he’s my boyfriend so you can’t.” Phoebe stuck her tongue out and Louis stuck his out in reply.
“Modeling good behavior, as always,” sighed Jay. “Liam, how do you put up with this?”
“Oh, Louis’s dead funny,” said Liam. “I don’t think I ever laugh as much as I do when I’m with him.”
“Funny looking,” Phoebe giggled. Louis started to reach over and retaliate but Liam grabbed his hand and wrapped his fingers around Louis’s.
“I just really like Louis, just as he is,” said Liam.
Louis was so surprised he said, “You sound like you mean that!”
“Well, I do,” said Liam firmly. “Of course I do.” He made a complicated face that Louis read as I want your mum to think I mean this in a boyfriendly way but obviously I mean this in a friends way but I definitely mean it.
“Louis’s annoying, but his last boyfriend was absolutely shit—“
“—well he was, and Louis deserves someone who’ll be nice to him.” Daisy narrowed her eyes a bit at Liam. “You’re nice to him, aren’t you?”
God, the whole thing was so embarrassing. “No,” said Louis loudly. “He’s terribly mean and awful and rude and—“
Liam put his hand over Louis’s mouth. “I’m as nice as he deserves,” he said. Louis licked his hand and Liam elbowed him in retaliation. Louis tried to slap at him and Liam caught his hand. It wasn’t really fair how strong Liam had got from going to the gym and whatever.
“You’re both really weird,” said Phoebe uncertainly.
“I think it’s sweet,” said Jay. “Louis’s found someone who’ll put up with him.” She made a terribly embarrassing mum face as if she were considering crying over it.
Louis pulled a face at her. “Mum, it’s just—“ Wait, he couldn’t say ‘it’s just Liam’ about his boyfriend, could he? “—it’s just the way our relationship has turned out,” he finished instead.
“The trick is to love Louis just as he is,” said Liam. Louis kicked him under the table. Liam didn’t even flinch.
The rest of lunch was like that; Jay talked about the babies, and what color she was painting the nursery, and Charlotte’s marks. Daisy spent a lot of it staring dreamily at Liam, but Liam asked her about school and got both the twins to talk about their teachers and friends at school.
Louis just sat there, stewing. It wasn’t fair; Liam was doing a better job at charming his family than any of his actual boyfriends ever had, and he was never going to have a boyfriend who’d put this much effort in again. Liam was ruining everything. With his stupid handsome face, and his stupid fit arms, and his stupid laughing at everything the girls said as if he cared what they had to say.
Liam got a hug from Jay and both of the girls as they left, and Louis’s mum whispered something to him that made him laugh and shake his head and turn a bit red. “If you get tired of Louis you can be my boyfriend,” Phoebe offered.
“Thanks,” said Liam. “I’ll keep that in mind, but I don’t think I’ll get tired of him any time soon.”
“Bleh,” said Phoebe, wrinkling her nose up at Louis. He hugged her just because he knew she’d be embarrassed about it, and then Jay bundled everyone into the car and drove off.
Louis pulled his hand free of Liam’s. “What am I going to do when my next boyfriend isn’t as nice as you?” he demanded.
Liam looked puzzled. “Dunno. Don’t see anyone who isn’t at least as nice as me. S’a bad life choice.”
“But you’re ridiculous,” said Louis. “You’re hardly even real. There aren’t any boys like you.”
Liam shrugged. “Well, I’ll be your pretend boyfriend any time you’d like.”
“Ha,” said Louis. “So we’ll be seventy and you’ll still come round to tell my mum how great I am?”
“If you’d like me to,” said Liam.
Something flipped over in Louis’s stomach. It wasn’t just that there weren’t any boys like Liam, or that he was spoilt now that he’d been Liam’s pretend boyfriend for a day and had Liam say nice things about him. Or how willing Liam seemed to be to go along with whatever mad plan Louis had – prank-wise or pretend-boyfriends-wise.
“Why aren’t you bothered about this?” Louis demanded. “Why did you agree to it at all?”
Liam blinked at him and then frowned a little. “Dunno, I didn’t think about it. Not hard to pretend we’re boyfriends, though, is it? We spend all this time together, and we always have a good time, and you’re fit. I wouldn’t mind if my mum thought I had you as a boyfriend. It’s nice you don’t mind your mum thinking it’s me.”
Louis’s mouth dropped open in an embarrassing, unflattering way. “Your mum—“ he started, but then he couldn’t finish it. Would hate you seeing me, or would say you deserve someone who isn’t a complete disaster. “Not really, though, right?” he asked.
“My mum loves you,” said Liam, looking at the pavement. “She was so worried I’d move to London and not have any friends, because I didn’t really at school, and every time she phones I say, ‘Oh, Louis and I went to the cinema,’ or ‘Oh, Louis and I were playing snooker,’ or ‘Oh, Louis and I watched the football match,’ and she’s so happy she cries.”
He looked properly embarrassed about that, as he should do, Louis thought. Louis was still just gaping like an idiot.
“She just… she likes that I’ve got mates in the city, and that we always have fun, and I might possibly have told her how clever you are. And how funny you are. And she thinks it’s nice you love your sisters so much. And—“
“Liam,” said Louis, with dawning astonishment, “you’ve told your mum about me. Like, properly told your mum about me.”
“Yeah,” said Liam. He shrugged and looked up, embarrassed but a little fierce about it. “Well, we’re friends, and you’re great.”
“I’m great,” Louis repeated. “Liam, you know you’re just pretending to be my boyfriend.”
Liam’s cheeks were properly pink now. “Yes,” he said. “Well, I still think you’re great. Anyone who’s your boyfriend – I mean, pretending to be your boyfriend, ought to think so.”
Louis didn’t know what to say to that, so he reached out and grabbed for Liam’s nipple. That was an old trick, though, so Liam grabbed his wrist before he could, and then Louis went to grab him with his other hand, and Liam grabbed that hand, too. His hands were so big on Louis’s wrists, and it made Louis feel hot and cold and strange all over, so he pushed up on his toes and kissed Liam.
Liam kissed him back. That was the really weird bit. Louis hadn’t actually thought this through, but then Liam’s mouth was on his, and they were kissing. Louis pushed Liam back against the rough brick wall of the restaurant and Liam went easily, but he didn’t let go of Louis’s wrists. He pulled Louis along with him, and then pulled him in closer.
It didn’t feel like pretending anymore. In fact, it felt like Liam’s dick was getting hard in his jeans, because it was rubbing against Louis’s thigh. Liam’s mouth was red and his eyes had gone dark and his fringe was falling messily in his face instead of slicked back nicely.
Louis didn’t even try to pull his hands free. He sort of liked Liam holding them. “My mum’s pregnant,” Louis said breathlessly.
“Yes,” said Liam, “I know, but I think you and I’ll be okay doing this as long as we use protection.”
Oh, Louis wanted to pinch him. “We shouldn’t give her a shock by suddenly not being boyfriends,” Louis said. “I mean, pretend boyfriends. We should probably keep doing that. Pretending, I mean.”
“You mean kissing,” said Liam, grinding just a little bit against Louis’s hip.
“Yes,” said Louis. “You’re brilliant. That’s what I mean. For the sake of my mum. Keep kissing me.”
Liam laughed and Louis could feel how it vibrated in his chest, because his chest was pressed against Louis’s. Liam tilted his head down and kissed Louis again, until it felt like Louis had entirely forgotten how to breathe and he might just drift away.
“If we pretend to break up,” Liam said, “your sisters’ll be all over me.”
“Yes, we’ll have to pretend to be together for days and days,” Louis agreed, trying to get his leg between Liam’s. They were getting funny looks from some of the people walking around the car park and Louis didn’t care at all. “Weeks, maybe.”
“I wouldn’t mind if it were months,” said Liam, a bit shyly.
“Don’t – Jesus, Liam, I can’t – It’s all too much for one day,” said Louis. “Stop being nice to me, or I’ll tickle you to death.”
“You can try,” Liam said, and started kissing Louis’s neck instead.
It felt marvelous. Louis sort of wanted to melt into the pavement. “I will,” said Louis, letting his eyes close. “I will torture you. I’ll make you miserable. You’ll be really sorry.”
“Nah,” said Liam comfortably, and sucked a love bite onto Louis’s neck.
Well, that was hard to argue with.
Zayn was on the sofa when Louis got home, pulling Liam along with him. Liam had been giggling and his face was red and his hair was all mussed, and Louis possibly, maybe, potentially, had his shirt on backwards.
“Hey,” said Zayn, and then, “Heyyyyyy,” with a suspicious look.
“Um,” said Louis. How to explain? “Uh, you see, Liam and I have decided we’ll be much more convincing pretend boyfriends if we do some, er, research.”
“Research?” Zayn echoed.
“He means sex,” said Liam, looking embarrassed and pleased with himself at the same time. Louis pinched his bum and Liam swatted his hand away, but not really.
“Right,” said Zayn, grabbing his jacket. “I’m off to Perrie’s then. I expect you’ll be doing a lot of research because you aren’t convincing at all right now.” He rolled his eyes a little.
“Excellent,” said Louis. “Shall we start on the sofa, Liam?”
“The rest of us have to sit on that sofa,” Zayn complained.
Liam said, “Sorry,” but then he stopped saying that because Louis kissed him. Zayn left, probably, but Louis couldn’t be bothered to notice or to care because he was pulling Liam’s top off and Liam started growling a bit and Louis had more important things to be doing anyway. Quite remarkably, he realized, he hadn’t lied to his mum that much at all. She didn’t need to worry, and he definitely wasn’t lonely.