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Can I Have Your Attention, Please?

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Nick thanked the Uber driver once more and let himself into his flat. Fuck, it was good to be home. He’d missed Fiona. He’d missed the dog. He’d missed his bed.

Oh God. His glorious bed.

Dragging himself toward his bedroom, his overstuffed suitcase barely hanging by the tips of his exhausted fingers, Nick knew he would have to unpack tonight. He’d taken nearly his entire work wardrobe to the US with him and he was expected in for a meeting tomorrow afternoon. Such was the life of an HR representative in corporate affairs. He had to start that laundry soon if he was ever going to have anything clean by then.

“God, why am I such a fucking overachiever?” Nick asked himself. “And where the fuck is Pig?”

Nick flipped the light on in his room and dropped the suitcase and rucksack on the bed. It was then he saw the note sitting on his pillow.

 

Grim - Rita and I got called to work in Italy for the week so Aimee has Pig. She’s willing to keep her as long as you need her to so you can adjust from the jet lag.

Ta, love! I know you killed it in California xxxxx

Fifi

Nick’s arm dropped to his side and he puffed out his lips in dramatic show of his disappointment. He’d really wanted a good cuddle after such a long flight next to a smelly and fussy baby. Now he couldn’t get it from Fiona or Pig and that was just fucking disappointing.

His eyes slid over to the bag and he glared at it. Nick let a whine out before forcing himself to unzip it and just get it over with. He could be a fucking adult, but that didn’t mean he had to be happy about it.

Nick threw the bag open and immediately froze.

The contents of the bag definitely did not belong to Nick. As he picked up Vans after Gucci after Adidas, he couldn’t help but be impressed with the wide variety of shoes, but they still weren’t his. What he was even more surprised by was the incredible amount of electronic equipment that didn’t seem to make any sense to him shoved inside the shoes. It would keep the equipment safe, he supposed, but he had no idea what the pieces were.

Knowing there had to be a tag or identifying marker of some sort on the bag, Nick checked the top of the bag. That was where the ribbon he’d used to decorate his bag was located and therefore the reason he had grabbed the bag in the first place, but now he felt like an idiot. The ribbon was a solid royal blue, not printed with tiny unicorns Rita thought were hilarious. There was a tag, but the paper that went within the tag seemed to have fallen out, which was unfortunate. Hopefully the owner wouldn’t mind him digging through their shit to see if he could find some other sort of identifying information.

The one side of the suitcase really was just shoes and electronic pieces. Nick unzipped the other side and found a ton of crumpled up t-shirts. Nose wrinkled up, he leaned forward and took a tentative sniff. He wasn’t going to dig through dirty laundry, he wasn’t that desperate. The shoes had been thrown in haphazardly as well, though, so Nick wasn’t sure if it was in this state because the landry was dirty or if it was just how this person lived their life.

It certainly didn’t smell bad, so he figured it couldn’t hurt to see if there was something inside or underneath the t-shirts. He only pinched them as he picked up an old Stone Roses tee, a Skate Tough vest, and then a sheer black long sleeved top. Interesting taste.

Frustrated, because once again there wasn’t anything other than a lot of tops (and, oddly enough, a single sock covered in emojis), Nick zipped the t-shirts back up and flopped down on the bed. The movement caused one of the shoes that had been precariously balanced to fall off the pile and land beside him. Nick picked it up to put it back and as he did, a memory stick dropped to the duvet.

That could definitely hold pertinent information. As Nick inspected it, searching to see if it was marked with anything, he immediately began going over the pros and cons of looking to see what was on it.

It was personal property and not his. He really shouldn’t.

But what if there was something on there that could give him a clue as to who this bag belonged to?

There was definitely not going to be some sort of message for him on there. People didn’t usually load their memory sticks with documents that said, “Should this be recovered, please reach John Doe at either his phone number, email, or by showing up to his house.”

But…

No. He really shouldn’t look at it.

Nick had just stood up to find his phone and try to call the airline about the mixup when he took one last look at the memory stick and groaned to himself. He was definitely going to poke around and see what was on there. He was too curious to let it go.

He pulled his laptop out of his rucksack and booted it up. Once it was finally ready, he stuck the memory stick into the port and waited for it to recognise the new information. Once he opened the drive, he found there were just three sound files with nothing but a series of numbers to name them.

Should he listen? What if they were something really awful? What if someone recorded their phone sex or something? It also would be of zero worth to Nick, because it wasn’t like anything that could be on these sound files would help him find the owner.

Squeezing his eyes shut, Nick cursed his lack of self control and clicked on the first sound file.

“Alright, this is just a rough idea of a chorus I’ve had in my head for awhile now. I have a few words, but mostly just a basic guitar part and a melody. It goes like this. Nashville, fourteenth of June.”

The song was absolutely rough, just as the voice introducing it had said, but it was also good. Incredibly good. And the voice singing it sounded somewhat familiar, but he couldn’t place why. In the end it didn’t matter. Once that was done, he definitely was going to listen to the others.

Nick had the songs - because that’s what all three were in varying stages of finish - play on repeat as he unpacked his rucksack. After telling himself over and over again that he was a horrible person, he copied the files so he could listen to them once he’d returned the luggage to its rightful owner and then finally pulled up the number for the airline and hit dial.

Forty-five minutes later found Nick dancing and singing along to the awful hold music that played as he still waited in queue to speak to someone as he made himself some avocado toast. He was hungry, but didn’t want a full meal since it was finally reaching an acceptable hour to go to sleep. Luckily, in the time he’d had waiting for a human to speak to, he’d been able to scrape together two work outfits that would hopefully be enough to tide him over until he got his own luggage back.

“Someone needs to fucking answer the phone!” Nick sang loudly and off key to the jazz music playing out of his phone’s speaker. “I want my own shampoo back,” he continued as he swung his head around and twirled with the avocado back to the fridge. “I don’t like Fifi’s bodywash and her moisturizer makes me break out!”

Staring to full on shimmy back to his perfectly made toast, the call disconnected and left the kitchen ringing in the silence.

“Bollocks,” Nick sighed. It was half nine and he didn’t really care to be waiting another hour for someone to answer. He had fully hoped to be in bed by then.

Taking a petulant bite of his toast, Nick leaned against the counter and tried to figure out what to do. He could send an email and then try calling again in the morning. That would likely work. But the fact remained that he couldn’t even shower, because only now did he realise Fiona had likely taken her own shower stuff with her to Italy.

“Of all the rotten luck,” Nick said through the food in his mouth. No one was there to judge him, not even Pig. He could be as filthy and uncivilised as he liked.

Sighing, Nick started to shuffle his way back to his room. At least he had his toothbrush since he had thrown it in his rucksack at last minute. He wouldn’t be entirely disgusting before making a run to Boots in the morning.

Just as Nick set the plate with his toast down on his bedside table, the buzzer for the front door went off. Regretting the fact that he and Fiona had never gotten around to informing the landlord that their system didn’t work correctly, Nick trudged down to the door.

He opened it expecting to find Pixie or someone equally likely to show up with no warning, but instead there stood a large man he didn’t recognize.

“Uh, hello,” Nick said, confused. “Are you here for one of my neighbours?”

“Are you Nick Grimshaw?”

It was then Nick studied the man and realised he held the very luggage Nick had been trying to track down all night.

“Oh my God, you’re my hero!” Nick gasped. “I’m going to assume it’s your bag I’ve got upstairs. Did yours happen to have a massive amount of trainers?”

“That would be the one,” the man responded with a smile.

Nick picked up his suitcase and said, “Not to be rude, but I’d rather you follow me upstairs. I don’t want to drag that thing back down by myself. So promise me you’re not a serial killer, and we can get you your bag.”

Holding both hands up, the man gave a chuckle and said, “Promise.”

Nick hummed, eyeing the man’s ample biceps then turned to the stairs. “Yes, well I hope so. I already know you’re far stronger than me, so I haven’t a chance even if you are.”

Rushing back to his room, Nick grabbed the suitcase he had thankfully zipped back up after repacking and brought it back to the still unknown man standing by the door. Maybe he was a songwriter or something, because he sounded American and the voice on the files was distinctly English. Nick probably shouldn’t think about that in case his face gave something away that told this rather large and intimidating man that he had gotten a bit too curious about some of the contents of the bag.

“Here you are. Thank you for finding me!”

The man smiled and took the suitcase. “I was going to give you a call, but I think I misread the number. The one I tried was disconnected. Luckily you still lived at the address, though. I really wasn’t looking for a wild goose chase after dark in London.”

Nick nodded understandingly, but was also pleased the man was walking back out the door. Now that he finally had his bag back, he really should get the laundry started.

“Thanks again, man. Have a good night.”

Nick gave a cheery, “Night,” then made sure the front door closed completely after the man and went back inside his flat.

Now time to do laundry and he should probably make a shopping list for the morning. He had his personal effects back, thank God, but he also still had some food to get because Fiona hadn’t left the cupboards in a good way. If he wanted something other than the heel of bread and the last avocado to eat all day tomorrow, shopping needed to be done.

Once he’d gotten the wash started, Nick leaned against the counter and pulled out his phone. He usually sent his list for what he needed from the shop to a friend, but he knew if he did so at this hour they would want to chat. Not only was he exhausted and ready to get to bed, but that would cause him to lose the list amongst the conversation, and that just wouldn’t do.

Pouting at his phone, Nick began to think about what he could do while he scanned his Instagram feed. He really hated the new algorithm that caused posts from days ago to come up. Pulling up the stories option, Nick fixed his hair a bit and eventually gave up since he looked as trash as he felt at this point.

“Heyyyy huuuun,” he said to the camera before pouting. “I’ve had the craziest night. My luggage got switched because I’m daft and didn’t check to be sure I grabbed the right case. Can you believe? Luckily we got them switched back, but it was crazy.” He posted that video and pulled it up to start another. “So anyway, now I’m home from the worst part of California and all alone and needing to figure out what to get with the shopping in the morning. Also why did Insta make that change with our feeds? It’s rubbish!” That was long enough for the video to cut off and he shrugged, posted it, and decided that was enough.

Just as Nick was about to get out of Instagram and stop avoiding what he needed to do so he could get into bed, someone messaged him in response to his video, so he responded and realised, Instagram was the answer. He could send it to one of the celebrities he followed on Instagram and they’d never respond or even read it, most likely. The plan was perfect.

Deciding he would just choose the first celebrity that came up on his feed, Nick switched out of messages to his feed and saw a post from two weeks ago from Louis Tomlinson. It was a selfie of the man at one of his concerts, giving the middle finger. Well. Nothing like reaching out to what was probably his biggest celebrity crush by sending his shopping list on Instagram.

I know you’ll never reply (or read), so I hope you don’t mind me using your chat for my shopping list.

Excellent. Now to just go around and see what he needed. One by one, he typed in his list and sent it to the glorious LT.

One pack of butter
One loaf of bread
Coconut milk
Chocolate (cause I deserve it, dammit)
Coffee
Chicken breasts
Pasta

Once he surveyed his list as well as what he had, he realised he should probably add some veg. Not knowing what would be good or that he’d be in the mood for, he was too tired to think further.

Veg

Should he thank Louis for letting him use his Instagram? On the off chance that Louis read this, he didn’t want to seem awful, so he decided to go ahead and do it.

Thank you for letting me use this space for my shopping!

Perfect. Okay, now Nick was beyond exhausted and it was past ten. Definitely time for bed. The rest Nick could deal with in the morning.

 

XXX

 

Nick’s alarm went off and he very much regretted all of his life choices leading up to that moment. Why was he working at all? Why hadn’t he found a rich man who would pay for his every whim and allow him to sleep in as late as he wanted because he wouldn’t need to work? Obviously he had failed. Or pissed someone off in a previous life who was obviously acting against Nick now.

Sighing, Nick dragged himself out of bed and pulled up Spotify. He needed his Wake Up and Go playlist so he could have the energy to switch his clothes to the dryer and possibly even shower. As Nick leaned over to pick up his phone, he got a whiff of himself and immediately moved shower up before the shopping.

Nick also needed to get Fiona a bouquet of her favorite flowers when she returned for forcing him to pay the higher rent in order to have the laundry in their own flat. He never would have survived the morning if it wasn’t just a few steps away from his room.

Once the clothes were switched over, the music playing, and coffee brewing, Nick jumped in the shower and began to feel a little more human. He brushed his teeth, got dressed, and was about to head out when he realised he didn’t remember who he had sent the list to.

Fuck. He had been so tired - still was, if he was honest - that everything from the night before felt fuzzy now in his memory. He remembered scrolling Instagram and posting something to his stories and then-

Oh shit. Oh no. No no no no no. He had not sent his shopping to Louis Tomlinson, had he?

Louis Tomlinson had been one of those celebrities that had burst onto the scene a few years ago and Nick had not minded one bit. Not because he particularly cared for any of his music (it was a bit too pop for him) and not because he was a fan of the man’s personality (he didn’t know anything about his personality really, work kept him too busy generally to keep up with interviews and such). No, he was fond of Louis Tomlinson because Louis Tomlinson was fond of selfies. Particularly shirtless selfies.

Louis Tomlinson had just the perfect amount of chest hair that he didn’t mind showing off sitting right below his chest piece and fuck if that didn’t get Nick going. He also had the perfect tiny tummy and incredible curves and...well. Nick could go on for quite some time and apparently did occasionally while drunk and in the midst of a dry spell if Rita was to be believed. But Nick had one glorious thing on his side, and that was that Louis Tomlinson had no idea he existed in this great, big world. Nick very much wanted to keep it that way so he could continue to wank to the man’s Instagram in peace.

Covering his eyes with one hand, the fingers perfectly spaced so he could see what he needed to, Nick navigated to messages and found his worst nightmare to be true. He had messaged his fucking shopping list to Louis Tomlinson. God, Nick wanted to die.

 

I’m so fucking sorry for that, I did it while jet lagged and that’s worse than being drunk, innit? I truly do hope you never read this and I can pretend it never happened. Okaythanksbye.

Nick sent the apology, screenshot his list, and then dragged himself to the corner market. Fuck his life, fuck his supposed good ideas he had while sleep deprived, and fuck Louis Tomlinson’s Instagram messages being open to the public.

 

XXX

 

“No, Rita, you don’t understand because you get flown places and get to stay in fancy hotels and sit on the beach while you’re photographed in sexy swimming costumes,” Nick whined. “I’ve only been home for three days and it turns out they need me back at that horrid California centre I just helped train last week for another class and then I have to go right from there to…” Nick paused as he opened the email that had come through while he was finishing up a report at home. “Ohio? I don’t even know where Ohio is. It’s one of the boring states in the middle and I’m going to be stuck there for two weeks. I still need to Google it, but I’m pretty sure that if it’s in the middle that means no beaches or sexy swim costumes or photoshoots will be waiting for me.”

“Yeah, but California could have those things for you!” Rita fought back.

“But it doesn’t,” Nick said as he flopped back onto his bed. “It’s stuck somewhere in the desert part of the state that’s like hours away from the beach so there’s nothing but a bed that makes my hips hurt and a miserable attempt at a pool. Plus I’m alone. No one likes the trainer, no matter how cool of a trainer I am, because I’m the one they’re stuck with for hours every day. Ritaaaaaaa,” Nick wailed into the phone. “Rita, I’ve not had any cuddles since I’ve been home, just a few from Pig, but she’s mad at me for being gone last week, and now I’m going to have to drop her off at Aimee’s again before you and Fifi even get home and I need love! Why does no one love me?”

“Oh my God, Grim,” Rita said and he could hear voices in the background of wherever exotic she was. Far more exotic than Idaho or wherever he’d be going after California. “You are so dramatic sometimes. We love you, and so does Pig, so get over it. We will give you extra cuddles once you’re home, alright?”

Nick pouted. No it was not alright. He needed the cuddles now and had no one to give them to him. Aimee was busy. Pixie was busy. Everyone was fucking busy and Nick just wished he had a partner to snuggle whenever he needed it. He also usually wouldn’t be in such a strop about it, but usually for these trips he had weeks to prepare and generally more than just a few days home before flying out again. Why didn’t he have someone to love him during this trying time and help him remember it wasn’t so bad? Instead he had to rely on Rita over the phone which wasn’t nearly so nice.

“Fine, but I’m not happy about it,” he finally said into the phone.

“There’s my girl. Now go eat some ice cream and get back to work. I know you’re going to need to do more laundry and think a little harder about what you take with you since you’ll be gone longer this time.”

“You’re right and I hate it when you’re right,” Nick said with a sigh. “Fine. I love you even if you’re mean.”

“That’s right, love. I’ll see you in a few weeks. Kisses!”

Nick kissed into the phone and dropped it onto his belly. His flight wasn’t until Saturday, but that was still only a couple days away which left him little time to prepare. If there was one thing he took pride in, it was the fact that he always over-prepared in order to be the best and most interesting trainer the employees would ever meet. It was why they flew him all around the world to train at the new centres and the large new employee classes. Nick knew how to work a room while still teaching them everything they needed to know, but in order to do so for the centre in... Ohio... he was going to have to work several extra hours.

Heaving himself up he figured he might as well fix something to eat while he started making his packing list. Looking in the cupboard, Nick was incredibly glad he’d only done shopping for the necessities since he’d be leaving so soon again, but he’d probably have to do take away tomorrow if he wanted to eat something other than pasta again.

Nick heated up leftovers from the night before and had just sat down to the table when a text from an unknown number came through.

Unknown: Is this the Nick Grimshaw who took the wrong luggage earlier this week?

Blinking at his phone in confusion, Nick decided to reply since it was him, but he didn’t really understand who would be texting him about that now when obviously there hadn’t been any issues that he knew of.

Nick: Yes it is, who is this?

Nick took a bite of the wannabe spaghetti bolognese and almost choked when the text came through, his phone already helpfully trying to signal him into creating a contact.

Maybe Louis: I’m Louis, the one whose bag you got.

Oh God. Shit. What if Louis found out that he’d been snooping and listened to the songs? Maybe there was some sort of security he had on the memory stick that showed Nick had made copies of the files. Was that even possible? Fuck if he knew.

What if Louis did have a way of knowing, though, and he was pissed at Nick for snooping that much? Fuck.

Maybe Louis: I was just wondering how much looking around the bag you did.

This was it. He knew. Nick had been found out. He was a nosy bitch and he had to clear his conscience right away or he would never be able to live with himself.

Nick: Okay, listen, I did snoop a bit but I swear I was just looking for contact information for you since there wasn’t a tag other than your blue ribbon
Nick: Which, in my defence, I thought was mine because I was sleep deprived. I’m sure you understand
Nick: I should apologise, though, because I did find your memory stick and I knew there probably wouldn’t be anything useful on there, but I looked anyway just in case and found the sound files and I may have listened to them a few times because I really liked them and please don’t report me for something because as much as I complain about it I actually do like my job and would rather like to keep it.

Nick looked at the horrible and ridiculous messages he’d sent and leaned over to hit his forehead against the table. He already had a massive spot there, thanks to the recent stress. A bruise from his table wouldn’t make it any worse.

His phone remained silent, though. Fuck.

Nick looked at his spag bol and realised there was no way he could finish eating it now. His stomach was twisted in knots thanks to the new enemy he’d just made. Nick looked to his left and saw Pig laying on the floor, watching him.

“Piggy, your daddy made a very big mistake and he’s not sure how to fix it.” Pouting, Nick looked back at his phone and found himself itching to listen to the songs again, but that was probably the worst thing to do right now. Shit. “Come with me to my room?”

Nick nodded to his room, and Pig got up off the floor to follow him to his room. He usually didn’t allow her up on his bed, but he would make an exception this time. Sometimes he just really needed a cuddle and she was his only option right now. He really hated when he fucked up and lately he felt like he’d been doing it far too often.

Kicking off his slippers, Nick shut his laptop and moved it to his desk then climbed under the covers and invited Pig up with him. She curled up right by his stomach, just like she loved to do. He had just unlocked his phone when another text from Louis came in.

Maybe Louis: A few times, huh? What about them made you listen more than once?

God. Because there’s something about your voice that is haunting and lovely? It was the small imperfections that indicated the emotion behind the words? That those emotions you spoke of so personally, the loneliness you’re singing about, was something I feel so strongly that it made me happy to know I wasn’t alone?

Nick stared at his phone and started typing and deleting several possible responses before finally landing on one he hoped didn’t make him sound too overly invested and creepy.

Nick: Whoever it was that recorded them captured real emotions in the lyrics and tunes and that spoke to me. They were songs I needed to listen to more than once in order to take in everything.

Yes, that sounded just fine. Nick considered adding Louis into his contacts, but ultimately decided he wouldn’t because he likely wouldn’t be hearing from them again.

For some reason the chat with a stranger just worked to make Nick more lonely. Nuzzling into Pig, Nick said, “Oh, Pig. Thank you for cuddling me when no one else will.”

Pig snuffled while Nick changed his mind and added the phone number to his contacts, but just as Nick suspected they both fell asleep waiting for a response that didn’t come.

 

XXX

 

Louis: Okay, but what struck you about the songs? What did you get from them?
Louis: I’m just curious because I wrote them about incredibly personal moments in my life and wasn’t sure anyone else would really identify
Louis: Not to be conceited and think I’m the only who has felt that way before, but you know how it is. Sometimes things are really lonely
Louis: It was why I saved them to that drive, though. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to share them with the guys I was working with on songs
Louis: Shit I’m out here spewing my guts and you probably don’t even care
Louis: You’re also likely asleep, so I’m going to stop now
Louis: Sorry, mate. Have a good night, I’ll leave you alone now

Nick scrolled through the messages on his phone and couldn’t help the smile that crept up onto his face.

Louis had continued texting and sounded like he wouldn’t mind if Nick answered again. Well, lucky for him, Nick was a bit lonely, a lot needy, and always willing to make new friends.

Nick: So that was you singing? I thought you were American based on our conversation at my house. Anyway, a lot of the emotions came through with your voice. It would come close to cracking at times and it took a line that was already powerful and made it so it felt like it was suddenly heart wrenching. Your way with words is incredible.

Nick sent the message but it still felt insufficient. He also shouldn’t be texting this poor sod at half six, but at the same time Louis hadn’t replied to Nick’s messages the night before until three, so he figured they were even now.

Nick: I guess I can’t really put it into words. Just that you made me feel like you understood the emotions and difficult times I’d gone through, particularly as a confused teen. Young Nick had a bit of a rough patch before he realised he just really wasn’t into girls. You captured that fear and worry and relief in the pieces I heard.
Nick: And you’re right, it can feel incredibly lonely. That’s the worst part. Thinking there’s no one else out there like you. But there is, and you captured that.
Nick: And don’t you dare apologize. I hope you’re sleeping now, but I always welcome text messages.

A few hours later had Nick at work and being incredibly productive, but still distracted because Louis hadn’t stopped texting him since he woke up.

So far, Nick had learned quite a bit about his new friend. Louis was incredibly gay and had also had a bit of a rough go figuring it out for himself too. He also had convinced his friend to pick up his suitcase from Nick’s house that night, and he was apparently English as well, hence Nick’s confusion with the man he spoke with the other night and the voice on the memory stick songs. Louis also traveled quite a bit like Nick did, had a wicked sense of humour, and already was half in love with Pig.

In other words, Nick and Louis were now besties.

“Nick, love. Do you have your expense report for last week?” Grace came walking in and looked at Nick’s paper strewn desk doubtfully. “Danny wants it before you leave again so you don’t forget.”

Nick picked up the paper he had just finished filling out and waved it about joyfully. “I do! Aren’t you proud of me? I’m a responsible adult!”

Just then Nick’s phone buzzed across the desk with more texts from Louis. He was in the midst of telling the longest joke known to man, but Nick would be lying if he said he wasn’t amused.

“Ah, yes. A responsible adult with his phone on his desk getting messages from his most recent boy toy?”

Nick gasped. “How dare you reduce that perfectly respectable young man to being a sex thing!” He paused as soon as he’d said it though, because he realised he had made assumptions about Louis’ age. He didn’t know Louis’ age, looks, relationship status… He knew Louis’ birthday but not his age. Fuck. What if he was a grandad? Here Nick had already been thinking about the what ifs of their continued conversation.

As the phone buzzed again, Nick looked down and realised the entire lead up of the joke was something to do with a dick. Okay, maybe Nick needed to be worried about him being too young instead. But he did say he traveled often for work, so that had to mean he was at least legal, right?

“Nick, just give me the damn paper and I’ll let you be.”

Looking back up at Grace, Nick shoved the paper at her and continued shuffling through what he’d been organising before she had interrupted him.

Once they were in the respective piles, he picked up his phone and ignored Louis’ dick joke to get down to business.

Nick: Louis, before we continue I realised I need to ask you a question just to be sure.
Nick: What’s your age? I’m just a bit worried because I never thought to ask before and I don’t want to be a creep or anything.

Luckily Nick didn’t even have a chance to lock his phone before Louis replied.

Louis: Oh, mate. You’re safe. I’m the ripe old age of 26. You?

Nick heaved a sigh of relief. Twenty-six he could deal with.

Nick: A respectable 34, but please note I’m only telling you the truth because I am hoping you’ll never tell. To everyone else I am no more than 29.

Okay. Nick really needed to get back to work. He may have been productive, but he still had a lot to do before he was ready for his flight tomorrow.

Louis: I’m surprised you just took me at my word. Usually when truly worried about this kind of thing people ask for proof of some kind.

Nick smirked before typing.

Nick: You forget I saw the inside of your luggage. I don’t know of many in sixth form that can purchase the number of shoes you own, much less the name brands you do.
Nick: Balenciaga? Isn’t someone doing well for themselves!

The only response Nick got was a photo of Louis’ feet propped up on a sofa. They were, of course, clad in the Balenciaga trainers. Shaking his head in bemusement, Nick locked his phone and finally focused a little more on his work.

 

XXX

 

Nick had triple checked he had the right luggage before leaving the airport this time. He was relieved as well, because he was ready for a shower and then he was looking forward to sleeping for an entire day.

He hated flying west. The extra long day always wreaked havoc on him and he had an incredibly difficult time adjusting. His body didn’t care how much water he drank or how much sleep he got on the plane or anything. He still was miserable for days and he already could tell it would be that way this time too.

Not allowing himself to even sit down - he knew if he gave himself that, he would never stand again - he grabbed his things out of his bag, plugged in his phone, and headed to the shower.

Feeling slightly more human afterward, Nick exited the bathroom to his phone ringing. Checking the time, the only thing Nick knew was that if he was getting a call when it was the early morning hours in London, then it was likely an emergency. Or a colleague in California, but considering he had just gotten there, that didn’t seem likely. Worry had already gotten him jumping to conclusions that it was a dire circumstance, but the possibility of a drunk dial was also there.

Not bothering to check who was calling, Nick picked up his phone.

“Hello? Is everyone alive and okay? If so, then why the fuck are you calling me when I was about to climb into bed?”

Nick winced. What if his boss was calling him? He’d just cursed at him. He hoped it wasn’t Danny, he didn’t want to be in trouble for language. Again.

In the background Nick only heard a soft shit and fucking hell, did I call someone? before static took over the line and he finally pulled the phone away from his face to look and see who it was.

Louis.

Oh no. What if Louis was in the middle of a hook up and he’d bum dialed Nick? That happened to Nick once and he had never lived it down afterwards. Also that would be an incredibly awkward first call. They’d not called each other before, always preferring texting, so the sudden call was both exhilarating and nerve wracking. Nick had been craving hearing Louis speak more ever since his first time listening to the songs on Louis’ memory stick.

“Louis? Are you there?” Nick said, feeling a bit stupid. He obviously hadn’t called Nick on purpose, and now he felt ridiculous for being so worried.

“Fuck. Nick? God, sorry about that,” Louis said. “I just came out for a smoke and called you. Do you think anyone else has ever complained about the location of the Whatsapp phone feature?”

His voice was raspy and rough and Nick couldn’t help but smile when he heard it. “Yeah, well at least it was only an audio call. I was getting a little worried about what I might see if it had been video.”

“Yeah, you never know when it’s this time of night.”

Nick could hear Louis blow out the smoke before clearing his throat.

“So. First phone call and we’re still practically strangers,” Nick said.

Louis hummed. “Yeah, you okay with that? I’ve never really been a phone talker, but traveling as much as I do has made me a lot more comfortable with it. Gotta keep in touch with me mum somehow.”

“Absolutely. Eileen would kill me if I didn’t ring her at least every other day, so I get it,” Nick agreed. He put Louis on speaker so he could finish getting into his pyjama bottoms. “I don’t mind as long as you don’t care that I’m going to go through my entire night-time routine while chatting. Got to keep my youthful glow going somehow before sleeping off the jet lag.”

“Oh, where are you then? I forgot you were traveling today.”

“California again,” Nick said with a sigh. “I don’t understand the appeal, I really don’t.”

Louis laughed a little and it set Nick’s blood fizzing in an exciting way. He wanted Louis to keep laughing at him, even if he didn’t understand why.

“California isn’t so bad. I’m in Sweden for the weekend, so.”

Nick could practically hear Louis’ shrug. “Sweden? I’m awful with time zones, but isn’t it even later there than England?”

“Yeah, near four. I got inspired on a song a few hours ago and it wouldn’t let me be, so I thought I’d write a bit. Just decided to take a break to smoke, and look at the surprise I ended up with.”

Nick smiled. “Good surprise, I hope.”

As he moved his luggage to the rack and pulled out his moisturizers, he got a little worried that the call wasn’t a pleasant surprise. All Nick really wanted was for Louis to crave his attention the way he did Louis’. He’d never met him, not even seen a photo, and it had only been a few days that they’d been talking which made the whole thing even more ridiculous, but he couldn’t help it. Louis was genuine in a way Nick hadn’t had in a boyfriend in years, if ever. It made his mind go wild with the possibilities.

“Yeah. Really good,” Louis said softly.

The worry that had started building settled within Nick.

“Good.”

They continued to talk as Nick not only went through his bedtime routine, but also unpacked all of his things into the drawers. It was more organised than he even usually was at home, but Nick wanted to keep talking to Louis if he wanted to keep talking to Nick. Therefore, he kept coming up with reasons to stay up.

Nick only dozed off near nine while listening to Louis describing the sunrise in Sweden. He wished he could feel a little guilt for being the cause of sleep deprivation for Louis, but all he felt was happy.

 

XXX

 

“So you’re leaving California right as I’m getting back?” Louis asked.

Nick put the phone on speaker as he let himself back into his hotel room after dinner. Louis had rang him twenty minutes ago, and Nick finally forced himself to come inside out of the sunshine so he could finish packing since he had a flight early the next morning.

“Apparently so,” Nick said as he surveyed his room. He’d gotten most of his non-essential toiletries packed up before dinner, but his clothes were still strewn about. “Not that we would have seen each other, am I right? You’re always running here and there and I’m a highly coveted man myself. It never would have worked, darling.”

“Oh are we on to pet names now, love?” Louis teased.

Nick loved that they had gotten close enough to tease each other. After the first accidental phone call, he and Louis texted almost nonstop, or as much as they could with the time difference, and managed to speak on the phone five times in the past week.

Sighing, Louis said, “And that’s not what I meant. I was just excited we would be in the same time zone again is all.”

Nick hummed in acknowledgement. “Yes, but Ohio is...well honestly I’m not sure where Ohio is so I can’t tell you the time difference, but I can tell you it will be a vast improvement from the nine hours we had previously.”

It was as Nick folded one of his pyjama shirts that he realised Louis had said he was excited to be in the same time zone. What about that excited him? It was probably just that he enjoyed talking with him. Nick never had gotten the gumption to ask about his relationship status, but surely with the interesting and busy life Louis seemed to live, constantly flying back and forth across the globe writing songs, he couldn’t be arsed to actually be interested in boring old Nick Grimshaw.

Rolling his eyes, Nick huffed to himself. The fact he was developing a bit of a crush on Louis was a subject he’d been mentally avoiding so as not to feel ridiculous or stupid, but he couldn’t always push it to the side. Now, apparently, was one of those times. Here he was, imagining that this would be how they’d conduct their relationship if they started seeing each other. Phone calls as often as they could, various photos of things they saw through the day that made them laugh, texts about the most random shit that popped into their minds. Why couldn’t he shut his mind off?

He imagined them actually getting to meet up every once in awhile, on the random occurrence that they were in the same city as each other, but that brought him up short. He still didn’t know what Louis looked like. He imagined someone around his height, maybe a little shorter, with black hair and green eyes. No, that was too perfect. What if Louis had bad teeth and uneven ears? Nick wasn’t sure he could handle someone with bad teeth and crooked ears both together. Maybe one or the other could be alright, but both at the same time?

Stupid Nick. Of course he would be happy with crooked ears and bad teeth, if they were matched with Louis’ voice and sense of humour. Nick was well gone for him.

“Nicky! Did I lose you?”

Nick whirled towards where the phone was sitting on the dresser and pointed to it, as if Louis could see him. “Do not ever call me Nicky again, understand me? I fucking hate that name.”

Louis started laughing. “Yes, yes. I know, I remember the story from Tuesday night. You just weren’t responding. I had to go to extreme measures to get your attention.”

Nick narrowed his eyes before turning around in a huff. “You’re very rude and I hereby demote you.”

Still giggling, Louis asked, “Demote me from what?”

“I don’t know,” Nick said, waving around the pair of trousers he was trying to stuff in beside his trainers. “From stranger-turned-best-mate to stranger-formerly-known-as-best-mate?”

“Both of those are quite the mouthful. I’m not sure I’m fond of either. I demand a new title.”

Nick hemmed and hawed as he folded more of his clothing, doing his best to make it all fit. “Well you’ve been demoted so you automatically don’t get a great title, honestly. How about now you’re just songwriter Louis?”

“Could be worse,” Louis said. “Though it does seem a bit impersonal.”

“That’s the point,” Nick pointed out. “You won’t be getting a more personal one until you’ve redeemed yourself.”

“How might I do that?” Louis asked with a laugh. “Gift you a song?”

Nick straightened. “That’s not a bad idea. You know how much I like that song you had almost finished. The one about knowing it’ll be alright. How about you make that all pretty for me and post it for the rest of the world to see, hmm?”

Louis stayed quiet for a bit before he asked softly, “You really think it’s good enough for all that? That people will identify with it enough to release it?”

They hadn’t talked much about who Louis wrote songs for or even if he’d been doing it for long, but if Louis was still new to all of this his nerves made sense. Especially considering how personal the song was.

“Yeah, love. I think it is definitely something people would listen and hold on to.”

Static overtook the line as Louis blew air into the receiver. “Well,” he said slowly. “Those are pretty high stakes, but I’ll see what I can do.”

“Lou,” Nick said slowly, turning himself towards his phone as if Louis could see him and how serious he was. “You don’t have to if you don’t want to. I was mostly messing around, but if you feel confident enough to do so, that really would get you the most epic of all promotions in terms of friendship titles.”

“No, if you really think that people could identify with it, then I’ll do it. Just give me awhile. I don’t know how long it is going to take to be able to roll it out and everything.”

Nick nodded before he remembered Louis couldn’t see him. Sometimes talking to him on the phone he’d found himself imagining Louis was there with him in the room, and they’d only been doing this for a week. Nick was obviously in over his head here.

“That’s fair. Okay, you keep distracting me and I really do need to finish packing so I can get some sleep tonight before my flight. Have fun fighting your jet lag and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.”

They rang off and Nick’s room filled with silence. He couldn’t have that, it made his mind work too fast and took his focus from the job at hand. He opened his laptop, pulled up the playlist he’d made of the files he had copied from Louis’ memory stick and put it on repeat.

Humming along with the songs, Nick finished his work quickly and got to sleep, having awkward dreams about a faceless Louis sleeping beside him.

 

XXX

 

“You know, most of my friends call me Grimmy,” Nick said as he shuffled papers around and made sure his hand outs were ready for his next session. “Having you call me Nick makes me a bit worried that I’m either in trouble with Eileen or you’re still a stranger.”

“Oh, so have I been promoted back to friend, then?”

Nick hummed as he organised another set of papers and said, “Yes, I think so. Songwriter Friend Louis is your current title.”

Louis snorted. “I’m working on the song bit for you. It’ll get there. I should have news in the next week or so.”

“Really?” Nick asked, surprised. He was anticipating it taking him a lot longer to get to where he was ready to share it on YouTube or wherever he was going to post it. Especially since he’d made it sound like it still had a lot of work to be done. “Have you been holding out on me, Lewis?”

“I hate it when you call me that,” Louis complained.

“And I hate it when you call me Nicky,” Nick fought back.

Nick could hear the pout in Louis’ voice when he said, “But I don’t want to be just like all your other friends. I’m your special we switched hold-alls and now are forever linked together on a deeper plane friend. I should get special permission to call you Nicky.”

“God,” Nick huffed as he stood up to distribute the packets he’d just assembled. “Fine, you absolute child. You can continue to call me Nick, but definitely not Nicky.”

“But I thought people who didn’t know you well call you Nick? What about Nicholas?”

Rubbing absently at the space in his chest that had suddenly become warm and filled with butterflies, Nick said, “Yeah, I suppose Nicholas would be alright.”

He couldn’t help the smile that grew as he listened to Louis’ cheers. “So I finally learned after being here four days that you are three hours behind me, putting you at being awake before six. Are you still awake from the night before or did you wake up early for some God-forsaken reason?”

“I woke up early. I went to bed around the same time you did last night, actually, so it seems we are on a similar schedule today,” Louis said cheerily, but his act was blown when he yawned into the phone. “Fuck. I hate mornings. But seriously, the people need me so obviously I must oblige. I’m on my way to my first appointment already. It’s a busy day today.”

“Everyone wants a bit of Louis,” Nick sang to his own tune. “Actually, that reminds me of a song. It’s from back when you were just a wee lad, but my cousin who spent some time in America during Uni was obsessed. There’s a line in there about how everyone wants you or something? I bet that’s true for you, innit?”

Louis got a bit quiet and made some half-witted responses that were mostly mumbled into the receiver.

“Mmhmm, can’t fool me. Our dear Louis is well coveted, he is.”

Nick heard a voice in the background and Louis came back to say, “Okay, I really do have to get to work now, but let me know how training goes today. I know you were a bit worried after yesterday.”

“Fuck, don’t remind me,” Nick groaned.

Yesterday had been a disaster. He had actually put one of the attendees to sleep. It wasn’t his fault that he hadn’t figured out a way to make the first day of compliance training for new hires any better than it was. And to think this was the first group of three he would be working with since they’d recently acquired this location from a competitor and therefore had to bring everyone working here into compliance.

Shit. Nick was boring himself now, and that just wouldn’t do.

Louis laughed and said, “Sorry, love. Talk to you later, though!” before he kissed into the phone and hung up.

Nick pulled the phone away from his ear in shock and stared at it.

Had Louis just kissed at him? Was that a thing friends did? Is that a youth culture trend Nick had missed out on because he was apparently a boring old man now who had lost touch with reality?

Shaking his head, Nick was determined to get his head back in the training game, but he also promised himself he would spend more time on his incredibly neglected Instagram tonight. He always got like that when he was stressed out with a big training assignment. He shut himself off from the world and never felt like he had fully emerged until he’d had a Social Media binge catching up on everything he had missed. God, no wonder he hadn’t been able to keep a boyfriend for longer than a few months these last few years.

Things seem to be doing alright with Louis so far, though, his traitorous mind told him. Sighing, Nick closed his eyes and acknowledged that it was true. He and Louis seemed to be doing much better than even he and Fiona or Aimee or Rita were doing at the moment, which was saying something.

Okay fine. Maybe Nick deserved a night of relaxation instead of preparing for tomorrow. He’d already done everything he needed to anyway, so he didn’t have much to prepare. Nick pocketed his phone and nodded to himself. Yes, he would absolutely do that tonight.

 

XXX

 

Throwing himself down onto the bed, Nick relaxed his body and allowed it to bounce a bit. The mattresses in Ohio really were rather comfortable considering Nick had been expecting worse than what he’d had in California. That was nice and his hips praised the company for the room they booked him every morning he woke up and they weren’t sore.

Pulling his phone out, Nick replied to a few of the drunk texts from Rita and sent Fiona a few short video messages for Pig since she’d finally arrived back home. Another week and a half and he’d be home again as well. Back with his girls, drinking wine every night as they watched trashy reality telly together on Nick’s bed. He couldn’t wait.

Once he’d caught up on everything, he thumbed over to Instagram and watched the stories people had added. He got a bit bored after only five of them and decided to scroll through his feed instead. He liked a photo Rita had uploaded showing off her cleavage and made sure to leave a snarky but positive comment for her to know he still loved her.

Nick paused and pulled up his own story to add to it himself. He couldn’t disappoint his fans just like Rita couldn’t disappoint hers, after all.

He put on a filter that cleared up the spot he had emerging on his forehead and took a pouty photo that made it look as if he were already in bed for the night. Might as well, it may only be near nine, but Nick was exhausted. He followed it up with a photo of him blowing a kiss with a few emojis and then went back to his feed.

He scrolled past a few artistic photos that were all black and white that his friend Harry had uploaded, being sure to like them all, but then he kept scrolling and he almost choked on his tongue. In his haste to continue breathing, he dropped his phone so it landed on his forehead and made his eyes water.

“Fuck, ouch!” Nick squawked as he tried to wipe away his tears so he could see the photo more clearly.

Louis Tomlinson had uploaded a photo a couple of days ago and Nick swore one day he would be the death of him. The photo showed he was shirtless, with bed head (or sex head, honestly, but what did he know?), with his collarbones and chest hair and cheekbones and scruff all on display. It also looked like he was hovering over the phone when he took the photo, so now looking at it while laying on his back, Nick felt like Louis fucking Tomlinson was laying right on top of him and well...that was a bit more than he had anticipated for this evening.

Nick fumbled to pick up the phone from the messy covers it had fallen into and when he had it in hand again, he saw he was actually in the middle of a phone call with his Louis. Fuck.

“Uh, hello?” Nick said. He wasn’t sure how much Louis had heard or when the call had come or anything, the last few minutes had been too insane. However long it was, he hoped Louis didn’t hear the breathy tone to his voice that was the result of that damn photo posted by Louis fucking Tomlinson.

“You alright there, love?” Louis asked, laughter in his voice. Damn it.

Nick whined and said, “Yes, I am just fine, thank you very much. I just accidentally dropped my phone on my face and lost it to the covers I got up too late to make nice this morning and...well you heard the rest, I guess.”

“Doesn’t housekeeping come in and straighten up the beds and shit where you’re staying?” Louis asked.

Happy Louis wasn’t asking what had made him breathless, Nick barreled forward. “Yes, well I asked that they not do that today since I had left in a rush and not had time to make the room more presentable.”

“That makes literally zero sense, Nicholas,” Louis said. “The whole point is that they straighten up the room for you.”

“Yes, but I don’t want them to have to straighten up a room that is a complete tip now, do I? That would make them think I’m an animal, and I just can’t have that.”

Louis laughed. “Yeah, alright. So I didn’t interrupt any, ahem, activities, did I?”

Nick choked on some spit and started coughing into the phone. Damn, he really needed to stop laying on his back while doing anything on the phone, apparently.

“What?” he finally asked, sounding a bit strangled.

“Oh, come on. You can tell me if I did. I’d rather you just not accept my call if you were in the middle of a wank. That or invite me to join in next time or something.”

Nick’s eyes went wide. “What? God, no, Louis! I wasn’t in the middle of having a wank!”

“It’s well fine if you were,” Louis said, laughing fully now. “It’s only natural. Come on.”

“Fuck,” Nick whined before he felt himself start to overcompensate by overexplaining. “No no, I was just surprised by a photo that the one and only Louis Tomlinson uploaded on Insta a few days ago I guess and it made me drop my phone and then I somehow accepted a call from you amidst all of this and lost my phone to the covers and now we’re here and… there was no wanking or anything of the sort going on, I swear. Just shirtless photos of pop stars on Instagram catching me off guard.”

Nick squeezed his eyes shut and covered them with his hand for good measure. Maybe if he felt like he was alone with no one to judge him, Louis would stay quiet and...just...not judge him.

“Hmm, well I can see that happening. After all, Louis Tomlinson is well fit.”

Nick’s eyes popped open and he narrowed them at the ceiling, distrustful. “I can hear your mocking tone.”

“No, not mocking,” Louis said with a laugh, but Nick could tell there was something else behind it. “Seeing Louis Tomlinson shirtless would surely cause anyone to drop their phones.”

“God, you are. You’re mocking me. I won’t have it! I feel like a raisin after spending that time in the California dessert. I’ve been drinking gallons every day and and it simply isn’t evening out. Add to that the stress from the huge amount of training this centre requires and now Songwriter Friend Louis is mocking me! I think I’ll just curl up on my bed and call it a night, really. No use going on after this.”

“Oh my God,” Louis groaned, but Nick could tell he was just pretending to be annoyed. Or, well, he hoped anyway. “You really need to lighten up, Nicholas. Getting all stroppy on me when I’m only having a bit of banter with you. And you don’t look like a raisin even if you feel like one.”

“How would you know,” Nick asked with a haughty sniff. “I’ve not sent you a selfie in days.”

He hadn’t. He’d stopped sending them when it became pretty apparent Louis wasn’t going to return with one of his own. His photos were always of dogs (which Nick appreciated) and ridiculous outfits he spotted on the street (which Nick also appreciated) and sneak peeks of lyrics Louis was writing (which Nick tried not to appreciate, because he was in too deep as it was). What Nick would really appreciate though was a selfie, and that he never got.

It was okay. It was totally fine. After all, for the time being he could pretend that his Louis looked like Louis Tomlinson, but really that just made his rather large crush he’d been building over the past few weeks now even worse. He couldn’t bring himself to do that, because he still hadn’t built the courage to ask important things, like Louis’ last name. What his job actually was. Nick felt like they’d been talking enough at this point he couldn’t actually just go ahead and ask him, it would be far too awkward and Nick just couldn’t handle that happening.

“Love, if you look as good as you did while still in California, then I’m here to assure you that you still look gorgeous after spending a few days chugging water in an attempt to right your hydration levels.”

Nick tucked his chin to his chest in embarrassment. He knew he wasn’t the best looking lad out there, but he did like to think that he took care of himself and knew his best angles. He perhaps wasn’t classically beautiful, but he was still attractive, or hopefully he was to the right guy. But if Louis thought…

“You think I’m gorgeous?” Nick asked softly. “After saying something like that, I’m warning that you can’t take it back. It would be far too cruel.”

“I don’t want to take it back,” Louis assured. “You’re gorgeous and you know you are or you wouldn’t be sending me all those selfies,” Louis said.

Feeling like this was all getting too serious, Nick decided to bring it back into a safer line of questioning.

“What if I’m just vain? You don’t know me well as all that. I could just be sending you all those photos because I’m the modern Narcissus.”

“No,” Louis said with a chuckle. “If that were the case, you wouldn’t be sending ones of you making the worst face possible to get me to laugh.”

“I knew you had a soft spot for my ugly mug,” Nick said happily. “It’s nice to hear my suspicions are correct.”

The line remained a comfortable quiet until Louis started humming.

“What’s that, then?” Nick asked. “Proper earworm or are you working on another song?”

“It’s just an idea I had, that line is all I’ve got as of yet, but it won’t leave me alone. Been bothering me all day.”

Nick smiled and listened to Louis hum a little longer until Louis suddenly cut off his humming and static filled the line for a moment.

“Shit,” Louis muttered and Nick could hear him moving about and grabbing keys. “It’s past six and I’m meant to meet someone for dinner at seven. I’m sorry, love, but I’ve got to go. Have a good rest of your night, yeah?”

Warmth flooded Nick again as he wondered how many times that made it that Louis had called him love today. He’d need to start keeping a tally and see if he could work out whether it was a friendly level or perhaps hinting that Louis was fond of Nick in return.

Fuck. No he would not. He was a thirty-four year old man. He didn’t need to keep track of the number of times someone used an affectionate term while speaking with him. That was beyond pathetic.

“Yeah, you have a nice dinner out. Say ‘hi to Rihanna for me when you see her, I heard she’s in LA at the moment as well.”

Louis snorted and said, “Yeah, ‘course. I’ll just roll on up to her house and pass on the message.”

“You’re a dear,” Nick said teasingly. “Alright now, have a good one! Bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye, bye!”

Hanging up, the call minimized leaving Nick with the shirtless photo of Louis Tomlinson that had started the entire issue to begin with.

“Fuck my life,” Nick groaned before rolling over and screaming into his pillow in a lust filled haze.

 

XXX

 

Nick sat and pouted at his oatmeal. The breakfast options at the hotel really were abysmal. He was going to need to find a decent place nearby if he was going to survive his second week in Iowa. No, Ohio. Fuck, Nick was never going to get them straight.

It was Sunday, and usually that was wonderful, but Nick didn’t have anyone to spend his day with. Again. After having weekends squandered on either travel or distance from friends for the past month or so, Nick was about to cry.

He needed cuddles. He needed compliments. He needed love. He definitely needed Pig.

Sighing sadly, he continued to stir the pink monstrosity that absolutely did not taste like strawberries and cream when his phone vibrated and scared him out of his pity party.

Fiona’s obnoxious nostrils filled his screen, thanks to an unfortunate photo he’d taken accidentally one weekend whilst drunk that had obviously been immediately set as her permanent contact photo.

Swiping across the screen, Nick cheered, “Fifi! You haven’t forgotten about me. I was so sure you had.”

“Arse,” Fiona chided, her voice fond. “Of course I haven’t forgotten you. Why would you think that?”

“Because I fear I’ve been away so long that everyone at home has forgotten me. Am I sounding American yet? I fear their accent is rubbing off on me.”

“Grim, you sound more northern than usual so you absolutely don’t sound American.” After a pause, Fiona asked, “Are you nervous about something? Usually your accent only gets that thick when you’re nervous or have been home.”

Nick scoured his brain. “Ehm, no. Not nervous about anything at the mo’. I haven’t even spoken with Eileen since Thursday. I’m about due to check in with her again, don’t you think?”

“If you wait any longer I’m afraid she’d start ringing you until you answer and she’s convinced you’re alive. Have you at least been texting her?”

“Obviously. Can’t go a day without texting Mum. I’ve also been trying to do better with updating my Insta so she can keep track of me there as well.” Thinking about Instagram made Nick think of the Louis Tomlinson selfie he’d eventually saved to his phone... which then of course made him think of his own Louis. “Oh, you know what though, I have been talking with Louis daily. He’s from Yorkshire, so maybe that’s why I’ve gone proper northern.”

“Louis?” Fiona said, her mouth full of something that had to be more delicious than the quickly cooling and congealing oatmeal in front of Nick. “Have you spoken of Louis before?”

“Couldn’t you at least bother to swallow whatever English goodness you’ve shoved in your mouth before speaking with me?” Nick sighed, more jealous than disgusted. “And yes, I’ve told you about Louis. He was the one who got my luggage from the airport. You remember that whole mixup, right? I know you and Rita were having a lark in Italy at the time, but it was rather big news.”

“Oh! His name was Louis. I don’t remember that detail, but okay. And you two have continued to talk since then?”

Nick spit out the trash these blasted Americans deemed food and took a large gulp of black coffee.

The coffee was burnt. That was it, Nick gave up. He was going to cut his losses and go find somewhere with real food before he accidentally poisoned himself.

“Yes, we talk pretty much every day on the phone and text in between. I really haven’t told you about him?” Nick was confused. He told Fiona everything. Had he really neglected to tell her about Louis, who felt like such a large part of his life these last few weeks?

“Love, we’ve not spoken much because we’ve both been so busy. I think it just got dropped somewhere. Anyway, you’re talking quite a bit, tell me more about him.”

Nick heard a slight slur in her voice he hadn’t detected before and gasped. “You’ve been day drinking without me!”

Fiona scoffed. “Yeah, it’s Sunday. Isn’t that what Sundays are for?”

“Hey, Grimmy! I love you!” Rita called from the background.

She continued yelling something unintelligible and Nick pouted as he made his way slowly back to the elevator. He missed being surrounded by people who loved him as much as he loved them.

“Hey, Rita. Oh! Have either of you heard from Collette recently? She went ghost on me and I’m not sure what that means.”

“You haven’t distracted me yet, Grimmy! I want to hear more about Louis.”

“Louis? Who’s Louis?” Rita yelled in the background. “Has Grimmy found a new boy? Put him on speaker.”

“I hate you guys,” Nick said. “I was just over here saying, ‘Wow, I really miss time with all of my girls,’ but I’m rethinking it all now. Pig is the only one deserving of my affection.”

“Griiiimmmm,” Fiona whined.

“Fifiiiiiiii,” Nick mocked. Sighing and rolling his eyes at himself, he relented. “There’s really not much to tell. I’m in love with a twenty-six year old songwriter whose luggage I accidentally took instead of my own. We talk entirely too much on the phone, he is going to post a song I’ve specifically requested on YouTube or wherever fancy songwriters put their music to be heard these days, and I’m doing my best not to plan our wedding in the country with a honeymoon in Ibiza, because the truth is I am saving myself for Louis Tomlinson. The end.”

“Why are you so sure things with luggage Louis aren’t going to work out?” Fiona asked. “If you’re talking every day on the phone and texting, it seems he’s interested as well. Especially with the song, thing.”

Rita gasped. “Oh my God! Is he straight?”

Nick snorted and then said, “When was the last time I fell for a straight man?”

“Louis Tomlinson,” Rita and Fiona said in unison.

“Shut up, he doesn’t count. He’s not a real person, he’s just a pop star I drool over on Instagram. I’m talking about an in-real-life straight man.”

“Okay, I don’t remember. But that doesn’t necessarily mean anything.” Rita said.

After a moment of silence, in which Nick picked up the TV remote to give his hands something to mess with, Fiona finally asked, “Okay, so he’s into men, wrote you a song, talks to you on the phone every day, and texts in between. I don’t understand the problem here.”

“The problem is he is twenty-six years old and already has the money to buy an entire luggage bag of designer shoes. I’m an old, poor, incredibly boring man compared to him. There’s no way he is interested in me and even if he is, the intrigue will wear off quickly when he finally realises how very not cool I am.”

Both of the girls cooed at him over the line and then Rita said, “Darling, do you want me to leave you my red stiletto boots for when you get home? I know how much dressing up helps you feel better. It’s a week away, but I’m more than willing to leave them in your wardrobe so Piggy can’t get to them if it’ll give you something to look forward to other than a young thing you probably don’t have a chance with.”

“You were just telling me you thought he liked me too!” Nick exclaimed. “How very fickle you are.”

Rita tutted. “Look at it this way. If in the next week it turns out that you two are equally taken with each other, then great. The boots are here to celebrate with. If not, then they’re here for consolation. Alright?”

“Yes, leave the boots.” Nick smiled at himself and got back off the bed he’d settled on upon reaching his room so he could grab his wallet and car keys. He really was incredibly hungry and in need of real food. “Thank you, loves.”

“Love you!” the two girls sang back at him, and he hung up.

 

XXX

 

Nick smiled at the ridiculous text Louis had sent him hours ago. They had continued their daily chats, which had devolved into hour long conversations when their schedules allowed, and regular texting, but he’d woken up to a message from Louis that morning that made the fizzing in his stomach go a little crazy in excitement.

Louis: Be ready for the most epic of all title promotions today

It had come accompanied with a ridiculous mix of emojis that rivaled even Nick’s skill. He couldn’t wait to hear the song when it was posted. The hour was still far too early, but Louis was in the same time zone Nick was for at least a few more hours before Nick’s plane took off. So close and yet so far.

Nick had replied as soon as he was up, but Louis hadn’t responded so he assumed the man had finally fallen asleep. Nick sat back in his chair at the small hole in the wall cafe he’d found that opened early enough to get him breakfast and out to the airport for his flight later that morning. They had the TVs around the room set to whatever morning show was popular here, and Nick was easily avoiding it. What did he care what the weather was like down in the Gulf or the Pacific-Northwest? He was only going to be in the country for another seven hours. As long as weather didn’t stop his plane in Columbus or New York City, he was fine.

He continued fiddling with his phone as he ate his eggs benedict until a voice he had become incredibly familiar with spoke up from behind him. Confused, Nick sat up and looked around to see if somehow Louis had magically found the exact cafe he was sat in despite saying he was hours away.

There wasn’t anyone other than the elderly woman who had waited on him earlier, but then he saw the voice matched up with a very familiar face on the screen.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah. Love New York. Always a pleasure being back here,” Louis Tomlinson said on the screen with the smirk Nick had wanked over ever since the shirtless photo had been posted.

Nick watched Louis Tomlinson continue to speak before his brain finally fully kicked into gear.

Oh God. Bloody hell. Nick’s Louis was actually Louis fucking Tomlinson.

Nick struggled to hear the next little bit, so he turned towards the waitress. “Can we turn the sound up, please?”

“Of course, honey,” she said as she quickly turned it up several notches.

“Now, this was a surprise song drop for you, is that right?”

Louis Tomlinson’s nose scrunched a little bit before a wide grin spread across his face. “Yeah, yeah. Love to keep my fans on their toes and I wanted to give them a thank you for being so patient and let them know the album is almost done. There’s actually going to be an announcement about the tour and album release dates coming in the next week or two.”

“Now, Louis,” the woman who had been quiet until now said. “This song is incredibly vulnerable. What gave you the courage or motivation to share it with the world? I can imagine there are a great number of songs you’ve written and recorded that never are released, so what made this the one you wanted to give your fans?”

Louis’ smile turned a little softer, and Nick thought it looked a little more genuine. “I never meant to let anyone hear it, honestly, because it’s exactly like you said. I’ll write and record five, six, seven times more music than I ever put onto the albums. But a friend of mine found the song and wouldn’t let me forget about it.” He took a deep breath before saying, “A lot of feelings that were hard for me to work through over the past several years were put into the song, so I didn’t think anyone else would be interested or able to identify, but he convinced me otherwise. So really, I owe it all to him and his support just as much as I do to the fans.”

Nick’s mouth dropped open. Louis Tomlinson couldn’t possibly be talking about him, could he?

They continued talking about Louis’ work on his album and how excited he was to have new music out there again, Louis’ plans for an upcoming tour, and of course there were five million commercials throughout, but Nick could hardly take any of it in.

Louis Tomlinson was Songwriter Friend Louis. Nick had been talking to Louis Tomlinson this entire time. He had some of his songs in progress saved to his laptop because he had accidentally taken Louis Tomlinson’s suitcase instead of his own from the airport.

Nick slapped his hands to his forehead and closed his eyes as he curled into himself in shame. He had told Louis about his own Instagram photo and how much it affected him! He had been telling Louis himself about that, and what kind of nightmare had he been living in without ever even realising it?

The embarrassment over the Instagram situation was what finally had him coming back to himself and texting Louis.

Nick: I cannot believe you are LOUIS FUCKING TOMLINSON! I’ve been talking to a celebrity this entire time and had no idea? I’m such an idiot!

Should he message Fiona and Rita as well? They really should know that Nick’s Louis and Louis Tomlinson were one and the same. He should also probably stop referring to Louis Tomlinson by his full name. Nick thumbed over to his group chat with the girls and immediately started texting.

Nick: YOU GUYS
Nick: GUYSSSSSSS
Nick: MY LOUIS AND LOUIS TOMLINSON ARE THE SAME PERSON
Nick: THE SAME FUCKING EPRSON
Nick: I CANT EVEN BELIEBE
Nick: DID YOU KNOW??? HAD UOU FIGURD IT OUT?? HOW DIDI NOT??!?!
Nick: IM FREAKING OUT HERE
Nick: I MELTD DOWN TK HIM ABOUT HIS OWN FICKING INSRA OOST THR OTHER DAY
Nick: GE DIDNT GIVE ANYTHING AWAY
Nick: HE MUST THJNK IM AN IDIOT AND OBVS NOT INTERESTED AT ALL RHERED NO CHANCE AT ALL PLEASE RITA HAVE UOUR BOOTS READY UPON MY RETURN CAUSE THEY AT LEAST LOVE ME THE WAY I DESERVE EVEN IF LOUIS TOMLINSON DOESNT

Nick was pulled out of his internal crisis and eternal shame when the opening chords to a song that was incredibly familiar began to play from the television.

“Oh my God,” Nick said as he whipped around to see if his eyes confirmed what he thought was happening.

Louis stood in front of the microphone, looking a bit nervous. Then again, maybe that’s just what he looked like when he performed. Nick might follow him religiously on Instagram and apparently had been talking to him daily the past few weeks, but he knew next to nothing about Louis’ actual career.

Nick’s heart began to race as the intro lead seamlessly into the first verse. Louis began to sing words that had just been whispered or hummed in the version Nick had listened to countlessly, and hearing Louis sing them, a little too quiet and mumbled to fully understand, but he seemed to find his footing right before the chorus when he sang, “ There’s no way you can change the rolling tide, but I know, yes I know that I’ll be fine.”

Louis suddenly came alive, moving around the stage and voice a bit thick with the emotion he was obviously feeling, but in Nick’s opinion he would never sound better than he did in that moment. When the song ended, Louis was panting but also looking pleased. His smile was so big it caused crinkles by his eyes, and though Nick hated seeing those by his own, on Louis they were incredibly charming. Disarming, even.

Then, the show was over and it was an entire table of women talking about something Nick definitely didn’t care about.

“Honey, are you still working on that? Would you like a box or anything?”

“Oh, ehm,” Nick looked down at his still mostly full plate. “I think I’m still working on it, actually, but I could use more coffee. Thank you.”

The food was now cold, but Nick ate as quickly as he could and soon enough was back at his hotel getting his bags to head to Columbus.

Nick had just turned in his room key and was headed back to the car when his phone began to buzz in his pocket. Pulling it out, he saw it was Louis and froze in the middle of the car park.

A car honked and brought him back to himself. Realising he should answer before it went to voicemail, he swiped his thumb across the screen and moved the rest of the way to his car.

“You are Louis fucking Tomlinson!” Nick practically screeched as he waved an apology at the angry man driving past. “How could you not tell me that?”

“Did you honestly not know?” Louis asked back, sounding surprised. “I thought you knew because of the luggage! And the constant travel. And the talk of songwriting. Maybe my voice when we talked on the phone and the songs you stole from my memory stick. What did it take to finally tip you off? My live interview on American telly?”

“Yeah, actually,” Nick snarked back as he grunted a little due to the effort it took him to get his bag in the trunk of his car. “I had a bit of a meltdown in the middle of a cafe over breakfast right in front of a very nice elderly woman named Mary Jo.”

“Shit,” Louis said. “But you told me about my Instagram photo! I thought you were flirting with me.”

“No,” Nick said forcefully. “Nope. Sure didn’t know I was talking to the person who posted that photo that has officially made me want to melt into the earth until I reach the molten core and burn in my shame eternally.”

“Fuck, people call me a drama queen, but you have me beat by a long shot. Now I know how my mum felt raising me.”

“Fuck off, I hate you,” Nick said, slamming the trunk and climbing into the passenger seat in frustration. “Damn it, I just got in the wrong side of the car because Americans hate me and you pissed me off and confused me so I forgot where I was.”

Louis started laughing hysterically. “Yep, it’s all my fault. Naturally. Just dedicated a song that outlines my own queer experience and performed it for the world because of you, but obviously it was all to piss you off.”

“Well, when you say it like that,” Nick said, still feeling confused. Louis had him all tied up in knots and lost as to where he stood and lost as to how to navigate it. He climbed into the actual driver’s side and turned on the car to get the aircon going. Ohio was a horrible place that was far too hot in October.

“So,” Louis said quietly. “Are you disappointed then?”

“What?” Nick asked, physically reeling back into the headrest. Louis sounded nervous, which made negative amounts of sense. “Why the bloody hell would I be disappointed by anything that has happened today?”

“I don’t know!” Louis cried, frustration in his tone. Nick was having a hard time keeping up with all of the emotions in this conversation. “Because I’m Louis fucking Tomlinson and not just some songwriter that does songs for other people or whatever the fuck you thought I did for work.”

“Of course I’m not disappointed that you’re who you are! If anything I’m feeling even more stupid for falling for you now than I already did before!” It processed what he’d said right after he finished saying it. He leaned his head forward and only just missed hitting his forehead on the horn. “Shit. Buggering fucking hell. Can you pretend I didn’t say that?”

“You...What does that mean? That you fell for me?” Louis asked, his voice going high. “You better bleeding tell me right this fucking instant what that means so I don’t get my hopes up only to learn you meant something completely different, Nicholas Grimshaw!”

“What do you think it means? I might be in love with you, okay? God, I hate you so much right now.”

Nick’s cheeks, ears, and neck all burned from embarrassment. What the hell was this day? At least he would be cut off from the world for something like twelve hours as he made his way home.

“I can deal with your fake hate if there’s also some love in there, I think,” Louis said softly. “Because I think I love you and your ridiculous self too.”

“You can’t be serious,” Nick said. “Don’t just say it because I said it! We’re still working on what exactly is covered in your title promotion!” Nick’s brain was just floating about in his head right about now, he was quite sure. Because it sure wasn’t connected to his mouth anymore. The disconnect had to have happened while he was still at the cafe earlier.

“Well, what is my title promotion exactly? I was kinda gunning for boyfriend, if I’m being honest.”

“I...you what?” Nick screeched. “Okay, don’t get me wrong, that is not an idea I am against, but Louis. Lou. This is a lot to throw at me over the course of an hour or whatever. And if I don’t leave for the airport soon, I’m going to miss my flight. I promise I’ll text when I get there, but driving on the wrong side of the road is hard enough while following the SatNav. I don’t want to add this to it, okay? It’s just a lot and I need to process it all. Okay?”

“Okay,” Louis said quietly. “That makes sense. But before you go, can you at least tell me what you thought about the song?”

Nick sighed and couldn’t help but smile. Even with all the other information overloading him right now, the song he was sure about.

“It was perfect, love. Exactly what I had hoped it would be.”

“Good,” Louis said, sounding happy for the first time since Nick had answered the phone. “Okay. Drive safe. Let me know when you’re at the gate and able to talk.”

They rang off and Nick allowed himself a few minutes of silence before he pulled up the directions and started driving.

 

XXX

 

Nick decided after half an hour of texting with Louis that their conversations seemed to hold to the topics necessary for discussion better than when they were actually speaking to each other. He usually found the opposite - text conversations took out the tone in people’s voices and made it so much more difficult to understand their intentions - but with Louis, it helped them focus a little more on what was at hand.

It also allowed him to field the insane number of messages he was finally getting from Rita and Fiona. Not that he was giving them too much information, just yet. He was still working it out with Louis, but he kept them up to date as best he could in between the messages he was sending with Louis.

Louis: I’m just baffled you truly didn’t know who I was. Why didn’t you ask?

Nick smirked at his phone.

Nick: Ask what? If you were Louis Tomlinson? Yeah, cause every time I accidentally switch luggage with some poor sod whose name is Louis I automatically assume it’s the pop star.

Nick pursed his lips and quickly added one more message before plugging his phone into the charger.

Nick: I also never would have asked for a song like that to be released in such a public way if I’d known

Louis answered quickly, which Nick was glad for. He hated waiting for texts, especially when he only had another fifteen minutes or so before boarding.

Louis: It was the push I needed, I think. To finally get some songs put out there that are even more personal than I’d already been releasing.
Louis: It was scary as fuck performing it today, but after it also like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. I’ve never publicly stated my sexual orientation, but as with most things, people assume I’m straight
Louis: This is hopefully the first step to people finally realising I’m not

Nick stared at the text and was trying to figure out how to talk about the last subject they hadn’t gotten to yet. They’d talked about Nick’s meltdown at the cafe, the song itself, Louis’ process preparing it for release, Nick’s flight schedule for the day, and any number of other random topics, but they still hadn’t discussed them.

Taking a deep breath, Nick started typing.

Nick: I’m so proud of you and still can’t believe you mentioned me
Nick: But I actually wanna talk about something before I take off and I need you to understand something
Nick: I’m not good at this
Nick: Like, in general. My past boyfriends never lasted very long because I always messed it up
Nick: I’m especially bad at talking about important things and feelings, but instead of just ignoring it right now, I wanna talk about something you said earlier

WhatsApp immediately marked his messages as read and Louis started sending rapid fire texts back.

Louis: Ooh, about how we love each other?
Louis: About whether we might possibly be able to date?
Louis: Maybe even be boyfriends?
Louis: How I did the song during the interview because of you?

Nick barely held in a frustrated groan and looked around to be sure none of the other passengers waiting at the gate were looking at him.

Nick: You’re so annoying, but yes. All of them, I guess, but mostly the boyfriends thing

Nick tried to wait patiently, but Louis was typing for quite a long time and not sending anything. He was getting twitchy and starting to thumb through his Instagram again when finally a message came through.

Louis: Okay, look. I’m just going to lay it all out there because I figure I don’t have anything to lose at this point anyway. I’m not really good at this either. I’ve never even had a serious boyfriend, just a few lads who we kind of dated back in sixth form is all. It was mostly because while still mostly being in the closet, I just never met anyone who made me want to deal with all the shit that came with dating while closeted, and now here we are and we haven’t even met yet and I’m still wanting to give it a try. I’m also notoriously good at avoiding the hard things until I can’t anymore and blowing up or just caving into myself. All of this is painting a really exciting picture of what you have to look forward to if you decide giving me a chance is something you’re interested in, right? But yeah. I already actually said it out loud earlier and for some reason it feels bigger now that I’m typing it, but I’m pretty sure I’ve fallen in love with you and your ridiculous Instagram stories and only halfway coherent text messages, so I think we should try dating. We’re basically already doing it anyway, I think, but the label and clear communication and understanding of exclusivity on this point at least would be nice should you decide it’s all worth it. And now, I’ve gotta do another interview so I’ll answer while you’re probably on the plane. Be safe, text me when you land in New York, and maybe we can actually talk once you’re home.

Nick read and reread the message. It was a lot, especially all at once, but he wanted to make absolutely sure he didn’t miss anything. The boarding call went out and Nick was in the back of the plane, so immediately after first class, he walked on and got settled. At least he had a window seat.

He pulled his phone out before buckling his seatbelt and read the message one more time. His mind began whirling in an infinite number of daydreams until the announcement that the cabin door was closing and all electronic devices needed to be placed on airplane mode was made. Nick quickly typed out a short answer and switched off his data before relaxing in his seat and allowing himself to close his eyes and succumb to the daydreams he’d been so tempted to fall into since Louis sang that morning.

Nick: Okay.

 

XXX

 

“Nicholas, I swear to God, if you don’t get yourself down to the car in the next five minutes you can fucking walk yourself! I am not going to deal with my mum’s wrath on me on my own birthday because of you!”

Nick rolled his eyes and shouted back, “Oh sod off! I’m making sure I’ve got all the bloody gifts for your fucking huge family, alright?”

He wasn’t. He was making sure the ring was right where it should be in its box in his blazer pocket. Jay had decided that she would give them the excuse of dressing up for a posh dinner by insisting it might be a new tradition. Nick appreciated the effort, it would look well nice with the photographer he had arranged to meet them at the gazebo where he and Louis had finally shared their first kiss later that night. It didn’t make him any less nervous, though.

Closing his eyes, Nick took a deep breath then finally took action gathering the bags of gifts and heading downstairs.

“Be sure to grab your puffer. It’s actually cold enough that there’s rumors the rain might turn to snow later, though I’ll believe it when I see it,” Louis said absent-mindedly from where he’d been waiting by the front door.

“Sure thing, Old Man,” Nick said with a wink.

“I hate you, I’m leaving you for someone who appreciates my youth still,” Louis said, flatly, finally looking up from his phone. “I’ve just turned thirty, which is well better than your horrendous thirty-eight, but I’m still having a rough go of it, so I’d appreciate you kindly fucking off.”

“Okay, well, if you’re finally ready to go then let’s get this show on the road. I’ve only been waiting for you to be ready for the past thirty minutes at least. Come on! Let’s go!”

Louis squawked as Nick’s bustling him out the door got him jabbed by a few of the boxes in his arms.

“I can’t believe how you mistreat me,” Louis grumbled as he locked up. “I’m finding me a sugar daddy who treats me better.”

“What do you need a sugar daddy for?” Nick quipped. He waited while Louis popped the trunk and opened it for him to deposit the gifts before continuing. “Your net worth is well into the millions. Maybe you should consider taking on the role of sugar daddy for your next relationship since you’re so bored of ours.”

Louis leaned in and gave Nick a soft kiss. “Yes. Perhaps I should.”

Nick smiled and leaned in for one more kiss. He didn’t get butterflies every time they touched anymore, that had worn off years ago, but he always felt calm. A sense that everything was just as it should be spreading throughout him. This time was no different.

“I love you,” Nick whispered as he studied Louis’ face.

Louis smiled so wide his eyes crinkled. “I love you too.”