Liam’s only an hour into his shift and is restocking a bunch of Lady Gaga albums when a hand waves a copy of Zayn’s newest album in front of his face and a silly voice says, “Love me!”
Liam rolls his eyes and turns around, and it’s just Louis standing there, which would make perfect sense except for how Louis has the day off.
“Oh, come on,” Louis says, and he holds the cover art of Zayn in front of his face and wiggles it back and forth. “I’m newly single.” And then removing the picture, he adds, “Cheer up, you big mope.”
“I know, I know,” Liam says, and he goes back to restocking, because Louis is right, if he’s going to be honest; Liam really, really wants to go to the Zayn concert that night, but he’s stuck working, and Louis can’t cover his shift because it’s his mom’s birthday, and no one else wanted to cover for him because they’re all terrible coworkers who are actually going to be at the concert. There’s nothing that Liam can do about it, and so he should stop complaining.
Louis puts an arm around Liam’s shoulders and says, “Do you?” as if he was talking to a child.
“No,” Liam says. “I hate my life. This is so unfair.”
“Life is not always fair, young Liam,” Louis says. “Take, for example, my day so far. I had to go to the grocery store.”
“So tragic,” Liam deadpans. “The injustice of it all.”
“Shush up,” Louis says, and he moves to shove Liam, only Liam sees that coming a mile away and steps aside. He uses his foot to slide the box of new cds across the floor to the M’s, so that he can restock some Nicki Minaj, and Louis keeps talking. “So I was at Tesco, right, and I saw—I kid you not—I saw my soul mate.”
“I fail to see how this is supposed to make me feel better about not getting to see Zayn,” Liam says, and he plucks a misplaced Stone Roses album off of the shelves. Louis knows all about Zayn, thanks to Liam, but for some reason, Louis’s indifferent. He says it’s because he only likes ‘80s power ballads, and not mainstream hip-hop solo artists, but he just says that to be obnoxious, and they both know it.
“I’m getting there,” Louis says. “So I see him—”
“Him?” Liam asks. Louis has only dated girls before, but Liam’s known Louis for ages, and nothing surprises him anymore, not really.
“—and he’s got more hair than a normal person, it seems, but I go up to him anyways because, soul mate, and I say,” Louis pauses and holds his hands in front of him, as if to add to the suspense, “I say, Excuse me, do you like tacos?”
Liam doesn’t feel all that badly about the laugh that escapes him, and he says, “And?”
“And,” Louis says, and he looks smug, “he said that he did, and we’re getting some later tonight.”
“You’ve got your mom’s birthday dinner tonight,” Liam reminds him, because without Liam, Louis would never make it to anything.
“I know,” Louis says, waving his hand. “After. He’s got some work thing until like eleven, anyways. I don’t know, his name’s Harry and he’s not from around here, but I’m not complaining.” He waggles his eyebrows.
“You are literally the worst person in the world,” Liam says, and he groans a bit, rubs at his eyes with the heels of his palms. “Even when you’re an idiot, everything goes perfectly for you.”
“It’s my charming good looks,” Louis agrees, making it sound like looking the way he does is some sort of burden. Liam wouldn’t mind looking like Louis; everyone loves Louis, hot girls and hotter guys, and even strangers at Tesco with too much hair. All Liam’s got interested in him is his own gran, and she doesn’t really have a choice but to love him. “But hey,” Louis continues, “Zayn’ll be back eventually and you can go to his show then. It’s not like you’ll never get to see him. He’s kind of, you know. Popular. Tours a lot.”
Liam tosses all the albums in his hand back into the cardboard box on the floor and shakes his head. “I’ve been a fan of Zayn since his first album,” he says, “which no one else even knew about until after he already made it big, and I still haven't seen him live. I didn’t even like hip-hop until him, okay, so this is kind of a big deal to me. And he’s like the most gorgeous person alive, and probably looks about sixteen times better in person, only I won’t ever know, because I’ll be here tonight, while everyone else is nine short blocks away at his show.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Louis says solemnly, and then as if to show his sympathy, he pats Liam on the shoulder and says, “You’re not wearing your name tag. I’ll go in the back and get it for you.”
Liam keeps restocking and Louis doesn’t resurface from the back room for over twenty minutes. Liam doesn’t bother to ask, just lets Louis pin the name tag onto the front of his shirt as he rings up a young girl and her Beyoncé Greatest Hits album.
The concert creeps closer and closer and Liam gets steadily more and more depressed, even though Louis keeps texting him covert phone pictures of his uncle’s creepy mustache and haikus about whatever’s on his mind.
This party sucks hard
Wish I was the one sucking
Harry off, I mean
You love Zayn a lot
It’s kind of creepy, really
Your secret is safe
I will come by shop
After this party is done
Before taco time
It’s a slow night, though, for the most part, and so Liam just restocks and cleans up and then sits at the counter, his chin in his hand. Niall pops by at a quarter to seven with a hot chocolate—he works as a barista at the coffee shop just around the corner—and Liam appreciates that.
“I put a little Irish in there, for you,” Niall says with a sly smile, and Liam almost spits his drink out because if he got caught drinking during his shift, he’d really be screwed. Niall just laughs at him and says, “I’m joking, Liam. But I did give you extra whipped cream,” and so Liam supposes that he can forgive him.
But then a few guys come in and accidentally knock over a display, and Liam has to tell them not to worry about it, and that he’ll sort it out, and they leave without buying anything. Liam sighs and gets up, starts gathering the cds to put them back in order, and he’s not paying much attention to anything other than what he’s doing, but he’s with it enough to hear the bell ring as the front door opens.
“Hey,” Liam says, his eyes darting towards the door for a second to welcome the customer in, only then he has to do a double take because—
Because Zayn just walked into the store.
Liam realizes he’s probably staring, and so he ducks his head down and starts putting the cds back in the display shelves, just shoving them wherever there’s room, because Zayn is in the store and Liam really doesn’t know what to do, because Zayn has won more Grammys than Liam can count, and is really good friends with Drake and Kanye and pretty much everyone that matters, and Liam’s just Liam. So he just doesn’t do anything, really, just does his job kind of poorly and doesn’t offer any assistance.
Which, as it turns out, doesn’t really make much of a difference, because Zayn comes up to him anyways, and he says, “Hi, uh. Louis?”
It takes Liam’s brain a few seconds to realize that yes, Zayn is talking to him, but he’s asking for Louis, and that’s almost as close to worst-case scenario as it can get. And the thing is, he’s not even surprised that Louis knows Zayn, even though he should be; he just mostly feels like an idiot.
“Uh, he’s not here,” Liam says, and Zayn just looks a little confused and a lot beautiful, and Liam doesn’t understand why his life is the way it is.
“Sorry,” Zayn says, and then he motions towards his own chest, to where his nametag would be if he worked there, and he says, “Are you not—?”
Liam looks down stupidly at his own chest, and there it is: Louis’s nametag, the one that’s written in pink, loopy handwriting, with a heart dotting the i.
“Oh,” Liam says. “No, that’s—I’m Liam.”
“Liam,” Zayn says, and he nods his head once as he does. “Alright.” And then, “I’m looking for some Barbara Streisand, actually, if you could just point me in the right direction…”
“Are you serious?” Liam says, and what he’s thinking at that moment must be written all over his face because Zayn bursts out laughing. Liam waves his hands in the air as if to erase his comment, and says, “No, no, sorry, I—hold on, it’s right over here.” And then to try to save face, he turns on his heel and heads over to where the Barbara Streisand albums are.
“Hey, hey,” Zayn says, jogging a bit to catch up to him. “It’s alright; that’d be my reaction too. It’s just—a prank. You know.”
“Not really,” Liam says, and that makes Zayn laugh a little more. It’s unreal, the whole thing, and Louis isn’t for a second going to believe any of it happened. “So. Here’s what we’ve got,” Liam says finally, waving his hand at the stack of cds.
“Alright,” Zayn says, looking everything over, and Liam starts to head back towards the front when he says, “So what do you think? The Way We Were is her big one, right?” He picks it up and flips it over in his hands.
“Guilty sold more, actually,” Liam says, and he kind of wants the ground to split open and swallow him whole, because he’s not a Barbara Streisand fan; he just knows that because he’s a music fan, but it’s not like Zayn’s going to know that.
But Zayn doesn’t even think anything of it, just says, “I don’t see that one,” like Liam didn’t just embarrass himself.
“Oh. Then just—I mean. If it’s just for a prank, just grab one of the greatest hits albums,” Liam says, pushing his hair out of his eyes. “I mean, who cares, right?”
“Right,” Zayn says. “Right.” And then he randomly grabs one of the cds and turns back to Liam, and he smiles exactly like he smiles in the magazines, only this smile is for Liam and only for Liam, and that makes all the difference.
Liam can feel his face heat up, so he jerks a thumb over his shoulder and says, “I’ll be at the register, when you’re ready.”
He heads back to the front of the store and sits behind the counter, and he tries to act like he’s not watching Zayn wander the store. It’s hard, and he doesn’t think he’s doing that well at it. Zayn catches him watching, too; at one point, he looks up towards Liam and Liam, like a child, immediately looks away. He wasn’t prepared for any of this.
After about another five minutes or so, Zayn walks up and slides his Barbara cd across the counter, saying, “That’s all for me, I guess.”
“A wonderful choice,” Liam jokes, and he smiles, and Zayn smiles, and it’s just the both of them standing there, smiling, until Liam jumps and remembers that he has to ring up the purchase.
“Hey,” Zayn says, “do you think—”
Only then the front door opens, and a guy with a young face and too much hair sticks his head in and says, “Thank fuck, there you are. Your show starts in like less than an hour, so. You know. Let’s get moving.”
“Yes, sir,” Zayn says to him, and he looks over to Liam, rolls his eyes. “Harry. He’s my manager.”
“Oh,” Liam says, and then he makes the connection. Louis, that unbelievable bastard; of course he’d be soul mates with Zayn’s manager. “I think—I think he’s actually getting tacos with my friend tonight.”
“Yeah?” Zayn asks, and he laughs a little.
“Yeah,” Liam repeats, and he hands Zayn his recipt. “I think.”
“Who?” Harry yells from the door, not caring that he was listening in on their conversation. “You know Louis?”
“Yeah,” Liam yells back. “He’s my best friend.”
“Weird kid,” Harry says. “I like him.”
“Most people do,” Liam agrees, and then he looks back at Zayn, and Zayn’s watching him with this look on his face, and Liam doesn’t know what it means at all.
“You busy tonight?” Zayn asks. “I mean, what time do you get off work?”
“At like ten-thirty,” Liam says. He doesn’t really understand why he needs to know.
“Maybe I could see you after, then?” Zayn asks. “I mean, after the show and everything.”
“Oh,” Liam says, and he can’t believe it at all, so that’s all he says, just oh.
“Right,” Zayn says. “That was—never mind, don’t worry about it.”
“No,” Liam says. “I mean. I’d really like that.”
“Alright,” Zayn says, and then he smiles so brightly that Liam can’t look away. Zayn flips over his receipt and scribbles his phone number on the back, and then handing it over to Liam, he jokes, “Don’t give that away.”
“Zayn,” Harry says, and Zayn jumps, walks over to the door backwards so he can wave at Liam, and Liam is ninety-eight percent positive he is dreaming this all up. “See you at tacos,” Harry says, and then he pulls Zayn out the door by his collar, leaving Liam behind the counter and alone in the empty shop.
He sits there for a few minutes, not having any idea what just happened or what he should do, and so he texts Louis, I think Zayn just asked me out.
Louis writes back,
Cake in uncle’s ‘stache.
It was gross. You are lucky.
Get up on his D.
Liam laughs at how Louis doesn’t even for a second question it, and he and slips his phone back into his pocket, goes back to organizing cds and making sure the store is running smoothly.
It’s a lot more bearable this time around, somehow.