As soon as Louis sits in his seat on the train leaving the South Bermondsey station, dumping his large duffel bag beside him, he feels his entire body relax and lose the tension that it’s been holding all day, maybe all month. School is over; he’s blissfully free from students hounding him with questions about their exams, and from the pressure that he’s put on himself this term to be one of the best and most respected teachers at his school. Louis is starting his journey home to his mother’s house for his birthday, Christmas and the New Year holiday. He’s looking forward to sleeping in, even if it is on the fold out sofa bed in the den, and being pampered by his mum. Visions of pot roasts, gingerbread and pots of freshly brewed tea float in his head as he makes his way north on the train.
Louis changes trains at the London Bridge tube station to get on the Victoria line that stops in Euston station where he will get on the railway train going north to Cheshire where his childhood home, his mum, step dad, and all six of his younger siblings await his arrival. Louis has been staring blankly out of the window of the train, zoning out a little as he occasionally people watches each time the train pulls into a new underground station, but as the train stops at the King’s Cross station someone catches his eye. The man is nothing short of beautiful, wearing a simple gray suit that seems like it’s been specifically and hand-lovingly tailored to his fit body. He has a black wool coat thrown casually over one arm with a navy leather bag hanging off one shoulder and carrying two shopping bags in his other hand. Louis can’t place why the handsome man seems familiar to him, especially the way he holds himself and his slightly pigeon-toed walk, but it’s nagging him. The man doesn’t get on his train car and Louis doesn’t see where he entered the train, so sits back in his seat and faces the fact that he probably won’t see the man ever again. He’s only got one more stop before gets off this Victoria line train.
London’s Euston station is a nightmare. At least that’s how Harry always feels whenever he has to fight his way through the crowd of commuters and travelers making their way to the one of the hundreds of railway trains that intersect there. Getting from the theater from Holbort on the tube on the Picadilly line to King’s Cross had been a breeze, but ever since getting on that Victoria line train Harry feels a little suffocated from all of the people around him and can feel his mild panic disorder kicking in. He can’t quite shake the feeling that someone is staring at him, but when he tries to surreptitiously look around to see if he can catch anyone’s eyes, there’s no one even paying a little bit of attention to him. Harry rolls his eyes inwardly, chastising himself for being so vain as to think he was garnering any notice. He considers for a moment going up to the street level and finding a café; waiting out the rush hour crowd and taking a later train. But he then remembers that his mother is picking him up from the station and will be miffed if he arrives later than originally scheduled.
So he makes his way toward the train that will take him north to Cheshire for the Christmas holidays and for his sister Gemma’s wedding. Harry’s looking forward to the break, and he knows he’s lucky that the theater was able to let him take these two weeks off considering they’re in the middle of casting the new Jack the Ripper musical that will be opening in the spring. Just as Harry sees the train he’s looking for, he catches sight of a man hurrying along the platform whose figure and walk brings memories from over a decade past, into Harry’s mind. He speeds his steps up trying not to lose sight of the light chestnut haired stranger, who has the straps of a large duffel bag around his shoulders, so that he’s wearing it like a backpack. Harry finds this detail endearing for some reason and it only spurs his body into taking faster steps to get closer to the man in order to see his face.
Harry sees the man hop up the steps of the last train car of the train he’s supposed to be getting on as well to head north to his childhood home. Harry’s habit is usually to sit in one of the middle cars, because it’s closer to the depot when the train stops in Adlington station, but he supposes getting onto the last car won’t be too bad; he’ll be closer to the parking lot and more importantly he’ll be able to finally check out his mystery man up close. Harry crosses his fingers that the man will be on the train for at least the 2 hours that Harry will be traveling. Just as Harry is nearing the second to last train car he hears the whistle and a conductor behind him call out ‘All aboard’. Harry panics a little, chastising himself for almost missing his train home for Christmas in pursuit of some phantom boy who probably isn’t anyone worth the trouble. He stumbles as he starts to run and nearly drops his leather duffel bag and the bag holding his Christmas gifts, and rights himself in time and is just able to grab onto one of the train car door handles and haul himself inside the train as it starts to leave the station. Harry takes a moment to catch his breath and let the adrenaline and the embarrassed flush of his cheeks settle before gathering himself and his things and making his way through the train car towards the end of the train.
Harry walks through the crowded train car, heading to the last car and begins to worry that he won’t be able to find a seat and will end up not only looking foolish, but also having to walk all the way back again through the train. With some difficulty he’s able to slide the door open for the last car and once again finds his clumsy nature and feet betraying him as he practically falls into car, causing several people’s heads to whip up and turn his way, including the shapely pate of the man that Harry had been following. As soon as Harry sees the man’s face he feels his own break into a large smile. Harry knows this face; he used to spend hours and hours staring at this face; nights dreaming of this face. It’s a face that broke his heart a little; a face he hasn’t seen in a decade. A face that’s just as beautiful now as it was then. The face belonging to Louis Tomlinson; his teenage crush, and the first boy he ever wanted to kiss.
Louis is reading the book his sister gave him last year for his birthday that he never got around to even cracking open until a couple of days ago when Fizzy told him that she wanted to discuss it with him while he was home for winter break. It’s a series of philosophical essays on love and science and he’s afraid to admit that it’s a little over his head. He smiles and shakes his head thinking about his smart younger sister whose is only 20 and already has so much of her life figured out. He’s just beginning a new chapter when he hears the door at the front end of the train car slide open with a bang, and a man and his gangly limbs stumble into the car, nearly wiping out in the aisle. Louis holds back a snorting giggle when he realizes that it’s the fit guy in the suit that he’d been ogling at King’s Cross station. Louis sits up straighter and tries not to stare at the extremely attractive man walking down the aisle of the train towards him. He tries and fails. And now the man has caught his eye and is staring back. Louis feels as if he’s locked in a tractor beam. Does he know this Adonis? The man does feel familiar but Louis can’t quite place him. And then the man smiles; it’s the dimples and the sparkling green eyes that give him away. Louis can feel his face light up in recognition as the man comes to a stop next to his seat.
“Yes, Louis. It’s me.”
There’s an awkwardness immediately following the elation that Louis feels, seeing Harry for the first time in over ten years. Louis isn’t sure what to do – with his eyes, as they dart across Harry’s beautiful face, bouncing from his cheeks to his jawline to his gorgeous green eyes; with his mouth, which goes from a shocked ‘O’ to a large grin, back to a slack gape of awe; or with his hands, which grip the rail of the seat in front of him, then reach out towards Harry as if to make sure he’s real. Finally, Louis stands and turns slightly in his seat to quickly and boldly pull Harry into an embrace. He’s not sure why he’s surprised when Harry drops the bags he was holding and returns the embrace, pulling Louis around to face him and into an even stronger and longer hold.
“Harry. I can’t believe it. How…how on earth…how are you, mate?” Louis asks into the soft wool of Harry’s overcoat with choked laughter.
Harry pulls back and smiles down at Louis (and when did Harry grow so tall anyway?). “I’m doing well. I can’t believe it’s you. I saw you getting on this train and I wasn’t positive but I just knew I knew you and I had to make sure.”
Louis smiles at this revelation and wonders if he should confess that he saw Harry before on the train platform too. Then the ticket-taker enters their train car to collect and stamp tickets and abruptly their little bubble is burst and Louis takes in the scene around them. There’s Harry blocking a good portion of the aisle with his bags and just the “Harry-ness” of him; his large smile unwavering, as he stands with his hands on his hips. The three teen boys sat across from him who are looking at him and Harry with bored and rather annoyed faces. There’s the woman sitting in front of Louis with her headphones on and her hand decidedly on her bags in the seat next to her, already signaling that she isn’t going to let anyone sit next to her. And then there’s the woman sitting behind Louis, who has been brazenly eavesdropping the entire time he and Harry have stood there talking. She catches Louis’ eye and smiles, and then stands and moves out of her seat indicating that Harry should take it. Harry smiles and thanks her as she moves a couple of rows back to another seat, and moves out of the aisle, placing his shopping bags under the seat and his leather bag on the seat next to him. Louis settles back down onto his seat, this time sitting with his back against the window and his legs propped up on his duffel while Harry faces him and rests his arms on the back of Louis’ seat.
They share smiles and both begin to speak at once; Harry stops and indicates that Louis should continue. He waits until the conductor has taken their tickets until he asks the question that’s been on his tongue since seeing Harry’s smiling face in front of him.
“Do you live in London? I thought you were still in America becoming a huge Broadway star?”
“Yeah…about that. I pretty much crashed and burned in the States. Came back to England with my tail between my legs almost 5 years ago now.” Harry gives Louis a chagrined look and the prettiest blush appears on his cheeks. Louis’ fingers itch to reach over and touch Harry’s peach-tinged skin.
“But I thought…I mean, you got that lead role in that Broadway musical? You got to work with Jason Robert Brown! That’s a big deal; it must’ve meant something.” Louis looks incredulously at Harry, who only turns his face away and heaves a heavy sigh.
After a few seconds of silence, Harry leans forward and places his folded arms on the back of Louis’ seat and rests his chin there. “When I got to New York everything seemed possible. I had the scholarship to Tisch, and everyone seemed to want me, to love me. NYU was…it was really good to me; maybe a little too good to me. I got an inflated ego; I thought it was all going to happen for me. If I wanted it enough, I thought it would be handed to me on a silver platter.”
Louis interrupts him, because it’s hard for him to correlate the Harry he knew with what he’s describing. “But Harry, that’s not…I can’t imagine you being egotistical. You were always the sweetest person I knew. I was always the cocky one, yeah?”
Harry barks out a laugh, quickly covering his mouth. “Oh Lou, thank you. That’s sweet. But NYU and Tisch definitely changed me. In New York I wasn’t silly femme Harry with his goofy curly hair, and his baby fat, and his uncoordinated clumsy body. Overnight it was like the Manhattan air transformed me. I grew three inches in one year and grew into my feet. I was taking dance lessons and fencing lessons which replaced the chub with muscles, and my clumsiness with a little grace. Throw in a British accent and my burgeoning sexual awakening, and I was suddenly very popular. I was everybody’s favorite. It was a drug that I wasn’t prepared to find to enticing.”
“You were always my favorite person, Harry.” Louis shares with a small smile.
“You were my favorite person too, Louis.” Harry’s smiles back at Louis.
“Not to get too deep but, you were the first reason that I knew that I was gay. You made me feel accepted and brave. Not so alone.”
“I made you feel brave?" Louis looks at Harry, shocked. "I felt like such a coward because I could never say the words - I am gay. It was something that most people knew or guessed, I suppose. But it was unspoken. My parents knew but like my dad refused to speak about it. And at school it was okay to be the flamboyant kid that loved to sing and act as long as I was still a great defender on the football field.”
“Well call it an unspoken rule or whatever, you were allowed to be yourself and be popular. You were special. And anyone in your orbit got to feel special too.”
Harry continues, “So there I was the hot new thing, and I thought I had it all ahead of me. And I got the role of Michael in “Bridges of Madison County”; a real, high-profile Broadway show with a high profile composer and Tony-award winning stars. But the show got tepid reviews and closed within two months. And it was like a bubble had burst; I couldn’t find any other parts, auditions went lousy for me, and I was living in a crappy apartment that my step-father was paying half of the rent for, while I worked in a piano bar in the West Village to get by. I wasn’t happy at all. And after 4 and a half years, I missed home for the first time since I’d left.” Louis nods in understanding, “I changed focus from performance to production aspects of musical theater, and that led me back to England and what I’m currently doing.”
“And what are you currently doing? It must be something successful, that’s a fancy suit you’re wearing there, Harold.” Louis teases.
“Oh shush. I save up to buy nice things, and will also cop to the fact that I have a close friend named Zayn who works for British GQ and he gives me hand offs from their photoshoot closet because I can usually fit the sample sizes.” Louis gives him an inscrutable look, “my lavish appetite for clothes is indulged this way.”
Harry continues, “But my career is working as a dramaturg for the Aldwych Theatre in the West End.”
“Wow, Harry. That’s very cool. That sounds so exciting. It’s funny because I’ve taken several of my students to the Aldwych for seminars and workshops. It’s weird that we never ran into each other.”
“Are you a teacher then?” Harry asks, and Louis responds with a nod.
“I teach Drama and Theatre Studies for year 7 and 6th form students at City of London Academy. I’ve been there about three years.”
“Wait, I think my step-niece goes to City of London. Nell, do you know her?”
“I do, actually. She was in one of my classes last term.” Louis shakes his head in disbelief.
“I bet you’re a wonderful teacher, Louis. You were always so patient with other kids and always so good with teaching your sisters. How are they by the way?”
“My sisters are doing well. Oh! and since I’ve seen you last, I have another sister, and a brother! My mum remarried about eight years ago and had another set of twins if you can believe it. Doris and Ernest.”
“Oh Louis, more twins. I wish I’d known them as babies, I bet they were adorable. I remember how cute Daisy and Phoebe were when they were little.”
Louis can see hearts in Harry’s eyes; he’d forgotten how much Harry loves babies. “Yeah, Ernie and Doris are pretty adorable. And they know it. They get away with far too much.”
“How’s your sister then?” Louis asks.
“Gemma’s great. In fact, she’s getting married in about a week. A lavish ceremony on New Year’s Eve.” Harry rolls his eyes.
“That’s great. What’s with the eye roll? Is Gemma a right bridezilla? I can actually see that quite clearly.” Louis says with a hearty laugh.
Harry giggles and rolls his eyes again, “She hasn’t been that bad actually. Just a little bossy about what she wants me to do at the ceremony and reception and who she wants me to bring to the wedding.”
“Who she wants you to bring?” Louis questions, internally hoping and praying that Harry doesn’t have some amazing boyfriend or husband he’s yet to tell him about.
“It’s complicated. I was dating this guy earlier this year. It was going well…until it wasn’t. I of course gushed about him to Gem and mum and Gemma demanded that I invite and bring him to the wedding. And after I broke it off with the guy; another relationship that I’d failed at; another man that I couldn’t seem to keep interested past five or six months; I never told my family that I’d ended it with John. Soooo, they’re kind of, definitely expecting him to be at the ceremony with me. Instead it’ll just be sad-sack singleton Harry.”
“Oh, Harry”, Louis frowns concerned, “there’s no way I’d categorize you as a sad-sack singleton. You’re wonderful.”
“How do you know? You haven’t seen me in ten years. And believe me, I’m still the same dweeb I was in primary and secondary school.”
“Well you were the cutest and fittest dweeb I ever knew.” Louis gives him a bashful smile.
“No Louis, that honor went to you.” Harry responds in kind.
“You thought I was a dweeb?” Louis asks in mock shock.
Harry guffaws. “No! You were cute and fit! The most of anyone I knew.” Harry looks down in his lap, embarrassed.
They’re both silent for a minute, and then Harry tries to break the awkwardness by joking. “Anyway, here it is a week before the wedding and I don’t have a man, or a date for this wedding. I wish I could hire a wedding date like Debra Messing did in that one rom-com? Dylan McDermot? That would solve a lot of my problems.”
“It was Dermot Mulroney.” Louis corrects, and when Harry looks like he’s going to argue, Louis puts his hand up. “Trust me. If it’s about a romantic comedy film, I know the correct answer. It’s my superpower.”
Harry laughs and gives Louis an endeared smile. “Hey, didn’t that movie take place in England somewhere? You don’t think they actually have that kind of dating service do you?”
“Uh, it’s called an escort service? And I’m sure they have them in London. But please spare me Harry. There’s no way you have to resort to hiring an escort. You can put your thumb out and all the boys would come running, I’m sure.”
Harry blushes with the compliment and rolls his eyes again. “Right.”
Louis taps Harry's arm lightly. “But speaking of needing a wedding date, one of my best friends is getting married in a couple of months on Valentine’s Day, and she’s basically forbidden me to come to the ceremony without a man on my arm. I’m going to have to disappoint her though. There’s no way I’m going to find someone to start dating and have it be serious enough that they’d be willing to fly thousands of miles to Jamaica and spend a bunch of money on a destination wedding.” Louis relaxes further into his seat pulling his coat up around him like a blanket.
“Well that’s a coincidence. My best friend is also getting married in Jamaica in February. We’re going down a week early to also celebrate my birthday.” Harry frowns, a little confused.
“That is a weird coincidence…wait…your friend wouldn’t happen to be Perrie Edwards would it?”
“Yes!” Harry sits up straight with a shock. “How did you…? Hold on, are you friends with Jesy?” Harry feels his jaw fall open with shock.
“Oh for fuck’s sake, what are the odds?” Louis laughs and shakes his head in disbelief. “Yes, Jesy is my best girlfriend. We met at a drama teacher’s conference in Brighton a few years ago. She’s a gas; we get on like firecrackers. She and I get together almost weekly to compare horrors in teaching, Abs Cross Academy vs. Cof L. Jesy is a great one to hang with and take the piss. Perrie is so sweet you know, not a judgmental bone in her body, so Jesy definitely appreciates having someone to gripe about the neighbors, or her sisters, or Perrie’s sisters!” Louis and Harry both laugh at that.
“I seriously can’t believe that you and I are best friends with women who are engaged to be married and who are basically always together, and yet we’ve not seen or bumped into each other! How have our names never come up?” Harry’s jaw hangs open in shock.
“Well, now that you say that, I feel like Perrie has talked about a Harry a bunch of times. How was I to know that it was you? And Jesy’s nickname for me is ‘Chav’, she rarely calls me Louis or Lou.”
“Chav? That’s…that’s a little insulting isn’t it?” Harry tries to hide the shock on his face by feigning a cough.
“Oh, I guess. But not with us. I mean, I definitely didn’t have the poshest life growing up. My family’s all Yorkshire working class. Very chav you know. I know the term is derogatory, but I find it pretty endearing, especially from Jes.” Louis gives a small smile to Harry to let him know it’s okay to joke about the whole thing. He can already see why Harry and Perrie are best friends. They’re both too nice for their own good.
“So you’re going to Jamaica too? I won’t be able to go down as early as the girls want because of school. And I need to save a bunch of vacation days for a big trip to Portugal that’s happening July with some of my mates.”
“Ooh I love Portugal.” Harry’s eyes gleam like he has some good stories to tell of times there.
“Well, part of the trip is planned but I’d love to hear some of your suggestions of places to go and things to see.”
For the next two hours, Louis and Harry catch each other up on their lives, specifically about what they’ve been doing most recently. They continue to find little coincidences and shared narratives in their lives and truly can’t believe that they haven’t run into each other before today. They both express how happy they are that it happened. Neither wants to admit how this short time together has made them realize how much they each have missed the other.
As they approach the Stockport station where they need to change trains to go to Cheshire, Harry is standing in the aisle next to Louis’ seat, regaling Louis, and really the handful of passengers around them, with memories of their 6th year production of “The Fantastiks”, imitating with perfect accuracy the gruff mannerisms of their drama teacher, Mr. Morton, and making Louis laugh hysterically in remembrance.
“Harry stop, stop.” Louis wheezes through a laugh, “I can’t breathe, I’m laughing too hard.”
Harry laughs but bows and indulges Louis by sitting back down in his seat. “I tease, Louis, but in all seriousness? You singing “Try to Remember” is one of my favorite memories from school; from growing up full stop. You were so earnest; so beautiful.” Harry realizes what he’s just said, what he has admitted and blushes furiously, looking away from Louis. Harry’s words make Louis feel warm and special; like Harry is casting a shimmering light inside his heart. Louis feels himself blush and smile with the compliment.
“Harry, thank you. I…that might be the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me. I wish…um…I wish you’d told me back when we were 16. It was all I cared about really, your opinion of me.” Now it’s Louis’ turn to look away. He tries to lighten the mood. “You know, now that I’m a teacher, I realize that Mr. Morton wasn’t that bad. We were all truly awful to him; no wonder he was always cross with us.”
Harry smiles and nods in understanding and is just about to reply when an announcement comes through the speaker overhead.
“Attention passengers connecting to the 8:45pm train to Northwich and Chester. We’ve been notified of an obstruction on the tracks so there will be a delay of over an hour. Affected passengers have the option of taking the 8:30pm train to Stoke on Kent and then another transfer to the Liverpool line with stops in Chester, or waiting in Stockport station until the tracks are cleared.”
Groans could be heard up and down the train car and Louis looks to Harry and shrugs with indecision. “What are you going to do Harry? There’s nothing I’m particularly doing tonight and either way I can tell Lottie to pick me up late, or at a different station. Whatever you want to do, I’ll go along.”
Harry smiles feeling happy that Louis wants to continue traveling and hanging out with him this evening. He knows he has an early day tomorrow with his mom, so he muses over which option would get him home faster, although truthfully he wouldn’t mind hanging with Louis and catching up, drowning in the deep pools of his beautiful, long-lashed blue eyes. He can’t believe that he’d forgotten how blue Louis’ eyes are.
“I say we wait out the delay in Stockport. Whatever is happening with the track can’t possibly take that long to fix, and going miles out of the way to Stoke on Kent seems silly. And anyway, my mum and your sister would have to drive to a different station that’s totally out to the way. Are you up for it?”
“Up for it, Harry.” Louis easily agrees and gives Harry a wink.
They settle on a padded bench inside the Stockport station and wait for their train. They continue to catch each other up on their lives, describing their apartments and why they each feel that they’re lucky to live where they do in London. They make tentative plans for meals at each other’s place and talk more about Jesy and Perrie’s upcoming wedding. Within thirty minutes their train is able to head out and they each text their family to tell them that they’re on their way.
Harry and Louis are quiet on the short ride into Cheshire. They share smiles and comfortable silence, but can’t help but look at each other the entire ride. By the time they reach Adlington Station and they’re parting ways with quick hugs and lingering looks, each other’s phone numbers entered into their phones, and a warm feeling in their hearts.