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so keep my candle bright

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Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts.

Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones.

In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.

Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.

romans 1:26-27


Louis was eighteen when he moved to London and vowed to never return home. Turns out, never looked a lot more like four years.

Holmes Chapel is just as he remembers - though smaller somehow, something he never thought possible as a youth when the entire village itself felt like it was caving in on him, squeezing out every last breath. There are the same badly paved roads, trees, houses, and broken down fences. The same old bloody grey sky - it would be a sign, maybe, if the sky weren’t always grey here, miserable and relentless. He supposes it’s no better in London, but it never felt as such. There, it was as if it were a mere inconvenience - an offhand conversation piece amongst patrons, more in habit than in actual complaint. That’s how it felt to Louis anyway. The same grey sky didn’t matter as much amidst the pulse and buzz of a real city. As far as he’s concerned, Holmes Chapel has no pulse. There are no blurry-eyed business people on the tube - no, here you have the twelve old men of the parish council in their black BMWs. Here the students are dressed in stiff, black uniforms instead of flowing colourful skirts and wide-brimmed hats. Last he was here, the closest they had to foreigners was the Horan family from Ireland, and you were certain never to see two men walking down the street hand in hand.

Here, the grey sky is suffocating, mocking his failure, while his mum chats on about the spring fair, as if this isn’t the first she’s seen of her eldest in six months. Like she hadn’t just picked him up from the train station with a duffel bag and three credit cards worth of debt. Denial, plain avoidance, it’s what his mother does best. Like mother, like son.

Most of the trees are still bare, the smallest of buds appearing on the moss-covered branches. It had been summer when he left in the passenger seat of Zayn’s hatchback. The trees were in bloom, the cows were grazing, and the sky was, in fact, blue as Louis stuck his middle finger out the window all the way down Middlewich Road.

“Lewis, are you even listening to me?”

“Mum, how many times do I have to tell you - I prefer Louis now,” he grumbles as he scrolls through his phone to Zayn’s last text message.

“Okay, Louis, I said if you go down to George and Dragon on Monday and speak with Mr. Ward, he’ll likely hire you. I told him you had experience, and they’re looking for someone for the summer season.”

“George and Dragon?” Louis whines, halfway through typing his text. “That place is for fogies.”

“Fine, if you can come up with another way to pay off your eight grand in debt, then be my guest.”

Louis bites back a reply, finishing off his message and pressing send. just as awful as i remembered and i haven’t even stepped out of the car. how long till you come and rescue me???? He pockets his phone, and returns to staring sullenly out the window as his mum pulls down their familiar street. At least she’s done trying to have a conversation with him. Louis has always preferred ignoring over pretending when it came to her avoidance tactics.

When his mum turns off the ignition in the driveway, Louis doesn’t move from his seat right away. His house looks no different either: brown brick with ivy trim, an overgrown flower bed. The same oak tree towers out front, the one he loved climbing as a child before he was forbidden to after five-year-old Lottie fell and broke her arm trying to reach the same height as him. He feels a twinge of nostalgia from memories when Holmes Chapel was his home, when it was a beloved one at that, but the thought does nothing to ease the distaste now.

Louis had shared a shitty flat with Zayn in South London for almost the entire four years he lived there. That was until they moved in with their respective boyfriends, and when Louis' relationship crashed and burned within two months of living together, he sought refuge at Zayn and Liam’s. He didn’t have his own room, of course, but a curtained area in their living room. He had hated it, but he would’ve gladly stayed there and dealt with falling asleep on a lumpy daybed while they fucked on the other side of the paper-thin wall, if it didn’t also mean handing over every last penny he earned to them while collections called nearly every day of the week.

“I suspect your night has already been dedicated to moping, but dinner is at six.” Jay gets out of the car, but before shutting the door behind her, she bends down to look at Louis. “Oh, and don’t forget - you’re coming to church tomorrow.”

Louis groans, throwing his head back against the seat as his phone flashes with a text from Zayn. ha! not a chance!


Louis is awoken by his nine-year-old twin sisters barging into his room, singing what he suspects is a Miley song at an intolerably high level. They were only five when he moved, and he’s seen them only once since then, but that doesn’t stop them from jumping on top of him and sticking wet fingers in his ears.

Knowing it will piss off his mother, he throws on a pair of ripped trousers and a t-shirt of questionable cleanliness. He’s in need of a shower, but he settles for running his fingers through stringy strands of hair. Sure enough, Louis' barely settled into the dining room chair when his mum walks by and runs her own hand through it. “Honey, I think you need a haircut.”

“I happen to like it,” Louis shoots back, taking a sip of orange juice. Truth be told, Louis has wanted a haircut since New Year’s, but when left to choose how to spend the little money he had, alcohol and shoes always won.

Lottie smirks at him from across the table. “You look like a 70s pornstar.”

“My god, you’re right,” Louis gasps. “I’ve been looking in the wrong industry for work all this time.”

She snorts, rolling her eyes. “You’re welcome.”

“You two, stop. That’s not appropriate for the breakfast table, or in front of the twins, you know that,” Jay scolds, setting down a tower of pancakes in front of them. She heads back into the kitchen, yelling for Fizzy and Dan, while he and Lottie grin at each other.

Louis' the closest to her out of all his sisters, mostly because she’s the oldest and therefore Louis had the most time with her before he left. Because she’s older, she was also able to visit him in London the few times his mother came down to see him without the rest of the pack. They texted occasionally, enough for Louis to see that at fifteen, she exhibited a lot of the same traits he had - the same flare for eccentricity, a taste for rebellion, and above all, contempt for this village.

He makes a grab at the pancakes before his three sisters can, pretending to stab them with his fork when they try to take some of their own. Phoebe and Daisy squeal and giggle, mimicking him as they try to stab back, but they miss as he successfully gets two onto his plate. The twins continue into a fork fight of their own, Phoebe crying out when Daisy stabs the fleshy skin between her thumb and index finger.

Jay chastises them from the kitchen, and together they both yell back, “Lewis started it!”

She pokes her head around the corner and glares. “Lewis, please don’t rile the girls up right before church.”

“It’s Louis,” he says through a mouthful of syrupy dough.

She continues to glare while Lottie takes her own pancake, now that the war has ceased. Lottie shakes her head, smiling in amusement. “Such a brat,” she mouths.

Louis returns with his most practiced angelic look, batted eyelashes and all. He’s been asking to be called Louis for four years now, and he doesn’t understand why it’s so hard. Especially since it technically is his real name, had been until he was ten when he decided to change it after constantly being deemed as a name for sissies and poofs by his classmates. It was his first day in London when a prospective employer pronounced it wrong on his CV - or correctly, he supposes - and he decided to reclaim it. It was a metaphor of sorts, bringing back not only the name but also the parts of him that were buried away with it. He’d be the gayest, baddest poof of them all, and so would his sissy, French name, dammit.

After breakfast, they all gear up and make the five-minute walk to the middle of town as one big happy family. His mum wastes no time before sidling up next to Louis, asking Lottie to go up with Fizzy so she could talk to him alone. She hooks an arm in his, and Louis eyes her suspiciously.

“Sweetheart, I know it’s not easy for you being back here,” she starts, and Louis has to stop himself from scoffing in her face. “You don’t have the fondest feelings over this village, and it’s understandable...”

He stares straight ahead, the tower of St. Luke’s peeking out over the tree tops.

“But remember that we do, Louis. This is our home, our community, and it’s been very good to Dan and me and the girls.”

“Mum, are you trying to ask me not to go barging into the church and announcing that I’m a poof?” he asks with only a little hostility.

“No, Louis, that’s not - ” she shakes her head, looking flustered.

“Then what, mother? What are you trying to say?”

She takes a deep breath, and says slowly, “You know this community can be a little - ”

“Close-minded? Bigoted?”

She looks at him sternly. “Conservative, at times,” she finishes. “It’s a village centered by a chapel, Louis, what do you expect?”

He stares at her, and she looks back, entirely unfazed. Louis learned a long, long time ago to stop trying, not to allow himself to feel disappointment. “Nothing, mum,” he says tightly. “I don’t expect anything.” He pulls his arm from hers, wrapping it around his chest instead. “You don’t have to worry about it. I’ve long since learned my lesson.” When she doesn’t reply, he adds, “I’ll only be here until I earn back the money I owe, and then I’ll be gone and out of your hair, and you can go back to having the perfect family and forgetting about your inconvenient gay son.” He stalks away, joining Lottie and Fizzy up ahead, ignoring his mother’s calls.  


“Can I get a loaf of rye and white, please - and that last ham and cheese croissant.”

“Yeah, sure thing, Lewis.”

Louis looks up from the pastry case to see a curly haired kid grinning back at him. He looks familiar, as every other person in this village does, but Louis struggles to pin him down to a specific name or family. It’s happened countless times this week at the pub where he now works. On days where he’s feeling particularly sassy - that’s most days, he admits - he sends his sweetest, most passive-aggressive smile and says, “Sorry, who are you?” His mother has had four calls this week from elders in the community who just couldn’t believe the oldest Tomlinson didn’t remember them, and he heard every word of it back from his mother. He can’t bear to do that to this kid though, not with that lopsided grin and unruly curls peeking out from under his sad, paper hat. Through the powers of assumption he can guess this kid went to his school, and the happy-go-lucky twinkle in his eye and the fresh-faced, glowing cheeks lead him to believe that he’s still there.

Louis forces a half-smile and says, “Oh, hi.” In an afterthought, he adds, “It’s Louis now, by the way.”

“Oh, Louis. Okay. I like that better.”


The kid nods, grin unwavering. He doesn’t move to retrieve the desired bread or his croissant, so Louis flicks his eyes to the shelf behind his back, to the case and then back to the kid, clearing his throat. He’s just finished a long and painful shift on the first sunny Saturday of spring. He’s bitchy, he smells like beer that he did not drink, and he’s famished. He was hoping not to crush this Bambi-like kid’s spirit, but he’d really like to get home. “Um, could I maybe get my bread?”

“Oh, right. Sorry,” he says, flustered, turning to locate the right bread. “Rye and white, you said?”


He sets them down on the counter before reaching for the croissant, and then a lemon bar.

“Oh, I don’t - ”

“It’s on me. They’re my speciality. Take it as my ‘Welcome Back to Holmes Chapel’ gift.” He hands the two baggies over, and winks. Winks. Who is this kid?

“Um, thanks.”

“So, you’re back for good, huh?”

“No,” Louis says quickly. “No, not for good. It’s - temporary. Definitely temporary.”

“Okay.” He’s still smiling, though there are lines in his foreheads as he blinks at him, confused, but pressing no further.

“Uh, how much do I owe you?”

“Oh, right. Geez, sorry.” He shakes his head as he begins to punch buttons on the register. Louis certainly hopes he’s still in school, and that this isn’t an actual career path or anything. He’s a little bit afraid to try this lemon bar. Bambi’s eyebrows are knitted together, the tip of his tongue poking between his lips as he searches the keypad. “I can’t find the new croissant button.”

Louis smiles, biting his own tongue. If this was London, he’d most likely throw a wink and say something along the lines of, “You’re lucky you’re cute.” But he keeps seeing his mum’s disapproving face, the disdain of the elderly in church, the taunting of his classmates, so he says nothing instead, waiting.

“There we go.” Bambi looks up at him, flashing a slightly embarrassed grin. “It’ll be £4.75, please.”

Louis digs for his wallet, pulling out the fiver his mum gave him for the bread. “Keep the change. It’s a tip, for the trouble.”

He makes a face, lips pressed together into a tiny pout. “Thanks, mate,” he says anyway, “I’ll buy myself a few pieces of candy.”


“Right, I’ll grab you a bag,” he says, this time without prompting, slipping the two loaves into a large paper bag. When he hands it to Louis, he says, “Well, enjoy your bread, and your lemon bar. Especially your lemon bar.”

Louis laughs, full and real, probably for the first time since returning, at least at someone other than Lottie. “Thanks, I’ll let you know.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll see you at church tomorrow?”

“Unfortunately,” Louis grumbles. “Mum’s orders.”

Bambi frowns a little, head cocked to the side. “Oh, alright,” he says. Bambi’s one of them, he should’ve known. Someone with such sparkly doe-eyes has to be a church kid.

“Well, see you tomorrow.” Louis raises his hand in a wave, starting towards the door.

“Yeah, bye - Louis.” When Louis turns to look back at him, the kid grins, dimples and all, looking proud for remembering.

Louis can’t help but laugh, shaking his head in amusement as he pushes the door open, a bell ringing above his head. “Bye,” he says. “Thanks again for the bar.”

“My pleasure.”

Halfway to his house, already having finished the croissant, Louis' curiosity gets the best of him as he takes the lemon bar out of the bag. He smells it first, as if that will give him a clue as to whether or not it’s actually edible. It smells like lemon. Louis takes one bite, and says aloud to himself, “Shit, that’s good.” He devours the entire thing in three bites.


Just like Louis remembers from growing up, he’s forced to wait at least a half an hour after the sermon finishes while his mum flits about the chapel, chatting and volunteering her baked goods for various charities. Louis sits in the last pew next to Lottie, playing Jeopardy on his phone and trying not to gag.

He had entirely forgotten about Bambi and his heavenly lemon bar when suddenly there’s a body next to him, chirping a friendly hello. Louis looks up to see his grinning face, doe-eyes, dimpled cheeks, and curly hair. “Hi Louis.”

“You know you don’t have to say it like that.”

He frowns, confused. “But you said that’s your name now.”

“I meant accentuating the ee. A simple Louis would suffice. Rolls off your tongue.”

Next to him Lottie scoffs, rolling her eyes. “Don’t even waste your time on him, Harry.”

Harry. Louis lets the name sink in before his eyes widen, the realization hitting him. “Harry!” he repeats excitedly, feeling like he just won a word puzzle. “Harry Styles.”

Harry gives him a funny look, even more confused. “Don’t tell me you didn’t know who I was,” he says blankly.

“It’s not that I didn’t know…” Louis says slowly, carefully, grinning in innocence, “I recognized you, I just couldn’t place you…”

Harry smirks. He even rolls his eyes lightheartedly. “You couldn’t place the vicar’s son?” he asks with the slightest air of sarcasm.

“Well, if that’s how you want to be known…”

“It’s not - it’s just how it tends to go,” Harry says. “Comes with the territory and all.”

Louis looks him over through the lens of the newly acquired information. He tries to reconcile the small, bumbling, weird reverend’s kid in the baggy khakis and collared shirts that he left four years ago with the tall, lean, and well, attractive young man in front of him. He still has that bright-eyed and bushy-tailed look to him that made Louis' blood curl back then and still kind of does now, but there’s certainly a marked difference in him, Louis can tell, and he doesn’t think it’s solely from the newly acquired tight jeans and white v-neck. “Well,” Louis comments without thought, “you certainly grew up.”

Next to him, Lottie snorts under her breath, loud enough for Louis to hear, and he retaliates by grinding his elbow into her ribs.

If Harry heard, he doesn’t let on. He only laughs, and says, “Well, I was fourteen when you left, so I’d at least hope as much.”

Louis raises an eyebrow. “You remember when I left?”

Harry shrugs, looking mildly embarrassed. “Well, yeah,” he says carefully, “it is Holmes Chapel. Not a whole lot goes on here.”

“Touche,” Louis allows.

Louis and Harry were never friends, not even remotely. They might’ve talked once, surely when they were children, or at a church function before Louis' reputation got the best of him, but nothing sticks out in his mind. Not only is Harry four years younger than him, but the crowds they hung in might as well have been from different worlds. Harry was the reverend's son, in every way he could be, and Louis was one of the bad kids that the Harrys of the town were warned against, the kind that skipped school and hung around by the river to get high. By the time he reached his last year of school, some parents would openly scowl towards him, physically pulling their children in the opposite direction when he came near, as if sparing them from catching his disease. Did it really surprise anyone that he escaped this bloody town the second he graduated?

“So, have you done anything exciting since you’ve been back?”

Louis blinks at him like he must be kidding. When Harry doesn’t crack a grin to let him know he is, Louis says, “I’ve watched four whole television series. All had multiple seasons.”

“It’s true,” Lottie confirms dully, not glancing up from her phone.

“Have you seen any old mates? Dylan Hardgrave is still here. He’s working at the Carlsons’ farm. You two were mates, right?”

They were, in all ways that two people who have only partying in common can be. “I can’t remember,” he says. “In any case, don’t feel much for spending time with someone who couldn’t at least try to get out of this village.” Louis pretends he doesn’t see the brief expression of hurt that crosses over Harry’s face. He half expects another snarky comment from Lottie, but none come as she’s too focused on her phone.

“Oh,” Harry says, “I guess that means I’m also exempt.”

“From what?” Louis asks dumbly.

“From hanging out, since I’m still in this village and all.”

“That doesn’t count, you’re still in secondary,” he says automatically before it registers that Harry Styles - The Reverend’s Kid - hinted at hanging out with Louis Tomlinson - the kid with The Reputation, the one who’s been living loose and wild in London. Louis would maybe laugh if this kid, this eighteen-year-old kid, didn’t look so sincere and completely clueless. Louis wonders if he’s pulling his leg, or if he actually doesn’t know.

“So, you would hang out with me?”

“Uh - ” Louis flounders. He’s never loved his mother more when she chooses that moment to approach them, grinning wide and bright at Harry.

“Harry, darling. How are you?”

He stands, like any good Reverend’s Kid would, grinning politely. “Hi, Mrs. Deakin. I’m good, how are you?”

“It’s nice to see you boys talking,” she says reflectively, looking between him and Louis.

Louis resists the urge to scowl, and goes back to scrolling through his phone.

Harry and his mother continue to chat for a few minutes, either about the spring fair or the upcoming youth conference or their Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Louis doesn’t really care. He loses a round in Jeopardy when Harry’s saying, “Well, I’ll see you around, Louis? Maybe to come and get another lemon bar?”

“Totally,” Louis says distractedly, only briefly looking up from his phone. Harry looks a little disappointed, though Louis doubts the feeling will stick once he finds out he’s a heathen who sucks cock.

On Wednesday, his craving for that bloody lemon bar gets the best of him, and he stops into the bakery on his way to work, doubting that Harry will even be there. But sure enough, Louis spots the same white hat and curly hair bent over a display behind the counter. He looks up when the bell rings above Louis' head, and instantly grins, wiping his hand on his apron. “Louis, hey! Came for a lemon bar, I reckon?”

“Actually,” Louis says, “yes, I did. You were right to say it’s your speciality.”

Somehow, he manages to grin even wider, face nearly splitting in two. He reaches into the pastry case, grabbing two. “One for later.” He hands them over, looking at Louis as he smiles. “You got a haircut,” he says. “It looks good.”

“I showered too,” Louis comments, grinning proudly.

“Wonderful. Good for you.” He laughs, and says, “Are you going to work?”

“Yes, George and Dragon.”

“Oh, yeah, I know.” When Louis looks at him curiously, he rolls his eyes and says, “Louis, you’re in Holmes Chapel. Nothing is done without the entire village knowing.”

“Right. Somehow I keep managing to forget,” Louis says dryly. “Aren’t you supposed to be in school?”

“I don’t have classes in the afternoon this term. Saving up for uni, you know?”


Harry rings up the lemon bars, this time locating all the proper buttons right away. “That’ll be three quid.”

Louis whistles, digging in his pocket for change. “That’s an expensive bar.”

“It’s allowed to be when it’s that delicious,” Harry counters easily.

Louis laughs, nodding in allowance as he counts out the proper change and hands it to Harry in exchange for the bars.

“Hey, are you going to the spring fair on Saturday?”

“Wasn’t particularly planning on it, no,” Louis says. “Though I’m sure my mum has other ideas.”

“Oh, well, I thought maybe we could go together?” Harry asks coolly. He certainly is brave, not to mention very persistent, for an eighteen-year-old. When Louis was his age, he definitely wasn’t asking mysterious twenty-two-year-olds with bad reputations that he barely knew to the spring fair. Then again, that might’ve also had something to do with the fact that he wouldn’t have been caught dead at the spring fair without a large amount of weed in his system.

“Harry…” Louis starts carefully, and Harry blinks back, as if his actions are only slowly beginning to dawn on him now. Inside his head, his mother reprimands him, but he ignores her. He doesn’t exactly want to crush this kid’s spirits, but he also doesn’t feel much for agreeing only for him to find out later on. If there’s going to be any condemnation, he’d rather get it out of the way now. “I’m gay.”

The look of embarrassment is quickly replaced by confusion. “Oh,” he says after a pause. “Okay.”

“Okay,” Louis repeats, feeling a little confused himself. It’s not that he was necessarily expecting Harry to yell “Sinner!” at him or flash him the sign of the cross, but he did expect a little bit of a stronger reaction from the vicar’s son.

“Well, I know the fair is super lame and probably not something you want to do, but I swear it can be kind of fun,” Harry says, just like that. Did he hear Louis correctly?

“You still want to hang out?” Louis asks dumbly.

“Well, sure,” Harry says with a small smile, a funny look on his face, “if you’re okay with hanging out with a sixth former.”

“I just thought - well, I didn’t think you’d want to be hanging out with a - homosexual,” Louis says, wiggling his fingers with a feigned look of horror.

Harry smirks. “Well, to be honest, I kind of figured,” he says. “There were rumours, with you and Zayn. I don’t think you two hid it all that well. Sorry if that’s what you were going for.”

“It wasn’t.” Louis steps back, looking over Harry curiously as if a clue that’s he lying is hidden in his expression or stance. He sees nothing that tips him off, only Harry’s wide eyes and easy smile, so he says, “You really don’t care?”

“No,” he says genuinely, “why would I?”

“I don’t know. I might tarnish your reputation as the reverend’s wholesome and perfect son.”

Harry snorts a little. “Perfect, maybe. But wholesome?” he asks, teasingly.

Louis shrugs. “You know.”

“I don’t care,” he says again. “You seem fine to me, homosexual or not.” He cracks a grin, and Louis can’t help but laugh in return.

He glances at the clock above Harry’s head, cursing himself. “Shit, I start in like, two minutes.”

As he hurries towards the door, Harry calls after him, “You never gave me an answer.”

“To what?” Louis asks, perplexed, as he hovers over the door handle.

“The spring fair, on Saturday,” he reminds.

“Oh, right. Is it really kind of fun?”

“No,” Harry says, admittedly, “it’s pretty awful.”

Louis laughs, the bell sounding as he steps out. “Okay, I’m sold. I’ll go.”

“Okay.” Harry grins, waving as Louis steps out the rest of the way, dashing across the intersection towards the pub.

His coworker, Belle, gives him a condemning look as he steps onto the floor five minutes late. He shoots her a sheepish look, apologizing. He most likely would’ve made it on time if he didn’t have to stop in the back room to devour that bloody lemon bar. Really, if it’s anyone’s fault that he’s late, it’s Harry Styles’s, though he doubts that will offer much consolation to Belle. Despite sharing a name with a pleasant Disney princess, Belle has four kids, an alcoholic husband and is in a constant state of bitch. In any case, Louis can’t afford to lose this job. Unlike in London, if he gets fired, there’s nowhere else to go.

She heads towards the back, her shift done, and Louis calls after her, “There’s a lemon bar in my locker if you want it!”

She doesn’t acknowledge him, but later, while on his break, he finds the half-eaten bar discarded in the trash bin.

“That bitch.” He scowls, resisting the urge to retrieve it and eat it anyway.

When he returns to the bakery the following two days, he tells himself it has everything to do with the lemon bars and that he definitely isn’t disappointed to see a lady behind the counter instead of Harry.

Early Saturday morning, Louis' awoken by Jay in an attempt to get him to help set up the fair. Louis’ groans in refusal, rolling onto his stomach and pulling his pillow over his head. Surprisingly, she gives up and leaves him alone.

When he wakes up a few hours later, the time on his cell phone reading 11:18, the house is eerily quiet. No screaming sisters, no blasting music, no nagging mother. Louis hasn’t had the place to himself in the two weeks that he’s been back. He eats cereal in his boxers, cartoons turned on high, and savours it.

Close to twelve, there’s a knock at his door and Louis answers it without bothering to cover up, prepared to shock another elder with his outlandish behaviour. The elder turns out to be Harry Styles, who blinks at him from underneath his oversized beanie. Harry looks down, taking in his attire before quickly reverting his gaze back to Louis'. He shoves his hands in his trouser pockets, looking a little embarrassed. “Um, are you planning on going like that?”

Louis stares at him, momentarily confused as to why Harry Styles is standing on his doorstep in bright yellow gumboots.

“The spring fair?” Harry elaborates, careful, like Louis might be slow. “Come on, it’s been three days. You couldn’t possibly have forgotten.”

“Right. Yeah, of course. No, I didn’t forget,” he lies. “I just thought that maybe that wasn’t happening anymore.”

Harry frowns. “Why wouldn’t it?”

“I just haven’t seen you.”

“I haven’t been working.” Harry cocks his head to the side, a knowing smirk creeping across his face. “You were going to ditch me.”

“I was not,” Louis says defensively. He leans against the doorframe, folding his arms across his chest. “I just didn’t expect you to show up at my house. How do you even know where I live?”

“This is Holmes Chapel,” Harry says simply, and Louis' beginning to think that’s his answer for everything.

“Right,” Louis says, “you’ve said that a few times.”

“Well, it’s true.” He shrugs. “So, are you going to change? Maybe let me in, in the mean time?"

Louis steps back, beckoning him inside with a sweep of his hand. Louis looks out at the grey March sky, rain falling lightly and collecting in puddles on his gravel driveway. “It’s raining out and you still want to go to this stupid fair?” He asks as he shuts the door, cutting off the cool air that blows in, causing goosebumps to form on his bare skin.

Harry’s sitting on the bench next to the shoe rack, nodding up at him. “Yes,” he says. “I entered the cake baking contest.”

“You’re lying,” Louis says disbelievingly.

“I’m not.”

“Then where is it?”

“My parents took it in the car this morning when they went to set up.”

Louis looks at his straight face for exactly three seconds before bursting into laughter.

Harry folds his arms over his chest, looking offended and only mildly embarrassed by Louis' reaction. “I work in a bakery. I fail to see how this is surprising or funny.”

Louis' still laughing, shaking his head as he moves towards the staircase, heading to his bedroom to change. “You’re something else,” he says. Before he disappears down the stairs he turns to see Harry frowning at him, resembling something of an indignant child. How Louis ended up agreeing to spend his Saturday with an eighteen-year-old kid who bakes cakes in his free time and enters them in contests is beyond him. His teenaged self would be ashamed to be caught dead with such a person, even if he’s a pretty boy in gumboots.

When Louis rejoins him at the door, now covered in jeans and an old, baggy sweater, Harry still appears bothered. Somehow, Louis finds his old pair of black gumboots hidden in the back corner of the disastrous closet, and while he’s slipping them on, Harry says, “You know, you don’t get to try any of my cake now.”

“Because I laughed?”

“It’s even better than my lemon bars, you know,” Harry says haughtily, examining his fingernails.

“I’d have to see about that.”

“Well, too bad because you won’t because you’re a jerk,” he retorts.

Louis laughs, taking his raincoat from the rack. “All right, then.” He slides his jacket over his shoulders, and looks down at Harry, who’s still glowering at him from his spot on the bench. “Let’s go, yeah?”

Harry sighs, complying, as he stands and joins Louis at the door. Louis reaches over to squeeze his shoulder as he says, “Relax, mate. I was only teasing. You bake all the cakes you want.” Louis holds the door open for Harry, and when he passes by, he looks him over thoughtfully.

Louis shakes his head, and while he’s locking up the door behind him, Harry says, “You’re still not getting any cake.”

By the time they reach the fairgrounds, the rain has fallen into a light drizzle. Louis keeps his large hood on, pulled over nearly his entire face, while Harry trots along without a care in the world, seemingly unfazed by his increasingly rain-soaked hair and drooping beanie. Everyone else appears to be in the same frame of mind, as it looks as if the entire village plus its pets has shown up, trudging along in the muddy grass and braving the open air by the stage to watch the spelling bee. If Louis must admire anything, it’s their dedication and consistency.

It looks exactly how Louis expected it to. These things were always more fun as a kid, of course, or the few times he and his friends crashed it as youths, either high or drunk, pigging out on popcorn and cotton candy and jumping on the bouncy castle. The dozens of tables surrounding the open field contain produce, flowers, and various arts and crafts made by children, housewives, and elderly alike. There are rain-damaged posters for a colouring contest, a singing contest, a pie-eating contest, a wood-sawing contest, a baby show, a pet show, a demolition derby. Louis looks at it all, and feels very, very sad.

Harry’s certainly in a better mood though. For someone who claimed that the fair was awful, he appears fairly content, stopping at all the booths to look at the merchandise and chat pleasantly with the person behind the table. Louis hangs back at a distance in an attempt to avoid small talk, but he almost never succeeds, as Harry pulls him over and whoever it is behind the booth acts like they’re happy to see him, so happy that he’s back in Holmes Chapel. Harry looks so hopeful and warm, and well, clueless, that all Louis can do is smile and be decent, pretending he’s happy too. He can tell by their slow, curious expressions that they’re wondering what he could possibly be doing with the vicar’s son, and it takes serious work not to bite back like he usually would. He supposes he can’t take too much offence. If it was his eighteen-year-old self staring back at them, he’d be giving him and Harry much of the same look.

He spots his mum and the twins at an information booth for a Christian rehabilitation centre, and she grins, waving enthusiastically. When Harry turns back to look at a table of knitted goods, she sends him a thumbs up. Louis looks away immediately, flushing in embarrassment, happy that Harry was too distracted by a multicoloured teapot holder to see.

Louis buys them both candy apples, and they wander past the main stage where a little girl in pigtails is attempting to spell “vindicated.” They walk along the narrow path leading into the forest, while Harry says, “I guess they don’t have things like this in London, huh?”

“Yeah, not really. Closest thing I’ve been to is Camden Market, which is still not even close at all.” Harry looks at him curiously, and Louis elaborates by saying, “Lots of multicoloured hair and face piercings and ripped Nirvana t-shirts.”

Harry smiles, lips bright red from the candied apple. Louis tries not to stare as Harry takes another bite, looking thoughtful. “I’ve only been to London once, with my family. I didn’t see as  much as I would’ve liked. I liked what I did see though. Another world from here, that’s for sure.”

“Yeah, definitely,” Louis agrees. “You said you’re wanting to go to uni though, right? Where were you thinking?”

“Oh, um,” Harry looks a bit embarrassed, ducking his head away from Louis. “Just Manchester, really. That way I don’t have to worry about paying for a room too, you know? I can still live at home that way.” Louis tries to hide his shock, but he suspects that he mostly fails because Harry shakes his head, appearing even more embarrassed. “I knew you’d judge me.”

“I’m not - I’m not judging you,” Louis says honestly. “I guess I just don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to get away when you have the chance.”

“It’s not that horrible here,” Harry says, quick on the defense. “Plus, my sister, she goes to school in Sheffield. It’s expensive. My parents can’t afford to send both of us.”

“There’s such thing as loans,” Louis says, though he’s not sure he’s exactly the best poster boy for such a thing.

“Yes, but…” he trails off, then shakes his head. “It’s not so bad here,” he finishes. “I don’t mind so much. Manchester is a good school, anyway. I want to get into law.” The skepticism must show on Louis' face, because Harry catches his eye and says, “And more judgment.” He attempts a lighthearted smile, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

“It’s just all very - reverend’s son of you. Stay close to him, get into law…” Louis says with little tact.

Harry stares hard at him, jaw tightened and no longer forcing a smile. “I guess we can’t all run off to London to become an actor, can we?” he says with an edge that sounds foreign compared to his usual chipper tone.

Louis opens his mouth to defend himself, then closes it again, lips pressed tight. He supposes he deserves that. He’s about to ask how Harry knew what his plans were in London, but he already knows what the answer will be. It’s Holmes Chapel.

They’re far into the forest now, the buzz of the fair faded in the distance, overtaken by the sound of the newly arrived birds and crickets. Louis stops, grabbing ahold of Harry’s shoulder, squeezing just briefly before letting go. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to offend you.”

Harry exhales, looking over Louis. Both of them are still holding their candy apples, half-eaten and forgotten. “You didn’t offend me,” he says eventually. “It’s just that not everyone hates this place as much as you.”

“Fine. You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” He shrugs. “Sorry for snapping. Sensitive topic, I guess.” When Louis gives no reply, he elaborates by saying, “There’s just a lot of expectations on me.”

Louis blames it on the rain and the way Harry looks like a sopping wet kitten, but he feels a twinge of pity for the kid, something he never thought possible for the beloved vicar’s son. He’s not entirely certain what these expectations may be, but seeing as he’s had to deal with quite a few of his own, he has a pretty good idea.

Harry winces as if in pain, laughing a little while flicking wet hair out of his eyes. “Gosh, you must think I’m such a kid.” He looks at Louis expectantly, shoulders caved in, looking scared of Louis’ response.

“I don’t think that.” Harry peers at him half in doubt, half in hope. Louis clarifies by saying, “Well, sometimes I do, but not at this particular moment.” Louis shoots him a cheeky grin as Harry laughs again, except this time it sounds real. “I reckon we should head back,” he says. “Don’t want to miss your winning cake.”

“Right. Yes.”

They turn back, Louis remembering his now soggy apple and taking a bite. It still tastes good enough, so he eats the rest anyway, Harry finishing off his own. Just as they reach the end of the trail, the main stage coming into view, Louis says, “Look, from my experience, people are always going to have expectations of you. Some you’ll want to meet, others you won’t, and some you just won’t be able to. At the risk of sounding cheesy, you can’t live to make others happy, you know? You’ll only be miserable reaching for someone else’s dream or idea of who you should be. You just have to decide who and what you’re living for, and well, fuck the rest.” He sighs as Harry watches him intently. “But I get it. I’ve been there. For a long time. It’s not always that easy.”

“No. It’s not, is it?” Harry says in agreement. He offers Louis a small smile and a squeeze of his elbow. “Thanks though. It’s nice to be reminded sometimes.”

Halfway to the cake tent, the reverend appears in front of them, stopping them in their tracks. He looks between them with much of the same expression that they’ve been getting from others since they arrived: perplexed, though slightly more affronted. Louis bites his tongue and forces a tight smile.

“Harry, there you are, I was wondering if you were going to show up.” He offers Louis a brief glance. “Hi Lewis, it’s nice to see you back after all of this time.”

“Actually, it’s L- ” he starts, but the reverend has already turned his attention back to his son.

“The contest’s about to start. Your mother’s already there.”

“Oh, okay. Thanks. Louis and I were just heading there now,” Harry says, already moving past him.

“Abigail was asking where you were earlier,” Reverend Styles says before Harry gets too far. “She said you weren’t answering your phone.”

“Yeah, I left it at home,” Harry calls over his shoulder, rushing away. Louis scurries close behind, ducking past the reverend’s watchful eye.

“Who’s Abigail?” Louis asks once Harry’s dad is far enough behind them. “Your girlfriend?”

“Not really,” Harry says distractedly.

“Not really?”

“No,” he says again, firmer this time. “She’s not my girlfriend.”

At the tent, Harry’s mum gives them a much warmer greeting, wrapping Harry in a hug and calling him sweetheart while offering what seems like a genuine smile to Louis. Louis has fewer memories of her than of the reverend, but they’re certainly fonder. Both of them involve her giving him cookies in Sunday school. “Mum, you remember Louis Tomlinson?”

“Yes, of course.” She removes her arm from around Harry’s shoulder to lean in and pull Louis in for his own hug, which he stumbles into, taken aback. “Looking very adult and handsome,” she says when she pulls away, squeezing his shoulder and winking good-naturedly. Louis' dripping wet, covered to his knees in mud, and wearing a raincoat from when he was thirteen, but he takes the compliment anyway.

“Mum,” Harry admonishes, flushing in embarrassment.

She laughs, returning to his side as she says, voice staged in a whisper, “I think you might win this year. The competition is kind of - ” She stops, making a face and an iffy motion with her hand.

Harry gasps, feigning shock, playfully whacking her in the shoulder. “You shush now,” he says while Louis watches in amusement. What is a Harry Styles? he wonders. Certainly nothing like he ever expected.

Anne was right - the competition doesn’t offer much to sweat over. Harry’s cake looks simple in comparison: two-tiered with a green fondant base and flowers that sprout from the top like a garden. The others range from Disney princess cakes, to a pirate cake, to a recreation of the Holy Week, from the Last Supper to a mini, golden Jesus in front of a tomb. All of which are either lumpy and falling apart, or too over the top, covered in so many things that they look more like a child’s toy box exploded than anything edible. Louis suspects the look of bliss is even more evident on the judge’s faces when they take a bite of Harry’s cake than when they try the others. Though Louis shouldn’t be surprised when the Jesus cake comes in first and Harry’s is the runner-up.

After Anne gives Harry a congratulatory hug and runs off, Louis grabs the red ribbon from his hand and examines it in disgust. “You know that was totally biased, “ he says. “Jesus always wins here.”

“I know,” Harry sighs, “what was I thinking? It was my fault for not adding a cross on top.”

Louis laughs, handing him back the ribbon. “Well, it certainly looks like the most delicious cake…” he hints coyly.

Harry looks him over in thought, then shakes his head in defeat, laughing. “Fine,” he says, grabbing the knife to cut off a large piece. “You win.” He grabs two nearby plates and slides a slice onto one, handing it over to Louis before cutting his own.

Louis grins in victory, digging in immediately.

It tastes even better than that damn lemon bar.


The following Friday, while Louis' working a night shift, Harry shows up with a pack of mates, taking up the largest table near the small dance area. Louis busies himself by wiping down the bar and refilling the drinks of two truckers when Harry appears, leaning against the bar and shooting him his signature grin. “Hey, Louis." 

“Hi, Harry. Party tonight?”

“Yes, my mate’s birthday,” he says. “What time do you work till?”


Harry nods, still grinning, but says nothing else.

“Um, did you want a pint or something?”

“Yeah, sure.”

While Louis pours him a glass from the tap, Harry says, “Do you have a break soon? You should come sit with us for a bit.”

Louis glances over at the table of rowdy eighteen year-olds, and snorts unintentionally. “I think I might be a bit too old for your crowd.”

Harry rolls his eyes while Louis deposits the cold glass in front of him. “You’re twenty-two, not forty. Plus, Stevie just turned nineteen.”

“Maybe,” Louis says noncommittally. It’s hard to say no when Harry always looks so hopeful and shiny. Like Bambi. “I don’t have a break for awhile.”

“Okay.” Harry shrugs, reaching into his back pocket to pull out his wallet.

Louis waves him off discreetly after making sure his manager isn’t hovering around. “Don’t worry about it,” he says. “Think of it as me paying you back for all those lemon bars.”

“Oh thanks, mate!” He grins with twinkling eyes, like Louis just offered him a free car instead of a pint of Guinness. “Anyway, I best get back. I will come and visit soon. Or come visit me, either works.”

“Okay.” Louis chuckles, inching towards a customer who’s tapping the counter impatiently.

Harry grins some more before skipping off with a wave. 

Harry doesn’t return for at least an hour, Sammy diligently serving their table rounds of pitchers and chips. Between customers, Louis dries glasses and watches. He’s surprised to see Harry drinking steadily, and even from across the bar he can see the flush in his skin, the brightness in his eyes as he chats and laughs along with his friends. There’s a girl next to him, pretty with long, brown hair and freckles. She seems interested in Harry, spending most of her time laughing with him, touching his shoulder periodically. Louis wonders if that’s Abigail, if Harry likes her as much as she seemingly does him. Harry hardly seems fazed, never reaching out to touch her himself, but instead evenly distributing his attention between her and the blond boy to his right. He seems friendly enough towards her, so Louis' not sure if he’s just playing coy or if he really isn't interested.

Harry looks towards Louis, already waving before Louis can pretend he wasn’t watching. He flushes, hoping it’s not visible underneath the dim lights behind the bar. Louis gives a tiny wave back before ducking towards the truckers to see if they need refills.

When Sammy comes to the bar to get another round of pitchers for Harry’s table, she raises a perfectly plucked eyebrow and says, “The curly kid wants to know when your break is.”

Louis nods briefly, grabbing three pitchers from the shelf.

“A mate?” she asks with a suggestive smirk, chin resting on her hand imploringly. Besides Harry, Sammy’s the only other person he’s met so far that he genuinely likes, and therefore, has blatantly told that he’s into the male variety. She hardly seemed surprised, rolling her eyes and saying, “Well, duh.” Louis likes her just fine.

“More like an acquaintance,” Louis corrects. “That’s Harry Styles. You know, the vicar’s son.”

“Wow,” she says while he sets a filled pitcher on her tray. “Well, all I’m going to say is that he’s certainly not looking at you like an acquaintance.”

Louis laughs out loud, shaking his head in disbelief. “Yeah, okay, Sammy.”

She shrugs, still smirking, but says nothing else. Once Louis' filled her tray, she mounts it onto her shoulder and says, “I’ll tell him you’ll be over in twenty.”

Louis narrows his eyes at the back of her bleached-blonde head as she walks away.

Nan leaves the floor to take over for his supper break, so Louis takes his time ordering a sandwich and inches towards Harry’s table. “Louis, you came!” Harry all but cheers when he sees him approach, clapping his hands together in delight. He begins to scoot his chair from maybe-Abigail. “Here, pull up a chair!”

Louis obliges, sending maybe-Abigail a small smile, like he should be apologizing for his temporary interruption in her flirting. “Everyone,” Harry says, clapping his hands to get their attention, “this is Louis. Louis, this is everyone.”

“Hi Louis,” the table erupts in unison.

Louis sinks into his chair, raising his hand in a small, embarrassed wave.

“How’s work?” Harry chirps, reaching for an empty glass and a pitcher. The pour is clumsy, a puddle of beer splashing onto the wooden table. ”Oops.” Harry giggles, narrowing his eyes as he pours the rest with concentration. He slides it over to Louis, grinning proudly. “There you go. Now I served you beer.”

Louis watches him curiously, taking in his bright, glassy eyes and lopsided grin. “Harry,” he gasps, “you’re drunk.”

“Shh,” he says, knocking him in the shoulder, “I am not. I’m happy.”

Louis laughs, taking a sip of his beer. “Oh god.”

“Hey,” Harry says, leaning in close and jabbing his finger into his arm, “I am eighteen years old. I’m allowed to drink beer.”

Louis raises his hands innocently, smiling.

Harry forces a dramatic frown, lower lip protruding, but it’s more adorable than it is anything else. Harry squeezes his arm, and says very seriously, “I don’t want to hear anything about my father.”

Louis' lips curl into an angelic grin. “I wasn’t going to say anything.”

Sammy shows up with his food a few minutes later, reaching over him and Harry to place it on the table. Harry removes his hand from Louis' arm, but she still catches it and turns her head towards Louis, eyes sparkling in contained laughter. Louis avoids her gaze, rolling his eyes into his plate.  

Harry gives him a proper introduction to Niall at his right, then Abigail, confirming Louis’ suspicions. They both greet him warmly, even Abigail, despite the fact that he weaselled his way between her and Harry. She’s certainly very pretty in a girl-next-door type of way, and if Harry isn’t interested, Louis wonders what it is about her that he doesn’t like.

“So, I was wondering,” Harry says while Louis' halfway through his sandwich, “why did you come back anyway?”

“To Holmes Chapel?”

Harry nods.

“Uh, I may have found myself in a little bit of debt.”

“Really? How much?”

Louis reaches for his beer, blushing over the rim. “Uh, a lot,” he says vaguely. Harry raises a pressing eyebrow, and Louis sighs. “Eight grand,” he admits.

Harry stares at him, both eyebrows now reaching his hairline. “Eight?” he repeats incredulously. “Shit, what did you do?”

“Well, first it was acting school, and I don’t know. I wasn’t very responsible with jobs, I cared more about partying and shopping and weekend trips to Paris. I guess I thought I’d land a decent role, but I never really did,” he explains. “I was just careless and stupid. By the time I realized, it was too late. There was no way I’d catch up living on my own in London as a bartender, though not for a lack of trying. After I broke up with my boyfriend I was living on Zayn’s couch for a bit, but I knew I couldn’t do that forever.”

“Oh,” Harry says, reaching for the pitcher to pour himself some more, “You had a boyfriend?”


“Oh.” Harry takes a sip of his beer, looking over Louis' shoulder as he speaks. “How long were you together for?” Louis assumes Harry’s blank expression is supposed to pass for disinterest, like he doesn’t actually care about the boyfriend in question but is merely making small talk. The lack of control over his features due to the alcohol gives him away, though. Louis' experienced this countless times - with his family, Sammy, the occasional older customers who seemed to have just stumbled into this decade. Most of the time, Louis doesn’t mind, because he understands it comes from a place of genuine curiosity, of never having met a proper open gay person. They want to know if what they’ve heard is right, if the media’s portrayal is right. Do they sleep around and lead excessive lifestyles, or are they just like everyone else, wanting love and happiness and success? To them, feigning indifference is a way to find out without causing offence. Some are just worse at it than others, and Harry happens to fall closer to that end.

“Just under a year,” Louis answers. “Honestly, I think we rushed the whole moving in together thing. Zayn was moving in with his boyfriend, so I would’ve been out a roommate. Aiden needed money too so we figured splitting rent for a one-bedroom flat would be good. We did save a lot of money, but yeah, we broke up after two months. We fought too much.” Harry nods in acknowledgement, this time meeting his eyes, and Louis finishes with, “I’ve learned my lesson though. Don’t move in with a boyfriend after seven months.”

“Seems reasonable,” Harry hums. “Are Zayn and his boyfriend still together?”

“Yes, but they met like, a month after we first moved there, and were together two years before they moved in together.”

Harry looks a bit surprised by this, but swallows it down with a sip of beer. There’s a pause in conversation, Harry coming up with no more questions, so Louis listens in on a heated conversation between Abigail and her friend on the return of boybands.

“Well,” Harry says eventually, “I know you’re not super excited to be back, so you might hate me for saying this, but I’m kind of happy that you are.”

Louis raises a curious eyebrow.

“I always thought you were so cool. I saw all the school plays you were in. I thought you were really talented.”

Louis looks at him, not really knowing what to say besides an awkward, “Thank you.”

Harry turns red as if his own words are only registering to him now. “I wasn’t supposed to admit that, was I?”

“No, it’s not that.” Louis shakes his head, floundering for a response that doesn’t have to do with - well, Harry being the vicar’s son and a regular church attendee. “I just - well, thank you. For saying that. I didn’t realize you even really knew who I was.”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry replies. “Louis Tomlinson, lead of all the plays. Holmes Chapel future star, and resident bad boy. There was always a new rumour about you, enough to reach down to us year nines.”

Louis freezes, hand on the remains of his sandwich. He picks it up and takes a bite, chewing slowly. “What kind of rumours?” he asks as casually as he can manage.

“Oh, you know,” Harry says offhandedly, chuckling softly, “Acting out to teachers, telling Ms. Weathers to get some. Or that you set off the fire alarm to get out of an English exam. Things like that.”

Louis relaxes, taking the last bite of his sandwich in ease. This time he meets Harry’s eyes, and grins. “And me and Zayn?”

“Yes, and that,” he says. “Though there was straight rumours too. Girls you hooked up with. I assume they were started mainly by younger girls who fancied you themselves. Unless, of course, they were true?” Harry looks at him questioningly.

“There was a couple. But never in sixth form. I was kind of over it by then. You know, the whole tits thing.”

The flush on Harry’s cheeks burns brighter. “Oh. Right.”

“And as for Zayn? Not really.” Harry looks at him curiously before realizing, and blinks back to indifference. “A bit of boyish experimenting is all.” And then, purely for his own entertainment of watching Harry squirm, he adds, “We didn’t fuck if that’s what you were wondering.”

Harry’s eyes widen, blush growing redder and spreading down his neck. He looks around to see if anyone heard, then says with a hint of sarcasm, “I wasn’t, but thanks for clearing that up for me, should I ever wonder.”

Louis winks as he gulps back the rest of his beer. “My pleasure.”

Harry laughs under his breath, shaking his head and burying his face in his palms. “Oh god.”

“And you thought I was cool, huh?”

Harry glances at him with one eye uncovered. “Sure, but more in the way of I thought you were a good actor and had a really nice voice, and then maybe a little in the way a sheltered church boy would be over someone who seems to at least be having a lot more fun than him.”

“Makes sense,” Louis allows. “I was pretty cool.”

“Really?” Harry asks. “Because I’m very quickly learning that you actually really, really weren’t.”

“Nice try, Styles,” Louis says, getting up from his seat. “It’s too late to try and take back your words. I already know you think I’m the coolest.”

All Harry can do is shake his head once again, lips pressed firmly together to hold back laughter.

Louis takes his empty plate with one hand and returns the chair to its proper table with the other. “I’m going back to work now. Let you be, as I know there’s only so much cool you can handle at one time.”

He walks away to Harry’s laughter.

Louis stays behind the bar for the remainder of the night, periodically glancing over at Harry’s table. His and Abigail’s chairs are pushed together again, though from here Louis can’t tell who was the one to move. As the night goes on, and more people show up, the less people stay in their seats. Louis can hardly keep track of Harry as he seems to circle the entire pub, mingling with anyone and everyone. He spots Harry on the dance floor, playing pool, going out to the patio, giving piggyback rides, receiving a piggyback ride, and sitting on various people’s laps. Louis gets that Harry was fourteen when he left, but when he thought of Harry Styles he thought of a quiet, weird kid who read the Bible on Friday nights and only attended birthday parties in the church basement with piñatas and worship songs. He didn’t expect to find him in a pub, tipsy and wearing skintight jeans.

It’s not until the end of the night when the pub is starting to thin out that Harry finally comes up to Louis at the bar. He sits down at a stool, resting his chin against the counter, and looks up at Louis through lashes and curls. “Hi.”

“Hi,” Louis says back, filling up a glass of water and setting it down in front of him. “Drink.”

Harry obliges, chugging it back in one go, and Louis instantly goes to fill up another.

“How you feeling, champ?”

Harry rolls his eyes, taking the glass from his hands. He raises it to his lips, and mumbles from behind the rim, “‘m not drunk.”

“Do you do this often?”

“I’m not a kid,” he retaliates stubbornly.

“I’m not - ” Louis inhales, pauses, then exhales before trying again. “I just thought your parents would care. That they’d hear about it with a village that talks like this.”

“Fine, I don’t do this often,” he says admittedly. “If I do, it’s always in big groups like this so no one pays attention to me. I don’t usually drink this much.” He presses his forehead against the counter and whines. “Sometimes I just want to be a normal kid who gets drunk and makes a fool of myself without worrying that the whole bloody town will tell my father.” Harry lifts his head to look at Louis again and says, “Is that too much to ask? I don’t think it is.”

“Seems reasonable.” Louis taps at the half-empty glass, signalling for Harry to finish it. “Every kid deserves to get pissed, snog someone embarrassing, and puke in front of everyone. A rite of passage, some call it.”

Harry chugs the water, then slams the glass down. Louis grabs it, filling it again. “Exactly!” Harry says passionately. “And it’s like, everyone thinks that I should be like, at home reading the Bible and praying. Even my closest mates are careful around me sometimes. Like, oh better not do that in front of the vicar’s son. It doesn’t matter that it’s just me. Just Harry.”

Louis is tempted to ask him why he wants to stay in this town once he graduates then, but he figures it might not be the best time. Instead, he skirts around it by saying, “Well, think, come a few months you’ll have a whole uni full of people who don’t know or care about your father.”

Harry sits up straighter, pushing some hair out of his eyes. “Yeah.” He nods enthusiastically. “Yeah, you’re right.”

Niall appears at Harry’s side, wrapping an arm around his shoulder and rubbing his knuckles against his skull. “Hey there, mate. Ready to head out?”

Harry whacks his hand away and twists his head to pout at Niall. “Already?”

“Oh, okay, party animal,” Niall says teasingly. “It’s nearly one. Don’t want you turning into a pumpkin.”

Sighing, Harry finishes off what’s left of his water and stands up. “If we must.” He turns to look at Louis with a pleased expression, as if a grand idea just occurred to him. “Hey, a couple of us are going for brunch tomorrow, you should come.”

Louis shakes his head so quickly and fervently that he’s concerned it might cause neck damage. “Oh, no. No, thank you. I don’t think -”

Harry digs into his pocket for his phone, refusing Louis' protests. “It’s just brunch. Unless they interfere with your plans with your many other friends?” he asks smugly. Louis can only respond with pursed lips and an unamused stare as Harry pushes his phone at him. “It’s not a big deal. It might be good for you to get out of your house to do something other than work and watch consecutive episodes of Gossip Girl.”

Louis scowls, but takes Harry’s phone gingerly, as if it’s a ticking bomb. He types in his name as I Hate Brunch, but adds his real number underneath nonetheless. He passes it back to Harry, contact screen still open.

Harry takes one glance at it and snorts. He pockets it again, and says, “I’ll call you tomorrow to wake you up.”

“Alright.” Louis shrugs, lacking enthusiasm.

Harry parts with a twisted smirk, Niall following close behind and offering Louis a wave. “Guess I’ll see you tomorrow then, mate.”

Louis immediately returns to his closing duties, collecting the empty glasses and bottles around the bar and filling the sanitizer. He sneaks glances at Harry as he collects his coat and does a round to give everyone a hug goodbye. He leaves with Niall and three others, his arm thrown loosely around Abigail’s shoulder. At the doorway he cranks his head to look at Louis, shooting him a wide grin. Louis pretends not to see and goes back to shoving a plate into the dishwasher.

Harry can call all he wants in the morning. He could even show up and give him the biggest and most endearing Bambi eyes that he can muster, but Louis is definitely, definitely not going to brunch with a bunch of church-going, hungover, eighteen-year-old bumpkins.

He looks up to see Sammy hovering along the far counter. She shoots him a knowing grin along with two thumbs up.

Louis ignores her too.


The cafe is packed when he shows up, but he spots Harry immediately, seated in the far corner next to the window, a hideously bright orange beanie on his head.

He’s alone, seated at a table for two, flipping through a newspaper.

“Where is everyone?” he asks before he sits down.

Harry looks up, smiling loosely. “I thought you’d be happy.”

He is, though when Harry said ‘a couple people’ Louis wasn’t exactly picturing only Harry. He raises a questioning eyebrow.

“They bailed. Something about sleeping and hangovers.”

Louis keeps his eyebrow raised and smirks. “Now, Harry, if you just wanted to have brunch with me you could’ve just asked. No need to tarnish your image with lies.”

Harry instantly colours. “I’m not.” He frowns, fumbling in his pocket. “I’ll even show you the text mess- ”

Louis holds up his hand to stop him as Harry retrieves his phone, shaking his head and laughing. “Harry,” he says, “I was just teasing.”

Harry blinks at him from across the table like he’s actually considering getting up and walking away. But then he sighs and puts his phone away. “They really did,” he mutters.

Louis shrugs, offering an easy smile. “Okay.”

Harry adjusts his beanie, tugging it down to his eyebrows as if trying to hide his face. He looks tired, his eyes bleary and rimmed red. Louis' not sure how hungover Harry feels, if at all, but he looks comfy and soft in his navy blue hoodie and joggers.

The waitress comes by with a pot of coffee and empty mug for Louis, refilling Harry’s as well. 

“I already know what I want. The tomato and avocado breakfast croissant,” Harry says to the waitress before glancing at Louis. “It’s really good. Unless you want some time to look over the menu.”

 Louis looks down at the menu, a single typed sheet. “No, it’s okay. I’ll get the same thing. Except maybe add some bacon to it or something.”

 Sure thing.” She nods with a smile, and scurries off to the back room.

Louis watches as Harry dumps cream and a packet of sugar into his coffee, stirring it with his finger even though a spoon is sitting right next to his mug. “So, how come you want to hang out with me?” Louis asks. “Well,” he says in an afterthought, “besides the fact that you think I’m awesome.”

Harry rolls his eyes, momentarily appearing flustered again, but once he takes a sip of his coffee and lowers his mug, his expression is composed. “Why not?” He shrugs. “In case you haven’t noticed, I’ve had the same friends since nursery, and it’s not like you have a ton of friends yourself.”

“Hey, I have friends,” Louis says a bit defensively, even though he knows it’s besides the point. “They’re just not here.” 

Harry doesn’t reply. He cups his hand around the mug and stares inside thoughtfully. “You don’t have to hang out with me. I won’t be offended. I know I’m just the reverend's weird, younger kid to you.” He looks up at Louis with a steady gaze, the corner of his lip twisted just slightly. “I was actually quite surprised when you agreed to hang out with me the first time. I thought for sure you’d laugh in my face.”

“Really?” Louis' forehead wrinkles in surprise. “It didn’t seem like it.”

“Good actor, I guess.”

“I guess so,” Louis agrees. He shakes his head, bringing himself back to the original topic. “And no, I want to hang out. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be here, trust me.”

“Okay. Alright.” He hides his grin behind his big, red cup, but his dimples escape the shield.

Louis smiles back.

“So.” Harry sets his mug down after a moment, and holds his hand out towards Louis, palm up. “Friends?” he offers.

Louis looks down at it, then back up to Harry’s unblinking eyes. He slips his hand inside Harry’s warm one, and shakes it in agreement. “Friends.”