Despite the chill that curls around autumn, there’s always something that feels fresh about it. Damp leaves and dark oranges and that prelude time to the sugary honey-stuck month of October. It’s dreamy to crack open his window when the sun comes up in burnt hues. When it’s cold enough, there’ll be icy dew on the grass and the windows across the street go glazed, and for that little pocket of quiet time between alarms buzzing and cars starting and the sizzle of telephone lines humming into life, Harry can take a moment to appreciate the seemingly overbearing simpleness that comes with living in this little town.
Then he’ll let the needle drop on a record, breathe with the fuzz, and start getting ready for another day of letting that simpleness mask the fact that the way he feels about Holmes Chapel is usually anything but.
This morning it’s Grease playing loud because he can already hear his mum puttering around the kitchen downstairs and the shower has been running for fifteen minutes now, Gemma’s own music slipping out from under the crack in the door and floating down the hallway. It’s Grease because the musical has taken up a greater portion of his life than he’d like to admit. It’s also Grease because if he’s being truly honest, there isn’t really a better way to start his morning than to sing Frankie Valli down a water bottle-microphone, shoulders swaying back and forth while he dances in front of the mirror.
Most days tend to start like this. Window open, music up loud, dancing around his bedroom thinking he’s a lot cooler than he knows he looks. But right now it’s just him and his reflection and the Hawaiian shirt he’s got half unbuttoned down his chest, tucked into his jeans, hair messily combed back and only staying in place because it’s been flattened from a heavy sleep. He’s singing it’s got groove, it’s got meaning and twirling in a ridiculously slow, body rolling circle, arms out by his side, and, well. It’s just him and his reflection and nobody has to know this is what he does with his time.
“That’s an interesting shirt.”
Harry whirls, his water bottle-microphone flying from his grasp and rolling awkwardly to where his mum is standing in the doorway, fighting a smile.
In a moment of panic, he crosses the room and closes the door abruptly on her face.
“You’re supposed to knock,” Harry says, flushed. He hears her laugh. “It’s not funny.”
“It’s a little funny,” Anne says through the door. “Breakfast is on the table when you’re ready, Elvis.”
Harry cracks the door open to glare at her. “It’s Frankie Valli, actually.”
“Well, excuse me,” Anne says, mock-apologetic. She pokes her finger through the door to jab at his stomach, which he twists away from. “Whatever it was, I’m sure it’ll impress all the Sandy’s and Rizzo’s today. Especially with those dance moves–”
Harry shuts the door with a dull slam and rests his head against the frame, groaning. Anne laughs again, wandering back down the hall and downstairs. Taking in a slow breath, Harry crosses the room and turns back to the mirror, staring at his reflection, still flushed pink. With a sigh he ruffles his hair back into it’s usual fringe and starts to unbutton his shirt, trading it for a plain blue tee and his coat. He tucks and untucks the shirt a few times, cuffs and uncuffs his jeans.
“Stop it,” he tells himself, rolling his eyes away and out to the window. The sun is bright today, that piercing light that comes with the beginnings of a crystal clear cold snap.
He looks back at his reflection, the dull colour, the way his jacket swallows up his lanky body. Sometimes he wishes he’d stopped growing at sixteen, staying that tall-but-not-quite-tall height that didn’t make his body seem strangely proportioned and limp in skinny jeans. He’s shot up over the last few months, all his favourite pants no longer fitting, tight and awkward around his ankles. Maybe that’s why he always has a tendency to cuff them now.
Sighing, Harry crosses the room and gently lifts the needle off the record. What remains is the sound of Holmes Chapel yawning into life, Gemma’s voice drifting past his room as she hums Love Me slightly off-key, and the buzz of Perrie’s good morning text rattling his bedside table lightly.
ummm where are u im dying for tea and danishes???
Harry rolls his eyes.
better start walking
Downstairs, his mum and sister are already halfway through their breakfast, syrupy pancakes piled high with banana and honey. Gemma makes a face at him when he starts to gather up the tiny carton of leftover berries and half a banana, but this is the normal. Harry tends to end most mornings rushing out the door and shovelling food into his mouth, feet half in-half out of his converse as he trips towards the door, dusty brown bag slung over his shoulder while his phone buzzes with texts from Perrie and Niall, always claiming he’s running late when he’s perfectly on time.
“You’re late,” Perrie says, true to form when she slides into the passenger seat, a dark beanie over her bright hair, cosy in one of Harry’s old wool jumpers and her Docs.
“I’m perfectly on time,” Harry chirps. Perrie just hums and leans forward to turn up the radio, flicking between stations. “Hey. I was listening to that.”
“Too bad,” Perrie says. “It’s too early for your weird indie shit.”
“You love the weird indie shit I listen to,” Harry points out as he wonkily pulls back out onto the road, almost hitting a bin. “Look me in the eye and tell me Yankee Hotel Foxtrot doesn’t get you going in the morning.”
Perrie’s head flies back as she cackles, a hand over her stomach. “You’re an absolute dickhead.”
“You love that, too,” Harry says, which earns him a pinch to his side and his cheek, Perrie cooing obnoxious and loud.
She’s one of those people that seems to have always been part of his life, the same way his family has. He can never really pinpoint a moment between them that feels like a first, anything distinctive that makes him stick a pin in a particular point of his childhood. They’ve grown up together, living just a street away, partners in crime, two halves of a whole, two peas in a pod and all the other ridiculously cliche things they use to describe and poke fun at their own relationship.
Maybe that’s why the guilt feels heavier the longer he holds off telling her that he’s gay.
“Red light!” Perrie punches his arm, and Harry quickly slams the breaks as he pulls himself out of his thoughts, already biting down on a startled laugh at Perrie’s scolding eyes. “You are genuinely such a shit driver. It terrifies me.”
“I’m a perfectly adequate driver,” Harry protests.
“It worries me that you think describing your driving as adequate is supposed to make me feel better,” Perrie says.
Niall’s waiting on the curb when Harry turns onto his street, feet atop his guitar case, phone held sideways in his grasp, right up to his nose. He’s got his Jetpack Joyride expression on. Like Perrie, there’s a beanie pulled down low over his ears, but he’s wearing a t-shirt and thin jeans like a complete tosser.
“An embarrassment,” Perrie comments fondly as they pull up.
“Play nice,” Harry warns, just as fond.
It takes five minutes for Niall to actually stand and acknowledge their presence, the defeated look on his face indicating that he’s finally lost, and he hoists up his case and his backpack with a shiny grin, nose bright pink from the chilly air.
“Mornin’ my loves,” he says, muffled by the clattering sound of him shoving his guitar case into the backseat, almost hitting Harry in the face with it before he rights himself. “You’re late.”
Harry just sighs.
This has been their routine ever since Harry got his license. Before that, they used to walk to school in the mornings, even in winter, all of them bundled up in thick coats and scarves and beanies, throwing rare bundles of snow into each others faces. Now, Harry picks them both up, they stop in at the tea house in town for fresh pastry and caffeine, and somehow manage to make it through the doors of their homerooms by the time the bell rings out through the hall.
“Did you see the new post on HCC this morning?” Perrie asks, flicking through her phone beside Harry, a danish and a steaming cup of herbal tea balanced between her tucked legs.
“You know I don’t read that drivel,” Harry says. Total lie. Any teenager that says they don’t live for the petty drama that circulates their high school is a liar.
“Bullshit.” Niall reaches forward in his seat. “I catch you reading it almost every study period we have.”
“You’ve got no proof.”
“Oi.” Perrie snaps a finger between them. “Answer my question.”
“No, I didn’t read it,” Harry says cooly, taking a smooth turn onto the next street, school looming in the distance through the trees. I was too busy channelling gay energy.
“Apparently Jesy and Martin got caught going at it by Mr. Grimshaw behind the set last night,” Perrie informs them with a puff of amazed laughter, still scrolling.
“I say good on ‘em,” Niall muses.
“Right?” Harry says. “Is it even production year if someone isn’t caught defiling the set in some way?”
“You’re both the worst,” Perrie states. “Have you no dignity?”
“Absolutely none,” Niall says.
The car park is a flurry of movement, students hurrying to their classes, cars slipping in quick to the spots right by the gates, eager to make their escape at the end of the day. It’s a blur of autumn auburns and coppery red, damp leaves squished into murky piles, all the trees stripped skeleton bare. Harry admires it all for a moment, the way the ground has become this perfect mismatch of dark colours, stormy clouds in the distance holding off for now and letting the sun attempt to warm up the morning.
“Pedestrian!” Niall shoots forward to grab at Harry’s seat. Harry slams on the brakes to avoid hitting a very flustered Ms Everdeen, who looks a second away from hurling her thermos of coffee at his windshield.
Harry winds down the window awkwardly. “Sorry!”
“Watch it, Mr. Styles,” Ms Everdeen says sternly. “I still don’t understand how you passed your test.”
She stalks off with a huff. Behind them, a car honks, and Harry waves an apologetic hand out the window before rolling crookedly into an empty parking spot. Perrie and Niall are both just staring at him.
They break down into laughter at the same moment, hands over their eyes.
“C’mon, you lot.” Perrie shakes her head and wipes at her eyes, pushing her door open. “Let’s get out of here before Harry somehow blows up the engine.”
There is nothing funnier in this whole world, Harry thinks, than the way Mr. Grimshaw attempts to hide his disdain at anything the cast and band does. They all call it the Grimshaw Grimace now, a recently coined term by Martin, and it fits so well that Harry has to trap laughter just thinking about it. It’s early noon, the final bell just wrung, and for the first time, the school band and choir is joining the cast for runthroughs. So far, the cast has been practicing to pre-recordings, and the auditorium is buzzing with chatter and nerves and excitement.
From his place up on the platform, Harry can see down onto the stage and all the way up into the seats, the entire stretch of the room before him. It’s a little daunting, knowing that there’s going to be a spotlight shining down on him during the opening number and through parts of the show, but Niall is to his left with his guitar, Caleb to his right with his bass, Josh on the small kit behind them. Down in the tiny excuse for an orchestra pit, the school band are knocking elbows as they try to fit themselves into the stuffy box.
On the stage, the cast is clumped together in little circles doing what theatre kids do best. Talk. Over everything.
“Alright, everyone!” Mr Grimshaw calls from the third row, four seats from the centre. He claims this is the ideal spot to be, raised just enough to get a good angle on the stage, to the side just enough to see everything going on in the foreground and the background. Harry isn’t sure how much of Mr. Grimshaws advice is shittalking or actual fact. “Alright!”
As expected, he’s ignored. Harry groans when he resorts to picking up the megaphone. The resounding siren that bounces off the walls is enough to silence the room fairly quickly.
“Attention, all!” Mr. Grimshaw says, megaphone squealing with feedback slightly. There’s absolutely no need for it at all, but, like with most things, Mr. Grimshaw tends to go a little over the top. “Let’s go from the beginning. I’d like to see the first number straight through, no breaks. If you mess it up just keep going and we’ll address all the failures afterwards.”
Begrudgingly, the cast move off stage and take their places. Harry’s stomach is full of nerves, which is ridiculous. This is just a practice, and the first time they’re playing it with the cast, but he still feels that familiar ghost of stage fright settling in the pit of his stomach, the need for it all to be perfect. He’s got the sudden urge to throw himself off the platform and escape through one of the dusty trapdoors underneath the stage and never show his face again.
“Where’s that smile, Styles!” Mr. Grimshaw calls, his voice distorted and muffled through the megaphone. “I need you to blind me.”
Harry smiles painfully and grips the microphone stand with clammy hands.
“Mate, unclench,” Niall whispers from behind him, and Harry only has time to splutter and go bright red before Mrs. Davies starts to stiffly conduct the band, and with a one-two-three-four, they’re off.
The Grimshaw Grimace makes an immediate appearance. It doesn’t even sound that bad, the brass players struggling a little with holding all their notes in time and tune with each other, but it’s over soon enough and then Harry has to start concentrating on his own singing, not the band or Mr. Grimshaw’s ashen face or the way the cast is starting to enter the stage for the first number.
He’s shaky at first, he knows, fighting through the first couple of lines and fumbling over we start believin’ now that we can be who we are, but by the second verse he’s got it, shoulders rocking back and forth, head bopping, and the longer it goes on the more comfortable everyone seems to feel, bass and kick in perfect time and thudding in his chest, Niall grooving along beside him. They smile at each other, and yes, it starting to feel right now; starting to feel the way Harry does when he plays the record as it is, the rhythm and the words resonating in his ribs.
By the end, Harry is confident enough to work the tiny stage a little, watching the cast dance and sing along through their steps down below, this harmonized echo of is the word, is the word floating up through the auditorium. Perrie is in the centre of it all, their very own Sandra Dee, and across the stage, Harry watches the T-Birds huddle, Louis Tomlinson their ringleader. Everybody seems to be vibing with the music, and by the end of it all Mr. Grimshaws eyes look a little wet, fingers poised over his mouth in glee.
Harry feels moments away from projectile vomiting, if he’s quite honest, saliva thick in his throat, fingers a little shaky. He can see a few heads turning up to look at him, and he hopes he did okay, because the whole opening is resting on his shoulders to not fuck up and lead the rest of them into a fiery explosion.
“Great effort, everyone,” Mr. Grimshaw says through the megaphone. “Obviously there are some improvements to be made, but I’m not completely underwhelmed. Ten minute break!”
The megaphone flares up with feedback again.
“Good job, buddy.” Niall thumps him on the back and starts to turn down his amp. “Thought you were about to pull a Pitch Perfect moment there for a second.”
“Thanks, Niall,” Harry says, deadpan.
“Yeah, it was fully sick,” Caleb says, nudging Harry gently and already smiling at his own joke. Harry flushes a little and laughs. “Really though, H. You sounded amazing.”
“So did you,” Harry says. Caleb’s smile widens, a dimple carving into his cheek. Harry’s heart flutters a little and he wills it to stop, hoping the warmth there isn’t as obvious at it feels in his expression.
“Stop, stop,” Caleb fans himself dramatically. “All this flattery is making me blush.”
Harry laughs again, brighter this time, and ducks his head. He’s so hopeless with his crushes, all these tiny infatuations always popping up and ruining his ability to act like a normal human being. His brain turns into a melted puddle far too easily, mind racing with questions like is this flirting? Are you into me? Are you into boys? Wanna make out in the back of my car?
“What?” Harry blurts, blinking rapidly. God, he was probably-definitely staring at Caleb’s mouth.
“I said,” Caleb laughs, amused. “D’you want me to save you a cookie before the Pink Ladies devour the entire snack table?”
Are you flirting with me right now? Is that some kind of secret code for you liking me?
“Sure,” Harry says awkwardly. “I’ll just–. Uh. I’m gonna go get a drink. Bye.”
All of their bags are dumped in a colossal pile in one of the stuffy dressing rooms backstage. Harry trips over multiple bag straps in his mission to find his own worn bag, flattened beneath Perrie and Niall’s. There’s a text on his phone from Gemma that’s just a link to a meme on instagram, and a text from his mum telling him she’ll be late back from work. He texts back a string of x’s and then digs through his bag for his water bottle.
Harry half-chokes on his water, startled as he turns to look over his shoulder. Louis is leant cooly against the door of the dressing room, smiling softly. In the dull, dusty light, he still manages to look effortlessly attractive. Or maybe that’s just Harry’s bias towards theatre boys with bright eyes and nice hands.
“Hey,” Harry coughs wetly. “Hey, Louis.”
He can’t really remember if he and Louis have ever had an actual, withstanding conversation. Louis is good friends with Perrie from the productions they’ve done together, and they run in the same circles and the small, all encapsulating circle that makes up the teenage population of Holmes Chapel, but Harry’s always been on the outside of the theatre-kid bubble, sticking more with the other musicians and kids in his classes. Louis is in the year above them, after all.
“I just wanted to say, you sounded ace up there,” Louis says. “You’ve got me shaking in my boots a little. Why didn’t you audition for Danny?”
“Oh,” Harry says, in genuine surprise. There’s blood rushing into his ears a little too quickly. “Thank you. I guess I’m not much of an actor. Or a dancer. Easier to stick with singing, I think.”
“Well, you’re doing a good job so far,” Louis says, shifting his weight and crossing his ankles. “Pez is always telling me you’ve got a great voice, so it’s nice to finally see she hasn’t been lying to me all these years.”
Harry can feel himself going pink. “She did?”
“Yeah,” Louis grins. In the distance, Mr. Grimshaws megaphone starts it’s shrill siren call. Louis rolls his eyes. “Typical. Anyway, I’ll see you ‘round?”
“Sure,” Harry says. “I mean, yeah. Yeah. Coolies.”
“Coolies,” Louis laughs, obviously amused as he pushes off the door. “Bye, mate.”
Afterwards, Harry stands in petrified silence for a moment, before he brings a hand to his mouth.
“Coolies?” he whispers to himself, mortified. Fucking coolies? He just said coolies to Louis Tomlinson.
Perrie chooses that moment to duck her head in, apparently unbothered by his obvious stress.
“Grimshaw has instructed me to tell you he’s going to make you run laps of the auditorium if you’re not in your position within the next thirty seconds,” she says. “Including up the stairs.”
Harry sprints from the dressing room.
He and Gemma have always been latchkey kids. Harry doesn’t resent that fact, either. Sometimes, he loves it, because he knows it’s brought them closer, and it’s always nice to see the relief flood his mum’s face when she comes home and there’s already dinner on the table. She’s raised them almost entirely on her own, and the not-so-easy yet easy and bendable routine of afternoons after school feels like one of the strongest normalities in Harry’s life.
Gemma’s got one of her carefully crafted Spotify playlists ebbing through the speakers, stirring a large pot of pasta, thin hair stuck along her temples from the steam. Harry is chopping parsley adjacent to her. His fingernails are starting to stain green and the whole house smells like pesto and parmesan and garlic, sauce simmering on the stove. The kitchen lights ebb everything soft and mellow.
“D’you know Louis?” Harry asks casually, scooping up his parsley into a little porcelain dish.
“Tomlinson?” Gemma quirks a brow at him.
“Yeah,” Harry nods. He needs something to do with his hands, fingers twitching nervously just from this, just from asking. Sometimes, when he’s feeling particularly fraught with the need to spew his feelings, he imagines just saying it without any preamble. I’m gay. Maybe he’d just be spooning pasta onto a plate, spooning sauce on top of that, and he’d say it, just like that. I like boys. I’m so, so gay.
It’s always easier imagining it. The words never quite seem to make it past the thick weight in his chest.
“Kinda,” Gemma shrugs. “He dated El for a bit, but that was ages ago. Apart from that we didn’t talk that much. I sometimes see him at work.”
Harry nods and picks at the chopping board in front of him, glumness settling in his stomach. That fire didn’t last long before smoking itself out.
“Why?” Gemma prompts.
“Nevermind,” Harry murmurs. “Can you turn it up? I like this song.”
He doesn’t even recognize it, but he just needs something to fill up the space before Gemma asks another question. He goes back to chopping parsley and resolutely ignores the disappointment that’s latched onto him, frustrated that he let himself get his hopes up so quickly. He never seems to learn.
It’s late by the time he finally tucks himself under his covers, mum and Gemma still downstairs to watch one last episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine before bed, and he can hear their muffled laughter. He doesn’t know why it makes his chest feel heavy. He tells himself it’s not guilt, not the feeling of being on the outside of something, but he can’t push away the maudlin feeling gnawing at his insides.
In the dark of his bedroom, all the posters on the walls reflecting that strange moonshine-navy colour, Harry lets out a soft sigh and tucks his face under the sheets.
Approximately ten seconds later, his phone starts to ring. It’s Perrie.
“Hmph,” Harry murmurs when he answers with a fumble, eyes still closed.
“Harry,” Perrie says, alert and too loud. “Look at Holmes Chapel Chatter right now.”
“For God’s sake, Pez,” Harry says, annoyed. “I’m tired.”
“Just get up, grumpy ass.”
Harry sighs, pushing his covers off, irritable and stumbling through the dark to his desk. When he opens his computer the brightness partially blinds him, and he rushes to turn it down, vision fuzzy for a moment.
“I’m not picking you up tomorrow,” he says, waiting for the web page to load with his cheek nestled in his palm.
“Just shut up and read the post,” Perrie says, and her voice sounds jumpy and strange, almost excited.
“What is it?” Harry sighs. “Can’t you just tell me?”
He’s exhausted and strangely upset and just wants to curl back under his covers and he doesn’t know why Perrie insists he reads this stupid page immediately. Niall wasn’t lying when he said he’s caught Harry reading it before, but that’s never anything more than idle fascination. He doesn’t seek out juicy posts to read about people he goes to school with. He doesn’t–
The site finally loads.
Harry’s heart stops.
Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck on a ferris wheel. One minute I’m on top of the world, then the next I’m at rock bottom.
Harry skims the paragraph, ears full of static, all the blood in his body rushing up to his neck and his cheeks. He can feel his pulse in his temples. Everything is so far away.
“Harry? Have you read it yet?”
His tongue feels too big for his mouth. He swallows and tries to breathe, stomach churning, because right there, at the end of the spiel about feeling stuck and scared and alone despite the normality of everything else around them, this anonymous person has written nobody knows I’m gay.
“Yeah, I…” Harry manages to get the words out eventually, frozen, staring at the screen. “I read it.”
“Who do you think it is?” Perrie says, giddy. She lets out a quiet breath. “I bet it’s someone in Grease. Like, the ferris wheel? We Go Together reference or what?”
“For sure,” Harry says. He doesn’t even recognize his own voice right now. Slowly, he sits back in his chair and puts a hand over his stomach. “Listen, Pez. I have to go. Mum’s calling me. I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”
Harry hangs up.
Sometimes I wonder if I really am all alone in this, or if there’s others out there who feel the same, trying to get by being half of the whole they know they could be.
The silence in his bedroom sounds like the moment before a bomb goes off, all the air sucked into a vacuum of terrifying quiet, except this time the explosion doesn’t happen, and Harry is stuck in a state of staring blankly at his computer, feeling like he’s going out of his mind. Nobody knows I’m gay. Nobody knows I’m gay.
“Fuck,” he lets out in a rush of breath, slamming the lid closed and pressing the heels of his palms into his eyes. A slightly manic laugh works its way out of his chest. “Fucking hell.”
Harry pushes away from his desk and marches back to his bed, wrapping himself up in his blankets. It’s still so quiet. Anne and Gemma have gone to bed. Downstairs, the clock ticks in dull rhythm. He lets out a dramatic groan into his pillow and covers his head with the blankets, willing himself to fall asleep and not do something completely stupid.
He decides to wait until morning to do the completely stupid something.
He puts on Rumours to try and calm himself. Brews some tea before the sun has even risen to try and wake himself up, head heavy from a fitful sleep. Stares at his laptop for as long as he can before he starts to run late and he feels like he’s about to crawl out of his skin.
When he opens the lid, Holmes Chapel Chatter stares back at him. Harry eyes the email address in the corner. email@example.com. How original. He downs the rest of his tea, places his fingers slowly over the computer. Clicks the link.
He pauses, his own email popping up in the sender box.
Tapping his thumb again the space bar lightly, Harry lets out a slow breath and makes a new gmail account.
I’m just like you.
Harry closes the lid of his laptop and stares at his bedroom door. Breathes. Opens the lid again.
I think it takes a lot of bravery to post what you did, even if it was anonymous. Brave enough to inspire me to respond.
Hope you’re well.
He sits send, and immediately pushes away from his desk to get ready mechanically. Change his underwear. Jeans. Shirt. Coat. Ruffle his hair. Water bottle and charger in his backpack. Phone in his pocket. Downstairs, he kisses Anne and Gemma on the cheek, grabs a handful of berries, and stumbles out into his car.
When Perrie launches herself into the passenger seat, Harry isn’t ready.
“Any guesses?” she says.
“None,” Harry says. Perrie’s expression flickers.
“You look exhausted,” she frowns. Softly, she presses her palm to his forehead. “You’re burning up. Okay, H?”
“Fine,” Harry sighs. “Just. Nervous about the production. Didn’t sleep much last night.”
He hates lying to her so much it makes him feel a little queasy.
“Mate,” Perrie says sympathetically. “It’s only day two of combined rehearsal. You did so well yesterday. I don’t know what you’re worried about, honestly.”
Harry shrugs. “Anway. I’m sure everyone will be too busy talking about that HCC post to give a shit about anything today, so.”
“Sure,” Perrie says softly, scratching at her elbow.
Harry tries to remain collected and calm as they drive, but they’re both weirdly quiet and it’s making him sweat. Each time he glances over his brain has a meltdown of questions, this anxious pressure of she knows, doesn't she? She’s your best friend, she can read you like a book. Will she tell everyone? Will she hate you for it? Will she be mad you didn’t tell her sooner? Will–
“Niall!” Perrie shouts. Harry slams on the breaks.
From his seat on the curb, Niall flips him off.
“You almost ran me over, you fuck!” he shouts when he slides into the car, guitar case in tow, but there’s laughter in his voice and friendliness in his fingers when he ruffles Harry’s hair. “Sometimes I think you do it on purpose, just to be funny.”
“I’d never,” Harry says. They pull away from the curb and he turns up the radio to try and fill the silence.
“Sooo,” Niall says, hands drumming the two seats beside him. “The HCC post. Who’re we thinking?”
“I mean, it’s not really that big of a deal, is it?” Harry says casually. Perrie glances at him.
“What are you on about?” Niall laughs. “A closeted gay kid posting on the HCC is the most exciting thing to happen in this town since Zayn Malik accidentally blew up half of Lab A two years ago.”
“He didn’t blow it up, Niall. Jesus,” Perrie rolls her eyes. “It was just a tiny fire.”
“Speaking of,” Niall says breezily, leaning forward between the front seats. “Caleb was telling me that Martin told him that Zayn said he has a major crush on you.”
“Maybe you should post about it on HCC then,” Perrie says snarkily, flushing bright pink. Harry bites down on a tiny smile.
Niall whistles in a low drone. “Harsh, Pezza. We all a little delicate today or something?”
“Or something,” Harry says quietly.
At school, the halls are alight with giddy whispers. It makes Harry’s neck prickle, and he smooths down his shirt unconsciously, runs nervous fingers through his hair, and it’s completely ridiculous because there’s no way anybody could know it was him if he was the one to make that post. And he wasn’t. So he needs to get his shit together.
But you did respond, didn’t you? What if Blue knows you?
Shut up, he tells himself, pushing through the clusters of people to his locker. He shoves his bag inside, fumbles for his books, and tries to will away the heat that’s crawling up his neck, the way his fingers are shaking.
When he swings his locker shut, Zayn Malik is two inches away from his face.
“Jesus,” Harry flinches, hand over his heart. “What the fuck, mate?”
“Hey,” Zayn says casually, pushing his glasses up his nose with his knuckles. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Harry says, trying to control his breathing. He’s acting like a spooked animal right now. “Just going to class.”
“Nice,” Zayn nods. Says nothing else. Harry shifts his weight awkwardly.
“Did you need something, or…?”
“Oh,” Zayn says brightly. He pushes his glasses up into his hair for no apparent reason, smile gone timid and shy. Harry forces his hellbrain not to notice the soft cut of Zayn’s jaw or the dark fan of his lashes or the gel that shines his hair. Or his eyes, his gentle, warm, eyes. And his hands. His fingers. Slender from painting and drawing and maybe also from–
“I was wondering,” Zayn is saying, and Harry blinks his gaze back up to his eyes quickly. “Kinda lame, but, I was hoping maybe before tonight you could, like. Put in a good word with Perrie for me?”
Zayn scratches at the back of his neck and looks away.
“A good word,” Harry repeats.
“Yeah, like,” Zayn makes a vague gesture. Around them, the halls are clearing out, students slipping into their homerooms. “Talk me up a little, or something. We’re coming in to paint some of the sets tonight. She hardly notices me.”
“Have you ever, like…talked to her?”
“Well, no,” Zayn says. Harry has to look away from stop himself from laughing a little. “But I really like her. I know you guys are close, and I promise I’d treat her so nicely–”
“Mate,” Harry puts a gentle hand on Zayn’s shoulder. Sometimes, straight people are exhausting. “Don’t you think you should tell her that yourself?”
Zayn shrugs. “I guess, but. I’m so fucking nervous around her, y’know? Like, she’s just. Amazing.”
“I get it,” Harry nods. With a sigh, he relents. “Yeah, I’ll have a chat to her for you. No promises, though. And if she tells you to fuck off, you better.”
“Of course,” Zayn nods quickly. He knocks his glasses back down onto his nose and smiles. God, Harry thinks. You’re cute. Have you always been this cute? “Thanks so much, H.”
Are we flirting right now? Is this code for you actually liking me and not Perrie?
“Sure,” Harry shrugs. “See you later.”
Zayn wanders off with a gentle wave. Harry watches him go and tries to figure out what just happened. He’s about to leg it to his homeroom, the bell ringing out down the hall, when his phone vibrates in his pocket. He maneuvers his books around and pulls it from his jeans.
(1) new message from: firstname.lastname@example.org
He nearly drops his phone in his haste to shoulder into the closest bathroom, locking one of the stalls behind him. He stares down at the notification until his screen goes dark, then unlocks his phone carefully, unsure if he’s ready for this. Whatever this is. God.
Thank you for messaging me back. I didn’t actually think anybody would respond with something that wasn’t that HA GAY gif from Community. I’m not sure whether to laugh about the amount of those I got, but to be perfectly honest, I definitely laughed. Anyway. I think you’re brave, too. I’m going to assume you go to school here, given that you must have read the post on HCC, but if you don’t, or if you don’t want to tell me, that’s okay, too. It’s just nice to have somebody to talk to.
Maybe I’ll see you around.
Harry lets out a long breath, fingers curled over his mouth. There’s an unexpected giddiness thats fizzling in his stomach, and it feels a little like fear but also a little like something else, something like a pocket of hope amongst the rest of the wild thoughts zipping around his brain.
I do go to school here. And if it were me, I definitely would have laughed, too. Honestly, it feels a little surreal that this is happening? I’ve always wondered whether I’m the only gay kid in this town. It makes me hopeful that there are some other closeted kids around. Have you had any more emails? Are you out to anyone? Like you said, if you don’t want to tell me, that’s okay.
I hope we do see each other around.
Who are you?
“From the top!”
Harry groans softly, rubbing at his temples as he goes back to his starting position at the top of the staircase. Below, Jade gives him a sympathetic smile from where she’s reclined on their makeshift diner booth. The rest of the Pink Ladies and dancers glare. This is their fourth runthrough of Beauty School Dropout for the night, and everyone is getting restless now. In the seats, the rest of the cast are sprawled in odd clumps. Mr. Grimshaw looks like he’s pulling his hair out, megaphone in a dull grasp.
“Styles,” he announces. “Slow and steady down those stairs. If you fall on shownight, I will have a nervous breakdown.”
“Got it,” Harry calls back tersely. He keeps fucking it up and his voice is shaky from the nerves and he’s slipped on the last step every time. He’s overly aware of all the eyes on him from the audience, the T-Birds and chorus scattered in the first few rows, watching on as he continues to make a mess of this number. He’s practiced this so much and he doesn’t understand why he can’t get it. All he has to do is gradually walk down the stairs and sing the fucking lyrics. Working around Jade is easy, they’ve done it to death, and he’s getting more frustrated and antsy each time he has to climb back up the staircase.
Perrie gets his attention from the front row of seats. She winks and flicks out her hair, bright pink and obnoxiously perfect for this part of the story. It’s sending Grimshaw slightly mad, though. Perrie’s decided to keep her hair coloured for as close to shownight as possible. Huffing a soft laugh, Harry readies himself to start the song again.
He knows he’s distracted. He knows he’s anxious that he’s literally under a spotlight right now, the one place he doesn’t want to be.
“Let’s go, Styles!” Caleb calls from the band platform, a few resounding woops of encouragement echoing from the audience. Harry flushes and mouths a silent thank you. Caleb just gives him a thumb up and a wink. Harry ducks his eyes.
They get through it eventually. Mr. Grimshaw calls time, flopping dramatically back into his seat and waving them off to go on a drink and snack break. Harry rushes backstage before anyone has a chance to grab him, and locks himself in the singular dingy bathroom stall. He doesn’t cry, but his chest feels heavy and he’s just a little overwhelmed with everything, with the newness of Blue and this stupid musical and the fact that he’s gay. God, he’s gay and he’s proud he’s gay and he wants a boy to hold so, so badly.
Somebody knocks on the door.
“Sorry,” Harry calls hoarsely, rubbing both hands over his cheeks to try and calm himself down. When he fumbles the door open, ready to dart away in a quick escape, he almost butts heads with Louis.
“Woah, mate,” Louis says, placing a steady hand on Harry’s chest, blinking in surprise. His expression mellows though, offering a sad smile. “Are you alright?”
“Fine,” Harry says quickly, standing up straight. “I’m fine. Sorry, I’ll get out of your way.”
“Hey, wait.” Louis catches him arm gently. Harry looks down at the delicate fingers wrapped around his sleeve, then back to Louis’ face. It seems within a split second, his heart rate has doubled. “Don’t let Grimmy get to you, yeah? He’s an arse. You’re doing fine.”
“Thanks,” Harry breathes, sure he’s gone embarrassingly pink. He doesn’t want Louis to pity him, but this doesn’t feel like pity. It just seems like genuine concern. Which, in hindsight, could almost be worse. “I’ll, um. I’m gonna go. Back. Bye.”
Harry pulls himself away, stumbling down the hall and avoiding the eye of everyone he passes. He keeps his gaze down on the stained carpet as he makes a beeline for the dressing room. He has to see if Blue has responded.
A hand wraps around his arm and jerks him into a supply closet.
“Hey, Harry.” Zayn clicks on the tiny light. The dullness of it makes them look like they’re in some kind of dramatic film that belongs under the Classics page on Netflix. Or in really, really terrible porn. Harry needs to lie down.
“Zayn, what the fuck,” he says, chest heaving. Pulled from one fucking whirlwind into another. His brain can’t stop spinning. “Can’t you just talk to me in the hallway?”
“Did you talk to Perrie?”
“Yes,” Harry hisses. “Did you bloody talk to her?”
“Not yet,” Zayn says. “I just had to check with you first. I don’t want to look like a complete dickhead.”
Outside, the megaphone siren starts to sound.
“Look, I’ll talk to you about it later,” Harry says. “Just. Text me or whatever, if you need. Do you have my number?”
“Think so,” Zayn says. “Thanks, man. I really appreciate it.”
“Any time,” Harry says lightly, slipping back out into the hallway.
You’re the only one to get back to me with anything that means something. But, I just don’t feel comfortable sharing my identity with you. I’m sorry. I’m not out to anyone, either. There are so many times I think of just telling my parents casually over dinner, or telling my friends. I hope they’d understand, but I’m scared they’ll be mad after waiting so long. It all feels like a very overwhelming lie, even though I know I don’t see it that way. It’s not even being gay that I’m scared of. It’s the amount of time I’ve gone on not telling anyone. I want to be loud about it.
Sorry if this is heavy. I had a long day and I hope you can understand me.
I understand completely and I feel the same way. I can’t think of anything worse than anyone being disappointed in me after coming out, which I think is why I’m so fucking terrified. We really got the short end of the stick in that department, huh? Imagine if straight kids had to come out to their families and friends, too. What a shit show that would be. At least we have each other now. You also don’t need to apologize to me, either. Laying all cards down on the table now, if you want to talk about things with me, you can.
What’s something that cheers you up?
Thank you for understanding. And I know, right? Can you imagine that? Mum, dad: I’m a heterosexual. I suppose it almost seems trivial when you look at it like that. I think it’s just important that we have a choice on whether we want to come out or not, and we aren’t, like, ‘better gay’s’ or whatever because we want to come out. Reading up on stuff online, it’s scary to see the way closeted people are told they have to come out when we don’t. I just want to, and that’s my own thing. And yours, right? Even if it’s not, though, you still deserve the same love and respect as everyone else.
Something that really cheers me up is music. What about you?
I want to come out, too. My hope is that coming out might encourage other people to. It would be nice to have other gay friends to talk about things with. Then maybe we’d be having these conversations in person and not over anonymous emails.
I love music, too. We should share our favourite songs. If you wanted to?
Harry’s phone gets confiscated on a rainy Tuesday morning. This, he thinks, is the point at which things start to go to shit.
“Yoink,” Mr. Corden says as he passes Harry, fucking yoink.
Halfway through a message to Blue, Harry panics.
“Mr. Corden, wait–”
“No texting in the halls, young Styles,” Mr. Corden tutts. He’s wearing a grey three piece suit, and not the dapper kind. Harry stares at him, then flicks his eyes to the phone. Thankfully it’s locked, now, but there’s still this anxiety that’s begun to fuzz at his fingertips. He wonders if this is what older people talk about when they say that millennials are too attached to technology. Harry isn’t attached to his phone. He’s attached to Blue. And he needs to finish his message.
“Please, it’s really important,” Harry begs. “Life or death, actually.”
“Humour me,” Mr. Corden says, the brightness gone from his voice. Around him, students laugh behind their hands. Harry isn’t offended by it. It’s impossible not to laugh at Mr. Corden doing his rounds and plucking phones out of the hands of students. But this is different. This isn’t a text to his sister or a link to a dumb YouTube video he’s sending to a group chat. This is Blue, and he doesn’t want to leave those messages unfinished.
“If I don’t send that email, my entire schooling career is over,” Harry says. “I’ll flunk out, Mr. Corden. It’ll all go up in flames.”
“You can send emails from the library computers,” Mr. Corden says, pocketing Harry’s phone. “See you after school, Mr. Styles.”
And just like that, Mr. Corden walks away.
Harry checks his watch. He’s got five minutes before class starts up again. He’s never been one for running through the halls like a dickhead, but he won’t lie in saying he practically sprints to the library, almost taking out several students and teachers on his way there. There’s a computer free near the back of the room when Harry bursts through the doors. All heads turn to him, his heavy breathing breaking the obvious quiet. The librarian, an eighty-year old, terrifying woman named Hilda, brings her finger to her lips and sends him daggers from over the top of the desk.
Harry keeps his head low and weaves between the tables.
He’s restless as he logs into the school server, then into his Green account, getting the password wrong twice before he finally manages to get his fingers and his brain to work together. Blue’s recent email sits at the top, and he opens it, skimming quickly.
I wish I could talk to you in person. I have a feeling you’re really kind and just nice to be around. Hope that doesn’t sound weird. You just give off a very calming vibe.
Totally. What kind of music do you listen to? I’ve been wanting to get more into older stuff recently, especially with the production this year being Grease. Gotta get in the school spirit somehow, don’t I?
Harry smiles to himself, heart fluttering in his chest. He isn’t sure if this is too much, sharing music taste. Music has always been close to him. Personal. But this seems like something they both might be comfortable sharing.
Thank you. I feel the same about you. A warm presence.
I don’t want to be one of those people that says they listen to everything, but I kind of am one of those people. I love classic rock most, all that eclectic shit from the 60’s and 70’s. Maybe I could help you out with finding some new music to listen to. Like, make you a playlist or something
Harry pauses, biting his lip. A playlist might be too much. When Perrie made him one for this birthday last year, he nearly cried. The CD is still in his car, played to death and all scratched up.
Like, make you a playlist or something if you want? That could be fun. Maybe you could make me a playlist of songs you like, too. If that’s too weird or too personal don’t stress. I’ll just send you a decoy link to Rick Astley's ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’.
He’s grinning like an idiot when he hits send, warmth in his cheeks and his chest. For the past few weeks, it feels like a hummingbird has made a nest in his chest, and each time he sends an email it flutters its wings against his ribs.
Harry jumps and fumbles to minimize the window, spinning in his chair to face Niall.
“No,” Harry says haughtily. “I was submitting an assignment, actually. Like a good student.”
“Oi,” Niall flicks his ear. “You saying I’m not a good student?”
“Not at all,” Harry says, laughing.
“You are!” Niall pokes at his cheeks until Harry is swatting him away. “You’re the one who’s late for class.”
“So are you,” Harry points out. “We both have English right now.”
Niall looks like he’s about to retort. His face falls. “Shit.”
They both gather up their things and make a beeline for the exit, still play fighting and swiping at each other, laughing madly as they tumble into the hall. Hilda shouts after them and pokes her head out the door to scold them. Harry skids around the corner and jumps onto Niall’s back, pointing onward.
Rehearsing Born to Hand Jive is the most chaotic three hours of Harry’s life. Everyone is sweaty and disgusting, the entire chorus over it, and Harry’s throat feels red raw from singing. It’s a deep song, even for his register. All the fun was sucked out of the number by about the fourth go around. By now, things feel less and less productive the more they go on.
“Tomlinson, you need to go lower!” Grimshaw shouts down the megaphone.
“I can’t,” Louis shouts back. “I’ll break my bloody back. This isn’t The Matrix, Grimmy.”
“What have I told you about giving nicknames to teachers?”
They continue to bicker back and forth, some of the cast sitting down for the brief period they’re not doing the upbeat, wild routine that goes along with this song. In the orchestra pit, Mrs Davies is fanning herself with sheet music.
“This is so shit,” Caleb says. “Like, it looks amazing. It sounds amazing. I don’t know what more Grimshaw wants from us.”
“He wants Louis to literally become a pretzel,” Harry says, and Caleb laughs loudly, clapping a hand over his mouth.
“Stop, I’m gonna pee,” he wheezes. “I’ve needed to go for the past two hours.”
“At least the music is kind of fun,” Harry says. “Like, jivey. Reminds me of being at my grandparents house and going wild with my sister.”
“I never listened to this kind of style much until we started this show,” Caleb says. “Most of my bass playing has been in punk bands and stuff. But I really like it.”
“You’re so cultured now,” Harry says, awed.
“So cultured,” Caleb grins. “You like this stuff though, don’t you? Properly like it? You should give me an education.”
Harry’s smile sort of freezes on his face, and he can feel the way his mind glazes. He stares down at Caleb for a moment, and it feels a little like the world has stopped spinning. Yeah, Harry thinks, watching Caleb watch him back. Maybe I could even make you a playlist, huh?
Blue is likely in Grease. Blue likes music. A lot, which means Blue might play an instrument.
“Harry?” Caleb says slowly, smiling wider. Blue eyes. Caleb’s got blue eyes.
“Yeah,” Harry nods. “I really like it.”
His brain has switched off completely, heart in overdrive.
“Styles!” Mr. Grimshaw bellows down the megaphone. “We’re waiting on you. Louis is about to make his shoulder blades touch the ground.”
“I’m not!” Louis calls up to him.
Harry finally breaks his gaze away from Caleb. His face feels like it’s burning bright pink, elation in his chest.
Caleb is Blue. He’s sure of it.
“Okay,” Harry clears his throat and wills his voice to stop feeling so shuddery, to make himself steady and strong. “Let’s do it.”
After packdown, Zayn tries to get Harry’s attention as he, Perrie and Niall filter out together from the dressing room. Harry shakes his head, but then Zayn jerks his own head in inclination, looking stressed and fitful and Harry sighs internally. It won’t hurt to ask him what he wants, Harry knows, but he’s so exhausted, and he wanted to catch up to Caleb before he left. Maybe do something reckless like kiss him against the side of his car and ask him if he’s Blue.
“I’m just gonna catch Grimshaw, guys,” Harry says, breaking away from Perrie and Niall. “Got some questions to ask him about the cues for Tears On My Pillow.”
“Sure, mate,” Niall shoves him gently. “We’ll wait up.”
By the time he awkwardly does a lap around the empty auditorium and heads back down to the halls, it’s deadly quiet inside. Zayn’s waiting for him in the dressing room. When Harry nods in greeting, Zayn sighs and moves forward to close the door before leaning up against one of the benches.
Harry glances behind him, then back to Zayn.
“What’s up, Z?” Harry says slowly.
Zayn takes in a slow breath and crosses his arms over his chest. “I know about the emails.”
Harry’s entire body prickles with pins and needles.
“I know that you’re talking to Blue,” Zayn says. His voice is calm and collected and so different to the roar that’s surging up in Harry’s ears. “I know you’re gay.”
“Shut up,” Harry says, but it fumbles weakly out of his mouth. “How did you–. How. Who else knows?”
“Nobody,” Zayn says. “For now. I logged out of your account, at least.”
It hits Harry like a bucket of ice water, then. He left himself logged in on the computer earlier today. He’s fucked it all up.
“Zayn, listen,” Harry starts, hating how desperate he sounds. It isn’t supposed to turn out this way. “You can’t tell anyone, please. You can’t tell.”
“I’m not going to tell anyone,” Zayn says. “Relax.”
“I can’t relax,” Harry grits out. “You should have–. You should have closed it all down. You shouldn’t have looked. That was private.”
“I didn’t mean to, I swear,” Zayn says, hand over his heart. “I genuinely had to email a teacher.”
Harry looks away and clenches his jaw. There’s a hot, shaky panic curling in his stomach, something vulnerable and afraid. He’s terrified, not just for himself. He doesn’t want to let Blue down, not now. They’re finally starting to properly talk.
“I promise I won’t show anyone, okay?”
“Wait, wait,” Harry breathes, palms up. “Show? You took fucking screenshots?”
“Just listen,” Zayn rushes. “I just need you to help me–”
“You can’t blackmail me!” Harry shouts, and he laughs with how absurd it is, laughs to cover the swell of anxiety that’s stuck in his throat. “Zayn, mate. I can help you without that, whatever it is. You don’t need to–”
“I just want to talk to Perrie more, that’s it,” Zayn says. “Get her to go on a few dates with me, to like me.”
“I can’t make her do anything,” Harry says sourly. “I won’t force her to do anything she doesn’t want to do. That’s messed up.”
“No, no. Christ, no,” Zayn shakes his head. “If she says no then that’s that. I’m not going to fucking stalk her. That’s so wrong.”
“But you’ll blackmail me to try and make sure she won’t say no.” Harry huffs a laugh. “Unbelievable.”
“Look,” Zayn ducks his head, colour rising to his face. “I–. I don’t have a lot of friends here. I just. I just want to fit in a little more. Hang out with new people. Even if I didn’t know about you being gay, about everything, I’d still want the same things. I think you’re a good person.”
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Harry says. “Delete the screenshots, then. Forget whatever you saw. You don’t have to trick me or twist me into being your friend. You can just start by holding a normal conversation with me. With Perrie. It’s okay to be shy, but you can’t put your shit onto me and expect me to just roll over and play dead.”
Zayn lets out a long sigh and rubs at his forehead. “I’m sorry. I’m being a complete cunt right now.”
“Yeah,” Harry crosses his arms over his chest. His heart is still beating so hard. Zayn is the first person at their school to know he’s gay, and there’s no elation in Harry’s body whatsoever. It feels like there’s just extra weight added on top of everything else. “You are. Like. A massive one.”
“If I promise to delete everything, will you still help me?” Zayn says. He’s clearly embarrassed now, his stature diminished to nothing now that Harry’s called him out on his shit. “I understand if you don’t want to.”
“Show me the screenshots,” Harry says. Zayn nods and pulls out his phone, coming closer.
They’re all there. Every one, since Harry and Blue started talking. It feels invasive, makes him sick to his stomach.
“Get rid of them,” Harry says. He watches as Zayn deletes every one. Then, he makes him go to the recently deleted folder and trash them all there. When he’s satisfied, Harry lets out a slow breath and closes his eyes. “It’s going to take a lot for me to forgive you for that. I don’t know if I can.”
“That’s fine,” Zayn says. “I really am sorry. I don’t even know what–. I’m sorry, Harry.”
Harry just nods and averts his eyes. They’re growing misty and hot. God, Zayn knows.
“You’re still the same Harry to me, if that counts for anything,” Zayn says softly. “Nothing’s changed.”
“Thanks,” Harry whispers self-consciously. The dressing room is so dark, all these murky yellow lights, and it all feels so small.
“Do you know who it is?” Zayn asks. “Blue?”
“I have an idea, but,” Harry shrugs. “I don’t know. I don’t really want to talk about it.”
“Understandable,” Zayn nods, toeing the carpet awkwardly. “I really am sorry.”
“I’m…I’m gonna go,” Harry says. He doesn’t feel present. “I’ve. I’ve got to go home.”
“Yeah, um,” Zayn shoulders his bag onto his shoulder, fiddling with the strap. “It’s late.”
They leave together awkwardly, and it hits Harry slowly that Perrie and Niall will still be waiting for him. His stomach lurches, not ready to face them, for them to see him with Zayn. He doesn’t want to see anybody. He wants to go home and curl under his covers and ask Blue to please-please-please let them meet.
When they step out into the dark, the parking lot is empty. Harry blinks at the ghostliness. Niall and Perrie are gone.
He digs through his bag until he finds his phone. There’s a message from them both in their group chat. A new email from Blue.
perrie: snooze u loose buddy. caleb gave us a lift
niall: tell grimmy i said fuck u
Harry smiles softly and thumbs at the side of his phone, grabbing out his keys. Across the car park, Zayn is walking towards the gates. There are no other cars, and Harry bites at his bottom lip, watching. He sighs.
“Zayn,” Harry calls reluctantly. “Need a ride?”
Zayn raises a slow eyebrow. “Really?”
“C’mon,” Harry rolls his eyes and unlocks the car. “Before I change my mind and leave you to face the travesty of the unreliable bus service.”
If you send me that song, I’m blocking your address and moving far, far away.
I would love a playlist. What would you like me to send you?
Please don’t do that. I’d be very lost without your emails every day. Who else am I supposed to complain to?
You can send me anything you like. I just want to know you.
Here are some songs for you:
Whenever You’re Ready - The Zombies
Paint it Black - The Rolling Stones
Sweet Thang - Shuggie Otis
I Can’t Get Next To You - The Temptations
Ooh Love - Blaze Foley
She’s Got You - Patsy Cline
If - Pink Floyd
Blue Sunday - The Doors
The Chain demo - Fleetwood Mac
Never Gonna Give You Up - Rick Astley
Let me know what you think of them. Especially the last one.
I’m not lying when I say I loved all those songs with the exception of one. I’m sure you can guess which. My favourite is The Chain demo and If. Those hit me the hardest. Music is cool like that. Plus, Stevie sings like an angel. I do love Fleetwood Mac already.
Here’s some things for you to check out. It’s a bit of a mismatch but then again, so are most of the things in my life:
The Lights of Paris - Cindy Bullens
She’s a Riot - The Jungle Giants
How Soon Is Now? - The Smiths
This Lonely Morning - Best Coast
Do Me A Favour - Arctic Monkeys
Baby - Ariel Pink
I Wanna Be Adored - The Stone Roses
Do You - Spoon
I’ve had The Zombies stuck in my head all day, just so you know. You’re a terrible influence on me.
He doesn’t tell Blue about the incident with Zayn. He doesn’t beg Blue to let them meet. He doesn’t know if he should have.
When Perrie slides into the passenger side, Harry braces himself. She simply blinks at him, then looks into the back seat.
“Hi,” Zayn waves.
Perrie looks back to Harry. “This is new.”
“We’re still on the trial stage,” Harry says. Zayn makes an offended noise.
They’ve come to a semi-agreement. Harry will pick Zayn up and include them in their morning ritual, and give him a lift home if he’s taking Perrie. He’ll try and nudge them gently together, get them to spend time around each other, and hopefully let something naturally unfold. In return, Zayn kisses Harry’s ass and forgets whatever it was he thought he saw on those emails.
“It’s true,” Harry says, but he laughs to gentle it, and then Zayn smiles too, a little flushed when Perrie raises an eyebrow and looks at him again. “We were just discussing our ideas for Halloween.”
Perrie narrows her eyes. It’s clear that she knows something is up. They’ve had their outfits planned for months, always do.
“I really love your idea,” Zayn says. “You’ll look so creepy as Emily, Perrie. In a good way, obviously.”
“I’m more excited to see how pale we can make Harry look,” Perrie says. “I just want to powder his entire face until it looks like his skin is made of paper mache.”
“I’m supposed to look all smooth and porcelain-like,” Harry complains. “Victor is pale but he isn’t all crinkly and gross.”
“What are you going as, Zayn?” Perrie asks, diverting from Harry.
“I’m not sure yet,” Zayn shrugs. “I’m still stuck.”
“Well, you should come with us, anyway,” Harry says casually. Beside him, Perrie makes a face at him, shaking her head subtly.
“Really?” Zayn brightens.
“Sure,” Harry pulls up in front of Niall’s house. “It’ll be fun. We can do jelly shots before we leave and get grossly drunk.”
Niall opens the door and almost brains Zayn with his guitar case.
“Morning–oh! Sorry, mate,” Niall apologizes, righting the case. “Didn’t see you there. Thanks for the warning, H.”
“No problem,” Harry says. “So, Halloween plans?”
When they rock up at Louis’ house, Harry is, maybe, a bit too far gone. Just a tad. The tiniest bit.
“Look,” he says, to the first person he sees upon entering, which happens to be Martha Alan, a girl two years below him, drowning in a Slytherin robe. He sticks out his bright blue tongue. “Jelly.”
“Wow,” she muses, shuffling away quickly.
The house is dark and full of people, lights strung along walls and banisters, red cups and sticky drinks and the distinctive, acidic smell of vomit somewhere nearby.
“We fucked up,” Perrie murmurs beside him groggily, laughing. Her carefully crafted skeleton makeup is a little smudged, and in the navy-orange of the house she looks like a creepy doll, hair artfully tangled and starting to stick to her face with product. There’s a bright blue stain on her flimsy wedding dress from the jelly she slopped onto herself on the way over.
“We did,” Harry agrees, already falling into that lucid, fun part of the night where he sort of loses all ability to control his vision and his limbs at the same time. His mouth feels fuzzy from the sugar in the jelly shots and all the sweets they ate on their way over, the aftertaste of vodka sharp between his teeth. Blue hasn’t emailed him back today and he has an urge to go find Caleb and kiss him senseless and mess up his hair and tell him he thinks he might love him.
Harry does not need any more alcohol. Harry goes to search for more alcohol.
Zayn finds him a half hour later, completely sloshed, beer spilt down the front of his Spider-Man suit. Harry is dancing numbly with a dopey smile on his face, sweating through the constricting suit he’s wearing. His feet are aching too, shiny shoes too tight around his feet, but he’s having a good time so far, head thrown back while the bass rattles the fine china locked away in one of the cabinets across the room. The playlist is all cool synths and funkiness and this time I might just disappear on loop and it feels like a true Halloween, the kind he always sees in American TV shows, and it feels a bit like that, too, like he’s inside a little glowing box being watched from the outside, encapsulated in this not quite real-yet surreal moment.
“Hey,” Zayn taps his shoulder insistently, stumbling into him a little. “Hey, d’you wanna come play beer pong?”
“Fuck, no,” Harry says. Beer at this stage in the night will make him so sick.
“We’ll play with vodka ‘n coke, then,” Zayn says. Harry must have said that last bit out loud.
When he’s led outside, the reason for Zayn’s insistence becomes apparent. Perrie and Jade are at one end of the table, laughing madly and high-fiving as Jade sinks a ball into a cup. Jade’s dressed in an impressive Stevie Nicks outfit that drunk Harry appreciates on so many levels. On the other end, Niall and Caleb and getting absolutely demolished. Harry watches the sweat that shines on Caleb’s top lip, the way his hair sticks around his temples, blonde gone dark. He wonders what would happen, if he asked just to touch him for a second.
Harry is suddenly very eager to play.
He ends up trapped in a game with Zayn on his team, against Niall and Jade across the table. Caleb wanders off before Harry can protest.
By the time he’s stumbling away from the table, forfeiting with four cups left and feigning defeat, he’s feeling more sick than he is happily drunk. He needs water and a snack and to sit down. Maybe a nap. A nap sounds perfect. Navigating through the house is like trying to step through a funhouse with twisted mirrors, everything feeling topsy-turvy and strange. Climbing up the staircase is harder. He keeps missing steps and having to pause when his stomach hurtles up into his throat.
That doesn’t compare to the lurch when he walks in on Caleb and a girl he hardly recognizes half naked.
“Oh,” Harry says softly, hand still on the doorknob. Caleb throws a sheet over them quickly, making a face at Harry, that face that says mate, I’m getting laid. Don’t mess this up for me. Harry backs out into the hall and stands in front of the closed door for a while.
He doesn’t cry, but something snarled and tangled festers in his chest. With a quiet breath, he starts down the stairs and pushes out into the backyard, slipping past the crowd of people shouting around the ping-pong table. It seems Zayn has gathered an audience, sinking all of his shots with scary accuracy, and beside him Perrie is laughing madly and ruffling his hair, egging him on.
He’s bitter and broken and close to tears when he round the dark corner of the house, the only light coming from the lingering yellows and oranges from inside. It’s closed off, just a rusty clothesline and a few spindly rose bushes.
And a Louis Tomlinson.
Who he almost steps on.
“Oh,” Harry says, looking down to where Louis is sprawled on his back, feet flat on the ground with his legs twisted awkwardly. “Sorry.”
Louis blinks up at him for a moment, squinting. “Harry?”
“Yeah,” Harry says. “Hi.”
“Almost didn’t recognize you,” Louis says. “You look ghostly, mate.”
“I’m wearing a lot of powder,” Harry explains. He wouldn’t be surprised if he looked the way does now without all the makeup. He feels paper thin. Hollow. “I’m Victor. From Corpse Bride. What are you?”
Louis half rolls onto his front. There’s a bit of paper stuck to his shirt, a football jersey, Harry realizes now. RONALDO. Harry can’t help it when he starts to laugh.
“That’s tragic,” he says. Louis laughs with him, running a hand through his hair as he tips onto his back again.
“I know,” Louis grins up at him. “It’s a piss poor excuse for a costume, but. I ran out of time this year.”
Harry nods, still standing awkwardly. He should probably leave.
“Don’t just stand there,” Louis says, patting the grass beside him. “Come have a lie down before you fall over. I can see you swaying, you drunkard.”
“‘M not drunk,” Harry protests, just for the sake of protesting. It’s a disjointed topple to the grass, but finally, he manages to maneuver himself onto his side, feeling too sick to lie on his back. The grass is cool and damp and smells earthy, like fresh dirt, like those first few weeks of spring when it rains as the flowers come up, except somehow it’s nearing winter. Aimlessly, Harry drags his fingers through the short blades of grass. He wonders where Blue is, if he’s here, at the party. Not up in a room with another girl.
“What are you doing out here?” Louis asks, tilting his head to watch him. In the low light, he’s just an outline, Peter Pan’s escaped shadow bathed distantly in gold hues.
“I’m tired,” Harry shrugs. I’m so, so tired. “I wanted to lie down. What are you doing out here?”
“I wanted to lie down,” Louis mimics.
“This is your house,” Harry says, frowning. “Why didn’t you just go to your room?”
“It’s quieter outside,” Louis shrugs. He stares up at the sky and Harry follows slowly. It’s just their breathing, then, and it’s a little absurd, Harry thinks. “I like your costume, by the way.”
“Thanks,” Harry says. “It was Perrie’s idea. We always pair up.”
“I think she’s the coolest person I know,” Louis says. “Like, the best.”
“Yeah,” Harry nods. “She deserves the best everything.”
“Have you two ever,” Louis glances at him, flashes his brows. Harry feels his stomach sink.
“No,” he says, nothing but a dull breath. Maybe I should have. Maybe if I was straight and I loved Perrie this wouldn’t be so hard. He has to look away then. “No. It’s not like that. She’s my best friend.”
“Must be nice, though,” Louis says. He shifts onto his side gradually. Their faces are close, and if Harry wasn’t drunk, if his mind wasn’t sluggish and slow and sad, he knows he’d be bright pink, shaking at the thought of being this close to another boy. Louis doesn’t seem bothered.
“What?” Harry muses, staring at the place silver is cradled in the inner corners of Louis’ eyes, tip of his nose. He can feel his heat, like it’s passing through the ground.
“Having that,” Louis continues. “A friend like family, y’know.”
“It is nice,” Harry says. “I love her very much.”
Louis smiles then, this close-mouthed thing that makes his eyes bunch up.
“What?” Harry muses, smiling, too, dopey and large.
“Nothing,” Louis shakes his head. His breath hits Harry’s chin, and it’s like all the heat in Harry’s body focuses on that point, urging him a little closer. “You’re just funny, Styles.”
“Thanks,” Harry says, fingers curling in the grass. He feels his knuckle brush Louis’, just a slip of skin, and he closes his eyes.
“Y’want a smoke?” Louis asks. Harry peeks one eye back open.
“Weed,” Louis laughs shortly. “I don’t smoke cigs.”
“Sure,” Harry says. His tongue feels too large in his mouth, and he’s half asleep now, his body shutting down from resting like this for so long. He can’t tell if his arm is going numb or if it’s just the moment and the nighttime making him all fuzzy.
Louis’ spliff is already rolled, and he sits up slightly when he lights it, leaning back on one elbow, chin lifted. Harry stares up at him, the way he looks cut from glass, a sharp, dark edge lined with chilled silvers. In his hands, the lit end of the tiny bud blushes his fingers warm, and when he brings it to his mouth, Harry can see the soft shine of sweat there, the flick of Louis’ tongue when he licks his dry lips, parts them to let the smoke go. The smell of it is heady this close up. Harry’s never smoked before, only ever been around people that have.
“You’ve done this before, right?” Louis says, holding the spliff out for Harry to take.
“Yeah,” Harry lies. Louis pauses with the bud between them, an eyebrow raised.
“Yeah,” Harry edges, a little petulant. Louis finally hands it over, and Harry looks down at it for a moment, the smoking edges that burn dark amber like the sun in the morning, the sharp points of it on the roofs, the glaze on the windows. When he inhales, he knows he doesn’t do it right, just holds the smoke more in his mouth than letting it flow down and fuck him up properly. Exhaling leaves everything like a mirage, Louis barely visible through the smoke, just the gleam of his eyes and top lip.
“Okay?” Louis whispers. Harry doesn’t know why that makes him shiver down to his toes, just the exhale of that word. He shifts slightly, swallowing.
“Yeah,” he breathes out, trying to blink through it. He inhales again, a little deeper this time, a little more. “I’m okay.”
He hands the spliff back over with shaky fingers, fighting the urge to let his hand fall into the dip of Louis’ waist, to reach out and touch his neck. It almost looks foggy out, the smoke curling around their heads, but Harry isn’t cold. His blood is running hot and sluggish and swimmy through his veins.
“You little liar,” Louis grins down at him in the dark.
“Ssh,” Harry whispers, but it turns into a strange hum, eyes fluttering closed as he smiles all big. “Not a liar if you ask me again.”
“You’ve done this before, right?” Louis asks, playing along. He holds the spliff out.
“You bet I have,” Harry says, mock confident, the words falling in a bit of a tumble. Louis leans back onto his elbow again and laughs, face to the cloudy sky.
“You’re so fucking funny, Styles,” he says, hanging his head, bowed together as they laugh. Louis pokes his finger into one of Harry’s dimples, wiggling it gently. “Why’s it taken us so long to talk to each other, huh? Were you scared of me or what?”
“Nah,” Harry grins. “Not at all.”
“Sure,” Louis muses, taking a long pull. When he exhales the smoke Harry breathes deep, parts his lips and imagines he can taste the inside of Louis’ mouth, images the smoke as a gentle tongue. Louis pokes at his cheek again. “You got a way home tonight, or do you need to crash?”
“Pezza’s taking me,” Harry says. “Dunno when, though.”
“Let’s have a kip, then,” Louis decides, finishing off the bud with a long inhale, putting it out on the grass. “Could do with a nap.”
“‘Kay,” Harry agrees easily. Louis turns onto his side again and closes his eyes. Harry keeps his own open for a little while, watching the shift of Louis’ lashes. The rest of the night feels so far away from this little pocket of grass they’ve found themselves in. The brittle heartbreak of Caleb seems so insignificant now, so distant. Maybe he isn’t Blue. Maybe Harry would care more if he was. Maybe Harry doesn’t know anything.
He falls asleep right there on the grass next to Louis, the party ebbing behind them like a pulse.
“Please don’t be dead.”
Harry swats at the finger that’s repetitively poking his cheek. He feels foggy and cold, dampness soaking into the fabric of his suit. When he finally gets his eyes to open, Louis is sitting up beside him on the grass looking a little flustered, cheeks dark and shiny.
“Not dead,” Harry grumbles. Perrie pokes his cheek again and leans over his body.
“You’ve ruined your suit,” she chides.
“It was ruined when I bought it, Pez,” Harry says.
“I hope to God that wasn’t a Cat in the Hat reference,” Louis says, and Perrie laughs, poking Harry’s cheek irritably until he sits up with a slow groan.
Around them, things are quiet. There’s still music ebbing from inside, but it’s softer now, something slow and syrupy, and all the lights outside are off, the party contained to the last few stragglers still standing. Harry glances at Louis and tries not to blush. He has no idea how long they were lying there together for, passed out and a few breaths away from touching noses. Awkwardly, Harry’s clears his throat and looks away, scratches at his neck.
“What time is it?”
“Almost two,” Perrie says. “Which means it’s way past your bedtime.”
“You’re more than welcome to crash if you need to,” Louis says. “Got a few spare mattresses.”
“Thanks, but I better get this one home to mumma,” Perrie pinches Harry’s cheek, and the flush he’s trying to hide darkens. “Have you been smoking?”
“No,” Harry lies.
“Anne’s gonna have my head,” Perrie scolds.
“Aw, leave ‘im be, Pez,” Louis grins, sticky sweet. In the dark his eyes are shiny and Harry’s fingers still feel full of fuzz. Stop it. He wants to talk to Blue.
It’s a bit of a struggle to get himself up, bones all brittle and chilly, numb from being on his side for so long, and he’s still a little dizzy, leaning his weight happily against the warmth of Perrie’s side as she guides them around to the front of the house, Louis beside them with his hands in his pockets. The dampness of the ground has seeped through the paper on his back, and it’s turned RONALDO into a jumbled looking mess.
“Get home safe,” Louis says, once they’re in the front garden. He’s dappled in light and shadow, smiling softly. “Thanks for coming around.”
“Our pleasure,” Perrie waves him off, and then she’s dragging Harry with her as they start a stumbled walk home.
Harry tries not to linger on Louis for too long, but Louis is looking at him, too, and he gives Harry a private little wave before he turns away and disappears up onto the porch.
The more sober Harry begins to feel, the more aware he becomes of the cold, and of all the other thoughts he’s been attempting to ignore tonight. The disappointment and the hurt of Caleb. His annoyance with Zayn. The strange fizzling in his stomach when he and Louis had shared a spliff together. Tying it all together is that odd, melancholy feeling that almost blurs everything around them, that’s been blurring everything all night, displaying this neon type of suburbia that holds a nostalgia that doesn’t quite make sense.
Perrie’s quiet the whole walk home, and Harry enjoys the silent comfort of it. Distantly, he can hear the buzz of late-night cars, the deep hum of telephone wires and televisions that have accidentally been left on, street lights shining up and down the road in mismatched patterns. He feels strangely out of body but also like he couldn’t be more aware of the very moment they’re in, and maybe if he was truly brave, this would be one of those teen movie moments when he’d just say it into the blue, speak all the truths he’s held close out into the open air.
The house is silent when Harry fumbles to unlock the front door. They pad silently upstairs, the door clicking shut with a gentle snick, and then Perrie turns on the lamp, dusts the room dark gold. Both of them look quite a mess now, their costumes defiled, makeup smudged, and they share a moment of soft laughter as they stare at each other, powder in their hair and down their clothes, mouths sticky with alcohol.
“Another year,” Perrie says, raising her hand like she’s holding a glass to make a toast, “another successful mess.”
Harry smiles and raises his own fake glass. Instead of clinking them together, they high-five lamely and dissolve into laughter again.
By the time they’ve helped each other scrub off their makeup and changed their clothes, Perrie drowning in one of Harry’s hoodies and pajama pants and curled up beside him in bed, Harry feels sleepy and sated. The lamp is still on and he can’t be bothered to get up and flick it off. He wonders what it would be like to look in through the window on this moment, everything around them still, the bedroom blushed in mellow yellows, old books on the shelves and records stacked in messy rows, he and Perrie curled up among a tangle of blankets, her phone ebbing the nighttime playlist they’ve fallen asleep to together for years, that’s not your deal, that’s not my deal.
“Tonight was fun,” she says, poking Harry’s nose gently. It’s more of a soft tap than anything, and he almost follows the warmth, comforted. “Zayn’s kind of dorky.”
“Yeah,” Harry shrugs. “He seems nice, though.”
Perrie smiles softly. “He is. He’s very sweet.”
Harry closes his eyes and tucks his arms a little tighter around his stomach. So is Louis, he wants to say. Pez, there’s a boy named Blue. Instead, he just lets out a quiet breath he hopes she doesn’t pick up on. “I’m glad you had a good time.”
They lie in silence for a long time. Harry’s on the edge of sleep now, the familiarity of Perrie’s perfume and the warmth of his bed coaxing him into a not-quite state of dreaming.
Harry peeks an eye open slowly, nudging closer. “Yeah, Pez?”
Perrie rolls onto her back gradually, runs an ever slower hand through her tangled hair as she swallows. She’s staring at the ceiling, something serious flickering over her expression, and Harry blinks himself awake, frowning slightly at the look on her face, stomach shifting.
“D’you ever…” she trails off, then huffs a soft laugh. “D’you ever feel weird?”
“Weird?” Harry repeats.
“Yeah, like,” Perrie makes a vague gesture, searching for words. “Like you feel stuck on the outside of something?”
Harry tries not to let anything show on his face when he props himself up onto his elbow, looking down at her. “What’s this about?”
I know you’re gay, he expects her to say. Why didn’t you tell me? How could you lie to me? You’ve left me out of this for so long. The thought makes his insides quake.
“I don’t know,” she whispers, gaze flicking down. She fiddles with the strings on Harry’s jumper, the hood bunched up around her neck, making her look small and fragile. “Lately, it’s like I can’t make myself present, y’know? Like, even at the party tonight, I was so…”
“I thought you had fun,” Harry comments. He tries to keep his voice light. There’s an ache in his chest. Perrie looks so upset, the kind of troubled she gets when she doesn’t want Harry to see. Perrie rarely cries over anything, always quick to lift her chin and move on to the next solution. But this feels different. This feels heavy.
“Me, too,” Perrie says. “But it feels like I’m constantly just waiting for something to happen, and I know what it is but at the same time I just can’t quite grasp it. And that’s scary, because everyone else seems to already have that with them. Everyone else has it all worked out. And maybe I did have fun tonight. But, then I kind of looked around and it’s like…”
She looks back to him then, a little frightened, unsure.
“It’s like the one person I want to be around me isn’t quite there yet,” she says softly. “That thing I’m waiting for, what I feel like I’ve been waiting for since forever. I want it to be with me, too.”
Harry stares down at her, and in the dark, this terrifying, crawling feeling makes its way up his spine. Perrie is looking at him so openly, staring right up into his eyes, and God. It feels like an avalanche, like Harry’s been buried under six feet of snow and he’s frozen, trapped with his heart in his mouth because this is the worst thing that could happen, the worst possible scenario of them all.
Perrie can’t be in love with him. She can’t.
“I think I get it,” he whispers, hating himself for every word. Her eyes are a little wet, but Harry can’t bring himself to move, still caught in the headlights of the unfolding fucking disaster that’s slowly becoming his life.
“Yeah?” Perrie breathes. Harry nods numbly because he can’t do anything else.
When she curls into his chest, his arm slung around her ribs to tuck her in close, Harry just stares at the wall. Everything is crumbling around him now. There’s no easy way to get out of this fucked up mess of a situation without somebody’s feelings being hurt, and the guilt of it sits like a bowling ball in his stomach. If Perrie loves him, he’ll have to break her heart. If Perrie loves him, she won’t get any closer to Zayn. Harry is going to have to distance himself if there’s any chance of them getting together, and that’ll break her heart, too.
There just isn’t any other way to gentle this, though. He’s hurting, too, and he’s never been selfish with his feelings when it’s come to Perrie, but this is different. Zayn could tell the entire school about the emails. About Blue. About Harry being gay. Every possible scenario ends with things going up in flames, and Harry is panicking now.
It shouldn’t be this hard. He doesn’t understand why it has to be this hard.
I wish I knew who you were. I wish I could see you. I don’t know what to do anymore. Every day that goes by I feel like things are just getting messier, and I’m struggling. I don’t know how to do this, and it isn’t fair that I have to figure it out on my own. Well, not on my own, because I have you, but this still feels so isolated from real life. I’m guilty for feeling lonely when I have friends around me, but I am lonely, and I’m afraid, and I don’t want to hurt the people I love but it’s starting to take a toll on me. I want to meet you so badly. I’m sorry if this is too much, if this makes you feel pressured. I don’t want to make you feel bad. I just don’t know what to do anymore.
I’m sorry I haven’t responded the past few days. I needed some time to think.
Chin up, love. Things will come together when they’re supposed to. Things will work themselves out the way that they’re meant to. Honestly, I can’t offer you much help because I feel the same way. It’s terrifying and unfair, and the closer I get to telling my friends the more hopeless it’s starting to seem. I thought that maybe I was getting somewhere, but now I’m not so sure. I hate that you’re so upset. I wish we could meet, too, but I’m just not ready. I’m sorry, Green. I’m here for you, though, whenever you need me. Always.
I promise it’ll get better, for both of us.
November is a whirlwind of the weather getting colder and Mr. Grimshaw aging a year a week, the same way he tends to do each time shownight gets closer and closer. Harry throws himself into rehearsals, studying, Blue, and not much else. Since that vaguely groggy email he sent at four a.m after Halloween, locked in his bathroom on the verge of some form of emotional breakdown, things between them have become a little lighter again. The highlight of his day is going home to a new email, and sometimes, if they’re lucky enough to be online at the same time, they’ll send messages back and forth for a little while, nothings that become somethings, Harry going warm down to the tips of his toes.
It’s his one good thing.
Everything else is. Well. Kind of a mess.
His original game-plan was to cooly and casually intertwine Perrie and Zayn during production rehearsals, the morning pickup, and invite them both out to dinner or over at the same time, along with Niall. Then, he and Niall would go off as a pair, always leaving Perrie and Zayn to do a majority of the social interaction. Perfect, no risk plan. No feelings to be hurt. Just a gradual, natural landslide of Perrie getting over him and realizing she can be head over heels for Zayn instead.
“Why are you acting so strange?”
Perrie is squinting at him from over the top of her chow mein container, chopsticks poised between her newly painted nails. They’re sitting cross-legged on her bed. Zayn has gone to the bathroom. Niall will be here in half an hour, in which time he and Harry will ditch Zayn and Perrie for a night of their own. Harry’s totally got Niall in on it by now, delighted with the teasing he can give them both, the way it makes Perrie go pink. Niall never gets to hang shit on her.
“No idea what you mean,” Harry says calmly, sifting through his own food to pick out the baby corn.
“You’re just.” Perrie presses her lips into a thin line and shrugs, looking away. “Doesn’t matter, I guess. We just haven’t hung out in a while, y’know? Like, just the two of us, the way we usually do.”
“You don’t want to hang out with everyone else?”
“No, that’s not–.” She huffs. “I do. Zayn is really lovely. I like being around him. But I like being around you, too. I like when it’s just us and we don’t really have to do anything at all.”
“Me too, Pez,” Harry says, shovelling noodles into his mouth.
“You’d tell me if something was wrong, right?” Perrie says.
“Of course,” Harry says through his mouthful, resolutely staring down at the sheets.
Things are not going as smooth as he originally intended.
At least they’re going, somewhat.
Zayn and Perrie do hang out more now, much to Zayn’s delight. Sometimes Perrie hangs back after rehearsal to watch Zayn paint the set, and Zayn always looks to Harry with wonder in his eyes, like he really can’t believe his luck. Harry usually offers a tight smile and a thumbs up back before stalking away quickly, driving to get guilt-waffles and talk shit with Niall to make things feel a little more normal again.
Strangely, rehearsing for Grease is the one thing that sometimes manages to take his mind off of everything else for a little while. He’s only needed a few nights a week, during the large chorus numbers and for his specific scenes, but he usually hangs around most nights in the audience to wait for Niall and Perrie. It’s also becoming less stressful to watch the show unfold, the longer they go along.
Louis and Perrie are a match made in heaven as Danny and Sandy. Harry always finds himself watching Louis dance, the way he’s so comfortable up on stage, the dazzle of a smile he throws at Mr. Grimshaw just to be a shit about it, and it’s admirable, Harry thinks, the way he just gives it everything because he isn’t afraid to fuck it up.
Harry’s there on one of the nights they run through the drive-in scene, and watching Louis alone on stage, spotlight shining down, singing his heart out, makes Harry shift down into his seat, this warmth catching the tips of his cheeks. He hopes that in the dark nobody can see him, that Louis won’t blink through the lights and see Harry watching. Harry knows he has a crush, one of those pesky, heart-humming little crushes that he feels like he gets bowled over with far too often.
But it’s different, now. Caleb hardly talks to him anymore, mostly because Harry stopped talking to him. It was awkward and Harry was so scared of giving himself away, and it’s just better to forget it and move on, to not linger on the disappointment and the hope. He wants to keep Blue away from all of this. Blue is a different kind of special to him, and he doesn’t want to mix it all up again. He doesn’t think he’ll be able to handle it if he has to have another little piece of his hopeful heart chipped away.
Thursday brings thunder and a thrashing cold snap of rain, sending all those red-dewy leaves gurgling down streets and drains in thick masses, melting into clumps all over the school ground. Harry’s racing through it with his jacket over his head, pants almost soaked through with the unfortunate amount of puddles he’s stepped in. Once he’s safely under the cover of the arts building and setting a much slower pace towards the auditorium, he plucks his phone from his damp pocket and opens the unread email blinking like a beacon.
I can’t believe I’ve been talking to you this entire time without knowing you’re one of those people who enjoys pineapple on pizza. I feel betrayed. Lied to. Disappointed. What other secrets have you been keeping from me? You’re tearing this family apart.
Harry bites his bottom lip to stop himself smiling like an idiot, ducking inside the auditorium. It’s quiet and mostly empty, a few lingering drama students shuffling between rooms. He’s got a study period and it’s just himself and the T-Birds for rehearsals tonight, a short session of reblocking for Blue Moon, so he’s nearly an entire hour early. Mostly, he planned to email Blue and scroll through a bunch of San Francisco apartments he’ll never be able to afford, dreaming of moving away and reaching some kind of peak gayness on American soil with Blue by his side.
He’s typing out an affronted reply, still smiling ridiculously as he heads backstage to dump his stuff. When he turns the corner and is faced with the dark, dingy hallway, he pauses.
There’s music coming from one of the dressing rooms, light spilling out through a crack in the door onto the dusty carpet. Clicking off his phone, Harry approaches slowly.
I can build a castle from a single grain of sand. I can make a ship sail on dry land.
It hits Harry slowly, then all at once, this sudden rush of blood to his face that makes him pause outside the parted door, a hand over his chest. It’s The Temptations. The same song he put on his playlist for Blue nearly a month ago. Harry stands dumbfounded in the hall like a creep for what feels like forever, but he can’t bring himself to look inside. It’s probably a coincidence, it’s probably nothing, but it also could be something and it hits Harry then that this could be it.
He could be facing Blue for the first time.
There’s this moment of hesitation, when Harry grips the doorknob. After all this time, all the wanting and wishing, he isn’t actually sure if he’s ready.
He pushes the door open slowly, peeking inside.
Louis is standing at the dressing table, facing the mirror, his script in hand. He’s bobbing his hips side to side almost unconsciously in time with the music, a knee up on one of the chairs, highlighting a few lines and writing a note in the margin, the page dog-eared. Harry stands in complete silence. There are waves of static filling his ears, all the breath whooshing out of his chest in a huge rush of air. Louis hums along softly, I can’t get next you, tapping his highlighter against his page. The lights on the mirrors catch on his hair and his voice is a low rumble under the music that’s ebbing softly from the speakers and Harry genuinely feels one breath away from collapsing.
Is it you?
It’s as Louis turns the page, momentarily distracted from the words there, that he looks in the mirror and spots Harry in the shadows of the hall, his head poking in. He whirls around with a hand on his chest.
“Jesus, Styles,” he says, almost dropping his things. Harry almost runs, embarrassment flooding his entire body. He’s made a fatal error. “How long have you been standing there, you creep?”
There’s laughter in Louis’ voice, though, his script held against his chest. He’s still got his knee up on the chair, and twisted around to face Harry like this, the soft lines of his shoulders and back shouldn’t be as distracting as they are. The music is still floating between them, and Harry almost asks, almost does something as stupid as saying I know you’re Blue. It’s me, Louis.
“Not telling,” Harry finally says, once his brain remembers how to communicate with his mouth. “That ruins the suspense of it all.”
Louis rolls his eyes and throws his script down onto the counter with a dull thunk, his highlighter following. There are dashes of it on his hands, these bright pink strokes. Harry is hit with this sudden want to twine their fingers.
“Are you just going to stand there, or…?” Louis raises an eyebrow.
Awkwardly, Harry shuffles in and shuts the door behind him. They’re alone now, properly alone until the bell rings and the quite outside gets interrupted by students rushing home.
“I love this song,” Harry says. He feels brave enough to admit it. Louis just smiles and hops up onto the counter, toes tapping together.
“I’ve started following all those decade rewind playlists on Spotify,” Louis shrugs, like it’s nothing, like Harry’s entire body isn’t about to twist inside out from learning that. “Turns out all those years of hating old music was just me being a complete snob.”
Harry bites down on a smile and finally comes further into the room, dumping his soaked bag. He’s still feeling brave when he pulls out the chair in front of Louis, sitting backwards on it and leaning his elbows against the top. The song flicks over, and all that bravery kind of melts out of Harry in a slow puddle. It’s like the music is mocking him, nudging his ribs with hilarious irony.
“Welcome to the other side,” Harry says. “How does it feel to know you were wrong all along?”
“I’m very humble now,” Louis says seriously, hand over his heart. “I’m just a much better person. How did I ever live my life before I had Stupid Cupid and Tutti Frutti?”
Harry lets out an embarrassingly loud clap of laughter, resting his forehead against the back of the chair.
“Those are good songs,” he argues, still giggling through his words.
“I have to draw a line somewhere,” Louis says, and it isn’t even that funny, is it, but Harry still laughs and feels himself going pink, ducking his head. Louis’ toes are still tapping together gently, converse with no socks, the fine bones of his ankles occasionally knocking .
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could wake up, in the morning when the day is new.
“What are you doing here so early, anyway?” Louis asks, leaning down to prod at Harry’s shoulder. He rests his elbows on his knees, then, chin in his palms, and like this they’re angled together, faces titled in opposite directions. It would be so easy for Harry to surge up and kiss him.
“Study period,” Harry says, his voice gone soft and strange. He clears his throat. “What about you?”
“I ditched English,” Louis shrugs, mischief in his eyes. “Just wanted to go over some stuff. I keep messing up the drive-in scene and Grimmy is one line prompt away from throwing a clipboard at my head.”
“Oh, sorry,” Harry says. “Did I interrupt you?”
“Not really,” Louis shrugs, changing the tilt of his head. Harry does the same, resting his own chin in his palm. It makes Louis’ lips twitch, and Harry bites down on his own smile when they switch again. “Maybe you could help me out.”
Are we flirting? Is that what this is?
“Sure,” Harry says, the sudden rush of nerves making his voice go a little wobbly. “I’m, uh. I’ve told you I’m not much of an actor, but I’ll try my best.”
“This isn’t broadway, Styles.” Louis nudges Harry’s shin with his foot. “I just need you to read Sandy’s lines.”
“Sure,” Harry repeats, jaw warming. “Sure thing.”
It feels a little bit like the universe is laughing at him, peering through the storm clouds and hatching plans for Harry’s demise piece by piece. This isn’t how he expected his afternoon to go at all. Louis makes him inexplicably nervous, and Harry’s heart is still humming frantically from the aftershocks of hearing The Temptations from the hallway. He tells himself it is just coincidence. He can’t tangle up Blue with anyone anymore.
“Let’s just go through scene four,” Louis instructs, handing Harry his script. Harry tries not to do something weird like run his thumbs over Louis’ handwriting. Each page is full of little notes, a few random doodles here and there, lines highlighted and circled and crossed out. “I should be able to remember it all.”
“Right,” Harry clears his throat softly and holds the script out, the top of it resting just by Louis’ knees. “Just – start?”
“Yes, H,” Louis huffs a soft laugh. “Take a breath, mate.”
Harry rolls his eyes and looks down at the page. His cheeks warm a little as he reads the scene instructions, Danny and Sandy cuddled together in the back of the car.
“You’ve got the first line,” Harry says softly, tapping Louis’ calf.
“Shit,” Louis sighs. “You’d think I’d have this by now.”
“It’s okay,” Harry encourages.
“Why don’t you move a little closer?”
Harry’s eyes snap up from the page. It takes him a stilted second to even realize that Louis has slipped into character, that drawled, lazy American accent pouring gold-like and natural from his mouth. It’s startling how quick he does it, his posture more relaxed, this hazed coolness about his expression, this quirk to his lips that isn’t quite a smirk.
Harry is done for.
“Is this okay?” he reads plainly, afraid he’ll do something stupid with his voice.
“It’s fine,” Louis says, a little begrudged as he nudges Harry’s leg. “Can’t you at least smile or somethin’?”
Harry plays along and rolls his eyes, huffing.
“Sandy, I practically had to break Kenickie’s arm to get this car for tonight,” Louis grits, but he softens it so it’s almost a whine, and the next line is quieter, hopeful. “I thought we were gonna forget all that stuff with Cha-Cha. I told you on the phone that I was sorry.”
“I know you did,” Harry says shortly.
“Well, you believe me, don’t you?”
“I guess so,” Harry shrugs, indifferent. “It’s just that everything was so much easier when it was just the two of us.”
“Hey,” Louis says apprehensively, quiet. “You’re not goin’ out with another guy, are you?”
Harry glances up at him, definitely not through his lashes. “No,” he breathes. “Why?”
They hold their gazes steadily, and there are more lines there on the page, Harry knows, but Louis doesn’t make any move to keep going. The careful, concerned look on his face gently morphs into a lopsided smile, and he leans forward on his palm again. Harry hadn’t realized, but he’s leant the script on Louis’ knees completely now, fingers brushing the fabric of his jeans, and they’re only a few breaths apart.
“You’re good, Styles,” Louis says. He quirks a brow. “Maybe you should have been Sandy.”
You’re flirting with me. Harry’s brain goes straight to white noise, unable to come up with a witty reply. In this dull yellow light, everything seems so soft and safe. I could kiss you right now if I wanted to. I do want to, despite everything. God, I want to kiss you. I want everything.
“Did you get it?” Harry says softly, drawing his eyes up from Louis’ lips. After a beat, Harry clarifies. “The line?”
“Oh,” Louis says. “Yeah. I think I got it.”
“Cool,” Harry says, taking in a slow breath and moving himself away, sitting up straight.
“Coolies,” Louis grins, and Harry lets his head loll back, groaning.
The bell ringing startles them both, like a camera shutter, like cutting a scene on a film, and just like that the warm bubble between them seems to burst. Louis sits up and brushes himself off, plucking the script from between Harry’s slack fingers.
“S’pose we should head to the stage,” he says, gaze averted. “Grimmy’ll make us run laps, otherwise.”
“Right,” Harry ducks his own eyes, too, shakes his hair out and clumsily swings his leg over the chair.
When they step out into the hallway, they can hear the buzz of movement outside, students trickling in and out of rooms, and it almost seems louder than it usually does, like when they were in that room together everything outside became muffled and far away. He glances at Louis.
Louis is already looking at him.
Hope your studying is going okay. Procrastination is still my enemy, even after you gave me tips. I’m starting to feel the stress of everything right now, especially with the production looming. I think Mr. Grimshaw’s stress alone is enough to bring down the entire school, so I can’t imagine how the cast is feeling. I don’t know if you’re part of it or not, but I think you might be. I just get a vibe. Sorry if that’s weird to say, or if you don’t want me to speculate. I know I’ve shut you down a few times about my own identity.
The more I think about it now, the more and more I want to come out. I sometimes wonder if I’ve held onto this for so long that I’m being more dramatic than I need to be. I’ve just been feeling like...things might be coming together. Sometimes things just happen and it fills me with a bit of hope. Do you get what I mean? Maybe I’m just being all superficial, but. I just really want things to go well so I can finally meet you. You’ve become so important to me, Green.
See you around.
I know what you mean, you’re not superficial. It’s been up and down for me lately. I guess I’m still just scared of what other people think of me. I’ve always wanted to be someone that doesn’t give a shit about what others think of them, but I’m just not. I get anxious about it. It’s ridiculous how much I try to please everyone else before myself, but maybe that’s part of the problem. I don’t know. There’s definitely been a few signs, though.
Blue, I think I might know who you are. Please don’t freak out.
You’re right. I’m in the production, too.
On Monday morning, when Harry pulls up on the curb, Zayn stands with four huge bouquets of roses in his arms. Half his upper body is obscured. Harry simply blinks at him for a moment before popping the boot with a sigh, rubbing at his temples. He doesn’t even want to ask.
“You smell like my grandma’s bathroom,” Harry says as Zayn slides into the backseat.
“I smell like love,” Zayn argues. “I’m going to ask Perrie to go with me to the Christmas party.”
“The Christmas party,” Zayn repeats. “It’s next week? I don’t want to leave it too late. Someone else is bound to ask her.”
“I didn’t even know we had a Christmas party.”
“Well, we do,” Zayn says. “And I’m going to ask Perrie when we get to school, so. If you could pop the boot again once we’re parked, that’d be great.”
“Jesus,” Harry breathes, pulling out onto the road.
Zayn is restless, fidgeting in the backseat. “So,” he drawls, fingers drumming. “Have you figured out who Blue is, yet?”
“I told you not to ask me about him,” Harry says, drawing his shoulders in. “Blue’s off limits.”
“But do you know who it is?”
“No, okay?” Harry almost shouts. “Stop fucking asking me, Z.”
They remain in tense silence for the rest of the trip. Harry can almost feel how hot his face is, teeth grinding together. Every time he remembers that Zayn knows, it makes his insides burn. Blue is his, and he’s Blues, and that’s all it should be. He hates that Zayn knows.
When Perrie gets into the car, she glances between them cautiously. She can read Harry like a fucking picture book even when he’s trying to keep himself shut in tight.
“Alright, lads?” Perrie asks wearily.
“Alright,” Harry says.
“Alright,” Zayn shrugs, arms crossed. He looks out the window.
“O-kay,” Perrie hums, muffling soft laughter.
I’m not alright. I’m really not. Blue still hasn’t replied to his last email, and Harry is worried that he’s completely scared him off and ruined the two months they’ve spent slowly learning and caring for each other. He can’t think of anything worse than this ending without ever knowing Blue’s true identity, just to say thank you, even if it meant they never spoke again.
And now there’s this ridiculous Christmas party to think about, dread already building in his stomach at the thought of having to ask someone, or worse, going alone. Zayn will go with Perrie, that’s a given by now. Niall will end up begging Jade to go with him. You could ask Louis, couldn’t you?
Maybe he just won’t go. That’ll solve all his problems.
He can’t stop thinking about it, spaced out and frustrated somewhere deep in his core, unable to concentrate on the conversation going on him around him once Niall’s in the car and stimulating some kind of chatter to fill the obvious chasm of tense silence. It feels like a juvenile, silly thing to be upset over, but it’s the little things that become the big things later in life, the dumb parties and events that he sees as trivial now.
Later, he’ll look back at it and realize that his disinterest and his snobbery is really just trying to cover for the hurt of having nobody to go with. Trying to cover the hurt of not even being able to ask while everyone else can at least get a good story out of being told no.
When he pops the trunk at school, Perrie is absolutely delighted by the roses.
I’m always honest with you, and I can admit that I’m scared.
But, I think I know who you are, too. So I guess that’ll make two of us now.
The school hall looks tacky at the best of times, in desperate need of a new coat of paint, all shiny floors and dark red curtains, a too-brightly lit foyer and a huge wall full just of past principals and board members all etched into wood with flaky gold lettering. The decorations for the party tonight have taken the supposed charm of the hall to an entirely new level. Everything is in shades of silver, icy white and baby blue, tinsel and baubles and snowflakes stuck to the walls. Harry can’t walk three metres without the strings attached to the overwhelming amount of helium balloons in the room getting caught around his arms.
He really doesn’t want to be here.
In hindsight, he probably should have foreseen what telling Perrie he wasn’t going to come would do. It only encouraged her to force him into attending with greater ferocity. And it hasn’t just been the attendance. So far, the night kicked off at Perrie’s house, all their families taking ridiculously embarrassing photos of them all dressed up, Zayn and Perrie paired up on one side, Niall and Jade on the other, Harry stood in the middle trying not to let how much to resented being stuck between them, so obviously alone, show in his eyes when he smiled.
His tie is too tight and he feels like an absolute tit shuffling in behind the rest of their group, too embarrassed to look up from his shiny shoes. There’s a disco ball hanging from the roof, throwing a wild array of silver-blue sparkles all over the walls and the floor, and even the tablecloths on the food and beverage tables are covered in glitter. Harry gives it half an hour before the punch bowl is spiked.
At this rate, it might be him that spikes it. He doesn’t know how else he’s supposed to make it through the evening. They’ve been here for ten minutes and it feels like an hour.
With a spasm of his arm, Harry attempts to aggressively shake off another helium balloon.
At least he can deal with the music. He’s a sucker for over the top pop renditions of Christmas carols.
“It’s like prom!” Niall shouts giddily over the music, putting on a God-awful American accent.
It’s a relatively good turn out for a school event, the hall filling up steadily until it’s a pain to get anywhere near the tables of food. Harry remains stuck on the dancefloor for most of the night, which doesn’t necessarily turn out to be a bad thing. It’s easier to blend in with bigger groups and pretend like he’s not the only person that doesn’t have a date, and it seems perfectly acceptable to spin and dance and go a little wild when everybody else is, too.
He understands what Perrie was saying when she said she felt on the outside of a party she was inside of. It’s in these moments, with his friends around him, all these flashing lights and the upbeat music, smiling faces and the knowledge that each second in itself will someday be a tiny diamond of a memory to them all, that Harry thinks of Blue the most. Trying to get by being half of the whole they know they could be, and isn’t that the truth, singing his lungs out along to Someday at Christmas surrounded by the people he knows best in the world and realizing that they only know half of him.
He tries to shake those thoughts away and just enjoy the things he does have, especially when Perrie grabs the lapels of his jacket and spins them around, her pink hair curled and framing her soft, joyful face. That feeling, the rush, he can feel in the deepest part of his chest.
It’s when he breaks away from the group for a drink that all the happiness of the night starts to draw away.
All the horrible cliches in the world seem like a blip compared to the moment Mr. Grimshaw, the self-appointed DJ for the evening, announces that it’s time for everybody to pair up for a couples dance. It shouldn’t get to him, really. He’s been through it before. He’s been in a couples dance, those few awkward years when he had girlfriends and couldn’t quite grasp why the thought of having to put his hands on their hips and spin in romantic circles with them didn’t quite make sense.
But it does get to him, this time. He watches Perrie and Zayn join together, watches the dancefloor slowly ripple into pairs swaying, heads hooked over shoulders, hands reassuring and safe. And. It hurts. It hurts a lot, the more he watches on, stood in the corner like a fool with a cup of rum spiked punch in his hands, wishing that he could have somebody to dance with like this high school party really means anything significant at all.
Turns out it does, though. That’s the thing nobody really prepares you for with high school. All the things Harry thinks are insignificant now, all the things he ignores because he thinks he’s too cool, are the things he’ll look back on with heaviness in his heart, because it’s simple. It’s just kids being in the moment and dancing together and enjoying the company they have. And he isn’t a part of it.
He slips outside with tears blurring his eyes, and he refuses to look back. At least Perrie is happier now, with somebody who can love her properly. That, he’s glad for. He can’t stand the thought of her having her heart broken.
Maybe that’s part of his problem too, the same way he told Blue he always cares too much about what others think of him. He also cares too much about other people’s feelings over his own.
It’s absolutely freezing outside, chilled air sweeping up under the cuffs of his pants and his jacket the instant the door slips shut behind him. He has to stand there for a moment to catch his breath and steady himself, vision too blurry to see, but he refuses to let the tears go. Swallowing, he closes his eyes for a moment, then pushes away from the building.
He ends up sitting on the curb by the tiny loading dock behind the hall. It had rained earlier today and the ground is grimy. There’s hardly any light to reach out, just the metallic blue of the field lights in the distance. With his knees tucked in to his chest, arms locked around his shins, Harry gently rests his forehead against his knees to tuck his face away from the icy wind. Maybe it’ll snow.
Nobody texts him to ask where he’s gone. He scrolls instagram aimlessly for a while, but it’s full of pictures and videos from tonight and it doesn’t take long before he closes the app. In the end, he opens up his emails. He hasn’t replied to Blue. He doesn’t know what to say. Instead, he opens up their conversation thread and scrolls right to the top, all the way back to the beginning of October. Then, he reads.
Maybe it’s pathetic, trying to feel closer this way. It makes him smile, though, and then it makes him cry a little, too, his cheek bunched up against his arm as he messily scrolls through all their messages. It isn’t fair that he can’t just call, that he can’t hear Blue’s voice, that they aren’t together to talk through everything running a rampage through Harry’s mind right now.
By the time he opens up a new message, his fingers are almost numb from the cold, thumbs sluggish and slow as he types.
i need you
He deletes it.
i need someone to talk to
He hesitates, wiping at a fat tear stuck to the corner of his eye.
are you here tonight?
He presses send and almost throws his phone.
Three minutes later, it buzzes.
Harry stares at it. Just one word. No Dear Green, no sign off. Just yes. Harry locks his phone and presses his face back into the crease of his arm, staring at the almost faded no parking warning that’s been spray painted onto the ground. He tries to remember if things felt this hard before Blue came into his life.
Harry closes his eyes, taking in a breath. He doesn’t want to see anybody right now.
“Hey,” he says softly, letting an obnoxious smile stretch his features. It aches a little, the sticky tears on his face gone icy from the cold. “What are you doing out here?”
Louis strolls closer, hands in his pockets, then he drops beside Harry on the curb. He’s in a dark grey suit, tie loose around his neck. Harry tries to avoid making direct eye contact. He always gets puffy eyes when he cries, all red around his nose, cheeks ruddy. He hopes it’s dark enough that Louis doesn’t pick up on it.
“Could ask you the same,” Louis says, nudging him gently. “I’ve been kinda thinking of bailing ever since the snack table ran out of Doritos.”
Harry can’t help it when he laughs, pressing a palm over his eyes to try and shield the way they go wet, his chest still a little shaky, and also because Louis makes him feel too much too easily.
“I see your reasoning,” Harry says, keeping his palm against his forehead, leaning his weight on his knees. “You aren’t having fun?”
“Not really,” Louis shrugs. “Who’s your date?”
“Don’t have one.”
“Me, either,” Louis says. He smile shyly. “I thought I saw you slip out.”
Were you watching me? Do you know?
“I was just trying to escape Mr. Grimshaw inevitably playing Bieber’s Drummer Boy on loop,” Harry says.
Louis’ laughter is bright, melted snow in a warm palm, and it just doesn’t stop, the two of them slowly dissolving into hysterics. It echoes out into the emptiness. Out here, the music from inside is all muffled. It feels like being inside a snow-globe, their own faces reflected in the glass, two tiny figurines trapped together being shaken with winters first breath.
“It’s so funny because it’s so terribly true,” Louis says, setting them off again, and Harry has wet eyes for a different reason now, a hand clutched over his stomach. “God, he’s so lame. I love that man.”
Eventually they quiet, settling into comfortable silence. Harry scuffs his shoe gently against the concrete and twines his fingers together. He can feel Louis watching him, the prickle of his gaze.
“Do you want to get out of here?” Louis asks. He’s all moonlight and soft eyes and Harry feels a little helpless when it comes to him. He doesn’t know if he could ever say no.
They end up tucked into one of the late night restaurants, right across from the teahouse. Do you want to get out of here turned into do you want to eat copious amounts of gross food, and Louis had driven them with the windows down and the heat blaring, the wind rushing up through Harry’s hair, radio humming soft between them. They didn’t talk, not really, just took off their ties and threw them in the backseat before the school disappeared like a fairytale in the distance, Harry watching the lights fade in the wing mirror until it all twisted into dark neons and pale whites, their tiny suburbia blooming as a rare flower in the foggy cold.
Between them there’s a tiny stack of pancakes, half drenched in syrup for Harry, the other half drenched in warm chocolate sauce for Louis, and somewhere in the middle the two are bleeding together. Sometimes, Harry will get a mouthful that’s just pure sugar-sweet, and it makes his teeth feel fuzzy, a comfortable heat burning in his stomach. The speakers are ebbing Songs for Christmas, melancholy guitar and soft bells floating down over them, and in this flushed light Louis has apricot cheeks and clear eyes, honey shadows clung to his jaw and the sides of his nose.
“I would rather this than a stuffy hall full of horny teenagers any day,” Louis says, wiping sauce from his mouth.
They’re the only ones in the restaurant aside from the waitress and the chefs. It’s another snow-globe.
“Me, too,” Harry says. “Are you nervous about Grease?”
“Shitting myself,” Louis says casually. “Absolutely shitting myself, if I’m being honest.”
Harry rolls his eyes. “Don’t be so modest.”
“Modest, he says!” Louis exclaims, tapping his fork against their plate.
“You’re brilliant and you know it.”
“Well, it’s not like you’ve got anything to worry about,” Louis says. He swirls his fork through a puddle of syrup, grin lopsided. “Superstar Styles over here.”
“I only have to sing a few songs–”
“Which you do perfectly,” Louis says. “Every time.”
“Were you unconscious for Beauty School Dropout?”
“Were you unconscious for Greased Lightnin’? I almost destroyed the set.”
Harry scrunches his nose, and Louis does the same, and then they’re just staring at each other ridiculously. Harry is the first to break, laughing softly and ducking his head. Louis’ foot nudges his under the table.
“I think we’ll both be okay,” he says honestly. “We’ve put in the work.”
They settle back into silence again, letting out soft puffs of laughter when they spill sauce, but apart from that, Harry appreciates the quiet between them. It stops him from blurting stupid questions like do you enjoy pineapple on pizza what’s your favourite song were you listening to The Temptations because I recommended it to you are you the person I’ve been pouring my entire heart out to for months.
And then softer, quieter, he tries to stop himself from thinking I hope it’s you.
It’s late when they shudder back out into the cold, hands tucked up under their armpits, shoulders bumping as they cross the deserted car park. Their breaths are swirling around their heads. It’s dreamlike.
Harry leans into the heat pouring out of the vents once they’re back in the car, and he feels content and warm and still edged with maudlin, but it’s distant now, tucked into the back of his mind for later. Right now, he just wants to focus on this, Louis at arms reach and the bubble of content that’s settled between them. When Harry glances over, Louis has his head lolled against the seat, watching Harry back.
“Do you want me to drop you home?” he asks.
“Honestly,” Harry says. “Not really.”
Louis’ smile is a slow thing, and he scratches at his jaw and looks out the window, almost to hide it.
“Where do you want to go?” he says.
“Can we just drive for a while?” Harry asks. “I’m not ready to go, yet.”
“Yeah, okay,” Louis says, just a whisper. “We can drive.”
Harry sorts through the CD’s in Louis’ glove box, most of them unlabeled and ripped, the mixtapes full of low quality MP3’s that for some reason always end up sounding better than anything else. He chooses one at random and then Louis is pulling out onto the road with a soft smile on his face, accelerating quickly. It feels like escaping. It feels like breaking away.
The first few notes of guitar come through, and Harry turns it up immediately, making a sound in the back of his throat.
“I fucking love this song,” he says. “I don’t care how cliche it is, or how old, or how overrated. I’ll always love it.”
“Turn it up louder, then,” Louis says. So Harry does.
He feels it deep in his bones, the same way he always does when he remembers this song exists and he revists it. But this time it’s different, this time the nostalgic elation burrows deep into his marrow. It leaves him a little breathless. Louis leans forward and turns it up more, turns it up until the stereo is maxed out and Harry can feel the sound in his fingertips, in the centre of his heart. They sing along terribly, throats hoarse with it, and then Louis is putting the windows down again, all that air rushing in and making Harry’s eyes prickle, almost making them spill with how much he feels right now.
And this, here, maybe this is the biggest cliche of them all, two teenages flying down an empty road, winter opening the sky above them with the first flakes of snow, but Harry has had enough of thinking about things tonight, he’s had enough of thinking over every little detail of his life. Here, now, Louis by his side and the music pulsing through his chest, he just lets go, leans his head out the window and screams the words into the wind, Louis laughing at him beneath it all and joining in.
A moment, a love, a dream, a laugh, a kiss, a cry, our rights, our wrongs.
The trees fly past in a blur. Louis’ hand finds his between the seats.
I hope you have a lovely Christmas. I know we haven’t spoken for a little while, but I want you to know I’m always thinking about you. I’m sorry if I made things weird the night of the party. I don’t know what I was thinking.
I miss you. Please get back to me soon.
Nothing is ruined. Things just change, and that’s okay.
It’s been years since they’ve had a white Christmas, but when Harry noses his way out from underneath the encasing warmth of his sheets that morning, it’s bright white outside, his window frosted and toned light blue. The snow has fallen heavy overnight, and the ground is coated with bundles of fluffy powder, the darkened bones of the skeleton trees gone clay-white and spindly like fingertips. The streetlights are still on, just orange bulbs amidst the light snowfall that’s tumbling down in thin streaks.
It’s a day of normality and tradition and homey warmth. Gingerbread for breakfast and too-hot tea, wooly socks making their palms clammy with hidden static, the fire blushing the living room in fleshy pinks and oranges while they gather under their tiny tree and swap gifts. They blow the dust from the old VHS player and spend the morning cuddled together under thick quilts, watching grainy versions of Frosty the Snowman and The Santa Clause and the Disney films that still work, Harry lulled into sleep again through most of it because he’s cuddled into Anne’s chest, her fingers running soft, comforting strokes through his hair, Gemma hidden beneath the blankets with her face pressed into Anne’s stomach, a tangle of too-long limbs and hair.
Despite the easiness of the morning, getting ready to go over to Perrie’s for lunch, something their families have done together since they were toddlers, has never made him feel like begging off the whole day and going back to bed. Since the party, they’ve still been texting, but they’ve haven’t seen each other. Normally, Harry has to fight to get a spare second to himself during the Christmas break. It’s always been their time, indulging in cheesy movies and too much food and doing their shopping together, buying the worst gift possible to give to the other.
As Harry gets dressed, buttoning up his coat, he tries not to let it get to him. He’s full of guilt, though. He’s been pushing her away bit by bit because that’s what he thought was best, but now he isn’t sure if he made the right call. Things between them are strained and strange in a way they never have been, and it fucking sucks, it hurts because she’s his best friend, she has been, always, even with his secrets.
He hasn’t spoken to Louis, either.
The end of the night is a blur, still. It makes his cheeks hot just thinking about it, the way Louis’ soft palm had pressed atop Harry’s for a moment, their fingers gently intertwining, before he pulled away, and then they’d been turning back into town, and Harry was sneaking in through the backdoor with his heart practically bursting out of his chest. They just exchanged quiet goodnights. And then that was it. Harry fell into bed and covered his flushed face with his hands and tried to process the entire night before it made him go shaky and too-warm.
He opened a new message to Blue. Stared down at his screen in the dark, and then closed it again.
Since their brief email a few days ago, there’s been silence from both of them.
Things feel so close to the touch, yet so out of reach. Heavy in his heart but hollow in his chest. He’s torn two ways and almost ready to split straight down the middle and let it all pour out in an avalanche of heavy snow.
Louis’ birthday party takes place over the weekend.
The morning Harry wakes to a text from him, his heart falls into the pit of his stomach, and he sits up so fast he feels dizzy from it, sheets tangled around his legs. He unlocks his phone with his heart in his chest, wondering what it might possibly say, hoping for something along the lines of so, about the other night or i think you’re cute or hey, so it turns out i’m actually blue. Instead, he’s met with some kind of mass text, an invitation for Saturday night, and he deflates slightly, staring down at the carefully set out message. There’s nothing personal about it, not even Harry’s name at the top, just a general hey everyone!! that he half-smiles at before falling back into the sheets and groaning softly at how caught up he feels.
He thinks about sending a message to Perrie, asking her what drinks she wants or if they’re going to crash here or at her house, and the hesitance he feels to open a message to her makes him sink into his pillows. He opens their message thread anyway. The last text he sent her was Christmas day, a picture of her and Gemma curled up in front of the couch playing Scrabble. Perrie never replied. Sighing softly, Harry pulls his blankets up to his shoulders and presses his face into the pillow, willing for sleep to pull him under again.
Walking along the footpath to Louis’ place that Saturday, alone and huddled into his coat, seems almost surreal in the strangest ways. There’s music pouring from inside, the stoop and the front garden illuminated from the light-flooded windows, fairy-lights strung along the banisters. Cars are lined up and down the street, and Harry stands out in the fog for a moment and takes it all in, his own breath whirling snow-white around his head. The house looks like a fuzzy beacon, like a lighthouse waiting for his return home from darker water.
It’s late, when he shoulders his way inside. The party already seems in full swing. Harry side-steps the empty jelly shot cups that are scattered across the floor and starts to shuck off his coat, following the wonkily drawn signs that point to a small cupboard beneath the staircase. The air inside is a little sweltering and stuffy, already full to the brim with jackets and scarves and beanies.
When he steps back out into the party, the first person he bumps into, quite literally, is a stumbling Niall, his cheeks already flushed pink, all glassy-eyed.
“Found you!” Niall shouts, latching onto Harry’s neck immediately for a choking hug that he doesn’t pull away from. “I thought you died.”
“You did,” Harry laughs, Niall’s own smile dopey and too large. “Safe and sound.”
“You need a drink.” Niall pats his chest lovingly. “A strong drink.”
“Actually, I wasn’t going to–”
Niall almost pulls Harry’s arm out of its socket as he drags him towards the kitchen.
The last time they were here Harry was ridiculously drunk, all the finer details of the night blurred. In a sober light, he takes in the little details, the warm rugs and the picture frames on the wall of Louis and his family, Louis as a tiny boy with a button nose and too-large shorts, the flowers on the window sill in the kitchen, the homey touches. It’s crowded, coolers full of ice on the floor and the benches sticky with spilt alcohol, the overwhelming stench of vodka and rum making Harry’s stomach spin.
Niall thrusts a cup into his hand before pulling him along again, winding them through clumps of teenagers until they spill out into the backyard. Harry almost backs away immediately, soft orange light falling down over the ping-pong table. Perrie and Zayn are together on one end, Louis and Jade on the other, and this is Harry’s worst nightmare, all of them mixed up together. He isn’t sure how he’s supposed to begin separating all his feelings, all these different versions of himself. It might be a mistake when he knocks back the drink Niall made him and goes back inside for another. He just needs a little courage to handle this.
Louis looks gorgeous, hair feathery and soft and a little sweaty on his forehead, white shirt and dark jeans and messy trainers, and Harry kind of aches to touch him, to maybe hold his hand and memorize the places their fingers slot together because his mind was too shocked to register anything except the warmth when they were in the car. On the other end of the table, Zayn has another tiny crowd gathered behind him again, both he and Perrie well on their way to drunk and two cups away from winning out over Louis and Jade.
“Look who decided to show up!” Niall announces, which is exactly the moment in which Harry wishes he could disappear, all heads turning to face him. He shrinks into himself a little and fiddles with the lip of his cup when Perrie glances over, offering nothing but a small smile before she’s back to the game. Louis meets his eye with a curious brow raise before he turns away, too, and it doesn’t feel like a dismissal but it isn’t the warm welcome Harry was hoping for, either.
Maybe he has been lost in his head all this time. Maybe he dreamt up all the subtle looks and touches.
Harry tips back his cup, turns, and shoulders his way inside.
In hindsight, deciding to do a complete one-eighty of his original plan to stay sober and not do anything outlandishly stupid probably wasn’t his best move. There’s a period of time in which he gets partly lost within the house, stumbling down the hallway to the bathroom and staring at himself strangely in the mirror as he numbly washes his hands until his fingers prune. He’s had a lot of rum and his mouth tastes spicy and dark and there’s a tickle at the back of his throat.
By the time things start to die down, he’s begun to sweat through his shirt, the hair-do he’d carefully crafted gone limp against his forehead, and he hasn’t seen Louis at all. Perrie hasn’t said hello, and when he looks around the party for her, in search of someone to guide him safely home, he finds that she, Zayn and Niall have already left without him.
He’s feeling petulant and frustrated, this wound-up tension strung tight from his elbows to his wrists as he pushes open the little door under the stairs and starts to sort through the coats blindly. It’s too dark to see much and he just wants to go home, now. His chest is snarled with something sad, a squished hope for a night that he thought was supposed to be full of love, and he needs his bed and his sheets and Blue. Harry needs to tell him he’s sorry and that he loves him and that he wants them to meet for real.
He’s half-buried in the closet, getting progressively more upset with each coat sleeve that tangles around his arms, when Louis pokes his head in cautiously.
“There you are,” he says, and Harry whips around to face him, feeling caught out for leaving without saying goodbye. Despite it all he still manages to feel guilty for shit like that.
“Here I am,” Harry replies dully, edged with a sarcasm that lifts Louis’ brows.
“What are you doing?” Louis muses, watching on as Harry shoves at another clump of coats.
“‘M going home,” Harry says. “I wanna go to bed.”
Louis smiles, amusement laced there, and it somehow makes Harry a mixture of angry and fond.
“You’re lush,” Louis points out.
“I’m fine, actually.”
“Sure, Sandy,” Louis says, stepping into the closet and closing the door gently behind him, snuffing out the light from the hallway. There’s just a thin slit of warm yellow that passes underneath. Harry glances up curiously, heart suddenly beating faster at the look in Louis’ eyes.
“What are you doing?” he murmurs.
“Helping you find your coat,” Louis says, beginning to shift through the hangers aimlessly.
“You’re so observant.”
“Shut up,” Harry laughs, head ducked. In the shadows he can only see the shine in Louis’ eyes, the faint outlines of his features. In the shadows, it could be so easy to lean in and slot their lips together, like maybe they could hide that from each other, just a gentle press to finally extinguish things between them. Harry’s too drunk for this, and he feels almost dizzy with it, with this misplaced want, with thinking about Blue, and he doesn’t realize he’s started to lose his balance until there are warm hands on his arms, helping him down to the dusty ground.
“Jesus, Styles,” Louis says, a huff of a laugh when Harry stretches his mouth into a dopey smile and goes limp in his arms, long legs awkwardly played out. “Shuffle back, c’mon.”
They end up sitting against the wall together, squished close between the two racks of clothes. Harry stares at his sprawled legs and picks at a loose thread in his jeans, forehead heavy. There’s hardly any air in here, all of it so dusty, and he can feel the warmth coming off Louis’ body, the place their hips touch electric and fire-hot.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” Louis says softly, after they’ve been sitting in silence for who knows how long.
“Of course I came,” Harry admits, meek. “Why wouldn’t I come?”
“You never replied to my text,” Louis says, and Harry shrugs and folds his fingers together. “I thought that maybe…”
He trails off. Harry finally glances up at him. Their faces are close, cheeks almost brushing. Things are grainy, all hues of ebony and blue. It’s so much, to be near this way, and Harry lets his head loll back against the wall, chin on his shoulder.
“What?” he urges, because he just has to know. He doesn’t want to be left in the dark anymore.
“I thought that you mightn’t want to come, after…” Louis ducks his head, that faint hallway light catching a dull white on the tips of his lashes. “After that night.”
A tremor flutters up along the line of Harry’s spine. He knows what Louis is trying to say, because it’s the same way he’s felt for years, the same way he’s always felt when the close friendships he’s had with other boys have petered out to awkward nothings because they’ve never returned the same feelings that he has, never wanted the same things, to be kissed and held and loved by another boy. But this, being on the receiving end of that uncertainty, it fills him with heat, hoat coals that smoulder in the pit of his stomach.
“Louis,” Harry whispers, a little in awe, a touch desperate for Louis to just look at him, and then he does, slowly brings his eyes up and turns so that their noses skim, and Harry has never felt this way before, never felt so much that he could cry with it, the flush that’s making his cheeks feel sticky.
Louis’ lashes are cast low, his gaze on Harry’s lips, and it’s unconscious when Harry wets them, matches the shine that softens Louis’ own mouth. He can feel warmth of Louis’s breathing, can feel his own reflecting back from Louis’ chin. All the tiny hairs on his cheeks are hypersensitive, like they’re on fire, palms clammy. He’s nervous, and unsure, and almost close to tears from how much he wants to lean in.
“What are you thinking about?” Louis murmurs between them, so soft Harry has to dip closer to catch the words, so close their mouths almost brush as Louis speaks.
That I want you to be Blue so, so badly. That I want everything you’ll give me. You understand me and I want to have intimate, soft moments with you because I trust you. Please kiss me. Please, please kiss me.
In a different universe, a parallel dimension in which Harry is a braver version of himself, maybe he’d cup the back of Louis’ neck softly and melt their mouths together. Maybe he’d press their tongues close and slot their fingers. Maybe they’d tread on light feet up to Louis’ room because the house would be empty and they’d just kiss-and-kiss-and-kiss until their lungs burst, and then Harry would press his face into Louis’ neck and whisper I know you’re Blue, and Louis would do the same in turn, breathe that sentiment into Harry’s skin like a relief, and all the bad weight would lift, just the hot pressure of feeling so much remaining.
But Harry isn’t brave, not like that. Instead he says nothing and tries to say what he can’t with his eyes, just hoping that Louis makes the first move. He can’t bring himself to do it, no matter how much he wants to, this repetitive lull of Blue-Blue-Blue echoing in the back of his head. But Louis doesn’t move closer, and they’re stuck in a stalemate, watching each others lips and both hoping, maybe wishing, that the other moves first.
The door to the closet swings open.
It’s erratic, how quickly he and Louis spring apart, Louis scrambling up to his feet almost immediately. With the light pouring in, Harry can see the colour high on his cheeks, and he imagines that he looks the same, drunk-eyed and hazy and wet-lipped from his wanting. It’s just Jade, and she barely pays them any attention as she unhooks a fuzzy pink jacket from the rack and presses a fond kiss to Louis’ cheek, thanking him for the night.
Harry remains sprawled against the wall, shaking fingers wedged beneath his thighs. Louis looks down at him, shuddering in a deep breath, before he slips back out into the hallway and disappears without another word.
I think I’m going to come out to my friends when we go back to school. Even if nobody else knows about us, I’d like to meet you. I’m tired of tucking myself and my feelings away. I don’t want to hold back from letting myself feel. I don’t want to be half of a whole, anymore.
See you in a few days.
I believe in you.
The new year begins with snow and bitter wind, winter giving them one last cold-snap. On the first day back, Harry braces himself for the awkwardness of doing the pickup rounds before school, but everyone seems in generally good spirits, wrapped up in woolen clothes with thermoses trapped to their chests, ready for steaming tea and fresh pastries. Perrie pulls him into a one-armed hug that makes Harry melt from how much he’s missed her, and things feel slightly normal, like maybe all they needed was to breathe and take a moment away from constantly filling up each others space.
Pez, I’m gay. He’s practiced the words in his head over and over, but they still won’t spill. He just can’t seem to let them go, not even when she smiles softly at him as they pull away from each other. Soon. I’ll tell her soon.
Classes feel normal. Grease, even, somehow manages to feel normal. They launch straight back into rehearsals, the show only two weeks away now, Mr. Grimshaw reaching his final stages of pre-show stress and looking absolutely bedraggled when they shuffle into the auditorium after the bell rings. It’s all about running the show and smoothing out the final kinks, and it’s starting to come together properly now, starting to ebb excitement under Harry’s skin, something he hasn’t truly felt for so long.
Maybe this is a fresh start, he thinks, refraining from letting his cheeks heat when Louis glances up at him from the stage and smiles softly, private, just for them, when they’re backstage and Louis will poke his finger into Harry’s hip to make him squirm as he darts past, murmuring, watch out, Sandy, under his breath. Maybe things will be better this year. He can feel it. There’s something different about the things around him, like he’s ready to exhale the breath he’s been holding in for far too long.
Maybe it’ll be okay, in the end.
He’s grating carrots into a large bowl, mince simmering on the stove and halfway through cooking burritos, when Gemma pads softly into the kitchen that night.
Harry doesn’t notice her presence at first, humming along to the radio and caught up in the methodical chp-chp sound of the grater, hips swaying back and forth. It’s just gone six, Anne is still at work, and the fire blushes the entire room in soft hues of orange, spilling up over the sofa and reaching warm hands into the kitchen. He stirs the mince, onion-smell wafting heady and hot from the pan, and turns down the heat.
“Harry,” Gemma says, and Harry looks at her over his shoulder with a smile and a quirk of his brow, expecting some kind of banter, a jab at him. The look on her face makes him pause completely, smile sliding slowly from his mouth. Her eyes are damp, phone clutched desperately in her hand, and Harry just knows, he knows the second their eyes lock, somewhere deep down in the pit of his stomach.
He’s shoving past her before she can say another word, tumbling frantically up the stairs to his bedroom with his heart in his throat, this steady panic of no-no-no thumping against his temples, and he types the address into his laptop wrong three times before he finally smashes the enter button down, waiting anxiously for the page to load, not breathing. Gemma lingers in the doorway of his bedroom, an arm slung loosely over her stomach.
Please, no. Please don’t let it be true.
Harry is already crying when Holmes Chapel Chatter finally flickers to life in front of him, these hot, salty tears that clump his lashes together and make it hard for him to read the post, but it’s there, pictures he thought were gone in clear colour, the back and forth of Dear Blue and Dear Green, and in the corner of the screenshot, the name Harry Styles logged into the school server, right there for everybody to see.
He can’t get his fingers to work, can barely read the fucking post as it is, skimming over it with a hand clasped hard over his mouth to stop the way he wants to sob, and Gemma is still standing there watching him at a complete loss, and she looks hurt, she looks exactly the way Harry didn’t want her to look, fears she’d look. Disappointed, upset. Like she’s been lied to. And he has lied to her, hasn’t he?
On his bedside table, his phone is buzzing wildly with messages.
“Haz,” Gemma says desperately, taking a step forward into the room.
“Don’t,” Harry chokes. He shakes his head and finally lets the sobs go, slamming the lid of his laptop shut so harshly the sound of it makes him flinch, and he hangs his head, presses his face between his knees and lets out a frustrated shout, hands in his hair, because it was never supposed to happen like this. It’s not fair, because this is supposed to be his thing. Coming out is his, it’s not for anyone else to decide, and he feels like it’s been ripped right out of his chest and splattered up along the walls for everybody to see.
His phone is still buzzing, and he crosses the room before he can think about it, snatches it up and pushes past Gemma so he can throw it down the stairs in a burst of anger so sharp it makes his head spin.
“Harry!” Gemma grabs his arm, mouth parted as she watches him, watches the flurry of tears slicking up his cheeks. He feels so embarrassed, so ashamed, and this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. He’s supposed to feel lighter, like a weight has been lifted, like he can breathe. Right now, he’s barely hanging on.
He tries to wrench himself out of her grasp, tries to close the door of his room, but she’s persistent, throwing her weight against it to slip back inside and wrap him up in a hug despite his struggling, and eventually he collapses into her, hides his hot face into her neck and squeezes her into a hug because he just needs something to latch onto, scared he won’t be able to hold himself up much longer.
“Why didn’t you say anything?” Gemma whispers, her own voice wet and shaky, fingers in his hair.
Because I wasn’t ready. Because I don’t have to say anything I’m not ready for. I thought I was ready. I’m not ready.
“Gem,” he cries, helpless, and she hushes him softly, gently guides them over to the bed and lets him curl up around her, the same way they used to do when they were kids and he’d pad into her room when he had nightmares, too embarrassed to go tell mum.
That embarrassment ebbs off him in waves now, his entire body boiling with heat, face damp with snot and tears and spit, and he hates that it feels like the end of the world when it should feel like a new beginning. The more he thinks about it, the worse he feels. There’s just so much, so much panic and impending anxiety. And, God. Blue will know, now. What if he never sends Harry a message ever again, if he drifts away and Harry is left just with this, with something that he can’t even hold close to his chest anymore, their conversations up on the internet for anyone to read.
And then there’s Perrie. Niall. Harry bites down on another sob, fingers curling up in the sheets. Louis will know, too, and there’s a sick panic prickling in his stomach, thinking about Louis’ reaction reading that post. He’s going to be so fucking alone, expecting the worst, because he’s lied to everybody for so long.
It’s dark, when the exhaustion hits him full force, and he just goes limp, empty headed and still crying, just a soft stream of silent tears. His pillow is damp and the front of Gemma’s pajama shirt is dark from him hiding his face against her chest, and he just wants to disappear.
“I love you so much,” Gemma whispers to him, brushing sweaty curls back from his face. “So much, Harry. Nothing will ever change that.”
His face crumples, and he just nods. It’s all he can do.
“I’m sorry,” he whispers eventually, throat wrecked from crying. “I should have said.”
“No,” Gemma says gently. “No, H. You didn’t have to say anything. You don’t need to be sorry, okay?”
“I would say it’s more like just delaying the truth,” Gemma says, and Harry’s eyes brim with hot tears again when she smiles gently down at him. “It’s not a lie. There’s no shame in wanting to be safe and comfortable in yourself without other people knowing. You’re so special, Harry.”
“What if everybody hates me?” he whispers meekly, sniffling and trying to catch the next wave of tears before they drip down his chin, his neck tacky from it.
“Then that’s their problem, not yours,” Gemma says fiercely. “Then you let them go and you surround yourself with people who love you for you. And there are so many people who love you.”
There’s a flash of bright light, a flicker that runs over the walls, and Harry sinks further down into the sheets when he hears the car door shut outside, the key in the lock.
“Please don’t say anything,” he begs. “I’ll tell her when I’m ready to tell her.”
“Okay,” Gemma agrees, slowly sliding out from under the covers. It’s cold without her, and he shifts into the warmth she’s left behind. “I’ll tell her you’re feeling poorly.”
“Thank you,” Harry whispers, rubbing his knuckle against his swollen eyes. He’s so fucking tired. It feels like all the marrow has been sucked from his bones and left him paper thin and frail, joints achy.
“Love you, baby bro,” Gemma smudges a kiss to his forehead, ruffles his hair, and quietly slips out of the room.
In the shadowed darkness, finally alone, Harry pulls the sheets up over his head and lets a fresh wave of tears go, hands curled into loose fists against his chest.
He feigns sickness the next morning when Anne comes in to check on him. He’s sure he looks the part, anyway. His head feels like it’s full of lead, nose blocked up, eyes bleary and sore. He hadn’t really slept, mostly just tossed and turned and fisted anxiously at the sheets. Anne coos gently at him and brushes his hair back from his sweaty forehead before leaving for work, and that hurts, too, the fact that she doesn’t even know yet.
By the time he drags himself out of bed, it’s mid afternoon, chilly sunlight pouring in through the curtains. Sometime during the night, after he crashed, Gemma must have left his phone for him on his desk. The glass is smashed up through the middle of the screen, but it still works, at least. When he turns it on, it starts to buzz with missed texts, and he hurries to turn off his notifications, eying the tiny red bubble with 60 flashing at him with an anxious lurch. He scrolls through them, feeling sick at the amount of random numbers he doesn’t even have saved to his phone.
He types in Perrie’s name. She hasn’t sent him anything.
There’s a few texts from Niall, Caleb, and Jade. Nothing from Louis.
Nothing new from Blue, either.
“God,” he breathes, rubbing at his temples.
Harry falls down into his desk chair and opens a new email. He stares at the blank screen for so long, knees tucked up into his chest.
He can’t move past that. The tiny cursor blinks up at him over and over again, and he stares at it until his vision starts to blur. He doesn’t know what to say. It feels ruined now, somehow, now that Blue will know who he is. It feels silly for him to even bother signing off as Green. Instead, he deletes the message all together and throws his phone onto his bed, heading straight for the shower.
The overhanging clouds that have been lingering the past few weeks are nowhere to be seen, and it makes Harry grit his teeth when he steps out onto the front lawn, bright sunlight hitting his skin, breath puffing up in a white cloud around him. Glowering, he unlocks his car and tries to convince himself that it’s a good idea to actually show up to rehearsals. It’s a lose-lose situation. Not showing up for school today is telling enough in itself, and maybe he should have gone, but he doesn’t want to let the cast down even more by not showing up with the show so close. Maybe for those few hours he can just become somebody else, let himself melt into the persona he has to make on stage and pretend that the entire cast aren’t the people he’s been around for years, becoming their characters instead. Strangers that don’t know him.
When he gets to school, a tactical twenty minutes before rehearsals start, he locks himself in the auditorium toilet and waits.
All he has to do is go onto the stage, sing his songs, and then leave. He doesn’t have to speak to anyone. He doesn’t have to look at anyone.
The halls start to fill up eventually, voices slotting through beneath the crack in the door, and Harry tries not to let himself feel sick when he hears his name amongst it all, the chatter still tainted with the giddy excitement of last night’s post, with poor Harry Styles being outed to the entire school, poor Harry Styles in love with an anonymous person online. There are multiple, frustrated knocks on the door but Harry ignores them all, sitting on the lid of the toilet with his arms tucked over his stomach and his head ducked, toeing at the grimy floor absently.
He hears Mr. Grimshaw’s megaphone siren, hears the flutter of voices slowly drift out of the hall and up onto the stage. It’s only when he hears the band beginning to tune that he cautiously pokes his head out into the hall, hands dug deep in his pockets. It’s empty, all the noise from above and out on stage muffled. He hears the distorted sound of the megaphone again, the shuffling of feet and the blare of the horns finishing their tuning.
Taking a slow, even breath, Harry hunches his shoulders and starts down the hall.
He can’t make it out onto the stage at first, instead hiding in the wings behind a pile of props, watching the cast chatter as they move into their positions, Mr. Grimshaw settling in the third row, four seats from the centre, notebook balanced on his knees. It’s dying down, everyone getting into show mode, and it’s now or never.
He doesn’t look up as he climbs the few rickety stairs to the platform at the back of the stage, keeps his eyes determinedly on his shoes when he feels the prickling heat of eyes following him. He makes the mistake of glancing at Niall, who looks like he hasn’t slept either, this worried, strange glaze over his face that Harry has never seen before, and he cuts his eyes away quickly before Niall can say anything to him, not wanting to draw attention. He can feel Caleb staring, can feel Josh’s eyes burning a hole in the back of his neck.
Harry hunches over the microphone and gently adjusts it’s height, looking back down at his feet when he catches Mr. Grimshaw’s eye from the audience. The room has gone strangely quiet, just a few odd murmurs here and there, people beginning to catch on to his presence. He feels like an ant under a magnifying glass, this insistent heat bearing down on him and turning him inside out. There’s sweat prickling his palms and his neck, his face too warm. He doesn’t even know if he’ll be able to get anything out, his throat still scratchy and wrecked from crying.
“From the top,” Mr. Grimshaw calls down the megaphone, but it’s dull with something that Harry refuses to read as disbelief, and he steels himself, a soft palm over his stomach to try and quell the ache there.
The opening number begins, that trumpet flare, the bass and the guitar playing off each other, and then Harry has to sing.
From the beginning, he knows he’s off. His voice is weak and trembly in a way that it rarely is, and the cast is getting distracting looking up at him in surprise, some of them holding in their laughter, others with pitying frowns. Harry stares up into the too-bright lights and tries to make this work. His voice cracks and he has to pause to swallow against it, fingers trembling as he grips the microphone. The band sounds too far out, and he can see Mr. Grimshaw shaking his head from the audience, knows it’s coming when he stands up to cut them off.
“Hold on, hold on,” he announces, the band flailing to an awkward halt. “From the top. C’mon, you lot.”
Failure. Harry swallows again and tries to push his hair out of his eyes. The entire cast keeps flicking their gazes up to him, full of judgement and speculation. Perrie isn’t here and he doesn’t know why, her pink hair missing from the crowd, and Harry doesn’t have anyone else to seek out for comfort, he doesn’t even know if Perrie would be there for him now. It’s dawning on him now that maybe she still loves him, that she’ll never be able to forgive him for this.
Blinking away a wave of tears, Harry looks out to the stage.
Louis seeks out his eyes. There’s nothing warm on his face, but there’s nothing cold, either. It’s just a face bare, a curious flicker up and down before he turns away and scratches at his jaw.
Harry looks at his feet again because if he looks up, the misty heat in his eyes will burst and spill over. His entire throat is thick with it, swelling in his chest, and he feels underwater when the music starts again. He can’t lift his head, won’t, because he doesn’t want everyone to see him cry. He misses his cue, grips the microphone stand to steady himself because it all sounds like static in his ears, these heavy waves of pain rolling up from his stomach into his abdomen, and then he has to back away, bringing the back of his hand to his nose to try and steel himself as he makes a tumbling retreat backstage, letting out a broken breath once he’s in the shadows of the wings.
He feels pathetic and raw when he slams the toilet door closed behind him, locking it quickly. He puts his hands in his hair and lowers into a crouch, knees to his chest, taking in gulping breaths. There are tiny stains on his pants from the tears that are coming, and he wipes at them desperately, willing it to stop, for all of it to just stop. He cries. He cries so much.
i’m so sorry for everything please please please don’t hate me i didn’t know that those screenshots would be posted and i’m so sorry they were, it was my fault and i should have been more careful just please don’t hate me, you’re still the only one who knows me and i need you so much now, please don’t leave me, please say you still want–
There’s a gentle knock on the door. Harry flinches from where he’s now perched on the toilet seat, almost dropping his phone from his shaking fingers.
“Harry,” a calm voice says, another knock, and Harry crumples into himself when he realizes who it is, embarrassment flushing his cheeks. He feels like a child.
He unlocks the door hesitantly, and Mr. Grimshaw peers inside, regarding Harry carefully before he closes the door behind him and sits cross-legged on the questionably clean floor, hands in his lap. They sit in silence for a while, Harry looking at the graffiti on the walls and wiping at his still running nose, wishing the heat in his cheeks would fade, wishing that he hadn’t shown up today at all.
“The first person I came out to threw a pie at my face.”
Harry’s eyes snap to Mr. Grimshaw’s.
“I know,” Mr. Grimshaw nods solemnly. “Her name was Sara. We were at a school fair, trying to throw pies at our lecturers, a bit like in Grease. She tried to kiss me, and I told her I couldn’t. She asked me why, and I’d never said it out loud before, and I don’t know why I did then. But I just said it. And then she threw the pie at my face. All I could smell for the next few days was cream.”
Harry sits in stunned silence, arms looped around his stomach. Mr. Grimshaw almost looks wistful, like he’s reliving the memory in his head, and he smiles softly at Harry and picks at a thread on his pants.
“Sometimes it’s easy, and sometimes it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever have to do,” Mr. Grimshaw continues. “Sometimes you won’t want to do it all, even if other people know. Sometimes you’ll want to do it and you just won’t, and those reasons are for you and you only to know and to care about. But the people who care about you are the people that you can let into that amazing part of your life if you want to. You don’t have any obligations to share that with them, and you don’t have any obligation to give a shit about their opinions if they do somehow find out.”
Harry tears up again, sniffling lightly as he looks down at his knees.
“I didn’t know that you’re gay,” he whispers.
“Now you do,” Mr. Grimshaw says. “Because I’ve chosen to share that part of my life with you, Harry. And I want you to know that I trust you, and that I think you’re talented, and bright, and a great kid. You should never, ever have to feel embarrassed about the way you are.”
Curling his shoulders in, Harry tries not to let his face crumple. He wipes at his puffy eyes.
“I thought I was ready for people to know,” he sniffs. “But not like this. I don’t want my friends to hate me.”
“If they hate you, then they aren’t your friends,” Mr. Grimshaw says. Harry stares at his shoes. They sit in silence again. He isn’t sure how to begin processing everything. He keeps getting bowled over with all these fucking emotions. “I just wanted you to know that if you need to talk to somebody, I’m here to listen to you and help you through it. If you want me to connect you with some LGBT-plus clubs from other towns, I can do that for you. I’m here to help you, Harry, and so are so many people at this school, so many other kids. I know you feel alone right now, and I know it feels like the sky is falling, but believe me when I say that it’ll pass, and maybe it’ll even come back again. But you’ll get through it. We always get through it.”
Harry nods, and then he’s crying again, his palms pressed lightly against his eyes to try and make it stop. He lets out an absurd puff of laughter at himself, wet and a little choked, and shakes his head, blinking up at the ceiling.
“Thank you,” he whispers. “For telling me. And for saying all of that.”
“No need to thank me,” Mr. Grimshaw smiles. “You don’t have to stick around for the rest of rehearsal if you don’t want to. Go home, eat a lot of disgusting food, watch Queer Eye and try to forget about everything for a while.”
Harry tries to smile but he knows it comes out wonky, his vision still blurry. Mr. Grimshaw gives him that sad, sympathetic kind of smile, but Harry doesn’t mind it so much coming from him, and they settle into comfortable silence again until Harry’s breathing calms and the tears stop, the heavy feeling returning to his head, hollowness in his chest.
“Really,” he says softly, “thank you.”
“You’re welcome, Styles,” Mr. Grimshaw says, standing and brushing off his pants. “I’m here for a chat whenever you need me, okay? I’ll hold off the masses so you can make a quick escape.”
Harry huffs a laugh and lowers his eyes. “Appreciate it.”
“Take care of yourself, Harry.”
Then he’s gone.
The silence seems overbearing without another presence in the room. Harry knocks his shoes together lightly and stares down at the dirty grouting, jaw clenching and unclenching. The message to Blue sits unsent like a hot coal in his pocket, burning through the fabric of his jeans into his skin. He doesn’t even want to look at it, afraid of what he wrote in his mild panic. Maybe he’ll just delete the app all together.
He’s interrupted from his mind-numbed staring by another knock on the door, and it opens before he can react. He didn’t lock it after Mr. Grimshaw left.
Louis slips into the tiny room gingerly, bottom lip bitten into his mouth. Harry looks at him in slight disbelief, shoulders slumped, his chest a moment away from caving in. The exhaustion hits him like a fucking truck, and the look in Louis’ eyes hurts him somewhere deep in his chest, right at his core.
“Hey,” Louis says, barely a sound. “You holding up okay?”
Harry just stares up at him. In the low light, he can see the circles under Louis’ eyes, the tightness of his face, the way his chest tremors.
“Is it you?” Harry whispers. He doesn’t even bother wiping away the tears. It’s written all over his face. He’s an open book for Louis to dog-ear and sift through and press his pen into as he pleases. Louis doesn’t respond, instead looking at his toes, and Harry curls into himself, crumpling now. “Please tell me it’s you.”
“I’m sorry, H,” Louis breathes. “It’s not me. I’m not Blue.”
The entire world falls away to nothing. He should be screaming and crying and making a mess, overcome with anguish and embarrassment, but instead he’s just completely numb, this heavy darkness festering deep-blue in his chest. He hangs his head and wipes at his face, back trembling with soft, bitten down sobs. He was so sure. He was so fucking sure.
“I have to go,” Harry blurts, taking in a shaky, too-loud breath as he stands on wobbly legs, his knees gone like jelly.
“I really–” Harry hiccups on a sob, face slick with it, and he can’t look up, can’t meet Louis’ eye as he tries to shoulder his way out into the hall, “I have to go home.”
He doesn’t look back.
It’s not me.
I’m not Blue.
It’s not me.
He doesn’t run to the car park, but it’s a near thing, feet kicking up dead leaves, the cold air latching onto his wet cheeks like prickly needles. You fool. You silly, lovesick fool. He isn’t sure how this could possibly get any worse.
Right on fucking schedule.
He quickens his pace, shoulders hunched.
A hand grabs Harry’s arm, and he whirls so fast it sends his head spinning.
Zayn stares back at him guiltily, and Harry. He just. Explodes.
“You,” he hisses. “You fucking–. You ruined everything–”
“I can explain–”
“Fuck you!” Harry shouts. In the empty afternoon his voice echoes, the skeleton trees shuddering. “Fuck your explanations, and your apologies. Fuck you, Zayn.”
“You were supposed to delete them all,” Harry continues, absolutely seething, vision blurred with angry tears. “I did every fucking thing you asked me to do. I ruined my friendships with everyone around me just so you could talk to Perrie. I ruined my relationship with her just so you could have a chance. And you want to stand here and tell me you want to explain, or apologize, or that you didn’t mean it. Fuck you, Zayn. You meant it. You meant it and you took away the most important thing in my life. You took away my choice to come out, and you don’t get to stand here and make me feel bad for that. That was mine, and you fucking took it from me!”
His chest is absolutely heaving, and Zayn stands in shocked silence. Harry isn’t done.
“And you know what,” he continues, laughing absurdly, rubbing at his forehead. “I can’t believe I somehow still feel bad for you, I somehow still fucking care. I have enough of my own problems to deal with, I have the entire sky falling down on me but still all I can think about is the way others feel, and that isn’t fair. None of this is fair.”
“Harry, please let me explain–”
“No,” Harry cuts him off sharply. “No.”
“I made a mistake–”
“So did I,” Harry says. He shakes his head and puts his hands on his hips, overwhelmed as he looks away. He clenches his eyes shut for a moment and hangs his head. The silence feels so heavy, their ragged breathing echoing back to them. He’s never felt so pent up. “If you’ll excuse me, I have to go come out to my mother.”
“Harry,” Zayn pleads, his own eyes wet. Harry shakes his head and backs away.
“Stay the fuck away from me,” he says. “Just–. Just stay away from me, okay?”
He isn’t sure if Zayn says his name again. There’s just this brittle chasm of nothingness that cups cold palms over his ears. He has to go home.
When he and Gemma were still young, back when their dad was still there watching them grow, they used to steal his clothes. Harry doesn’t really remember how it started, hardly remembers any details of those young-minded times, but he can feel the worn wool inside the winter coats, and the fuzz of knitted sweaters far too large, skimming against his calves. Socks he pulled up his scrawny, thin thighs, that drooped like flippers off his feet when he and Gemma would skid around the kitchen with mismatched colours hiding their skin. Gloves he pretended were long claws, scarves they used as swings from the last few banisters on the staircase, the beanies they used as blindfolds when they played hide-and-seek out in the yard.
In the wintertime, Harry would often sleep swimming in the fabric of a large sweater, or with a too-large hood over his head so that when he woke in the morning, his hair would be a colossal birdnest of static and curls. It was warm, and it always smelt familiar, and there was this giddy, juvenile joy about being caught doing something that was as innocent as stealing socks, dad chasing them around the slippery tiles with tickling fingers.
Des always told them stories about his own childhood, the long-winded, whimsy pieces about the countryside further north, the large mountains and the farming and the lambing season. Usually they were happy stories, the kind that Harry and Gemma eagerly ate up by the fire, letting the warmth curl around them like the scarf they shared. He doesn’t remember how those stories started, why he and Gemma grew so fond of burrowing into all those cuddly jumpers, but he can remember how it ended.
When little lambs die, they cut off their coats and put them on other lambs to keep them warm. Des and Anne had been fighting that night, Gemma and Harry playing scrabble in the living room with their mouths pressed in little lines, and then dad sat with them for a while, watched them play, and tugged at the too-long sleeve of the jumper Harry had stolen that night. It’s true.
Mum had cuffed dad over the back of the head, then, when she saw the petrified look in Harry’s moony eyes. They didn’t steal clothes much after that, and then dad left and took all those fluffy jumpers and fuzzy memories with him, the mittens and the beanies too big for their still-growing bodies. Harry tried to make do by stealing Gemma’s clothes, but that always ended in arguments over Harry stretching her favourite shirt while he slept, Harry taking things from her room without her permission, Harry reminding her of the little lambs.
Anne started to knit, just because of all that. Scarves that fit them, gloves that hugged their fingers tight, and then the thick sweaters that hugged too-tight to their necks. It became a cycle, as they grew up, no longer sliding themselves into things too big, instead finding new bits and pieces to make it all fit. At first, it was just to appease them, to stop them thinking about dad and what he said about lambs and when he was going to visit, and then it became something they looked forward to as Christmas time approached, the promise of snow and sweaters and new socks made by hand.
Anne is knitting when Harry peers into the living room, the television on mute in the background. It’s something she does now on her days off to relax. The yarn between her fingers is a rosy pink, a long scarf that looks almost done, and she’s got her hair thrown up in a wayward bun, tea on the coffee table, toes tapping softly together. She must have heard him come home, heard the key in the lock, but it isn’t until he remains silent that she finally looks up, a tiny smile on her face.
“I thought you were sick, Elvis?” she says, but the quirk of her lips is already fading, the end of her sentence losing its brightness. She finally gets a good look at his face and lowers her needles. “Are you alright, sweetheart?”
Harry swallows against the lump that’s formed in his throat, weighty and sore.
“Do you want me to call up the doctor?” Anne continues. “It’s still early, they might be able to–”
“Mum,” Harry cuts her off softly, closing his eyes and taking in a breath. “It’s not that.”
Anne says nothing else, and Harry keeps his gaze down on his toes. She’s leaving him room to breathe, but he almost wishes she would force him to spit it out, now. He’s shaky and pent up with nervous energy, these prickling waves of heat rolling down his cheeks and neck. There’s just too much going on his brain, all these different feelings and thoughts, and he wants to let them all go. He doesn’t want to hold his breath anymore.
Anne blinks slowly at him, and it only takes her a second to open her arms, to know that it’s what he needs, and then Harry is collapsing towards her, toppling onto the soft, familiar sofa and hiding his face away into her neck. She kisses his forehead fiercely, over and over when he starts to cry, quiet and exhausted because he’s already wasted all the heavy tears today, and if there’s anywhere for him to be vulnerable and ginger in the way he’s feeling, it’s here.
“Ssh, darling,” Anne says, a whisper against his temple. “I love you. I love you so much.”
“‘M sorry I didn’t tell you,” Harry hiccups wetly.
“It’s alright,” Anne says. “You’re telling me now, and that’s all that matters. I’m so proud of you, baby.”
Harry just clutches onto her, the same way he did when he was little, when they burnt the cookies in the oven and he hung off her legs, made tiny fists in her apron on those drowsy Sunday mornings when they made pancakes and licked honey from their fingers, when she dropped him off for his first day of school, when dad went away on a long holiday that he didn’t want to come back from. She has her hands carding through his hair, peppering constant kisses down against his face, and Harry feels something lift, then, like a tiny slither of air has finally managed to pass through the constantly constricted pressure against his lungs.
“You’ve always been such a special boy,” Anne whispers, almost to herself in the quiet hum that’s settled between them. “I always remember wondering how such a little heart could hold so much love, when you were growing up. Maybe that was it, you holding all that love in, giving so much of it, but holding on to the most important parts.”
“Mum,” Harry starts, eyes growing hot again.
“You can let go of it now,” Anne says, and her chest shakes a little, her voice gone thin. “I never want you to feel like you have to hold anything in.”
Harry just nods. He can’t find the words.
I’m sure by now you know who I am. I was sure that I knew who you were, too. I guess things don’t always work out the way we want them to. I was hoping that maybe you’d reach out first. Maybe to check in, to let me know that you could still talk to me without revealing who you are.
I want to know who you are, if that’s okay. Please don’t leave me alone in this. I don’t mean that you have to come out if you aren’t comfortable, but I promise I won’t tell anybody. I promise. Please, Blue. You might just be the only friend I’ve got left after this all blows over.
Meet me by the end of the creek at ten. I’m sorry for the way things turned out.
Hopefully I’ll see you soon.
It’s bitingly cold, the black water in the creek is tinted silver from the moon, and Harry is a few breaths away from crawling out of his skin. He’s bunded up in a coat and a beanie and thick gloves, chin tucked into his knees, watching his own breath curl in thick clouds in front of his face. Reluctantly, he checks the time again, jaw clenching softly. 10:17. His body is rattling with little shivers, everything tinged dark, deep blue, and behind him, through the cover of spindly trees, Holmes Chapel glows like a fuzzy bulb masked by dust, a lens out of focus, a fairytale firefly.
Amongst the fluctuation of texts that are still appearing, there’s been no word from Blue. Back home, his mum thinks he’s tucked under his covers, pillows bunched up beneath the blankets on the off chance she decides to stick her head in to check on him. She’ll have his head if she finds out he’s wandering about this late in the freezing cold. The tip of his nose feels like it’s about to snap off.
He flicks aimlessly through his texts, pausing over Louis’ name, the beginning of the mass text about the party staring back at him. He’s not reckless or brave enough to reach out, his cheeks going hot despite the cold when he thinks about it all, about their faces close on the grass, close in the dressing room and in that stuffy cupboard, each time piecing things closer and closer together, that fractured puzzle slowly becoming a whole. Turns out Harry didn’t have that final piece, after all.
The sigh he lets go of almost covers the cracking of twigs, but he hears it, hears the soft patter of footsteps, and he freezes, hands dug deep in his pockets, entire body rocketed with a sudden pulse of nerves so fire-hot it makes his veins burn cold, makes his fingers go rigid and shaky. The footsteps come closer, and he holds his breath, closes his eyes.
He’s either about to be pushed into the creek, or Blue is standing behind him.
He can’t make himself turn around.
Blue shifts his weight, feet brushing the mulchy, damp leaves, and then the ground beside Harry is rustling, and he can feel the presence of a body as Blue sits down beside him. He still has his eyes clenched shut, head ducked, and when a gentle hand lands on his arm, squeezing, he lets out a soft, hurt breath, and finally looks over.
For a frozen beat, he can do nothing but stare, his brain blurring into a confused thrashing of white noise, pulse rocketing up into his temples and back down to his chest.
“What,” he starts, a half-formed word through his opening and closing mouth.
“Hi,” Perrie says.
“What,” Harry says again. His brain is trying to communicate things to him but there’s still so much static spinning around in his skull. Perrie looks away nervously, tucks her hair behind her ear and stares at her boots. She still has her hand on his arm, thumb stroking softly. “I don’t–. I don’t understand.”
They sit in silence, Perrie’s eyes glazing over, gone misty as she digs her toe into the soft dirt. Harry can’t stop staring, completely still, mouth opening and closing. He isn’t even sure what he’s feeling right now, can barely begin to compute the situation.
“Pez,” Harry says desperately. A trickle of hurt drips chilled and awful down his spine. “If this is some kind of joke–”
“It’s not,” Perrie whispers, shaking her head furiously, finally meeting Harry’s eye. “It’s not a joke. I wouldn’t do that.”
“I don’t understand,” Harry repeats, and he presses the heel of his palm to his forehead, clenches his eyes shut. “Pez, what–. What?”
They stare at each other for so long, Perrie with her bottom lip bitten painfully between her teeth, wobbly tears refusing to spill. She’s drowning in a hoodie, beanie tucked low on her forehead, and she look so small, thin fingers fragile where they’re still resting warm on Harry’s arm. Something in his brain finally ticks over.
“Oh my God,” Harry breathes. “Wait. Wait.”
“You,” Harry starts, but he can’t finish his sentence, mouth parted. Perrie smiles nervously, the tears finally spilling in a slow trickle. She wipes them away quickly and flicks her eyes back to the inky darkness of the creek. Harry stares in disbelief. “You’re Blue.”
Perrie nods, wipes at her runny nose. “I didn’t mean for any of this to happen,” she says meekly.
“But…but you told me about Blue in the first place,” Harry says, mind spinning too fast. “Everything you said, like, hinting about Grease and–”
“I know,” Perrie whispers, and she hangs her head, looks so guilty. Harry’s heart thumps painfully in his chest. “I fucked up. I thought–. I just wanted you to try and catch on. I couldn’t be silent about it anymore.”
“Did you know about me?” Harry breathes. “This whole time? Did you know I was Green?”
“No,” Perrie rushes out. “No, God. I had no idea, H. Please believe me when I say I didn’t know. I didn’t mean for this mess to happen, I swear. I never wanted to hurt you.”
“I thought you were in love with me,” Harry blurts, laughing at how absurd it is.
“You what?” Perrie blinks.
“That night, after Halloween,” Harry says, shaking his head. “Pez, what the fuck. We’re so stupid.”
They stare at each other for a moment, silent and still, and then Perrie breaks, this ridiculous, guffawing smile curling up over her mouth, and she’s cackling, Harry joining her, tears springing up into both their eyes. It starts to hit Harry all at once, how ridiculous this is, how bizarre, how they never noticed it in each other before. This entire time they’ve been blindly feeling the same thing, and pushing each other away, when it was all right there in front of them.
“How did you not know?” Harry breathes. “Pez, I–. I’m so gay. I literally can’t drive and I listen to ridiculous music and I–. How did I not know?”
“I don’t know,” Perrie says, shaking her head, still laughing. “That’s–. That’s why I was so fucking upset with you, why I’ve been avoiding you. You just kept pushing me into Zayn and it made me so mad, and I just didn’t understand why because it was the exact opposite of what I wanted to happen, but then everything got so fucked up so fast–”
“Zayn told you?” Harry says, pausing.
“Only after he tried to kiss me,” Perrie admits. “I told him, and he thought that you knew I was Blue, and that you set him up because he took those screenshots. I only found out it was you when he posted them, though. I swear, H. If I knew sooner this never would have happened.”
“I can’t tell if I’m happy or if I’m upset with you,” Harry says, rubbing at his forehead. “These past few months have been so terrible, Pez.”
“I know, and I’m sorry,” Perrie says, leaning into him. “I’m so sorry. But it was terrible for me, too. I shouldn’t have dragged you into it, but I didn’t know you were Green. I didn’t know, H. Neither of us knew and we hurt each other because of that. I…I thought it was Jade.”
The last part is a whisper, an admission, her eyes flicking down to her knees. Harry can echo that sentiment almost perfectly, see’s the caution in Louis’ eyes and feels his chest hollow out almost immediately. He doesn’t know how it’s possible to feel so elated and so disappointed all at once.
“I thought…” Harry starts, but he can’t finish, cheeks warming. Something twists oddly in his stomach. He ducks his head. “Is it–. Like, is it just girls, or are you bi, or…?”
“I haven’t really figured all that out,” Perrie says softly, looking away self-consciously. “It’s like, I can picture myself having sex with guys, I’ve had sex with guys before, you know that. But, it’s so hard to feel anything romantic for them. When I see a girl though, it’s like I fall in love straight away. Like, I just feel so much more romantically connected to women, but I still…God. I don’t know. I just couldn’t fucking sit there any longer without letting it out somewhere.”
Her voice goes wobbly and thin, a little higher, and Harry wraps a careful arm around her shoulder when she starts to cry softly.
“That’s so fine, Pez,” Harry assures her, kissing her temple. “Whatever you feel, it’s still valid, yeah? You’re you and that’s what matters most, just that.”
“I have no right to feel guilty about everything that you’ve had to go through,” she continues, sniffling. “It’s my fault that all of this happened. I’m so sorry, H.”
“It’s okay,” Harry says, resting his cheek atop her head. “It’s so okay.”
“It isn’t, though,” Perrie cuddles closer to him. “It was a ridiculous thing to do. Like, what did I think was going to happen by making that stupid post?”
“It was stupid, but also, it wasn’t at the same time,” Harry says softly, staring down at the creek, at the silver light resting idly there. “Because despite everything that’s happened, I had someone to talk to about the way I really felt for the first time. And that was nice while it lasted.”
Perrie sits up then, staring. “You still have that. I’m not going anywhere.”
“Okay,” Harry says, voice catching in his chest when he starts to tear up, and he doesn’t know why he’s starting to properly cry now, of all times, but his eyes well up with hot tears all too quickly, and it’s Perrie’s turn to pull him into a tight hug, her hair sticking to his damp cheeks.
“I love you,” Perrie says. “I’m sorry for everything.”
“Love you, too,” Harry says, muffled against her chest.
The cold air is sharp on his wet cheeks, their breaths curling up like smoke, but there’s a part of his chest that’s starting to feel huddled with warm, and he closes his eyes as Perrie runs gentle fingers through the curls peeking out from his beanie. Their minds have both drifted away, and he’s running through every email in his head, every hint, and it occurs to him so slowly that they never even exchanged any form of pronouns with each other, that he just assumed Blue was a boy. All those coincidences with Caleb, with Louis, with the music and the Christmas party, they really were all just terrible, mindfucking coincidences. Perrie was always there, too.
“When did you know?”
“Consciously, only a couple of years,” Perrie says, still idly playing with Harry’s hair, lulling his breathing. “Subconsciously, for a while. But I just, like. I thought it was what I was supposed to feel, y’know? And then, like, I really started to take notice of girls more, and it’s so different. Sometimes it’s like I’ll die if I don’t at least talk to Jade when I see her, because I just want to be around her so much.”
“Does she know?” Harry asks, trying to divert his brain from thinking of Louis.
“What?” Harry sits up. In the dark, Perrie’s cheeks are shiny. “When?”
“Over Christmas break,” Perrie says, covering her face with her hands shyly. “A bunch of us went over for drinks and movies and stuff. And, like. It just happened. We were sharing a pillow and I just kissed her.”
“And?” Harry presses, heart fluttering.
“She kissed me back, but I don’t know if it’s just, like, a straight girl thing or–”
“Pez, that’s so cute,” Harry coos.
“Are you crying?”
“No, fuck you,” Harry looks away and wipes at his eyes. He’s crying. “I’m being ridiculous.”
“Sap,” Perrie hooks her arm around his neck, their knees jolting together as she pulls him in close.
“It’s just nice,” Harry says softly, sniffling. “Gay things make me so happy.”
“I don’t know if she likes me,” Perrie shrugs, staring at her knees. “I thought she was Green, so that’s kind of fucking with my head a bit, too.”
“I know what you mean,” Harry mutters, before he can catch himself. Perrie glances at him.
“Yeah,” Harry admits after a painful beat.
“Wait,” Perrie gapes. “Holy shit. You and Louis.”
“How did you even–”
“The Halloween party,” Perrie starts, eyes wide. “He would not shut up about you all night. Did you kiss him? You were literally sleeping together on the grass.”
“No,” Harry rushes, cheeks hot. “We didn’t kiss. We–. We almost did, at his birthday party. At least I think we were going to.”
“Harry!” Perrie shakes his shoulders. “We have to fix everything. He’s totally in love with you.”
“He isn’t,” Harry rolls his eyes, chest ticking. “All the things I thought made him Blue were just coincidences. He was alone at the Christmas party just like I was, he was listening to a song that I sent you–”
“I can’t believe I didn’t realize it was you when you sent those to me,” Perrie interrupts. “I’m actually appalled with myself, but I genuinely still thought it was Jade. You two are so similar. Plus, I gave Louis that playlist because he was complaining about having nothing new to listen to.”
“Perrie,” Harry whacks her arm. “That was supposed to be a private thing!”
“I know, I know!” Perrie says. “Listen, it doesn’t matter. You should still give it a shot. What have you got to lose?”
“I already fucked it up, though,” Harry says, deflating. “You weren’t there, but. I stupidly went to rehearsals and made a fool of myself, and Louis came and found me when I ran off stage. I asked him if he was Blue, Pez. And when he said no I left. I was crying and being so gross and I’m so embarrassed–”
“Woah, breathe,” Perrie cups his cheeks. “Harry. It’s okay.”
“No,” Harry shakes his head. “He’s going to think I hate him because he isn’t Blue, but I don’t think I ever fell for him just because I thought he was. I think I just love him anyway.”
“Love,” Perrie’s eyes brighten. “You love him.”
“That. That didn’t come out right–”
“Nice pun,” Perrie cuts him off. “But seriously, that’s so cute? And we’re going to make this work? I promise. You deserve to be happy.”
“So do you,” Harry says, bright pink and burning hot beneath his thick coat. He’s completely flustered and exhausted from feeling so many things all at once. From feeling – God help him – love?
“We can fix it.” Perrie twines their fingers together. “We’re going to fix it.”
Grease opens on a chilly Thursday afternoon, with an almost disastrous but somehow brilliant matinee that has them all shaking with excitement for the night show afterwards. Harry spent a majority of the day curled up with his palms pressed to his stomach, willing his stagefright away and avoiding being in the same room as Louis for any given time. It’s been a week since Perrie met him down by the creek, and since, it’s been a slow and strange and nerve-wracking process to get himself confident enough to walk through the halls at school without feeling like the world is about to collapse.
But Perrie is there, always, an arm around his shoulder, and once Harry finally got around to forcing himself to read Niall’s texts, he’d almost felt his chest burst with relief at the clumps of worried messages he found there, things like call me if you need me and i understand if you need some time and i love you mate and you’re still picking me up for tea right??? With each of them either side of him, he feels a little lighter, like it’s a little easier to breathe.
Louis hasn’t tried to speak to him again. It makes Harry want to curl up each time they accidentally make eye contact with each other, whether that be in car park or on stage or in the halls, flicking skittish gazes away from each other and hoping the other didn’t notice they were staring. Harry misses being around him so much it hurts, but he’s too afraid to say anything despite Perrie’s insistence that she sets them up to not-so-coincidentally be in the same place at the same time, alone.
Grease is a distraction from everything else, a place where Harry can sing up on that stage and be a character for a few hours, and it’s so nice to collapse into Perrie’s arms afterwards, all of them sweaty and leaving makeup stains on their clothes, bundling together for post-show snacks in the gross-smelling dressing rooms. It’s cramped and too-loud and it feels okay. Harry feels okay. It doesn’t feel like judgement when people smile at him, when there are random arms flung around his shoulders in happy hugs. He feels lighter, despite everything, feels that weight slowly lifting up from his chest. It’s only when he looks at Louis that is presses it’s palms down again, makes him ache somewhere deep. For now, he’s just trying not to think too much about it.
By the Saturday night, the closing show, the entire cast is running off manic energy and too many jelly-snakes. Mr. Grimshaw looks simultaneously like he’s aged ten years but has never been more refreshed, and the school grounds are packed. Somehow, they always manage to schedule the school fundraising fair and the final production night on the same day, which makes Mr. Grimshaw want to pull his hair out, but it always means a full house for the night show despite the dwindling numbers on the matinee. It means everyone is hyped up from spun sugar and the bright lights, and it feels like a perfect way to finish off months of hard work.
The dressing room and the hall gets packed with flowers from various family members, big cards with loopy writing, a huge sheet of paper stuck on the wall that the whole cast signs and leaves little messages on. It’s oddly sentimental, when they huddle up in a big circle with Mr. Grimshaw for their last pre-show warm up. Harry sort of floats through the night feeling not quite present, just trying to watch everything and everyone around him, before they all take the stage for the last time and he sings his heart out and smiles at his mum and Gemma sitting front row.
It’s tradition that the production kids get to run free on the fairgrounds after the show, and it’s like an explosion once they’ve packed down, all of them bursting with newfound energy, teary from the speeches and thank you’s on stage, and Harry feels feather-light, all fuzzy like he’s on a sugar high, Perrie on his back when the cast tumble out of the auditorium into the chilly night as a pulsing crowd of sweaty, over-excited teenagers.
The grass is damp from cold dew, and through the hazy fog all the fairlights tinge the cloud in reds and blues and greens, bright neon pinks and soft lavender, the clanging of machines and poppy music coming together in a melting pot of technicolor sensory overload, so many things going on in so many directions. He, Perrie and Niall all stock up on candy floss first, eat so much of it that their mouths go sticky and shiny with the pink residue of sugar crystals, and then they’re playing stupid ring toss games and trying to win the most ridiculous prizes, tucked into their coats and scarves with their noses rosy from the cold.
It’s late, when Zayn finds him. So late, the fair has mostly emptied out, just the production kids and their families hanging around and exhausting the last of the food and tickets. Perrie and Niall are running towards a terrifying looking ride before it closes that Harry refuses to take part in, these little pods that swings back and forth and spin in circles that look completely unsafe. He’s standing at the bottom, watching the lights flash and whir, when there’s a gentle tap on his shoulder.
“Hi,” Zayn says, shoulders tucked in nervously.
Harry presses his lips into a thin line. “Hey.”
He says nothing else, and Zayn flicks his eyes away, jaw ticking as he takes in a deep breath. Harry is almost tempted to tell him to leave, but he’s trying to stop himself from being bitter, trying to let go, and there’s something in Zayn’s expression that makes him stay put. Behind them, the ride lurches into a start, and he can hear Niall and Perrie screaming giddish and bright as it moves, the two of them strapped in with their legs dangling about.
“I know it doesn’t count for much now, but I’m sorry,” Zayn starts, looking at his toes. “I’m really sorry. And I can’t say that I never meant to hurt you, because that would be a lie. I wanted to hurt you because I thought you hurt me too, and I thought you’d set me up. To be honest, though, I would have deserved that, after everything. I know what I did was unforgivable, and I don’t expect you to forgive me. But I just wanted you to know that what I did, it was never out of hate because you’re gay, because Perrie is, too. I’m not that kind of person and I never will be. I want what’s best for Perrie, and I can learn to love her differently, to support her. I’m so sorry, Harry. You deserve so much better.”
Harry blinks at him, slightly shocked. Zayn’s eyes are glassy when he finally looks up, assessing Harry’s silence. They stand there together, all these colours and sounds whipping around their heads. It sort of catches up to Harry slowly, how tired his body is from the past few days, from the past week, from everything, but there’s still this little part of him that feels like it’s on fire, his insides warm with it, and he doesn’t feel in control of his body when he pulls Zayn into a slow hug. He hears Zayn’s tiny inhale, feels the cautious and confused way he hugs Harry back.
“You’re right,” Harry says softly. “I don’t forgive you for what you did. But maybe I could, if you give me time. If you can prove to me that you really care, about me and Perrie and our friendship, then maybe we can work it out in the future.”
“We can work it out,” Zayn nods into his neck, and then they’re pulling away. Harry swallows, feels oddly choked up, like something important has finally settled firm between them. Zayn’s smile is tiny and lopsided when he starts to back away. “See you.”
Harry just nods and slowly turns back to the ride, all the noise of the fair coming back to him like he’s been listening to everything through a filter. He can hear Perrie and Niall laughing wildly, the creak of the ride and the jolting carnival music that’s playing underneath. He watches the lights and the tinge of the fog and then at his toes, all around him. The fair is mostly deserted. In the distance, the ferris wheel spins slow and gentle, little carriages rocking as they drift up above the stands.
Harry carefully pulls his phone from his pocket, and types with numb, nervous fingers.
Things feel syrupy and sublime as he crosses the fairground, grass lush and damp under his feet, the silence of everything aside from the echoey music and machinery making it all dream-like. There are only a few students still hanging around, most of them couples who are tucked together on benches, watching the lights and sharing candy floss and popcorn, content in their own personal little bubbles.
There’s no line for the ferris wheel, just a bored looking teenage girl with a beanie pulled down to her brows and a mountain of empty popcorn bags stacked up beside her, picking kernels from her teeth. She’s leant against the operation box, nails tapping a dull rhythm, but she gives him a warm smile when he approaches and pulls out the last of his tickets, a small bundle from the ring toss earlier that he wanted to save for food.
“How many go’s?” she asks, eyeing the pile of tickets he places in her palm.
“Until they run out, please,” Harry says, trying not to flush when she raises a sly eyebrow.
“Waiting for somebody?” she grins at his bitten down smile.
“Hopefully, yeah,” he says. She opens the gate for him.
It’s freezing up in the air. He can see the shadow of the school, the fair spread out below in a mismatch of blinking lights, figures walking in pairs back to their cars with their hands clasped tight, little groups of teenagers huddled beneath trees. His cheeks are aching from the chill, and he tucks his fingers between his legs for warmth, stomach turning lightly when the wheel starts to dip and he comes back down.
He isn’t sure how long he stays on the ride for, in the end. His phone is on silent in his pocket and he refuses to look at it, too scared of what he might find there. He’s on his last few tickets now, he knows that much, and with each slow spin of the ferris wheel, his shoulder start to curl in a little further, staring down at his toes.
“Last ticket, mate,” the girl says, when Harry reaches the bottom again. She looks sympathetic, which makes Harry want to just give up and get off right now. Instead, he just nods and goes back to looking at his feet, sighing deeply.
The ferris wheel goes up. He stares out at the lights, hunches in against the chill. Clenches his jaw gently when he starts to dip back down to the ground.
He’s too embarrassed to make eye contact with the girl when he swings down to the bottom, feet brushing the bumpy metal of the platform. She doesn’t say anything, either. It’s just silent, and he can still hear the ferris wheel humming. It hasn’t been switched off yet, so he just sits there, waiting like an idiot for it to go quiet so he can leave.
Harry’s head snaps up, heart going from slow and sluggish to thumping in his chest so quickly it makes his head fuzzy.
“Hi,” he breathes, swallowing.
Louis stands sheepishly in front of him, toes tucked together, hands deep in his pockets. There’s a nervous smile on his face, a flush to his cheeks. His hair looks damp on his forehead, chest pumping.
“Did you run here?” Harry muses, warmth in his stomach.
“Yeah,” Louis nods, shy. “My sisters wouldn’t leave me alone.”
Harry laughs softly, and then they’re just staring at each other. Louis looks so beautiful under all the lights, hit from behind by pink and blue, cozy and warm bundled up in his coat. Harry can feel his skin going clammy with nerves, flushed hot despite the cold, and when he looks over the operator is staring at them both with a poorly concealed smile on her face.
“Up you go, then,” she urges. “I’ve got to pack up soon.”
“You mind if I join?” Louis asks, so gentle with his smile. He looks as nervous as Harry feels, and it’s slightly calming, to know they’re both feeling the same way, a little unsure but so overwhelmed with whatever this is.
“Please,” Harry says, unclipping the pole and letting it swing open.
They don’t talk as they’re lifted up. Harry just stares at his knees and tries to concentrate on breathing instead of saying anything ridiculous, trying to hide the way his hands shake by trapping them between his legs. He’s just cold, that’s all it is. Louis still has his hands in his pockets, and their elbows are brushing, shoulders pressed together.
When they reach the top, Louis lets out a slow breath.
“It’s so pretty,” he says softly, almost to himself.
Harry nearly says yeah and stares right at him, but he manages to save himself from that embarrassment, instead taking a calming breath of his own and closing his eyes for a moment.
“If you don’t like me, can you tell me now before I make a fool of myself?” he whispers. Louis turns to look at him.
“What?” he says, huffing a soft laugh.
“I just,” Harry rolls his eyes skyward, letting out a rattly breath and shaking his head. “I really like you, Louis. Stupid amounts.”
It’s a little awkward and Harry is so nervous and Louis’ skin is still shiny and patchy from his stage makeup, lashes dark, and he’s still so beautiful, even with the circles beneath his eyes from the few huge days they’ve had, despite how late it is, how cold. He hasn’t said anything else, is just staring at Harry with flushed cheeks, and Harry finds himself babbling before he can stop, trying to fill up any possibility of silence.
“I thought you were Blue,” he blurts. “I really did. But that didn’t even matter in the end, and I’m just, like. I’m so sorry about the way I left things that day, but I was just so upset. I didn’t know what to do. I never meant to make you think that I didn’t like you because you weren’t Blue because truthfully in the end I just like you for you, Louis, I have the most ridiculous crush on you and I feel like an idiot because of the way I’ve been skirting around everything but I just didn’t know what to–”
Louis, who’s been staring speechless, ducks forward without preamble and cuts Harry off with his mouth.
Harry’s sentence turns into a soft noise of surprise, almost choking on air as he inhales, and then Louis is pulling back with his eyes wide and shiny, lips parted.
“Oh,” Harry breathes, still in shock, all the blood in his body pulsing frantically through his veins, making his fingertips feel fuzzy.
“Sorry, you’re just…” Louis trails off, then he presses forward again, shaking his head like he can’t help himself, and Harry wants to melt, feels himself doing so as the kiss softens and falls into place, and it’s somehow more gentle than before, these cautious, soft pecks, their lips lingering together each time they pull back. It’s careful, so ginger and unsure, and Harry is so full of elation that he almost forgets how to breathe, how to communicate.
“Louis,” he murmurs, hands shaking when he reaches for the lapels of Louis’ coat. Their foreheads are leant together, lips still skimming, and despite the freezing air everything about this is so warm.
“I thought you were Blue,” Louis confesses softly, smiling nervously. “I was too scared to say anything, though. I’ve always been too scared to say anything to you, Harry.”
“Always?” Harry whispers.
“Yeah,” Louis says, huffing a self-conscious laugh. “I’ve, um. I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a long time, but. I’m not too brave, me.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Harry says, and he hesitates a little before he presses a soft kiss to Louis’ bottom lip, a tiny thrill going up his spine from being able to do so, from feeling that gentle pressure. “We’re both here now.”
Louis’ smile is bright, eyes gone shiny, and he cups Harry’s jaw this time, pulls him in so close that their noses slide and bump as they kiss. Harry loves this, loves how close he can tuck himself in, how hot his cheek feels in the cradle of Louis’ palm. He loves the way such a soft, chaste kiss, the kind that’s dry and sweet, slowly turns warm and wet with each glide of their mouths, and it’s a little obscene, makes Harry’s fingers shake where they’re twisted in the fabric of Louis’ jumper, but he just can’t pull away, hums soft and low when Louis parts his mouth with his tongue, a gentle question, but it still remains sweet, makes Harry’s heart flutter wildly in his chest. He can’t believe he’s kissing a boy. Kissing Louis.
“Okay?” Louis says, so quiet when they finally pull back to breathe, his thumb skimming soft over Harry’s flushed cheeks.
“So okay,” Harry nods, trying to duck back in, but Louis holds him firm for a moment, gets their eyes to lock when he presses a gentle thumb to Harry’s bottom lip.
“I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you, when that post was made,” Louis says, expression gone oddly serious. “I should have been.”
“It’s not your fault,” Harry says. “It’s in the past now.”
“I know, but still,” Louis says, dropping a kiss to Harry’s chin, to the corner of his mouth. Harry catches his lips before he can pull away again. “I just want you to know that I think you’re brave, and so beautiful, and kind.”
“Louis,” Harry flushes, entire body thrumming.
“I’m here now,” Louis says, muffled when he kisses over Harry’s cheeks, his brow, back to his mouth. “I wanna be there for you through everything.”
“I want you,” Harry nods, and he feels oddly like he might cry, and then he is, his eyes going hot when he laughs into Louis’ smiling mouth. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Believe it, Sandy,” Louis says, and Harry throws his head back, Louis chasing right after him and pressing his forehead into his neck, fingers digging into Harry’s sides.
“Oh, my God!”
Harry flinches and looks down, Louis still curled around him. Perrie and Niall are standing at the bottom of the ferris wheel, clutching each other like a married couple watching their child. Harry feels the flush in his cheeks start to crawl down his neck, Louis laughing into his skin. It feels like he’s burning up, and his cheeks hurt from smiling, lips warm from kissing.
“Hi!” he calls down to them, waving as Perrie jumps up and down with a hand over her mouth, elated. Niall looks like he’s about to cry.
“That’s my son!” he calls, pointing up to them, and Harry breaks down into hysterics, leaning back over the edge of their tiny seat to face Louis again, unable to control his smile, so much so that when they kiss again it’s just an awkward press of teeth, both of them gone completely rosy-cheeked.
“So,” Louis clears his throat, biting down on his grin. “I was thinking, like. We could go out, soon? Do something dumb and teenage like see a movie and reach for the popcorn at the same time.”
“Sounds dreamy,” Harry says, heart knocking firms knuckles against his chest. He’s never been so happy, so full. “Are you gonna pick me up, meet my mum, the whole thing?”
“I’ll do whatever you want me to,” Louis says, playing idly with Harry’s hair, eyes gone soft. “Whatever you want, H.”
“Hold my hand?” Harry says, a whisper, unsure. “Kiss me in the halls?”
Louis’ smile is so sweet, so understanding, because it seems that’s always been it, hasn’t it, the way they’ve understood each other without really needing the words. Harry says it with his expression instead, you don’t have to, if you’re not comfortable. I just want you in whatever way I can. Louis leans forward, gently kisses the bridge of Harry’s nose, his cupid’s bow, their lashes brushing whisper soft.
“Yeah,” he nods, shaky. “I don’t want to hide how happy this makes me. Not anymore.”
Harry kisses him again. When their fingers link together, warm palms touching, he’s never felt so whole.
Dear Holmes Chapel Chatter,
Hey, it’s me. I bet I know what you’re all thinking. That whole coming out fiasco, it’s old news now, yeah? I mean, I can joke about it now, but at the time, I thought the whole world was going to end. Funny what a little explanation and love can do. Anyway, I thought about writing something like this for a while, all anonymous and mysterious, but then I guess that kind of defeated the purpose of what I want to say. It would have also been way too ironic.
So here I am. A few months ago, what feels like a lifetime ago now, an anonymous message was posted to this board, and I responded. I’m sure you all remember it, how could you forget? I didn’t, I don’t think I ever will. What Blue said has stuck with me, about being half of a whole, about being stuck on the ferris wheel going up and coming back down. I know we’ve all been there.
We’ve all been at rock bottom, scraping the bottom of the barrel for whatever we can find to keep us going. Some of us are still stuck down there searching for a way out. That’s kind of what I wanted to talk to you about. When we’re looking at ourselves, we can sometimes so easily pick out our faults and our flaws, we’re so quick to put ourselves down, to see ourselves stuck on the bottom with no way out. It’s harder to look to other people sometimes and see the same, and that’s because just like anyone else who’s going through a rough time, we all know how to hide that very fact.
That’s why, if you’re reading this, I want to you try something new, something that seems so insignificant now but really means so much. Be kind. Be kind in every thing you do. Be kind even when you feel like you can’t be. Be kind and people will be kind back to you, and who knows, that might be just what you need. Be kind because that might be what somebody else needs, too. Be kind and ask your friends if they’re okay, be kind and help those who need it, be kind and spread love and know that everything we do can have a good purpose.
Treat people with kindness. Love everyone around you, and you’ll receive love in return.
See you at school.