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SATURDAY – JUNE 27

Someday Louis will find a believable excuse for missing his mother’s garden parties. He will devise a story so brilliantly convincing, she won’t bother to call and attempt to change his mind. And when that day comes, he will bask in his new freedom from her endless, poorly concealed attempts at matchmaking.

Because that’s what this is. That’s what this always is. Louis is almost 30 and still single. And his mum takes that very personally.

He steps out of his Audi, gravel crunching beneath his polished shoe. Sunlight reflects off his sunglasses as he shifts his gaze toward the sprawling estate. On the marble steps lined by perfectly cut shrubs, a few visitors linger in their pastel dresses and suits, sipping flutes filled to the brim with champagne. They laugh and chatter and already, before he’s even entered the heart of the party, Louis wants to climb back into his car and return to the quiet comfort of his flat.

Instead, he adjusts his platinum cufflinks, rights his collar, and starts toward the steps.

“Good evening, Louis,” Felix says as soon as Louis steps into the house. The man gives a small bow of his head, balancing a silver platter in his hand. He stands in his crisp black suit in the gleaming foyer, a grand staircase ascending behind him.

“Felix,” Louis says, patting the man’s shoulder. “How’ve you been, man?”

“Very well, sir. Care for some ceviche?”

Louis eyes the spread and shrugs, plucking one of the crisp tortilla chips topped with ceviche off the tray. He pops it into his mouth, chewing as he strolls alongside Felix through the house and toward the garden. “Been perfecting that recipe, ‘aven’t you?” Louis asks with his mouth still a little full.

Felix looks unapologetically chuffed. “I have, sir.”

“Tastes excellent,” Louis assures him, giving Felix’s shoulder one last squeeze. He steps once again into the blinding sunlight and onto the marble patio, the verdant lawn spreading out before him.

A white tent stands in the center near the garden, surrounded by rose bushes and blooming trees with stringed lights connecting the space between them like zip lines. More guests are scattered around with their drinks in hand and gossip drifting between their laughing mouths, positioned beneath white umbrellas to shade them from the summer sun.

His parents live and breathe extravagance. It gleams on every detail his eyes can see. From the ruffled petticoats of party guests to the pink flamingo ice sculpture melting in the sun. It’s actually ridiculous.

But as the oldest son and heir of Alexander and Jay Tomlinson, Louis can’t say he hates it all either, not entirely. Having more than enough to do anything at any given second is a blessing he can’t deny. And living carefree and comfortable— that’s nice too.

But somehow it’s not enough. It’s never been enough.

Whatever it is his mum hopes he’ll find, whatever it is Louis is actually looking for—he doesn’t think he’ll find it here amidst some of the most posh birds and blokes the entire British Isles has to offer.

Louis drags a breath between his lips and exhales. Well, here goes.

Before he’s gotten very far, he feels a strong arm wrap around his shoulders, and he finds himself in a surprise chokehold.

“One day,” Louis tells Zayn. “I’m going to elbow you in the dick and ruin any chances you have at reproduction.”

“You’re all talk,” Zayn tells him, but thankfully he releases him without mussing Louis’ quiff the way he usually does. Louis spent a lot of time on his hair this morning, and money too when you consider gel and spray. It’s true what they say about the rich being the most unashamedly frugal bunch. Millions of pounds to his name and here he is thinking about the cost of gel and hairspray.

Zayn drops a slobbery kiss on his cheek.

“Ugh,” Louis wipes at his face. “You’re gross.”

“And you love it,” Zayn says. He throws his arm over Louis’ shoulders again, strolling along with him towards the tent where Louis hopes he can procure a very strong beverage. A Jack and Coke would also do just fine.

“Lucy has something to tell you.”

Louis rolls his eyes, not in the least surprised. Lucy always has something to tell someone. And most often, her revelations end in tears, shock or confusion—all three, actually. It’s like this unspoken law of the universe that younger siblings have to cause their families as much distress as possible. And Lucy’s never failed to do her part.

The most Louis’ ever done to shock his family is come out when he was fifteen. And really, it had just been his father who sat there gaping at him for ten minutes before finishing his salmon and excusing himself to his office. His mum and sisters, at least, had seen it coming.

As the youngest, Lucy has managed to top every surprise Louis and Lottie could pull in the last two—basically three for Louis—decades of their lives.

“She told you before she told me?” Louis asks, a little put off at the notion. In every way except biologically, Zayn is as much Lucy’s brother as Louis. They tease and quarrel just as often. And as Louis grew up alongside Zayn, Lucy and Lottie have too. Zayn is the other brother their parents never gave them.

But still. Louis is a jealous person, okay?

“Not exactly,” Zayn starts to smile. “I caught her in a compromising position.”

Louis starts to cringe. “Tell me she’s not sleeping with one of these blokes?” he says gazing around the party. He honestly thinks there’s not a single person here that would be worthy of his sister’s affection. His parent’s acquaintances are by far the stiffest lot Louis’ ever encountered.

“Not one of these blokes, no. But that’s all I can say. She told me she’d tell you herself.”

“Well, where is she?” Louis asks, genuinely curious now. He starts looking around again. But there’s no telling anyone apart when they’re all dressed in pastel. 

“Somewhere around here,” Zayn assures him. “Oh, but here comes your mum.”

Louis really needed that drink first. Zayn ditches him as Jay saunters over, wearing a flowing baby blue dress, a wide-brimmed sunhat and sunnies. There’s an orange drink in her hand but she’ll need another after two more sips, the rim dotted with lipstick marks.

“Hello, love,” Jay says, pressing a light kiss to his cheek so she doesn’t smudge her perfectly lined lips any further. She wipes her thumb over the small stain she must have left on his face. “Bit late, aren’t you?”

“Was trying to find a reason not to come,” Louis says with a smile.

“Then, I’m glad you failed.”

“I’m sure. How many suitors have you lined up for me today?” Louis asks, with a tilt of his head and a smirk.

“Oh, behave,” she scoffs and swats at his arm, but takes a noticeably guilty sip of her drink. She removes a mimosa from one of the silver trays sitting on a table in the center of the lawn, the glass sweating as it warms in the sun. She holds it out for Louis to take.

Louis shakes his head. “No, thanks,” he says. A warm mimosa sounds like the most unappetizing thing at the moment. “I need something a bit stronger if I’m meant to smile all evening.”

She huffs a laugh and replaces the glass at the table. “Go on then,” she says. “Oh, but wait.”

Louis looks at her expectantly, his hands tucked into his pockets.

“The lad over there by the fountain,” his mum nods her head discreetly. Louis glances over, just as discreet. “That’s Jorge Lawrence.”

Their heads are inclined towards each other like they’re sharing a dirty secret. Louis raises his brows. “Okay…”

“He’s single,” Jay finishes.

Louis shakes his head. He answers the wink she sends him with a roll of his eyes. “Noted,” he tells her, before starting off in the direction of the bar—and opposite Jorge Lawrence.

He removes his sunglasses once he’s in the shade of the white tent and orders a Jack and Coke, willing Zayn to come back and keep him company. Or Lucy even. He pulls out his phone to text her, eager to hear this news she’s got for him. And then he feels arms wrap around his waist, followed by the scent of some flowery perfume.

He glances over his shoulder, finds Lottie’s head propped there, a smile on her face.

“Correct me if I’m wrong,” Lottie mumbles, releasing his waist as she comes to stand near the bar beside him. She levels him with a serious look and adds, “But didn’t you say you’d be bringing a date to the next garden party?”

“You look lovely,” Louis tells her. Unlike everyone else around here, she doesn’t  appear washed-out and bloated in pastel. The sun hasn’t turned her skin sausage pink. And the light color of her yellow dress works well with her blond hair, which she’s held back with two loose braids at the sides of her head. Looks like Lucy’s work.

“Don't change the subject. But thank you,” she says. “Your date?”

“Did I actually say that?” Louis arches his brows high. “My memory fails me.”

“Did your date fail you as well?” she says with a cunning smirk.

Louis winces. “Ouch. You get more devilish every time I see you,” he says. “Poor Al. Where is the lad anyway?”

Lottie looks toward the house. “I honestly have no idea. I lose track of him sometimes. Don’t know if that’s supposed to happen when you’re engaged to be married.”

“Bask in your freedom now. When you’re married, you’ll never be able to get rid of him,” Louis says, and then feels sorry for it. Just because he’s uneasy about marriage, doesn’t mean he should infect his sister with his cynicism. He adds, feebly, “But I don’t think you’ll want to.”

Lottie watches him carefully. “No, I won’t. I hope he won’t want to get rid of me either.”

“Who would want to get rid of you?” Louis smiles sweetly.

“Hm. I think you, Zayn, and Luc have tried to off me a few times,” Lottie laughs.

“That’s different. And,” Louis points his finger at her, “what matters is that we were never successful.”

Anyway, don’t all siblings try to physically kill each other at some point?

Maybe not. Louis sips his drink and Lottie orders one for herself. She wraps her hand around the stem of her martini glass, faint sunlight catching on the large stud on her ring finger.

The day Lottie met Allen seems like it was yesterday. She called Louis to report that her car had broken down on the M25 a little ways outside London. Louis dropped what he was doing and left work to come get her. As he was in the car, waiting for a traffic light to change, Lottie called back and told him not to worry.

He was still tempted to pick her up himself. He’d seen enough horror movies about nice men “rescuing” unsuspecting young women to worry about how the day ended. Even now he thinks he should have picked her up. But then she wouldn’t have sat down with that nice man for a cup of coffee, or chatted with him for hours, or exchanged numbers…or eventually, much later on, agree to marry him.

That all seems like last week. And now here she is. Five years younger than him and already engaged.

“So, really, what happened to your date?” Lottie asks.

He never existed… Louis doesn’t say that. “The thing is…he was on his way here. And then the poor bloke was abducted by aliens. As he was driving. They hovered their mothership right over his car and just,” he motions with his hand as if he’s scooping something up, “zapped him up. Just like that.”

Lottie chokes a bit on her drink. “You’re ridiculous. How would you even know that? If he was abducted by aliens on his way here, how’d you find out?”

“We were on Facetime.”

Lottie shakes her head. “I’ve had it with you,” she says still laughing. “The good news is that there’s a man here named Jorge. And he’s single.”

Louis groans. “You and mum both. You need to be stopped.”

“He’s cute,” Lottie carries on as if she hasn’t heard him. “And he’s rich so he won’t be after you for money.” She ticks the points off with her fingers. “And he was engaged before things went sour. So I’m sure he’s the kind to commit long term.”

“This is terrifying. You sound just like her.”

Lottie shrugs. “Me and mum have a mutual goal.”

Louis downs the rest of his drink. “Look, I won’t date anyone mum wants me to date. It’s 100% guaranteed that I won’t like him,” he promises.

“You can’t know that.”

“I can. And I do. Happens every time. I bet he’s an absolute arse,” Louis says.

Lottie sighs. “Louis. You’re thirty.”

“Fuck off. I’m twenty-nine.”

Lottie scoffs and waves her hand. “Minor details. You’re knocking at the door of the big Three-Oh.”

Okay, the difference between twenty-nine and thirty is not a minor detail. A year is not a minor detail.

“The only reason I’m knocking is ‘cause I’m playing a game of ding-dong-ditch. I’ll wait till Mr. Three-Oh comes to answer the door. And then I’ll pants him and run.”

Lottie’s shoulders shake when she laughs, her head tipped over. “Oh my God,” she mumbles, sipping her drink.

Louis laughs too and does the same, smiling around the rim of his glass. He’s a pro at this, distracting people with humor. Works every time.

“What’s so funny?”

Louis’ smile grows wider when he turns and catches sight of the person watching them expectantly. “There she is,” he says, tugging his youngest sister into his arm right away. Lucy comes easily, hugging him back, allowing him to squeeze her. Louis is abnormally affectionate with his sisters. Where other older brothers push and shrug away from their siblings, Louis never has. He loves his family too much. He doesn’t see the point in hiding it.

He drops a kiss on the top of Lucy’s head. Lucy responds with a kiss to his cheek.

Lottie says, “We’re discussing Louis’ perpetual bachelorhood.”

“Yikes,” Lucy makes a face as if she’s tasted something sour, extracting herself from Louis’ arms so she can step up to the bar an order a drink. “That’s not proper talk for a party.”

“We should use the word ‘party’ as loosely as possible,” Louis comments. He gives Lucy a look. “Let’s talk about your outfit instead. Keeping mum’s friends on their toes, are we?”

Lucy smirks. “I’m the life of the party, Lou. Can’t come dressed the same as everyone else.”

Louis can’t exactly argue with that. Lucy has been the life of every party since they were all children. She’s wearing a bright pink dress with a short ruffled skirt and a top that leaves little to the imagination. Long dark hair frames her face, constantly marked by a crafty smirk and a mousy nose. She seems fixed in a permanent state of adorableness, which, Louis imagines, is how she always gets her way.

“It’s fun being on the side of rebellion. You two let me know when you want to join,” she says, eyeing their pastel colors. She leans against the bar, legs crossed at the ankles, arms propped up behind her.

Louis and Lottie share a look but don’t bother to comment. And for a moment, it’s just the three of them, the Tomlinson spawn, surveying the party and sipping their drinks in silence.

“I’m going to find Allen before lunch is served,” Lottie says after a while. She kisses Louis on the cheek. “It’s good to have you home, babe.”

Louis smiles. He’s not quite sure what brought than on. But it’s true that he hasn’t been home in quite a while. Lottie leaves and his thoughts drift. He studies his parent’s grand home and all the folks spread out around it. And he doesn’t miss being here. He misses his family but not their lifestyle.

Lottie and Lucy still live at home. Even with Lottie’s wedding coming up in just a few months. Even as rampant and wild as Lucy is. Neither of them has ever felt the need to leave as much as Louis has. He doesn’t know why that is.

“So Zayn tells me you have news for me?” Louis says, rolling his head to the left.

Lucy looks at him over the rim of her glass. “Right, yeah. Well…” she begins, tapping her fingers on her glass. “I’m dating a girl now.”

Louis raises both of his brows and turns more fully to her. He props his arm up on the edge of the bar and takes a whole minute to respond while Lucy just sips at her drink and smiles. In the end, all Louis manages to say is, “You’re gay?”

Lucy shrugs. “I think I’m bisexual actually. Recently me and Zen invited this Italian exchange student into bed with us…”

Louis holds up a hand. “That isn’t actually something I need to know about my baby sister. But congrats on having someone as…adventurous as you.”

He wishes he had that. Not for the threesome thing. But having someone who craved adventure in the same way Louis did, that would be nice.

“Zen?” he questions.

“Zendaya,” Lucy supplies. “She’s a model. And she’s gorgeous.”

This is all just so much. How did he not pick up on his own sister being gay? Louis, who can usually read people like open books, missed that his sister might be attracted to women. “Is she here?” he asks.

Lucy nods, casting her gaze around. “Somewhere, yeah. Oh, wait, look. By the rose bush there,” she says pointing. She grabs Louis’ arm and tugs him closer. Louis spots the woman who has to be Zendaya. Because she stands out just as much as Lucy does.

She’s brown-skinned with dark hair in dreadlocks, long and pulled away from her face. Her lipstick is a bright plum color. And she’s wearing black. All black. Louis likes her already.

She’s also just as gorgeous as Lucy reports and clearly friendly since she’s managing to hold a conversation with Ronald Krauss, that sniveling investment banker their mum insists on inviting to every occasion. The man’s breath smells like aged cheese. And he’s quite tall, loves to tip his head forward just enough for a peep down the shirts of unsuspecting women. The one time he did so with Lottie, Louis accidentally crushed the heel of his foot into the man’s leather shoe.

Louis exhales a breath. “Wow,” he says. He doesn’t know why but it seems fitting for Zendaya. He studies his sister for a moment. “Well, that’s great. That you’re happy.”

“I am,” Lucy smiles. “Very happy.”

Louis starts to grin. She certainly looks happy. “Just be conscious about where you…you know, carry on. Wouldn’t want mum walking in on you like Zayn.”

“Right,” Lucy winces and then she laughs and hip-checks Louis for no reason. He hip-checks her right back.

“Does mum know?” he has to ask. Because he doubts she does.

“Nope,” Lucy confirms. “But I’ll tell her eventually.”

“Maybe not here?” he suggests. Not that there’s anything to be ashamed of. It just doesn’t seem like the right place. His mum is a crier after all. If she’s too shocked to respond, she’ll start to weep. And no one wants that.

Lucy assures him she’ll wait till later. But Louis has another two drinks before lunch just in case.

His mum pulls all her tricks as usual. There are nametags at the tables that have been set up around lawn with their large centerpieces of white peonies and hydrangeas and yellow roses and sunflowers. Sunlight refracts off polished plates and silver. And right beside the champagne flutes is a card with each name written in cursive letters.

“Louis Tomlinson” is found on a card beside “Jorge Lawrence.”

It’s a cheap trick. The glare he sends his mother says so. But he should have seen this coming.

A little while later, Louis spears a slice of avocado as Jorge explains the rise of property value in Doncaster to the table. His phone buzzes in his lap and he reads the text there from Lottie as discreetly as possible.

‘You were right. Please shut him up before I pass out and drown in my soup.’

Louis snorts quietly, shooting his sister a smile. He takes a sip of his drink.

“Now’s a great time to invest,” Jorge is telling everyone, emphasizing great with a little thrust of his knife. Louis raises his brow.

“So, Jorge, why don’t you tell us about property investment in France?” Jay says. “Louis studied there for university and always talks about going back.”

“I can tell you a lot about France,” Jorge says to Louis with a grin, trying to be cheeky. That isn’t even a proper answer to Jay’s request.

Louis’ answering smile borders on manic. “Oh?” he says, taking a gulp—big gulp—of his drink.

And for the next millennium, it seems, Jorge tells him about prime places to invest in France. Even though Louis has never honestly considered moving there or buying a home. His parents have a hotel in Paris, which is the only property he intends to have any ownership of in the country.

He eats more of his salad as he listens. And moves on to the cream of lobster soup, nodding in all the right places. When his phone buzzes again, there’s a text from Zayn.

‘Me and Lots are planning a distraction. Just hold tight.’

Louis chuckles around his soup spoon. And when Jorge asks him what’s funny, he shakes his head and tells him, “I just always dreamed of moving to France and never thought it would be possible. And now it seems like it will be. You’ve given me hope, Jorge. Thank you for that.”

Across the table, Lucy starts to choke on her panini. Zendaya claps her lightly on the back, face wrinkled in concern. But then Zayn and Lottie and Allen are all laughing too, everyone in on the joke except for Louis’ parents, Zayn’s parents, and of course, Jorge Lawrence.

Nonetheless, Jorge drones on and on until the sunlight starts to dim and the stringed lights start to glow. And it would all be quite nice if Louis’ ears weren’t threatening to detach themselvesfrom his head and run screaming into the hills.

He can’t take much more of this.

‘Looking to escape now,’ he types into the group chat he has with Zayn and his sisters.

Zayn replies, ‘Still don’t have a plan.’

I have a plan!Lucy replies.

‘Better not, Luc,’ Lottie cuts in.

They should all probably be more discreet about texting at the table. All four of their heads are down, gazes directed at their laps. He even catches his mum’s eye when he glances up. And a second later, he catches Aunt Trisha’s eye too. Mothers always know when there’s malice lurking.

Lottie is right to be skeptical about Lucy’s plan. She tends to cause as much of a scene as possible. But Louis is desperate to leave and start his drive home, feed his goldfish when he gets there, take a shower, and drift off to an episode of Friends.

He’s up for anything at this point.

‘do it quick. mum’s starting to suspect.’

‘I’m on it.’ Across the table, Lucy downs the rest of her glass of wine. Well, alright then.

The four of them look away from their phones at the same time as if they hadn’t made their mischief obvious enough. It’s been a while since they’ve all been together like this. They’re a bit out of practice in terms of stealth.

He should have gone with his gut. He tells himself so all the time and then never listens. So he has no one else to blame when the night concludes the way it does.

Zendaya pours Lucy another glass of wine and sets the bottle down near the center of the table. Lucy leans in to tell her thanks. And she does it by kissing her square on the mouth.

“Thanks, babe,” she says.

The thing is, Louis has kissed his friends and family on the mouth before. He’s kissed Zayn on the mouth. And never faced any consequences for any of it.

But this is completely different. And from the look on his mum’s face, she’s starting to figure it out too. And so is his dad. And Aunt Trisha. And pretty much everyone at the table who didn’t already know.

‘oh shit,’ Zayn sends.

Louis holds his glass to his lips. And when fucking Jorge Lawrence—the only one who hasn’t caught on—starts to ask him about the new hotel in Sydney, Louis holds up his hand to silence him.

“Zendaya, right?” Trisha asks with a smile. She’s a sweetheart, she is. “How is it you and Lucy know one another?”

“We met at school. We both studied biomed,” Zendaya replies.

Lucy is nodding in agreement as she slices her salmon. “Also, she’s my girlfriend.”

On cue, Jay chokes on her mimosa, slapping a hand to the white tablecloth. “Alex,” she squeaks quietly.

Lottie snorts a quiet laugh before dabbing her napkin to her lips. Louis’ eyes dart to their father.

In spite of the empire Alexander Tomlinson has built, the truth is that there are a number of mountains he still can’t climb. The man is speechless, the exact same way he was when Louis sat down at the breakfast table years ago and told them all he fancied boys.

It isn’t that he hasn’t made strides to be supportive. But he has all these ideas about how the world should be and what he imagines a perfect family should look like. And Louis is pretty sure that those ideas never included a gay son or a bisexual daughter. Obviously, he still has much to learn.

“Darling, we had no idea,” Jay says, having recovered rather quickly. Her eyes are a little damp though. She’ll excuse herself any minute to go have a cry.

“It’s all a bit recent, isn’t it?” Lucy says to Zendaya. “So far, things are going swimmingly, yeah?”

Swimmingly. Louis has to laugh. He drops his napkin on the table and pockets his phone. He opens his mouth to speak.

“If you’ll all just excuse me,” his mum beats him to it. She scurries off toward the house.

Louis throws Lucy a look. We’ll talk is what it means. He stands and excuses himself.

Briefly, he tells Jorge it was nice to meet him, and hurries away before the man can ask for his number. He heads back into the house and up the grand staircase. His shoes echo on the polished marble floor as he passes bedroom after bedroom. The door to his own room is shut the way he left it the last time he was here. But he suspects his mum goes in every now and then to reminisce.

She’s in her room in front of the vanity, resting her chin in her palm. Louis knocks on the door frame and waits till she looks his way to slip inside.

“Are you leaving?” she asks.

“Yeah. I have a flight tomorrow. Should get a good night’s rest before then,” he says.

Jay nods, wiping her nose. “Right. I remember.”

Louis sits at the edge of the bed. “So…”

“I don’t care that she likes girls,” she says immediately, dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief. “You know that I don’t. But…”

Louis waits. She drops her hand away from her face, exhaling a shaky breath. “Did you know she fancied girls?”

“Nope. Took me by surprise,” Louis admits.

“Well, that’s comforting,” Jay mumbles. “I just…I don’t know how I could have missed it. With you, I knew for a while—was just waiting until you felt comfortable to tell me.” Louis smiles. “But I had no idea with Lucy. I feel like I’ve gotten so out of touch with being a mum.”

Louis scoffs. “No, you haven’t. You’re the best mum.”

“You have to say that,” Jay says, rolling her eyes. That’s not particularly true but Louis indulges her so she can make her point. “But really I’m out of touch. With Lucy. And you too. The only one I’ve done alright with lately in Lottie. With planning the wedding and all that.”

“How are you out of touch with me?”

Jay shrugs her shoulder. “You’re still my best friend, you know? I love you very much.”

Louis doesn’t know where it comes from. But something warm churns in his stomach, a feeling like being rocked to sleep in his mum’s lap. She’s his best friend too. He has a few of them but she’s the greatest by far.

Before he can respond, his mum says, “There’s something I haven’t told you. Was just waiting for the right time.”

“Okay,” Louis says, bracing himself.

Jay releases a big heavy sigh. “Turns out I’m pregnant. With twins.”

Louis’ eyes widen. “What?”

“That’s what your father said. Honestly, I said it too. But it’s true. I’m twelve weeks along now,” Jay explains. “…With twins.”

Louis doesn’t even know what to say for a moment. “Wait a minute,” he finally sputters, “You had a mimosa today.”

“It was just orange juice. I haven’t wanted anyone to suspect. Not that they would because I’m, like, ancient.”

“What are you on about?” Louis rolls his eyes. He stands and comes to the sit on the windowsill so he can be closer to her. He takes her hand in his. “Congratulations.”

Jay laughs quietly, the tears she’s been holding in spill onto her cheeks. She dabs at them before they can fall to her dress. ”Thank you.”

“You’re not ancient and you’re not out of touch. And I’ll not have you continue saying awful things about my mum,” Louis says firmly. Jay laughs again, her eyes brighter now. He knows it must be easy for her to feel the things she’s feeling. She’s almost fifty and hasn’t had to deal with children for quite some time. But still. “You’re going to do just fine. Better even. You’re going to be amazing.”

When she smiles this time, more tears fall from her eyes. And he thinks that’s as good a time as any to hug her. They stay that way for a long time with Jay rubbing his back as if he’s the one seeking comfort. Maybe it works for her too.

The party is probably finishing up by now. But they don't let each other go, not until Jay is good and ready.

“The house will be filling up again soon,” she mumbles against his shoulder. “Once Lottie’s gone, there’ll be two more in place of you and her.”

“Odd,” he says.

“Very much, yes,” Jay sighs. “I just I hate that you’re alone. Even Lucy has…what’s her name?”

“Zendaya,” Louis supplies.

“Yes. Lovely name. And Lottie has Allen. And you—”

“I’m not alone,” Louis interrupts her, pulling away. “No, seriously, I’m planning to get a dog.”

“Oh, Lou…” she says sorrowfully.

“Don’t worry about me. I’m fine. I’m not lonely,” he says. It’s not true. He doesn’t lie to his mum often. But this isn’t true at all. He says it again anyway. “I’m fine.”

She lets it go for now, clearly too exhausted to put up much of a fuss. It’s late and Louis has to get home and at some point, Jay has to go back to the party and hold an actual conversation with Lucy and her new girlfriend.

So with a kiss to his cheek, she lets him go. “Have fun in Barbados,” she says.

Louis smiles, just before he slips out her door. “Will do.”

> <

SUNDAY – JUNE 28

Louis wakes up early every morning for a run. Right around six a.m. when the sky is still that cerulean blue and the sun’s not quite ready to greet anyone.

Sometimes he stops for a sticky bun and a coffee at the shop near his flat. He follows it up with 20 minutes of weights before he takes a long shower and has his breakfast and checks in with his assistant, Mallory.

There’s a new hotel going up in Sydney, set to be finished in October. And Louis has been tasked with overseeing the construction and design there. But the thing about positions like his is that there isn’t much to do.

He doesn’t have a role that requires his constant attention. As a board member and COO of Tomlinson Enterprises, he’s required to attend every meeting when one is in session. But most of the work he does can be done from home and there are underlings who take care of the majority of tasks required for the completion of any project.

It would probably be a good idea for him to look into other things he could do with his time. He’s always wanted to get more involved in charity work for instance. Or playing piano with a local jazz band. Louis snorts at the thought.

Maybe it’s really time he got that dog.

He glances over at the fish tank near the flat screen TV. “Don’t worry, love. I won’t replace you,” he tells Dr. Evil. His goldfish swims by, tail wagging as if he’s heard him.

His phone goes off right then, blaring out the ringtone he has set for Mallory.

“Hello, Mal,” Louis pants, extending the two weights in either hand above his head.

“Good morning, Louis. How was the garden party?”

“Same as usual,” he says with a sigh and no further comment. Why go into detail when the details are always the same?

Mallory huffs a laugh. “I haven’t disturbed you at a bad time, have I?”

“Not at all,” Louis grunts, curling the dumbbell in his right hand up to his chest, sweat sliding down his neck and pooling at the dip in his collarbones.

“I wanted to remind you about your flight to Barbados this afternoon. Leaves today at 5:00. When you arrive in Bridgetown, it’ll be just around 7:00 PM there.”

“Just in time for a nap and dinner,” Louis comments.

“Of course,” Mallory says because he probably planned it that way. “I’ll be sending a car around to pick you up at 3:30.”

“Sounds good,” Louis says, replacing his dumbbells on the rack near the window. He listens as Mallory fills him in on developments with the hotel in Sydney, sipping his tea in hand, and goes to start up the shower.

“How’s Sharon doing with the interior design for the luxury suites?”

“I’ve faxed over some of her team’s projected designs for your review. If you could have a look at them during your flight and send them back, that would be ideal.”

“Will do,” Louis says. “Any other updates for me?”

“None further for now,” Mallory says and bids him a safe trip and a farewell.

Louis shakes some goldfish flakes into Dr. Evil’s tank and watches him swim around for a bit.

He’ll look up animal shelters during his flight too. A dog would be nice.

With a sigh, he wanders off for his shower.

> <

The car comes to pick him up a few hours later, after he has a sandwich and a nap. The call from the receptionist is what wakes him.

It’s an eight hour flight to Barbados. But by the time he lands, the hours have winded backwards. As Mallory said, he’s there just in time for dinner.

There’s another car waiting to take him the forty minutes to his villa at the resort. He shakes hands with the man waiting there, Ron, who’s worked for his family for years and when they’re seated in the car, they chat about Ron’s daughter who’s started university at Codrington recently.

Sandy terrain whizzes by through the windows, the ocean lying out on the horizon and following them constantly. When he was a boy, the first time he came to the island, he would wonder how it was that the ocean never moved, was always permanently stamped there between the land and the sky.

Back then it was unnerving. Now it is a comfort.

He likes it here. He always has. The people are friendly and generous. The island itself is small when compared to the others stretched beside it in the Caribbean. But it’s unique, shaped like a lopsided pear, littered with sugar cane fields and winding roads, and for that, it seems endless.

He dozes off at some point once he and Ron have finished catching up, and it’s several minutes later, that the white stone walls of Sandy Hill come into view with its towering palm trees blocking the resort from the outside view.

They pull through the gold painted gates, breezing past security. Louis nods to the men who tip their heads or wave as they drive by. Ron steers the car over the smooth roads, passing a few of the smaller villas. On the left, the hotel sprawls beside them, white and vast and already packed with families and celebrities and politicians.

Louis has met athletes and movie stars every time he has visited. A few months ago, Rihanna, who most of the people here idolize as their putative queen, purchased one of the condos overlooking the beach, a deal that garnered a lot of talk and press for a while. Louis met her during that time, but only in passing.

Several years before that, when Louis was still in university, Tiger Woods married his former wife at the resort as well. He shut down the entire resort for the wedding, which even back then had made Louis’ eyes roll.

Sandy Hill has hosted every kind of person at this point. And they’ve all loved Sandy Hill.

His family’s personal villa stands ahead of them. It’s at the edge of the resort, right on the beach and still close to the hotel. It has its own private gate and palm trees and mango trees that shield it from view. Ron punches in the security code and they drive on through.

The windows and doors of the villa have been left open as is the custom here with the kind of breeze that rolls in off the ocean. White curtains billow with it like flags waving him in.

Ron helps him with his bags, even though Louis could deal with them just fine on his own. He heads inside with Louis trailing just beside him, pausing for a second on the sprawling stone porch to look out at the ocean. Maybe he’ll go for a swim after dinner.

He checks in again with Mallory, though it’s late in London, just to let him know he’s landed. Mallory reminds him he has a meeting with Kenneth, Sandy Hills’ managing officer, in the morning.

After Ron leaves, Louis spends some time unpacking. He walks around the massive stainless steel kitchen and checks the fridge, finds it well-stocked as usual. He’s not even sure he’ll be able to eat it all himself. Zayn is set to come stay with him soon enough. But he might not be much help either.

Louis has his dinner, lasagna he’s ordered from the resort kitchen, on the balcony. He drifts off again with the sun cooling down on his back. And when it’s dark and the mosquitos have come in search of their own meal, he pulls himself up and shuffles to bed and collapses on its fluffy white duvet.

> <

MONDAY – JUNE 29

Knowing that he'll be here for at least a month, it doesn’t seem necessary for him to be updated on every little thing right at this second. And yet, that’s just what Kenneth means to do.

He turns out to have a long list of bullet points for Louis. Damages in the last year. Repairs to be made. Recent hires and those they’ve let go. Changes in the menu options. Shark sightings. Jellyfish sightings. Yes, seriously. Endangerment of the dolphins swimming too close to shore. The number of hospital visits for resort guests. The number of hospital visits for the staff. Lifeguard training. Trespassers. Pirates. Yes, pirates. One of the boats needs a new engine. One of the dancers needs a new skirt.

“How about,” Louis interrupts him, drumming his hands on the desk, “We take one thing at a time? No need to rush, is there?”

“My apologies, Mr. Tomlinson, no,” Kenneth agrees.

“Mal?” Louis says to his phone.

“Yes, Louis,” Mallory replies, his voice hollow as it echoes into the room. Louis doesn’t bother to ask if he caught all that. He knows he did. He also knows Mallory has already predicted Louis’ next question. And has an answer for him too. Louis and Kenneth eye the phone patiently. “Might I suggest looking into the damages and repairs first. Seems to be the most immediate issue.”

“Good,” Louis says looking at Kenneth. “We’ll do that.”

“Afterwards, perhaps you can acquaint yourself with the new hires. And make cuts where necessary,” Mallory says. Smart man. This is why Louis keeps him around.

“Will do,” Louis replies. “We’ll talk again shortly.”

“Very good,” Mal says and then he’s gone. Louis looks expectantly at Kenneth.

“Well, then, let’s see what’s falling apart,” he says.

> <

It makes more sense in the end to complete both tasks simultaneously. First on the list of needed repairs is the leak in the roof of the sweets shop and in the last few months, they hired three new employees there, Kenneth tells him. He lists off their names. Louis forgets them right away. He’s always done better with faces.

They drive a golf cart through the resort to reach the shop with its glass windows and white pillars and its sign that simply reads “Treats,” which is a fitting title. They sell everything there from baked goods, to candy, to ice cream.

Kenneth parks the golf cart and they head inside, immediately bathed in cool air. There are four families inside from what Louis can see and a few couples. It’s quite a large space though, more than enough room for everyone.

There’s a picture over the bakery section of the shop of a pink-cheeked teddy bear baking cookies. Louis isn’t paying attention to where he’s going as he’s studying it. He starts to turn towards Kenneth and tell him that he wants the sign touched up. So what happens next is partially his fault too.

He doesn’t even see when the boy appears in his path, even though he’s wearing a bright pink shirt, and after they collide, he’s kind of hard to miss. In a half-second it seems, Louis notes the big bright eyes and pink mouth and curly hair. It’s a lot to take in. It’s quite nice to take in too.

And then his gaze shifts in that next half-second to the tray in the boy’s hand and the collection of milkshakes there. The one closes to the edge rocks forward and tumbles…and lands right on Louis’ foot.

Louis is a bit slow to react, even with the ice cold liquid slipping down between his toes. He’s either in shock or he’s turning into a robot. He stares down at the cup, lips parted. Shock, yes. He’s in shock.

“Oh my God,” the boy gasps, his voice deep and slow, even as he flusters. He says it again. “Oh my God…” Behind him, Liam, the sweets shop’s appointed manager, and a blond boy Louis’ never seen before watch with similarly shocked expressions.

“I’ll go get the mop,” the blond boy says before disappearing through the kitchen doors.

Meanwhile, the culprit in front of Louis drops to his knees, pulling a rag from his belt loop. “I’m so sorry,” he babbles. “So, so sorry.”

He starts wiping furiously at Louis’ foot, still mumbling his apologies.

Louis snaps out of his daze right then, glancing around at the people watching them, staring at this spectacle. His ears feel like they’re burning. He likes attention as much as the next person. But not like this.

“It’s okay,” Louis says, pulling his foot away. “There’s a pipe out back, right?”

“Yes,” the boy says, his head still sort of bowed, like he doesn’t want to make eye contact. His face is pinkish and blotchy, his bottom lip bitten. He starts to turn. “This way, please.”

Just before he does, Louis spots his nametag. It’s crooked and he has to tilt his head a bit to read “Harry” written in Sharpie marker.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?” Louis says as he follows him through the kitchen and out the swinging back doors. There’s sand covering the ground there and it starts to cling to Louis’ sticky foot right away. He cringes.

Harry exhales a quiet breath. “I’m sure you can tell,” he says, reaching for the pipe. “I’m not usually this clumsy, I swear.”

“He’s lying.” Harry and Louis turn and look at the other boy standing there. His nametag reads “Niall.” Harry discreetly shoots him his middle finger and a narrow-eyed glare. Niall laughs before he disappears again with the pail and a mop. It’s a great laugh. For a second, it has Louis smiling.

“Ignore him,” Harry says to Louis. “I’m still just getting the hang of things.”

Louis shrugs. “Have to crawl before you walk, right?”

Harry huffs a laugh. “Very true. I usually don’t spill milkshakes on people though.”

“If you say so,” Louis says. He thinks, hopes, he says it playfully. Although he’s not sure why. This is his employee after all. His employee who just spilled cold pink goo all over him.

But it’s maybe a little worth it for the fact that Harry stops looking so flustered. Just for a second. He smiles a little and there’s a dimple carved into his left cheek that catches Louis by surprise.

“I’m Harry, by the way,” he says, extending his hand.

“Right,” Louis gestures toward his nametag and then wishes he hadn’t because Harry’s smile drops, along with his hand.

“Right,” he repeats.

It’s weird, when he stops smiling. It’s like the the sun goes behind the clouds. Louis extends his hand to him. “I’m Louis Tomlinson.”

The dimple reappears. Seems it doesn’t like to hide away for long. Harry takes Louis’ hand in his. Louis looks down at their joined hands as they shake, noting the way Harry’s engulfs his own, the smoothness of his palm, and the bracelet adorning his wrist. He has a good grip too. Gentle and strong all at the same time.

Louis’ eyes float back up to meet Harry’s, his brow wrinkled, and his stomach…jumps. He’s not sure how else to describe it but that’s how it happens. Harry’s eyes are kind and such a lovely shade of green and when he meets them, there’s a jump. A skip. Whatever. Just not good.

“Nice to meet you,” Louis tells him, releasing his hand.

“Same to you,” Harry answers, his eyes lingering for a second before shifting to the pipe again. He twists the squeaky handle and the cool water flows freely, splashing onto the concrete. Louis washes his feet and his flip-flops quickly.

“I think me spilling a milkshake on you means you get a free scoop of ice cream or something,” Harry says, leaning against the wall, far enough away from the pipe so the water doesn’t splash him.

“Oh?” Louis murmurs, sliding his foot back into his damp shoe. They’ll dry in the sun soon enough. When he gets to the golf cart, he might even go barefoot.

“Or a cookie?” Harry offers.

Louis breathes a quiet laugh. “You won’t get in trouble with your boss for offering me free food?” he says, raising his one brow.

Harry shrugs. “I live on the edge. And I owe you.”

Louis should probably tell him who he is now before Harry reveals that he’s been sneaking free treats to the locals and Louis has no choice but to fire him. He really doesn’t want to fire him. Clumsy as he is, he has a smile on him that’s bound to brighten anyone’s day. Just the kind of employee Louis likes to have.

But he doesn’t get the chance right then because Liam pops through the swinging doors. “Oh, sir,” he says to Louis. Harry’s brows furrow instantly.

“I’ve gathered all the staff for you,” Liam says. “And Harry, if you could come along too?”

Harry looks even more confused now. And there might be a tinge of dread there too.

“Thanks,” Louis says, starting through the kitchen doors, leaving Liam and Harry to follow him. His wet flip flops slap a little loudly on the tile floors. The staff might have a hard time taking him seriously when he sounds like a waddling duck but oh well.

He steps back into the sweets shop and finds the staff positioned behind the counter. Of the seven staff members there, most of them know who he is and wear smiles on their faces. Only Harry, Niall, and another boy—Olly, Louis thinks—look at him curiously.

“Everyone, this is Mr. Louis Tomlinson of Tomlinson Estates,” Liam begins to say, from where he’s standing right beside him. Louis’ eyes flicker back to Harry, just in time to see the realization don on his face. “As most of you know, he and his family are the owners of Sandy Hill resort.”

There is no other way to describe Harry’s expression aside from absolute mortification. He’s blinking fast and averting his eyes, and Louis’ lips twitch. Adorable, might be another word too. Louis looks to Liam.

“No need for too formal of an introduction. Happy to see everything running properly. Carry on as you were,” he tells the staff and then to Liam, “I’m just doing my rounds.”

“Would you like some ice cream for the road?” Liam asks as the staff returns to their stations.

Louis looks for Harry again, remembering his promise of free ice cream. Their eyes lock for just a second before Harry can’t seem to take it any longer without dissolving into the spaces between the floor tiles. He looks away and strolls back through the kitchen doors.

“No, thank you,” Louis tells Liam. “I hear there’s a leak in the roof. I’d like to take a look at it.”

“Oh, certainly. Right this way,” Liam says.

Louis inspects the leak in the roof over the kitchen and gives Kenneth his approval to have a contractor come work on it. It’s not too bad now but it’ll worsen with time.

He catches sight of Harry again as he’s leaving. He’s in the back talking furiously with the blonde one, Niall, and Irene. He doesn’t see Louis which is probably for the best. Louis thinks he’s teased him enough.

 

> > H < <

 

TUESDAY – JUNE 30

As a general rule, Harry doesn’t hate people. He never finds good enough reasons to. But Liam is honestly driving him crazy. And there’s a first time for everything.

Sometimes, Liam is an alright person. Like when he lets Harry have the last of the coconut ice cream. But if he tells him to clean the coolers one more time, Harry might just go bananas.

“The only thing we put in the coolers is ice,” Harry says to Niall. “And that melts to water, and that drains out the little spout on the side there. And then voila, good as new!”

Niall chuckles at Harry’s obvious distress. Harry ignores him for the sake of concluding his argument.

“We’re wasting water and disinfectant rinsing and washing these coolers every night,” he says matter-of-factly.

“You mean you are,” Niall corrects. Right, because Harry’s the only one who gets stuck with cooler duty. Harry could dedicate all that time he spends on those five coolers to restocking the spoons and cups. He could actually finish up here before the sun sets and not have to stay behind when everyone else has gone home. Niall usually waits, actually. But still.

“Thank you,” Harry says bitterly, sweeping the broom through a dusty corner of the shop.

Also, Harry thinks, Liam needs to loosen up. A lot. He’s so tense Harry would totally give him a massage if it seemed appropriate. Which…it doesn’t. And Harry only gives massages to people he really likes. (They’re that good.)

And he would hate for Liam to think he was coming onto him or something. Even though practically everyone knows Harry is a big flirt. He flirted with Niall and Olly when he first got here and didn’t think twice about it. And maybe there was like one very brief moment where Harry flirted with Liam too. But it wasn’t Harry’s fault. It was the very first time Harry met him and the bloke removed his shirt for a swim and revealed himself to have achieved supreme beefcake status.

How could Harry resist?

But it was just that one time over a year ago. And ever since then, now that Harry works for him, the only thoughts that cross his mind regarding Liam are when and where and how they’re finally going to fight. Harry will lose. He could probably do a bit of slapping, maybe put someone in a chokehold if necessary, but he doesn’t do fights. He likes people too much to ever feel convinced to harm them.

But he will break his rules for Liam.

He knows he should stop stewing over this now because it can’t be conducive to maintaining sound body and spirit like his yoga instructor advocates. But there’s method in this madness. Or avoidance, really.

If he keeps thinking about Liam, he won’t have to think about Louis Tomlinson.

His face starts to feel hot right away. It's quickly followed by a looping feeling in his stomach. Not the kind you get when you’ve got a crush on someone. It’s nausea is what it is. Harry is going to get fired, he just knows.

Because honestly, what other outcome is there when he pretty much admitted to his boss’s boss that he was a deviant. And after spilling a milkshake on him at that. And wasting money too. He’s just waiting for the word at this point.

And maybe for that reason, he’s more willing than ever to fight Liam. If he has to go, he’ll go out swinging.

He’s tired of the damn coolers anyway. He’s tired of seeing ice cream that he can’t have. He really would like a scoop of ice cream. And a foot massage. And maybe some deep conditioner in his hair. He’s going to deep condition his hair tonight. Yes, there’s a plan. At the very least, he can guarantee that his hair will be luscious for tomorrow when they finally cut him loose.

He sighs, resting his chin on his hands, curled over the top of the broom handle. He was just starting to get the hang on the milkshake machine too. In fact, that strawberry shake he spilled at Louis’ feet was his first creation. There’s a sign or omen of some kind hidden there.

“Harry,” Liam calls, poking his head around the corner. Harry pauses with the broom in his hand and raises his head. Is this it? Is he not even going to have nice hair when it happens?

“Don’t forget to clean the coolers,” Liam concludes.

Harry’s grip tightens on the handle of the broom. He pastes a smile on his face. “How could I forget?” he says sweetly.

Niall snorts a laugh. Liam looks at them both confusedly. But then he shakes it off and smiles. “See you both in the morning!” he says happily and then he’s gone.

> <

FRIDAY – JULY 3

He doesn’t get fired the next day. Or the one after that. Or after that either. It’s Friday by the time the anxiety and tension begin to drain from his body. He stops hunching his shoulders or freezing up whenever the bell above the shop door chimes.

It’s never Louis.

On Fridays, they take inventory. Or Harry does it really. He’s on the floor in the supply cupboard, counting spoons when he hears the door chime. Everyone’s out to lunch except for him and Olly, and the kitchen staff has left for the day. He thinks Olly might be out back, cleaning the baking sheets in the large basin there.

He doesn’t know how to run everything yet. During the past month that he’s been here at the resort, he’s been asked to work a number of jobs, sometimes at the bakery, sometimes walking dogs, or working at the bowling alley/skating rink. He just never stays anywhere long enough to learn all the ins and outs.

But he tries his best and makes himself useful whenever and wherever he can. His mum would expect nothing less.

So, he pushes himself up and heads to the front, working an inviting smile onto his face. “Hello,” he calls. “How may I—” His voice cuts off, as if sucked into a vortex.

Louis raises his brow expectantly. “Help?” he suggests.

Harry wants to bury himself beneath the ice cream and accept hypothermia as his gateway into the next life. “Yes,” Harry says quietly. He clears his throat and speak strongly. “How may I help you, sir?”

Louis’ nose wrinkles. Which is…kind of cute. And not at all intimidating like Harry expects him to be. "Please, you never have to call me sir."

"Then Mr. Tomlinson?"

"I suppose that's fine,” Louis says. “You won't find many opportunities to address me though. I don't intend to hang around. That's what I have Liam for."

"Right..." Harry trails off. Then what is he doing here?

Harry starts to take a step back, intending to nonchalantly grab his apron off the wall hook. He’s supposed to have it on at all times but he hopes Louis hasn’t noticed.

When he moves though, he stumbles. He glares down at the ground in search of what might have caught him. But there’s nothing there, nothing at all.

There's a slight twitch to his young boss's lips. Nice lips, Harry might add. Thin but none the less enticing. Not that Harry is enticed. He's just stating a fact.

“Um, so were you looking for Liam?” Harry asks, his cheeks warming, either because he's just tripped or because he might have been caught staring at Louis’ mouth.

“Actually, no. I came for a scoop of ice cream,” Louis says, stepping closer to the counter. Harry steps closer too, the apron forgotten.

“Oh.” He hesitates before he says his next words. This might be another thing to get him fired but he doesn’t have much to lose. “I actually have this thing. Like I can guess someone’s favorite ice cream flavor. I’ve never been wrong before.”

“Confident, are you?” Louis leans against the glass. Liam hates when people do that. “Go on then.”

Harry looks at him carefully. He has lovely hair, a rich brown that swirls like those popsicles they sell in the store. His eyes are the color of those bright blue spots in the Caribbean sea, ethereal and to some degree, magical. He has pouty rosy lips, a dusting of scruffy hair over his jaws and chin, an adorable nose. And okay, Harry’s probably staring too hard now.

“Mint chocolate chip,” he says. “But I can see you enjoying the dark chocolate too.”

Louis smiles. “Weird,” he says.

“Am I right?”

Louis almost looks like he doesn’t want to admit. “I wouldn’t say it’s my favorite,” he says.

“Do you have a favorite?” Harry asks.

Louis looks over the open barrels of ice cream. “Not really, no. Not right now.”

Harry doesn’t get why this conversation feels so deep when all they’re talking about is ice cream. If anything’s weird, it’s that. “Then…?” he trails off.

“I’ll try the dark chocolate,” Louis says.

Harry forgets to ask him if he wants it in a cup or cone. He simply reaches for the cone. He personally thinks ice cream looks more appetizing that way. Louis doesn’t stop him. He’s quiet now. Harry thinks he feels his eyes on him as he digs the scooper into the ice cream.

“Am I meant to charge you?” Harry asks after he slides the ice cream over to him. 

Louis smirks. “I thought you were making up for my milkshake foot bath. Living on the edge, right?”

Harry really should just bury his head in the tub of ice cream in front of him and be done with it. He starts to apologize or something. He thinks he should.

“I’m kidding,” Louis says. He’s pulling a wad of cash out of his pocket. He drops a couple Bajan dollars into the tip jar.

“If I pay for things here at the resort, a portion of that money ends up back in my pocket. This way it stays with you,” he says.

How thoughtful. Harry’s eyes trail over his face and then down to his collarbones. They’re quite lovely. And he can just make out the edges of a tattoo there—what looks like cursive letters.

It’s not that he didn’t notice how attractive he was before. It’s kind of hard to miss. But that was more in the physical sense. There’s a different sort of attraction he’s feeling now. It’s for the easy, lilting way Louis speaks. The sharp focus of his eyes. The breathy whisper of a laugh when he’s amused. It’s for the muted things, the ones that go unnoticed upon first sight.

“Thank you,” Harry tells him.

“You’re welcome,” Louis says. It’s for his smile. Not a full smile. Harry would love to see him with a big grin. But the one he wears now is attractive too.

"Well, have a good day then," Harry says. “Mr. Tomlinson.”

"You too," Louis answers and starts to turn away. Harry lets his eyes flicker over his bum. Then he looks down at his own shoelaces, just to check again that they're tied. Which they are.

Seriously, who the hell trips on air?

Harry. That’s who.

“Hey.”

Harry looks up again to find Louis still lingering there, looking thoughtful.

“I change my mind,” he says. “Just Louis is fine.”

It feels more important than it is. Like a milestone Harry didn’t even realize he wanted to reach. And now that he has, it brings a goofy smile to his face. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he says, and his brow slips into a furrow, “Even though I won’t be seeing much of you…”

Louis shrugs, sliding his sunglasses back onto his face as he pushes the glass door open by leaning back against it. “You might,” he says and then he’s gone.

There’s this weird feeling starting up in Harry’s chest, just as Louis steps through the doors and leaves. He knows what it is but given how impractical it is to have a crush on his boss, he rolls his eyes and tells himself to get real.

It just so happens that Louis is just Harry’s type. He knows that, now that he’s not distracted by the embarrassment of the “milkshake foot bath.” But he has to be practical.

With a quiet breath, he returns to the cupboard and gets back to work.

> <

Olly is seriously a beast at karaoke. Like Harry sounds okay himself when he sings. He's had people say he sounds amazing. Bit of an exaggeration but he has pipes, in the shower or when he’s had a good bit of alcohol.

But Olly is fantastic. Like really truly fantastic, to the point where Harry wonders what he's even doing on this island, instead of pursuing his music career.

Friday nights are for karaoke. All of the resort staff gathers at the Island Breeze Bar after hours. It’s already past midnight and Niall and Irene are swaying near the stage to Olly angelically crooning XO by Beyoncé. Harry watches them with a content smile on his face, sipping his Jack and Coke. He lives for Friday nights.

He sends a text back to Gemma and pulls up his Twitter feed. For no reason that he can think of, he searches "Louis Tomlinson". (He thinks it's because he's part cat, and you know what they say about curiosity and cats. Anyway…)

Louis’ account is the first to come up. Maybe because he has over half a million followers. It's said he dated Nick Grimshaw years ago when he was young and Nick was just in his prime with his radio show. That could be what’s made Louis so popular.

But it could also be that he's young. And rich. And really hot. And in spite of being Harry’s boss, he’s quite nice to talk to.

A person like that is bound to have a large circle of friends.

Harry scrolls through Louis’ Twitter. He mostly tweets about football games or TV shows he’s following. But there are a number of conversations there too. He chats a lot with Lucy Tomlinson for instance.

Lucy Tomlinson (@IlluminatedLucy): @Le_Tommo how’s this one?

She attaches a picture of a poodle. Harry admires the fluffy ears for a second before he scrolls to Louis’ reply.

Louis Tomlinson (@Le_Tommo): @IlluminatedLucy No way.

So either Louis isn’t a dog lover or poodles just aren’t his thing.

There’s another woman named Charlotte Tomlinson that Louis tweets frequently. And a Jay Tomlinson as well. Harry is pretty sure the last one is Louis’ mum, and the other two are sisters or cousins. He feels like a creep for what he does next, pulling up Google and typing in “Louis Tomlinson.” The second image is of Louis, three women, and an older man. The whole family, it seems. They’re a pretty bunch and in the picture, Louis looks much younger, perhaps still in university.

"Haz!" Niall throws himself over Harry's shoulders. Instantly, Harry turns his phone face down, his cheeks flaming up at the thought of being caught. "What are you doing? Come dance with me."

"See there's a problem with that, Niall. I don't dance with other people. The way I dance, I can only do it by myself," Harry informs him.

Niall scoffs. "Okay, then don't dance with me. Come dance beside me."

Harry makes a face. He doesn't really want to. He's tired and there’s dried ice cream caked beneath his fingernails and he could use a quick dip before bed. But he doesn't see that happening. So he pushes himself away from the bar. And spends the latter part of the hour dancing beside Niall.

> <

WEDNESDAY – JULY 8

Harry can tell the minute someone is suddenly standing over him because the red-orange glow behind his eyelids goes black. He tilts his head back against the sand and squints up at the villain blocking his light. And okay, not quite a villain.

More of an angel really.

“Uh…” Harry mumbles. “Hello.”

Louis smiles curiously at him. “Good morning,” he replies. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to wake you. It’s just— you know it isn’t safe to sleep out here overnight.”

Harry tries to keep his eyes on the inquisitive curve of Louis’ mouth but they drift downward against his will.

Louis isn’t wearing a shirt. He’s bare-chested and sweaty and breathing a little heavily. The tips of his hair are sweat-damp and cling to his forehead and neck. Harry’s mouth feels kind of dry. It’s the salty air though. It has to be.

Harry pushes himself upright, digging his palms into the sand. He brushes his hands clean. “I didn’t sleep out here.”

“I’m pretty sure you were asleep,” Louis says matter-of-factly and with an air of boyish overconfidence. Suddenly, Harry wonders how old he is. His guess is 25.

“Well, I guess I was— like, sleeping here. But only since this morning.” Louis’ brow is crinkled in confusion and amusement, sort of like Harry is a very rare, very strange looking bird. Harry explains as quickly as he can manage, “Sometimes I wake up and come out here to finish sleeping. The sunrise is lovely.”

Louis doesn’t look any less intrigued. Harry is halfway to determining whether that is a good or bad thing when Louis breathes a quiet laugh, propping his hands on his narrow hips. His shorts ride low enough to just catch the beginnings of a V and a dusting of hair on his tummy.

“Well…just thought I should warn you. There are crabs that like to crawl up your pants and latch onto your important parts.”

Harry narrows his eyes. “I think— I’m pretty sure you just made that up.”

Louis completes a disinterested shrug. “Don’t say you weren’t warned. Sorry to wake you,” he says.

“It’s alright.” Harry doesn’t exactly feel like complaining about being woken up by a shirtless Louis Tomlinson. Best damn alarm clock he’s ever seen.

Harry can sort of read the tattoo beneath Louis’ collarbones as he starts past him. It is what it is he thinks it says. And he has chest hair. And Harry thinks Louis might have just hit the limit on the attractiveness meter, broken the meter even.

“So why are you out here?” Harry asks.

Louis looks out at the water like the answer is floating nearby, “I like to jog around here. It’s closer to the coffee shop,” he says. “The one outside of the resort.”

Harry raises both brows. “Isn’t that like…treason or something?”

They have a perfectly good coffee shop at the resort. He’s been there a few times. He’s even made friends with some of the people who work there.

Louis rolls his eyes. Surprise, surprise, Harry finds that hot. “This shop is the only one that sells Yorkshire tea. And it’s fine so long as no one finds out.”

“But you’ve just told me…”

“Shit. I did, didn’t I?” Louis kicks a little at the sand. The swearing is hot too. Harry hasn’t had enough sleep, that’s the problem. Louis dons a suddenly mischievous smirk. “I have an idea. I suppose…you’ll have to tag along with me now.”

“Huh?” Harry’s brow creases.

“Yeah, follow me," Louis says. "If you’re done sleeping, that is. I have to prove to you now that this place is better than the one on the grounds.” 

“But you shouldn’t do that. That’s counterproductive.” In spite of his argument, Harry is already scrambling up to follow after Louis.

Louis rolls his eyes again, shooting Harry a look over his shoulder. “Thought you lived on the edge.”

Harry keeps telling himself he’s over the milkshake foot bath ordeal. But even now, he still blushes. It has to be the most embarrassing thing to ever happen to him. Well, no…worst things have happened. But this is the only time he’s cared.

“Why don’t you just supply the resort coffee shop with Yorkshire Tea?” Harry suggests.

Louis pauses and looks at him, his brow creased. He opens his mouth, then closes it. Then opens it again. “That’s a brilliant idea,” he finally says. “That’s—I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.”

He isn’t being sarcastic at all. He genuinely seems to not have thought of such an idea. Harry manages not to look completely chuffed. But he’s done something right. At last. that’s cause for a long awaited celebration.

“One second, yeah?” Louis says to Harry as they approach a water pipe at the top of the shore, hidden away by trees. He cuts the pipe on and leans forward to dip his face quickly beneath the steady stream. He lets the cool water run down his neck and the tan expanse of his back. Harry’s mouth falls open as he watches.

“I’m going to call my assistant,” Louis says when he straightens up.

Harry needs a second to kick his brain into motion. “What?”

“Yeah,” Louis says, as if that’s an adequate answer. But he’s talking to himself. “What a brilliant idea.”

There’s a plain white t-shirt hanging from a branch above their heads. Regrettably, he tugs it down and pulls it on over his head.

Louis tugs his phone from his back pocket and starts dialing a number. “Sorry, just— ” he smiles apologetically. Harry just hovers patiently. And Louis begins his phonecall.

“Hey, Mal. I need you to look into having the coffee shop at the resort supplied with Yorkshire Tea,” Louis says. “How much would that cost? And how soon can we have it done?”

Louis chews his lip while the person on the other end responds.

“Take your time,” Louis says. “By the end of the week is fine enough. Good. Talk to you soon.”

He pockets his phone like a smoking gun. “Done,” he says.

“That simple, huh?” Harry asks, strangely turned on.

Louis just stares at him with his hands hidden in his pockets and his brows twitching with silent thoughts. What a maze the inside of his head must be. “Ready for a cup of tea?”

Harry is ready to find out why Louis is even still talking to him. But sure. He’s up for tea as well.

They cut up through the trees beyond the resort’s stone walls and maneuver up the sandy dunes until they reach the pavement. There are cars now zooming by, big yellow and red buses turning precariously on winding corners. A bicyclist speeds between Harry and Louis, forcing them to step quickly out of his way. He doesn’t do it on purpose though, raising a hand to wave in apology when he passes them. Harry waves back.

There are shops stretching all along the road, nicer here than further into the local neighbors for the sake of tourists. Most often Harry prefers the local areas. Tourist spots are alright, yeah. But they’re devoid of the same thriving culture among native Islanders.

“How long have you been here?” Louis asks randomly, glancing over his shoulder again. Harry was starting to think Louis had forgotten him.

Harry’s brow creases. “Uh…” he tries to think. “About two months?”

“And you like it?” Louis questions.

Does this constitute as small talk? Is his boss making small talk with him? Or maybe he’s still looking to fire him, gathering information to help him make his decision. Even after the Yorkshire Tea revelation. Maybe that wasn’t enough to keep Harry safe.

Harry tells himself to relax.

“I love it here,” he says. “It has to be like the best place in the world. One of them at least.”

Louis nods. “I think so too.”

“Well, I’d hope you would. Since you like…own a resort here,” Harry replies with a teasing smile. Weird. He’s being weird and he should stop right away.

Louis merely smiles, sort of appreciatively. He appreciates Harry’s sass. How nice is that?

They reach the coffee shop. Louis pulls the door open and waves his hand. “After you.”

If Harry’s gaze lingers, it’s because a ray of sun falls on Louis’ eyes in that second. And they actually sparkle. For just that second, Harry is stunned. And then he steps inside.

Louis buys him an iced coffee, even though Harry urges him not to. While he was completing an internship back in London, his boss would buy lunch for the staff regularly. Louis being his boss isn’t the problem. And it’s not that Harry can’t accept kind gestures either.

This just feels intimate. Early morning coffee. Just the two of them.

Nonetheless, Louis deposits the cup in his hand and smiles. Harry’s heart does that stupid thing again. He needs to visit the infirmary for sure.

Louis takes a sip of his tea, his eyes set on Harry over the rim of his cup. He’s making a study of him, it seems. Harry reaches up and runs a hand through his curls, knows there’s sand all throughout. Nothing he can do about it now.

If it weren’t for this awful crush he had on Louis, this would sort of feel like a job interview. He never did have one of those before he started working at the resort. His family knew Liam's family quite well. And Liam simply got him in.

"So, what are you doing here?" Louis asks, when he replaces his cup on the table. Considering that it’s obvious what he’s doing right this second, the question is a deeper one, one for which Harry isn’t sure he has an answer.

Harry runs his teeth over his bottom lip. "I'm not entirely sure, to be honest. I like it here and Liam told my dad I could work here for the summer if I had nothing else on. So...here I am."

"I heard from Liam that you recently graduated, right?"

Is it normal that they were talking about him? Maybe Louis had asked when he was considering firing him.

"I did, yeah," Harry says.

"Don't people usually graduate and start looking for...you know..." Louis trails off.

"A real job?" Harry supplies.

Louis shoots him a sympathetic smile. "No offense."

"None taken,” Harry says. “I thought about it. But I'm not sure what I'm looking for long term."

“Nothing wrong with that…” Louis tells him, drumming his fingers on the table. “What did you study? In university?”

“I did a double major. Anthropology and global economics,” Harry says before a sip of his drink. "And a minor in Special Education."

Louis is silent for a second, his eyes searching. “That’s pretty amazing.”

Harry feels his skin prickle with heat. He looks down at his cup with a smile on his lips. “It’s cool, yeah. But I don’t know what to do with it all. Not right now. I don’t know what I’m looking for,” he says.

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out…” Louis tells him, lifting his cup again.

"I'll have to, won't I? Otherwise I'll be fifty and still scooping ice cream…"

"I think you'd make a fine ice cream scooper in your old age."

Surprised and oddly flattered, Harry laughs. And then Louis laughs. And it's just as beautiful as Harry imagined it would be. When Louis laughs, it's more of a cackle. The corners of his eyes crease. The hidden dimple in his cheek appears. It's beautiful.

Minutes pass afterwards. Louis asks a few more questions. Harry has some he’d like to ask too. But he never does. He grows comfortable there in the cool café with Louis. But always he reminds himself to be as professional as he can. Which usually isn't a lot.

Eventually, though, they start talking about random things. Like shenanigans to get up to in Barbados. Louis talks about the dark, eerie coast of St. Lucy. And the haunted cemetery in Christ Church. He talks about the fish in Oistins, the best on the island, he says. It turns out he knows a lot, stories he’s picked up from his talks with islanders or from his father.

Harry doesn’t even know how long he sits there with him. He loses track of time. Niall texted him a few minutes ago to ask him about lunch but he never responded. It isn’t until Louis’ phone starts ringing and Mallory’s name pops across the screen that their weird coffee date comes to an end. And Harry ignores the part of himself that doesn’t want it to.

> <

SUNDAY – JULY 12

He has determined that he doesn’t hate Liam after all. He still has to clean out the coolers. And yes, that’s still annoying as fuck.

But they’re all in the sweets shop Sunday night of the following week, finishing out the tub of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream, and Liam turns into a proper gossip.

Now, gossiping never has been Harry's thing. It always turns cruel in the end. But when the topic of choice interests him, well…morals change.

And Liam has much to tell of Louis Tomlinson.

“He’s gay,” he starts off by saying.

Harry rolls his eyes. So does Niall.

“A blind man would know that,” Olly says, dragging a rag over the countertop. He gives an unsatisfied shake of his head. He expected better. They all did.

“He’s single?” Liam offers.

Now they’re talking. Harry props his chin up in his palm. “How do you know that?”

Liam finishes counting the ten dollar bills in the cash register. He says, “It’s been a while since he’s brought anyone on a trip with him. A couple years ago, he brought Nick Grimshaw. But no one since then.”

Oh, yes, now they’re really talking. Even Olly rests his hip against the counter and faces Liam fully. Niall leans the mop up against the wall and takes a seat on one of the swivel stools. They all lean in, eager to hear more.

“How long ago exactly?” Harry asks, as nonchalantly as possible, spooning more ice cream into his mouth. He thinks he might be a bit more invested in this than Olly and Niall. Not that any of them are straight. Harry and Olly are both quite aggressively gay and Niall doesn’t care enough to label himself. He’s said once that if a hot lad wanted to have a good time, he’d show him a good time. Liam…well, Harry doesn’t know much about Liam in general.

The point is that Harry is the only one with an actual crush on Louis. And he knows it’s not going to go anywhere. He’s not stupid and he’s not looking to get himself fired. But there’s nothing wrong with learning more about the person he’s finding it increasingly hard not to think about.

“Like almost eight years ago.”

“And he’s not been with anyone since then?” Harry asks, brows raised in disbelief. If that’s true, he’s supremely disappointed in the gay men of London. What the fuck are they doing over there?

Liam shrugs. “There are rumors and such. About him sleeping with employees.”

Olly presses a hand to his chest and gasps. Niall snickers. Shamefully, Harry begins to hope. There’s nothing wrong with fooling around a bit either. So long as everyone keeps their jobs.

“Did they get fired? The people he slept with?” Harry asks, too eagerly. Niall slides suspicious eyes his way. Harry ignores him.

“It’s just a rumor,” Liam repeats.

“Probably because he did fire them and they’re not around to talk about it,” Olly suggests with a point of his finger.

Harry eats a big spoonful of his ice cream. He doesn’t think Louis would do something like that. He doesn’t know him very well at all but the man he spoke to seemed generous and kind and honest to the core.

Still, Harry tells himself, better not.

> <

MONDAY – JULY 13

Note to self, he thinks, small dogs aren’t easier to handle just because they’re small. In fact, Max, the Labrador retriever, turns out to be better behaved than Piper, the Chihuahua, and Sophie, the pug. There’s also Chip, a Dalmatian puppy, and Anna, a poodle mix. But those last two are sleepy and thus, mild mannered.

Harry doesn’t know what he’s gotten himself into. Piper and Sophie are determined to pull him and the rest of their puppy companions into the rolling ocean, and as much as he tugs on the leashes, they insist on usurping his authority.

Eventually, Harry lets them drag him along the beach. He’s always been a cat person and this is one reason why.

He’s surprised that, with how focused he is on not letting one of the pups get away, he manages to spot Louis up on one of the boardwalks leading onto the beach. He’s with another man who’s dressed in all white with a pair of binoculars in his hand extending his arm out and gesturing towards the ocean. Louis listens to him carefully and accepts the binoculars when the man hands them to him. He starts to turn his gaze towards the ocean and pauses.

Because Harry is just standing on the shoreline staring at him.

Louis lifts his hand and waves. Harry sort of wants to burrow beneath the sand like a hermit crab. He’s just standing there being an utter creep with his gang of dogs, leashes wrapped around both hands so he can’t even wave back.

Louis says something to the man and starts down the boardwalk, coming closer. The first thought on Harry’s mind is that he didn’t floss after breakfast this morning. Olly made this spinach and cheese omelet and Harry didn’t floss and spinach always tends to wind up in one’s teeth.

“Morning,” Louis says, the same way he did when he found him on the beach. Except there’s a smirk on his face, like he’s a second from laughing.

Harry starts to reach up to straighten his hair and then remembers the leashes.

“Hi,” he says, not smiling too widely, conscious about the spinach.

Louis looks down at the dogs at his feet. Piper is scratching at his flip flop.

“I’m sorry,” Harry says, trying to tug her away. He can’t find the particular lead that belongs to her though. “She’s really rambunctious.”

Louis smiles and then stoops down so he can offer Piper his hand for a sniff. Of course, that means Sophie wants a sniff too. And then Max is eyeing Louis curiously. Louis laughs when Max takes a tentative lick of his jaw. Harry starts to apologize again, not because Louis looks annoyed at all, but because Max was licking his balls just a minute ago, so…

"How many jobs do you have around here?" Louis looks up and asks him.

Harry lifts both shoulders. "Honestly, I'm beginning to lose count. I work wherever they need help."

"So, you do it all…” Louis notes, standing straight again. “That’s both a good and bad thing."

Okay, Yoda. "How so?" Harry asks.

"Well, on the one hand, when you're good at everything, it means people can always count on you. You're bound to always be employed that way,” Louis says. “But at the same time, it means you don't specialize in anything. Makes you dispensable too."

Harry's brows crease. "Should I be worried that you're saying this to me?"

Louis' lips twitch. "No, you're safe, I promise. It's just a tip for the future…” he says, sliding his hands back into his pockets. He shrugs and adds, “Find your specialty."

Harry hesitates a second before he asks, "And what's yours?"

"Mr. Tomlinson!" the man on the boardwalk calls out, gesturing wildly toward the ocean. Louis shields his eyes with his hand and looks out. Harry squints his eyes and does the same.

“What are you looking for?” he asks.

“Dolphins,” Louis replies with a smile. “There’s a school of them swimming really close to shore lately. Normally they don’t do that. We’re trying to figure out why. I can’t see a thing. Do you?”

“Nope,” Harry says.

Louis turns back to the man with the binoculars and shrugs his shoulders while shaking his head. To Harry, he says, “To answer your question, I'm not sure I've found it yet. My specialty. But I’ll let you know when I have."

Harry's smile is small. "At least you're looking."

Louis smiles and then he's turning away. "Enjoy you're walk," he calls back at him without turning around.

Harry doesn't answer but his smile grows just a little. He has to force himself to stop. He should stop the weird thing his heart is doing too but he doesn’t know how. With a big breath, he directs his attention to his puppy army.

"Alright, loves. Let's go," he says, tugging gently on the leashes. And they’re back on their way.

 

> > L < <

 

TUESDAY – JULY 14

Louis is headed to the indoor recreational park, where there’s a bowling alley, a roller skating rink, and a rock climbing wall all jammed under one roof, and a number of repairs in need of his attention. His dad has also been telling him to check in on Jeff, the manager of the place, to make sure he isn’t getting too old to do his job. The man is sixty, Louis thinks. So maybe that’s the case.

Kenneth drives him five minutes to the opposite end of the resort where the recreational park resides. He takes his clipboard with him, a list of needed repairs written down for his review. They step into the large white building and have to remove their sunglasses immediately because it’s much darker inside. Several disco balls swirl on the ceiling casting dancing dots of red, green and blue all over the patterned carpeted floor.

It takes a moment for his eyes to adjust as they’re heading over to the bowling alley section to inspect a projector that’s no longer working. His eyes are still adjusting by the time they make it, which is why at first he doesn’t believe what he’s seeing.

Harry glides along the hardwood floors there in white roller skates, handing off a fresh glass of Coke to a waiting patron. Unlike his usual top knot or headband, his hair is loose and free and flying in the air he stirs up as he breezes by, adorned only by a flower tucked beside his ear.

But none of that is what stops Louis where he stands.

It’s the shorts he’s wearing. They’re Sandy-Hill-approved red shorts. But they’re tiny.

They don’t get anywhere close to his knee like they should. They stop high enough to expose a good bit of his thick thighs, dusted with hair and a fucking unidentifiable tattoo. His bum- His bum is like hidden treasure. Louis knows he shouldn’t think it but he does anyway.

This is a family-friendly resort. And Harry…to be frank, Harry is obscene.

Louis swallows around the weird knot in his throat and exhales a slightly flustered breath. “Um,” he glances down at his clipboard. “So, the projector, right? Let’s have a look, shall we?”

Kenneth nods his assent.

The thing is Louis can’t concentrate on the projector while Harry’s skating around in his fucking short shorts. At one point Harry bends over to clean up a bit of ketchup that’s plopped on the floor and Louis gets tunnel vision.

He and Kenneth talk to Jeff for a bit, and the old man assures them everything is running in tiptop shape. Louis can’t focus enough to question him further. His eyes drift again to where Harry is entertaining a little kid, not even noticing the way the child’s mother is ogling his legs.

The next minute, Harry is leaning against the food bar, waiting for one of his orders, and starts swinging his hips a little. Micro-twerking is what it looks like.

Louis has to talk to him. He doesn’t want to embarrass him. And it’s bound to be a bit awkward. He could ask Jeff to have a word with him. But he would feel awful about it later.

It has to be Louis. He doesn’t have a choice.

He gets the opportunity when they’re finishing up their chat with Jeff. Louis tells Kenneth to wait outside for him. He goes up to the bar where he knows there’s a little mic for the MC on special event nights. He hesitates for a second and then Harry does another wiggle with his bum and just… It’s obscene. So obscene.

“Is it on?” he asks the bartender, pointing to the mic.

She comes over and flicks it on for him. There’s a high-pitched squeal of interference that fades out the next second. Louis doesn’t even know Harry’s last name. It dons on him then but he has no choice.

He leans into the mic. “Harry,” he calls, over the music drifting out of the overhead speakers and the loud clamor of bowling balls decimating pins.

Harry looks up right away. As do two other men sitting around the bowling lanes who must also be named Harry. Louis licks his top lip and adds. “In the red shorts.”

Harry actually looks down on himself as if he’s forgotten what he’s wearing. Louis doesn’t laugh. He won’t. Harry finally swings his round eyes toward the bar and sees Louis illuminated by the faint glow from the bar. And he smiles this big, kind of magnificent smile, like he couldn’t be happier to see him. And that’s just…bizarre. Louis is his boss and they only just met and…why does he feel the beat of butterfly wings in the pit of his stomach?

He takes a breath and beckons Harry over with two fingers and steps away from the mic.

Harry skates back through the booths, maneuvering around a collection of families, and slows to a stop in front of Louis. “Hi,” he says, still grinning, dimples in full bloom.

Up close, Louis has an opportunity to note the significant bulge in the front of Harry’s shorts. Of course, he’s packing. As if Louis needed more inspiration for the filth in his head. He peels his eyes away from Harry’s crotch and feels thirsty all of a sudden. He turns toward the bar. “A coke, please.”

He takes a long—very long—sip of his fresh drink before he dares to speak.

“Bit out of dress code, aren’t you?” he says when he can.

Harry’s eyes widen and he looks down at himself again. “Is it the tattoo?”

Louis studies the tattoo. “Surprisingly, no,” he says. “What is that anyway?”

“It’s a tiger,” Harry says with a small smirk. Louis eyes his dimple again. He enjoys that dimple. More than he wants to admit.

“Looks like a whale. Or a cinnamon roll. Or a conch shell.”

Harry’s brows crease, his lips going pouty. Cute. Fuck, that’s cute. He props his leg up on the base of the bar stool and stares at his thigh. Louis does too. He shouldn’t but he does. He could wreak serious havoc on Harry’s inner thigh. He can already picture the beard burn there, the bite marks, the bruises. He pictures them wrapped around his waist.

He takes another big gulp of the cock in his hand, wishes desperately that it was spiked…

Coke. He means a gulp of his Coke. Not a gulp of cock. Because he isn’t thinking about his cock, or Harry’s cock, or any cock. Coke. The only thing he’s thirsty for is Coke. Fuck.

“It’s a tiger,” Harry repeats.

Louis almost glares at him. Almost. He reels it in. “Your shorts are too short.”

“Oh,” Harry scrutinizes himself again, fingers brushing the hem of his shorts. “I pulled these from the supply cupboard. They’re certified.”

“You pulled the wrong size,” Louis informs him. “Maybe you want to try the next one up?”

“Oh,” Harry says again. And then something dons on him. He bites his lip. “I’m so sorry… I'm honestly not as incompetent as you must think."

Louis has thought about Harry more times in the past week than he thinks is appropriate but never once has incompetence been one of those thoughts.

"I've never thought you were incompetent. I still don't," he assures him. Spilling a milkshake or wearing booty shorts aren’t signs of incompetence, not for Louis. He adds, “Those are honest mistakes.” His eyes run over Harry’s thighs again. He can’t help it.

He looks back up and finds that Harry is watching him carefully, head tilted in a curious way. It’s possible he’s started to read between Louis’ lines. Or maybe not. Louis can’t be sure. But his ears start to feel hot anyway.

When Harry’s eyes narrow, Louis realizes the tables have turned. It’s not expected. He’s the boss here after all. He shouldn’t be the one feeling flustered. And yet Harry looks at him as if he means to look through him and Louis starts to squirm.

Harry smiles. Fuck.

“Do they…look bad on me?”

“That’s not the problem,” Louis tells him.

Harry hesitates. Louis narrows his eyes. “So…they look good on me?” Harry asks archly. Right away, it looks like he reconsiders what he’s said. It’s evident in the slight flush of his cheeks. He starts to bite his bottom lip, like that will stop him from saying anything further.

Louis didn’t come prepared for any of this. Mostly, he didn’t come prepared for Harry Styles. Louis, by nature, is a friendly guy. But he doesn’t know why he likes talking to Harry a bit more than everyone else. Or why he thinks of him almost constantly in conjunction with ice cream these days. Or everything else too. Everything lately makes him think of Harry.

Louis knows better than to entertain the thought of fooling around with an employee. His mum, if she ever found out, would roast him like a Christmas ham.

But Harry is weird. And interesting. And Louis doesn’t know why he keeps running into him like this. Why he looks forward to running into him like this.

Louis must stand there in silence for a long time. Harry opens his mouth. “Sorry—” he begins. Louis holds up his hand to silence him.

The thing is. Whatever game it is Harry thinks he’s playing, Louis can play too. And most importantly, he can win.

He drops his gaze very deliberately to Harry’s thighs, channels his best smolder—it’s a very good smolder—and meets Harry’s gaze again. “Honestly,” Louis says. “I’d have everyone wear shorts like that if I thought they’d look as good as you.”

Harry’s perfect pink little mouth parts.

Louis doesn’t give him a chance to respond. He’s just officially flirted with his employee, which is wrong on so many levels. Also, dropping a line like that is only part of the magic. The other part is walking away, leaving Harry to gape at him like a fish.

He polishes off his glass and sends the bartender a smile when she takes it, and slides his hands into his pockets. Smooth, yes. Smooth is his middle name. And then he strolls off toward the exit.

 

> > H < <

 

THURSDAY – JULY 16

Harry doesn’t know why this keeps happening. He can’t imagine that Louis is doing it on purpose. But again on Thursday, he sees him on the beach.

He’s finished his shift at the bowling alley quite early. So he heads to the shore with just his sunglasses and a book for the rest of his afternoon. He’s not expecting to see Louis. He never is. But twenty minutes later, when he lowers his book, there Louis is, standing over him.

“Hi,” Harry says, his stomach swooping for a second. He’s remembering Tuesday at the bowling alley, the way Louis’ eyes had swept over his legs, the way he’d looked at him afterwards. He told him he looked good. He actually said that. To Harry.

He feels his face warming at the thought but if Louis notices, he’ll say it’s sunburn.

“Hi,” Louis replies.

Harry doesn’t know what to expect from him this time. He waits with his book spread on his chest. Louis plops down on the sand beside him. And Harry sits up.

“No work today?” Louis asks.

“I finished already,” Harry tells him. “And…I wore new shorts.”

Louis’ eyes flicker to him. There’s a light pink tinge to his ears. Harry finds that adorable. His ears are kind of cute. It might be a little weird but…he’d love to just, like, nibble on Louis’ ear.

He rolls his eyes at himself and brushes the sand out of his hair.

“Good to know,” Louis says.

They’re quiet for a second. Harry doesn’t know what this is. He doesn’t know what he’s meant to say or if he’s just supposed to be quiet. He watches Louis stare out at the ocean for a second and contemplates starting back in on his book again.

But then Louis asks, “What’s your surname, by the way?”

Random.

“Styles.”

“Harold Styles. Sounds like the name of a superstar,” Louis comments.

“It’s just Harry, though. Not Harold.”

“Huh,” Louis grunts, looking oddly displeased with that revelation. He’s quiet again for a moment.  “What are you reading?”

Harry turns the cover of the book to face him. “A Game of Thrones” it reads. Louis starts to smile. Harry adds, “My sister is like forcing me to read the series.”

“Have you seen the show? I love the show,” Louis says, an undercurrent of excitement in his voice.

Harry feels sorry to disappoint him. “Never seen it.”

Louis makes an undignified noise. “I have the last five seasons on DVD, jf you want to borrow them some time. Which you should,” he says.

Harry smiles. Well, now he will. If only to have more reasons to talk to him. He closes his book and sets it aside. “Could I ask you a question?”

“Just did,” Louis tells him with a smirk.

Harry gives him a deadpan look. If they were friends, he’d give him a shove in his shoulder too.

“Have at it,” Louis says. He looks at him expectantly.

Have you ever slept with an employee? Would you maybe consider, I don’t know, sleeping with me? Could I at least suck your cock a bit? Or we could just make out under that palm tree over yonder?

“Do you ever get tired of being here? Like when you just come for business, does the island start to lose its charm?”

“No, never,” Louis answers right away. “Being here is a whole lot better than being at home.”

Harry is actually genius. He’s created an opportunity to ask more questions and, of course, he takes it. “Is home not any fun?”

“Home is…Well, it’s just me by myself. And my fish. And sometimes my youngest sister will come stay for a bit. But there’s a lot more to do here,” Louis explains. And then he smiles. “Why? Are you getting bored here already?”

“No,” Harry says. “I’m not, I swear. The work is…tedious, I guess. But I like it.” He probably shouldn’t have said that. But Louis makes him want to be honest. Something in his eyes keeps Harry from holding back.

“Will you go home at the end of the summer?” Louis asks.

“I suppose so. Eventually I’ll have to start working on my graduate degree. But I’m not in a rush.”

“You shouldn’t be,” Louis tells him.

“What about you? After you’re finished here, what’s next?”

Louis sighs. “Sydney. We have a hotel going up there. And I’m supposed to be checking it out.”

“And then?”

Louis looks at him, propping his arms up on top of his knees. “And then nothing. I’m looking into adopting a dog.”

Harry smiles strictly. He wants to laugh but somehow manages not to. “Sounds like a plan.”

“Am I detecting sarcasm?” Louis glowers at him. And okay, that’s hot.

“Not at all,” Harry says serenely, donning his best cherubic smile. He even tilts his head, knows how that makes his curls sway. He’s a charmer, what can he say.

Louis’ eyes linger on him and then he looks again toward the ocean. “Thinking about what’s next gives me a headache. I tend to always have a headache actually. But even more so…”

“You’re probably tense,” Harry says. “I could give you a massage for that. I’m really good at them.”

He doesn’t even know where that comes from. He doesn’t mean to say it. Well, maybe he does. But if he’d thought a bit more before saying it, he would have known not to. Because it’s wildly inappropriate.

He’s expecting Louis to look at him like he’s insane, to get up, walk away, tell Liam to fire him tomorrow morning for coming onto his boss. Which he is. You know, subconsciously.

“I’m beginning to think you’re just good at everything,” Louis says instead.

Harry’s mind descends to the dirty south. If only Louis knew.

He watches Louis carefully, nibbling on his bottom lip.

“Not everything…” he decides to say. He sits up on his knees and shuffles a bit closer. “I’m going to give you a massage. It’ll help. Consider it just another one of my jobs.”

He’s actually fucking bargaining with him. How shameless.

Louis hesitates. As he probably should. If the realm of appropriateness were this shore, Harry would be all out in the deep blue. Not to mention, they’re on the beach where anyone could come along and see them.

Louis takes two awkward seconds to answer and sighs. “Alright then…” he says. “But just so I can rate your skills for myself. You know, as your employer.”

That’s dangerous. If Harry tells him that he’s pretty stellar at sucking cock, will Louis want to rate that too? Harry jots it down for testing at a later date.

For now, he reaches out and sets his hand on Louis’ shoulder, shuffling against the sand so he can position himself right behind him. He maybe sits a bit closer than is necessary. But okay, he’s not a professional masseuse. And he might never have this opportunity again.

Louis smells nice. Like fresh soap. And of sweat from being out in the sun all day. His neck is tan and a bit red because he must not have put sunscreen there. Harry wants to press a kiss to his skin to soothe it. Harry is also ridiculous.

“Uh,” he says softly. “Okay, I’ll just…”

He trails off. He’s not used to feeling this off-center. He flirts artfully most of the time, can have men and women alike twirled around his finger within seconds. He likes flirting. He finds it fun.

This isn’t flirting. This isn’t fun. It’s nerve-wracking. And it’s tense like Louis’ shoulders. And yet, Harry wants to shuffle closer still, mold his chest along Louis’ lean back.

He presses both of his hands into Louis’ shoulders. “I’m surprised you don’t have one of those massage chairs…” he says randomly. “You know, a big leather one with all those crazy features.”

“Why would I?” Louis asks with a laugh.

Harry shrugs even though Louis can’t see him. “I feel like all rich people do.”

“That’s an interesting perception. Actually…” Louis’ voice goes soft when Harry rubs his fingers firmly into the muscles of his neck. He pauses for a moment, then says, “My parents have one. And I considered it, when I first moved into my own place.”

“See, I knew it,” Harry says smugly. He slides his hands to the space between Louis’ shoulder blades, rotates his fingers there with a bit of pressure.

“Don’t I get some credit for the fact that I didn’t buy it?” Louis asks.

Harry smiles. “Nope. I think you’ll have one eventually. Especially after this. You’re going to want a massage every day,” he says, unashamedly self-righteous.

“You’re that good, huh?” Louis murmurs, followed by a groan when Harry rubs his thumbs into one particular spot. It makes Harry’s breath catch for a second. Heat sparks low in his stomach. He pushes past it.

“You tell me,” he says, slipping his hands down Louis’ spine. The funny thing is that Louis could easily have a proper massage here at the resort. He could have one of the spa staff come to his villa with just a call. But here he is on the beach, receiving one from Harry instead.

Maybe that’s what makes this so inappropriate in comparison. Or maybe it’s that Harry’s breath has gone kind of shallow and he’s leaning in so close to Louis that the tendrils of his hair swinging away from his foreheadbrush the back of Louis’ neck. He’s leaning close and breathing him in and Louis’ skin is hot, even through the cotton of his tank top.

If Louis was his, this is the part where he’d lay him out on the beach and straddle his narrow hips. The sand would be their bed. The waves rolling beside them would be their soundtrack. Harry would use each ebb and flow and crash as a model for the way he moved his hips against him.

Harry isn’t an exhibitionist per se. Not really. But he’d have Louis here and now if he could. And he can’t. He really can’t.

He pulls his hands away. Louis turns his head and catches his eye.

“Sorry.” Harry swallows around the wad in his throat. “Next would be glutes,” he says with an unconvincing laugh. “But I don’t think you want me doing that…”

Louis is just looking at him, his brows furrowed. All around them is pink and fading orange and blue. Sunset is the most magical time of the day and Harry feels its enchantment now, rushing up through his body. Or maybe that’s just Louis.

He lets his eyes dart to Louis’ mouth for a second. If he were his, this was the moment they would kiss. He knows Louis’ mouth is warm, that is lips are soft, and his tongue is sure and smooth. He knows it would be the best kiss. He starts to sway forward and catches himself.

“I should go,” he says.

Louis nods and suddenly they’re both standing, dusting the sand off their bottoms. Harry collects his book. With the spell broken, he can’t believe the last few minutes actually happened. He can’t believe the spell was cast in the first place or that he slipped under it so quickly.

“Good night,” Harry tells him. Louis says the same. And with a mutual urgency, they part ways.

> <

FRIDAY – JULY 17

Harry dips another pretzel rod into his peanut butter and carefully munches on the end, tilting his chin a particular way as well, so he doesn’t get crumbs caught in his avocado face mask. He’s no expert but they probably aren’t good for his pores.

He hears the shuffle and slap of flip flops before Niall appears in the hall, following up his arrival with a groan of “Jesus, Haz. Put some fucking clothes on.”

Yeah, Harry would do that. Except he’s way too comfortable lying here in the nude with his deep conditioner tingling his scalp and his face mask purging his pores and his freshly showered skin. It’s all part of his unwinding process from a week of hard work and even harder tests of self-control. If he puts on clothes now he’ll ruin the whole thing.

“Just shut the door,” he tells him.

Niall shuts his own door instead. Harry shrugs, returning his attention to the TV. Sour attitudes aren’t going to ruin his night either.

There’s a lovely breeze coming in through the screen door at the side of his room. On the TV, Under the Tuscan Sun is halfway through. Harry loves this movie. He likes to pretend he’s the heroine, Francesca, and that there’s a lovely Italian bloke looking to tumble around in bed with him. Things don’t turn out well for Francesca though. The Italian bloke ends up breaking her heart. And maybe there’s a metaphor for his own life in there.

He frowns around another pretzel rod. The sound of his crunching is a bit too loud in his ears. So, he’s not sure if he’s imagining someone knocking at the front door.

He mutes the TV. “Is someone knocking?” he yells.

“Put some clothes on and go see,” Niall shouts back.

Harry sighs loud and unamused. Olly is out at the moment. He prefers to spend his Friday nights at a bar in the city. Harry would do the same but his back is sore and he really just wants to lie in bed tonight.

He hears the shower cut on, which means Niall won’t be getting the door any time soon. He starts to pull himself off the bed when he sees a flicker of movement by his screen door.

“Jesus, fuck—”

Harry makes this really weird sound. Like a distressed baby goat and tumbles off his bed, searching for his towel on the floor.

“I’m so sorry,” Louis says.

Harry pokes his head over the top of his bed and sees that Louis has turned his back to the door. His hand is pressed to his face as well. Harry wraps the towel around his waist and stands to his feet.

“I’ll go back to the front door,” Louis says. “I just—I’ll wait there.” Harry thinks he takes another little peek. He doesn’t give Harry a chance to speak before he’s gone.

Harry doesn’t bother to wash the face mask off. There’s no time and Niall’s taken over the bathroom. He slips on a pair of pants and a clean shirt and some shorts that might actually belong to Olly and hurries to the door.

Louis is standing there with his head sort of bowed and his arms crossed. He holds something in his left hand.

“I—” he sighs. “I’m very sorry about that. I was knocking here and then I saw the light on at the side and thought maybe you all don’t use your front door often. If I’d known it was your bedroom, I never—”

“It’s alright,” Harry says.

Louis’ face is beet red. And he’s not making eye contact. “It’s not that appropriate for me to be here, so. I just came to give you this.”

He holds out the item in his hand. The Game of Thrones disc set. Harry takes it.

“If you weren’t home, I would have just left it in your mailbox. I should’ve done that, to be honest.”

“No. Thank you for coming by. It’s…good to see you. Thank you,” Harry babbles. All he can think is that Louis saw him naked. And okay, lots of people have seen Harry naked. But Louis is different. Harry would like very much to be naked for Louis again. Like in a bed. His bed.

“It’s not a problem,” Louis says. His eyes flicker up. There’s a tight smile on his lips. “Nice face.”

Harry narrows his eyes and purses his lips. “You laugh now but my skin will be glowing in the morning.”

“I don’t doubt that,” Louis says, the corners of his eyes crinkling. In the next second, his smile fades. “I’m really sorry.”

Harry rolls his eyes. “It’s fine. Honestly. Like now we can be considered even, right? My milkshake foot bath for you catching me in the nude.”

Louis looks skeptical. “I personally think what I’ve done is worse.”

“Well, I disagree. And you’re forgiven. So that’s that,” Harry says with a smile. Louis’ lips twitch again and then he sighs and laughs at the same time. It’s a nice sound.

“Alright then,” he says.

Harry holds up the DVD case. “Thanks again for this. How should I get it back to you when I’m finished?”

Louis thinks about it for a second. “Um,” he reaches into his back pocket. “Why don’t we just exchange numbers?”

Harry stares at him. “Really?”

“Why not? Don’t expect you to send me anything weird,” Louis says. Like nudes? “It’s just to get the DVDs back to me, yeah?”

“Yeah…” Harry says, his heart thrumming excitedly. He tells it to behave. And then he gives Louis his number.

“Sent you a text so you have mine,” Louis says, pocketing his phone. “I’ll go now. Let you get back to melting your face off.”

“Hey,” Harry complains. “Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.”

Louis laughs again. It really is a great laugh. He starts down the steps, away from the front door. “See you,” he calls into the night. There’s a golf cart parked on the street. He climbs into it and starts it up.

Harry waves. But he sort of wishes he was getting into the cart with him and Louis was taking him back to his villa. Or wherever it is he’s going. Harry drops his face into his palm, too late to remember that he has the mask on. He groans and shuffles back inside to wash himself clean.

 

> > L < <

 

As it turns out, Harry is brilliant. In every sense of the word, yeah. But in this particular case, Louis means intellectually.

It takes him by surprise. Not that he ever thought Harry was daft. But the scope of his intelligence comes unexpected. He’s not just smart in the way other people are. He’s a low-key genius.

And eventually he gets to a comfort level with Louis where he stops hiding it, starts to pour out all this knowledge, anytime, anywhere, no matter what they’re talking about.

He goes off on great spiels about SeaWorld, how they’re poison to the safety and security of marine livelihood. He has facts too that he’s somehow memorized and lays out for Louis so thoroughly that by the time he’s done, Louis has his own personal vendetta against the corporation.

Harry talks to him about human trafficking and modern day slavery. “We have, today, more slaves around the world than at any other point in history. Think about the horror of the African Slave Trade, and imagine it, like, expanded to every part of the world.” He draws his palms apart as he speaks, stretching his arms to demonstrate the vastness of this planet. “And the worst part is that it’s underground, you know? The African Slave Trade was out in the open for everyone to see. But the shit going on today is hidden. Happens everywhere without us even noticing.”

Louis listens to him. He tries sometimes to interject his own bits of knowledge. But he usually doesn’t have anything to offer. Harry never makes him feel stupid though. He listens to Louis too, his eyes bright and intent and focused completely on Louis as he speaks. It’s almost unnerving the way he holds eye contact like that.

He answers Louis’ questions whenever he asks. And always tacks on “you know?” at the end of his statements so that Louis has a place to comment.

Whenever Louis imagines an abstract representation of Harry’s mind, he sees a nebula. He sees bright swirling spots of space dust, vibrating with interstellar energy like the synapses in his brain.

Right now, they’re walking away from the daycare where Harry’s just finished working and Louis is taking him again for a cup of tea.

Harry has flowers in his hair that the children bestowed on him like fairies with their pixie dust. Little red and yellow petals are littered all throughout his curls, and the whole time, he’s talking about poverty and the problem with the elite—no offense to Louis, he adds.

“It’s just that 80-90% of the world’s wealth belongs to the rich. And it shouldn’t be that way. It doesn’t have to be,” Harry says. “There’s more than enough in this world for everyone. I don’t think God would make it any different…”

He often talks unashamedly about things that others might be too afraid to talk about. Like God, for instance. Louis has never been very religious himself. He prays a few times a year, mostly for the strength to mind his temper.

But there’s a cross dangling from Harry’s neck that he never seems to take off. And Louis likes that it isn’t just for show. He likes that nothing about Harry is pretense. He talks passionately about things because he is passionate about them. He says what he means. And does what he wants to do. And he’s not sorry for any of it.

And he shouldn’t be, Louis thinks.

> <

SUNDAY – JULY 26

‘I think Ned Stark is going to die.’

Louis huffs a laugh and types his reply.

‘Just keep watching.’

‘I’ve stopped reading the books. My sister will be disappointed.’

‘Tell her I’m sorry for corrupting you.’ Louis sends his reply before he has time to consider it again. There are a lot of ways he can think to corrupt Harry, though he suspects Harry is far from saintly. And now he’ll never stop thinking about this.

‘But that would be a lie.’

Louis laughs out loud. The woman standing a few feet away eyes him curiously. He doesn’t tell her to bugger off. He’s a better man than that.

He starts to reply to Harry but then another text pops up on his phone, this one from Zayn.

Where r u??

Louis leans off his car. He pushes his sunglasses further up his nose and peers over at the sliding glass doors of the airport.

He spots Zayn right away because his arrival sort of resembles that of a celebrity. There are a collection of cabbies waiting around to chauffeur tourists to their hotels. And Zayn must look and smell of money because at least ten of them turn to him, trying to take his bags and direct him to their cars.

Zayn looks up from his phone and politely declines their offers. Still, they persist and garner more attention from more cabbies, and it appears Zayn is about to be swallowed in the swarm. Quickly, Louis shoots back a text. Always to the rescue.

Right in front of you.

Relief blooms on Zayn’s face and he crosses the street where Louis is parked, arms folding around Louis right away. “The sun is looking good on you,” Zayn tells him, patting his head.

Louis grumbles, swatting his hand away. “We’ve been spending a lot of time together, me and the sun,” he says. And then he’s grinning. “I’m glad you’re here.”

Not just because the villa is big and empty without him. But because Zayn’s arrival couldn’t come at a better time. Because Louis thinks he’s sort of losing his mind. Because yesterday Harry was sunning on the beach, wearing a tiny pair of yellow swim trunks and Louis really, honestly, truly thought he was losing his fucking mind.

Or course, nothing could be worse than having seen him naked, having real proof that Harry is hung. Not the biggest he’s seen (not after that encounter with a man he thought was part horse) but he’s sizable and perfectly shaped. And Louis caught all that from just a glance. Imagine what a marvel Harry is up close or in his mouth or his arse.

Louis is losing his mind.

“Why are you gripping the steering wheel like that?”

Louis glances at Zayn, almost surprised to see him sitting there, which is silly because he literally just picked him up.

“What?”

Zayn looks at Louis’ hands on the steering wheel. The blood is just beginning to refill the white beneath his skin as he loosens his grip. He doesn’t reply.

“You seem different,” Zayn says.

Louis rolls his eyes. He thinks Zayn, Lottie, and Luc all have one collective brain. Either that or they’ve been talking about him behind his back. Yesterday, after the yellow swim trunks, Louis was on Skype with Lottie, and she said the same thing. You seem different, Louis.

She couldn’t explain why. And Louis doubts that Zayn can either. He thinks they just like to tease him, to pretend like they’ve got him all figured out or something. But he’s just the same Louis that left London a few weeks ago.

“How do I seem different? Please enlighten me,” Louis says.

Zayn studies him. “You’re jittery. Or like, I don’t know, excited? Yeah, you seem excited. That’s weird.”

“It’s weird for me to be excited?” Louis’ brows reach for his hairline. He’s vaguely offended. He gets excited all the time. Life is always exciting him. He tells Zayn so.

“When’s the last time anything has excited you?” Zayn asks. He doesn’t even attempt to conceal the disbelief in his voice or his expression. “Name one thing.”

Louis tries, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel.

Right then, his phone buzzes on the center console. And he feels this jolt, starting from the point in his mind that says it’s Harry and rippling downward to his foot pressed against the gas pedal. The jolt is unfamiliar and yet he’s felt it multiple times throughout the week. And it has a name. Louis thinks it might be Excitement.

Well, then.

“I was excited when I saw you,” Louis shoots Zayn a smirk.

Zayn shakes his head. “I’m sure you were happy when you saw me. As you should be. But you weren’t excited,” Zayn explains. And then he adds, “Who’s Harry?”

Louis maintains a steady hand on the wheel. “Who?”

Zayn smiles. That was the wrong answer. “Someone you met here?”

“You’re being a snoop,” Louis tells Zayn. Again, it’s the wrong answer. Because yes, Zayn is being nosy. But Zayn is always nosy. And Louis never answers him like that.

Zayn tilts his head forward a bit so he can chase Louis’ avoidant gaze. Louis keeps his eyes focused intently on the road, where it should be if they want to make it to the villa in one piece.

“Did you sleep with him?”

Ha. Louis wishes. But no. No, he doesn’t. Harry is his employee. Employee. As in not eligible for sleeping with. No.

“No,” Louis says.

“Are you going to tell me anything else about him?”

“No,” Louis repeats.

Zayn sits back in his seat. He’s still smiling and it’s actually the most annoying thing Louis has ever seen. “Okay. Well, if you want to talk about it, I’ll be here for a while.”

Louis glares at the road. “I’ll keep that in mind,” he says. And he doesn’t say anything else. And Zayn, thankfully, doesn’t mention it again.

> <

TUESDAY – JULY 28

It feels safer to confess his transgressions to Lucy first. She’s far away and, between Lottie and Zayn, is least likely to judge him harshly. He calls her at lunchtime while Zayn is out on the balcony and he’s making them sandwiches.

He doesn’t intend to talk about Harry. He calls because it’s been a while and he merely wants to see how his baby sister is faring. But it’s inevitable that Harry comes up. He thinks he’s running out of room for all these thoughts about him. Eventually, they find their way out.

 “There’s this kid here…” he starts, cradling the phone between his shoulder and his ear. He’s too quiet but he has to be so Zayn won’t overhear him. The background noise on Lucy’s end dims, as she steps into another room. He hears a door shut.

“Sorry, Zendaya is working on music,” she says.

“Where are you?”

“Recording studio,” Lucy says. “In Nigeria.”

“What?” Louis pauses as he’s dropping turkey onto his bread.

“Yeah, I’m taking her places where she thinks she’ll be creatively inspired,” Lucy explains. “We were in Spain just two days ago.”

Louis laughs, sort of ridiculously proud. “How many girlfriends can say something like that?”

“None,” she replies haughtily. “Now, what was it you were saying?”

Louis hesitates again. It took him a lot to work up to it that first time. “Uh. There’s…”

“A kid there? That’s what you said right?” Lucy provides.

Louis licks his lips, pushes at his glasses. “Yeah. This really strange kid. He’s British. Likes to lie around in the nude apparently…”

“Okay…” she trails off. “Sounds like the good kind of strange to me.”

Yes. The very good kind. The kind who’s probably also wild in bed. Louis removes his glasses and rubs at his eyelids.

“He’s an employee.”

Lucy takes a second to piece it all together. “Oh.” She laughs. “Oh, no. Lou, mum would kill you.”

Louis nods. “Yes, I know.”

“Remember I did that one year with—what was his name—Ben? Or Bill. Whatever. Remember mum fired him? And I wasn’t allowed out with you and Lottie anymore.”

“That was a bit different. You were like 16. And he was a bit of a pervert, wasn’t he?”

“True. But you know what she’ll say about you. It’s not good for business. It’s not professional,” Lucy drones in her best impression of Jay.

Louis nods. “No, I know,” he sighs. “I just- I feel like I can’t help it. I feel like- He’s just- Fuck, I don’t know. I think you would adore him.”

“I think I already do if he’s got you so frazzled. When’s the last time anyone’s gotten you like this?” she ruminates. “So did you call me to talk you out of doing something irresponsible? Because I have to tell you, babe. Not your best idea.”

“Shut up, Luc.”

“Or,” Lucy says, ignoring him. “Did you call me so I’d talk you into it? Because if that’s the case, I say…carpe fucking diem. YOLO. No regrets. All that shit.”

“Jesus,” Louis sighs in exasperation.

“Well, no, best not say that. I don’t think Jesus would approve.”

Louis drops his face into his palm. “You’re ridiculous,” he mumbles. “I’m hanging up on you now.”

Lucy laughs, her youthful, carefree laughter, the kind that’s always made Louis laugh too, even if he doesn’t know what’s funny. So before he knows it, he’s bent over, shoulders shaking and eyes filling with tears.

“I love you,” she tells him. “You seriously could never disappoint me. You never have. And I don’t think you’ll start now.”

It’s a loaded statement. It’s not approval or disapproval. It’s “do what you want because I’ll love you regardless” and it’s more than enough.

“I love you too,” he says. “Say hi to Z for me.”

“I will when she finishes up. We’re headed off to Japan tomorrow. I’ll send you pictures.”

Louis laughs again. She’s incredible. And wild. And Louis loves her more than she’ll ever know. He makes her promise to send him pictures wherever she ends up, and to check in every now and then so he knows she’s safe.

And then he’s finished their conversation and carries his plate of sandwiches out to the balcony. He asks Zayn, while they’re taking their first bites, “How do you feel about going for ice cream later?”

 

> > H < <

 

Are you working at the shop tonight?

Harry turns away from Olly and Niall to quickly thumb his reply.

Unfortunately yes.

This evil child threw ice cream at me today.

That’s karma for you, Harold.

With his back to his friends, he lets himself smile, slipping his phone back into the pocket of his apron.

There’s really no explanation for the way things have progressed with Louis. Ever since he caught Harry in the nude, they haven’t stopped texting each other. (Which, fuck yes, nudity wins again. Harry didn’t spend all those hours kickboxing and yoga-ing (?) for nothing.)

So, he’s pretty convinced at this point that Louis wants him. He just hasn’t made a move. And Harry needs him to make a move. Because if Harry does it and gets his ass fired…well, that would be a very sad ending to this story, wouldn’t it?

Until the time comes, Harry waits.

Another effect of nonstop communication with Louis is that the verbal barrier is slowly but surely falling apart. They joke and they swear and the nature of each waxes filthier and filthier. Louis has started calling him Harold, or more preferably, just H. And Harry is honest about those days when he’s not enjoying himself at work. Like today for example, when Satan’s actual son launched an entire scoop of strawberry ice cream at Harry’s chest.

Also, he and Louis flirt. Kind of? He thinks it’s flirting.

His phone buzzes again. Harry draws it out of his pocket.

I think the ice cream was his gift to you. Cuz he thought you were pretty.

Harry bites his lip to suppress his smile. Why would he think that, Lou?

He waits, drumming his fingers along the sides of his phone.

Fuck off. You know you’re gorgeous.

So, yes, they flirt. And when they do, Harry always feels like he’s sixteen. He’s obviously far better looking now. But he remembers his first crush on a boy—William McNaughton of Year 9—and the way every time he saw him, it felt like the earth was giving way beneath his feet.

It’s the same now but better and stronger. Like the Kanye West song. Because he thinks (knows, really) that Louis likes him too.

He grins outright as he types. Do you really mean it, Mr. Tomlinson?

Fuck OFF. Get back to work.

Them making a joke of Louis being his boss—that’s new as well. In some parts of the world, it’s referred to as foreplay.

“Why are you smiling like that?” Niall pokes him in his tummy. Harry mewls and curls away from him. He hates to be tickled, but in that vague way that everyone hates to be tickled. No one actually hates laughing their asses off. Not really. He pockets his phone.

“I’m smiling to hide my pain from this afternoon’s attack,” Harry says.

Olly laughs. “Were you attacked, Harry? Really?”

Harry draws the hem of his shirt away from his body, wiggling the fabric to emphasize the sticky white patch where the ice cream has dried on his navy blue polo. “I was attacked.”

Olly and Niall erupt in laughter. Let them have their laugh. One day a child, hungry for ice cream and the blood of men, will wander into the shop and then they will know Harry’s pain. He sucks on his milkshake and revels in the thought.

Olly returns to counting the rest of the bills in the register. Niall goes back to sweeping. Harry leans against the counter with his milkshake in hand. He’s not being lazy. He’ll have to clean the coolers tonight when the shop closes and that will be contribution enough.

Speaking of having to clean the coolers, the true source of Harry's torment comes sauntering out from the back room with a fresh tub of butter pecan ice cream.

“You know, that bloke staying with Mr. Tomlinson is a bit of a dick,” Liam mentions randomly.

They all exchange curious glances. It is always a rarity for Liam to speak ill of anyone. And it seems that he is once again in a mood to gossip. How fortunate for them.

“Language,” Harry reminds him, though it’s that weird hour between lunch and dinner, which means the shop is empty. No sane parent would bring their child in for sweets right now. His straw lolls out of his mouth. “Wait, who?”

“His name is Zayn,” Olly supplies. “And he’s fucking fit.”

Language. God. Harry doesn’t mention it this time though. Because…there’s a bloke staying with Louis?

“How do you even know that?” Niall asks.

Olly smirks proudly. “I have connections.”

Liam grunts. “Yeah, whatever, he’s nice looking,” he agrees. “But he’s also a huge dick.”

“I bet he has a huge dick,” Olly says matter-of-factly.

Harry chokes on his milkshake and laughs. “How is he a dick?” he asks. The better question would be who “he” is. But he’s getting there.

“He ordered a pizza to the villa. Plain cheese with half chicken and peppers—after work, me and Joe were going over to see how the waves were in St. Lucy, so I tagged along with him, right? So we deliver the pizza and this guy, Zayn, he’s like ‘I ordered that with pineapple on the left side.”

“You were the one who delivered the pizza?” Olly asks.

“No, I was just sitting in the golf cart. Anyway, so this dude answers the door without a shirt on.”

“Tell us more,” Olly says. Harry would laugh but he’s starting to feel a little sick.

“He’s all like ‘We wanted left pineapple.’ So, Joe is like ‘I have the receipt here, sir. there must have been a misunderstanding.’ And this wanker goes ‘Louis orders the same pizza every time. Don’t you all have it like on file or something?’” Liam dons a voice that Harry imagines is supposed to belong to Zayn. “He was also drunk, mind you. But still. He’s an arse.”

“And he’s staying with him? With Louis?” Harry asks again.

“Yeah, Louis even came to the door and was saying that ‘it’s not a big deal’ and still tipped Joe and everything. But that lad he’s fucking is ridiculous.”

Harry’s heart drops into his stomach and just lies there in the acids. “How- how do you know they’re doing that?” Fucking. He can’t even say the word.

“Well, Louis wasn’t wearing a shirt either, or trousers, actually. And I mean, he’s there with him in his Villa. And I’m pretty sure he’s gay, so.” Liam shrugs as if he hasn’t just ripped Harry’s heart out from between his ribs.

“Liam,” Olly groans. His whole face scrunches up, pierced nose wrinkling. “You shouldn’t have said that, mate.”

“Why?” Liam says, looking back and forth between Harry and Olly.

“Harry is like in love with Mr. Tomlinson.”

Harry’s cheeks burn. “I am not in love.”

Let’s be real. Harry thinks Louis might have been carved from actual pieces of the sun, or his mum was struck by a solar flare and miraculously survived while he was in the womb. He thinks he’s amazing and funny and sort of perfect. But he isn’t in love with him. Harry isn’t an idiot.

“You’re in a massive crush then,” Olly amends.

And yes, this is true. But he isn’t supposed to feel so shitty about it. Because it wasn’t just him. Or so Harry thought.

But there are the rumors too. About Louis sleeping with employees, about him being a heartbreaker, and a cheat. And even though Harry can’t reconcile the Louis featured in those rumors with the one he’s gotten to know, there is a man staying with Louis in his villa, walking around half-naked, who knows how Louis likes his pizza, and seems to have been here before.

Again, Harry isn’t an idiot.

He wants to go out back for a breath of fresh air. He wants to head back to the hut and deep condition his hair and soak in their tiny tub. He wants to go out and get drunk at one of the bars in town.

He starts to stand up.

And then the bells chime and Louis steps through the door.

His eyes find Harry immediately, as if he’s the very first thing he sees when he steps inside, the first thing he’s looking for. That’s just brutal, isn’t it? Because right behind him is a lad Harry has definitely not seen around the resort. He would remember him. He would have flirted with him too.

He’s pretty much 100% certain that this person is Zayn, with his perfectly sculpted cheekbones, and his perfect hair, and his glowing skin. He’s beautiful. One of the most beautiful people Harry’s ever laid eyes on. And standing beside Louis, they make a heavenly couplet.

The thing is Harry has dreamed about being surrounded by hot men more times than he can recall. And with Niall, Liam and Olly in the shop as well, it seems dreams do come true. But then…there’s no explaining why the dread that settles in his stomach is so indicative of nightmares.

Also, there’s a fucking blot of dried ice cream flaking on Harry’s shirt. God.

“Afternoon, boys,” Louis says, all cool and collected and he hasn’t stopped looking at Harry, not once. So, Harry breaks eye contact first, reaching for the milkshake he’s set on the counter behind him. It’s a bad idea. The frothy liquid starts to churn in his stomach.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Tomlinson. How can we help you?” Olly asks, with a nice big smile.

“Don’t know yet actually. Zayn, what are you thinking?” Louis asks him.

Zayn. Isn’t that like the name of a god or something? Maybe not. But how fitting would that be? “Dunno,” Zayn says. They’re both apparently useless when it comes to picking ice cream.

“You know, Harry does this thing. He’s like psychic,” Louis says, looking at him. Harry meets his gaze for just a second and then studies Olly’s shoes. He’s drawn smiley faces on the white tips of his Converse.

Louis continues speaking, though surely by now he’s picked up on Harry’s unwillingness to play along, “He can detect your favorite ice cream flavor. Right, H?” Harry looks at him again. He can’t help it with the nickname and the way Louis raises his brows.

But really, how dare he? Exploiting Harry’s talents for the purposes of impressing his boyfriend or his fuck buddy or whoever Zayn is. How very dare he…

Zayn’s eyes are suddenly locked on Harry, where before they were listless and uninterested. “Harry?” he says. And his name sounds weird coming from Zayn’s mouth. Sort of familiar and curious like he’s heard it before. Zayn shifts his gaze to Louis and a smile starts to grow on his face. Harry doesn’t take the time to appreciate the beauty of it. He’s too busy trying to decipher the hidden meaning.

It’s like they’ve spoken of him. It’s like…Louis is making a joke of him or something. He doesn’t want to believe that. It seems so contrary to who Louis is. But Harry’s skin feels hot anyway. And the milkshake bubbles in his stomach.

“So what’s my flavor then?” Zayn smiles like a cat.

Harry wants to say Shit and Piss. But that would be cruel. And Louis really would have to fire him then. Although given that his boss has completely played him for a fool, Harry doesn’t think he would mind.

“Uh…” Harry begins. When he swallows, his saliva is drying cement. He feels Louis’ eyes on him still but he focuses on the tubs of ice cream. He doesn’t even try. “Pistachio.”

Zayn’s upper lip curls in disgust. “Not even close.”

Harry shrugs. “Well. I tried.”

Olly steps in, sliding a little laminated menu across the counter. “Here are some of our most popular flavors. And the flavors of the week,” he says while Harry steps away from the counter. He thinks that any minute Louis will try to talk to him. He’s kind of an idiot, isn’t he? He has a gorgeous boyfriend right beside him and yet he’s zeroed-in on Harry.

“Hey, Haz. Could you go clean the coolers?” Liam says to him, his smile small and full of sympathy. It’s ridiculous because Harry shouldn’t need such a favor. He hasn’t even kissed Louis. He hasn’t done anything to feel the way he does now. And yet, he’s never been more grateful to slip out back and complete the task he dreads.

Anything, he thinks, is better than watching Louis with Zayn, smiling at Harry like he hasn’t been making him believe- He made him believe things.

Harry isn’t an idiot. He knows that. But still, he feels like one.

> <

Louis’ first message is simple, straight-to-the-point and honest, the way Harry expects him to be. Was everything alright earlier?

The second is similar but with an edge of undecided humor. Any reason your psychic skills were off?

He goes to sleep without replying. In the morning there’s another message, one that came minutes before he’d drifted off. Any reason you’re ignoring me?

He, of course, doesn’t reply.

 

> > L < <

 

WEDNESDAY – JULY 29

“I bet he was just embarrassed. Because there was that ice cream drying on his shirt. And he had some in his hair too, you know? Bet he just didn’t want you to see him like that.”

Louis sighs. His fingers hover above his keyboard. “Why are we still talking about this?”

“Because you’re still upset.”

Louis isn’t upset. He’s not upset that Harry ignored him. Or that Harry is still ignoring him because he sent him multiple messages yesterday and there’s still no reply. He isn’t upset.

Hurt, maybe? He might be a little hurt.

Embarrassed, too. Which is the feeling he is most unprepared for. Louis doesn’t really get embarrassed. His sense of self-preservation is normally too high to stumble into a situation where that might happen. And even when he does, he can laugh and joke his way out of anything.

Yet somehow, Harry managed to unwind completely.

Louis deserves that though. Harry must have come to his senses about flirting with his boss. Maybe someone found out and talked that sense into him. He wants to give Harry the benefit of the doubt. He wants to believe he wasn’t just stringing him along.

But it doesn’t matter. It’s over now and done with. Louis will delete his number from his phone and all their messages too. And maybe he’ll weep a bit on the phone with Lucy. And then he’ll do what he does best—carry the fuck on.

“I don’t want to talk about it. Really, this time,” Louis tells Zayn. “If I do, I know where to find you.”

Zayn’s smile is sad but accepting. “For now, I’ll be right here. Taking a nap,” he says. And then he turns over on his lounge chaise.

Louis starts typing again. To Zayn, it might look like he’s completing official business. But he’s really just been scrolling through pictures of puppies. Anything to cheer himself up.

It’s still just approaching noon. The sun is high in the sky and hot on their skin. The ocean is at a pleasant calm and the beach is littered with people.

“I’m going for a swim,” he says and hears Zayn mumble his understanding before he’s gone.

> <

He wants ice cream, okay? He genuinely just wants a scoop of ice cream. It has nothing to do with the person scooping his ice cream. But maybe, there’s an edge of disappointment to his expression when the person isn’t Harry.

“He isn’t here today.”

That’s Niall, digging into the dark chocolate ice cream—the one Louis hasn’t stopped craving since Harry suggested it. Louis swears this curly-headed fuck has worked his way into every aspect of his life, without him even noticing.

Louis begins to deny the implications of Niall’s statement.

“He’s walking dogs, I think,” Niall goes on. “He’ll be finished by now though. But afterwards, he always takes some of them back to the swim shop for baths.”

“Niall, right?” Louis asks, even though it’s on his nametag. He smiles. “Thank you for the info. But I wasn’t looking for Harry. It’s an especially hot day. Just needed something to cool me down.”

“Right.” Niall sets the ice cream scoop down and eyes him suspiciously. He actually narrows his eyes and tilts his chin up to stare down his nose at Louis. As if he knows Louis is his boss but no longer gives a fuck.

“He’s a really good person, you know? He’s always looking to brighten someone’s day. He doesn’t deserve to have his day ruined.”

Louis’ brows arch high. Because what? What did he even do to warrant that? He feels vaguely like he’s being accused of ruining Harry’s day. Or being unappreciative of Harry being the actual sun. But neither of those things is true.

“Is there a reason you’re saying this to me?” Louis asks.

Niall hands him his ice cream and smiles. “Not at all, sir. Have a great day.”

Louis is tempted to question him further. But another customer steps up the counter and Niall is quick about shifting his attention to her. Louis drops his money into the tip jar and leaves.

> <

He needs a new pair of swim trunks.

All of his pairs are outdated and loose since he lost a bit of weight a few years ago. He’s been meaning to refresh his swim wear ever since. It has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the fact that there’s a big outdoor shower behind the swim shop where Harry purportedly washes the dogs after he walks them.

Louis finds a pair of light blue swim trunks that he actually likes. And buys a KitKat bar from the random shelf of candy beneath the register too.

“Is there someone out back washing dogs?” he asks the girl at the register.

“He might have left already but you could check.”

Louis raises his candy bar to her. “Thanks,” he says, taking a bite. He’s one of those people who doesn’t break off the individual bars of chocolate. Seems so tedious when he could just eat the whole thing.

Anyway, he wanders to the back of the store and realizes too late that he never told the girl who he was. Maybe she detected an air of importance surrounding him because she never stops him.

The shower is empty but it seems only recently so. The blue tile is still covered in soap and the pipe is running. Louis places his bag with the swim trunks down by the door and steps outside.

“We’re going to get all that sand out of your fur now.”

He hears Harry before he sees him. And then when he rounds the corner, Harry takes a while before he sees Louis. His head is down because he’s talking to the big fluffy Labrador beside him, and his body is bent forward because he’s holding onto the dog’s collar.

Eventually though he has to look up. And when he does, he freezes.

Louis was playing with the possibility that Harry’s phone died last night or fell into the ocean or maybe he’d been feeling poorly and couldn’t be arsed to pay his phone any attention. He just wanted to believe that things were okay, even if the wiser part of his brain told him they weren’t.

The other part of his brain, the one still filled with hope, has no choice now but to face the truth. Because Harry doesn’t look happy to see him. At all.

If there was a way to put the images of Harry at the bowling alley a week ago and Harry now side by side, the differences would be stark.

Louis just doesn’t know what he’s done. He isn’t beyond apologizing. When he’s wrong, he says so. But he can’t apologize now. He doesn’t know what to be sorry for.

Except, maybe he is sorry for staring at Harry’s yellow shorts. They’re back to torment him anew. He deserves that, clearly.

“Did you need something?” Harry asks. Like—

Like an employee.

Louis shakes his head, momentarily speechless. “No. I just- I heard from Niall you were here,” he says, his chest sagging with the breath he exhales.

It’s fine if they’re going back to the way things were, although from the very start they were never like this. Not even after the milkshake foot bath. But it’s fine if this is the way it has to be now.

“I just wanted to make sure things were alright. With the dogs.”

Harry’s brow creases. He glances down at the dog he’s holding still. “Things are good here. Right, Max?” Max gives a happy yelp. Harry looks at Louis. “Things are good. Thank you for asking.”

He leads Max over to the shower and sits down on the blue tiles, grabbing the bucket from beside him. He pushes it beneath the pipe. As it fills with water, he turns again to Louis, as if to ask: Anything else?

“I’ve actually been wanting to adopt a dog for a while,” Louis says randomly.

Harry blinks, his lips quirking with hidden amusement. “You told me before. Adopt a rescue,” he says. “Lots of dogs need homes.”

Louis takes a seat beside him, tugging his knees up to his chest and wrapping his arms around them. “Do you have a dog?”

Harry hesitates. He takes in Louis sitting there like an unfortunate circumstance he’s stumbled into, like he needs a way out. And if he takes any longer to answer, Louis might just give up and leave. With anyone else, he would have done so already.

“I have a cat back home. Technically, my mum has a cat. But no, no dogs.”

“Not a dog person?”

Harry shrugs. “Me and Max get along fine,” he says, smiling at the dog. Louis really wishes Harry would smile at him too. Just once more.

Harry lifts the bucket and pours the water gently over Max’s body. It’s a little hard for him to hold onto Max’s collar and do so at the same time.

“Do you need any help?” Louis asks.

Harry glances at him again and it looks like he’s about to say no. Louis gets up on his knees and holds onto Max’s collar. “I’ve got him,” he says. When their fingers brush, Harry releases the collar. Louis pretends not to care.

The dog takes a lick of his chin, tongue lolling happily, as Harry pours the rest of the water along his coat. “He doesn’t look like he wants to go anywhere,” Louis says, smiling, scratching gently behind Max’s ears. To Max, he says, “You’re not going anywhere, are you?”

Harry is biting his lip like he wants to smile. “The water helps. When he’s overheated.”

“Good,” Louis smiles. He can’t stop. Because he has this adorable fluffy giant in his face. Louis needs his own dog. He coos, “Look how happy you are.”

The second Harry smiles Louis zeroes in, tracing the curve of his dimple and his perfect lips. “Do you want to help wash him?” he asks.

Louis doesn’t know if he’s more eager about washing Max or keeping the smile on Harry’s face. He’s nodding, “Yeah.”

Harry pops open the bottle of dog shampoo and pours some into Louis’s palm. Louis positions himself on Max’s side. He releases his collar because he’s pretty sure Max isn’t going anywhere. Harry fills his own hand with shampoo. And then they both start scrubbing vigorously, rubbing their fingers into Max’s fur. They scrub his head and behind his ears and his legs until he’s covered in suds. Harry lifts the bucket again and rinses him off, dirt and sand and grass sliding into the drain beneath them. The tension and unease go too.

They lather him up again and repeat. All the while, Max seems to be wearing an actual smile on his face. Louis is smiling too.

Best of all, Harry is smiling.

When their hands brush, he doesn’t pull away. And when Louis says, “See. I bet your cat never enjoys their bath this much,” Harry actually laughs, all crinkly-eyed and dimpled.

They rinse Max off one last time and when they’re toweling him dry, Harry says to Louis, “Thank you for helping.”

“Thank you. That was actually fun,” Louis says. “Is it supposed to be fun?”

“Not like this,” Harry says, his smile gentle and kind. Louis thinks it’s only this fun now because Harry is here. Because Harry is a lot fun, more than anyone.

“Um,” Harry begins. He laughs, his hand extending. “You have a bit of…” Quickly, he swipes his thumb over Louis’ cheek. “Soap.”

Louis knows now what Zayn and Lottie meant about him being different. There’s this feeling that’s been slowly seeping into his veins and settling beneath his skin since he met this boy beside him. It keeps him buzzing constantly, feeling like he’s always two seconds from taking flight.

This morning he thought it was all gone, because he woke up and felt drained, felt that if not for the sun, he would think it was still midnight. Because Harry was gone and he’d taken his warmth with him.

Sitting here, it’s as if someone has pressed two defibrillators to Louis’ chest. The feeling- it shoots back up through his body like it never left. Louis’ smile grows and he doesn’t even think about what he’s doing. He just— he just lifts his soapy hand and smears foam across Harry’s face.

Harry’s mouth falls open. Louis presses his lips together, but the laughter sputters between them anyway. Harry is stone still for a moment. And all of a sudden a devilish spark descends in his eyes, his mouth twisting up and simpering. He cups both of his hands and scoops soapy foam into his palms and slides his hands down either side of Louis’ face.

He cackles when he takes in the foamy beard he’s bestowed on him.

“Oh, look. It’s Christmas in July,” Harry chimes.

“Ho, ho, ho,” Louis deadpans, grabbing the bucket. He lifts it up and tips the entire thing over onto Harry’s front, soapy water drenching his gray t-shirt and yellow swim shorts. “Merry Christmas,” Louis finishes with a smile.

Harry stares down at himself in disbelief. Louis tuts. “Come now, love. Don’t be glum. Santa always wins.”

Harry’s eyes shift to the hose near the wall and Louis is hot on his trail. They both lunge for it, colliding into each other. Harry gets it first (fuck his long arms) and clamps down on the handle and lets the water rip.

Seconds later, they’re squealing. Like children. Or drunken teenagers. It’s ridiculous.

Louis is soaked. They both are. Everywhere their bodies touch, they slip and slide. He’s laughing so hard his stomach hurts. He feels kind of delirious and wild and stupid. It’s not until he has Harry pinned to the floor by the weight of his body that he starts to feel something else too.

He’s straddling him, trying to wrench the hose from Harry’s grasp. He manages to smack it away, the stream of water dying when the handle is released, and he presses Harry’s wrist into the ground and the laughter fades in both of their throats.

“I demand a replay,” Harry says. “You cheated.”

“How?”

Harry licks his lips, blinking up at him. “You’re using the powers of seduction.”

Like that time in the bowling alley, Harry instantly looks like he wants to suck the words back into his mouth. A flush starts from the base of his throat and slowly climbs up toward his cheeks.

Louis’ lips curve, just as slow. “Are you seduced?”

Harry doesn’t answer. His eyes do it for him. He gazes down between their bodies to where Louis’ thighs bracket his waist. His biceps twitch from the way Louis holds his arms above his head. Harry’s next breath comes like molasses.

Louis glances at his mouth to watch the air pass between his lips. He thinks he leans forward.

“You should stop,” Harry says, wriggling his wrists out of Louis’ grip. His voice has gone a bit rougher, devoid of the warmth that has always seemed permanently embedded there.

Louis doesn’t like it one bit. He scoots away from him instantly. “I’m sorry,” he says.

Because that’s it, isn’t it? That’s the thing he needs to apologize for. He’s turned into some kind of pervert or something, trying to seduce his employee for the past week. Just now, he even contemplated grinding his arse into Harry’s crotch. He’s fucking depraved.

He starts to apologize again, to assure Harry he’s safe here, and Louis isn’t the kind to take advantage of his employees, regardless of how it seems. He would never-

“You wouldn’t want Zayn to come in here and get the wrong idea…” Harry says quietly. His voice is softer now, thankfully. But Louis is confused. First of all, he’s pretty sure Zayn is still on the balcony, snoring away. But second…

“Who cares if he does?”

Harry’s brows crease. “Shouldn’t you?”

Louis snorts. “I mean…he’s my best friend so I care about his opinion, sure. But not that much…” he pauses. He sounds a bit like an arsehole now. “And I don’t think he’d care.”

Harry blinks at him. “But. So, you’re not—” he trails off, his lips parted. “Oh. Okay, right.”

When it clicks, Louis curses himself for not having picked up on it sooner. Because it all makes so much sense. The way Harry was at the sweets shop. The way he responded to Zayn. Ignoring Louis’ texts. And Niall—of course Niall spoke to Louis the way he did.

“Okay, just to be sure,” Harry says. “You’re not dating him?”

“No,” Louis says softly. “I’m not. If I was—” He doesn’t finish his sentence. If he was, he wouldn’t be here with Harry.

It’s easy for them to fall again into the thick atmosphere from moments ago because it never truly went away. It’s like a fog descends on them seemingly out of nowhere. Louis looks at Harry’s mouth again. It’s damp and rounded when he exhales a quiet, “Oh.”

“Why would you think I was?” Louis says, forcing his eyes away from Harry’s mouth for a second.

“Well, he’s staying with you…In the villa, right? And- I don’t know, I heard things.”

“Next time just ask,” Louis suggests. He would very much like to not wallow in misery another morning.

“Not really something you ask your boss though, is it?” Harry raises his brows.

Louis scoffs. “I find it impossible to believe that’s your reasoning.”

Harry doesn’t answer. Just sets his jaw stubbornly and lifts his patrician chin in denial. Still, there’s a small smile tugging at his mouth. Louis knocks their shoulders together.

“Zayn is family to me. We grew up together,” Louis explains further. Not that him and Zayn hadn’t kissed before. A very long time ago when they both thought they might like boys. There was no better person for Louis to figure that out with. But it was just a kiss. Any more than that had seemed weird.

Harry meets Louis’ eyes and then shifts his gaze toward the ocean like he has something to hide. “And you’re not seeing anyone else around here either?” he asks. “Since you said I should just ask.”

Louis smiles, syrupy and slow, charmed by Harry’s poorly hidden pout and the flicker of his green eyes. He shakes his head. “Nope.”

Harry holds his gaze this time. Both of his hands rest calmly on his thighs but there’s an unsteadiness to his voice when he speaks, “I misunderstood. And I misjudged you. And I’m sorry,” Harry says. “I didn’t mean—”

That feeling suddenly strikes Louis again and he lets it take him. He lets himself fall. And his mouth and Harry’s mouth just happen to end up together.

Harry twists his fingers in Louis’ shirt right away, tugging him against his chest like he’s just been waiting for this. Louis grabs for his waist, fingertips pressing marks into his sun-warmed skin. Harry’s mouth is open around breaths that come hot and fast, ready to push his tongue against Louis’ when he has the chance. Louis parts his lips and helps him find it.

He breaks away after long seconds of having no air and sucks in a breath through his nose like he’s jumping into the ocean. And then he crashes into him again. He moves, lips sliding, first over Harry’s mouth, then along his ruddy cheek, up to his ear, down his neck. He wants his mouth on every part of him.

Harry is warm and willing, like the sea, inviting him deeper and further from shore. Louis gets lost in his ebb and flow.

It’s all perfect and it’s right and it’s wrong.

“Fuck,” Louis pulls back, panting for air and fucking better judgment.

“Don’t stop,” Harry tightens his grip on him. “It’s okay. Please don’t stop.”

Louis doesn’t get a chance to tell him that he can’t stop. They hear the rattle of dog tags. And their eyes flutter open just in time to catch the blur of light brown fur and Max is gone.

“Max!” Harry shouts. “Oh my God. Max.”

Louis scrambles to his feet, followed more clumsily by Harry. Those yellow shorts are doing nothing to hide the biological predicament he’s in. Louis would help him out. He wants so badly to help him out, he’s salivating.

But Harry flees, erection and all, calling desperately after Max. Louis takes a second to curse his new furry friend and hurries after him.

 

> > H < <

 

They chase Max down the beach where a kind stranger has gotten a hold of him. He’s covered again in sand which Harry grumbles about all the way back to the swim shop. He’ll have to rinse and dry him once more before returning him to his owners.

Louis leaves when he knows Max is safe. His eyes are shifty and unsure and he looks desperate to be somewhere else. And okay, Harry expected that. He feels it too, like they’ve crossed the point of no return. But that isn’t true.

It was just a kiss. Nothing to strop about. Just a kiss.

Granted, it’s the same kiss that has Harry locked in the loo now, hand speeding over his cock. His lips still seem to throb with the feeling of Louis there. He licks them to chase the taste, and comes, panting and gasping the way he did when Louis sucked on his skin.

There’s a mark just beneath his jaw that he stares at in the mirror until his eyes cross. After work, when he’s walking along the boardwalk with Niall and Olly, he keeps catching glimpses of it in the reflection of shop windows. Just a kiss and yet two seconds don’t go by before he’s thinking about it again.

“Are you high?” Olly asks him at one point.

“No,” Harry says. “What—”

“Is that a love bite?” is Olly’s second question.

Harry claps his hand to the spot. Niall and Olly exchange a look, their brows shooting up.

“Oh, look, there’s Liam!” Harry exclaims, pointing ahead. It really is Liam, which he’s grateful for. Niall still stares suspiciously at him. But when Liam saunters over, the subject shifts.

He finds himself further in Liam’s debt when the lad agrees to tag along for dinner because he keeps everyone distracted with talks of football and food and every other random thing he can think of.

“We should go out tonight,” Liam says, waving his roti around in his hand. “All of us, yeah. To celebrate how great this summer’s gone so far.”

“Can’t,” Olly says. “I have a date tonight with a nice American tourist.”

Everyone scoffs. Olly accuses them of being jealous. And maybe Harry is a little bit. He wants to be going on a date too. With Louis.

“Niall, Harry, how about you?” Liam asks.

Harry supposes he’ll take what he can get. “Sure, let’s do it.”

They head back to their respective homes for showers and primping. Harry slips on a breezy floral button-down top with short sleeves he’s rolled up a bit. He tends to traipse around the resort in shorts or swim trunks but tonight he wears his tightest white jeans. There’s a chance Louis might go out tonight. There aren’t that many clubs in the city. Even if Louis catches a glimpse of him in passing, he wants it to count.

His curls are springy, shiny and long because Harry understands the benefits of regularly conditioning one’s hair.

He feels good. A glance in the mirror tells him he looks good too.

> <

As soon as they arrive at their first spot, his phone lights up with a call from his sister. He’s pressed now against the brick wall outside next to a palm tree and a man smoking weed, with one ear to his phone and the other covered by his hand against the humming and buzzing of the city.

“What time is it there?” Gemma asks.

“Around 10, I think.”

“I won’t keep you long then. But guess who asked about you today?”

Harry bites his lip, eyes up to the sky as he thinks. “I have no clue,” he decides.

“William McNaughton,” Gemma says. “I saw him in Asda. You remember him, right? You had a crush on him a while ago.”

“A very long while ago. He asked about me why?”

“He asked for your number. He said he wanted to catch up,” she says with a laugh.

Harry’s brows crease. “Uh, okay. Did you give him my number?”

“I did. I was going to text you and ask first but you weren’t responding to my other messages. Anyway, he’s cute.”

Now Harry wishes he hadn’t been ignoring his phone earlier because of Louis. He would have liked the chance to stop Gemma from giving William his number.

And he doesn’t even know why. Will was fit during those teenage years, and most likely, even more so now. And Harry did have a massive crush on him. He perfected his cursive writing and rewriting William’s name in his notebooks. He baked him cookies and when Will had ruffled his curls in appreciation, Harry very nearly died.

Now that they’re older and more understanding of their sexualities, Harry can’t say why he’s not interested. He can’t say because he knows it’s Louis and that’s a little ridiculous, isn’t it?

“Thanks for looking out,” Harry says.

“I’ll never let you die alone,” she says in a fierce voice.

Harry won’t let himself die alone. He’ll adopt a baby and a few cats before that happens. “Where’s my niece? You’ve been keeping her from me.”

“You spoil her. It’s because you sing her to sleep that she doesn’t sleep now unless I do it too. Thank you,” Gemma snips.

“Cheers. Put her on the phone for a bit,” he says. “Please?”

They switch to Facetime. Haley is a baby, and thus, all he can really do is coo at her and make faces. She wiggles her chubby baby thumbs at the screen, dimples denting her pink cheeks. “Hello, mon ange,” he says. He speaks French to her because he hopes when she’s old enough, she’ll develop a passion for the language, maybe even manage to speak it fluently. Unlike her uncle.

Haley blows a round of spit bubbles and small droplets mar the camera’s view.

“That’s no good, mon ange,” Harry is telling her, shaking his head. “Look what you’ve done. I can’t see your pretty face.”

“Harry?”

He sucks his lips into his mouth and his gaze swings away from his phone.

Louis is just standing there, looking incredibly confused. His eyes slide to Harry’s phone. “Were you just blowing kisses at your phone?”

Harry’s face feels hot. “I was actually, yes.” He turns the camera a little. “My niece.”

Louis raises his brows and nods in understanding. “Right,” he says. “Cute baby.”

“Harry?” he hears Gemma call.

He holds up a finger to Louis, “Just one moment. Don’t leave.” Louis nods, his lips beginning to curve. He’s always laughing at him. Harry would be offended but he quite likes to keep Louis smiling.

Harry turns to his attention back to Gemma. “I have to go.”

“Are you blushing? Who is that?”

“Shh,” he hushes her. “I have to go. I love you. Tell Haley I love her.”

“We’re going to talk about this later,” Gemma squeezes in over his hurried talking.

“Okay, bye,” he sings, and taps the end call button. He deposits his phone in his back pocket and refocuses on Louis. “Hi.”

Louis starts to laugh, his fingers pressed daintily to his mouth. “You are actually— the weirdest, most unique, and interesting person I’ve ever met.”

Harry makes finger guns and winks. “It’s all part of my plan. So you’ll know I’m one of a kind.”

“Already knew that,” Louis says with a wide close-mouthed smile. Harry takes advantage of the fact that they’re just staring at each other to slide his gaze down over Louis’ body.

And he looks…really good. Of course he does. Like an ice cream cone dipped in chocolate and drizzled with caramel. He watches Harry curiously with blue eyes that are honest-to-God sparkling. His white shirt is crisp and ruffles airily with the passing wind. It’s decorated with small skulls and crossbones patterned all over it, the sleeves rolled up like Harry’s. He wears black jeans to complete his look, ones that hug him like a close friend or a longtime lover.

“You look good.”

Louis says it before Harry can. Which is fine, Harry isn’t so competitive and he considers it a win with the open appreciation in Louis’ gaze.

“So do you,” he says and he hopes he does so calmly. “Are you here with Zayn?”

“Yeah. I told him to head inside. Are you— who are you here with?”

“Liam and Niall actually.”

Louis hovers there for a second, tapping his fingers on the sides of his thighs. Harry almost proposes just…getting the hell out of here, just the two of them. He doesn’t even know where they’d go, just that he’d like to be anywhere with Louis.

“Then should we go in?” Louis says, gesturing with his thumb toward the door.

That’ll do as well. Harry follows him inside and they’re instantly shrouded in darkness and loud, thumping music. There’s some accent lighting and swirling dots of color from the dance floor. But he has to blink a few times before he can make out all the features in Louis’ face.

Zayn approaches them from between a collection of strangers. He hands Louis a drink and sends Harry a smile. “Hi again.”

Harry thinks he should probably apologize. For the whole ice cream shop incident. For telling Zayn that his flavor was pistachio. No one really likes pistachio.

“Hi,” he says instead, and he tries to give him his most genuine smile. Zayn doesn’t seem to be the kind to hold grudges. His answering smile is just as friendly.

“Niall and Liam are here,” Louis tells Zayn.

“Oh, really?” Zayn says, a glimmer in his eye. Harry’s brow wrinkles.

Louis rolls his eyes. “Anyway,” he says. He turns his attention to Harry, “Take me to say hi? Maybe I’ll buy you a drink.”

“Maybe?” Harry asks archly.

“I’m still a little hurt about you ignoring me last night. I’m waiting for you to make it up to me somehow.”

Harry’s mouth pops open. “Is that- what are you proposing-?”

“You have a dirty, dirty mind, Styles. Whatever you’re thinking, you’re wrong. I’m just asking you to show us a good time, that’s all,” Louis says.

Oh. Oh, okay. Good to know. Because Harry was about five seconds away from offering to suck Louis off in the loo. But okay.

Harry isn’t disappointed at all. “Follow me,” he says, leading them through the crowd. More than once Louis touches his elbow, just so he doesn’t lose him. They finally make it through to the tall table at the edge of the dance floor that Niall and Liam have procured.

“Harry!” Liam says. “What took you so- ” He spots Zayn and his smile falls.

“It’s the pizza boy,” Zayn says with a smile, leaning onto the table.

Liam glares. “And just like that, the night is ruined,” he says plainly. His gaze shifts to Louis. “Sorry,” he begins to say.

Louis sputters a laugh. “Hey, it’s fine. He had it coming,” he says. “Just pretend I’m not your boss tonight. I won’t hold anything you say or do against you.”

Well…Harry will have to remember that later when he’s drunk and possibly making grabby hands for Louis’ junk.

“In that case,” Niall says, “the coconut cherry ice cream at the shop is absolute shit, mate. It tastes like cough syrup and no one likes it.”

Louis raises stunned brows, mouth hovering over his drink. And they all burst with laughter. Except Harry. Harry kind of just…watches Louis laugh. It’s a sight for weary eyes.

“Let’s talk about that on Monday,” Louis says. There’s a man stepping up to the table with a platter of drinks that Louis must have ordered while Harry wasn’t looking. Harry is always looking but okay. Louis takes the first drink and hands it to Harry. “I’m a man of my word.”

“Oh, shut up,” Harry says.

He quickly figures out that one of the benefits of clubbing with rich men is an endless stream of alcohol. More than once, Harry tries to buy his own drink. But the bartender never accepts his money, which means Louis must have it all on a tab. It happens again at the next place they go to as well. They claim a booth and he never spends a dime of his own money.

The place they’re at now is called Oasis, which features a currently unoccupied stripper pole, and hookahs surrounded by patrons at a few tables. “So, Liam. How’s your girlfriend?” Louis asks randomly.

Harry turns wide-eyes to Liam. Because he had no idea there was a girl in Liam’s life, at all. One day he will sit down and get to know his boss a bit better.

“Oh, me and Soph actually broke up a while ago, so…”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Louis says, flashing a glance toward Zayn that Harry notices because he notices everything about Louis. “Well, if you think you want to win her back, let me know. I’ll set you up with a room in the hotel.”

Liam laughs and takes a sip of his drink. “Thank you sir.”

Louis wrinkles his nose. Harry doesn’t get how he can be sexy and cute at the same time, how Harry can be compelled to ride him into next century and also tuck him away in his pocket for safekeeping.

“You don’t have to call me sir. Louis is just fine,” Louis says.

“Right, of course…Louis,” Liam says like the name is sacred. Harry feels a kindred bond growing between him and Liam, forged from their mutual appreciation for Louis Tomlinson.

Liam starts to pull out his phone, possibly to text his ex-girlfriend but Zayn swoops in and says something just for him to hear that has Liam blushing up a storm.

Zayn slides his arm along the booth behind Liam. And Liam gives him this look like he can’t decide whether to punch him or wiggle closer. He chugs half his drink instead. Zayn’s smile widens.

“Seriously, what is that about?” Harry asks Louis quietly.

Louis shakes his head. “I honestly don’t know. I never know what Zayn is thinking,” he says. “My guess is that he wants to fuck.”

“Hm. Doesn’t everyone?” Harry says, resting his chin on his palm. Louis’ eyes flicker to his smiling mouth.

“Anyway. That was kind of you,” Harry tells him, directing his straw to his lips. If his tongue lolls out of his mouth a little more than necessary, it’s worth it for the way Louis’ gaze darkens.

“I like to think I’m a nice person,” he says.

“You’re a very nice person. And generous too,” Harry smiles “I have this mark on my neck from your mouth. That was especially generous.”

Louis’ eyes crinkle with amusement. He tilts his head to spot the mark on Harry’s throat. “Looks good on you.”

Harry’s smile grows. Boldly, he sets his hand on Louis’ thigh and pats. “Then how about another?”

The only thing worse than him saying it, is that there is no part of him that feels regret. There’s no better voice in his head telling him to shut up. He’s drunk and if anything, the things bouncing around in his fuzzy brain are more obscene than he thinks Louis is ready to hear.

Also, Louis is close and smells of expensive cologne and sunshine. And Harry isn’t above being forward about what he wants.

Louis shoots a glance down at Harry’s hand on his thigh. “You’re awful,” he says with a shake of his head. He’s still smiling though. They’re both just smiling at each other like absolute idiots.

“I also have this massive crush on you,” Harry says like he’s still in a school uniform and Louis is the most popular lad to walk the halls. “Did you know that? I think you probably had to. I’m also very happy I spilled my milkshake on your shoes.”

Louis throws his head back when he laughs. Harry doesn’t think it was that funny. He was trying to be honest. “A crush, huh?” Louis says after he’s downed the rest of his drink. “And here I was trying to make you fall in love with me.”

That’s a joke. Harry is pretty sure Louis meant that as a joke. He’s probably just as drunk and senseless by now. He’s smaller than Harry, so he has to be.

Anyway Harry doesn’t care. He can count the things that interest him in this moment on one hand. And they go something like this: Louis, Louis’ mouth, Louis’ eyes, Louis’ bum, and Louis’ cock. On a endless loop, just like that.

“You aren’t trying hard enough,” Harry says, swaying closer. He doesn’t miss when Louis’ eyes flicker around the table. He adds quietly. “You can take me somewhere. I mean it. You could take me anywhere.”

“You’re so drunk,” Louis sighs.

Harry shakes his head, not because it isn’t true. But because it’s irrelevant. “I wanted this when I was sober.”

Louis isn’t smiling anymore now. He’s just studying him with this kind of intensity that makes Harry’s mental processes go further awry. He’s so desperate it’s almost embarrassing. Except Louis— he thinks Louis might be desperate too. And Harry is halfway to begging now because without a shadow of a doubt, he knows that they're close. All he needs is to say the right thing and he’ll have him.

He’s wracking his brain for it when Liam leans in. “We’re all heading up to the bar. You two want anything?”

Louis pulls his gaze away from Harry. “Think I’m good. Thanks.”

“Sure,” Liam says with a big smile, clearly still chuffed about having drinks with his boss. His boss’s boss technically. One of the freaking owners of Sandy Hill. The heir of an empire. Harry still sees stars when he looks at Louis too but he thinks they glow a little differently from the ones in Liam’s eyes.

The stars surrounding Louis in his own vision burn brighter and hot enough to scorch the earth.

With Niall, Liam and Zayn gone, Harry can’t see why he shouldn’t just- slide his hand a bit further up Louis’ thigh.

Louis looks down again and breathes a quiet laugh, drinking from his glass again even though it’s empty. He reaches for Harry’s drink and bypasses the straw to down the last dregs of it.

Harry runs his fingers along the inseam of Louis’ jeans. He doesn’t stop. Pretends the seam is a road and he wants to see where it leads. Sure, he already knows. But he enjoys the journey anyway.

And then he just brushes his hand over the bulge in Louis’ trousers.

Louis drops Harry’s glass on the table with a thud and curls his fingers around Harry’s wrist. Again, he looks to be in deep thought, almost glaring at Harry with how fiery his gaze is.

Harry doesn’t know why Louis is still trying to think right now. He doesn’t want to anymore. “Louis—”

“Come with me,” Louis says, wrapping his hand more securely around Harry’s wrist. He has small hands but his grip is firm and urgent. He tugs him out of the booth, keeps tugging him toward the loo.

Harry thinks his heart might flee his chest any second. He feels it thumping wildly as he takes stumbling step after step. Louis pushes the swinging door of the loo open, drags Harry inside, and twists the lock. He sets a hand on his waist and guides him backward into one of the stalls. He locks this door as well.

“Louis.”

“I’m going to suck your cock. You should tell me now if you don’t want me to,” Louis says.

Harry releases this big puff of air and with it goes the last thread of his senses. He doesn’t say anything. Louis raises his brows, seeking an answer if Harry has one to give. Still, Harry says nothing.

And then Louis sinks one knee into the tiled floor and reaches for his belt buckle. Harry almost tells him not to dirty his jeans. But he’s unfastening everything so quickly, any concern for Louis’ cleanliness dissolves too.

“Oh, God,” Harry exhales when Louis drags his jeans and his pants down to his knees, wraps his beautiful hands around Harry’s thighs, fingernails digging deep.

Louis looks up at him. His eyes are bright blue, such an unearthly color Harry is reminded of that photograph NASA released recently of a new nebula. Louis looks at him and Harry thinks of interstellar clouds of dust, the vibrant colors radiating from his eyes and the pink spots high on his cheeks.

It’s too beautiful. Overwhelmingly so. And then Louis lowers his gaze, lashes fluttering down as he directs his mouth at the head of Harry’s cock. He takes him in with a quiet moan, eyes shut in reverence.

Harry slumps against the metal wall, his breath coming out arrhythmic. He curls his hand in Louis’ hair, as if to anchor himself. He feels like he’s sinking anyway, into Louis’ mouth, into Louis himself, just being consumed by him. Harry wants that.

Louis pulls off, wraps his hand around him and strokes him fast. His eyes find Harry’s again. “Wish you could see yourself. How pretty you are. Prettiest I’ve ever seen,” he says.

That’s just crazy, Harry thinks. By far, the prettiest person to exist on this earth is Louis himself. There’s no way Harry will believe anything else. He doesn’t even get a chance to argue because Louis takes him down his throat again, steals the words right out of his mouth.

Louis sucks cock like it is an art form, and he was the first ever to perfect it. Harry should have seen it coming. Because today he also realized that Louis kisses the way every one in the world wishes to be kissed. With just enough pressure. And just enough tongue.

And he’s drunk. Harry can’t even think about the ravishing Louis gets up to sober.

He groans, tossing his head back against the metal stall. “Jesus, Lou- Louis.”

Louis doesn’t let up at all. Not that Harry wants him to. But he feels like he’s teetering on the precipice already. Louis’ mouth is warm, gentle and somehow urgent too, coaxing him toward the edge, working him into delirium. He slides his hands up Harry’s thighs, up and down, massaging him as if he isn’t pliant enough already. Harry keeps nudging the back of his throat and Louis just takes it, choking on him, and moaning like he loves the taste.

This is just…crazy, crazy, crazy.

“Louis, Louis, Louis, fuck,” Harry babbles, tightening his hand in his hair. Louis’ groan vibrates around his cock and Harry speaks more urgently than ever, breathless and so close, “Louis. I’m com—”

The next thing he knows, Louis is kissing him. He guides Harry’s mouth to his own with a hand tucked away in his hair. His other hand still moves over him, fast, desperate. “Do it, baby. Come on,” Louis breathes against his mouth. “Do it for me.”

It should be alarming how that’s the thing that finishes Harry off, that he wants nothing more than to do this for Louis, would do anything for him in that moment. It is alarming but Harry doesn’t even care.

He comes, shuddering and gasping, with Louis’ tongue pushing into his mouth, still taking and taking.

Harry drops his head to Louis’ shoulder, trying to catch his breath, trying to work past the tremor of his body. Louis lets him stay like that for a moment. When he reaches for the toilet paper dispenser, Harry rests his head back again while Louis wipes his hand clean, dumps the paper in the toilet, reaches for more paper, and uses that to clean Harry up too.

Louis leans into the opposite wall and pushes his own trousers down, just enough to expose himself, and grips his cock tight in his hand.

“Let me—” Harry begins. Louis stops him with the tips of his fingers against Harry’s collarbones.

“Just stay like that. Just-” Louis’ voice is ragged as his hand blurs over his cock and his eyes sweep over Harry’s body. Harry dips his mouth to catch the tip of Louis’ finger. He lifts Louis’ hand closer to his mouth and wraps his lips around the digits, sucks the way he would if he were returning the favor.

Louis’ eyes flutter. “Jesus…you’re so- You’re just so fucking- Just pretty and perfect and- fuck.”

He lets his head fall forward, breath coming out almost alarmingly short. “I think about you— all the time. Can’t stop. I’d let you ruin me. Whatever you wanted. You could have it all, Harry- ” His voice surrenders to a groan. Harry steps in and kisses him, curls his hand around the back of Louis’ neck, and just keeps their mouths together. Because he’s starting to think that’s where they belong. He reaches down and rubs his thumb over Louis’ slit.

“Fuck,” Louis whines. He sounds so desperate and needy. It’s the sweetest sound Harry’s ever heard. He’ll never forget it, or the way Louis cries out and comes all over their hands.

 

> > < <

 

Liam carefully unlaces Harry’s shoes and pulls them off slowly, so as not to wake him. Across the bed, Zayn tugs Louis’ trousers down his legs unceremoniously and tosses them aside. He doesn’t care if Louis wakes up. That’s his punishment for nearly throwing up on Zayn’s shoes earlier and falling asleep so Zayn was left to carry his dead weight to Harry’s bed.

That, by the way, is further payback. Louis will wake in the morning beside Harry and he will have a million questions and Zayn will laugh later on when he seeks his answers. Zayn, of course, will have none for him. (He doesn’t know what went down in the loo. But there’s a bite mark on Louis’ collarbone and a sated look that’s been permanently etched into Harry’s snoozing mug. So Zayn suspects things went well.)

For now, he pulls the light blanket over Louis’ body, while Liam tucks Harry in like his own son and pats his head gently.

“Should have cut them off,” Liam murmurs regrettfully as they leave the room.

Zayn rolls his eyes. “We aren’t their parents.”

Liam scowls. “That’s not the point. I would have wanted someone to cut me off. Especially before I had sex in the loo.”

“At most, there were blowjobs. Louis would never actually fuck someone in the toilet,” Zayn says. Which is also besides the point but still. If he knows anything about his best friend of forever, it’s that Louis is classy. He must like Harry quite a lot if he even deigned to suck him off beside a toilet. “Anyway, at least they got some, yeah?”

“That’s all you care about,” Liam says. They’re standing in the hallway now outside of Harry’s closed bedroom door.

Zayn narrows his eyes. He isn’t some kind of sex fiend, regardless of what Liam thinks. There are a million and one other things Zayn likes to spend his time doing. He likes reading. He likes movies. He likes skateboarding and playing football. He likes spending time with his family and with Louis and Lottie and Luc.

But he doesn’t have to explain that to Liam. Liam can think what he wants.

“I just like to have fun. Sex is fun. Why did you and your girlfriend break up anyway? Was it because you stopped having fun?”

Liam sucks in a breath. And for a second, Zayn’s eyes go soft because he knows he’s right. But also maybe he went too far.

“You’re a fucking dick, you know that?” Liam says.

Zayn shrugs. “Takes one to know one, mate.”

“Whatever,” Liam trails off. “You can leave now. I can look after them both just fine on my own.”

“Are you always this whiny?”

“Are you always—” Liam pauses, his eyes narrowed like he’s trying to be intimidating but also like he’s looking for something clever to throw in Zayn’s face.

Zayn never gives him the chance to find it. The thing is that Liam never shuts up. He’s chatty as fuck and Zayn is too busy annoying him to ever be annoyed about it himself. But after this night of Liam sitting too close and slurping loudly on his drinks and dancing his odd fancy moves and possibly texting his ex-girlfriend and being a general disturbance, Zayn really just wants to shut him up.

There’s about two feet of space between them and he closes it easily. His hand settles on Liam’s hip and he moves in quick. And it seems like there’s no time between the surprised inhale Liam takes and the press of Zayn’s warm mouth. His kiss is sure and strong but Liam knots his fist in Zayn’s collar as if to push him away. He doesn’t. He starts to kiss him back.

Zayn licks into his mouth for long minutes and sinks his teeth into his bottom lip, determined to leave him tingling as he pulls away. He smiles like a jaguar at the flush working its way over Liam’s neck and chest. “Goodnight then.”

“What the fuck,” Liam breathes. Or he tries to. “What the—”

Zayn is done listening to him. He tosses himself onto the couch and fluffs his pillow. Another five seconds pass before Liam’s door slams shut. Suppose he’s not so concerned with waking Harry now.

Zayn, on the other hand—well, he falls asleep with a smile on his face.

 

> > L < <

 

THURSDAY - JULY 30

Louis wakes feeling like an elephant has spent the night on his face while periodically farting into his open mouth. He reaches for the water set on the bedside table for big, long gulps and swallows the paracetamol someone has placed there as well. Bless them, whoever they are.

It’s only when the pills are sliding down his throat, that the rest of his brain comes to and he nearly coughs the pills and everything else he’s ingested to the floor.

When he turns over on the bed, for just a second, his breath is snatched.

The sunlight flooding in through the glass doors has set Harry’s curls ablaze in golden light. His lax mouth is parted around small inhales and exhales. And his face is cradled in his pillow. All together, he makes a brilliant display of boyish portraiture, so warm and bright and full of life even though he’s dead to the world.

The way Louis settles back into the bed feels like the only appropriate response. He rests his head gently against his own pillow and simply watches him. It would be creepy except he doubts anyone else in his position would have a different reaction. He doubts anyone could look away from Harry when he’s like this.

Louis is struck by the sudden need to snuggle up against Harry’s warm body, to inhale the scent of his sun-kissed skin. For now, he merely watches. And never tires of it.

His phone is like a foghorn when it goes, unnaturally loud over the sound of waves far off in the distance. He turns quickly, enough to start his head throbbing, and scrambles to catch it before the chiming and buzzing wakes Harry.

And what would you know?

It’s his mother.

He carefully shuffles off Harry’s bed. Thankfully there’s no telltale ache in his lower half when he does so. And no bodily fluids sticking to his skin. He thinks it’s safe to say that they didn’t fuck.

He finds his trousers and pulls them on, just as his phone stops ringing. He grabs his shirt quickly, checks for his wallet, and slips out the screen door. His phone starts up again. He shoots one last regretful look at Harry and answers it, quickly putting distance between himself and Harry’s home.

“Hello, mum.”

“You sound like you’ve just woken up,” she replies.

To confirm, his mouth stretches with a yawn. “I have. But it’s alright.”

“Go check the post. You should have gotten something from me by now,” she says.

Louis realizes with glaring certainty that he’s just stepped on a landmine. He can’t check the post because he isn’t at the villa. Perhaps, if he were more awake, or more accustomed to lying to his mum in his adulthood, he could forge a suitable explanation. But none of those things is true. “Yeah, alright. When I get out of bed.”

“No, Lou, do it now. It’s important. It’s really, really important,” she says.

“What is it?” he asks. Because he can fake a reaction easily. He didn’t take all those acting courses in secondary school for nothing.

“It’s a surprise. Just go look for me, please?” she asks in her kindest, most imploring voice.

Louis squeezes his eyelids and sighs. “I can’t. I’m not—I’m not at the villa.”

“But you’ve just woken up, haven’t you?” she says. They’re both quiet for long minutes and he can actually see the wheels turning, spinning wildly in her head.
“Louis… Louis. Did you meet somewhere there?”

“I just spent the night elsewhere, that’s all.”

“With a person? A man?” she speaks hurriedly, her voice low and full of wonder. Somehow Louis finds it in himself not to take offense.

“No, technically. A lovely merman. He’d washed up on shore a few days ago and I saved him. And he repaid me by—”

“You are so ridiculous. I don’t know what you’re up to but you know I always find out. And I’d much rather you tell me before I do.”

She doesn’t mean that she spies on him. She’s never been the kind of mum who takes pleasure in stomping all over boundaries. But this place is crawling with people, not just the employees who spread rumors faster than fire on dry land, but also the guests.

Just yesterday, Louis was inescapably chatted up by Lula Jameson, his mum’s colleague and a mutual member of the local golf club in Donny. She was full of questions for him, by far the most shamelessly invasive woman he’s ever met. And worst of all, she contacts Jay frequently.

It wouldn’t take much for word to get back home.

“If there’s anything to tell you, I will,” Louis says. This doesn’t feel like a lie. The truth is that he really has nothing to tell her. Technically, there isn’t a man in his life. Harry is his employee. They have had a number of- interesting conversations, and one very beautiful moment in the loo. But that’s it, isn’t it?

Nothing to report now. Nothing to report probably ever, if he’s being honest.

“Call me when you’ve returned home and checked the post,” Jay reminds him again. “Open the envelope first and then call.”

He promises her he will, increasingly curious about what it is she’s sent him. He’s still standing on the shore when they finally hang up, Harry’s hut still visible up the road. Louis turns in the direction of his villa.

‘don’t leave.’

He pauses mid-step and swings his gaze toward the hut. Harry is suddenly standing near his screen door, wrapped up in a light throw. Louis sees him look down at his phone again and type quickly.

‘sorry that was creepy. but Liam made breakfast. full English.’

Louis starts to respond but Harry cuts him off with another message.

‘Also Zayn is still here. and Liam is possibly plotting to poison him so…’

Louis gives up on replying and starts heading back to the house, back to Harry, who just waits there, leaning back against the door frame with his eyes steady on Louis. Clearly, he’s not one of those people who gets shy the morning after.

In fact, as Louis gets closer, he notices a slight heat in Harry’s gaze, though that could just be him grimacing against the glare of the sun on his face.

It’s up to Louis to feel nervous for both of them. Not that he lets it show. He lifts his head as he takes the few wooden steps up to Harry’s door. “Full English in Barbados?” Louis says.

Harry nods gravely. “I think Liam is using that as a cover to poison Zayn.”

“Then wouldn’t he be poisoning us too?”

Harry’s brow furrows. “Suppose that is a possibility, yeah.”

There’s a pause.

Louis sighs, heavy enough to sink his whole body, his eyelashes cast down. “So, last night…” he begins.

Harry remains quiet but he doesn’t stop with that unnerving eye contact thing he’s so good at. Louis tries to meet his gaze with the same amount of determination.

“We were very drunk,” Louis says.

“Now, that is a revelation. I had no idea,” Harry says, grinning so his dimple comes out to greet the world. As it rightfully should. “I’m sure I’ve been drunker.”

Louis has to concede on that point. He too has suffered worse levels of inebriation. See: Louis in university.

“I know it probably doesn't seem this way but I don't normally do this,” Louis says. This at least is true. Even in university, Louis didn’t sleep around often. He was always too picky.

“This?” Harry repeats.

Louis gestures between them, because at this point Harry is being purposefully obtuse. “Get involved with someone I shouldn't.”

“Okay. Why shouldn't you?”

Louis groans. “You’re my employee. I’m your boss.”

“A very good boss, yes,” Harry smiles. He’s more adorable than grown men are meant to be. Louis wants to drop kisses all over his face and simultaneously elbow him in the ribs. Whatever it takes to get him to just stop.

Louis scrubs at his face. “Harry, you’re great, you know? You have to know that.”

“I feel like I’m being broken up with,” Harry says, still smiling like he’s amused. But maybe with a note of hesitation hidden at the corners of his eyes. Louis might hate himself in this moment.

“People actually do that?” he raises both brows. “People break up with you? What fools…”

Harry laughs, resting his head back against the doorframe. “Doesn’t happen often,” he assures him. “Never been dumped by my boss before though.”

Louis groans again, much louder this time. “I’m not— we aren’t even in relationship.”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry says, ducking his head. “So, last night was fun. But it won’t happen again?”

“Last night was really fun,” Louis echoes. More fun than he’s had in a long time. Sexually, at least, which is a huge difference. But that’s why they have to stop, isn’t it? This won’t go anywhere and it’s best that Louis not get attached. That neither of them get attached. He’s known that he and Harry had the potential for one really great encounter. And he let himself have that. But any more than that, it’s irresponsible and it’s an abuse of power and his poor mum would be disappointed.

So… “It can’t happen again.”

Harry nods, “Too bad. I was going to offer you a morning blowjob.”

“God, shut up,” Louis sighs, dropping his forehead into his palm.

He hears Harry laugh, the sound buoyant and mellifluous, and much needed when Louis feels like sinking into the sand and never resurfacing. He doesn’t know Harry well enough yet to tell if this is all a cover, if his feelings are actually hurt and he’s just good at pretending otherwise, and Louis hates that he doesn’t know.

Because later, after they’ve had some of Liam’s breakfast, and Zayn is waiting for him to hurry up, Louis asks Harry, “We’re good, yeah?”

And Harry says yes. And Louis believes him.

> <

“Hello?” his mum answers distractedly, her voice faint. Louis hears the lawn mower causing a rumpus in the background. He clears his throat and speaks loudly to be heard.

“They’re beautiful,” he says, studying the black and white projection in his hand. He tilts it to a different angle. “I don’t— I’m not sure exactly what I’m looking at here. But it says a boy and a girl, yeah?”

“Yeah,” his mum says softly. “Finally, a brother. After 30 years.”

“I’m 29, mum,” he says indomitably.

He can picture her waving her hand in abstraction. “Anyway,” she says. “Thank you for calling back.”

“Thank you for sending these,” Louis replies. “I’ll pin them up on my fridge. And I’ll show Zayn. I’m going to tell everyone probably. I’m getting a brother. And another sister.”

When his mum laughs, it sounds watery, a sheet of glass close to breaking. And then it does. She sniffs.

“Ah, mum, don’t cry,” Louis says, leaning against the balcony’s stone railing.

“Thank you again, love,” she says with another sniff. She exhales a big, steeling breath. “I have to go. Lottie is picking out plates today.”

“Sounds like loads of fun,” Louis says. The lawn mower cuts off in the background and his mum is shouting something suddenly about the hedges needing a trim.

“We’re having a garden party afterwards. A small one, just Lottie and her bridesmaids and a few others. Sorry you couldn’t come…”

“I’m devastated, truly. Send them all my love and apologies,” he says.

“One day, you will meet the man of your dreams at one of my parties. And you will never mock them again.”

Later, Louis will look back on this moment and wonder why those words prompted an image in his head of Harry at a garden party. He thinks that is as good a reason as any to bring his phone conversation to an end.

When he’s finally hung up with his mum, Zayn comes out onto the balcony with a piece of toast. Louis plucks it from his hand and takes a bite.

“So, what happened in the loo?” Zayn asks.

“And here I thought you were too busy riding Liam’s dick to notice anything else.”

Zayn rolls his eyes. “Speaking of Liam’s dick,” he says. “There’s a bonfire tonight for all the staff. We should go.”

“The fuck does that have to do with Liam’s dick?”

“We should go,” Zayn repeats slowly. “Because Liam is going to be there. And Harry too.”

Yeah, that still doesn’t exactly have anything to do with Liam’s dick.

Louis stares determinedly at the ocean ahead. “I’ll pass. I told Harry that…what happened can’t happen again. I’m trying to be responsible.”

Zayn actually snorts when he laughs. “Good luck with that,” he says popping the rest of his toast into his mouth. “Most irresponsible 30-year-old I’ve ever seen.”

“I’m 29. And we’re the same age. You’re only insulting yourself by disregarding that one year difference.”

“Except I still look 20,” Zayn says, which is true. He doesn’t appear to have aged since they started university. But anyway…

“I’m not going with you. That’s just how it is.”

> <

He never has been able to resist a good bonfire. Drinking beers on the sand beside a dark quiescent sea. Someone strumming lilting tunes on an acoustic guitar. Roasting marshmallows. Louis loves all of it. He doesn’t see why he should have to miss out.

The person strumming the guitar turns out to be Niall, leaning back against a cooler with his legs stretched out in front of him. He beckons them over as soon as they arrive. Olly, who seems to appear out of nowhere, hands them both drinks.

“You’ll be disappointed. Harry and Liam haven’t shown up yet.”

Louis chooses to ignore that comment, pretending to be busy with a beer bottle to his mouth. As far as anyone is concerned, he only came out here to have a good time.

He’s aware that just this morning he told Harry their romp was a one time only kind of deal. And Louis might be unsure about a lot of things in his life, but he likes to believe he isn’t fickle. He likes to think that he doesn’t go around toying with people’s feelings.

If Louis sees Harry, he plans to treat him with all the kindness and respect he has over the past few weeks, and he will absolutely not succumb to or engage in any kind of seduction.

He takes two determined, steeling pulls of his beer, just as Olly announces, “There they are.”

Reluctantly, Louis turns his gaze away from the embers flickering and disappearing in the night sky and finds Harry right away. Always right away. He’s wearing black swim shorts this time and his hair appears to be damp, the top pulled up into a bun away from his face.

For some reason, he didn’t feel compelled to wear a shirt.

Louis turns away, rubbing at the space between his brows with his forefinger where a migraine has started to grow like a thorny weed.

“Well, that’s my cue,” Zayn says, standing. He points his beer bottle at Louis. “Hey- good luck.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “Don’t you have someone to be flirting with now?”

“Don’t be jealous, love. All of us aren’t as responsible as you.”

Louis shoos him. Mostly because he’s being a pain in the ass. But there’s also Harry, a couple feet away, who’s just taken notice of him. When their eyes meet, Louis smiles, and though he didn’t realize he’d been worried, he feels tangible relief when Harry returns his smile and holds up his hand in a small sort of wave.

They’re good. Everything is good.

Still, Louis watches him, unable to snub the concern somewhere in his head. Harry chats first with Amy, one of the maids from the hotel, and then Justine who works at the bowling alley. He accepts a beer from Ed and talks some more—a lot more—to the people on that end of the blazing fire. Meanwhile, Louis sits on his lonely circle of sand, listening to Niall strumming and singing a quiet, private tune.

He isn’t sulking. He hasn’t sulked since primary school. But maybe he digs his toe into the sand a little aggressively and sucks on his beer bottle like a lollipop doctors gift to tearfully departing children, and he waits and waits. Because surely at some point Harry is going to come over and talk to him too.

After Harry has spoken to essentially everyone other than Louis, he sits down to roast fucking marshmallows.

Louis ignores that Niall is watching him from beneath the brim of his baseball cap. And he stands and he strolls on over. Because this is how Louis responds to being ignored. He puts himself right in your face and waves his arms around and yells, “Fucking look at me.” Metaphorically, of course. He wants to think that no one's ever yelled at Harry. In the same way he believes no one actually yells at puppies.

“Hi,” he says, plopping down right beside Harry.

He expects the same indifference he got yesterday at the swim shop. But Harry smiles, and says, “Hi,” and goes back to digging around in the bag of marshmallows.

“Why are you wet?” Louis asks. There are other questions he wants to ask obviously but with Harry’s hair still dripping down his bare chest, this one seems the most pressing.

“I went jet-skiing with Liam and Ed,” Harry says, shoving two marshmallows down on a metal skewer. “He tried to get me to go surfing too. But—”

“Ed?”

Harry surveys his marshmallows, twisting the skewer this way and that. “He works for you… He charters one of the boats. He’s, uh--” he cranes his neck around, “Over there, by Lily. She works at the swim shop.”

“Yeah, I know Lily,” Louis says. He doesn’t really. He just remembers her from that one time he came looking for Harry.

They have a lot of employees at Sandy Hill. And it’s not like Louis or any member of his family stays here year-long. He knows he can’t be expected to know everyone’s name and face. He knows that and yet he almost feels guilty.

He doesn’t know Ed at all. He’s sure he must be a new hire, even if he can’t remember seeing his name on the list, or taking any time to meet him.

“So he tried to get you to surf?”

“He did. But, I refused of course. Think I had enough adventure for one day.” Harry extends his marshmallows over the fire.

Louis runs his eyes over his profile and the tanned skin of his shoulders and back. He takes another sip of his beer. “So, you said we were good, yeah?”

“Yeah, of course,” Harry says with a fleeting smile.

“Good…” Louis wipes at the condensation on his bottle. “Just- I feel like maybe things aren’t good. Not really.”

Harry doesn’t look at him as he speaks, keeps his eyes focused on the flame. Resolve seems to settle in his expression. “I think,” he begins quietly, slowly, “It might be better for both of us if we don’t communicate as often? Like with the personal messages and all that.”

Louis immediately wants to grab him by the shoulders and shake him in response. Harry is an angel on most days with his springy curls and flowers hidden away inside them, and his dimples, and his general love of the world and the people within. But he’s also frustrating as fuck. “I didn’t say we couldn’t be friends,” Louis explains carefully.

Harry smiles with just one corner of his mouth. “I know. But…I don’t really want to be your friend. And I don’t think you want to be my friend either. If you want what happened to not happen again, it doesn't make sense for us to be around each other too much. Outside of work.”

Well. So much for cordiality.

“Alright then,” Louis says. “So, that’s it?”

“It’s kind of up to you,” Harry says, blowing the flame out where his marshmallows have caught on fire. He takes a gingerly bite, getting gooey marshmallow on his bottom lip. And Louis can’t even lick it off. How unfair is that.

Louis isn’t upset, just annoyed and maybe a little—or a lot—bitter. He needs a new beer anyway.

He’s digging through the cooler when he considers just leaving. Bonfires aren’t as fun as he remembers them being. And he’s tired. And he might have a meeting in the morning or something like that.

He knocks the cap off his bottle and puts it to his mouth, gaze swinging back over to where Harry is sitting with Ed. This bloke who Louis is beginning to doubt even works here is red-headed and covered in tattoos. Louis can’t tell whether or not he’s interested in men. He might just be a chummy lad. Either way, Louis doesn't like his proximity to Harry.

It would be conceited of Louis to think that this was Harrys’ attempt at making him jealous, laughing and chatting up everyone aside from him. But Harry hasn’t looked at him once since they spoke and Louis wants his attention. He wants it more than everyone else sitting around him. 

Louis just doesn’t know what this is, what he's feeling. But he wants it to stop now. He bums a cigarette off Zayn and leaves.

He walks up and into the back of the Island Breeze bar, which is closed for business and deserted at this time of night but the stringed lights lining the awning are still burning. He has the cigarette jammed between his lips, snapping the lighter repeatedly but the ocean breeze snuffs it before he can get the flame to catch. Maybe this is divine interference having to do with that bet he made with his mum.

Maybe further interference is that the very source of Louis’ stress, the very one who prompted Louis to smoke in the first place, comes strolling toward him.

“You weren’t meant to follow me,” Louis sighs.

Harry stops walking and frowns. “I just thought I should make sure you were alright. Usually people say bye before they leave, you know.”

“Yeah, but you just said we weren’t friends. So I imagined you wouldn’t care.”

Harry shakes his head. “That’s not what I said. You’re just hearing what you want to here. I said we can’t be friends.”

“Sorry, guess I’m not hearing the difference either.”

“You’re being a bit of a dickhead,” Harry replies, and shrugs, “Sorry but you are.”

Louis starts trying to light his cigarette again, channel his frustration into something worthwhile.

“You should take better care of your lungs. And the environment,” Harry comments.

“Give me a fucking break,” Louis pleads.

Harry sighs. “Fine. We’ll talk tomorrow if you want.”

Louis watches him, beginning to turn away, as if it happens in slow motion.

Somewhere in his head, there’s a voice telling him what a bad idea this is, how this path toward Harry is the path towards disaster and perhaps heartbreak and gross crying and heavy drinking. But Louis tosses his unlit cigarette along with his inhibitions towards the ocean, and he grabs Harry’s arm.

He starts pushing him toward the white spackled wall. Harry is too surprised, too shocked to protest. He goes easily. Bad, Louis thinks. He wishes Harry would make this hard for him. He wishes he would push him away, tell him no, talk some sense into his senseless brain.

Harry’s back meets the wall, his mouth parted, and Louis presses right into him, molding his body along Harry’s warm chest. Harry’s eyes are wide, darting over Louis’ face. They just look at each other, chests expanding with deep breaths.

“I’m going to kiss you,” Louis tells him.

He sees Harry swallow. And it’s so quiet for a minute, the cicadas halting their chatter, the ocean slowing to a stop. Harry gives a jerky nod of his head.

“Is that okay?” Louis asks. He has to. This is wrong on so many levels. There are all those clauses he’s read about fraternization and harassment in the workplace.

But again, Harry nods, wets his lips with a knee-weakening swipe of his tongue. “More than okay, yeah.”

Louis silences him with his mouth and his tongue and a gentle hand at the back of his neck. They’re secluded by the cover of the bamboo awning as their lips open underneath each other’s like flowers at dawn. Their kiss is hectic and perfect, gentle at first, and then desperate with Harry’s hand knotting up in Louis’ shirt.

Louis pulls away to kiss just below Harry’s ear, sucks gently on the skin there, not enough to mark him up, just to get Harry whining and pulling at his shirt. He means to undress him here. Someday, Louis would like to sit down with Harry and discuss his penchant for public nudity.

His hips stutter forward and the friction is so good, Louis tears his mouth away to groan, lets Harry just rut against him for a second.

“This is crazy,” Louis says, pulling his hips back reluctantly. They can’t dry hump here. First of all, it’s unethical. Second, what is he—fifteen?

Harry tries to slow his breath down so he can speak. “I know. I just—” his eyes dart between Louis’ and he wets his already slick lips. Louis kisses him again to catch his pretty tongue. He likes it pressed to his own. But how phenomenal would it be wrapped around his cock instead? He swears under his breath.

“You just what?” Louis prompts him when he parts to let Harry drag in a breath.

“I want you so much,” Harry says. “I shouldn’t, I know that. But I do.”

They kiss again after that. Because how can Louis not? How and when did Louis convince himself he could resist this kid? And why?

So many questions. Louis doesn’t care to answer them. He keeps kissing him. The sounds around them resume. Faintly in the distance, there’s music from the bonfire drifting towards them. But they stay where they are, in this perfect solitude and just kiss until their lips are chapped and bruised.

Louis is so hard he thinks he might just come anyway, dry hump or none. Harry is chockfull of pretty sounds, of sighs and moans and whimpers. It’s ridiculous and each one goes straight to Louis’ dick, until the way he’s straining against his shorts causes him physical pain.

He pulls back, takes in the state of Harry’s face and lips, all flushed and perfect. “Why aren’t you wearing a shirt?”

Harry looks vaguely annoyed about having the kissing interrupted and makes to pull Louis back. “I lost it. Or someone stole it while we were diving.”

Louis flattens his palm against Harry’s sternum and slides his hand downward over his warm stomach and the firm muscle of his abs. Harry exhales a quiet groan, just from having Louis’ hand on him.

It makes Louis feel inexplicably powerful. “You need a shirt,” he says. “You need a shirt as soon as possible.”

“Why? When you’d just end up taking it off later?” Harry asks.

Louis laughs. He hopes that it sounds like laughter. But he’s a little out of breath and entirely out of patience. So perhaps not.

And Harry is relentless when he asks, “Do you want to come back with me?”

Louis pulls back and braces his hands on his hips. He turns away to suck in a calming breath. He’d be embarrassed honestly about how ready he is. Like he’s almost worried his dick might tear his pants open and start pleading for attention. He knows it isn’t possible. But it certainly feels like it.

Harry’s in a similar state though. He even pushes at his crotch, trying to reposition himself. It doesn’t work. Louis has seen him more than once now, knows how big he is, and there’s nothing he can do to hide that. Louis peels his eyes away.

“I can’t,” Louis says. He’s now crossed the line twice. The blowjob was bad enough but they were drunk. He no longer has that to blame. He’s had a drink, yeah. But he’s pretty much sober. And so is Harry. And this is a very bad idea.

“You can,” he says. “And- I want to return the favor. From before.”

Louis chokes on air. “What?” he says—gasps, really.

“Let me return the favor. Please? I- it’ll just be this one last time and then we can stop. We’ll stop. Just come back with me.”

While Louis is contemplating flinging himself into the ocean, Harry reaches for him again, tugs Louis close by his belt loop. “I want you in my mouth,” he says and gives him a bold squeeze. Always with his grabby hands.

“Oh, fuck,” Louis mumbles. “Fuck, okay. Let’s go.”

Harry starts to grin like he even needs the dimples to convince Louis any further. He holds Louis’ hand all the way back to his hut, his grip tight like he’s afraid Louis will change his mind and flee. Louis contemplates it at least twice.

But in the end, Harry gets him into his small bedroom and closes the door by pushing Louis back against it rather forcefully. They don’t kiss again. Louis hears the lock turn and then Harry drops to his knees. He meant what he said about wanting Louis’ cock in his mouth. And apparently he wants it right the fuck now.

He drags Louis’ shorts down to his ankles, presses his hands into Louis’ thighs, and swallows him down like that popsicle he was enjoying a few days ago.

Louis runs his hands through Harry’s silky hair, the strands falling away from his fingers like sand. He pushes his hair out of the way so he can watch Harry work.

It’s so filthy the way he does it all, the way he gets his chin and his cheeks wet with his own saliva. When he sinks down around him with a moan that sends vibrations all throughout Louis’ body, Louis’ hips stutter forward, his cock hitting the back of Harry’s throat.

There’s an apology ready on his lips when Harry chokes and pulls off. But then Harry exhales in one raggedy breath, “Fuck, yes. Please,” and sucks him back down without further elaboration. But Louis gets it. Louis gets it because he was thinking about it too.

As if to further clarify, Harry stops moving completely and tucks his hands beneath his thighs and looks up with his big, earnest green eyes.

Louis thinks he whines in response. It’s sort of embarrassing but anyone who saw Harry down on his knees like this, offering up his mouth for fucking—they would whine too.

He slides his hand further into Harry’s hair, his grip tightening, and he inches his hips forward. Harry’s eyes slip closed in silent gratitude. Louis thrusts again, his head tilting back against the door. He groans each time he plunges into the warmth of Harry’s mouth, each time he hears Harry moan in response.

When he looks at him again, his whole face and neck are flushed bright red, the corners of his eyes damp with tears. He’s beautiful. In a crippling sort of way. A way that disrupts Louis’ thrusts when he loses focus.

He’s so close he feels like he can barely breathe. There are stars swimming across his vision. Fireflies just outside the window floating by. The hum of the ocean just off in the distance. The world keeps moving but for a second, it feels like it’s just Louis and Harry and the place where they’re connected.

Louis pulls out of his mouth and starts to stroke himself. Harry stays on his knees and watches him, still hungry, like…

“You want—” Louis begins.

“Yes,” Harry says right away. “Please.”

It’s beyond him—how Harry manages to be so polite while asking for Louis to come in his mouth. Louis is a sucker for manners, even if he tends to be a bit crass himself.

Harry looks elated when the first blurt of come lands on his tongue. Like he loves the taste. Like it’s water after a drought. He lets it all collect on his tongue while Louis strokes himself dry. Then he swallows and his eyes fall to his own cock as he begins wanking furiously, desperately.

With a groan, he comes all over his hand, his head bowed, shoulders heaving. “Fuck,” he rasps. He probably shouldn’t talk right now. He pumps himself through his orgasm and then goes still.

They’re quiet afterwards, listening to the sounds of the world around them and their breath panting into the quiet space of the room.

“Thank you,” Louis murmurs.

Harry looks up at him and smiles.

“You’re incredible,” Louis says, reaching down to drag his shorts back up. Harry stands, tucking himself away.

“So are you,” he says. He’s already close enough that he can touch Louis’ jaw and tilt their mouths together. And Louis lets it happen.

“Drink some tea…with lemon,” Louis says with one last peck to Harry’s mouth.

“You could stay and fix me a cup,” Harry mumbles, smiling so his cheeks dimple.

Louis feels enslaved to him. Not because he’s being asked to serve tea. But because he really can’t find it in himself to leave.

Harry drops his forehead to Louis’ shoulder. “Or just stay just because. Just for a bit with me.”

Louis doesn’t answer. He just rests his hands gently on Harry’s hips and remains in this moment that feels strangely intimate, fraught with a tension that he wouldn’t expect after they’ve both gotten off, and doesn’t know exactly how to deal with.

“How about that tea now?” he asks after long minutes of just breathing in the smell of the ocean on Harry’s skin.

Harry pulls back and smiles. “I’ll fix us both a cup.”

“I’ll help.”

He doesn’t end up helping at all. He wanders around the kitchen and the living room, sometimes watching Harry, sometimes being unable to for long.

They reconvene in front of Harry’s sliding doors, which are open to let in the constant breeze. They sip quietly for a long while. Louis makes comments about dolphins and sea urchins and every other random topic that comes to him whilst staring at the ocean. Harry answers with more of his knowledge and a few questions too.

There’s a gravity to the atmosphere that neither of them can deny but they wiggle around it, hoping maybe that it will dissipate with time.

“Just stay,” Harry says when Louis has finished his tea and sets it down beside him.

Louis shakes his head. “I shouldn’t.”

Harry exhales noisily through his nose like he’s bracing himself for a speech. “You should,” is all he ends up saying. And then he just stands up and walks over to his bed. Louis watches him in the solitary but powerful light of the moon.

Harry sets his teacup on the bedside table and pushes his shorts down to his feet.

Completely naked aside from that cross on his neck. Like some marble statue, except that he’s moving still, reaching into his dresser now for a pants. Louis’ breath is caught in his lungs, convinced that he truly is looking at the most beautiful man to walk earth.

Harry sinks his knee into his bed once he’s pulled his pants on. And he looks at Louis expectantly.

Maybe it’s the look in his gaze or just the look of him in general. But it’s with silent resolution that Louis concedes. He takes off his denim shorts and his t-shirt, drops them somewhere beside Harry’s. He shuffles into the bed, his body turned toward Harry’s, his head settling into the pillow that smells entirely of him.

“Just for tonight then,” he says.

Harry doesn’t respond to that declaration. “Just so you know,” he says, voice still raspy from earlier. “Friends share a bed all the time.”

Louis huffs a laugh. “Thought you said we can’t be friends.”

“I just think us being friends is a waste,” Harry says. “And life is too short for that.”

Louis gets it. As much as he doesn’t want to, he understands. It’s not to say that they wouldn’t be great pals. He’s sure that if things had started on a more neutral level, if one of both of them weren’t so insanely attractive to the other, maybe they would be the best of friends actually.

But there was too much brewing between them, too much potential for something fiery and wild to settle for anything less.

Harry leans in for a kiss. Just a light one, near the corner of Louis’ mouth, and lingers there. “Thanks for staying,” he finally says, burrowing down into the bed, tugging the blanket up over his shoulder.

Louis shuffles close. “Thanks for letting me stay.” He reaches an arm over Harry’s waist, not intending to leave it there. Then Harry lifts his own hand and settles it on Louis’ waist in return.

And that’s how they eventually fall asleep, with their fingers drawing lazy, dizzying circles on each other’s skin.

> <

FRIDAY – JULY 31

“Sorry to wake you, Louis. But you have a meeting in an hour.”

Right. The problem is…that Louis is in a trance. In the glow of morning, the back of Harry’s head with its twisting curls is like a kaleidoscope. Somehow they’ve ended up with Harry’s back to Louis’ chest. Spooning— they’re spooning. And Louis is entranced.

He has managed to drop his phone onto his ear, which is no small feat given how he still thinks he’s dreaming..

“Who?” Louis asks, which isn’t exactly a coherent response to the posed statement.

Mallory repeats clearly, “You have a meeting with Kenneth and Lance in an hour. Regarding St. Peter’s Episcopal Church.”

“Right. Fuck…” he exhales. He would much rather just lie here and study Harry’s curl pattern a bit longer, or the tattoos on his shoulder.

But, alas, he needs to leave. He shouldn’t be here in the first place.

“Thanks, Mal,” he says rubbing at his eyelids. He leans into Harry for just a moment, just to turn his nose into his curls because Harry is all about deep-conditioning and what not but Louis is pretty sure that Harry’s hair would smell like sunshine regardless of what he did.

He drops a kiss to his shoulder—a goodbye kiss. Really, this time.

And then hurries to leave.

Later, he’s standing between Kenneth and Lance in front of an old church that his family wants to buy and repurpose. Or so they say. It’s more likely that his father will end up having it torn down, because the land where the church sits is right by the beach and prime for expansion.

“If we knock out this wall here…” Lance says, gesturing. Louis’ mind recedes.

A week ago, he and Harry were sitting on a protrusion of misshapen rocks, where Louis told him there used to be a small fresh water spring. The boys from the homes nearby, and their friends privy to their natural gem, would come for a sip after long hours of playing on the beach.

Harry had watched him as he spoke, never breaking eye contact except to look where Louis pointed. He wore a constant smile that Louis can see now in the dark half-seconds when he blinks.

Talking about the fresh water spring dissolved to another of Harry’s working dissertations: the dangers of tourism.

“People come here and it’s all so new and different to them that it’s easy to forget that this is someone’s home. This is where someone grew up,” Harry said. And just then there were a gaggle of young children sprinting down the beach, skin earth brown, smiles wide. Harry tilted his chin toward them, “Their home.”

Lance drops his arms to his side. “Or we could just knock down the whole thing.”

Louis sighs. He gives a solemn shake of his head. “I think that's a terrible idea,” he says. Ultimately, the decision won’t be his. But at least for now, this land will stay intact.

> <

SATURDAY - AUGUST 1

A day passes. A day filled with a few glasses of gin and coke, trash television intermixed with Zayn’s declarations that Liam isn’t worth the fuss, and later, in the privacy of his room, a very sad, very unsatisfying wank.

At every minute, he contemplates texting Harry. Just to see how he’s doing. Knowing there would be no point. Knowing it’d be like kicking himself when he’s already down. Knowing Harry won’t answer.

And it all sucks. Because separate from the sex, Harry is great person to simply be around. And even if he’s only known him for a matter of weeks, Louis misses him more than he thinks is normal. What he feels is probably more akin to longing.

Longing. For Harry.

It’s a testament to how accustomed Zayn has grown to Louis’ ridiculousness that when he walks into the kitchen to find Louis hitting his head repeatedly on the fridge door, he simply says “Could I grab the orange juice?”

Later however when they’re eating toast out on the balcony, Zayn turns his head to him, sunglasses hiding the look in his eyes, “Just go talk to him.”

Louis doesn’t respond.

“I heard from Liam that he’s helping out with that wedding today,” Zayn offers.

Louis’ gaze slides to him. Zayn looks away, regal nose pointed toward the sky. “You’re welcome.”

It takes Louis a second before his mind gives way to his heart and loses the battle between what he should do and what he really wants to do. And he stands, drops a thankful kiss on Zayn’s forehead, and leaves.

> <

The Bradford wedding has been causing a stir around the resort for a few weeks now. But aside from that one time he met with Ryan and the soon-to-be Lisa Bradford, Louis hasn’t been paying much attention to the commotion, his head too far in clouds shaped like Harry Styles for him to notice much else.

Anyway. The actual day of the wedding the Bradfords and their kin have turned their particular section of the beach into a nightmare of botanical proportions. Large tubs of flowers wait in the cool shelter of a tent nearer to the hotel. And all around there are staff members clad in white carrying more of these tubs down to the beach.

Louis wanders amongst them, admiring for a moment the way the décor is coming together. Two older ladies stand at the shoreline directing the construction, demanding more roses where there are too many lilies, more ribbon and more tulle, and more headaches if everyone is being honest.

Louis heads up into the hotel. The first kitchen, the event kitchen as it is called, is bustling as the staff hurries to prepare hors d’oeuvres. Louis tries to just blend in, not wanting to make anyone more flustered than they are just by being there.

He isn’t here to observe them after all. He’s only here for one thing. Or one person.

He keeps moving, following the line of flower carriers to one of the auxiliary ballrooms, which the Bradfords have claimed as their home base. There’s a mass delivery of flowers waiting there. A grand piano ready to be carried down to the beach at some point. Large spools of ribbon and tulle. Tables and chairs still folded in wait for the reception.

More staff lingers here, accepting their instructions from a woman wearing a long pink sundress, who Louis recognizes as the wedding coordinator.

Louis is about to step inside the ballroom, certain that Harry is hidden around somewhere there.

But then he hears the familiar yelp of a dog. And immediately afterwards, “Max, you have to stay still. Please?”

Louis swivels on his heels and takes two steps further down the hallway. Harry is there inside this empty drawing room, where more flowers are being stored. The windows are all open, causing the white drapes to billow around the room. Max sits excitedly between Harry’s legs, tail wagging rapidly, while Harry focuses on weaving what looks to be a flower crown.

He lifts the crown again to Max’s head, seemingly testing the fit. And he pauses. Of course he pauses. Because Louis is standing there, just looking at him like an idiot.

“That’s twice now that this is happened,” Louis says quietly.

Harry’s brow furrows inquisitively. “What’s that?”

“Me interrupting you and Max.”

Harry’s lips twitch, his eyes shifting back to the dog. “I know. You’ll have to be careful he doesn’t hold a grudge.”

Louis walks a little closer. And his hands itch to touch Harry, to slide his fingers through his curls the way he already knows Harry likes. But he reaches out to pet Max instead, scratching lightly behind his ears. Max looks up at him happily, tongue outstretched.

“Huh, looks like we’re good,” Louis says. And when he looks, Harry’s eyes are trained on him. Louis smiles. “Hi.”

“Hey,” Harry says softly, his right cheek dimpling.

Louis steps back, sliding his hands into his pockets, rocking back on his heels. He walks over to edge of the room, toward the windows and the baby grand in the corner, feeling Harry’s gaze on him the whole time. His fingers hover over the keys.

“You play?” Harry asks absently. He’s looked away now, starting again on weaving flowers for Max’s head.

“Sometimes,” Louis presses down on a set of keys and plays a simple tune with just his one hand. Harry’s gaze slides to him again, his flower wreath sitting abandoned in his lap.

“So,” Louis says quietly, removing his fingers from the keys. “I’ve missed you.” He doesn’t look at him when he says it. Because he’s being a punk. But that’s allowed. This is Harry. This is the person who he met less than a month ago who’s starting to touch parts of his heart Louis wasn’t even aware of. This is the boy who makes Louis feel mad, like he’s spiraling out of control, and also like he’s one second from blasting off the fucking earth.

He can be a punk if he damn well pleases.

And anyway, it’s all worth it for when Harry replies, “Missed you too.”

That’s all the courage Louis needs to turn and face him, the white curtains ruffling around him almost like wings. “I’m not always right about everything, okay? I know that. I just- I still think it’s probably better for us both if we just maintain, you know, a business relationship.”

Harry sighs all loud and tired. “But you don’t want that. You wouldn’t be here if you did.”

Louis’ forehead wrinkles in deep thought, thrown off for a minute. He shakes his head, gets back to the point. “I’m just trying to get you to understand what-”

“I understand clearly. You’re afraid of the risks. You’re trying to be responsible. And that’s great, fine. But you’re the one who’s here, Louis,” Harry says, standing to his feet, dusting his trousers off. “I have to-”

Louis panics. “Okay. Okay, maybe I don’t know what I want at all. Maybe all I know for sure is that I want to keep talking to you. I really like talking to you. And just being around you. It’s like— you’re like fresh air.”

Harry has this expression on his face, like he can’t figure out whether to be annoyed or touched. He squeezes his hands into fists at his sides.

“You’re so frustrating.”

Louis nods. “I know. But so are you.”

Max and the flower crown forgotten, Harry steps right into Louis’ space, and he pushes him unkindly into the wall, between two windows and their waving white curtains. His palms are warm and cover Louis’ chest entirely. His eyes darker than Louis can ever remember them being.

“I’m tired, Louis,” Harry says. “This back and forth thing is killing me. I like you. You like me. I want to fuck you. And you want to fuck me. That’s all there is. That’s all it has to be.”

An inappropriate laugh bubbles out of Louis’ mouth. He doesn’t know where it comes from. He feels like he’s at the point of bursting with hysterics. Most of all, he feels completely, utterly at Harry’s mercy.

“It’s not funny,” Harry complains. And as if to prove his point, he pushes their mouths together. Louis’ knees go a little soft, like his bones are blocks of ice beginning to melt. He lets Harry lick into his mouth, breathing these little noises past his lips. He lets Harry obliterate every last surviving thread of sensibility and rebuild it anew.

This is sensible. This, right here, him and Harry—that’s the most sensible thing on earth. Nothing makes more sense.

The revelation hits him just as Harry pulls away, leaving his lips damp, leaving saliva still connecting their mouths. Harry’s eyes flutter open.

“Think about it,” he says, releasing him, stepping back.

Louis doesn’t need to anymore. “That simple, huh?” his voice cracks annoyingly.

Harry answers with more of his brilliance, more of his levity and serenity, with a smile that settles beneath Louis’ skin and soothes to his marrow, and murmurs softly, “Why shouldn’t it be?”

> <

SUNDAY – AUGUST 2

‘have dinner with me?’

Louis sits in the center of his massive king sized bed with his phone resting in his palms and his heart in his throat. There’s a chance this won’t work. In fact, this probably won’t work.

Not after yesterday when Louis let Harry leave with Max and his lopsided flower crown. Not when Louis did nothing to assure Harry that at least he had seen the light and Harry was right about everything and Louis wanted this too, whatever this was.

His phone buzzes and Harry’s name is suddenly on his screen like a beacon.

‘I’m still working :(’

Louis wrinkles his nose as he types, settling back into his pillows.

‘your boss is giving you the night off.’

‘Louis…’

Louis can’t tell whether that’s a good “Louis” or a bad one. His thumbs work quickly over his screen.

‘There’s wine involved. Really good wine.’

He hesitates a second before he sends another.

‘I just want to see you.’

It takes Harry a second of seeming hesitation on his end. And then he replies. ‘What should I tell the others?’

‘I’ll take care of it.’ Meaning Louis will send a discreet text to Liam informing him that Harry is being assigned elsewhere for the night.

‘I need to head home to take a shower first.’

‘or you could take one here?’

‘seems a bit inappropriate, doesn’t it, sir?’

Warmth spreads slowly in Louis’ tummy when Harry turns coy. He’s missed that. And having it back now makes him braver than usual.

‘there’s no point in you going home and putting on nice clothes.’

Harry replies instantly. ‘why’s that?’

Louis licks his lips and types quickly and sends his answer even quicker. No time to reconsider. He’s all in.

‘because I plan to take them all off at some point.’

He hopes- he really hopes that Harry takes nearly five minutes to reply because he’s flustered. Not because he’s having a moment of second thought. Louis thinks the first option is likely the truth, especially after yesterday when Harry tried to kiss every last bit of air from Louis’ lungs.

Still, he breathes an audible sigh of relief when Harry replies.

‘be there in five.’

And of course, he is. Right there on Louis’ doorstep with his navy uniform shirt on and khaki shorts, with wide eyes and bated breath.

Louis steps back from the door and waves him inside. He gives him two or three seconds to have a look around, two or three steps into the house before he reaches for him, tugs him back against one of the stone pillars in the foyer.

“You definitely mean it this time then?” Harry questions.

Louis slides his finger behind the leather strap of Harry’s belt and pulls it free from its loops.

He eases his hands up under Harry’s navy polo, for a minute just admiring the warmth and smoothness of his skin. Harry lets him lift the shirt off completely, up over his head and down his arms. Louis drops it to the floor to join the belt.

He leans in and presses a kiss to Harry’s throat. “Have I answered your question yet?” he asks, while he reaches for the button of Harry’s shorts and pops it open.

“I think-” Harry stutters when Louis drags his shorts and pants down his legs, similar to how he did in the loo nights ago. This time though Louis pays no attention to Harry’s cock. (Well, maybe some attention because Harry is already hard. But he doesn’t touch. Not yet.) Harry swallows when Louis stands once again to his full height. “Yeah, I think you have.”

Louis smiles warmly. “Good,” he says, taking Harry’s hand. “Come with me.”

Harry appears to be in a state already, his eyes hooded, his expression docile, and he follows Louis easily, doesn’t ask questions as he’s led to the shower.

“Here you are,” Louis says, releasing his hand. “Dinner and your clothing will be ready when you’re finished.”

Harry starts to frown, gaze shifting between Louis and the shower. “You don’t want to come in with me?”

Louis tsks. “Can’t do that, babe. Wouldn’t want the party started on an empty stomach.”

“You’re ridiculous,” Harry tells him.

“And you love it. Enjoy your shower.” Louis steps away from him, and manages to make it look effortless, though it isn’t at all.

A few seconds later, he hears the shower cut on. He collects Harry’s clothes by the foyer and throws them into the wash. In their place, he sets out something for Harry to wear during dinner.

He returns to the kitchen to make sure his pasta is still warm and he throws together the finishing touches before spooning everything out into one of his mum’s fancy dishes. On the balcony, where he’s carefully set the outdoor table, he pours glasses of his best wine. And in the background, music from one of his playlists drifts softly throughout the house via the intercom speakers.

Then he simply waits, with one leg crossed over the other, and his shoulders settled back into his chair and his hands entwined in his lap. Harry comes down the hall from the bedroom and out to the balcony, their eyes locking instantly.

“Lovely outfit you picked out for me,” he remarks.

Louis’ eyes sweep down over Harry’s bathrobe, a smirk taking over his mouth. “I have a taste for these things. You look stunning.”

“Cheers.” Harry slips into the seat opposite Louis. “So, you actually made dinner.”

Louis’ brows crease. “Of course?”

“I thought it was pretense.” Harry lifts his fork and sticks it right into the dish, spearing a curl of pasta. He chews slowly.

“You thought I would lure you here with the promise of dinner only to not provide dinner?” Louis clarifies.

Harry shrugs. “Well…you did just undress me in the hall. Thought you wanted to get straight to it.”

“Contrary to what you might think, I do like you for reasons having nothing to do with sex,” Louis says. “Don’t sell yourself short.”

Harry chews a bit slower, his smile growing. He points his fork at the pasta. “This is good.”

“It’s my sister’s recipe.”

“It’s good,” Harry says again.

Louis licks his bottom lip when he feels like he wants to laugh. He can’t pinpoint exactly what’s funny. Just this. Them. Making small asinine talk while Harry sits naked in a bathrobe an arms-length away.

“Where’s Zayn?”

“Not sure. But he won’t be back tonight,” Louis says, lifting his wine glass to his mouth.

“Oh. Goody.” Harry puts his fork down and pushes his chair back and stands.

Louis keeps his wine glass frozen at his lips, dark red liquid floating just out of reach. He watches Harry cross the small distance from his end of the table to Louis’ end. Harry takes the wine glass from him and takes a long sip.

“Good wine too,” Harry decides.

Louis stares up at him with something like wonder. “As promised.”

“You made some other promises too, didn’t you?” Harry says as he sinks right into Louis’ lap, hands cupping his face, lips pressing down on Louis’ without a second’s hesitation.

Louis has been telling himself to keep cool, to stay in control of how this all plays out. But from that second on, he feels almost frantic, the need in his chest gone hectic and fierce. He unties the simple bow Harry’s made with the terrycloth sash of his robe and pushes the robe open.

The soft lines of Harry’s abs stutter from the sharp breath he drags between his lips when Louis touches him, when Louis takes hold of his hips, and breaks his mouth away to lick around Harry’s nipple.

Louis hears him gasp and mouths more hungrily at the raised nub, bites a little at one before turning his attention to the other. Harry lets him do so for long minutes before he can’t seem to take it anymore and drags Louis’ mouth back to his own.

“Bed,” he demands when he pulls away again, mouth red and damp.

“Yeah,” Louis mumbles stupidly, tugging Harry’s hips down a little to grind their crotches together.

“Fuck. No, the bed,” Harry insists.

“Yeah, alright. You have to get off me first, love.”

Harry kisses him again, biting punishingly at his bottom lip as he pulls away. Louis doesn’t know what he’s done to deserve that. But he wants it again. Harry removes himself from Louis’ lap, drinking the last of the wine in his glass. Louis grabs the entire bottle and takes a long draught of his own.

He follows him to his bedroom, right on his heels. But maybe it’s because Harry’s legs are longer that he gains enough distance on him to be naked and on the bed by the time Louis steps inside.

“You’re so bloody gorgeous,” Louis tells him, closing the gap between them after he’s pushed the door closed.

“So are you. It’s unfair for bosses to look the way you do.”

“Could say the same for employees…” Louis mumbles before licking into his mouth.

He feels like he could keep track of how the time has passed by the moments they’re kissing and the moments they’re not. But he loves that. Because he loves kissing Harry. He imagines sometimes that he was made for kissing Harry. Their lips fit just right together and their tongues tease and dance and play this game that drives them both mad, and it’s clear that they both love it.

He mouths at Harry’s chest again because okay, Harry has fantastic nipples and amazing reactions to having them played with. Like now, when he keens and tosses his hips up, and if Louis had his head on a bit better, he’d drag this out. He’d make Harry keep searching for friction for as long as he felt was necessary.

But he’s already so desperate. He grinds his hips down to meet him. It’s dirty and wild and Harry wraps his legs around Louis’ waist, drags his nails down Louis’ back, and urges him to keep going, ready to come before they’ve really gotten started. He chants yes, yes, yes, and grows delirious from the way Louis ruts against him.

And Louis thinks no. No, he wants more than frottage, as unbearably hot as that is. He pulls his hips away, leaving Harry to chase the friction with a whine tumbling from his open mouth. He gets a hold of Harry’s wrists, plants them firmly into the mattress, and kisses him, because he can’t help it when he looks like that.

And then he draws back. “What do you want?”

Harry’s brows crease, his eyes unfocused. “You, Louis. I told you already.”

“I mean, right now. What do you want me to do to you?”

Harry blinks and takes a breath he can’t even seem to find. “Whatever. I want it all. Everything.”

Louis squeezes his wrist tight in his hands, watches Harry’s eyes flutter. “Be specific.”

Harry licks his lips, his eyes darting over Louis’ face. “Fuck me.”

Louis rewards him for that answer with another filthy grind.

Whatever reticence Harry had shown seconds ago, it evaporates just like that. “Fuck—” he grunts. “Please, Lou. Fuck me, please.”

Louis pulls away completely, leaving Harry gasping, but not for too long, just to grab condoms and lube from beneath his pillow and toss them onto the bed. And then he’s kissing him again, biting at his damp lips. He drops his mouth to Harry’s neck and sucks hard, knows there will be a bruise there when he’s done, know the other employees might bug Harry about it. But he doesn’t care.

“Please,” Harry breathes again.

“I love it when you beg,” Louis tells him, sitting back. “You sound so pretty when you beg.”

“I can keep doing it if that’s what it takes,” Harry says.

“I’ll give you what you want, babe. No need.”

Harry smiles, breaking his wrist out of Louis’ hold to reach for the lube. Louis would be offended about how easily he’s able to do that, except then Harry is popping the bottle open, and Louis has to appreciate his urgency.

Harry starts to coat his own fingers but Louis makes an indignant sound. “You’re not serious.”

“Do you want to—?” Harry starts to ask.

“Of course I want to. Wouldn’t pass that up for like…” Louis trails off as he rubs lube between his own fingers, warming it up.

“The world,” Harry finishes, his eyes on Louis’ fingers.

“Yeah, that,” Louis agrees, dropping a kiss on his mouth. He runs his forefinger over Harry’s hole, taking pleasure in the tremor that runs over Harry’s body. “Harry.”

“Yeah?” Harry moans when Louis slides just the tip of his finger past his rim.

“I’m going to fucking ruin you,” Louis tells him, mouth right against his ear.

This isn’t him being arrogant or anything, honest. He knows he’s good in bed, yeah. But this is different. This is just the truth.

He’s never felt this way about anyone but somehow he knows what it is. Harry makes Louis feel like he’s on fire, like every nerve and synapse, his blood and marrow, are all fuses on the brink of blowing. And the only way to put out that flame is by doing the same for Harry.

So he’s going to fuck him like his life depends on it. Because, in fact, it does.

And he’s going to ruin him in the process. That’s just the God’s honest truth.

He has two fingers in him already, has shifted back so his face is right between Harry’s legs. “After this, how do you feel about me eating you out?”

“God, Louis. Shut up and fuck me already,” Harry grits out.

Louis laughs. He would. He’s getting there but not yet. He takes a tentative lick of Harry’s hole as he’s sliding a third finger in to join the rest. And the lube tastes funny but it’s worth it for the way Harry gasps and swears. Louis plants his other hand over Harry’s tummy, tries to keep him pinned. And he licks around his three fingers again. Harry swears louder, pushing down on Louis’ fingers.

“I’m beginning to think you’d like it a lot,” Louis murmurs.

“You’re so chatty,” Harry groans. Louis laughs again, his breath puffing on Harry’s damp skin.

“What about you, huh?” Harry continues. “How’d you feel about me doing that to you?”

“Mmm,” Louis hums, turning his mouth to suck a bruise into Harry’s inner thigh, still just rubbing his fingers inside of him. “I might like that.”

Louis is so full of shit. He would love that. Harry only needs to say when and Louis would drop everything and let him eat for hours, days. As long as Harry wants.

He doesn’t say that though. Because his mouth is full in that second when he sucks Harry’s balls hungrily from the thought. He wishes he could spend the rest of the night covering every inch of Harry’s body with his mouth. Head to toes. He couldn’t think of anything he’d rather spend his time doing.

But then, that isn’t true. Because Harry’s ready for him and Louis knows exactly how he wants to spend his time now.

He has himself sheathed and lubed in record time. He deserves an reward for it, really. And he remembers instantly that he’s getting one. Harry parts his legs a little wider, hooking his arms under his knees. His whole body is tan and flushed and a little shiny from his sweat. That’s all the reward Louis wants.

“Ready?” he asks.

Harry looks like he's seconds away from kicking him off the bed. “I’ve been ready.”

 

> > H < <

 

Louis is a white-hot flame, fading out to blue, burning red and orange at the edges. He is colorful and bright and everything that he touches, every part of Harry’s skin is consumed entirely. Harry wishes so desperately that he could remain in this moment. He wishes the fire never died out or that Louis never stopped looking at him the way he is now, with wonder and reverence and little words gasped into the air after every thrust. Perfect. Amazing. Beautiful. So beautiful.

Harry feels all of it. Mostly because Louis says it is true. Also because Louis fucks him like he means to bestow Harry with a prized gift, like he wants to lavish him with good things piled upon great things.

“I can’t believe— you feel so good,” Louis says to him. “God, baby, you feel so good.” The muscles in his back shift and tense as he moves. Harry feels them where his hand is pressed near the curve of Louis’ bum.

He’s been told he has an unearthly proclivity for maintaining eye contact. Almost vampiric in the way he focuses on any one person. His mum calls it “laser eyes.” He thinks she exaggerates, and all who agree with her.

But he knows it’s at least somewhat true. Because he can’t take his eyes off Louis. He feels like he never blinks. Just watches him move and move, studies the stunned part of his lips, and the crease of his brow. Sometimes Harry’s eyes roll or he squeezes them shut because Louis has completed a particularly devastating thrust, but for the most part, Harry just wants to keep looking at Louis.

Eventually though he can’t focus on anything.

“Louis…” he groans, long and drawn out like he’s singing. Louis is quick to get his hand on Harry’s cock, knows he needs it by some divine method of discernment.

And it feels like when Harry finally comes—it feels like Louis has poured cool water over singed skin. It feels like he relieves him of the flame. Harry finds that he’s laughing and then Louis is too. Right before he comes, Louis smiles and tilts his head back. “Holy fuck,” he says to Harry and to the universe and to no one at all.

Harry pants like he’s finished a marathon, his fingers sorting through Louis’ hair.

“I was actually looking forward to you trying my pasta,” Louis murmurs.

Harry laughs, turning to Louis, molding their bodies together for a moment. “Let’s go have it now.”

Louis picks his head up off Harry’s chest, tufts of his hair sticking this way and that. “Have I told you yet that I think you’re brilliant?”

> <

MONDAY - AUGUST 3

Dressed once again in his freshly laundered uniform, Harry stands by the fridge with a glass of orange juice while he contemplates returning to the bedroom and waking Louis to say goodbye.

He has this nauseating thought that things might not go over well if he does. That in the glare of the morning sun, Louis might once again have second thoughts and regrets and after last night—after what Harry will record as one of his best nights, he isn’t sure he wants it ruined now.

He sips his orange juice and stares out the glass doors at the ocean in the distance. It seems calm today. But he’s been here long enough that he knows that’s a trick of the island. Standing far off from any angle, the ocean always seems calm to wishful eyes. It’s not ‘til you’re down by the shore that you find the truth.

He looks away, his gaze landing randomly on the fridge door. And his brows slip into a deep furrow. He sets the glass of juice down and steps forward, scrutinizing the image held to the stainless steel by a “Welcome to Barbados” magnet.

Two strong arms ease around his waist, followed by the solid warmth of Louis’ chest against his back, and Harry relaxes instantly.

It’s like lying on the sand, close to the shoreline, and feeling warm water rush up between your toes. He exhales a quiet breath of relief, resting his arms atop Louis’.

“That’s my brother,” Louis says. “And my sister.”

Harry blinks at the images on the fridge door, trying to take in what Louis has said. But his heart is currently in his throat, just from being touched, just from Louis’ sleep rough voice. He feels suddenly overwhelmed and confused by the weight of his feelings.

Usually, Harry runs from complacency. The most unfortunate circumstance in life, he believes, is getting too comfortable for too long. He likes to be on the move, to explore, to fall in love in the metaphorical sense, and then to fall out and find something new.

But here in Louis’ arms, he’s struck. With an arrow and pinned where he stands. He doesn’t want to leave. He wants to stay right here all day and never leave.

He studies the images on the fridge again. Sonogram images. “Congratulations,” Harry says warmly.

Louis rubs his hand gently over Harry’s stomach, perhaps in gratitude. “I’m glad you’re still here.”

Harry tries to swallow the lump in his throat but it stays lodged. “I have work in an hour. Was just heading home for breakfast.”

“Stay,” Louis tells him. He rests his forehead against Harry’s shoulder blade. “I’ll make you breakfast. Whatever you want. Just stay.”

It’s funny. Because Harry said those same words to Louis nights ago. Stay. Just stay. Back then, he didn’t understand the power of them. He wonders if the words rendered Louis without another option the way they do for Harry now.

Either way, Harry doesn’t want to leave.

> <

He does what he usually does when he’s freaking out. He paces—slowly, up and down through the shop, out to the back, then into the front, his face crinkled in confusion. It’s break time so there’s no one to bear witness to his unraveling.

He paces for long minutes. And then he calls his sister.

“Why are you whispering?” she asks him straight away.

“I’m in the cupboard at work,” he says.

“And why are you in the cupboard, H?” she asks patiently.

“Needed a private place to talk. Can’t have anyone overhear…” Harry trails off. The next time he speaks, he does it as fast as he can, “I slept with my boss.”

“Oh, God,” Gemma sighs. “You said you didn’t even like your boss, didn’t you?”

“No, not that boss. Liam’s technically just my manager—and he’s cool now. I like him now,” Harry explains. “But no, not him.”

“Okay, so which boss are we talking about here?”

Harry takes a breath. “You know how the resort is owned by the Tomlinsons, right? The same people who own that big hotel near King’s Crossing? Tomlinson Suites, you know?”

“Yeah, you’ve told me about ‘em. Why?”

“Well, like they have a son, who’s like the heir of the hotel chain and all that. And like he happens to be here for the summer…”

No,” Gemma gasps into the phone. “You didn’t.”

“I did,” Harry drops his face into his hands.

“Bloody hell,” she gasps louder. “Was it any good?”

“Honestly,” Harry begins. “Best I’ve ever had, probably, yeah.”

Gemma starts to laugh and she laughs until she’s had her fill. “You’re such a seductress,” she wheezes. “This is like that kid mum used to have come tend the lawn? And you’d be walking around in just your pants and then you acted surprised when he practically confessed his love to you.”

“Everyone’s not gay, Gem. How am I supposed to know if I’m actually seducing someone just by walking around the way God’s made me?”

“You absolutely did it on purpose though but sure. How’d you win this one over?”

Harry sighs. “That’s the thing. I feel like I didn’t. The first time I met him, I spilled a milkshake on his shoes. And since then, I’ve pretty much proven to be completely incompetent. I wore the wrong shorts.”

“What…”

“Never mind. I don’t know what I did. But he’s like taken a liking to me.”

“More than a liking, I imagine, if he’s fucking you. So risqué…”

“Is Haley around? I told you to stop swearing around her,” Harry chides. “Babies pick up all sorts of things.”

“Oh, fuck off, she’s asleep. And all she does right now is shit and blow bubbles with her saliva,” Gemma says. “Anyway, back to the topic of your sugar daddy.”

“Jesus, don’t call him that. He’s not…”

“Will it happen again?” Gemma cuts him off to ask.

Harry rubs at his temple. “I don’t know. That’s why I called. I need help to like sort my head out.”

“Do you want it to happen again?”

Harry hesitates for a moment. The obvious answer is yes. More than anything, he wants it all again. But…

Gemma interprets his answer easily. “Do you have feelings for him?”

There. There is the pressing issue. “I do…” he chooses not to elaborate. Not now.

“Well. There’s no harm in having a bit of fun. You’re young. It’s risky, yeah. But if you’re both mature about it, and up front about what you want, then there’s no harm done.”

Harry nods, swallows. “Okay, yeah. I think so too.”

“Just don’t get too involved I suppose. Don’t fall in love with him, you know?”

Harry presses his forehead into his palm. “I don’t think I’ve ever been in love with anyone… So I don’t see how I’d manage that. Or how I’d even know if it happened…”

Gemma is quiet, having just tapped into the core of the situation. “Oh, Harry,” she says with finality. Harry shuts his eyes because yes, he knows. He’s fucked, isn’t he? “Please don’t get yourself hurt.”

Harry won’t. He knows better. He doesn’t think he’s ever had his heart broken and he doesn’t plan to. He’s too smart for that.

But he pictures Louis’ arms around his waist in the morning and at night and every hour in between. He suddenly feels warm, full of this giddy bubbling warmth that grows and grows in intensity the longer he thinks. He starts hitting his head against his fist.

“I won’t,” he says quietly, not entirely sure.

What happens when you climb to a high? What happens when you’re riding a massive wave, like the kind he feels he’s on with Louis?

Eventually all things bend to gravity. Eventually you come down from the high. Eventually the wave must crash.

“Good,” Gemma repeats. “Call me again with any updates?”

“I will.”

He asks briefly about Haley again and then after an exchange of “I love you” and “goodbye,” he hangs up and pockets his phone, leaning back against the metal shelves of ice cream cones and cups. He takes a few deep breaths of caramel and chocolate syrup-scented air and then pushes the door open, peeking out.

“What are you doing?” Olly asks, standing right beside the door. Harry tries so hard to embody stealth and he fails every time.

“Um,” he glances behind him. “Inventory.”

“I did that yesterday.”

“No harm in doing it twice then, I guess.”

Olly eyes him suspiciously. “Cool…” he says and decides to leave him be.

Harry actually wishes he would question him further. He’s usually a private person but somehow he feels like telling everyone this thing, this big secret—perhaps his biggest secret—that he suddenly has. He wants to tell Olly, Niall, Liam, and perhaps even Zayn. He wants to tell his mum and Mrs. Gothenburg who lives next door, and Haley even if she’s too young to understand. Random strangers on the street too. The whole world. He wants to grab them all and say:

“I’ve met someone who’s just the kind of person I’d fall in love with. And I might already be halfway there.”

Louis comes in a little after noon.

On the outside, Harry thinks he does a pretty stellar job of staying calm. Inside, he just laughs. Like every part of him laughs. Like he’s too happy to know what to do with all of it. And overwhelming amounts of joy usually turn to laughter.

By then, there are more patrons at the shop, and everyone is back from lunch. Olly is drumming on the edge of his stool. Niall is changing an empty tub of rum ‘n raisin. Liam is texting in the corner. That leaves Harry to step up to the counter and attend to Louis. Though it’s not like Louis is looking at anyone else.

“Are you in for ice cream today?” Harry asks.

“I was feeling a scoop, yeah,” Louis says, leaning into the counter.

“And what flavor would you like?” Harry responds, reaching for the ice cream scoop, shaking off the water from the container it sits in.

“The dark chocolate.”

Harry flashes him a small smile. Of course. “Cone or cup?”

“Cone,” Louis decides.

Harry plucks a cone from the stack above the counter and walks to the tub of ice cream. Louis follows him.

“How are you?” he asks.

Harry keeps his eyes cast down. “I’m good. You?” he asks as he begins scooping out the ice cream.

“Really good,” Louis says. “Hey.”

Harry looks up, meeting his gaze. Louis’ eyes crinkle instantly, his grin widening. They’re both ridiculous and Harry’s almost embarrassed for them. Except he’s happy and there’s nothing embarrassing about that. His lips twitch, his traitorous dimple peeking out to say hello.

“There it is,” Louis says.

Harry’s brows crease. “What?”

“Your dimple… Was wondering why I hadn’t seen it yet.”

God, he’s insufferable. Harry shakes his head, but the dimples deepen. He goes back to scooping ice cream.

“So. When can I see you again? Like alone…” Louis’ voice drops to a whisper but the urgency reads loud and clear.

A flush starts up over Harry’s cheeks. He shoots a glance down at the other boys, and then up at Louis. “When do you want to see me?”

“Tonight? Soon? I know you won’t want to take off from work again, but whenever you’re free. There’s actually something I want to show you,” Louis continues to speak quietly.

Harry holds out his ice cream for him across the counter. Their fingers brush. Harry has turned into an honest-to-god preteen. That’s the only way to explain the spark he gets from that barest minimum of contact.

“I’m finished in another hour actually,” he says.

“Then meet me on the shore around then?”

Harry replaces the ice cream scoop and wipes his hands on his apron. “Sounds good.”

“Good,” Louis echoes and takes a lick of his ice cream, prompting Harry’s eyes to drop to his mouth and the bit of chocolate left there. Louis swipes his tongue over his lips. Harry’s face twitches like he might cry.

“See you soon,” Louis says after he’s deposited money into the tip jar.

Harry doesn’t move until seconds after Louis is gone and only because Liam flicks a peanut at the side of his head.

> <

Louis is sitting on the beach with his knees curled up to his chest, looking like a feature in a dramatic painting. Somewhere there’s a camera filming for a reality show about his life.

Harry plops down on the sand beside him. And he has to resist the urge to lean over and rest his head against Louis’ shoulder or something equally chummy.

“Do you know what today is, Harold?” Louis asks leaning back so his hands are against the sand. He tilts his head to Harry, lifts his brows.

Harry’s nose wrinkles as he thinks. “Hm, Monday.”

Louis smiles. “Yes. But not what I meant…” he pauses theatrically. “It’s the end of Crop Over.”

Harry’s eyes narrow as he thinks. “I’m vaguely familiar with what that is,” he says honestly. Like he’s heard talk of it of course. He’s heard the music drifting down the streets and seen flashes of brightly colored costumes, Barbadian flags waving high in the air. But he’s never gotten a chance to see for himself, especially not with working all the time and sleeping afterwards.

He knows Crop Over is the biggest event on the island but perhaps the significance of the traditions and customs have been lost on him since he’s been here.

“It’s to celebrate the end of the sugar crop, to celebrate the harvesting,” Louis explains.

Harry nods along, more enthused at this point by the excitement lighting Louis’ face.

Louis sighs in exasperation because clearly, Harry isn’t getting it. “Have you eaten yet?” he asks.

“I had a cookie earlier—”

“Good,” Louis hops to his feet and reaches a hand down for him. Without hesitation, Harry takes it and hauls himself up too. Louis smirks, looking suddenly like a boy up to no good, “It’s time we went to a real party.”

> <

All in all, Harry's first experience with Crop Over is the kind everyone hopes for.

The bands with their brightly colored costumes and swinging hips are magnetic and captivating. If you manage to peel your eyes away, it isn’t long until they are drawn back. The women dance in their beaded and sequined two pieces, adorned with feathers and tassels and countless pieces of jewelry. Some wear long flowing dresses and headpieces.

Harry and Louis weave through the grounds, pausing at street vendors and food stalls, chatting with locals and tourists too. Harry follows close behind Louis, leaning in whenever Louis wants to point something out, which is often.

Calypso music blasts loudly on the streets, thrumming up and down their spines. They swing their hips a little to the pulsating beat of steel drums and banjos and guitars, unable to resist for long. As they’re strolling down the pavement, Louis even takes his hand and gives him a twirl, Cinderella-style, and Harry laughs ‘til he cries and smiles and never stops smiling.

Eventually, they eat. And eat well. Flying fish fried to a crisp perfection, macaroni pie, roasted corn, curried chicken, breadfruit slathered with butter, and fish cakes, and peppered prawns. For dessert, there are loaves upon loaves of sweet bread, and cassava pone, pudding, sugar cakes, and ice cream.

He's full and bursting, nursing some pineapple beverage with Malibu rum, while beneath their table, Louis runs a hand over his thigh, idly and slowly like he doesn't realize he's doing it. And Harry couldn't be more grateful for this night.

He tries to think of a time in the past year when he's been this happy, this excited, and full of life and he can't find it.

Louis informs him that all throughout Crop Over, there’s a running competition between the costumed bands and that this final day, Kadooment Day, is the day they crown the winning band. When it happens, there’s a cheer that goes up all over the streets. No sore losers to be seen. Announcing the winner only inspires more dancing and more celebrating. And Harry feels in love with these people and the way they exude joy like this is where the feeling originated.

This is what a real party looks like. When the fireworks start, Harry takes advantage of the distraction, and leans in and presses a kiss to Louis’ cheek.

“Thank you,” he says right into his ear.

Louis turns to him and smiles, brighter than every firework in the sky. He nods his head to the right, signaling for Harry to follow him. And of course, Harry does.

They’re walking again along the pavement, weaving through the crowds, watching everyone still dancing to music that seems like it will never end. And then Louis stops suddenly. He turns quick and reaches for Harry’s hand and pulls him off the pavement. They bank right and Louis keeps dragging him along.

Harry would revel in their hand-holding except that he’s a little alarmed.

Louis tucks him up against the building they’re hiding behind now, a large flowered plant hiding them from view, and he peeks around the corner.

"I saw this woman just now. She’s a friend of my mother’s," Louis explains.

Harry would question him further. But he feels a bit dazed, staring at Louis' profile when he glances around the corner. Harry leans in and drops a surprise kiss on the corner of Louis' mouth. Louis swings his gaze to him.

And gaze at him he does. With warm blue eyes that are so impossibly soft Harry worries they'll turn to soup and drain out of their sockets. Morbid but true.

Harry licks his lips and waits. And as expected—as needed—Louis presses his mouth down on Harry's, hands lifting to his waist. Harry settles his palms over Louis' bum. And they kiss finally after what feels to Harry like a millennium.

Louis bites gently on his bottom lip when he pulls back and plants his mouth on Harry's neck. Harry's eyes slip shut. He gets lost while Louis sucks a bruise beneath his jaw. He thinks he should tell him, should confess that he’s feeling more than he bargained for, and it’s scary but also he doesn’t want it to stop. He wants to tell him. But also, he wants to fuck.

He pulls him a little closer, his hands still pressed to Louis’ plush bum, into a grind, and the friction is good. But never enough.

They hear voices close by. Really close, just a few feet away. Harry’s eyes pop open. Louis tears his mouth away from his skin, and takes his hand again, and they run.

It rains on this island like a double-minded man. One minute it’s sunny. The next it’s overcast. A person could stand on one end of a street where it was dry and look down to the other end where the rain was pouring.

So it’s no surprise that they somehow run into a rain storm. Louis squawks when it hits them seemingly out of nowhere. And Harry laughs, even though his hair starts to grow damp and drips into his eyes. He pushes it away and drags Louis for a moment, beneath the cover of a palm tree, pressing his back against the bark.

They’re still laughing when Harry drops his head to Louis’ shoulder, not entirely sure what’s funny but unable to stop. When Harry pulls away, still panting from running and belly-laughing, with rain water dripping from his lashes, he cups Louis’ face and pulls him into another searing kiss.

Harry feels like he could get lost in Louis for hours and never find his way out again and be completely fine with that.

“I feel like a proper deviant now,” Harry confesses.

"Same. You’re such a bad influence," Louis says stepping close for another kiss. He bites his collarbone instead.

Harry groans, and pushes him back with his hips. “Let’s go. Home. Back to yours.”

“Needy are we?” Louis says stepping close once more.

Harry holds him back by his shoulders. “Yes. For you. Let’s go.”

Louis’ eyes do that warm melting thing again. Harry decides to slip out of his grasp before he’s glued in place by them. “Race you?” he suggests. Which is stupid because everyone knows running in loose sand is like asking for a broken ankle. And they aren’t very close to the villa.

But Louis takes off anyway, always up for a competition. And Harry hurries after him.

 

> > < <

 

“You’re going to miss it.”

Liam stops sweeping and huffs loudly. “Why are you still here?”

Zayn leans against the counter, sipping the second ice cream float he’s ordered since arriving. To his left is an uneaten brownie, which Liam is pretty sure he ordered merely to be a nuisance.

“I told you. I want you to see the fireworks with me.”

Most people would be flattered that someone like Zayn deigned to show them any sort of attention. But first of all, Liam isn’t even gay. Not really. Just—you know, Zayn is probably attractive to everyone, gay or not, That is the only reason why Liam stares at his lips or feels a little weak when Zayn does that thing with his eyes. The thing where he looks into his soul.

Anyway, second of all, to any outsider looking in, it would appear that Liam and Zayn hate each other. Because Liam sort of does. And Zayn—well, who knows what the fuck Zayn is up to.

“I can’t leave until I close the shop. I’ve been saying that for an hour.”

Zayn sighs loud and annoyed. “Fine,” he says, sliding down off his bar stool. For a second, Liam actually feels…disappointed.

And then Zayn comes around the counter. “Let’s get this shop closed up then.”

Liam watches him push his sleeves up to his elbows. “You aren’t allowed back here.”

Zayn takes the broom from him. “I’ll finish with this,” he says ignoring him. “You work on something else.”

Liam stands there for three seconds longer, his hands braced on his hips, his jaw clenched. He contemplates arguing but he’d have to be an idiot to deny free help. He slips past him and heads towards the back door.

“What are you doing?”

There’s no way Zayn has finished sweeping in the thirty seconds it takes Liam to get the hose undone. Liam will have to go back through the shop and double check that all the nooks and crannies have been seen to.

“Cleaning out the coolers,” he mumbles.

“Who uses them?” Zayn asks.

“We rent them out to families to take down the beach. So they can store their ice cream and chocolate and such.”

Zayn’s brow wrinkles. “But they just put ice in them, yeah? So it’s not like the coolers actually get dirty?”

“Yeah, but it’s unsanitary.”

“No…it’s just water,” Zayn says. He tilts forward, peering into the cooler. “And they look clean to me.”

“Okay. Well, I’m cleaning them anyway.”

“Why? That’s stupid,” Zayn tells him.

"Jesus, would you bugger off?" Liam growls. He stands to his feet. “Why are you here? I’m not going to see the fireworks with you. Or whatever else it is that you’re after.”

“Who says I’m after something?” Zayn asks with a smile, leaning his back against the wall, arms crossed over his chest.

“Louis told Harry you’re probably just trying to have sex with me or something.”

Zayn breathes a laugh. “Louis is right.”

Liam feels his face burn warm. “You can’t just… You don’t just say that to people. It’s not mannerly.”

“I guess not. But it’s true.”

“I’m not even gay.”

Zayn lifts an eyebrow. “You sure?”

Liam doesn’t answer. He starts past him and he knows Zayn starts to follow him. Because Zayn is annoying is fuck. And Zayn is so embedded under Liam’s skin, it’s beginning to drive Liam mad.

He’s an itch that can’t be scratched, and a pimple that can’t be popped, and he’s just…he’s the worst. And Liam has thought of him constantly, can’t seem to stop thinking about him.

Liam turns back. “You know what?”

He never gets to finish his thought. Because he trips as he’s encroaching on Zayn, all red in the face, and full of rage. He trips and falls right into Zayn’s body, and they spill like marbles.

There’s a disorienting second before Liam realizes that he’s landed on top of him.

For a moment, they're just looking at each other, chests heaving. Liam's eyes drop down to his mouth, quickly like he’s afraid to be caught. He thinks Zayn catches him anyway.

Zayn's eyes narrow a fraction. "Well?" he says.

"Fuck," Liam breathes and he pushes their mouths together, squeezing his eyes shut. Kind of the way he would if he was cannonballing into the ocean. He just dives in and kisses him as firmly as he can.

And Zayn slides his hand into Liam's dark hair, keeps him right where he is. He tilts his head and licks into Liam's mouth.

Liam answers with a groan, scrambling a bit closer until he has Zayn sprawled on his back and can straddle his narrow hips. He pulls back to just look at him.

"Is this alright?" Liam mumbles.

Zayn smirks, almost like he wants to laugh. "It's alright with me, yeah. You?"

Liam nods. "Yeah."

"Thought that was the whole point of you climbing into my lap," Zayn teases. He settles his warm hands on top of Liam's thighs. Liam plants his hands on the floor on either side of Zayn's head. And he leans in and kisses him again.

It feels like they do that for hours. And Liam never gets tired of it. Zayn has the softest lips. So comfortingly warm. And Liam can't get enough of them, feels like he has this ache in his chest that he needs to wipe out.

It's harmless for the most part. Until Liam shifts back again and his bum nudges against Zayn's crotch.

And oh.

Their eyes lock. Zayn's smirk is gone. He still looks vaguely amused but there's a hunger in his gaze that has Liam's skin flushing anew.

The thing is that Liam is hard too. It's why he shifted away in the first place because his cock was pressed between them and it was not only painful but embarrassing.

But he’s seated now, right over the rigid line of Zayn’s cock and he doesn’t feel so embarrassed anymore. He doesn’t know what he feels, except that he doesn’t want to move.

“What you said about us, about me? I don’t think that’d be so bad.”

Zayn looks at him confusedly for a long while before it clicks. “So you want to?”

“I’m just saying. It might be nice is all.”

“Nice? Sounds like an understatement to me,” Zayn says, his hands settling on Liam’s hips. “I think it’d be amazing. I think you’d see stars and shit.” Zayn slips his hands up under Liam’s shirt. “Could have it any way you want it too.”

Liam sucks in a deep breath, his chest rising. “Now?”

Zayn smiles, blatantly smug. “Well, no.” He pushes his hips up, providing for a crippling moment of friction before Liam goes sliding off his lap, blue-balled and more annoyed than ever. “After the fireworks.”

> <

WEDNESDAY - AUGUST 5

Of course, nothing happens after the fireworks. And nothing happens the day after either. And Liam goes back to hating Zayn, even more now than ever, because for just a second, Zayn got him to break.

A whole day passes and a second day is just on the brink of passing. Liam returns home from an early day at the shop, covered in flour from the bakery and sticky oil and sweat from the hot Bajan sun. He takes a shower first thing, letting the water burn away his transgressions and all the filthy thoughts still bouncing around his head.

He’s drying his face in the sink, a towel wrapped loosely around his waist, when someone knocks on the front door.

At first, he ignores it because he’s wearing just a towel, and he still hasn’t worked around his constant buzz of irritation today, and surely, someone else will get it.

But then he remembers that there is no one else. Harry is out (possibly with Louis because they aren’t fooling anyone). Olly is out, doing…Olly things. Niall is out too, with a girl or boy most likely.

And so Liam drags his hands down his face and shuffles very slowly to the door.

He wants to break his knuckle on Zayn’s immaculate jaw. He hates to be violent. He thinks there’s never any reason for it. But he feels nothing but pure rage when he sees Zayn leaning coolly against his doorframe with his sunglasses on and a smile.

“Hello, Liam,” he says and he tilts his head downward so that even if Liam can’t see his eyes behind his shades, it’s obvious enough that he’s checking him out. Liam doesn’t care. Liam isn’t flattered. Liam just wants him gone.

“What the fuck are you doing here?” he asks plainly.

Zayn’s brows arch over the tops of his sunglasses. “I just came by to see how you’re doing. I can see now that I’m not wanted.”

“You most certainly are not,” Liam starts to close the door. Zayn wedges his foot in to stop it, and for a second, they struggle against the wooden door, trying to close it or force it open. Zayn is stronger than he looks apparently because eventually Liam grows tired and gives up. Zayn steps inside.

“This is illegal, I’ll have you know,” Liam informs him.

“Whatever,” Zayn plops down on the couch, lifting his feet atop the rickety coffee table. “You’re alone, aren’t you?”

Liam stands there with his hands on his hips, looking like a very displeased mother. “I’m not answering your questions.”

Zayn huffs a laugh. “Okay.”

Liam glares at him for a second longer and then he goes to his room.

He’s dressed and reclined on his bed, very determined not to leave until Zayn is gone or until someone else comes home. And then his bedroom door opens and Zayn shuffles in with a mug in his hand.

“Made you tea,” he says.

Liam narrows his eyes. “You definitely put something in that.”

“I don’t have to drug you, Liam. Can seduce you just fine on my own,” Zayn replies.

Liam takes the mug from him and sets it down on the bedside table. “Thanks.”

“Want to come play a game of FIFA?”

Liam rests his head back against his pillow, eyes slipping closed. He doesn’t pray as often as his mum would want him to. But he sends up a little word of thanksgiving and repentance now. Whatever Liam has done to deserve this torture, he is sorry for it. Truly.

“Okay, I’m sorry I’m being a dick,” Zayn says. “And I’m sorry I didn’t call. Just come play a round with me, yeah?”

Liam’s eyes open and he looks at Zayn. And you know, he doesn’t really hate him. He just wishes he did. He pushes himself up and shuffles past him and into the living room.

They play two rounds in relative silence while shooting glances at each other every other second. He finds Zayn’s eyes sliding over his torso more than once. And he admires Zayn’s profile. Yes, admires. Because regardless of how infuriating he is, he’s fucking beautiful.

His skin appears to glow. And his beard has a lovely pattern to it, intricate in the way it swirls in some places. And he has a pouty mouth and pillowy lips that just sit there like they’re waiting to be kissed. His eyelashes fan out over his cheeks and Liam is so busy staring at them, he doesn’t realize Zayn has turned his head and met his gaze.

Liam looks away.

The screen freezes and Zayn tosses his controller aside. “So. Do you maybe want to fuck now?”

Liam sucks in a big breath of air, mouth opening and closing like a fish. He knows he’s gone red all over. He drops his controller into his lap.

Zayn reads his reaction as apprehension, which it isn’t. Liam is nervous, sure. But he wants this, whatever it is Zayn is looking to give him. “We could also just…I don’t know, watch a movie,” Zayn says and shrugs noncommittally.

Liam shakes his head, rubbing his thumb over the buttons of his controller. He feels Zayn watching him. And then he feels Zayn shift closer. Liam drops the controller beside him and turns to face him, just as Zayn is swooping in to kiss him.

It feels too nice. It feels like every good dream Liam’s ever had, and every kiss within those dreams, and for years, he’s gone on believing that experiences like the kind that happen in dreams never really happen in real life. But Zayn kisses the disbelief right out of his head.

Zayn settles over his legs, not quite in his lap but getting there. And it’s with a boldness that materializes out of thin air that Liam pushes his hips up and grinds against him. Zayn swears, his eyes shutting for a second like he’s overwhelmed. And fuck yes, Liam did that.

Zayn’s hand twitches toward his cock. “Is this okay?” he says quietly.

It’s so weird to hear him like that, all quiet and cautious. He associates Zayn with being loud and annoying. He doesn’t know how to handle this.

“Yeah,” he mumbles.

Zayn slides his zipper down. “Just tell me if you want me to stop.”

Liam can’t even speak clearly. But sure, he’ll tell him if he wants to stop. His breath comes like a tremor when Zayn slips his hand into his pants, his skin burning just from this alone. He feels his eyes on him, feels him wrap his hand around his cock and give him a squeeze.

He starts to stroke him slowly, keeping his eyes on his face.

It’s dry but Liam doesn’t care. It adds a ruggedness to the way he touches him. It matches the way they kiss and the ragged breaths Liam draws between his lips. Zayn rests their foreheads together and then leans and pushes their mouths together too.

He wraps his free hand around the back of Liam’s head, sliding his fingers through his hair. His touch is tender, just the way Liam doesn’t expect it to be. He shivers each time the friction gets too good. It happens in waves, washing over him, building higher and higher.

Zayn latches his lips to a spot on Liam’s neck. He sucks hard enough to mark him up. He moves his mouth to the base of Liam’s throat, sucks a bruise into the skin there too. “I fucking lied.”

“What—?” Liam breathes. He’s not even sure Zayn’s heard him. His voice is just a gasp. Liam starts rocking his hips up, pushing himself into Zayn’s fist. He drops his head back against the throw pillows Harry bought a month ago.

“I lied about not liking you. I like you a lot,” Zayn says. “I’d like you even more in my bed. Bet you’d like me too on your cock.”

“Jesus, shut up,” Liam says. But in his delirium, he adds, “I like you too. Fuck, okay. Get off me.” Zayn’s hand stills. “No, to the room. Up, please.”

Zayn moves his mouth to his neck and nips gently. “I don’t mind the others seeing.”

“Well, they’re due back soon. And Harry will probably bring Louis with him and I don’t know but I think…” For no reason, except to be a pain in the ass, Zayn grinds his hips down and cuts Liam’s voice off completely.

“You talk a lot, man,” Zayn says.

Liam stops blinking dazedly up at the ceiling enough to say, “I mean it. Bedroom. Now.”

Zayn hops up off him, pulling his shirt off as he goes. And Liam doesn’t hesitate this time, probably won’t ever hesitate again. This is okay. More than okay. Zayn tells him so when Liam bends him over his mattress. And later, when Zayn does the same to him.

More than okay.

“I think you’re not as smooth as you think you are,” Liam tells him when he’s lying on his stomach much later and the sound of the ocean in the distance is lulling him to sleep.

“No?” Zayn laughs quietly. Cigarette smoke drifts across the ceiling and toward the screen doors.

Liam turns over, ignoring the way his arse is smarting. It’s a good kind of ache. Like after he’s spent too much time at the gym. But, you know, better.

He rests his head in his palm, elbow cradled in his pillow, and watches Zayn take another drag on his cigarette. “I’m starting to figure a lot of things out. Like the fact that you’re just bothersome because you want attention. Specifically my attention.”

“Guess I’ve been found out.” Zayn huffs another laugh. He’s quiet for a moment. “I might keep bothering you for a bit.”

Liam inhales a deep breath. “You don’t bother me so much anymore.”

When Zayn smiles, he almost looks bashful. Again Liam thinks he’s achieved some great feat. He reaches out and plucks Zayn’s cigarette from his mouth and kisses his lips apart, licks into his mouth. He drops the cigarette in the teacup on his bedside table, hears it hiss when it meets the bit of tea still lingering there.

Liam presses both of Zayn’s wrists into the mattress and lines their bodies up. Zayn looks younger now than ever, honesty and openness hidden beneath lowered lashes. He wraps his legs around Liam’s waist to keep him close.

“You don’t bother me at all really.”

 

> > H < <

 

It's August. Harry doesn't realize until Olly mentions the upcoming school semester. And then he starts to worry.

Because he still hasn't found a plan. For after, when his time here on this island is over. And for when he returns home. He doesn't know what he's meant to do then.

All his friends, the ones he's made here and the ones back home, they'll all be moving on to something different.

And Louis will leave too. And move on. And maybe someday soon Louis will find someone he actually considers seriously, someone he might want to marry, someone who has their shit together. Someone who isn't Harry.

Harry rolls his eyes at himself and skates over to Table 5. “Thanks for waiting,” he says, depositing the family’s orders of hot dogs and burgers and fries. “Is there anything else you’d like?”

The majority of the table thanks him and says no. But the teenage boy sitting on the far end has been giving Harry looks the entire time they’ve been here and could probably think of a thing or two more he’d like from Harry.

Harry gives him a polite smile. It’s not going to happen. And his phone buzzing in his pocket is the reason why. He skates away, tugging his phone out.

Bowling alley today right?

He quickly thumbs a response.

Good. Heading your way.

And that is enough to add an extra glide to each step Harry takes in his skates. Harry pockets his phone to collect another order of food onto his tray. “Table 7?” he checks with the Bill, the chef, and receives a nod.

A bit later, when he returns to a deserted Table 5, he finds the teenage boy’s number scribbled on a napkin beneath a glass of Coke, which is stupid because the condensation has marred the writing. It’s warped but Harry can still make out the number and “Ur hot xx” written in a sloppy scrawl.

He laughs, vaguely flattered.

“What’s so funny?”

Harry swivels quickly on his wheels and smiles wide at the sight of the person who has quickly become one of Harry’s favorites. “Hi,” he says. He wants so badly to press a kiss to Louis’ mouth but he stays put. He holds the napkin out instead. “Looks like I still got it.”

Louis reads quickly and smirks. “You’re 22, Harry. I guarantee you’ll still have it for years to come. Anyway, ‘Ur hot’? What is this person? Five?”

“A five year old wouldn’t have a mobile, Lewis. He was in his teens, I think.”

“You deserve someone who can spell ‘you’re’,” Louis says with a condescending snort.

“Oh no, Mr. Tomlinson,” Harry cocks his hip to the side. “You wouldn’t be jealous, would you?”

“Why would I be? We’ve already exchanged numbers,” Louis boasts, handing the napkin back to him. “When are you finished here?”

“Not till 5,” Harry informs him sadly.

Louis glances at his watch. “Alright. Well, I was thinking we could have dinner. I can cook-”

“No!” Harry says too emphatically. He reigns it in. “No, I’ll cook.”

See, Louis is a fantastic cook. He makes simple dishes that he’s picked up from his mum or his sisters. And they’re always tasty and filling. But Harry has yet to show Louis his own culinary expertise, and if he wants Louis to consider keeping him, he should fix that, shouldn’t he?

Louis looks at him suspiciously for two seconds. “If you insist. Afterwards, there’s something I want to show you.”

“More festivals I don’t know about?”

“No,” Louis says with a laugh. “No, this is something else entirely. I’ll be back at five.”

Harry smiles and gives an understanding nod of his head. “See you then.”

Louis hesitates for a moment, his arms crossed over his chest, his brow wrinkled.

“What’s the matter?” Harry asks.

“Nothing. Just- “ Louis glances around. “I want to kiss you is all. But.” He shrugs.

Harry steps close and kisses him quickly, as quickly as possible and steps back.

“If anyone saw, you can just tell them you fired me,” Harry says with a smile. “Bye.”

Louis can’t stop grinning afterwards and Harry watches him leave with an extra bounce to his step. And then he can’t stop smiling either.

> <

“Who else is here?” Louis asks.

Harry kicks off his shoes by the door. “Should be no one.”

Louis turns and looks at him, his brow furrowed. “You sure?” he says quietly.

Harry doesn’t answer him. He listens closely. In the stillness of the hut, he hears a groan, followed by the rhythmic thud, thud, thud of what Harry guesses is a headboard against the wall.

Harry covers his mouth with his hand. He hates to eavesdrop on anyone having sex, let alone Liam and whoever he’s brought back with him. But for a second, Harry is just frozen there.

Louis’ eyes are trained downward. On what, Harry doesn’t know. He follows his line of sight and notes the pair of black Toms lying by the foot of the table, next to Liam’s trainers.

“Pretty sure those are Zayn’s,” Louis sputters.

Just then, Liam—he bellows, wails. “Zayn, fuck—”

Harry’s eyes go wide. “Oh my God,” he says, backing away.

“Think Liam’s taking it up the bum from the sounds of it,” Louis says moving closer to him to whisper, beginning to laugh. “Holy fuck.”

“Out, out. We have to go,” Harry hisses, pushing him toward the door, grabbing his shoes along the way. He waits until they’re outside and he’s shut the door as quietly as he can manage to gasp again, “Oh my God.”

Louis can’t seem to stop laughing, his hands braced on his knees. “You look horrified.”

“I never wanted to hear Liam having sex,” Harry says, pushing on his shoes. He rests his back against the door. “God.”

“I mean, it sounded like he was having fun,” Louis says with a shrug and starts to laugh again. He’s prettiest when he laughs. But Harry is still too stunned to appreciate it.

He covers his face with his hand. “I guess,” he mumbles.

“Was kind of hot too,” Louis adds, stepping a little closer, drumming his fingers on Harry’s hips.

Harry drops his hand away from his face and his eyes fall to Louis’ mouth. “A little…”

Louis laughs, dropping a kiss on Harry’s collarbone. “Guess you’ll have to make your burgers at mine.”

Harry nods. “Please. Let’s go before they finish up.”

> <

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, yeah. But no one ever tells you that it’s also the way to being eaten out while bent over the kitchen counter.

Harry will make burgers and fajitas and whatever else Louis wants for the rest of his life if it keeps him constantly at the mercy of Louis’ eager and remarkably clever tongue.

He reaches an unsteady hand out to shut off the tap, giving up all together on trying to wash the dishes. He exhales a shaky breath that condenses on Louis’ polished marble counter and extends his hand back to thread his fingers through Louis’ hair.

It’s toe-curling good. It’s the kind of good that you eventually can’t contain any more of. Louis licks into him like he hasn’t just consumed a well-balanced meal, slurping like he’s parched when they just polished off two bottles of wine.

“I’m going to- Fuck, I need to come.”

Louis’ mouth is gone. “Like this? Or on my cock?”

Harry groans. Seriously, fuck this guy. How can he expect answers when Harry doesn’t even feel here. He feels like he’s floating up into the ceiling, into the stars, which have always seemed magnetic on this magical island.

Louis slaps him on the bum, not enough to hurt, just to sting, just to get him out of his daze.

Harry tilts his head around to glare at him. “Cock.”

Louis kisses him where his hand is resting and counteracts it by biting playfully at his bum cheek. “Good choice, love,” he says, standing to his feet. “Come along.”

> <

“I want one of these tubs back home,” Harry murmurs, feeling sleepy and sated. Water bubbles up all around his shoulders. It’s pink and murky and smells of roses. All throughout are floating petals that must have dispersed when the bath bombs dissolved. “Best tub in the world.”

He has his hair pulled up into a bun but a few tendrils have escaped and cling to his neck. Louis is just watching him, his head leaned against the side of the tub. It’s a good thing Harry’s skin is already flushed from the hot water.

“What?” he says.

Louis shakes his head. “Nothing.”

“You’ve just been staring at me,” Harry comments, catching flower petals on his fingers. He blows them off, back into the water.

“You look good like this,” Louis says. “You always look good. I just like seeing you all pampered and peaceful…and well fucked…”

Harry begins to smile, his eyes rolling.

“It’s a very good look,” Louis says.

Harry dips his face into the water to hide his ridiculous grin. Louis is one to talk. He looks lovely with his damp hair and shiny tan skin. There’s a bruise at the base of his neck that Harry put there. There must be a pull in his gaze when he looks at Louis, something that invites him closer, because Louis pushes away from his end of the tub and comes to sits between Harry’s legs.

“You’re disturbing my stewing process,” Harry says.

Louis chuckles. “Oh, is that what you’re doing? Turning into stew?”

“We both are. We’re making Louis and Harry stew.”

“That actually sounds disgusting,” Louis remarks.

Harry starts to laugh but the sound turns muffled when Louis kisses him and kisses him again. Harry parts his lips, sliding his fingers into Louis’ wet hair while Louis slides his tongue into his mouth. He pulls him closer until Louis is climbing over his lap, hand on Harry’s cheek.

“I feel like it’s impossible to have enough of you,” Louis murmurs close to his ear, like it’s a secret. “I never have enough. Always want more.”

And yes, Harry thinks, the feeling is mutual. Even now with their naked bodies pressed close, Harry only wants to get closer.

“Hey, how about a massage?” he asks.

Louis perks up, his brows arching. “Now?”

“Yeah, why not?” Harry says, patting his hips. “Come on.”

He won’t admit it but he has a thing for massaging Louis in particular. He makes noises when Harry touches him just right.

Also Louis’ skin is soft and achingly smooth, like suede beneath his fingertips. And with the sheen of water, it glows golden like honey. Who wouldn’t want a reason to touch him?

“Hey,” Louis says quietly while Harry is starting up on his shoulders.

Harry looks up, pulling his eyes away from Louis’ back. “Hm?”

“What do you think about fucking me?”

Harry chokes on air, mouth opening and closing twice before he finds he can speak. “Uh,” he exhales. “I think about it a lot actually.”

Louis turns his head to meet his gaze. “About being on top?”

“Or behind. Or you know, however you want it, yeah.” Harry grips his shoulders and turns him so he’s facing forward again, returning his hands to his shoulder blades.

“What about me riding you?”

Harry squeezes his eyes shut. Jesus. He can make it through this conversation without getting hard. He can be an adult about this. “That too, yes.”

“Hm. Good.”

Harry bites on his bottom lip as he thinks, kneading his fingers into Louis’ lower back. “Do you- Is that something you want?”

“Have you seen your cock lately, Harry?”

Harry presses his lips together but laughs anyway. “Why didn’t you just ask me then?”

Louis shrugs his shoulder. “Didn’t know if that was something you’d want. If you had preferences or something. Didn’t want to make you uncomfortable.”

Harry presses a kiss to the top of Louis’ spine because he feels ridiculously lucky to have someone so considerate and he’s not sure he even has a right to. Because technically he doesn’t have Louis at all. Louis isn’t his.

“Have you seen your bum lately, Louis?”

“Touché,” Louis laughs.

Harry rubs the pads of his thumbs over Louis’ tailbone, triggering a groan from Louis’ mouth, causing him to slump forward a little bit. “I think,” Harry says, massaging more firmly. “We should work on rectifying this problem.”

“Fuck, right there,” Louis mutters, voice breathless. Harry circles his thumbs around and kneads his fingers over the expanse of his lower back, and Louis actually whines.

Yeah, so Harry is hard. But he never promised it wouldn’t happen. He keeps massaging. “We should like…rectify this problem now.”

“Fuck, okay.” Louis doesn’t wait for further prompting. He pushes himself up with his hands on the smooth sides of the tub. Water drips off his skin, down over his bum and his legs. Harry has to be in heaven. This has to be what heaven looks like.

“Let’s go,” Louis says, stepping out of the tub. “Now, Harry. Come on.”

Harry watches him pad away. "But what about your massage?"

Louis pauses at the door and shoots him a glare. Harry scrambles up after him. He’s probably never been more excited for anything in his life.

> <

THURSDAY - AUGUST 6

Somewhere between dinner and their venture towards mind-blowing sex, they forget that there was something Louis was meant to show Harry. It’s not until the following morning that they remember. Lucky for them, Harry has the day off.

So they crawl out of bed for cups of coffee and pieces of toast, standing naked in the kitchen for a moment while they wait for the rest of their bodies to wake up.

They get a little distracted when Louis mentions that he likes how sore he is and that he’s probably still loose enough to take Harry again. Which isn’t appropriate talk for breakfast at all. But they’re both suddenly wide awake. Louis mounts the kitchen counter and drags Harry between his legs.

It’s a bit of a diversion from schedule but hey, well worth it in terms of morning exercise.

Finally, they leave the villa in Louis’ golf cart.

“You haven’t told me yet where we’re going,” Harry comments.

Louis shoots him a smile. “I know. But you’ll find out soon enough. We’re almost there.”

And of course they are. Louis parks across the street from a church, or what used to be a church when the paint wasn’t chipping and the roof wasn’t falling apart. There’s a rickety cross that looks to barely be hanging on.

“Louis…” Harry says sadly. “I know you want to marry me. But I don’t actually want a church wedding.”

Louis leans against his door. “Oh really? And what kind of wedding do you want?”

“I don’t know. I’m particularly interested in getting hitched on top of a volcano or something equally radical.”

“Oh, shut up. Come on,” Louis says pushing his door open. They climb out. Louis leads him across the street and right in front of this weary little church.

“I think I’ve figured out what I want to do,” Louis says once they’re both standing there with their hands in their pockets. Louis is a head shorter than Harry but he stands powerful and authoritative. “My dad is going to buy this plot of land and knock this church down. The family that owns it will sell because the money will be too good for them to pass up. And once they do, I want to help them rebuild it elsewhere. They’ll have the money and they’ll have a new church too.

“I’ve been listening to you, all the things you’ve been saying about tourism and displacing locals. I don’t want to do that. I think I want to take all this money I have and actually start building things that help people. Homes and churches and schools. I don’t know. And if I employ the people living there, I’ll be creating jobs too, you know?”

“Yeah. Yes I do,” Harry says emphatically. He has stars in his eyes. And when he blinks, he thinks stardust must fall from his eyelashes. Louis is bright enough to blind anyone in his vicinity, his face lit up with eagerness and passion. “Louis, that’s fantastic.”

“You think so?” Louis says, sounding unsure.

“Yes. I think- you have a lot of planning to do. And a lot of research. You have to make sure that you’re building things that the people here actually want. And you have to stay true to the culture in terms of architecture and all that too.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I will,” Louis says earnestly.

“I think this is an amazing idea, Lou. You’re like counteracting what your dad’s doing. I love it.” I sort of love you too.

Harry looks away from Louis’ face, can’t look at him without wanting to say something stupid. “I think it’s great,” he says looking over the face of the worn church instead.

Randomly and for no reason at all, Louis takes his hand and presses a firm kiss to Harry’s palm. Harry feels his heart curl up into a ball and cower in the furthest corner of his chest.

“Thank you,” Louis says.

“You’re welcome.” Harry smiles in a way he hopes doesn’t convey how terrified he feels. When Louis squeezes his hand gently, he thinks he fails.

> <

SATURDAY – AUGUST 8

On his way over to the villa, Harry stops back home for a shower and a change of clothes. Louis can talk all he wants about not minding the food residue stuck to Harry’s skin but he is a liar.

Harry steps into his hut and is intercepted by none other than Zayn Malik, shirtless with a toothbrush sticking out the side of his mouth. He exits the loo, wearing just a pair of black pants, his hair in complete disarray.

“Hey, Haz,” he says, cool as a cucumber.

Harry smiles, taking in the love bites on his chest and the one on his throat. He feels like he might be blushing. And honestly, who wouldn’t blush after what he heard two days ago. “Hi,” he says with a wave of his hand.

Liam comes out of his bedroom, carrying a large suitcase, banging it against the walls. “Are you going to get dressed at some point?” he says. And then he notices Harry. “Oh.”

Harry raises his brows. “Going somewhere?”

Zayn turns and disappears once again in the loo, door swinging shut behind him. Liam drops his suitcase.

“To London, actually. With Zayn.”

Harry steps close to speak quietly so Zayn won’t hear. “Seriously? Was his dick really that good?”

As expected, Liam’s whole face goes splotchy and red. “It’s not about that. It’s- I’ve been wanting to see my family for a while now. And you know, I ended up on the phone with Trisha, his mum, and she wants me to visit.”

“Liam. You literally just met him.”

“Well, you just met Louis and you’re like in love with him.”

Harry’s eyes widen. “I'm not- Did I tell you that when I was drunk?”

Liam suddenly looks just as shocked, and then sad. “No. I was joking…” he hesitates. “You should tell Louis though. I think he’d want to know.”

Harry changes his mind. He’ll take a shower at the villa and be done with it. “Have a safe flight, yeah? Let me know how it all goes.”

“I will.”

Harry hugs him close for a moment, clapping him gently on his back. “See you when I see you.” Whether in London or here in Barbados. It seems no one really knows where they’re headed next.

They’re surfers on a rebel wave. They’ll go wherever the ride takes them.

> <

The only thing more shocking than seeing the partially stuffed duffle in Louis’ bedroom--a sure sign of the encroaching end of their time together--is the pair of black lace panties Harry sees tucked near the edge of that duffle.

He hates to be a snoop. But he sits there on Louis’ bed while down the hall, Louis is finishing up a call with Mallory, and his eyes keep being drawn back to the lace. He isn’t 100% percent sure they’re panties. But that’s the reason he eventually stands and wanders a little closer to Louis’ luggage, determined to find out.

He pretends for a moment that he’s just standing there, looking out the glass doors towards the beach. And then he looks down into the duffle bag again and flicks the material with his hand. And yes, definitely panties.

Harry’s brow wrinkles and he crosses his arms tightly over his chest, staring confusedly at the lingerie. The obvious explanation is that Louis has been sleeping with a woman. He finds it hard to believe but the thought hurts anyway. His heart starts to sink and he paces a little, away from the duffle and then back toward it, glaring at the lewd article of clothing like it is personally offensive to him. Which it kind of is.

Perhaps it was one of the maids. Or the girls from the coffee shop. Maybe that’s really why Louis doesn’t like going there. Because he’s fucked one of the girls and stolen her knickers.

Harry drops his face into his hands. He’s being ridiculous. This is Louis. Louis would never do something like that. Even if it’s only been over a month since he’s known him, Harry knows this.

So he stands there and thinks and thinks. And before he can figure it out, Louis comes back into the room, holding a drink he’s mixed for Harry. “What are you doing?”

Harry takes the drink. “You have lingerie,” he says simply. Something about the nature of their relationship, the way they met and have carried on since, demands honesty and sincerity. So Harry asks him straight.

Immediately Louis looks into his duffle. “Oh,” he says. He bites his top lip, as a flush begins to grow over his cheekbones. “Yeah, those are mine.”

“From a girl you were with recently?” Harry asks, sipping his drink, looking away so that the hurt isn’t distinguishable in his gaze.

“A what? No…Harry, I’m gay,” Louis says.

“Well, I thought so. But you have woman’s lingerie.”

“Yeah, but they’re mine. As in, I wear them. I’m the only one who’s ever worn them.”

Harry blinks, his eyes narrowing. “You wear them.”

Louis shrugs, clenches his jaw. “Sometimes. It’s just a thing. They’re comfortable.”

There’s a hollow feeling in Harry’s chest right then, wedged behind the arousal kicking up inside him too. Because Louis actually looks embarrassed. And not only has Harry never experienced that before, he doesn't like it. “Hey,” he shuffles closer. “It’s okay. It’s— fuck, that’s really hot, actually.”

Harry is already tenting up in his pants, in fact. Because he's perpetually horny when he's with Louis and because this is by far the most attractive thing he’s encountered in all 22 years of his life. And he didn't even think that was possible, for him to be further attracted to Louis. But here he is.

“Have you worn them lately?” Harry asks.

Louis rests his head against Harry’s chest. “Sure. Like a few days ago. Never while I was with you though.”

Harry pouts, feeling like he’s been cut out of a deal. “Well…would you?”

Louis pulls back and looks at him, really looks, curiously and full of heat that simmers low in Harry's tummy. He steps close and presses a kiss to Harry's collarbones. “I suppose. Because you’re asking nicely.”

"I can beg if that'll help," Harry says.

"I should have you do that, shouldn't I? Because you thought for even a second that I was sleeping with a woman when I have you." Louis bites at his collarbone and Harry, of course, shivers.

"Please?" he says, settling his hands on Louis' hips. "Would you please put them on?"

Louis actually cackles when Harry sinks to both knees. Harry reaches for the lace panties and puts them between his lips. He manages to look very much like a sad puppy. “Please?” he repeats, except it sounds more like “pweaf” with his voice muffled.

"You're ridiculous." Louis tugs the panties from his mouth. "Get on the bed."

Harry does immediately, scurrying backward, so ready for a strip tease or whatever this is going to be.

Louis runs his eyes over Harry's body, “How do you feel about being tied up?”

Both of Harry’s brows arch, his lips turning to a smile before he’s even processed an answer. How does he feel about being tied up? Well, that depends, doesn’t it? By a serial killer, Harry doesn’t think he would like it much at all.

By Louis, well... Harry’s cock gives a curious twitch. “I think- that sounds fun.”

“Good. It will be,” Louis says. "Get naked." And then he’s gone.

Here's the thing Harry loves most about Louis (or one of the things because Harry is kidding himself if he thinks he can choose just one), Louis is artful in his seduction.

Harry likes to think he is too. But not like Louis. Never like Louis. Louis can seduce the socks off anyone with just a flicker of his eyes and a twist of his lips. It never takes much but it works like the magic.

He spends forever in his bathroom, possibly prepping himself, or gathering his sex instruments or whatever it is he has planned. Harry doesn't know. But the suspense builds and builds and more than once, Harry has to squeeze the base of his dick just from the anticipation.

And then the bathroom door opens and Louis steps out wearing the black robe he sometimes slips into in the morning, the silk one, tied loosely with his sash. "I hope by now you understand how much I like you."

Harry inhales in a deep breath. "I will when you drop the robe."

Louis’ lips twitch. And then he reaches for the sash of his robe and unties it. Harry watches, his throat closing up, his heart thudding like rapid fire.

Louis pushes the robe off his shoulders and lets it fall to his feet. 

There are some things in this world that Harry believes aren't meant to be viewed by mortal men. Whether it's the preternatural or whether it's Louis Tomlinson with black lace adorning his perfectly curved hips, with the line of his hard cock printing through the material. This is absolutely not meant to be seen and survived. This is the kind of thing that knocks a person out for good.

"Oh, God," Harry drops his head back against his pillow, eyes shutting while he drags an unsteady breath between his lips. "Louis."

"Yes, Harry?" Louis says, his voice close by. Harry opens his eyes just in time to see Louis sinking his knee into the bed and then swinging his leg over Harry's hips, planting himself firmly in his lap.

"You're so hot, Louis. Fuck, you're so-"

Louis kisses him quiet, licking into his mouth, and allows Harry to touch momentarily, to slide his hands over the smooth silky material covering his lovely bum.

Louis pulls back and stretches two of his ties between his hands. Harry isn't even sure where they came from.

“We’re just going to make sure you’re all nice as secured," Louis tells him.

“With your ties?” Harry breathes an overwhelmed little laugh. “How fitting, Mr. Tomlinson.”

Louis smiles, dropping the first one on Harry's stomach, and reaching for Harry's hand. Harry stares up at the tie.

"Burberry?” he notes. “You know, I'm partial to Yves Saint Laurent."

Louis pauses. "Hm. I'll use those next time then."

Harry groans. Fuck, that's so hot. He appreciates a man with a good sense of fashion. And next time? Yes. Yes, he wants a next time.

Louis ties Harry's wrist to the headboard. "How's that, babe? Good?"

Harry nods. "Good. Hurry up, Louis. Please."

Louis pinches his nipple, prompting Harry’s eyes to flutter. "Be patient."

With hooded, bleary eyes, Harry watches him reach across to tie the other wrist. And then he sits back on Harry's cock and rocks against him a little.

"How do you feel?"

"So good,” Harry burbles. “You're beautiful."

"Do you like them?" Louis casts a glance down at his lace panties.

"I love them. Love them so much. You're so perfect."

"Do you want me to ride you while I'm wearing them?"

"Yes please..." Harry breathes. "Don't want to ruin them though."

"Just me, huh? You just want to ruin me," Louis says, taking Harry's cock into his hand, stroking him slow. He scoots back a little further to wrap his lips around him briefly, gets him damp with saliva before he rolls a condom on.

This might be the most mind-blowing experience of Harry's life. Maybe. And because he wants it to happen forever, it happens quickly.

Louis sinks down on him, stretching the thin strip of fabric covering his bum to one side to get Harry's cock where he wants it.

"Used four fingers on myself just now. Had to so I could take your cock," Louis tells him. "You're so big. Best I've ever had too."

Harry suddenly feels love struck and terrified. He zeroes in on Louis as he speaks and moves, loses himself in this man, would do it over and over for as long as he could. Louis is vivid like the only work of art that matters, the finest portrait, and the most noteworthy book, and the most affluent film, and Harry never wants to stop experiencing him.

 

> > L < <

 

Louis knows he has interesting tastes in bed sometimes. He likes to be tossed around a bit. He likes to be pushed into a mattress and taken, to be marked up. And he likes to do the same to his partner. It's hard though finding someone who likes it rough. A lot of things he knows most people would find peculiar.

But Harry takes it all in stride. He answers Louis’ wishes with an uncanny and unfound level of interest and willingness. And from what Louis can tell, he enjoys it too. Because Louis has been fucked enough times before. But never like this.

Harry observes and moves with the kind of focused intensity one would expect from a master chess player. All with his hands restrained at his sides. He murmurs poetic awestruck words while choking on his own broken whines, and works his hips in tandem with Louis.

“That’s it- yeah, just like that-” Louis grips the headboard, his eyes rolling. Once Harry has a rhythm going, he doesn’t slow down, doesn’t stop pumping his hips upward until he finds what he’s looking for. When he does, when he nails Louis’ prostate, he smiles surreptitiously.

Louis slumps forward, holding the headboard like he’s afraid he’ll fall. His body shakes with the tension of holding himself up, of being split open the way he is.

“You’re lovely, Lou,” Harry says worshipfully. "I want you like this forever."

Louis presses his mouth down on Harry’s, terror and thrill twisting around his heart. Because so does he. He wants this forever too. And not just with anyone. With Harry.

Louis rocks against him hard and fast, tells himself not to stop no matter how much his thighs shake and burn. Keep going.

"God, look at you, Louis. You feel so perfect. Fuck, I can't--"

Louis doesn't stop. And neither does Harry. "Come, Harry. Come on."

Harry keeps saying that Louis looks perfect and all this shit. But Harry hasn't spent enough time looking in a mirror. With his head tilted back into his pillow, eyes shut, mouth open, and those glowing curls spilling out around him, Louis can't fathom anything more perfect than Harry himself. 

He runs his hand down over Harry's glistening chest. "Come on, baby."

"Fuck," Harry grits out. And Louis feels him pulse where he's tucked up in him, feels the muscles in his abs lock up, and knows he’s finished.

Louis wraps his hand around himself. He doesn't have to stroke for very long. He has the sight of Harry to push him over the edge, to shove him really.

"Come here," Harry tells him, voice hoarse. Louis pulls off his cock quickly, shuffling up his body and slipping into Harry's open mouth.

“Fucking hell…” Louis groans when Harry gives him a few quick sucks and he comes almost instantly. Harry milks him for every drop and then he lets him pop out of his mouth and exhales like he’s just downed a drink.

Louis collapses to his chest, breathing into the crook of his neck, fingers threading lightly through Harry’s hair.

"Hey, Lou," Harry says quietly.

Louis lets his eyes slip closed. "Yes, love?"

"Could you untie me so we can cuddle?"

> <

WEDNESDAY - AUGUST 12

It sneaks up on him—the last few days before he’s expected to fly home. It has to do with the phenomenon of life speeding up when you’re having fun. He looks up one morning with Harry’s head resting on his chest and realizes that there are four days left to have Harry at all.

It’s Wednesday. And Louis has a flight Sunday morning. But they don’t talk about it. Harry stops leaving the villa. He’s spent plenty of nights here over the last few weeks but during the final four days, he leaves for work and returns to the villa like it is his home. He takes his showers here and his naps on the balcony.

At night they go for long walks on the beach and stare dreamingly at the stars, so much clearer here on this island than anywhere else he's been, and perhaps some of the wishes Harry sends up are for Louis, just as Louis’ are for him.

“What will you do when you’re home?” Harry asks quietly, his head cradled in Louis’ lap.

Louis continues staring out over the ocean. “Get ready for my trip to Sydney, I suppose. Should be there next week.”

“That sounds exciting,” Harry mumbles.

"Don’t feel excited at all though,” Louis confesses.

“Why?” Harry frowns.

Louis focuses on the feeling of Harry’s hair slipping through his fingers like sand. “My family is constantly moving and changing. One sister is getting married. The other is touring the world with her new girlfriend. My mum is pregnant." Louis tilts his head up and scans the sky. "And then there's me. And I feel like I haven't changed at all since leaving university years ago. Still just doing my parents’ work. Same thing for nearly ten years.”

Harry traces his fingers gently over Louis’ knee as he listens.

“I love my life,” Louis says. “I'm content for everything I have. But sometimes— All I wish is that there was something that made the years distinguishable from each other."

“But you have a plan now, right?” Harry asks, tilting his head to the side to glance up at him. “A working one anyway. That’s a start.”

Yes. But he doesn’t have Harry. And that makes a world of difference. “It is. A start, yeah. Just a start.”

“That’s good enough for now,” Harry says with a small smile.

They’re quiet again while Louis starts on a braid in Harry’s hair. Lottie and Lucy have taught him enough times that he knows what he’s doing. And Harry’s hair is good for practicing because it’s thick but also smooth. Harry’s eyes drift close while Louis works and after a moment, Louis thinks he’s fallen asleep.

“Have you ever been in love, Louis?”

Louis’ hands freeze. And the breath in his lungs too.

“No,” he says after a moment. He starts braiding again.

Harry doesn’t glance up at him again the way Louis expects him too. He keeps his head cradled in Louis’ lap, turned toward the gentle ocean. For that, Louis is grateful.

Harry’s eyes have always seemed like a kind of truth serum to Louis. And he fears that a glance from him now will have the mess of thoughts in his head spilling into the air.

Louis hasn’t ever been in love before, no. That’s the truth. But there’s more to it than that. There’s Harry, this random boy that Louis didn’t come here looking for. He didn’t come here expecting this at all. And yet, here he is, stuck in this thing that feels a lot like love. Even if he’s not sure what that’s supposed to feel like.

“Have you?” Louis asks.

Harry’s eyes slip closed and he exhales a breath that ruffles the tiny hairs on Louis’ thigh.

“I don’t know.”

> <

Later, while Harry is curled around him like a koala, and snoring softly into the crook of Louis’ neck, Louis reaches for his phone on the bedside table, unable to sleep unless he gives solidity to the words in his head.

He pulls up his mum’s name and contemplates extracting himself from Harry’s grasp and giving her a call. But he’s too comfortable to leave and when he shifts even marginally, Harry responds by clinging closer. Louis starts a text instead.

‘You were right about me having met someone.’

His fingers hover over his screen as the first message sends.

‘I’ll tell you about him when I see you next week. I want you to meet him.’

He starts to lock his phone and hesitates. He takes a deep breath, shoots a glance at Harry like he’s worried he might see what he’s sending next.

‘How do you know when you love someone?’

 

> > H < <

 

THURSDAY - AUGUST 13 

Louis holds his hand the entire drive over to St. Lucy. And later when they're hiking the rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. He never lets his hand go and it's a good thing too because as they're hiking, this hole suddenly appears in the rock beneath their feet, opening to at least a hundred feet of air and jagged rocks below.

Harry never sees it coming. But Louis does. He grips his hand tight and tugs him back before Harry can plunge to what is surely sudden death. Harry stares wide-eyed at him for a whole minute, heart thudding rapidly in his ears.

"You just saved my life."

A stunned laugh bubbles out of Louis' mouth. "Fuck- yeah, I guess I did."

The waves below are so powerful, crashing against the cliffside and sending their spray up towards the sky and Harry takes their cue to crash into Louis too.

He lays a kiss on him, a desperate yearning kind of kiss, that leaves Louis a little breathless.

"Was that for saving your life?" Louis breathes, smiling softly.

"No," Harry says and kisses him again.

It's for so much more than that. It's for Louis being Louis and for being here with him. It's because Harry might not have just fallen through a hole and died but he's already fallen in a different sense.

And okay, yes, it's also for saving his life. 

><

FRIDAY - AUGUST 14

Two days remain.

They go to Oistins, a town in Barbados known for an incredible fish fry served on streets lined with brightly lit vendors.

They strike up a conversation with a Bajan man and his wife who are there on vacation with their children. Louis somehow gets pulled into a game of tic-tac-toe on a paper napkin with their seven-year-old son. Harry never stops watching him.

Later, they chat with the woman who makes their dinner. She urges them to try the dolphin fish and promises Harry profusely that it isn't at all related to blue dolphins. It's all absolutely delicious and pairs well with ice cold bottles of Banks beer.

It's nice just to sit and observe the collection of locals and tourists. It's what Harry spent four years of university learning to do. But even now--when the streets are alive with zooming red buses and honking cars, and when the permanent breeze is tickling their skin, and somewhere there's a person crooning out of tune at a karaoke bar--Harry never stops looking at Louis.

>< 

SATURDAY – AUGUST 15

At least Harry knows that he’s capable of falling in love.

If nothing else comes out of this experience, at the very least, Harry knows that love is real and possible and maybe someday he’ll be able to keep it.

On Saturday night, with Louis’ bags packed and waiting in the foyer, Harry considers asking him to stay. He waits too for Louis to ask him to come back to London with him the way Zayn did with Liam. And it should seem crazy but Harry would do it in a heartbeat. Right now, nothing else makes sense.

They lie in bed and waste their final hours drawing lazy patterns on each other's skin. Louis is gentle with him the way Harry likes to be treated when he isn't having sex. He holds him close and presses kisses to his forehead and speaks softly. It’s all more intimate than they’ve ever been, now when so little time is left to enjoy it.

Harry won't ask Louis to stay, nor will he ask to be jetted off to London. He is after all merely an employee. And it was he who proposed that they just have fun. Keep it simple and all that.

Still…more than once he wonders how it is that Louis can't see it. How perfect they are together. And how right this is.

There’s no way it’s just him, right? Still, he says nothing.

>< 

SUNDAY – AUGUST 16

They stand face to face on the steps of the villa. In the drive, a sleek black car waits to take Louis to the airport.

Harry leans against the railing with his hands in his pockets because he thinks they’re probably shaking. It’s just a thing that happens when he’s nervous.

“We’ll keep in touch, yeah?” Louis says.

Harry smiles and nods. “Absolutely…”

“Let me know when you decide to come to London?”

Harry bites his lip and nods again. He doesn’t see what the point would be though. So they can have a cup of tea and pretend that they didn’t have the most amazing summer together? Yeah, Harry would rather not. “Good luck with everything.”

Louis takes a deep breath and for a moment it looks like he means to say something profound. “This isn’t goodbye. It’s see you soon.”

“Now you just sound like a Hallmark movie,” Harry regrets to inform him.

Louis laughs. “I mean it. See you soon.”

Harry doubts that he will see Louis again any time soon. Even if they’re both in London, the circumstances won’t be ideal for them to meet. Harry will eventually start grad school and work a part-time job at the library. And Louis will be off in parts of the world miles away, perhaps dating some rich foreign bloke he’s met along the way. It’s just a bloody fact of life.

Harry swallows and finds that his throat is achy, a telltale sign of oncoming tears. He’s always been a crier.

Louis steps forward and kisses him, slow and sweet. Harry forgets about his shaky hands and cups his face. Never mind that the driver is sitting there with a clear view of them, Harry kisses Louis fiercely. It’s not see you soon. It’s goodbye.

And then Louis pulls away and lifts the duffle bag at his feet. He slides his sunglasses onto his face, which is like a knife to the heart. Immediately, Harry wants to see the blue of his eyes again.

Louis presses one last kiss to his cheek and then he starts off toward the car. Harry lifts his rucksack, the one stuffed with clothing he’s had strewn about the villa for days, and he doesn’t wait to see Louis off. It hurts too much and he’ll be late for work.

He starts down the walkway to the beach, taking the shortcut he always does to the sweets shop, and hears the car’s engine start up again. He walks faster.

Niall and Olly are gathered behind the counter when he arrives, Olly singing a song with his beautiful voice, Niall drumming out a beat for them.

“Just in time, H. We need another baritone,” Olly says.

Harry thinks maybe he laughs as he passes them by. He heads into the back to loop his hair into a bun, deposit his bag, and grab his apron. He’s tying it, hands shaking like they did before he walked the stage at graduation, and before he told William McNaughton that he liked him, and when Gemma went into labor, and his stepdad had heart surgery.

Like every terrifying thing in his life. Every milestone Harry has come to and pushed through. Falling in love for the first time, being broken for the first time, causes his hands to shake so badly it takes long minutes before he has his apron tied and starts back toward the front.

He thinks about spilled strawberry milkshakes and last week when Louis ate sliced strawberries off the curve of his spine. He thinks about sporadic rainy days spent in the villa with cups of tea and peanut butter sandwiches. And the one time they did so while both wearing Harry's avocado face mask. He thinks about Louis braiding his hair and once, tucking a flower on the end. Of Louis tying his hands behind his back, bending him over the sofa, and fucking him until he wept and begged to come.

His phone buzzes in his pocket and he fishes it out, blinking to clear his blurry vision, but it blurs further when he sees Louis' name. 

Thank you for a beautiful summer.

Harry’s face crumbles. His whole body follows soon after and he sinks quite ungracefully to the floor. That is how Niall and Olly find him minutes later with his phone clutched in his hand, crying up a storm because yeah, he’s a recent university graduate with big dreams and bigger goals but he can’t spare a second for dignity or decorum right now.

Right now, he’s in love with Louis Tomlinson and it hurts like hell.

> <

Harry thought he was smarter than this. He really did. He hates to brag but he graduated at the top percentile of his class. With honors. And he considers himself relatively street smart as well. People smart, you know?

The point is that he should have known better. And he really isn’t sure how he found himself in this situation.

Anyway, Olly and Niall don’t know what to do with him anymore. They try to cheer him up. Once Niall, who’s taken over the supervisory responsibilities while Liam is away, mentions that he received a message from Louis asking after Harry.

That doesn’t help at all. He hasn’t responded to any of Louis’ messages himself. Not even the one thanking him for a beautiful summer, although he’s read all of them.

Stopped by Dixie’s. Was just as good as you said it would be.

Heard the babies’ heartbeats today.

Called you yesterday…

U could call me back…

If it's not too much trouble.

Louis sends him a selfie on the fourth day after he leaves. It’s of him, Lottie, Lucy and the girl Harry believes is Zendaya. He sends him another one of him accompanied by Liam and Zayn.

On the fifth day, he follows him on twitter. And hours later, he tweets:

Louis Tomlinson (@Le_Tommo): Really wishing life had a rewind button.

And okay, Harry obviously isn’t an idiot. He thinks he understands what that means. Just as he realizes that Louis possibly still wants him.

But it doesn’t change anything. What Harry feels is so much greater than what he thinks Louis feels.

What Harry feels is consuming and crippling and he honestly doesn’t feel like himself anymore. At least not here on this island. It feels wrong without Louis. It's all ruined without him.

Olly and Niall give up when it’s clear that Harry would rather sit on the couch with a tub of dark chocolate ice cream, rewatching Under the Tuscan Sun and moping over the parallels between himself and the abandoned heroine Francesca.

“Just come home, Harry,” Gemma says on the phone later that night, sounding exactly like their mother. She doesn’t tell him ‘I told you so’ or ‘You should have known better,’ which are all true statements.

“Just come home,” she says. And so Harry does.

> <

MONDAY - SEPTEMBER 7

"Hello, mon petit ange.” Harry lifts Haley out of her car seat. “We’re home," he sings, dropping a kiss on her cheek. He adjusts her in his arms and slings the baby bag over his shoulder and shuts the car door with his hip. His phone buzzes again in his pocket. Gemma likes to think she’s a chill mum but she hasn’t stopped bothering him about Haley’s “schedule.”

Hurry home!

Are you home yet?

Tummy time for Hal as soon as you’re home.

Harry sends her back a reassuring text. He gets it. This is her first week back to work since having Haley. He knows it’s stressful. But he is also well equipped to deal with a baby. He’s told her so countless times.

As he pockets his phone, he sees the door of a sleek silver Audi parked on the kerb behind his Jeep pop open, sunlight refracting off its polished windows. Harry throws a passing glance at the man stepping out. Or he means to.

But his gaze locks and his mouth falls open.

Louis smiles slowly, the creases at the corners of his eyes deepening and a spark starting up in his irises. "Hi," he says, his voice honey warm and perfect. He shuts the car door and steps further onto the pavement. “You know…Gemma said you were on your way home at least an hour ago. You must drive like an old man.”

Harry’s brain starts working double time. He’ll never make it through this conversation otherwise. Already he is beyond confused.

“Baby on board,” he says nodding his head toward his niece, which isn’t the most pressing concern. Louis has been talking to Gemma. When? How? Why?

"How are you here?" Harry exhales.

"Uh, I looked up your sister’s flower shop on Google. And I paid her a visit last week. She’s great, by the way,” Louis says. “I hope you don't mind…that I’m here."

"No," Harry shakes his head. Can’t do anything but be honest. "It’s so good to see you."

Louis smiles again. He can’t seem to stop. "You too. You look great."

"So do you," Harry suddenly feels like crying. It’s been weeks since he last saw Louis. Eventually he stopped tearing up every time he saw a picture of him on twitter or Instagram or the other countless social media outlets designed specifically for his torture.

Now, though, his eyes sting around the corners. And it isn't because Haley slaps her hand against his cheek. He turns his head and pouts at her. "Not nice."

Louis laughs and Harry's gaze flutters back to him. He's missed that laugh so much. He tries to look offended. "Not funny," he says just as firmly.

"A little funny," Louis counters.

He stands there wearing these tight fitting skinny jeans, a black tee, and a loose cardigan. He looks perfect. He looks warm. And Harry wants to hug him for so long he forgets where he ends and where Louis begins.

He thinks about summer nights in bed with Louis's arms around him and he doesn't know how he went so long without it. He wishes he never had to be without it again, misses it too much.

"Um. Did you want to come in for a bit?"

"Yes, thank you."

Harry hesitates for a moment and then shuffles up the steps to Gemma’s flat, feeling a little loopy off Louis’ proximity.

He suddenly regrets not handing Haley over to his mum when he had the chance, not that he ever would have seen this coming. He glances back twice just to be sure Louis is actually there. Louis lifts his head and smiles each time.

Harry leads him inside and takes Haley to her play area for tummy time. He comes back into the kitchen quickly, once again worrying Louis won’t be there and finds him sitting at the island, his arms folded on the marble surface.

“Would you like tea?” Harry asks.

“Please.”

Harry turns on the hob and turns back to face Louis, drumming his fingers along the countertop. “So. How’ve you been?”

“Good. Can’t complain too much,” he pauses. “I’ve missed you.”

Harry swallows. It’s not the first time Louis has said so. But this time hurts worse. “Me too,” Harry says quietly. "I thought you were in Sydney."

"I was. And then I came back," Louis says. His voice has dropped to an intimate lull. It's like adrenaline, the way it gets Harry's blood thrumming faster.

"Why?" Harry’s voice is at a gossamer note, so soft he’s not sure Louis’ heard him.

“I heard you were in London. That you have been for a few weeks now. And I realized I had unfinished business to take care of,” Louis says. “With you.”

Fuck. Harry nibbles at his lip while he listens. “Okay.”

Louis drops his gaze and focuses on his hands folded together on the countertop. “I know that we're at different places in our lives, I do. You're still just starting your life and I…"

"And you what?” Harry’s brows crease. “Louis, you're not even thirty."

Louis starts to smile. "Well, I'm still old. Compared to you."

"You're not. And even if you were, I'd probably- I think anyone would still like you even then. I'd- anyone would want you even if you were 40 or 50 or 60--"

"Harry," Louis says reproachfully.

"It's just the truth." And Harry feels embolden to speak every word of it. He thinks- he hopes, really- that Louis has come here to do the same.

"I’m glad you think so,” Louis says. He licks his lips. “I thought maybe that you were just interested in me because it was the summer and I was your boss and it all seemed like good fun. But it’s September now… And I don’t think one day has gone by that I haven’t thought of you.”

Harry can’t look away while he speaks.

“So, I came to ask you...” he pauses. Harry waits. “How do you feel about Sydney?"

Harry blinks. Not what he was expecting at all. "Um. Well, I've never been."

"We should fix that, shouldn't we?" Louis lifts his brows in question.

Harry takes a second to catch on, his heart beginning to inflate with foolish, foolish hope. "Are you asking me to come to Sydney with you?" he asks outright.

“I am, yes,” Louis says immediately. “To Sydney. And after that- I don’t have a plan, but I hope you’ll be there when I do. And if you end up in grad school, I want to be there for that. I want- I want you there for as long as possible, with me for as long as I can have you.”

Harry has to sit down now, exhaling a big, heavy breath like it’s a weight off his shoulders. He sits right beside Louis, can’t think of anywhere else he would rather be.

Louis runs his eyes over Harry’s face, his gaze imploring. “I didn’t know what to do when I left. I just thought I could go home and figure things out- It was stupid of me to leave. Without telling you how I felt. How I feel. I get it why you stopped responding. But I never meant to make you feel like I didn’t want you. The truth is, Harry, you’re like- you’re just- Okay, fuck. Maybe I should start over.”

“No,” Harry says, his voice breaking. “No, you’re doing well.”

Louis sighs. “Is it obvious yet that I'm in love with you?"

Harry laughs, dropping his head to his forearm resting against the countertop. He shuts his eyes and sucks in a deep breath, having reached that level of happiness some children do after too much ice cream.

He feels Louis’ hands in his hair and leans into his touch. Harry turns his head and then Louis leans in and lets his head fall against Harry's, forehead to forehead. "This isn’t how I planned to say this at all. I planned to whisk you away to Sydney and make you fall for me,” Louis mumbles. “But I love you, Harry. A lot. And it’s scary as fuck. And unbelievable. But it’s the truth.”

Harry nods as best as he can. “Me too,” he says, less eloquently. First love. And hopefully, the last too. “I love you too.”

Louis sighs in relief, his eyes slipping closed.

Harry mumbles, “I feel like having a cry.”

“You’re already crying, babe,” Louis informs him regretfully. And as proof, he drags his thumb under Harry’s eye, and it comes away wet.

Harry laughs again and tucks his face into Louis’ neck this time. “I feel like kissing you too.”

“Sounds like a much better idea,” Louis says.

They never have done anything with particular decency. So when they crash into each other and meet each other's mouths, it seems fitting.

After Haley falls asleep, they end up on the floor somehow beside forgotten cups of tea, tangled up together and not interested in untangling themselves anytime soon, kissing for what seems like forever.

But really forever hasn't even started.

“You should call Mal,” Harry says quietly.

Louis pulls back to look at him, brows creased.

Harry smiles. “Tell him to book another flight to Sydney.”

 

> > L < <

 

ONE YEAR LATER

His family is known for some of the best hotels all around the world. And so Louis has grown used to speedy operations and new sites appearing within months of their conception.

Even the school he and Harry eventually renovate in St. Lucy is finished within a matter of months, thanks to the careful and efficient hands of local Barbadians.

Louis’ relationship with Harry by contrast is a slow and careful construction. It progresses much like waking up—in stages you aren’t aware you’ve passed through until you’re wide-eyed and facing the world.

At some point, they adopt a dog. And name him Arthur. King Arthur, Harry corrects every time, being the an unabashed literature dork that he is.

Two months after that, and a week after the twins are born, they’re in the bed of their Parisian hotel room, sated and sweaty after what might be the best drunken sex they’ve ever had, and talk about adopting a human. That’s how Harry says it anyway.

“I love Arthur. I really love that damn dog.” he panted randomly to the ceiling. Louis turned his head on the pillow and looked at him confusedly, his chest ballooning with deep breaths.

“But,” Harry said, turning and meeting his gaze, “I think someday we should adopt a human.”

An important distinction to make yet again is that he was quite drunk.

But when they’re sober and having breakfast, they get Louis’ Macbook out and start looking over the many time-consuming steps of the adoption process. Not because they plan to start right away. Just to be sure it’s something they both want in the future. And from the look in Harry’s eyes, he thinks the answer is yes.

And then in June, they return to London for Lottie’s wedding.

Standing in the drawing room where Lottie and her bridesmaids are gathered, Louis vibrates with nervous energy and not just because his baby sister is getting married.

He has officially been in the clutches of Mr. Three-Oh for six months now. And there will never be a better time for this next phase in the marvellous edifice that is his life with Harry.

“Let me see it again,” Lucy says and plucks the black box from Lottie’s hand.

“How did you even manage to buy that if you two were together the whole time?” Zayn asks.

Pretty much everyone has congregated in that tiny room. Everyone but Harry.

“One word. Stealth,” Louis says. They respond to him with a condescending snort. He doesn't even take offense. Absolutely nothing could burst the bubble he's floating on.

He glances at his mum and finds her smiling, her eyes shining with oncoming tears. In her lap is Ernest, sound asleep, which, considering the pipes this kid has on him already, is how everyone likes him.

“I think you should do it here,” Lottie says. Everyone stops and looks at her. “At the reception. Not in front of everyone, if that’s not what you want. But here, today.”

Louis smiles. He was kind of hoping she would say that. “As long as you don't mind.”

“I think that's a great idea,” his dad chimes in, rocking Doris in his hands by the window. Not that Louis is surprised. Harry charmed the socks off this man when they first met. He pulled out a sheet of paper and began charting out the agricultural and economical benefits of equipping all Tomlinson properties with solar panels. (Update: They’ve already had them installed in Barbados and Sydney.)

“Me too,” Lucy says, handing the box back to him.

“Me three,” Zayn adds. Standing behind him is Liam with a smile on his face. He's still here after a year of their tumultuous relationship and even if they pretend otherwise, everyone knows they're head over heels and completely obsessed with each other.

Louis slides the box back into his pocket and looks to his mum. She's dabbing at her eyes now but finds the strength to nod. “I think it's perfect, Lou.”

And that's all he needs.

Harry doesn't have a part in the wedding party but he's happy enough rocking the babies in his arms and marveling over Lottie’s dress with Zendaya when she's headed down the aisle. And of course he attempts at every opportunity to make Louis laugh while he's standing with the rest of the groomsmen.

Somehow Louis makes it through the ceremony without succumbing to his ridiculousness.

At the reception, he leaves the table where the rest of the wedding party is seated and crosses the short distance to the table Harry occupies with Louis’ friends. He steps up behind Harry’s chair and leans in to speak into his ear, “Come for a walk with me?”

“I know what you’re up to,” Harry announces as soon as they’ve started through the garden and are out of view.

Louis stops walking, brows raised, heart in his throat.

“Zayn told me you were planning to prank Lottie,” Harry says. “You can’t do it, Louis. She’ll never forgive you for mucking up her wedding.”

Louis rolls his eyes. “When will Zayn shut that big mouth of his?”

“You should be happy he told me. So I could stop you from making a grave mistake.”

“Grave might be too strong a word, love,” Louis replies, tugging his hand so they’re walking once again. “No worries. I’ve decided not to prank Lottie.”

They walk through the maze-like garden with it’s low-cut hedges and twinkling paper lanterns suspended over head. A fountain bubbles nearby and the white stones crunch beneath their feet.

Meanwhile, the black box burns a hole in Louis’ pocket.

They walk to the edge of the garden where the fountain is on their left and straight ahead is a wooden gazebo, wrapped in more glowing fairy lights.

“This is beautiful,” Harry says.

“Yes, very beautiful.” Louis is looking at him though. Always looking at him. No matter where they are, Harry is always the most beautiful thing in his vicinity.

“You know, I've been thinking,” Harry says.

He turns to him and holds his hand tight. “It'd be nice to have one of these.”

Louis looks around. “Yeah, might have to move into a bigger house though. If you want a garden like this.”

“No. Not the garden. I mean, yes, we could have that too. But I meant like, you know, a wedding.”

Louis just looks at him. “Okay. We’d have to be engaged first.”

“Well, obviously. I was getting to that point.”

Louis pauses there for a long moment. He releases a big heavy sigh and tugs the box out of his pocket. “You have always been the most frustrating person I've ever met,” he says, sinking his knee into the earth, popping the box open. He exhales. “And I want you to marry me.”

Harry slaps his hand over his mouth and somehow manages to look like a startled toddler.

“You are ridiculous and unpredictable and I swear half the time I have no idea what we’re doing.” Louis sucks in a big deep breath, once again like plunging into the ocean, back where they all started. “But I love you. I’m in love you. And I think we should have one of these too.”

Harry shuts his eyes, prompting two fat tears to fall over his cheeks. He drags his sleeve over his eyes and tugs Louis up and kisses him firmly.

He doesn’t stop hugging him. “I told your mum I wanted to marry you yesterday,” he speaks quietly, his voice a deep rumble in Louis’ ear like fresh coffee percolating or waves crashing through a hollow cave. “And she said I should ask you today. And I've been practically shitting myself this whole day because I had no ring and no plan. Just this question.”

“That's all you need, babe. I'm yours,” Louis replies.

Harry presses another kiss to his mouth. “That’s all you would have needed as well. But…I want the ring.”

Their plan is not the best one, as it turns out, because once they're officially engaged, the only thing they want is to spend the rest of their night together. Unfortunately, there is more socializing to be done, more dances to be had and toasts to be made.

But it's all worth it after they return and are glued together on the dance floor and Harry says, “Perhaps I should take your last name.”

Louis lifts his head off Harry’s shoulder. “Why?”

“I think it would be nice to be a Tomlinson.”

Louis rests his forehead against Harry’s chest, overwhelmed and trying very hard not to weep at his sister’s wedding. “Harry Tomlinson, huh?” he mumbles. “I like that a lot.”

> <

Tomlinson-Styles works better for a number of reasons.

It looks a lot nicer on the buildings they erect, for one. And there are quite a few of them over time--schools and community centers and playgrounds that they start building in the countries they visit. Their unspoken speciality, for sure. Even after Harry finally starts teaching when he's 25.

Secondly. It’s not that he hasn’t enjoyed being a Tomlinson all these years, but for Louis, being a Tomlinson-Styles is just a lot more fun.

Lastly, whenever they confirm a new design, Harry coins it a “Tomlinson Style.”

Do you get it, Louis? A Tomlinson Style.

Yes, love. That's hilarious.

Louis fell in love with a toddler. The older they get, the more it proves true.

But he wouldn't change a thing.

Sometimes he wakes up on the couch with Harry’s feet in his lap and the kids snoring around them, and he doesn’t even know where this all came from, doesn’t know how he could get so lucky.

And sometimes, Harry will look over at him and smile because he seems to be thinking the same.

“I love you,” he says each time.

It washes over him like a wave and when he resurfaces, he tells him, “I love you too.”

><

Like a wave on the turquoise sea...

...I'll crash until you notice me.

The End