Harry Styles loves his job.
He’s been working at Just Around the Corner! for four years, starting out as a busboy and graduating to counter help and keyholder. Eighteen years old and fresh-faced, new to Manchester to start uni, and eager to experience everything he could get his hands on, Harry handed out his CV to every place that had a HIRING stamped across their front entrance. There was a restaurant down the street on the corner that offered Harry a job – and with it a higher pay – before his beloved café did, but Harry held out. A few days later the shop owner James gave him a call with a quick, “you’re hired, you start tomorrow!”, and since then his days have been filled with the smell of coffee and the bustle of his own uni life plus all his lovely customers.
Not all Harry’s customers are lovely, if he’s being honest. There’s Ms. Motts who’s hunched over with narrow eyes and a sharp tongue that lashes out at anything that seems out of sorts – including other people’s personal preference in love, how loud the music is, and the mole on Liam’s neck. She’s quite rude and Harry doesn’t like that much, so instead of giving her overly cheery customer service, she only gets “normal” cheery customer service. It’s not really Harry’s style, but it’s either that or throwing coffee in her face after another rude remark about the two girls in the corner cuddling.
It’s not just Ms. Motts who grates on Harry’s nerves, there are a fair amount. It surprises Liam because Harry is the most patient person he’s ever known, or so he says. There are the new kids to uni, still stuck up from their A-Levels and rich fathers, the annoying twelve year old boy who deliberately kicks over the “Wet-Floor” sign that’s up every so often, and then there’s Him.
“He’s not God, Harry,” Liam says, “he has a name.”
“I don’t care,” Harry says, crossing his eyes at Liam. “You know how rude he is, he’s always on the phone and speaks to us like we’re way beneath him. You don’t like him either. Clean that spot in the corner, please.”
Liam sighs, and swipes a wet rag across the counter, dirtying it up more than cleaning it, and fixes Harry with a look. It’s a look that Harry knows to mean he’s about to start a very long speech, so he just grabs a new dish cloth, sprays the counter and gets to work.
He listens vaguely to Liam, a light drone over his own thoughts, as he runs through the day. A Tuesday, which means it’ll be quite busy right as they open. As most students think that Tuesdays are more important than Mondays, and will thus need either a coffee with extra espresso or three teas with no milk lots of sugar to start their morning.
“All I’m saying,” Liam is saying, finishing his speech, “is that he’s a stranger and you shouldn’t have these feelings for a stranger.”
Harry groans, a long, annoying, put-on groan that has Liam cringing beside him. Four years of friendship is really helpful in the How To Annoy Your Friends When They’re Annoying You handbook.
“I don’t have feelings for him,” Harry says, glancing at the clock. It’s half five, which is entirely too early to be awake for normal people, yet definitely favours Harry’s internal body clock. Even back when he lived with his parents he was up early every day, even on Saturdays, so the café suits him quite well.
Harry flips the CLOSED sign to OPEN and unlocks the door, sweeping his eyes across the café to make sure it’s clean and ready for the bustle of the day.
“You might not have feelings for him, but you do have that weird thing,” Liam says, leaning on the counter. His elbows are smudging marks on the counter top; Harry stares at them until he takes them off.
“It’s not a weird thing,” Harry says flippantly, crouching down in front of the baked goods display to make sure everything looks aesthetically pleasing. The donuts are perfectly plump, the rolls are perfectly frosted, and the cookies look so perfectly chewy Harry’s mouth might be watering just a little.
(It might be a little weird.)
Speaking of their perfect baked goods, it’s a good thing their baker isn’t out in the main part of the café because he would be siding with Liam and Harry does Not have the patience for that this morning.
“’s a bit weird,” Niall says with a full mouth, coming out of the back. Harry’s head falls forward and hits the glass case, reverberating down his neck.
“Go away,” he says petulantly. “I already have Liam on my case.”
“What if he doesn’t come back here because he’s getting such rude service from you?” Niall asks, a shit-eating grin on his face as he hops up on the counter. Liam shoves him off.
Harry doesn’t dignify Niall’s rude remark with a response and goes about making sure the till is set up and full of coins. He doesn’t want to have to experience the mad dash to the backroom to get more change in the middle of rush hour which is from six to ten and then from half eleven until about two. In other words, it’s always rush hour.
“Zayn told me that you told him you thought the bloke was fit,” Liam says. He has his eyes fixed warily on the front door, only to let them dart towards Niall who keeps looking at the pastries with longing eyes. “Honestly, Niall, you baked them yourself. Do you have no self control?”
“I baked them so I should be able to eat them,” Niall says, flipping Harry off when he mouths along. It’s like a comedy sketch except nobody laughs.
“So?” Liam prompts when Harry continues to tidy up the books on the horribly small bookshelf in the corner of the room by the plush armchairs. Zayn had been “remodelling” his room and decided that the café Really Needed a Homey Touch, so the bookshelf was dragged in and left there. Strangely enough, it’s collected a decent amount of things from the employees and loyal customers. There’s a short, round vase that’s bright yellow and is sporting a happy face on it’s front without any flowers – it usually holds extra change that the customers say is a tip for the employees, which is nice – and there are a few books that Liam left here after he was done with them. They’re all law books which is super unhelpful for the Casual vibe the bookshelf is going for, but it’s better than nothing.
One day Harry is going to own his a café of his own and he’ll have a very tall bookshelf with only novels and maybe some flowers. He’s already well into his second degree and second thesis of Business Management – his first being a double major of Sociology and English Literature, the latter of which will definitely help the aesthetics of his own café in the future. His savings are doing quite well as well; living with three other people really keeps rent down.
“So?” Harry parrots in an annoyingly accurate imitation of Liam. Liam, the saint, doesn’t roll his eyes because he’s a better person than Harry.
“So,” Liam emphasizes, “is Zayn lying to me? Did you or did you not tell him you think Wrong Name Bloke is fit?”
“Wrong Name Bloke is the stupidest code name I’ve ever heard,” Harry declares, “and it’s very obvious who we’re talking about.” It is the stupidest thing Harry’s ever heard; they all know Wrong Name Bloke’s name anyway.
“Only because you tell everyone how much you hate him,” Niall says from the chair he’s sitting in, lazily scrolling through his phone.
“Don’t you have things to be cooking? Baking? Working? Do you work?” The barrage of questions hits Niall just as quickly as Harry does with a rolled up newspaper.
“Sometimes I think you’re a more annoying and violent Mother Goose,” Niall groans, batting him off before dragging his lazy arse back into the kitchen.
“Mother Goose would never avoid her friends questions like this,” Liam says primly. Harry shoots him his most unimpressed look but Liam just smiles at him. Goddamn Liam.
“Zayn is a filthy liar who may be telling the truth,” Harry finally says, ducking behind the counter when the bell dings and the door opens. Liam looks like he’s going to say something but the customer is rattling off her order and she looks Crazed with a capital C, so he just shuts his mouth and punches into the till.
When Harry squeezes past him to grab a new marker, Liam hisses this isn’t over. Harry just pinches his bum.
It’s a good thing that James is constantly on holidays and entrusts the café to Harry and Co. because if he weren’t, they’d probably all be fired.
It’s ten after 8 when the door dings – Harry keeps having the thought of taking the damn bell off the door during rush hours but knows they’ll all forget to put it back up and thus miss a customer in the quiet hours as they do coursework or nap – which has Harry’s back straightening out and neck prickling.
He’s possibly a little bit dramatic, but it’s the shittiest part of his day.
Alright, a lot dramatic.
“Extra large macchiato?” Liam says from somewhere to Harry’s left. He keeps himself busy preparing the drink on hand – a simple green tea – and definitely doesn’t listen.
He doesn’t reply. He never does.
“Honestly, I can’t believe that slipped past her. Are you pulling my leg?” The voice drags closer to Harry as he hands over the small green tea – what’s the point? – and turns abruptly to grab an extra large cup without having to make uncomfortable eye-contact.
So, Zayn was right. Zayn is always right. Harry does think Wrong Name Bloke – he cannot believe he just called him that – is fit; he has eyes doesn’t he? God, it’s mid September and the bloke is still bronze, which seems criminally unfair to Harry, who’s tan had disappeared instantly the first day the temp dropped below zero.
But just because Harry is attracted to someone doesn’t mean that the person isn’t rude, or terrible, which Wrong Name Bloke is. He’s been a regular since the very end of August, only ever coming in on weekdays in between 8:00 and 8:20. Harry knows not to be too rude whenever he comes in at 8:20 because he’s obviously late, or almost late, for something, and Harry wouldn’t wish that on his worst enemy.
Wrong Name Bloke might be his worst enemy.
“No fookin’ way,” Wrong Name Bloke says. Harry can see him grimace from the corner of his eye. Harry would grimace too if he swore on the phone to a colleague. At least that’s who Harry thinks he’s speaking to. He’s always dressed nicely, but not too fancy, so he obviously has an office job – weekdays, home to a nice girl who (hopefully) doesn’t take his bullshit by dinnertime – but it’s casual enough that he doesn’t have to wear socks.
(Harry is vehemently Not Creepy, he just noticed that Wrong Name Bloke wasn’t wearing socks last week when the weather was a bit warmer, and that his ankles were also equally as bronze.)
Harry finishes making the drink, fits the cup’s lid on a little aggressively, and scribbles on the cup. The paper darkens where he presses the marker too hard.
“Extra large macchiato,” he drones, sliding the drink across the counter. Wrong Name Bloke looks up from where he’s staring at the floor, listening to his call companion chat. His eyes narrow slightly at the name on the cup, but he picks it up silently.
Harry is about to count it as a victory until –
“It’s Louis,” Wrong Name Bloke says, not even moving his phone away from his ear. “L-O-U-I-S. I thought you’d remember from yesterday.”
“Sorry!” Harry chirps in his nicest voice, “was trying to make sure I got the order right. I’ll get it tomorrow, I promise.”
Louis takes a sip from his drink – perfectly made because Harry isn’t actually the Worst contrary to popular belief, Liam – and half shrugs, turning on his heel, saying, sorry, what? into his phone.
Harry watches him go with his own narrowed eyes. He’s been spelling Louis’ name wrong since the previous Wednesday, and this is the first time he’s actively said something about it. And he seems to think Harry’s just dumb instead of doing it on purpose; he knows how to spell Louis, thank you very much, he went to school.
“I’m going to have to up my game,” Harry says thoughtfully, taking a sip from his water. “He doesn’t realise I’m doing it on purpose.”
“You’re the worst,” Liam complains, sighing heavily right before he sneaks a cookie from their stash under the counter. “Truly.”
The next day Louis orders a muffin with his extra large macchiato and when Harry hands over his purchases with a cup that spells LEWEE, he turns away before Louis can say anything.
“You’re a coward,” Zayn says when Louis leaves the café, from his perch on the barstool at the counter. He has a stack of essays in front of him and a red pen in his hand; he’s staring at Harry with quiet amusement, none of the essays even open.
“I’ve no idea what you’re on about,” Harry says, breaking off a piece of Zayn’s croissant for himself.
“You spelled his name wrong the day after he told you how,” Zayn says, “and you didn’t even stick around to see his reaction.”
Harry shrugs and munches on the croissant. Niall is very talented. “So?”
“So you’re a coward.”
“Gotta start slow,” Harry says, “can’t reveal all my tricks at once. Eggs in a basket. Whatever the saying is.”
“You’re an idiot,” Zayn says fondly. “An idiot and a coward.”
Harry shrugs again. “If it bothers you so much you can sit with the rest of the customers over there.” He jerks his thumb over his shoulder. He’s never usually this snippy with his best friend, even when he’s mocking him, but this week is already clawing at him. He has so much work to do and can only do it at night, when he’s exhausted from working in the café all day. Saving up for your own restaurant while doing a whole degree online is extremely tiring.
“This stool has my name on it,” Zayn says, because it does. “Besides, how am I supposed to bother you from over there?”
“Are we bothering Harry about Louis again?” Liam says, waving goodbye to one of their regulars, Paul.
“We’re not calling him Wrong Name Bloke anymore?” Harry quips. “Shame. T’was a great name.”
“Don’t say t’was,” Liam says crossly, “you sound like an idiot.”
“Will my friends ever stop calling me an idiot?” Harry wonders aloud as he walks over to the register to take the next customer’s order. He doesn’t know how he’s the one who always has to make Louis’ drink, but he’s definitely sure it’s Liam’s fault.
“Can I have an extra shot of espresso?” Louis asks Liam on Friday, covering the speaker of his phone for the first time in Harry’s memory. “Work’s going to be hectic today.” He’s dressed down, a simple white collared shirt and black pants, Harry notes, so how in the world is it going to be “hectic”?
“Sure,” Liam says easily, glancing at Harry. Harry sighs and sets about making the drink, muscle memory, until he adds the extra shot and presents it to Louis.
Louis stares at the cup for a solid ten seconds before looking up at Harry.
“Yeah, I’m still here,” Louis says suddenly, left eye twitching just slightly as he grabs his cup. He nods to Liam and, without even sparing a glance at Harry, turns and leaves.
“That was fantastic,” Harry breathes at the same time Liam says, “You are a child”.
“It’s funny,” Harry says. Liam doesn’t protest because he knows Harry well enough, but it looks like he wants to.
Two weeks later, when Harry is lying on the couch typing out an assignment, Zayn clears his throat.
“If you have something to say, Zayn, – ”
“Just say it,” Liam cuts in, mimicking Harry’s voice. “Go on, Zayn.”
“Harry,” Zayn says. “Haz. My favourite best friend.”
(“Excuse me?” Liam splutters and Zayn says: “I’ve known Harry longer. Sorry bro, you know I love you. And Niall too, because even though he isn’t here he’d totes know what I said.”)
“Don’t say totes,” Harry says absently, hitting backspace more forcefully than necessary.
“You know Louis is just going to think you’re flirting with him,” Zayn says, peering at Harry through his glasses. He has the ever present stack of essays on his lap and a stern look on his face.
“Do you ever get your students essays back on time?” Harry asks him.
“Stop avoiding,” Zayn reprimands.
Harry would never admit this, not even under threat of death, but he can see Zayn’s point. It’s not like he’s glaring at Louis when he hands him his cup, it’s more of a “have a nice day!” smile paired with an incorrect name. It’s just because Harry doesn’t know how to actually be mean, and it’s not even like he wants to. He just wants Louis to realise that talking on the phone instead of being polite to customer service workers isn’t nice.
So, yeah. Louis is fit, and Harry can see how it would seem like flirting, but it’s not.
“’m not attracted to douchebags,” Harry finally says, pulled from his thoughts when Liam throws an apple at him. He takes a bite and holds up a finger to silence Zayn when he opens his mouth.
“Now is not the time to do a run-through of my ex-boyfriends, Zayn,” he says firmly, crunching through the apple. Who even likes Granny Smiths? “You know they were all nice and perfect until they showed their douchebag side. Can’t be my type if I don’t even know it’s who they are.”
“I respectfully disagree,” Zayn says, as per usual, “but my point is that even if he is not a douchebag, he’s sort of your type.”
“How?” Harry says incredulously. “You don’t even know him!”
“I talk to him all the time,” Liam pipes up. “He’s a regular, you know.” Zayn nods seriously from his armchair.
“Excuse me, Liam – ”
“Yeah, and last week when you took the morning off to finish an assignment him and I chatted,” Zayn cuts in.
“Excuse me?” Harry says again, a little louder this time. He hasn’t been this offended since Niall told him that Gemma was the ‘better Styles’. “You both are talking to my worst enemy without telling me?”
Liam says, “It’s your own fault if you don’t see him and I chatting before he walks over to collect his drink”, at the same time Zayn says, “Your worst enemy? Please, Harry, be reasonable.”
“Anyway,” Zayn says, after Harry stares at them silently for too long. “He’s going to think you’re flirting with him if you keep this up, so either quit or make it known you’re not… If you’re not.”
“I’m not!” Harry exclaims, and he maybe sounds like a teenager, not an almost-twenty-three year old, but nobody can prove a thing.
Okay, so. He might be. But not purposefully.
The weekend passes without incident; Harry and his friends going out for drinks and resolutely not thinking about spending the money they don’t really have and getting some class work done on Sunday. Typical weekend. Super typical. Except for –
Except for the fact that Harry spends all weekend thinking about new ways to spell Louis’ name. He’s not, like, obsessed or anything, he’s just committed to his cause.
On Monday Harry passes Louis a cup that says phooey and smiles at him when Louis’ jaw tightens.
“You’re terrible,” Liam says as he passes him to get a new dish rag. Louis hasn’t left yet and quirks an eyebrow at Liam, his eyes flicking between the two of them before nodding to himself – or the person nattering at him through the phone – and turning on his heel to leave.
“Uneventful,” Harry mutters, finger tapping his chin. “I need a reaction.”
“Why do you need a reaction?” Niall asks poking his head through the doors. There’s flour streaked across his cheek and he’s chewing something chocolately. There’s a smear on his lip.
“I need to tell him how rude it is to be on the phone while conversing with customer service staff,” Harry quips, throwing a napkin at Niall.
“You could just tell him,” Liam says pointedly, “just interrupt his conversation.”
Harry levels him with a look.
“Where’s the fun in that?”
Tuesday brings gooey, Wednesday brings poo-y (this is Niall’s definite favourite but he doesn’t admit it to Liam because his stern look is very fatherly and Niall hates disappointing people. Louis closes his eyes for five whole seconds before turning and walking away; Harry was very happy with himself Wednesday), and Thursday brings chop suey.
Friday, though. Friday is so different that Harry gets drunk on tequila that night at the club with his friends. He never drinks tequila.
At 7:55 Harry ducks into the back room to chug a mug of very strongly caffeinated tea. He has a long day ahead of him – he works until 1 and then he has to write an online exam and then – providing he feels good about his exam – he has to get ready and go out and party. A long day, but hopefully a good one.
He comes back out front and sits on the ground, his back against the counter as he sips a new mug of tea, just as strong and just as hot.
The bell tinkles and he makes to get up, but Liam rolls his eyes and says I’ve got this, take your time because Liam knows how stressed he is and how important this tea is. Liam is great.
“Hi, how’s it going today?” Liam’s voice rings through the café clearly. There aren’t too many people sitting at the tables yet, just a bit early for the rush and too late for early-birds. “You’re early today. The usual?”
“Yes, please,” Louis’ voice says, causing Harry to snap his head up to Liam. “Busy day at work today, wanted to get an early start.”
“Always smart,” Liam says, ringing up his purchase. “I’ll get to your order in just a sec, let me take this one so I can do both! Hi, what can I get for you?”
A female customer rattles off her order, and Harry makes to get up – he can’t let Liam do both orders, even though they are quite simple – but Liam sticks his leg out and kicks him in the shin. Liam glances down as he punches the order into the register and his furrowed brow is enough for Harry - “stay there”. So Harry does.
“Your order will be ready in minute, Claire,” Liam says. He steps around Harry as he flattens himself against the bar and starts to make Louis’ drink.
“So,” Louis says, clearing his throat a bit. “Where’s the other guy?”
Harry hits his head when he throws it back to look at Liam, but Liam disguises it as he clanks around with the machine.
“Hmm?” Liam says, his back to Louis – and Harry – “Who?”
“The guy who usually makes my drinks, he’s here every morning but never wears a nametag. The curly lad.”
Harry shoves his fist in his mouth so he doesn’t make any noises. He’s not really sure what type of noises he’d make, maybe a laugh or a snort, or a marriage proposal.
“Oh,” Liam says, cheerfully. Git. “Harry! Yeah, he’s just in the back right now, he has a long day ahead of him so he’s taking a quick break.”
“Ah,” Louis says. “Harry. Well, I hope you make drinks as well as Harry does, Liam.”
Liam laughs as he hands Louis’ cup over, with a perfectly written Louis. “’m not so sure about that, let us know on Monday.”
“Will do,” Louis laughs. Harry hears him start to leave, the scuffle against the floor as he and Claire swap places, Liam already starting on her drink.
And then –
“Let him know I hope his long day flies by.”
Liam looks up from the espresso machine and grins at Louis, his foot nudging Harry’s thigh.
“Sure, mate,” he says. “See you Monday.”
The door tinkles and Harry lets his head fall against the counter.
“You can get up now,” Liam says, “go man the register.”
“Um?” Harry and Liam both jolt at Claire’s voice, still waiting for her drink.
“Not you, sorry, oh jesus,” Liam says, blushing furiously, “Harry get up, you idiot.” Harry cracks his back as he straightens up, wincing as he puts his now empty mug in the tub of dirty dishes.
“You were down there the whole time?” Claire asks, raising her eyebrow at Harry. Harry shrugs and wanders over to the register.
The three of them are silent for a second, before Claire gasps at the same time the bell tinkles.
“You should give that guy your number,” Claire says, smirking at Harry. Harry definitely doesn’t blush and he definitely doesn’t think about doing exactly that.
“He’s a customer,” Harry says, ignoring when Liam and Claire both roll their eyes. “Now if you could excuse me, I have to work. What can I help you with?”
(Harry gets too drunk on too much tequila that night and waxes poetic about Louis’ eyes to an equally drunk Zayn. Either Zayn was completely out of his mind or is a fantastic friend, because he doesn’t mention it to Harry the next morning when they’re curled together on the sofa whimpering into mugs of tea about their hangovers.)
Zayn was not out of his mind and is definitely not a good friend, because when Monday morning rolls around he jumps up off his stool to greet Louis like they’re the best of friends. And sure, Harry could brush that off, it’s fine, Zayn’s always here, Louis’ always here, they’re bound to speak a few times, but Harry can’t brush it off when Zayn smirks at him over Louis’ shoulder and winks when he turns away.
Zayn is, undoubtedly, the worst.
“Hi, Louis,” Liam chirps, punching his code into the register. “The usual?”
“Yes, please,” Louis says on the tail end of a laugh. “Maybe one day I’ll get something different but it’s not going to be today.”
Liam and Louis chat while Harry makes his drink, taking his time to pour it slowly and fit a cardboard warmer around it. Harry’s noticed that Louis doesn’t wear gloves, even though it’s gotten quite cold outside in the last few weeks. He does wear a scarf though, a nice navy blue that compliments his eyes so nicely that he just looks like he’s stepped out of an ocean.
Calm down, Styles.
It takes the entire time of Harry making the drink for him to notice that Louis isn’t on the phone.
The café’s filled up a bit so Liam’s busy at the register, which leaves Louis to drum his fingers against the countertop as he chats to Zayn. When Harry slides the cup towards him, Louis grips it tightly in his non-gloved hands and stares at the side.
Harry’s drawn a tic-tac-toe game on the side, one single X in the top left box of it.
“Am I supposed to play this?” Louis says, looking up at Harry. Harry doesn’t know what to do – Louis never speaks to him, and Harry never tries to make conversation. It’s usually a thanks and a no problem, depending on how badly he’s spelt ‘Louis’ that particular day.
Harry can see Zayn staring at him from Louis’ left side, where his workspace is set up. He has the whole “furrowed eyebrows” and “Harry, I swear to God” look on his face.
“If you want,” Harry says, shrugging. He doesn’t think he’s taken a long time to respond but going off of Louis’ quirked eyebrow maybe he has. “I’m sure you’re quite busy, don’t want to waste any time on a silly game.”
Louis stares at him for a second before his lips quirk up.
“I am definitely busy,” he says, checking his watch. “But I come in early to beat the rush.” He tugs a pen out of the pocket of his dress pants – what the… – and scribbles an O in the very middle box.
Harry narrows his eyes at him, but something tells him that Louis knows he’s fighting off a smile.
“I have to work,” Harry says, waving his hand towards the customers waiting for their drinks.
Louis shrugs. “I have a few minutes, take your turn whenever you can, I’ll just chat to Zayn.” Harry reaches for the cup to mark his X before turning away to make drinks. He sees Zayn’s gleeful face out of the corner of his eye.
Louis waits for Harry to take his turn in between three different customers. As soon as Harry gives someone their drink, he goes to the counter and grabs Louis’ cup, contemplating his next move. It looks like it’s going to be a draw.
It is a draw, and Louis smiles brightly at Harry when he turns to leave.
“Better luck next time, Harry,” he says, with a quick wave before the door shuts softly behind him.
Harry just stares after him, the glare from the morning sun cutting through the door. When it’s pulled open by a mum with a baby strapped to her chest, it blinds Harry so much he has to shut his eyes.
All he can see is Louis.
“Oh, no,” he mutters to himself, grabbing the rag from its hook and sweeping it uselessly across the marked up counter. “Oh, no.”
“Caught on, have you?” Zayn says from his perch. “You guys are cute.”
“All they did was play a game of tic-tac-toe, Zayn,” Liam chides, grabbing the rag from Harry’s hand and instructing him to sit down on the upturned bucket presumably to gather his thoughts.
“Thanks, Li,” Harry says, scrubbing a hand over his face.
“It was pretty cute though,” Liam says under to breath to Zayn, grinning at Harry over his shoulder.
Harry ignores both of them.
Is this what his poor life has come to? Thirsting after customers who have pretty eyes and a sharp jaw? He knows next to nothing about Louis, he definitely 100% does not have a crush on him.
Harry knows he doesn’t like wearing socks even when it’s so cold that the goose bumps on his neck don’t flatten over, and they’re raised so much that Harry finds himself counting them in the few seconds it takes to hand Louis his drink. He knows that his voice varies from being shrill to low, soft and hard but never mean, even when he’s snapping to someone on his phone there’s an unbearable fondness to his face. He knows that Louis cared enough to ask Liam where he was that one day, and cared enough to tell Liam that he wished Harry well…
He knows how his name sounds from Louis’ lips.
He knows enough.
“Do I know enough?”
Liam looks over at him from the register, shrugging.
“I don’t know, Haz,” he says, a smile tugging at his lips. “But trying never hurt anybody.”
Harry looks at Zayn for help. He knows him the best, really, he should be able to give him some good, sound advice.
“How the fuck would I know?” Zayn says instead of some brilliant life advice that Harry was looking for. “But like Liam said, you can always try.”
Harry just groans dramatically for an extended period of time, prompting Niall to yell jesus, Harry, you’ve got some pipes! from the back.
It starts like just any other Tuesday.
Harry and Niall open the shop at five and man everything until Liam comes waltzing in around half six, whistling and snapping his fingers at them. Niall picks it up and they start harmonizing some tune that may be from a show tune – Harry’s too tired to care.
“Please,” he moans, forehead pressed to the counter, “stop singing.”
“Lighten up, Harry,” Niall snaps, “Louis will be here in an hour and you can make moon eyes at him and pretend to hate him when you secretly love him, but until then let Liam and I have some fun.”
It’s quiet for a moment, just the whirl of the dishwasher breaking through.
“Jesus, Niall,” Harry says, “tell me how you really feel.”
“Just did,” Niall says simply, stalking into the kitchen, the door swinging shut behind him. Harry looks at Liam who just shrugs.
“Maybe he’s just jealous,” Liam says, “Louis’ a good looking bloke.”
“Neither you nor Niall are into boys,” Harry points out. Liam shrugs.
“I can appreciate a good face is all I’m saying,” he says, staring off into the distance. “And arse if I’m being honest.”
Harry gasps. “Liam! Are you checking out customers while you work?!”
Liam levels him with a stare.
“Harry,” he says very plainly. Harry isn’t excited for what is sure to come next. “Anyone with two eyes can see that Louis is an attractive guy. Also, anyone with two eyes can tell he’s only got his two eyes on you.”
Instead of dignifying Liam with a reply, Harry just sticks his tongue out at him.
The thing is, if Harry had even attempted a reply to that, it would have just been garbled nonsense. His thoughts have been occupied with quick bursts of Louis’ face for days now, weeks probably, but ever since yesterday morning it’s been non-stop.
Louis this, Louis that, Louis now, Louis later, Louis Louis Louis.
It’s like because Harry had staved off writing Louis’ name properly for so long it’s all he can think about. He’s obsessed.
It sounds like a French pastry. Something crumbly and savoury, something so addicting that people go back for seconds and thirds in the same day, the same hour. Something that melts in your mouth the second your tongue touches it.
Harry bets that Louis would melt in his mouth.
“Calm the fuck down,” Harry mutters to himself, shaking his head out of his daydream. He ignores the look Liam gives him and sets about his tasks, just as the bell dings for their first customer.
It’s just another Tuesday.
Until it isn’t.
The flow of the café isn’t too bad today. It’s never too busy, never too dull, all of Harry’s favourite customers making an appearance in the crisp autumn air.
All in all, it’s a good Tuesday. Harry once heard from his mother or read in one of his sister’s magazines that Tuesdays were the worst day of the week because on Mondays everyone is just like “yeah, okay, Monday, let’s do this,” but nobody ever prepares themselves for Tuesday. So it’s usually the worst, because Monday was alright, actually, and Wednesday is hump day – so, so close to the weekend – and Thursday is like right there and Friday is Friday. So that leaves Tuesday, a standalone day that just makes people boring old drags in their miserable lives. But it’s a good Tuesday.
This should’ve been Harry’s first clue.
8:01 brings the jingle of the door and a gust of cool air. Harry shivers, wrapping his arms around himself as he watches Louis take six strides to the register where he waits in line behind an old man who can’t seem to remember what he orders every Tuesday.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Wilkinson, Harry’s got your order ready,” Liam says politely, pointing to the steaming cup of black coffee with two splashes of milk and one and a half sugars. Mr. Wilkinson nods his thanks and shuffles over to a corner. Zayn watches him with a fond eye, before turning and staring directly at Harry, glancing once towards Louis.
“You know you can, like, work at home, right?” Harry says to him, pointing a finger at him. “One day I’ll stop buying you drinks on my discount and you’ll have to pay.”
“No, I won’t,” Zayn says in a bored voice, looking back down at the essay in front of him. “Liam will just give me something, or Niall. You’re not my only sugar daddy.”
Harry cringes so hard he’s surprised his neck doesn’t seize up.
He gets Louis’ cup ready, noting that he’s having the exact same thing as usual. He’s pressing a warmer around the cup when he notices that Louis’ on the phone again.
“Charlotte, please, – ” Louis sighs dramatically and rolls his eyes before locking eyes with Harry. It’s then that the coffee machine makes a few loud and obnoxious sounds before sputtering to a halt.
“Uh,” Harry says, breaking eye contact. He turns and stares at the machine. Out of all times in the day to break down, it’s when Louis the cutie with no socks and a slightly rude habit is waiting for his coffee.
Harry hits the machine.
“C’mon,” he whines. “Please?”
He hits it again.
“Maybe,” Louis says, stifling a laugh. “Maybe it’ll work if you stop hitting it?”
Harry throws him a glance over his shoulder and to his utter glee – and also slight mortification – Louis is grinning at him.
Before Harry can say something snarky and/or hilarious back, Louis blinks and rolls his eyes.
“Yes, I know you’re not hitting anything,” he says into his phone, “I’m talking to the cute boy at the café I told you about.”
And then it’s like – silence.
The weak splutters of the coffee machine die out and the scratching of Zayn’s pen disappears into the abyss. There’s no door jingle or clanging from the kitchen, no chatter from guests or the quiet hiss of the heat. Nothing to be heard, and the only thing Harry can see is Louis’ eyes widen before he presses his lips together.
Harry turns back to the coffee machine.
“Please,” he murmurs once more, touching the top of it lovingly. “I haven’t even yelled at you today, just… please finish making this coffee. Louis’ gotta get his coffee.”
The sounds in the café are back – the vent starts hissing and the patrons keep chattering – but it’s all white noise to Harry. He hears Louis’ voice over it all.
“Yes – I,” he sighs again, “oh, do shut up. Stop laughing, Lottie, it really isn’t funny. Yes, he heard me. No, you cannot tell mum. Charlotte, I swear to – ”
When Harry turns back to hand Louis his cup – the coffee machine decided to work, and the foamer gave him absolutely no trouble – Louis is staring at his phone.
“She hung up on me,” he says, outrage littering his face. He’s grinning though, the corners of his eyes crinkled and the tips of his lips quirked up.
“Sorry about that,” Harry says, grabbing the marker, half turned towards Louis, half turned towards Zayn who looks like Christmas has come early.
“Her only brother,” Louis rants on, “calling at the only time I can, and she hangs up on me.”
“Absolutely awful,” Harry agrees. He tries not to smile when he does, but he can’t help it. Rude habit Wrong Name Bloke was literally just calling his sister in the morning. Harry feels bad that he kept spelling his name wrong, but also feels super great about it because it obviously kept him interested.
He called Harry cute.
“Anyway,” Louis says, toying with the cuff of his blazer, finger rubbing the button subconsciously. “Sorry you had to hear all that.”
“It’s okay,” Harry says, scribbling on the cup before pushing the drink across the counter.
This is the point in the exchange where Harry would wait for Louis’ reaction to his name and then turn away before he could say something to him about it. This time, though, he wants to wait to see his reaction and what he’ll do afterwards.
Louis maintains eye contact with Harry until the cup is firmly in his grasp. When he turns it around he takes a sip of it and nods at Harry, before his eyes dart down.
There, in what may well be Harry’s neatest writing, is his number, accompanied by a smiley face.
“Oh,” Louis says, any and all tension seeping from his face. “Okay.”
“Yeah?” Harry says, grabbing the dish rag for something to do. He wipes the counter in front of Louis until Louis’ hand lands on his own.
“Yeah, totally,” he says, smiling. It’s a soft smile, one that Harry barely sees, but from the sound of his voice it looks like the smile he would’ve made when telling Liam he hoped Harry had a good day. It’s a good look on him.
“You’re pretty cute, too,” Harry says, shrugging like it’s nothing even though his insides feel like they’re being ground to death like the coffee beans behind him. Louis’ eyes crinkle at him.
“I have to teach,” Louis says, a pained expression overcoming his face. He glances at his watch. 8:25. “In like, fifteen minutes, but I will, um, I’ll text you during my lunch? If that’s alright?”
“Yeah,” Harry breathes, smiling down at their hands where Louis’ fingers are twitching on top of his. “Yeah, that’s alright.”
Louis squeezes his hand before nodding to Liam and Zayn – who both look like they’re going to cry or laugh, Harry can’t tell – and turning on his heel to leave the café in a hurry.
“Oh my god,” Zayn says, “did you see how they looked at each other?”
“I know,” Liam says, without a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “I could literally feel the fireworks from over here.”
“Shut up,” Harry groans, covering his face with his hands.
He usually wouldn’t be so bashful – he’s given his number to plenty of guys throughout the years, and a lot of them in front of his friends – but this feels different. Liam’s right, there were fireworks, and he felt them the second Louis’ palm touched his hand.
He wonders if Louis felt them too, but then he remembers the look in his eyes, and knows he did.
Harry gets a text from an unknown number at 12:04 that says
and then one at 12:05 that says,
there’s this bar a few blocks over that makes really good nachos…are you busy Friday night?
and another at 12:05,
I’d love to get to know the cute barista that just doesn’t know how to spell Louis properly
and one last one at 12:07,
....Louis Tomlinson, just in case you wanted proper spelling for your contacts list ;)
Harry’s heard before that Tuesdays are the worst days, but this particular Tuesday isn’t so bad. He’s never wanted a Friday to come faster, though.