Louis is not accident-prone.
If he were, things like this would happen on a regular basis. He would probably also have a hell of a lot of bruises and scraped knees and probably some concussions, too.
As it is, this is a one-time thing because it’s a Friday afternoon at the skatepark and Louis is caught up in his cloudy thoughts—distracted, still steaming over a client, and not really paying attention to the world around him. The skatepark is abnormally crowded, too. There are hordes of teenagers hanging around and people just wandering between the obstacles with no boards in sight.
So there are many factors that lead to this accident, really. It’s not just Louis. It’s Louis and his thoughts and the other skaters and the crowds and maybe also the way too upbeat pop music someone has blasting through the outdoor speakers.
Whatever the reason, it’s not just Louis’ fault when he’s crossing from the rails to the half-pipe and almost skates right into a boy.
Louis has just a moment long enough to shout a yelp of warning and swerve to the side, barely missing the boy as he stumbles off of his board and onto his feet. There’s already an apology tumbling down his tongue as he kicks up his board and turns around, but—
“Oops,” the boy says first. He’s tall—and probably not much of a boy at all, but he has a mop of shaggy brown curls that leave his face looking young. He’s smiling sheepishly, a phone clutched in both of his hands.
The apology dissolves on the tip of Louis’ tongue, and somehow the first thing out of his mouth is, “Hi.”
The boy almost looks surprised, his eyes sweeping over Louis in one quick motion, and his smile smoothes into something simple. “Hi,” he reciprocates easily enough, but then he’s motioning at his phone and pointing vaguely somewhere over his shoulder. “I’m sorry, I was, erm—I was trying to check up on something at home and looking for my friend at the same time and I—I wasn’t paying attention, I suppose? Sorry. I really should’ve been—”
He’s rambling. The tall boy is rambling, and his voice is low and his words are sort of slow and there’s an actual blush spreading high along his cheeks. Louis tries not to stare, but he knows he must be failing when the boy’s cheeks only grow a shade darker.
Louis meets the boy’s eyes, a cool jade and owlishly large, and shakes his head. “Nah, you’re alright,” he tells the boy, unable to stop a slight smile. “I was a bit distracted, too.”
“Oh.” The boy frowns slightly, sends his phone another glare. “Still.”
Louis shrugs a shoulder, his tongue absently fooling with his lip ring. “Don’t worry about it,” he insists and lets his eyes skirt over the boy from head to toe. He’s lean but broad, dressed in skinny black jeans and a white t-shirt and ratty brown boots. There’s a necklace around his neck, rings on his fingers, and a dimpled smile on his lips that steals the spotlight from the rest of his face. Those curls, though. Those are distracting, and Louis forces his eyes away after only a few seconds, wonders instead, “I didn’t catch you with my board, though, right? You’re fine, yeah?”
“Me?” The boy laughs gently. His eyes sweep across Louis again in all of a second, and he nods, his smile somehow brighter. “Yeah, I’m—I’m fine,” he responds. A beat passes and then, “I’m Harry, actually.”
Louis snorts because honestly? His reaction doesn’t seem to affect this curly-haired boy named Harry, though. There’s not a twitch in his smile or a wrinkle in his brow; he just smiles like it’s the most natural transition into a greeting. Ridiculous as it feels, Louis extends a hand and offers his name in return, “Louis.”
Shifting his phone, Harry somehow ends up extending his left hand instead of right. He corrects it almost immediately over a nervous laugh, but the slip-up has Louis’ cheeks stretching wide with a grinning laugh.
“Sorry, I’m sorry,” Harry apologizes as he shakes Louis’ hand properly, “I swear I’m not usually so…” He doesn’t finish, just widens his eyes comically. It’s—it’s cute, is what it is.
“Yeah,” Louis laughs, too, and maybe ducks his head because his cheeks suddenly feel a little warm. “And I’m not usually running down curly-haired guys with my board, but here we are.”
“You mean that’s not a daily thing?”
“So it’s something you’ve reserved just for me,” Harry settles—doesn’t ask—and it comes off so easily, dimple deep in his cheek.
“Well, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that,” Louis teases and tilts his head to the side, giving Harry a quick once over. “You’re not the only charming tree with curls around here.”
“Charming tree?” The boy’s jaw falls open just the slightest with shock, but then he’s grinning through a laugh all over again. “Charming—charming I’ll take though, thanks.”
“Oi, don’t get smug about it,” Louis warns and tries to keep a straight face. It’s harder than it should be, he thinks, at least with this dimple-cheeked, curly-haired, cherubic-faced boy standing across from him.
“I’m not, I’m not,” Harry replies, laughter rumbling through his words and damn that smile is something bright and blinding, and if Louis didn’t have any control he might actually just step right up and kiss it off the boy’s face. He doesn’t, of course. This isn’t a bad teen soap opera pumped full of wild hormones. Rather, the world falls back into place around them. Several seconds pass quietly, overpowered by far-off chatter and a backtrack of mainstream pop music. Harry’s eyes flicker back around the skatepark, and his smile fades—just a little. The mood deflates, his dimple along with it. “Right,” he starts, running a hand through his curls, “well, I should, erm… Get back to finding my friend.”
“Oh. Oh, right,” Louis agrees, nodding and definitely ignoring the stupid, tiny, minuscule, honestly hint of sadness that hits at his insides.
“Yeah, so. I’ll see you around, maybe.” Harry pauses for the briefest of moments before turning away with a smile. It feels final, and Louis sort of hates that he cares.
But then—then this wave of whatthefuck washes over Louis and instead of getting back on his board and continuing toward the half-pipe, he’s taking two quick steps toward Harry and stopping him with a hand to his elbow.
“Who’s your friend?” Louis asks before Harry has even turned back toward him, and he almost cringes at how odd that question must seem. Shaking his head, he rephrases, “I mean I’m here a lot, like really it’s probably brushing on pathetic how often I’m here. But I know quite a few of the other skaters here because of it, so I could help you find him? Maybe?” And Jesus, it sounds so eager, but.
But, Harry laughs and spares another look across the skatepark that, in his defense, is abnormally crowded. He frowns and admits, “Another set of eyes might be useful, actually.”
Louis certainly doesn’t feel fucking giddy about gaining a few more minutes with this curly-haired kid—he doesn’t. But he might smile, and it might be a little too large for a question like, “Okay, so who am I looking for?”
But that’s as far as he gets before there’s a clap on his shoulder and a bellow in a thick Irish lilt, “Tommo!”
Niall. The resident Irishman of the skatepark who’s known to fall on his arse more often than actually skate, but for some reason he’s at the park just as regularly as Louis. He’s always got a smile and a laugh to spare, which Louis thinks is probably why they kicked it off in the first place. They only ever see each other at the park though, and any other day Louis would probably be thrilled to see the blond boy.
But he was just getting somewhere, honestly.
Louis’ smile flattens, but he wraps an arm around Niall’s shoulders all the same, welcoming him in with a warm greeting. “Nialler, glad you’re here, mate, I was just about to help—”
“Harry,” Niall finishes, not without an undertone of bewilderment.
Louis’ brow wrinkles as he looks from Niall to the curly-haired boy across from them, just to find Harry staring at them with an amused, dimpled smile. “Sorry?” Louis asks, because he feels like he’s been left out of a joke.
Niall laughs, loud and unabashed, and gives Louis’ shoulder a shove. “Harry’s my best mate, Tommo. Dragged ‘im along with me today. Had to get him out of the house to celebrate his end of term,” he explains with a shrug. “Was planning on introducing the two of you anyway, but it looks like you’ve already met?”
“In a way,” Harry says, the dimple so deep it looks like a crater.
The blond lifts a brow. “What’s that s’posed to mean?”
“I might have almost ran over your lost puppy,” Louis answers, to which Harry actually giggles. Giggles. It feels oddly like an accomplishment and leaves Louis' chest warm; he kind of wants to make it happen again.
But Niall’s cackle drags him away from any chance of giggle recreations, and Harry adds on, “Seems I distracted him with my charm.”
“Weird way to greet people, Tommo,” Niall chides, but he leans in close and stage whispers, “but I’ve got to admit that charm can be hella distracting.”
Harry’s cheeks roar with a blush once more, but he just shakes his head at Niall before glancing at the phone he still has clutched in his left hand. His brow furrows as he looks at the screen, and his smile is nearly vanished when he looks back up to Niall a moment later. “Should we be heading out soon?” he asks, his voice a little quieter. He almost sounds concerned, like 5 p.m. is getting too late.
Niall rolls his eyes but nods anyway. “Right, forgot you eat so damn early,” he mutters and slips off his helmet with a sigh. He tucks it under the same arm as his board and looks to Louis with another smile. “Looks like I’ve got to get this grandpa off to supper. We’ll be seeing you, yeah?”
“Yeah, ‘course,” Louis says with a nod, shifting his focus away from the fleeting, panicky race of his heart.
“Unless,” Harry starts and clears his throat once both Niall and Louis look toward him, “unless you’d like to join us?”
Niall’s eyebrows shoot up at the question, and Louis pretends not to notice the blond’s clearly bemused expression or the fact that Harry’s offer is totally and completely 100% unjustified. Utterly out of the blue. They’d barely started a conversation and he’s asking Louis to join them for dinner?
Harry must realize the casualness of his question, because he’s quick to amend, “I mean, we’re just going to a pub? Niall said it’d be like a celebratory thing for the end of term and all, so. Might as well make it a party, yeah?”
Yeah. Definitely yeah. Louis pointedly chooses not to think about how an entire evening with this curly-haired boy sounds like a bloody dream. Instead, he shifts his board under his arm and responds, “As long as Niall doesn’t mind me tagging along?”
“Mind?” Niall laughs, loud and sudden. “Not a chance! Our mate Liam will be there, too. Ooh, might as well invite Zayn? Doubt he’s any wild plans for a night in,” he teases, and Louis misses the way the Irishman’s cheeks darken at mention of his flatmate, Zayn. “More the merrier, anyway!”
Louis laughs and nods his agreement. “Sounds brilliant,” he says and hopes it will be. With another look at Harry, he has a feeling it might be.
It really truly is brilliant, except.
Except that after Louis has a few beers in his system, he’s reaching across the table to touch Harry nearly every chance he can, and he’s taken to calling the boy “Curls” like he’s just an old friend. It makes Harry laugh, it really makes him laugh, and it makes his smile shine something beautiful in the dim lights of the pub.
Harry doesn’t pull away from the touches, either, just laughs again, sucks in his lower lip, and tries to hide his smile around the straw in his fruity, pink drink. Louis pretends not to notice.
“You have a wicked amount of tattoos,” Harry states well into the evening. Their food baskets and plates are scattered along the tabletop, mostly empty save a few spare chips and half-eaten pickles and dirty, balled up napkins. It’s not much of a party, just five boys crowded around a too small table; Niall and Harry’s longtime friend Liam came out, and Louis was able to convince his flatmate Zayn to join them as well.
Niall is the only other one to hear Harry’s comment, and he snorts with a shake of the head before turning back to where Liam and Zayn are engaged in a surprisingly animated conversation about superhero films.
Louis laughs because he’s feeling light and sort of fuzzy, and his lips feel like they’re shaped into a permanent smile and because honestly. He holds out his arms, both of which are absolutely smothered in dark ink—some designs intricate and detailed, others just little stick-figure sketches squeezed between masterpieces. He grins and says, “We can thank Zayn for that.”
Harry wrinkles his brow and points toward the end of the table. “That Zayn?”
“The one and only.”
“Is that all his work?” Harry asks, sounding dumbfounded as his eyes fall back to Louis’ outstretched arms.
Louis nearly cackles at the idea and shakes his head. “God, no,” he answers and twists his arms for a better view. “A few of them are, like this one,” he says and points to a skateboarding stick figure that’s nearly drowned out by the pieces around it. “This was one of my firsts, actually. The start to all of this.” He waves a hand upward from his arms, laughing lightly.
“Wooow,” Harry whistles lowly, letting his eyes run along Louis’ arms and up his neck to where just a few tattoos peek out from the collar of his shirt. His eyes are wide and he stares for a long moment before raising his eyes to meet Louis’. “Why’s it all Zayn’s fault, though?”
“Oh,” Louis begins with a grin and pulls his arms in from the tabletop, folding them neatly against his chest. “I hadn’t much liked tattoos until we met first year of university. Hated them, actually. Like properly turned my nose up at the sight of them, thought it was a genuinely stupid concept to permanently ink yourself up like this. But then we were paired together in housing first year and now, what? Six years later and I’m in over my head, very possibly addicted, and working at a parlor full-time. It’s probably a little bit insane.”
The curly-haired boy laughs along with Louis’ words, biting his lower lip to muffle the sound. But then, “You’re a tattoo artist?” he asks at the end of it, leaning a little farther across the table.
Louis nods slowly as he sips dangerously close to the bottom of his fourth beer. “To my mum’s quite everlasting dismay, yes.”
Harry’s eyes widen again, seem to spark, and he grins anxiously. “Would you do me sometime?”
Louis knows what Harry means, he knows, but the alcohol in his system makes him sputter around the lip of his beer bottle all the same, his shoulders shaking with a laugh. “Not so fast, Curls,” he responds, his words vibrating with laughter, “at least buy me dinner first.”
A blush darkens the boy’s cheeks, noticeable even in the pub’s lighting, and he shakes his head with a silent laugh. “No, no, I mean,” Harry corrects around his giggles, his gaze falling to the table, “would you, you know, tattoo me sometime?”
“‘Course,” Louis answers maybe too quickly, and his smile is definitely just for the present conversation and not the promise of another meeting. “Not for free though or anything like that, mind. I’ve got to pay the bills somehow.”
“Right, right, of course.” Harry smiles and leans back on his stool. “I look forward to it.”
“As much as I’m loving your tattoo bonding over here,” Niall interrupts, angling enough in his seat to wrap an arm around Harry’s shoulders, “you better not deface our little Harry too much, alright?”
“Deface him?” Louis echoes, screwing up his face. He’s heard that word frequently over the years, and it always hits him like a punch to the gut.
Harry only rolls his eyes, though, and doesn’t seem bothered by the statement despite the few tattoos he has on his arm. “Don’t mind him,” he tells Louis, jerks a thumb toward Niall. “He’s only like this with me.”
“It’s true,” Niall confirms with a nodding head, his face pleasantly flushed. “Love tattoos, just—”
“Not on me,” Harry finishes.
“I wept when he got his first.”
Niall snaps a finger at Harry, his face lighting up. “Oh, oh, right, you hid that star from me for ages! Such a shit, honestly.”
“What was the second?” Louis can’t help but ask.
Harry sets down his drink and extends his left arm across the table, silently pointing to a small spot on the inside of his elbow. It’s impressively small—so small that Louis wraps a hand around Harry’s forearm to bring it closer and even then has to squint to make out any shape. It looks like a tiny letter A.
“It’s for my mum,” Harry supplies before Louis can even ask.
Niall tacks on, “He has a couple for his sister, too. A total sap, this one.”
“Aw, Curls,” Louis drags out the words, nearly cooing as he lets go of Harry’s arm. “Aren’t you just the cute family man. Are all of your tattoos for your family?”
Harry’s blushing again, but he’s positively beaming as well. “Not all,” he replies, “but most of them.”
“Mm,” Louis hums, watching as Harry’s arms twist back to a natural position against the table. There’s a large flower on the outside of his left forearm, blossoming just under his elbow. It’s not a rose, the shape and petals too large and compact, but Louis never much was one to study a garden. It has a light hint of pink to it, more color than any of the other splotches of ink along Harry’s skin, and it stands out the most. It’s big, too. Important. “How about this one,” Louis asks, dipping his beer bottle toward the flower, “is this just a pretty flower, or is it for family, too?”
Harry’s eyes smile at the question, his whole stance perking up. “For family. It’s actually for my—”
There’s the sudden screech of a stool against the floor, a slapping thud, and Harry cringes, one hand flying underneath the table as he sends Niall a glare. The blond doesn’t say anything, but he widens his eyes at Harry in a private sort of way that’s probably meant to be inconspicuous but isn’t at all. Louis watches amusedly, wonders how much of Niall’s exaggerated behavior can be pinned to the alcohol lighting up his cheeks, but pretends not to notice the exchange all the same.
“It’s for my, erm,” Harry starts again a moment later, his eyes and smile not as bright as before, “for a close relative—like a best friend, really. She, uh, doesn’t like me talking about it when she’s not present.”
“Oh?” Louis wonders without pressing for more. It strikes him as odd, like a terrible scapegoat of an answer, but he knows some stories are meant to be kept private. Humming softly, he adds, “It’s a beauty, though.”
The smile returns in full to Harry’s lips. “You think so?”
Louis nods. “It could even use more color, really. It’d pop more, you know? But yeah, definitely. Definitely a beauty.”
“I’ll, uh,” Harry pauses, his gaze momentarily falling to the piece in question. The smile wipes across his lips like some sort of prize when he finishes, “I’ll be sure to let her know.”
The conversation lulls for a moment as they both turn to their drinks, the noise of the pub momentarily overwhelming and Louis’ head suddenly swimming. He shakes his head, pushes his empty bottle away from him, and asks, “So, will I be adding to your family album of tattoos?”
The warm laugh Harry lets out leaves Louis buzzing more than the alcohol in his system.
Louis leaves the pub that night with an arm slung around Zayn’s shoulders, a sloppy laugh on his lips, and a new number in his phone, saved carefully under the name Curls.
“Who are you talking to all the time?”
Louis looks up from his phone to Laurie, their makeshift secretary and artist in training. It’s a painfully slow Tuesday afternoon. There’s only one client with their manager Tom at the moment, and the rest of them—Louis, Zayn, Laurie, and Seth—are lounging around the front room. They tried giving the place a good cleaning with their unexpected free time, but that effort hardly lasted ten minutes.
“Five quid says it’s Harry,” Zayn pipes up from across the room, not even looking up from the magazine in his hands.
Laurie lifts one dark, penciled brow above her thick-rimmed glasses. “Who’s Harry?”
“Just a new friend,” Louis replies, hating how it tastes like a lie on his tongue.
“His newest infatuation,” Zayn corrects, but Louis repeats in a firmer tone, “Just a friend.”
Seth doesn’t seem to care either way, dropping his attention back to his sketchbook, but Laurie smiles almost wickedly. “So, you’re infatuated with your just new friend,” she summarizes. “Interesting. Is he cute?”
Louis rolls his eyes and Zayn snorts, flipping a magazine page. “He’s adorable.”
“Adorable?” Laurie makes a sour face, sounding skeptical. “I’ve never seen you with adorable, Louis.”
“Laurie, to be fair, you’ve never seen me with anybody,” Louis points out. His phone vibrates in his hand, but he ignores the message for a minute in favor of the conversation—the conversation he’d rather not be a part of, but.
“False,” Laurie says and holds up a finger. “When I started here you were with that tall, dark, and handsome fellow. The one who looked like he probably only listens to coffee shop music and buttons up his shirts through the collar? Classy, hipster-y, maybe a dash of cute, too. But even he was miles from ‘adorable.’”
“Okay, okay, but that was hardly even a thing.” His phone vibrates again and he forces himself to not look at the screen. “Besides, Harry is just a friend, alright?”
Zayn hums from his seat and purses his lips. “If Harry’s just a friend I might start to get jealous, Lou. You’ve talked to him more in the past week than you have to me, and we live together.”
“Oh, I have not,” Louis disagrees, resisting an exasperated sigh.
“You have, mate.”
“Aw, Louis,” Laurie coos, “You of all people should know Zayn has very delicate feelings. You can’t just go around replacing him like that.”
“Oh, fuck off, the lot of you,” Louis gripes as he stands up and finally heads toward the back room. He stops just as he’s stepped into the corridor and leans enough to peek his head around the corner, glancing back into the front room. “Except for you, Seth,” he amends, earning a smile from his least nosy co-worker. Possibly his new favorite co-worker, actually. “I like Seth.”
Zayn and Laurie both holler after him in protest, but Louis pretends not to hear as he sneaks into the back break room. It’s small and dingy, and the only ventilation is a little plastic tabletop fan that sits on top of the mini-fridge in the corner. They hardly frequent the break room, but Louis can handle it for a few minutes of peace and quiet. At least, that’s what he tells himself as he plops into one of the plastic chairs and kicks his feet up on the table.
And maybe Louis escapes for a moment of peace and quiet, but maybe it’s also so he can turn back to his phone and the three messages that are waiting there for him – all from Curls.
Maybe this is a bad idea.
Harry is on his way over—just for a night in of pizza and FIFA. Zayn will be there. Niall might even stop in at some point. It’s not a big deal. It’s a friendly gathering. Emphasis on friendly. Like, bolded, italicized, underlined, capitalized FRIENDLY. But it’s also the first time Louis has seen Harry since the pub, the first he’ll see him since his overly touchy drunken state. He doesn’t know how well they’ll mesh outside of the dim lights and loud conversations of the pub. Maybe they won’t mesh at all.
Louis’ sick to his stomach by the time the buzzer sounds.
“That’s all yours,” Zayn says from his spot at the kitchen table—situated hardly ten steps from the intercom next to the door.
But Louis only nods and stands from the sofa with an inward sigh, ignoring the rush of nerves that sweep over him. This is dumb. There’s nothing to be nervous about. Nothing. So when he notices his hand shaking when he lifts it toward the intercom, he maybe presses the talk button a little harder than necessary. He clears his throat shortly and asks, “That the pizza delivery lad?”
There’s a laugh on the other end—a laugh Louis really doesn’t understand how he already recognizes so well. “In a sense,” Harry answers, and there’s the sound of rustling plastic. “I come bearing a few frozen Italian delicacies.”
“Ah, a true gentleman,” Louis laughs. “Come on in, Curls. Flat 217. The lift’s not even worth the wait.” He buzzes Harry in, and Zayn snorts from beside him. “What?”
His flatmate shakes his head, keeping his eyes trained on a rough design sketch as he mockingly responds, “A true gentleman.”
“Oi, he’s bringing us food, Zayn. Free food,” Louis emphasizes. “We do not mock generosity.”
“Oh, I’m not,” Zayn replies and turns toward Louis for a short moment. He smiles cheekily. “Only mocking you, babe.”
Louis flips him off and opens his mouth to retort just as there’s a quick rap on the door. It’s short and dull but startles him all the same, even though it shouldn’t have. And somehow, despite knowing who stands on the other side, his stomach still knots as he twists the lock, turns the knob, and pulls open the door to reveal—
And well, fuck. Harry looks even better than Louis remembers. He’s dressed in another pair of black skinny jeans with a plaid flannel button-up that’s only half-way buttoned, and his hair’s coifed into some messy faux-quiff that makes it look like he’s been running his hands through his curls all day. His eyes are hidden behind a pair of dark Ray-Bans, but his smile is on full display as he lifts and waves two plastic shopping bags in greeting. “How about some food?”
“Food is actually the only way we let anyone enter our flat,” Louis says, opening the door a little farther and shifting to the side.
Harry laughs, moves his sunglasses from his nose to rest on top his head, and his smile brightens. “Glad I came prepared, then,” he replies and steps past Louis and into the flat. “Where should I put these?”
“Kitchen probably makes the most sense,” falls naturally, and Louis bites his tongue as soon as the sharp words leave his mouth.
But Harry only laughs, responds, “Thanks for that, Louis, really. Some days I forget kitchens are a thing, you know?”
“Anything to help, Curls,” Louis quips and motions toward the kitchen, leading Harry with a light touch to his elbow. Harry doesn’t seem to mind, doesn’t pull away, doesn’t flinch; he follows Louis’ lead and only breaks away to shove the frozen pizzas into the freezer.
It’s only then that Harry seems to notice Zayn, jumping as he leans against the counter. “Oh, Zayn, hi. Didn’t see you there.”
“Not surprising,” Zayn comments with a laugh. Harry furrows his brow, but Zayn just shakes his head, smiles instead. “Nice to see you, man.”
“Pleasure all around, I’m sure,” Louis cuts in before their small talk can continue. “But Curls, you promised me an entertainingly brutal game of FIFA. How ‘bout it?”
Harry’s smile turns into something of a devilish grin. “You sure you’re ready for this?”
Louis thought he was. But as he watches Harry pass him into the living room and settle in for the evening, walking around the flat like he’s been there a hundred times already, he has half a mind to say otherwise.
“Who stores flammable items in an oven?”
The evening was going fairly well—despite Harry being surprisingly skilled at FIFA and leaving Louis resorting to dirty tactics, not limited to kicking the controller from Harry’s hands or elbowing him in the side, to score—up until they break for dinner.
Harry’s still shaking his head and muttering under his breath as he resets the oven to preheat once more—this time without the extra dish towels, hot pads, and oven mitts inside. There were extra pans, too, but those hadn’t caused Harry’s eyes to bulge out of his head quite like the other items had.
“In our defense,” Louis interrupts Harry’s mutterings, “we probably haven’t used the oven in over a month. Maybe two. Zayn, when was it your sister visited?”
“Oh, uh… Sometime in March, maybe?”
“Aha! See?” Louis points to Zayn. “Last time we made a proper sit-down meal—March. Two months ago.”
Harry doesn’t laugh, though. He actually looks a little horrified; his eyes are widened with disbelief and his brow is slightly scrunched in the middle.
“What?” Louis asks.
“How the hell have you two been eating for the past couple months?”
Zayn and Louis both wordlessly point to the microwave in response.
“For two months, though?” Harry asks, his tone incredulous. “Two months!”
They both shrug, and Louis explains rather simply, “We’re pretty shit cooks.”
“And we order quite a bit of takeaway,” Zayn adds, not looking guilty about it. They chose the cheaper, smaller, more run-down flat 3 years ago because they knew they’d need the extra pocket cash for delivery and takeaway and the occasional restaurant splurge. Being shit cooks is nothing new to Louis and Zayn.
“Still,” Harry insists, shaking his head as he leans against the edge of the counter, “you should know how to make something that requires more than a microwave, shouldn’t you?”
Louis and Zayn shrug again, and Harry sighs like he already realizes it’s a hopeless case. A good realization, really. Louis’ mother hadn’t given up on teaching Louis to cook until he was 22.
Once the pizza is in the oven, Zayn grabs his sketchbook and wanders back toward his bedroom—“need some quiet to finish this up, holler when it’s ready, yeah?”—and leaves Harry and Louis alone in the kitchen.
The kitchen is kind of ridiculously small, narrow enough that Louis and Zayn even have trouble stepping around each other to make breakfast (‘make’ meaning ‘pour cereal into a bowl’, to be perfectly clear). With Harry leaning on the counter opposite him, it makes it feel even smaller, like maybe the walls and cabinets are suddenly closing in or like maybe there’s not enough air for two. Which, well, that’s a ridiculous thought in and of itself considering the kitchen is far from enclosed.
Taking a deep breath, Louis laughs on the exhale. “Guess we’re making an excellent first impression, huh?”
Harry’s arms are folded across his chest, and he’s looking down at the scuffed toes of his boots. Louis can still see his smile, though, and make out the barely-there laugh that goes along with the dimple in his cheek. He’s silent for a moment before shaking his head. “You were doing pretty well up until the dishcloths in your oven.”
Louis makes a noise somewhere between a whine and sigh. “I promise we’re not really that daft. We’d just run out of drawer and cabinet space and ended up using the oven for overflow. And since we don’t really use the oven…”
“It just made sense,” Harry finishes, nodding along. He raises his eyes then and stares at Louis for all of a minute before laughing again. “I can’t believe you guys only use the microwave.”
“But we’re very skilled with the microwave, actually,” Louis says. “I’ll have you know I’ve impressed several dates with my vast microwaving knowledge and talent. It’s a gift. Should probably audition for Britain's Got Talent next time round, if I’m honest.”
Harry barks a laugh so loud that he slaps a hand over his mouth to keep it muted. He almost looks surprised at the sound of it, and the laughter remains in his eyes even after the sound trails off and he’s saying, “Those must be some impressive skills.”
“Massively impressive,” Louis confirms with a confident nod. The smile on his lips feels too much like a beaming grin, but he can’t be bothered to tone it down with Harry’s laughter still ringing in his ears.
“Right, right, okay,” Harry starts after a moment, composure regained. “Impressive or not, you guys need to eat something that doesn’t come out of a Tesco freezer—”
“Ah, our delivery isn’t out of a Tesco freezer,” Louis interrupts.
“Or from a delivery or takeaway container, alright?” Harry clarifies with the hum of a laugh to his words.
There’s a beat before Louis’ smile fades and he wonders rather worriedly, “Are you suggesting we learn how to cook?”
“No, no, not presently,” Harry laughs, and there’s just the slightest hint of color to his cheeks. “I was actually suggesting you let me cook you guys a proper meal sometime. Like, a main dish with actual sides and nutrients kind of proper.”
“Oh.” It catches Louis off guard. If he were walking, he imagines he might stumble because that’s what it feels like his brain does—stumbles over the suggestion like tripping over uneven pavement. He’s had mates invite him to tea or big, celebratory meals before, but people don’t often offer to cook for him. And, he thinks, their first impression must not be too horrid if Harry’s already vaguely making plans for the future.
It sends a flutter through his stomach for all the wrong reasons, but he smiles and agrees. “That’d be wicked, Curls.”
The light blush falls from Harry’s cheeks, and he smiles widely.
The two pizzas are mostly eaten and their dirty plates are stacked in the middle of the coffee table by the time the buzzer sounds for the second time that night.
“Should be Niall,” Harry says, not looking away from the television. Evidently the game of Mario Kart they’ve moved onto is more important.
“Zayn,” Louis speaks brokenly as he leans into a turn with his controller, “your turn. Door. Niall. Thanks. Please.”
Zayn grunts but doesn’t move, not until the buzzer sounds again. He waits a moment more before heaving a sigh and getting up from the sofa.
Louis doesn’t register anything else (besides the screen, of course, since Rainbow Road requires one’s full attention) until there’s a booming voice telling him, “Budge up, will you? I call next race.”
Niall shoves his way onto the sofa beside Louis, successfully pushing him until he’s hip to hip with Harry. Which, unsurprisingly, sends Louis driving off the colorful course and plunging into darkness. He really hopes that’s not figurative.
“Nice to see you, too, Niall, thanks for making me lose,” Louis says in lieu of a simple hello.
“Wouldn’t have won anyway,” Niall figures with a shrug. “See?”
He points to the screen and sure enough, Harry’s character (Princess Peach—somehow, Louis thought he should have expected it) is driving across the finish line in a close 2nd place. Last time Louis had snuck a peek at Harry’s side of the screen he’d been trailing in 7th.
“Isn’t he?” Niall laughs, and Harry looks toward them both with a smug grin.
It suits him, but Louis can’t possibly let Harry know that. Instead, he shakes his head and starts rashly, “Oh, that’s just fucking bullshit. You’ve rigged this, haven’t you?” He makes a show of waving the controller around, snatches Harry’s as well. “That’s it, we can’t be playing this anymore. I won’t be cheated in my own house, you hear?” He’s being dramatic, nearly embarrassingly so, but it has Harry laughing all the same. Which, well. That’s the goal, isn’t it? Getting Harry to laugh?
“Alright, cool, I’ll play Niall,” Zayn cuts in and picks the controllers from Louis’ hands.
Louis huffs a sigh, crossing his arms against his chest as he leans back into the cushions. Harry’s leg feels warm against his own. He forces his eyes away, glances at the screen as Zayn and Niall sort through their game options. His gaze stays situated for a minute before dropping to the forgotten plates on the table, the glasses sitting on the wood, half on and half off of scattered papers and magazines. There’s clutter everywhere. Shifting his eyes toward the television he can see three different stacks of DVD, CD, and game cases they were too lazy to put away; there’s an old Coke can beside the X-Box, a Snickers wrapper lying beside one of Louis’ shirts on the floor, right in front of the TV.
And suddenly every item that doesn’t belong in the room seems to stand out—glaringly—and Louis’ cheeks darken as he pulls his eyes away from the rest of the room. “Sorry about the mess, by the way,” he says, hoping it’s enough to make up for the state of things but also kind of hoping no one hears him say it.
Niall laughs, looking away from the screen for a moment as he chooses his vehicle. “Mess? This?” He shakes his head, looking back to the telly. “Mate, you wanna see a mess you should go to Harry’s. Absolute disaster zone.”
“Thanks, Niall,” Harry replies flatly and almost looks offended. Almost.
“Really?” Louis asks, genuinely curious. “You don’t seem the messy type.” Not from the way he’s picked up after himself all evening, carefully wiping up even a drop of soda from the counter. Not from the way it seems he’s always ‘not much, just doing the wash’ or ‘finishing up dishes’ or ‘cleaning the bathroom, wanna trade? :P’ nearly every time Louis texts him a simple ‘what’s up?’
“I’m not,” is Harry’s reply.
“Messy roommate?” Zayn guesses.
“Hah, that’s one way to put it!” Niall says with a laugh and what looks like a cheeky wink toward Harry. “She’s a bit of a slob, isn’t she?” She sticks in Louis’ ears.
“She is not,” Harry’s quick to refute. “She’s just... She doesn’t always pick up after herself.”
“Right, right, okay, let’s see,” Niall starts and puts his controller aside to count on his fingers. “She never washes her dishes, of course, can’t be bothered to put her dirty clothes in the hamper no matter how often you remind her, makes a mess every time she tries to pour her own drink, leaves a trail of crumbs everywhere, horrible at wiping up toilet messes, always needs reminding to brush her teeth, never ever makes her bed, leaves her things wherever they fall... Have I covered enough bases here, or should I keep going?”
There’s a twinkle in Niall’s eye and mirth along his lips when he finishes. But Harry shakes his head, despite the smile that pinches his lips, and insists, “She’s not that bad.”
The blond smirks as he picks up his controller. “Dunno, Harry,” he says, his words shaking with a laugh, “she’s kind of like a child, isn’t she?”
Harry blushes at the statement, but his reaction is overpowered as Zayn laughs and comments, “I can relate.”
“Wow,” Louis deadpans. “Thanks, Zayn.”
Zayn laughs again as he clicks through to start the first race, but he coos, “Love you, Louis.”
Louis huffs. “Yeah, I’m sure.”
“Aw,” Harry draws out as the game starts, his voice low like it’s only meant for Louis—and maybe it is. He wraps an arm around Louis’ shoulders and pulls him into a side hug. “I’m sure you’re not that bad.”
Louis doesn’t know how to respond to that, so he doesn’t say anything at all. But Harry keeps his arm around Louis’ shoulders as their eyes drift back toward the game on screen. His touch is light, friendly, but it’s also warm and inviting and Louis doubts the smile on the boy’s lips has much to do with Mario Kart at all.
“He works in a library.”
Zayn looks up from his box of takeaway, his face a little blank. “Okay, and?”
A blush floods Louis’ cheeks, and he shrugs. “Nothing,” he murmurs in reply and keeps his head bowed over his food. “Just making conversation.”
I just think it’s sort of cute, he swallows around a mouthful of orange chicken and rice.
“What?” Zayn asks ludicrously and scoots over enough to peer at the screen of Louis’ laptop. “Who makes their Facebook private nowadays?”
“Cute guys named Harry Styles, apparently,” Louis replies quietly and, in vain, tries to click on the profile picture again. Clicking on the small square photo doesn’t do a thing, though. It doesn’t enlarge, it doesn’t bring up his other profile photos or anything. His About shows nothing other than where he works and the university he’s attending. His Timeline is bare. The Add Friend button isn’t even visible. “It’s, like, properly locked down, look at this.”
Zayn pushes Louis’ hand away from the trackpad and turns the laptop more toward him, as though clicking on things himself might magically change the security settings. Naturally, nothing changes. “Damn,” he comments, sitting upright again, “that’s wild.”
Louis laughs in disbelief and leans in toward his screen, squinting just a little. “I know. Can’t even really tell what his photo is.” What he can make out of it looks like a long distance silhouette on a beach, presumably Harry walking along the sand with some kid—a sibling or niece or nephew, Louis assumes. It’s sort of artsy—more artistic than the selfies clogging Louis’ newsfeed—and tastefully adorable.
His flatmate laughs as he moves back to the other end of the sofa, picking up his own laptop. He remarks amusedly, “So much for Facebook stalking.”
never seen it
Louis’ eyes bulge at the text, and he rolls onto his back, turning his phone sideways in his hands. harry how have you nOT seen the new spiderman ? is it andrew garfield? do you not like andrew garfield ??? even my stepdad can appreciate andrew’s face !
Andrew’s fine, haha. Emma, too. idk just haven’t really had the time?
Make. The. Time.
do it !!
A minute passes without another text, no typing text bubbles popping up on the left side of the screen. Louis drops his phone against his chest, mindlessly drumming his fingers against it as he waits for a vibration to break his train of thought. None comes while he stares at the ceiling, and he huffs a decisive sigh before picking up his phone again. His thumbs hover over the keyboard for a breath before he types out and sends:
i have a copy. come over and watch ?
The grey typing bubble pops up almost immediately, and then disappears. It pops up again and stays on screen for thirty seconds, the ellipses blinking at Louis mockingly.
Louis snorts at the painfully short reply. yeah ! if u can
The screen turns off before Harry’s reply buzzes through. I can’t tonight. Bit busy :/
It feels like a swift kick to Louis’ gut because, oh thought you were bored? That’s what Harry had said two hours before, at ten o’clock on a Friday night.
The text bubble pops up and disappears twelve times. I ammmm but I can’t come over tonight… sorta tied up with things here at the moment, sorry :(
It’s the fourth time that week Harry shoots down evening plans with a vague excuse, and Louis doesn’t bother questioning it.
“You like him,” Zayn states rather bluntly. They’re standing on opposite sides of the same clothing rack, and they’re far from being the only customers in the shop.
Louis lets the statement stand for a minute before replying, “I like his curls.”
Zayn breathes out a sigh and continues sifting through the shirts.
hiiiii :) how was practice?
Louis finds the message lighting up the screen of his phone as he pulls to a stop at a red light. Football practice only let out ten minutes prior. The fact that Harry remembered has Louis biting back a smile as the light turns green.
“It’s not that hard a question, Niall.”
The blond shakes his head, cackling as he pulls off his helmet and wipes his forearm across his sweaty forehead. “You’re not getting the answer from me, mate,” Niall says. “That shit’s personal.”
“Nialler, come on,” Louis whines, trailing on Niall’s heels as he wanders away from the half-pipe. “I told you that Zayn goes both ways.”
Niall’s cheeks darken a shade, and he glances away, mumbles, “That’s different.”
“Zayn never really hides it, like.”
“So Harry is hiding something?”
Niall levels Louis with a glare. “Not what I said, Tommo.”
Louis grunts a sound of frustration. “Can’t you at least give me a hint?”
“Not a chance.”
“It’s not like I’m asking you to reveal his deepest and darkest secrets, I just—I just want to know if he plays for the same team or not.”
“Right, and that’s personal.” Niall turns to face Louis then. There’s still a smile pinned to his lips, despite how serious his tone is when he settles, “If you want to know, ask Harry yourself, alright?”
It comes up a couple days later. It’s 2 a.m. and what started out as 20 Questions has diminished into a back and forth firing of personal inquiries. Louis’ eyes are heavy, and he’s stifling a yawn into the back of his hand when the text buzzes through.
Errrrrm ok next q… what was your last date?
Louis’ stomach flip-flops as he reads the text a second time. It’s nearly innocent and he’s sure he hasn’t been holding back any comments about his preferences since knowing Harry, but his thumbs shake all the same as he punches out his reply.
oh haha it was sort of lame ? this guy took me to a little place that had live music but the sound was shit and we couldn’t even hear the singer. and our orders got messed up . oh and the guy insisted on sitting beside me at the booth ???? weird. also he had killer bad breath. surprised i survived the night tbh
that sounds awful
it sort of was, hah
not ur fault
A beat passes and Louis sends before he can stop himself: alright same question for you curls :)
Should’ve assumed. :P Uhhhh I haven’t quite been on a proper date in a couple years?
A COUPLE YEARS ?? !
Not much for dating I guess?
guess soooo. you totally just robbed me of a question tho like that was pretty lame wtf
Haha fine, you can re-do
‘Do you like guys?’ doesn’t seem like it should be such a hard question to ask. It’s short. It’s simple. It’s to the point. But Louis finds himself tapping it out and deleting it three times in the darkness of his room that night. He deletes it a fourth time and sends in its place: last person you kissed ?
The grey text bubble doesn’t appear for several seconds that feel incredibly long. Erm, this guy named Aiden I think? Was an awful mistletoe setup at Niall’s Christmas party last year
Guyguyguy runs through Louis’ mind. set up?
Niall thinks he’s aces at matchmaking sometimes. Horrible, though. Absolutely horrible.
Louis agrees, and it’s a challenge to ignore the fluttery feeling in his chest as their conversation continues on.
Zayn laughs on their way to the tattoo shop the next day and gives Louis’ arm a good shove. “I told you, you idiot.”
Harry finds a free night on a Monday, which is how they end up lounging on the sofa at Louis’ flat with a large bowl of popcorn between them and The Amazing Spider-man playing on the TV. It’s only their third time being together in person, but with the amount they’ve been texting it feels like something normal. The air doesn’t feel stiff or the conversation awkward, and for all the butterflies crowding up Louis’ stomach everything just feels so… easy.
By the time the film’s halfway through, Louis is reclined on the sofa with his legs stretched over Harry’s lap and the popcorn bowl trapped between them. Harry doesn’t push him away.
Look – it’s a massive paper cut I’m not exaggerating! Harry sends a crying emoji along with a photo of his hand.
Louis laughs at the message and pulls up the photo to fill the screen. There’s a long slice along Harry’s index finger, big enough that it makes Louis cringe just looking at it. But the cut doesn’t hold his attention for long, not when he notices Harry’s nails are messily painted a pale yellow.
Ha ha hahahahaha, nice nails harry
Oh. Thanks. :D
Little sisters ? Louis asks, because he’s been victim of many nail-painting experiments on visits back home.
Something like that, yeah. But would you look at the size of that cut? Construction paper’s the worst :( :( :(
Aw shall I kiss it better ? Ha ha !
Might help… :P
“Stop flirting at work,” Zayn says, making Louis jump as he speaks over his shoulder. He’s smiling, though, and gives Louis’ sides a quick pinch. “Or at least ask the boy out, won’t you?”
Louis rolls his eyes at his friend, despite the knot the suggestion ties in his stomach. Because painted nails and playing with construction paper on a Saturday afternoon? Louis doesn’t know if he’ll ever understand Harry.
But it’s the following Monday when Louis musters up enough courage to say fuck it.
Fuck it, I’m gonna do it, he says to himself as he walks down the steps of the apartment complex. Harry’s waiting outside and they’ll be on their way to pick up some Indian food Louis called in on his way home from work. There’s a nervous shake to Louis’ legs with every step, but it turns anxious when he pushes open the front door to find Harry leaning against the outside wall. He looks tired, exhausted even, with a dark tint under his eyes. But he looks up when he hears the door and smiles toothily. It doesn’t quite reach his eyes. “Hi, Lou.”
“Curls,” Louis greets with a short nod. He tries to smile but it feels unstable along his lips.
“How was work?”
“Can’t complain,” Louis replies with a shrug. It feels like his heart is resting in his throat. “You?”
Harry sighs and scrubs a hand down his face, but he starts in on a recount of some library program he’s helping to coordinate with the women in the children’s section. They’re making decisions without his input, which would generally have Louis fuming with indignation at the injustices. But that’s all he hears before zoning out Harry’s voice nearly altogether, his mind running too fast with unspoken questions and rehearsed words to keep up with the conversation.
They’re two blocks away from the Indian restaurant when the words piling up along Louis’ tongue finally fall free in the midst of Harry’s sentence: “Do you want to go out tomorrow?”
Harry’s voice stops along with his steps, and Louis turns his head to find the younger boy staring at him curiously. His jaw is still ajar, hanging open mid-sentence, and he looks nothing short of dumbfounded. It’s a minute later when he mumbles, “Wh-what?”
Louis’ heart beats in his ears. His mouth is dry, and his voice sounds higher as he clarifies, “Tomorrow night, you and me, like… Like a date?”
“Oh,” Harry says and there’s just the hint of a smile at his lips. A small hint that Louis must have imagined because his next words are, “I’m busy tomorrow.”
Harry must see some of the hurt that Louis is too slow to mask, because he’s quick to tack on, “I mean I’d really like to, I just. I’ve just got my hands tied up tomorrow night.”
A cold laugh vibrates in Louis’ throat. “I can handle a no, Harold.”
“Honestly, I am!”
They’re a block away from the restaurant, and Louis starts walking again as he continues, “Harry, really, I can take a hint if you truly don’t want—”
But Harry cuts off Louis’ self-deprecating assurances and blurts out, “I have a daughter.”
And it must hit Louis like freight train. Or maybe it doesn’t really hit him at all, because it barely registers when he stammers, “W-what?”
“I have a daughter,” Harry repeats and scrubs a hand down his face again, sighing into it before he continues. “And I just, I can’t go out. Not tomorrow, alright? I—I have to take care of my daughter, and her birthday party’s in a couple days and none of the goody bags are even started and I need to make the cake yet, which I still need ingredients for, and we still haven’t heard back from Patricia about whether or not Emily will be able to make it and it’ll break Lia’s heart if Emily doesn’t show up because they’ve become the greatest friends this spring in dance—and balloons! I still have to pick up the balloons! And none of her gifts are wrapped yet, like I still need to buy a few which is just whack ‘cause she’s my kid, right, I should have the gifts for my own kid’s party. But everything’s just been piling up, and I’m sorry but I’m actually truly, honestly, genuinely busy, okay?”
Louis stutters for a moment. Blinks, blanks, before Harry’s words fully hit him and he’s looking at the younger boy with wide eyes. “You… You have a kid.”
They’re stopped now, four doors down from the restaurant, facing each other in the middle of the walk. Louis wishes they were facing each other for any other reason.
There’s a pinched look to Harry’s face, and it looks like maybe he’s not breathing at all when he confirms, “Yeah…”
Louis laughs. He laughs because it’s so ridiculous it’s perfect. He laughs because it actually makes sense; it explains so much, from the vague late-night excuses and child-like roommate to the nail polish and construction paper crafts. It seems so obvious now that it’s brushing on absurd, and Louis sputters out around his laughter, “You – you complete and total arsehole!”
Harry’s eyes widen. “Sorry?”
“You have a kid!” Louis says again, laughter still shaking through him. “You have a kid and you’ve kept it a secret this entire time! I can’t believe you would do that. Why would you do that?” And then it really hits Louis like a train, and his laughter stills and he regards Harry with a straight face and serious tone because fuck, Curls has a kid. Harry has a kid and he didn’t tell me. “Seriously, why the hell would you keep that quiet?”
A blush fills Harry’s cheeks, and he runs a hand through his curls. His eyes don’t meet Louis’. “I don’t know, I just thought… Niall thought it would help me, I don’t know, meet people if I just acted like…” He raises both hands and drops them with a sigh.
“Not a 22 year old guy with a kid?” Louis offers, and Harry nods.
“It was stupid, so stupid, I know, but then—I don’t know,” Harry trails off with a half shrug. His eyes flit upward after a moment, “Guess I didn’t know how to tell you once Niall had already played her off as just my roommate.”
“Your messy roommate… who needs reminding to brush her teeth,” Louis remembers the words with a laugh. Makes sense. It’s stupid, but it makes sense. And maybe he should be more bothered than he is, more miffed about being mostly blindsided, but instead he’s wondering quitely, “How old is she?”
The tension on Harry’s face eases away slowly, and there’s almost a smile curling along his lips. “She’ll be four on Thursday.”
“Four? Wow.” Louis calculates it out silently. 18. Harry was 18 when he… when he became a dad the thought settles in his mind with a solid weight.
“Yeah, I know,” Harry says with a look akin to awe lighting up his face. He bites his lip, though, and shakes his head, like he’s keeping himself from saying any more. Or maybe like he’s not quite sure what to say at all.
So Louis gives his elbow a light touch and nods them to continue on down the street. “Order should be ready by now, yeah?” Harry stares at him for just a moment, really stares—like green searching blue for any sign of sizzling anger or a hint of a hysterical breakdown or maybe even a shard of sadness—and then nods in agreement.
They walk the rest of the way in silence, only speaking to pick up their order and pay. Harry keeps his lower lip tucked under his teeth the whole time, his eyes landing anywhere but on Louis. It makes Louis’ chest feel tight.
As fast as Louis’ thoughts are racing and as much as his heart is pounding, he can’t keep himself from saying what he says once they’re on their way back toward the flat: “So this week’s sort of busy, right, but how’s your schedule look Saturday night?”
He doesn’t look toward Harry, but he can feel the younger boy react all the same. He can hear the smile in Harry’s voice a minute later when he wonders, “You still want to… Even knowing that I… ?”
“Eloquently said, Curls,” Louis teases, and a knot unwinds in his stomach at Harry’s laugh.
“Sorry, sorry, but,” Harry starts and there’s a light touch to Louis’ side to get his attention, “really? You’re… cool with me, you know—”
“Having a kid?” Louis finishes for him and lets a smile slide across his lips. He takes a minute to consider his answer, thinks about what Zayn will probably say to him, about how his mum might react if she were here right now. He thinks about how sudden and sort of absurd this really is, how it’s all new and unexplored territory for him. But he also considers the alternative, considers minding the circumstances and maybe staying ‘just friends’ with this boy, with the untamed curls and dimpled smile, but somehow also keeping his hands to himself at the same time. It makes his chest ache just a little, his fingers itch. He doesn’t like the alternative.
And apparently Mondays are the days to say fuck it, because that’s exactly what Louis says.