Louis looked at the sky and watched the lightning create a web as it flashed through the clouds. It had been ages since he’d seen a storm like this in person. Since the last time he’d been home.
“Hey! Come here, you big bully!”
Louis turned to see who might be running around on the beach in the middle of a storm and was surprised to see a miniature version of himself jetting past him. He couldn’t have been more than eight or nine.
“I’m not a bully,” young Louis yelled over his shoulder.
Turning further to see who Louis was talking to, Louis saw a young Harry running to the beach as well before tackling young Louis, as if Louis himself wasn’t standing right in front of them.
Louis laughed as they rolled around on the beach, play fighting like they always used to. He’d forgotten how their moms used to let them come to the beach and play, even in the midst of storms. They loved watching the clouds roll in. Once the storm was raging, they’d go see if they could find the point where lightning struck the sand. That had always been one of Louis’ favorite parts of summer growing up.
Eventually, young Louis and Harry stopped wrestling and soon enough Harry started wandering away to look at something like he often did. Louis was the one who had a reputation for not being able to focus, but the truth was that Harry was just as easily distracted.
“Hey, get back here!” young Louis yelled.
Christ. Had his southern drawl always been that pronounced? The fact Louis noticed it at all hopefully meant he’d lost most of it from being in New York City as long as he had.
Young Harry turned around and ambled back towards Louis. Once he was closer, Louis tilted his head and said, “Harry Styles, I want you to marry me.”
Harry smiled, his nose scrunching a little before asking, “What for?”
“Oh God,” Louis groaned, knowing exactly what was coming next. Now he knew why this scene was so familiar. Why was he even dreaming about this?
“So I can kiss you anytime I want.”
As young Louis leaned in with his eyes closed to kiss young Harry, Louis watched on and dozens of other Harry and Louis pairings at different ages started showing up all over the beach. In every single pairing, no matter the age, Louis said the same thing over and over and over again.
“So I can kiss you anytime I want.”
“Louis, come on. You’ve gotta wake up, honey.”
Louis jolted awake and realized he’d fallen asleep on his workbench. Again. He’d been pushing himself so hard the last few days to make sure that he finished all of his work in preparation for Charles’ next big fashion show before he had to fly down to Alabama, he’d barely been sleeping. That was obviously catching up to him now.
“Oh my word,” Louis groaned as he rubbed his face. “Do I have sequins plastered to my face again?”
“No, you rested your head on the papers this time,” Bebe said, smiling softly.
Louis looked at the time and cursed. “I’ve gotta go!” As he was scrambling about his workspace gathering his coat, bag, phone, and keys, he heard some hollering from the other side of the room.
“Who knew Louis’ accent could be so strong?” John called teasingly. “Can take the boy out of the honky tonk, but can’t take the honky tonk out of the boy!”
Louis spun around to look at him. “Did I talk in my sleep too?” Based on the sheer number of smirks he knew he had. “What did I say?”
Bebe gave him a knowing smile and said, “We’re all just wondering who the mysterious Harry is,” as she walked away.
Louis pasted on a smile and finished gathering his things. “No one you need to concern yourselves with,” he said as teasingly as possible. “He’s just someone from my past that I have to talk with while I’m home. I’ll see all of you in a week! Have a good show!”
Dodging mannequins, models getting fitted, and interns, Louis made his way out of the building and onto the cold streets of New York.
He didn’t care that technically it was late April. This far north it never got truly warm until June, maybe July, and no one would ever be able to convince him otherwise.
After a long ride home, Louis was ready to grab his bags and leave the city behind for a few days. He just wished it was for somewhere exotic like Jamaica rather than Alderford, Alabama. He hadn’t returned in the six years since he’d left and he had hoped to possibly keep it that way for much longer, but - thanks to a stubborn asshole who wanted to cause Louis as much pain as possible - that wasn’t going to be able to happen.
Double checking his bags to make sure he had everything he could possibly need for his trip, Louis was startled when his phone began to ring. Picking it up, he saw a selfie he had taken last Christmas with Patrick and smiled.
“Hi, Patrick,” Louis sang into the phone.
He’d tried so hard to get into pet names, but so many had such strong associations with him and Louis’ previous life that he couldn’t bring himself to do so. Eventually he’d convinced his boyfriend it was just because he had an aversion to them, but he knew someday he would have to explain it all. He’d just rather have it all wrapped up when that time came. And, until then, Louis would continue feeling strangely distant from the man he had grown so close to over the past few years.
“Hey, Lou,” Patrick said happily. Louis could hear his smile. He liked that about Patrick. He wasn’t complicated and he was always completely clear in how he felt and what he meant. Louis needed that in his life. “You haven’t left yet, have you?”
“Not yet,” Louis grunted as he struggled to sit on his bag in order to get it closed. These were definitely going over weight limit, but Louis would happily pay the price if it meant he didn’t have to leave any of his necessities behind. “I’m just getting my bags zipped up so I can catch the bus.”
“Perfect,” Patrick said as a knock was heard both through the phone and Louis’ apartment. “I’m here to pick you up.”
Louis dropped the phone to his bed and rushed across the room to open the door. Finding Patrick, he jumped into his arms and gave him a ridiculous kiss that he knew Patrick would complain about. There was something wonderfully fun about messing up his perfect hair and perfect clothes with a little of Louis’ frivolity.
“Thank you so much for thinking of me,” Louis said with a big grin before he finally lowered himself back to the ground.
“You’re a menace,” Patrick said, running his hands over his suit to straighten it back out again. “Where are these bags of yours?”
Louis gestured towards his bed, then threw his jacket back on and checked for the twentieth time that he had everything.
“Okay, let’s go.”
“So, are you excited about finally getting back home and seeing your family?” Patrick asked once they were settled in the Uber. “You haven’t talked much about the trip, but I know how long it’s been since you’ve gone home. You have big plans with your folks or anything?”
Louis gave Patrick a tight smile and looked out the window. Hopefully it wouldn’t be more than a couple of days before he’d be back with everything he needed to finally start completely fresh.
“Yeah,” Louis muttered. “Something like that.”
Louis took a deep breath of the fresh air coming in through the car window. He’d forgotten how it even smelled different down here. Out of everything, the smell might be what he missed the very most.
The entire town of Alderford hadn’t changed at all since he left. It had been six years and everything looked exactly the same. How was that possible? Louis felt like everything had changed in those six years. He was an entirely different person with different hopes and dreams and Alderford was just here. Going on in the same day to day that it always had. Some people may find that comforting, but Louis felt stifled.
The tight feeling that was all too familiar to him returned and settled in the same place it had resided before, all those years ago. Right before he’d left. And that was when the full weight of why he was there settled in that same place, just below his heart and right above his stomach; a discomfort that just sat there, making its presence known.
Louis turned off the main drag and took the fancy rental down the unpaved road he used to love. It felt ridiculous how attached he had been to the long road that lead to the private drive in the woods. It had made the little plot of cleared land feel like it was entirely hidden from the rest of the world. A little haven just for him. For them.
But that was before. Now, Louis just felt stupid. Stupid, hurt, and embarrassed. They had been young and inexperienced and things happened too fast and got too far out of control and Louis hadn’t ever even told him before it all fell apart.
Shaking his head, Louis felt ridiculous. All these years and if he could avoid it he still didn’t like saying his name out loud. It dredged up too many memories Louis would rather forget, but he supposed it was something he would have to get over since he’d be seeing the man, Harry, in a matter of moments.
Louis pulled up in front of the house that used to be his dream and was relieved to see Harry’s truck parked in the same spot he put it back when they were eighteen and had just bought the place. The same spot where he’d parked it when they first found it when they were sixteen and decided this was going to be their home.
Truly. Nothing changed.
Louis climbed out of the car and hadn’t even gotten the papers out of his bag before Harry was already on the front porch. Louis had wondered if after all these years he might feel a small twinge of what used to be or if he’d officially grown past it. He was somewhat pleased to note that all he felt for Harry, at least at the moment, was annoyance. Annoyance that he couldn’t just do as Louis’ lawyer had so kindly requested. Annoyance that his antics had brought Louis to making a visit himself in order to tie up loose ends.
Well, tie up his loose end. Singular. The only loose end he really had left at this point was Harry.
“My eyes must be deceiving me,” he said in his slow drawl. His voice was deeper than Louis remembered. Maybe some things had changed after all.
“They aren’t deceiving you. I’m here because I need you to finally sign these papers,” Louis said before he dropped the stack of papers on the hood of the car and held out a pen to Harry. “Just do it, Harry. Get it over with and then I’ll be out of your life forever, alright?”
Face blank of all emotion outside of a sneer Harry said, “You’ve gotta be shitting me.”
“God,” Louis groaned. Harry just couldn’t let this be easy. His pride wouldn’t allow it. “You know, I never really understood that phrase, but no. I am not ‘shitting’ you. Just sign the damn papers.”
“Ya know, I don’t think I will,” Harry said before turning back to the front door.
Only then did Louis notice he was covered in grease, like he’d spent the afternoon helping Liam in the shop. Maybe he had. Harry had always wanted to do something more artistic, but it would make sense for him to have to settle for the status quo. Besides, he always had been good with his hands. The car repair shop would be a good line of work for him.
When the screen door slammed behind Harry, Louis realized he didn’t plan to come back and finish the conversation.
“Wait,” Louis said. “You get back out here, you dickhead! I need your signature on these three little lines and then I’ll be out of your hair.”
“You always did like my hair,” Harry shouted back. “You know, what gets me most is I don’t get any kind of hello from you. No ‘Hey, honey! Nice to see ya after six years!’ or ‘Damn, H. You’re lookin’ mighty good,’ or ‘Loving husband, how have you been doing all these years?’”
Louis was glaring at Harry through the mesh of the old screen door that also looked like it hadn’t been fixed up since he had left.
“The fact you are still my husband is exactly why I’m here, and you fucking know it,” Louis spat at him. “Not sure why you were expecting some loving reunion when I know my lawyer had the address right when he sent the divorce papers the first five times.”
Harry shrugged then headed towards the kitchen. “Maybe I didn’t want to be divorced.”
“Why the fuck not?” Louis asked, exasperated. “If my husband had left me with no contact for over four years then suddenly served me papers, I’d sign them in a heartbeat.”
“Guess that’s the difference between you and me then,” Harry said.
Louis waited for more than that, but it didn’t come. Out of frustration, he tried the door to actually walk into the house that was filled to the brim with memories, but it wouldn’t give.
Harry had actually locked him out.
Kicking at the door, Louis found it didn’t move much and was reluctantly impressed. Harry must have made improvements to the door that Louis wasn’t able to see. It used to rattle up a storm to the point where Louis was sure it would blow right off its hinges with the least provocation.
When Harry finally did speak again, his tone was icy and intended to hurt Louis. “Some people do the leaving and wanna move on and then others do the staying and wanna hold on. Maybe you should do what you’re so good at and get going again.”
“I’ll be back, Harry Styles,” Louis growled after Harry, as he made his way upstairs without paying Louis any attention at all. “I’m not leaving town until we’re officially divorced!”
“That’s Harry Styles-Tomlinson,” Harry yelled down the stairs. “And you better get settled then. You’re gonna be here awhile.”
Louis shoved the first of three sets of papers he had brought down with him through the mail slot that for some reason still existed on the ancient screen door and turned back to his car.
Taking the full brunt of his anger out on the rental, Louis knew he was kicking up stones from the gravel driveway as he left. He imagined some of it damaging Harry’s truck, and that was the only thing to get him to smile again.
Sunglasses back on and hoping no one recognized him with his new hairstyle and fancy car, Louis kept his eyes on the road as he made his way back to the two stop lights in the center of town that made up the main street before he turned off the lane towards the two houses he knew better than any other. They were just over the hill from the beach, and Louis was apprehensive about both.
One perhaps just a touch more than the other.
Looking at the house to his right, Louis imagined he would get a similar reception from Harry’s mum and Robin. He would definitely be keeping away from their house if he could help it. His mum and grandpa, however, should be expecting him and were probably worried he hadn’t shown up until now since he’d initially told them to expect him at lunch time and it was closer to supper now.
Louis grabbed his bags and began to cart them up to the front door. The house used to seem so big to him as a kid, but after living in New York it felt miniscule. It was a ranch style two bedroom and, growing up, Louis’ bedroom had also been the living room. He hadn’t realized that was unusual until he was a teenager, but by then he spent more nights with Harry than he did at home and it hadn’t mattered.
Sleeping on the couch would just give him more motivation to get Harry to sign the papers so he could leave, finally free.
Louis tried the door and found it unlocked, just like it always was around here. He both loved and hated the fact that people were so trusting that no one bothered locking their doors.
“Hey, Mama,” Louis called out before he wrangled his bags inside. “You home?”
“Louis?” Jay came walking out of her bedroom, cordless phone pressed between her ear and shoulder. Louis had no idea people still kept their landlines these days, but he supposed some people found it harder to move on than others. “Anne, honey, I’ve gotta go. Apparently Louis has come to visit!”
“Shit, Mama,” Louis groaned, dropping his things behind the couch. “Did you really have to let her know I’m in town?”
“Oh, hush. You know she’d have found out within half an hour anyway. I’m sure the entire town saw you driving through and are spreading the news as we speak.”
Jay walked up to Louis and wrapped him in a warm hug. As they rocked back and forth she said, “Now, to what do we owe this surprise?”
“I’ve had this trip planned for months,” Louis said, confused. He pulled back from his mom’s embrace and found her waving her hands.
“Oh you always say you’re coming and it never happens.” Jay turned around and headed towards the kitchen where it smelled like she was making gumbo. “I thought you were just trying to keep me from asking again.”
“No, I emailed you all the details. It’s been set in stone for ages now,” Louis said, following her. “Didn’t you see?”
“Oh, honey, I got locked out of my email probably a year ago,” Jay said, smiling into the big pot simmering on the stove. “I’ve not been able to check it for a long time, but I’ll be honest. I don’t really miss it. Good thing you came tonight! I always make plenty of gumbo, so there will be no problem filling that belly of yours.”
“Mom,” Louis whined, swatting Jay’s hand away. Last time he’d been here he’d been eating her out of house and home, never able to feel full, even with everything Harry fed him.
Things were different now. Louis’ hand ghosted against his tummy and reminded himself of the extra workouts he had done to keep the little pooch of belly that always congregated on his lower tummy away. Another thing Harry used to love that Louis was determined to rid himself of as soon as he left. There were so many, Louis wasn’t ready to be reminded of them all, but he needed to prepare himself. As Harry said, Louis was going to be staying awhile and he was determined to not head back to New York without the papers signed and in place.
“Well, what are your plans while you’re here? Pappy would love it if you went to see him at the museum.”
“Is he still doing that?” Louis asked before flopping himself down on the couch. It was lumpy and smaller than he remembered, but he supposed it would have to do.
“Oh, he sure is! You know how proud he is of our town history,” Jay called.
Louis hummed. “Maybe I’ll try to go tomorrow before I head back to Harry’s.”
“I should have known you’d stop by Harry’s before coming home,” Jay tutted. “How did that go?”
“Horribly, as expected,” Louis complained. “He won’t just sign the divorce papers and let us both move on with our lives. I don’t get it.”
“Oh, baby. Of course you don’t.”
Louis sat up and accepted the hot bowl of gumbo his mom was holding out for him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jay shot him a look before sitting down in his grandpa’s favorite chair and turning the volume for Wheel of Fortune up. “If you don’t know yet, you will soon enough.”
“I hate when you talk in code.” Louis pouted into his gumbo before he took a bite. “Oh my God, I’ve missed your cooking, Mama. No one makes food like this in the city.”
Jay preened from her seat. “Of course they don’t. Well are you going to go out with the boys tonight? You know it’s Tuesday which means-”
“Party at Bill’s,” Louis filled in for his mom with a smile. “They still do that?”
Jay hummed until she’d swallowed her bite and said, “Every week. You should go! See everyone you left behind here and prove you’ve not forgotten them.”
“Of course I didn’t forget them,” Louis argued. “I was only trying to forget one person, really.”
“And how did that go?” Jay asked.
Louis didn’t answer and chose to dig into his gumbo instead.
“I swear, people should need a passport to come down here,” Louis said to himself as he looked around the parking lot.
It truly felt like he was in a different world. Everything referred to shrimp or fishing or plantations. It had never felt like anything strange before he’d left, but coming back after so long Louis definitely felt awkward looking at it all. People wondered why he refused to tell them where he was from or give them any personal history. This was why.
Louis stood in front of Bill’s Crab Shack. It was actually more of a bar than a food joint these days and they hadn’t even served any seafood since an unfortunate incident that happened probably thirty years ago, but that was Bill’s.
He needed to go in, but he was a bit worried how everyone would take seeing him again. How he himself would handle seeing all of them again. He’d left without any warning to anyone and cut them all off equally, and it was done for reasons that didn’t feel like much more than excuses when confronted with them again. It wasn’t just Harry he had left behind, but Louis hadn’t really considered any of that until now. He’d hoped he wouldn’t even have to, but it was obvious now that he’d been stupid thinking that way.
Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath, Louis forced himself to walk through the doors.
The lighting was dim, and Louis hadn’t made it very far before he heard someone calling his name.
Turning to his right, Louis saw one of his best friends from growing up, Niall, rounding a pool table and rushing up to him.
“Oh my stars, it is you!” he cried before wrapping his arm around Louis’ shoulders and pulling him in tight. “Look at you, all fancy and back in Alderford!”
“And look at you,” Louis said, eyes widening when he realized Niall’s other arm was holding a child on his hip. “You’ve got a baby! In a bar!”
“Oh, yeah,” Niall said, looking pleased to have a reason to talk about his child. “Just had this one last fall, so he’s still on the teats. I love it when they’re little like this, cause I can just cart them everywhere!”
Blinking in surprise, Louis asked, “You’ve got more?” It sounded like Niall was speaking from experience, but Louis could have been mistaken.
“Oh, sure,” he said, smiling wide. “Shawn and I got together a few months after you left and after an oopsie, we got married and have been popping kids out ever since! This one’s number four. Turns out I’m real fertile, which is great news since you know we were worried about that with my unusual cycles in high school and all.”
Eyes wide at how open Niall was being with him, even after all this time, Louis nodded. He did remember Niall languishing for weeks at a time over the fact that Louis was as regular as the sun rising each morning and Niall was lucky to have two cycles a year. It was amazing the things he could remember when prompted. He hadn’t thought about that since...well. Probably not since high school.
“That’s… great, Niall. I’m happy for you,” Louis finally settled on, and Niall just pulled him in for another hug.
“Thanks, Louis. It really is great to hear that from you. We’ve missed you around here, you know?”
Louis just gave an apologetic smile and hoped that would suffice for now.
Niall turned around to face the room, which only then Louis realized was silent and staring at him. He gave an awkward wave and Niall shouted, “The prodigal son returns! Look at our famous Louis, back from taking the fashion world by storm to pay attention to the little people.”
Louis looked at Niall in surprise. “How’d you know I was doing fashion?”
“Oh come on, Louis,” Niall said rolling his eyes. “We might live in a small town, but we do have the internet. You’re not that good at hiding.”
Louis blushed. Since no one had tried to reach out or anything after he changed his phone number and started a new Facebook account, he’d just assumed no one had found him. Maybe they were just respecting the fact he didn’t want to be found. He’d never considered that option before.
When Louis turned away from Niall, he saw almost everyone he used to spend all his time with growing up standing by, waiting to say hi. Bill was even at the bar, lining up shots for everyone in celebration, Zayn and Liam ready and waiting to help distribute them. Louis hugged and said hello to each of them one by one, remembering why he’d always loved the people of the town, even when it had started to feel like too much. When it had all become too much. The people always had been the best part.
Shot by shot happened, and Louis found himself clinging to Zayn, Liam, and Niall, just like he always had. They played pool and - again, just like the old days - Louis beat all of them easily. Pool had been his and Harry’s thing. They’d never once lost a pool tournament in town. Being totally smashed for the first time since he was eighteen wasn’t going to change that.
“Do you realize this is the first time I’ve ever been legally drunk with you guys?” Louis asked, giggling as he made his way around the pool table before. “God, the shit we used to get up to when we were young. I can’t believe I somehow got out of here alive.”
Once he started talking like that, Louis felt like the floodgates had opened.
“I mean, how do you guys do it? Staying here?” Louis kept laughing, even though now he wasn’t even sure why. What he was saying certainly wasn’t funny. It felt like a weight was being lifted as he said all the things he’d been thinking for so long.
Waving around the pool cue, Louis opened his arms and practically cried out, “The expectations! The fact nothing changes. Nobody moves on and everyone does exactly what they grew up knowing they would do. Doesn’t that just kill you?”
“Louis, you’ve had enough,” Zayn said, trying to hold on to Louis’ arm to keep him standing and instead making him trip.
Ripping his arm away, Louis scrunched up his nose. “I wasn’t even going to drink anymore. I was just gonna finish what I had,” Louis slurred, but when he looked down in his glass, he realized his whiskey was gone. Well, shit.
“I’ll take that, thanks,” Liam said, taking their glasses back to Bill while Zayn got an even tighter grip on Louis’ bicep than he had before.
“You’re all party poopers,” Louis said, poking Zayn in the chest and giggling again. “Do you ever do anything for fun other than hanging out at the same place every week that we used to from the time we were fourteen? I mean, there’s a great big world out there!”
Louis broke away from Zayn and tried to spin, but he ran into the pool table. How stupid was that? Nothing in this place had changed for as long as Louis had been alive and suddenly a pool table moved.
“Alright, I’ve got him from here. Thanks, guys.”
Louis’ head turned so fast when he heard that voice he got dizzy and fell against the moved pool table again.
“Harry? What are you doing here?” Louis asked, infusing as much disgust at Harry’s presence as he could. He’d been worried Harry would show up at some point, and now here he was, claiming he was going to be taking care of Louis. Yeah, right. Over Louis’ dead body.
“Yeah, well, at this rate it might be over your dead body,” Harry said before he looped his arm around Louis’ waist.
“Unhand me!” Louis cried, slapping at Harry and trying to get out of his arms. “I can walk on my own.”
“Sure you can,” Harry said, and Louis started to crumple as soon as Harry unexpectedly removed his arm.
“I wasn’t ready,” Louis argued as Harry moved back into place before he unexpectedly picked Louis up, bridal style. “I hate you,” he mumbled as he tucked his head into Harry’s neck.
“I know you do,” Harry said with a sigh.
Even with Harry’s arm around his waist, Louis felt like he was floating. Floating and surrounded by warmth and Old Spice aftershave.
“This is a bumpy ride for floating away,” Louis muttered as his head lolled to the side and hit a shoulder. “Oh, it’s bumpy cause I’m not floating.”
“I wish you were,” Harry said, and feeling his voice buzz through his chest and into Louis’ side made him giggle. “But you always were lighter than your fighting words made people believe, so at least there’s that.”
“Are you calling me a lightweight?” Louis asked, indignant. He could hold his liquor incredibly well, thank you.
“Not in the way you mean it, though that applies too,” Harry said, shifting Louis around a little. A street light shone in Louis’ eyes making him hide his face in Harry’s chest.
“When did we get outside? Why won’t you put me down?”
“I’m taking you home to Jay,” Harry said, and Louis immediately began kicking and thrashing in Harry’s arms.
“You are not! Let me go this instant, Harry Edward! My mama will not be seeing me like this!”
Harry grunted and cursed before getting a better handle on Louis. Louis found himself slung over Harry’s shoulder, a view of his tiny little bum in front of him as Harry said, “You fucking almost hit me in the eye! God, you’re a screeching monkey sometimes, you know that?”
Louis heard a door creak open and suddenly he was on the bench seat in Harry’s truck.
“If you’re gonna puke, you better do it out the window,” Harry lectured before shutting the door.
Louis noted the window was already rolled down and everything. Harry obviously underestimated what his body could handle.
“Now buckle up, you fucking princess. You’re going home because there’s nowhere else for you to go at two am on a Wednesday.”
Folding his arms across his chest, Louis slumped against the door and slid as far away from Harry as possible.
“I didn’t need you to save me, you know,” he said, petulantly.
Harry heaved a sigh before putting the truck in gear. “Yeah. I know. You don’t need me for anything.”
“Damn right,” Louis mumbled, just before falling into a deep sleep.
Louis had a pounding headache when he woke up the next morning. He thought he remembered his mama thanking Harry for keeping him safe, but hopefully that was a dream and not what actually happened. His mama had sounded sad. Disappointed. Louis hated being the one that caused her to sound like that.
Sitting up slowly and putting a hand to his forehead, Louis saw a glass of water and an Advil waiting for him on the coffee table.
“Thank fuck,” Louis whispered, wincing as soon as he did. His throat hurt almost as bad as his head did. What had he done to himself last night?
“Oh good, you’re awake,” Jay said, poking her head around the corner from the kitchen.
Louis dribbled some water down his front in surprise and only then did he look at himself. He was still wearing the shirt he’d designed himself a few weeks ago and his tightest jeans from last night. Damn.
“Get yourself cleaned up, you smell like a frat house the day after a party. Then come in here and help me make and can my jam.”
“Mama,” Louis whined. “I’m not really-”
“You do as I say, Louis William, or I will make you regret it.”
Pouting, Louis said a soft, “Yes, ma’am,” then slowly grabbed his shower caddy out of his bag as well as some fresh clothes and made his way to the bathroom. Just as he was almost there, his stomach began to revolt and he rushed the rest of the way. Having emptied the remains of his stomach, he felt worlds better and like he could shower without wanting to die.
When he finally emerged from the bathroom, it was already past noon. He’d had so many plans for the day, and here he was, having slept so much time away. Hopefully after helping Jay with the jam there would still be time to see his grandpa and start taking action with his plans regarding Harry.
“Now that you’re clean and coherent, come in here,” Jay commanded, and Louis would have been stupid not to obey. If there was anything a southern child learned, it was to obey their mama or reap the consequences.
Turning the corner into the kitchen, Louis saw Jay holding out an apron and a plate with a sandwich on it. He accepted both and sat down with the prepped mason jars at the island while she went back to stirring the jam on the stove.
“So I hear you had quite a time last night.”
Louis slowly considered his response as he chewed the bite he’d just taken of the sandwich. “You could say that.”
Jay sighed before she started talking. “Listen. I know you wanted to put your past behind you and move on, but there’s a difference between moving on and trampling everyone in your hurry to leave it all behind.”
“I know that, Mama, but…” Louis drifted off.
“But what?” Jay prodded. She never did let him get off easy with the hard stuff. “Baby, you left and we accepted that. I was just happy you would keep in contact with me once in awhile since no one else heard from you at all. But you coming back into town and just throwing insults in your friends’ faces after they greeted you with smiles and love? That’s not right. I raised you well enough to be sure you know that’s not right. You hurt everyone when you left without a word, and instead of apologizing you came back and hurt them more.”
Louis swallowed harshly, the bread from the sandwich suddenly feeling far more dry than it had before. He’d been hurting so badly himself when he left, he hadn’t been able to think past the fact he needed to get away. He’d known it was selfish, but he had to leave. If he was going to be able to get past everything, he had to feel like he could breathe. Breathing had become more and more difficult in this small town.
He’d not considered that in taking care of himself and doing what he needed while he healed and moved on, he had hurt everyone who used to matter to him.
“I’m sorry, Mama.”
“I know you are, but I still have to wonder,” Jay paused and looked over her shoulder before turning back to her stirring. “What’s going on with you that you’re behaving this way? Is it just being back home? Or is it something more?”
Louis remained quiet, but only just barely. He’d been acting selfish for a long time, but he’d needed it. He was only returning now because to take the next step in his relationship with Patrick, he felt they both deserved the fresh footing of Louis being set free from the last permanent tie he had to Alderford. Harry hadn’t been of the same thought process, obviously, and Louis was starting to worry if four days would be enough.
“Whatever it is, I know you’ll tell me eventually.”
Louis nodded and knew, despite the fact she had her back to him, Jay understood.
After his hungover incredibly uncomfortable talk with his mama that morning, Louis knew he needed to go extreme. He had to go big or go home and he couldn’t go back to New York until he had Harry’s signature on the divorce papers.
Louis had just finished his rearranging of everything in Harry’s bedroom when he heard his truck coming down the lane. He straightened out his apron and rushed back down to the kitchen.
The clock read 7:30, which was later than Louis had been expecting if Harry was just helping out at Liam’s, but there was a lot Louis didn’t know these days. He turned the burner on beneath the gravy to get it heating up and took a peek at the greens and casserole in the oven. They were just being kept warm, but Louis had been paranoid they would go dry. He was a bit rusty with his southern style cooking. No one in his friend group wanted gravy on anything, much less the load of carbs, grease, and fat that was pretty much guaranteed in everything Louis had grown up eating and therefore cooking. If he remembered correctly, though, this was Harry’s favorite meal.
As soon as Louis heard the front door open and Harry stepped inside, he heard Harry pause. It was probably because Louis had changed the entire layout of the room as well as some new decorative touches. Like the large flat screen TV and surround sound speakers that were on obvious display.
Deciding Harry had been given enough time to look around, Louis knew it was time to make his grand entrance.
Turning the corner into the living room, Louis put his hands on his hips and said, “Hey, honey! So glad you’re home. I’ve made your favorite dinner for you.”
“What the fuck have you done to my house?” Harry asked, looking at all the changes. He looked confused, but not quite angry yet. Louis was sure that was coming soon enough.
“Oh, come on now, sweetie. It’s our house, isn’t that right?”
“Don’t you dare. This is my house and you have no right to anything left inside of it.” Gesturing to the door, Harry said, “How’d you get inside, anyway? I know I locked it on my way out and you left your key along with everything else when you walked out six years ago.”
“Oh, I used the hide-a-key! I wasn’t expecting you to be dumb enough to have left it there all these years as well as not changing the locks, and yet.” Louis shrugged and Harry’s cheeks were quickly turning pink.
“Yeah, well that’s the thing about hide-a-keys,” Harry said, walking closer to Louis now. “It’d be nice if your husband told you where it was.”
“Oh, come on,” Louis said, smile on his face. “Let’s stop our fighting and instead let’s enjoy the dinner I prepared for us.”
When Harry walked into the kitchen, he squawked. “Seriously, what have you done to my house? It was just these two rooms, right?”
Louis smirked at Harry. “Nope. I thought the house could use a bit of an uplift so I spent the afternoon just breathing it a bit of life.”
Louis watched his face morph and knew Harry was right back to being confused. He used to love how expressive Harry was, and while Louis did wish he had lost the ability to read Harry a little, knowing exactly what Harry was thinking made this much more enjoyable.
“Why would you spend so much of your money on this when I know you just want a divorce?” Harry asked, touching the new electronics as well as the pots and pans in the kitchen with reverence. Harry always had enjoyed working in the kitchen, so at least he could properly appreciate exactly how nice everything was that Louis had purchased. “All of this must have cost you a fortune.”
“Aww, yeah, well. You always did say it was our money, didn’t you?”
Harry froze, and Louis watched as about a million thoughts and emotions flashed across Harry’s face before he landed on the one Louis had been waiting for: anger.
“Yep,” Louis happily said, folding his arms in front of his chest. “When I went to the bank to inquire after whether I was still on the deed for the house, they were happy to let me know I was also still listed as cosigner on all of our joint accounts. They were so pleased to have me back in town, they issued me one of those instant cards that you can start using immediately.”
Face blank for once, Harry asked slowly, “How much of it did you spend?”
Louis shrugged. “All of it.”
Harry smacked his hand on the counter so hard it made the gravy on the stovetop splash over the side a little. Louis rushed over and turned it off as Harry completely lost his temper.
“All of it?” he yelled. “What the hell, Louis? I worked fucking hard for that and now you just come and spend my entire life savings in a few hours to piss me off for not signing your damn papers?”
Harry was storming up the stairs now, and it had been Louis’ initial plan to let Harry take it all in on his own, but seeing how mad he was, Louis was hoping to get some information out of him.
“How did you even come to have so much money, Harry?” He was having a hard time running up the stairs at the speed Harry’s long legs were taking him. That was something Louis hadn’t accounted for. Harry had grown several inches since he left, and his long legs made it easier for him to cover distances like this. “There were thousands of dollars in that account. I know cost of living down here is cheap, but there’s no way you were making the kind of money to cover the mortgage on your own as well as saving so much just working with Liam at the shop and helping your dad with the fishing.”
“It’s none of your business,” Harry growled back before going silent.
Louis finally made his way to the bedroom and found Harry spinning in circles, taking in the incredibly expensive items that had made their way inside. Louis had wanted to go for a nicer bed frame and things like that, but he needed more than an afternoon to make that kind of impact. He’d been happy enough with the electronics and homeware store the next town over had built. That had allowed him to do more in one afternoon than he’d expected.
Hands gripping his hair, Harry was breathing heavily. “It’s gotta go back. All of it has to go back. Fucking hell, Louis. I cannot believe you did all this just to mess with me. Who even are you? What did they do to you in New York City?”
“Well, most of it is out of the package now, so I’m not sure they’ll actually take it back…”
“Oh my God.” Harry collapsed on the bed, hands covering his face. “Why the hell do you hate me so much? I figured you wanted to get away from me because I did something and scared you off or you realized you’d made a mistake or something, but please explain to me what exactly it is I’ve done to deserve all of this. It has to be more than just the papers, but at this point I don’t even have an inkling.”
“I don’t hate you,” Louis said, quietly. “And I was mostly messing with you about the packaging. I made sure to ask in detail about their return policies, and everything outside of a few items like the pots and pans should be in a good enough state to allow you to get your money back no problem.”
Face still covered, Harry took a deep breath and, after a moment of silence, he simply said, “Louis, please leave.”
“But I made you dinner-”
“Louis.” Harry sounded exhausted and defeated and Louis knew better than to push his luck further than he already had that day.
“Right,” Louis said, turning back to the stairs. “All the receipts are in the junk drawer, boxes in the garage along with the old stuff. And the papers are on the kitchen table with the tabs marked for where your signature is needed.”
“I’ve already got like ten copies of the damn papers, Louis,” Harry sighed. “Just please get out of the house.”
Saying nothing more, Louis left Harry feeling far less celebratory than he had expected to.
It was day three already. Louis really wanted to be hopeful and say he thought Harry was going to sign the papers before he needed to leave tomorrow, but he really wasn’t. Not even after the stunt he pulled yesterday.
God. Technically he wasn’t needed by Charles for another couple of weeks. Louis had set him up perfectly with the interns and they’d been keeping him informed. Things were going as well as they possibly could be. Louis had no interest in staying longer than the original four days, but it seemed that time would be needed. Now he just had to contact everyone about it.
First, though, Louis had to reschedule his flight. God, that was going to be a nightmare. He had some funds saved up, but he hadn’t wanted to use it for that purpose. He also needed to buy some more clothes because he would rather die than have to wear the same four outfits on repeat for who knew how long.
When should he reschedule it for? Would just a few extra days be enough? But if he did it further out, to the last possible day before he needed to be back for work, would that be too long? Would Louis even survive that amount of time in Alabama?
He’d have to. Louis was not returning to New York without his divorce being finalized. The conversation with Patrick was going to be awful, though.
Louis had never fully explained his past to him, mostly because people who didn’t grow up in the small town situations like Louis did often had a hard time understanding. They didn’t understand that high school romances often do last. That someone who you shared your first kiss with at the age of nine could be your first love, your sweetheart all through school, and the person you marry as soon as you’re both eighteen and legal, even if you are still seniors in high school. That, even as young as all that, you could already have a house picked out with your entire future mapped, including discussions of children and how many and names. They really didn’t get it. So Louis had decided not to even try with Patrick, especially since all of it was in the past, where he wanted it to stay.
But Harry couldn’t stick to Louis’ plan. Of course not. He was still somewhere on their old road map, the one they created when they were fourteen. Still living in the house they’d bought together at the age of eighteen. The one they’d fixed up together, at least until Louis left.
Picking up his phone, Louis got to work changing plans and making sure everyone who needed to know about it did.
Louis walked through the door to the museum and smiled. This was one of the few places in town where every memory Louis had was positive. It was nice having somewhere like that still.
“Louis! You came to visit me after all!”
Louis smiled and walked over to his grandpa. He looked so much older than Louis remembered. He didn’t realize six years could age someone quite so much, but he really was glad to finally see his grandpa again.
“I swear I haven’t been avoiding you,” Louis said, teasingly. “Timing just hasn’t worked out.”
“I’ve given you a kiss good morning as I’ve walked out the door the past few days, but it is nice seeing you awake.” Grandpa laughed and wrapped Louis in a tight hug. “Sure have missed you, kiddo.”
“Missed you too,” Louis said. Once he’d pulled back he waved around at the gift shop entrance to the museum. “So what’s new around here?”
Chuckling, Virgil walked back behind the counter where he spent most of his time. “It’s exactly the same as it has been since you left. It’s a museum to remember our past, you know. Our past doesn’t change.”
Louis winced and sent Virgil an apologetic look. “I’m not trying to change my past, Pappy. I’m just trying to let it go and move on.”
“But at what cost?” Virgil asked. “Would it really be so bad to keep some of your past with you? It’s what made you who you are. That’s why the museum is so important. The past of this town is what made it what it is today. We must remember that.”
Groaning quietly, Louis ran his hand through his hair. “I don’t really wanna talk about this, not right now. I came here to catch up, not get a lecture, you know?”
Virgil gave Louis the same unimpressed glare that Louis’ mom often shot his way, and Louis felt it to be the scolding it was intended as.
Virgil hummed a bit before nodding towards the museum entrance beside him. “Maybe you need to go on in there and remind yourself of your roots. It seems you’ve forgotten yourself after all your time in the north.”
“Yes, sir,” Louis said, before slowly making his way into the single room that their town museum consisted of.
There were the same paintings, old photos, and lithographs followed by the slow shift into color and other media forms. Louis used to love making his way around the room and seeing the progression of not only the town but also technology. He still did, but it was different now. It was like he was watching a place stay exactly the same while the people and the world around them changed. The town was proud of the fact they held onto their traditions and didn’t change, but was that something to really take pride in? The fact they were so stuck in their ways that they couldn’t see how they were all being left behind in the dust?
There was a new photo at the end, though. It was a long process to have anything new added to the museum since the town council had to vote on it and they rarely agreed on anything. The new photo must be of something really special.
Gravitating closer to the photo and the plaque beside it that explained the significance of the piece, all Louis could see were various pieces of glassware marked with a simple ST. Louis felt drawn to the photo for some reason. As he studied the art and other pieces in the photo, Louis was getting more and more interested to read the description and find out more about not only where this place was but who owned it. When the business started. Why Louis didn’t know anything about it.
“Lou, son, I’m closing up. Are you coming with me?”
Louis blinked and pulled back, realizing Grandpa had shut the lights off without him even realizing. He forgot the museum kept short hours on Thursdays. It had started because Mr Johnson, the previous museum manager, always had appointments on Thursday afternoons and no one had bothered to change it, despite the fact he’d stopped working at the museum probably fifteen years ago. Old habits die hard, Louis supposed, and there was something comforting about being able to rely on things being the same. Even if it was something as simple as the hours of the town museum that was rarely frequented.
“Yeah, I’m coming.” Louis glanced over his shoulder once more at the new photo and promised himself he’d return another time to look at it more.
“What feeling do you get when you walk around the museum?” Grandpa asked once they got into his car. Louis had walked over, so he didn’t mind the ride. “Looking at the town history and where we all came from, knowing your family helped found it. How does that feel?”
Louis shrugged. “I dunno, Pappy.” He felt like it was old and hard to break out of the mold is how he really felt, but there was no way he would tell his grandpa that.
“I’m not asking for a right or wrong answer, son. I’m asking for how it makes you feel.”
Louis looked at his grandpa, wearing the same clothes Louis remembered him wearing all through his childhood. Taking a deep breath, Louis closed his eyes and thought about how he felt walking around the room.
“I guess, I kind of felt…” Louis drifted off with his words, but his brain was working in overdrive. He felt settled. Comfortable. Familiar. Opening his eyes again and finding his grandpa’s blue eyes on him already, he gave him a wry grin. “It felt like home.”
Patting Louis’ knee gently, Grandpa said, “Good. That’s how it should feel.” He focused on the road to turn left, and then continued speaking. “Don’t forget that. I know we aren’t exciting around here and you probably think we’re old fashioned and behind the times, but it works for us. And no matter how long you’re gone, this is still your home.”
“Yeah,” Louis agreed softly. “Thanks, Grandpa.”
As they drove in silence, Louis felt something - something so small he almost missed it - as it slipped back into place within him.
“Louis,” Jay said far too loud for whatever hour of the night it was. Louis felt like he’d just fallen asleep. He had no idea what he’d done to deserve the kind of torture of being shaken awake from his restless sleep on the couch at some godawful hour of the morning.
“What, mama?” he croaked. Sitting up and rubbing his eyes, he looked around him. There was a definite sign of light, but it was mostly still dark. He really should still be sleeping.
“We’ve got an emergency,” Jay said, standing up and rushing back to the kitchen. “Anne just called and it turns out that Mrs. Monahan isn’t going to be able to bring her shrimp cocktail because she’s had to take her father to the hospital over in Montgomery and it’s likely they’ll be keeping him overnight. She usually spends all day getting that prepped and ready and now we have to take over in addition to bringing my cornbread for the festival. I need you to go down to the docks and gather the shrimp being brought in by Robin, alright?”
“What, now?” Louis asked. He checked his phone and found it was 6:08. Shit, he hated mornings. If Louis was staying in town as long as he expected and his mom kept waking him up, maybe he should get an actual room in town or something. He wasn’t sure he could keep sleeping on the couch anyway, his back was starting to act up.
“Yes, now!” Jay said back from the kitchen. “I’ve gotta get things going for the cornbread so all that’s left is mixing it together and sticking it in the oven later. That way the rest of the day can focus on the cocktail, but that means I need you to go get the shrimp. Hop to it!”
Louis sighed but got up. He knew better than to sass his mama, especially first thing in the morning. He might be twenty-four years old, but she was still his mother and not afraid to remind him of it.
Getting dressed as quickly as his tired limbs would allow him to, Louis made himself presentable enough for the fishing docks and slapped a beanie over his hair to hide it away. Not that Robin would care, but it was the first time Louis was seeing any of Harry’s family outside of Harry himself since his return. He couldn’t help wanting to make a good impression, even though he had a feeling how he looked wouldn’t matter to Robin at all.
Taking a deep breath, Louis walked out the door and jumped into Jay’s car. There wasn’t a flying chance in hell that Louis was going to risk getting shrimp juices in the rental car. He knew from experience that when that happened, the smell was nearly impossible to get rid of.
Louis was at the fishing docks within ten minutes and when he arrived he found the area buzzing with activity like it always was this time of morning. Alabama was lucky with their shrimp populations, because it meant there was always work to do no matter the time of year. Robin’s boat was just coming up to the dock and Louis did his best to prepare himself for what was likely going to be a less than warm welcome.
He got out of the car and waved hello to the few others already back at the dock as he walked over to Robin’s boat, the Queen Anne. He swore up and down that the name had always been spelled that way, but Harry and Louis distinctly remembered the ‘e’ being carefully hand-painted on once Robin and Anne started dating more seriously. Harry had promised Louis that one day he’d own something important enough to name after Louis as well. Louis doubted that had ever come to fruition, but it was a nice sentiment for their fifteen year old selves.
Louis grabbed the buckets Jay had sent him with and began walking to where Robin had tied the boat.
“Morning, Robin,” Louis greeted.
Robin turned, his eyebrows raising in surprise when he realized who was standing on the dock.
“Well, if it isn’t my long lost son-in-law,” Robin said in a way that was biting without being cruel. “I saw your fancy car in front of your mama’s house but hadn’t seen hide nor hair of ya, so I thought maybe the rumors weren’t true.”
Louis set down the buckets and plucked at his shirt nervously. “Yes, well. I would have come over and caught up, but I wasn’t all that sure I was going to be welcomed at the house.”
Nodding, Robin leaned against the side of the boat and said, “Probably a good call. You hurt our boy. She’s not as forgiving or understanding about such things as I am.”
“Yeah,” Louis muttered. “I guessed as much.”
They stood in awkward silence for a minute before Robin cleared his throat. “Well, Anne said someone would be here for Mrs. Monahan’s shrimp and I’m guessing that’s you.”
“Yes, sir,” Louis said, grateful they’d moved on to the business at hand. “These two buckets enough? It’s all Mama sent me over with.”
They quickly took care of the shrimp and got the buckets loaded into Jay’s car well enough that they should stay in place with minimal spillage. As Louis turned around to thank Robin, he pulled Louis in close to him for a tight hug. It took a moment for Louis to come back to himself and wrap his arms around the man as well.
His embrace was warm and strong, just as it always had been, and Louis felt the same sense of rightness he did in the car with his grandpa. Like a small piece he hadn’t even realized had become dislodged from his heart during his time away was slipping back into place. His eyes prickled with tears he didn’t fully understand, and he felt a feeling of love and acceptance wash over him.
“We missed you, Louis,” Robin whispered in his ear. “All of us did, but especially Harry.”
Louis squeezed his eyes shut. He wasn’t here to make things right with Harry or to make his return permanent. Robin wasn’t going to be as receptive to Louis once he realized that, and Louis felt selfish taking comfort in his love knowing that, but he couldn’t help it. Even if it was just a stolen moment, Louis needed it more than he realized.
Pulling back and giving Robin a watery smile, Louis wiped at his eyes just as the sound of a door slamming shut made him jump. Looking over, Louis saw Harry climbing up into Jake’s old plane. Confused, Louis put his hand above his eyes as if that would change what he saw, but clear as day, it was Harry making himself comfortable in the plane and starting it up.
“What’s Harry doing with Jake’s plane?” Louis asked.
The sound of the takeoff was too much for Robin to yell over, so they just watched Harry make his way further out onto the water before taking off.
Once the sound had died away, Robin said, “Well, I reckon that’s for Harry to tell you, not me.”
Louis shot a look at Robin and said, “Yeah. I reckon so.”
Robin patted Louis’ shoulder and squeezed it before heading back to his boat. “It was good seeing you, Lou. Don’t be a stranger, okay? I’ll try to get Anne to come around.”
Snorting, Louis said, “Yeah, good luck with that.”
Robin shook his head and said, “Nah, you don’t understand her like I do. You hurt her, but you’re still her son just as much as Harry is. She loves you, which means give her time. She’ll forgive you.”
Waving at Robin before getting back into the car and heading home for a day that would surely be spent preparing huge amounts of food for the town festival, Louis couldn’t help but hope that Robin was right.
It came down to the wire, but somehow Louis and Jay managed to get everything ready for the festival in time to then cart it into town so it was set up and ready for the feast to begin at five.
“Thank you so much for the help, Louis,” Jay said as she wiped her hands and surveyed the tables they had just set up. “I have no idea what I would have done without you.”
Louis smiled. “Oh, you would have figured something out, I’m sure.”
“I would have,” Jay said, smiling, “but it was much easier having you at my every beck and call.”
Laughing, Louis nodded. “Yeah, I’m sure. Need anything else from me?”
“Nope.” Jay happily waved at a few of her friends from church who were making their way over. “I saw Niall and Shawn wrangling their little ones across the way. Go ahead and spend the rest of the evening having fun with your friends. Lord knows you deserve it.”
“Thanks, Mama,” Louis said, leaning over and giving her a kiss on the cheek. “Lemme know if you need anything.”
Jay swatted at his bum just as her friends showed up and he hurried away.
Just as Jay had said, Niall, Shawn, and their four little ones were getting settled in an area beneath an awning that gave space for the kids to run around without causing too much of a ruckus.
“Lou!” Niall cried, coming over for a two armed hug this time. Shawn had the baby in a fancy wrap on his chest freeing Niall’s arms this time, but seeing the baby wrap made Louis’ chest hurt a little.
Turning quickly into Niall’s hug and ignoring the emotions that were at the forefront after years of being tamped down, Louis threw himself into Niall.
“So who else is coming?” Louis asked. “I feel like I’ve not seen anyone outside of Tuesday and that didn’t really end well for me.”
Niall arched a brow. “That’s one way of putting it, from what I heard.”
Scrunching his nose in a way that he hoped conveyed an apology just caused Niall to wave his hands at Louis and roll his eyes.
“Shut up. Don’t give me that. I’m a mother now and I know you’re trying to get out of it, but you didn’t behave well, Louis. You’ve gotta own up to that and apologize.”
“You really are a mother now, aren’t you?” Louis said, smiling and patting a little girl with curly, dark locks like Shawn’s on the head as she hugged Niall’s leg. “I am sorry, though. I didn’t mean to be rude.”
Sighing, Niall said, “I know you didn’t, but Louis, none of us know what happened. What caused you to leave. And now you come back and have been doing all those things to Harry and confusing us even more. What are we supposed to think?”
Louis’ eyes widened. “Sh...oot,” Louis said, catching himself in time with the kids. “He told you about that?”
“Of course he didn’t,” Niall huffed. “Lord, Louis. You’ve been gone so long you don’t even remember your own husband.”
Eyebrows scrunched in confusion, Louis asked, “Then how do you know?”
Niall glared. “Harry was supposed to go bowling with Liam Wednesday night. He didn’t show up and wasn’t answering his calls, so Liam stopped by and saw what you’d done. Liam told us, even though Harry begged him not to, but Harry needed help getting all that mess taken care of so he could get some of that hard earned money back.” Niall shook his head and shooed Macy back to her father. Lowering his voice, Niall said, “That was a seriously low blow, and I know I don’t understand where you’re coming from, but you’ve got to be nicer to Harry or I’m cutting you off. I don’t want to choose sides, but I will if you make me, and you won’t like it.”
Nodding his understanding, Niall met Louis’ eyes and offered a small smile. “I don’t understand why you’re doing all of this, but you can talk to me if you need to, you know?”
“Yeah,” Louis said. “I’m just not ready. Not sure I’ll ever be ready.”
Taking a deep breath and pulling Louis in for another hug, Niall said, “Yes, well. I think you’ve gotta be ready to talk it out with at least one person sometime soon. He deserves to hear it, if for no other reason.”
“Thanks, Ni,” Louis said, rocking the two of them a little. “Now, how about you formally introduce me to all your heathens and then we get some food!”
“Oh, absolutely,” Niall said, turning around and clapping his hands. “Come over here, Horans! You’ve gotta meet one of daddy’s old friends.”
“You do realize you’re supposed to drink from the other end, right?” Zayn teased.
Louis looked at him and stuck his tongue out. “I’m drunk, but not that drunk. I just feel like these glasses are incredible and they might be the same ones I’ve been thinking of getting in New York. I was trying to figure out who made them, but there doesn’t seem to be any markings on them, so I’m not actually sure if they’re the same or not.”
“You mean you don’t-” Niall was cut off when Shawn whisked him away, and Louis watched as Liam and Zayn practically fell over themselves to cover it up.
“Oh yeah, they were just donated by someone or something,” Zayn said at the same time Liam said, “I heard it’s someone’s hobby and they like sharing their work or whatever.”
Louis blinked as they both blushed and nudged each other. “There’s no way someone does this for a hobby and puts out this kind of quality.”
Liam opened and closed his mouth repeatedly before Zayn finally said, “Oh, look! Shawn and Niall started dancing, and it’s Sweet Home Alabama! I bet it’s been ages since Louis had a chance to dance to it. How about you take him to the dance floor, Li?”
Zayn physically shoved them towards the intersection in front of the band where others had decided to dance. Sure enough, Niall and Shawn were out there having a great time, and it did look like fun. Louis couldn’t remember the last time he’d gone dancing. Patrick wasn’t really a dancer and Louis hadn’t ever pushed it.
Now, though, he remembered how much enjoyment he used to get out of it. As Liam led him around the space, spinning him occasionally but mostly sticking with their usual two-step, Louis’ mind was filled with memories.
He and Harry used to love to dance. They were always dancing together. If a song came on while grocery shopping, Harry would never hesitate to take Louis in his arms and spin him around. It was how they’d always been, and some of his best memories of their time together were in the quiet moments they used to have in their kitchen, slowly swaying to a song Harry hummed in Louis’ ear.
That was before, though. Before the bottom fell out and Louis was left trying to figure out how to hold himself together.
Swallowing harshly, he blinked his tears away and cleared his throat. It was the second time that evening he’d gotten emotional thanks to an unexpected rush of memories. Feelings he’d thought were buried deep enough to not worry him. Being home brought all of them too close to the surface and left him feeling wobbly.
Suddenly wanting nothing more than to hear Patrick’s voice, Louis pulled away from Liam, apologized, and started walking towards where he knew Jay was cleaning up from the festivities.
He closed his eyes for a second to wipe away his tears, and apparently that was all he needed to run right into someone.
“Shit,” Louis muttered, hands dropping to the man’s chest in an attempt to stabilize himself. A pair of hands landed on his waist, and it was like his body knew before he did exactly who he’d run into. Goosebumps erupted all over and a shiver go down his spine, and then he knew.
But why? Why did his body still respond to Harry like that? It had been six years and a lot of pain since the last time Louis had been touched by him, yet his body still remembered exactly what the weight of his hand on his hip was like and immediately responded. He hated that fact a little, because never had any other man brought out the same feeling within him. He’d searched and hoped and prayed and the closest he’d found was with Patrick, but even so. The feelings of calm and safety and tenderness Louis experienced with him was not anywhere close to the depth and power of the emotions that Harry brought out in him.
Maybe that was part of the reason why Louis needed to escape when he did. He needed to feel in control, and control was not something he had when he was around Harry. His body was proving that right now.
“Sorry,” Harry said, just loud enough to be heard over the band. “I didn’t mean to… are you crying? Did I hurt you?”
Harry’s voice was filled with concern, which just frustrated Louis more. His damn emotions were not allowing him to just get to his mama and a quiet place to call his boyfriend. Instead, he was stuck with his fucking estranged husband who wouldn’t give him a divorce like he wanted.
Pushing at Harry to give himself some space and make it so they weren’t touching anymore, Louis swiped angrily at his wet cheeks before he said, “I’m fine. Even if I wasn’t, it’s none of your business anymore.”
Harry practically growled. “What the hell do you mean? I’m still your husband, of course it’s my business.”
“But I don’t want you to be!” Louis said, probably louder than he intended, thanks to the alcohol. “I’ve been practically begging you to sign the papers. If that isn’t signal enough to you that I don’t want that anymore, then I don’t know what to tell you, Harry.”
The music was still playing, which felt like a saving grace, but Louis could feel the weight of eyes on him.
Shaking his head, he held a hand out towards Harry to make sure he kept his distance as Louis said, “We’ll talk more tomorrow. I’ve got to go. Leave me alone, H.”
For once, Harry did as Louis asked, and Louis was able to make his way to Jay, who quickly ushered him to the car and drove them home.
“Is there anything you need?” she asked, only breaking the quiet once they’d started down the long lane to their house.
“I just want to talk to Patrick,” Louis said, curling up even more. He wasn’t sure what good Patrick could do for him considering he knew next to nothing about Louis’ life before New York, but his voice was all Louis could think about right now.
“You can have my room for the call, if you’d like,” Jay said as she parked. “Give yourself a bit of privacy.”
“Thanks, Mama.” Louis gave her a tired, grateful smile, and hauled himself out of the car and into the house.
Louis slowly eased Jay’s door closed and sat down heavily on her bed. Her room was set up and decorated in exactly the same way it had been when he left six years ago. He was grateful for it this time, though. There was a peace to her room that he needed desperately, and having everything still in its place just added to that for him.
Pulling up his call log, Louis realized he hadn’t actually talked with Patrick since he’d been home. He’d texted with him a little bit, but he’d been so busy with everything he hadn’t even really thought much about it.
Louis clicked the contact and listened to the phone ring before Patrick’s sleepy voice came on the line.
“Louis? Is everything alright? It’s late.”
Louis checked the time and realized he’d forgotten about the time difference. It was only an hour, but even so, Patrick was usually in bed by eleven on Friday nights. He had always been more of a morning person, so calling him past one am his time must have been jarring.
“I’m sorry, I just needed to hear your voice and I didn’t even think about the time,” Louis apologized. “I can call back tomorrow, if that’s better.”
“No, no. Of course not. We haven’t talked in days, so it’s worth losing some sleep over if it means I get to talk to you.”
Louis could hear the sounds indicating Patrick was sitting up and resituating himself in bed. He rolled his eyes at himself. He was always so selfish, even with Patrick. He’d never thought about it, but coming home had caused him to have more clarity about himself and his life decisions these past six years.
The quiet and slower pace down here gave him time for reflection, and even trying to ignore that and stay focused on getting Harry to sign the divorce papers, thoughts and realizations had wiggled their way in. It was now he was still pretty well buzzed that his defenses were down enough to recognize it.
“Do you think I’m a selfish person?” Louis asked quietly. “Because I feel pretty fucking selfish.”
“Hey,” Patrick said in a soft yet chiding tone. “No! You aren’t selfish at all, babe. You are focused and motivated and so incredibly supportive of everyone around you. I would never describe you as selfish.”
Louis shook his head. “But you don’t know me, Patrick. Not really. Because I am. I’m really, incredibly selfish.”
“What do you mean? Of course I know you. We’ve been dating for two years and we knew each other for around six months before that.”
“Yeah,” Louis said with a humorless chuckle. “But I’ve been hiding so much from you. It’s all entirely my fault and it’s because I was selfish. There’s so much I need to explain to you, and I will. I promise. I just have to finish some things down here and then I’ll do it and you can decide then if you want to stay with me or not.”
The silence this time weighed heavily on Louis. “That sounds like something big, Lou.”
Tears welled up in Louis’ eyes again and he didn’t bother fighting them back this time. “It is. It’s really big and I just hope you can forgive me when I’m finally able to tell you all of it.”
Patrick let out a long breath. He didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve the way Louis had been holding back so much from him or being told that his boyfriend had been lying to him for so many years at midnight on a Friday over the phone. God, this was not what Louis had planned for this call to entail. All he’d wanted was some comfort from his boyfriend after a difficult and emotional night. Instead, he’d gone and made it all even worse. Except, was it actually worse? It was harder than he’d wanted, for sure.
“I’ve always known there was something,” Patrick admitted slowly. “It’s why I didn’t push when I wanted us to move in together and you said no. It’s why I didn’t think twice when you were never ready for a lot of things. I knew something was holding you back and I wanted to wait for you to be ready to tell me what it was. I guess now is about that time, huh?”
Louis swallowed thickly and nodded, despite the fact Patrick couldn’t see him. “Yeah. Almost.”
“Well,” Patrick said before going quiet again. Louis waited and finally Patrick said, “I’m here when you’re ready, okay?”
“Yeah,” Louis said softly.
When the quiet continued for another few moments, Patrick said, “I really should probably get back to sleep now. I hope you feel better saying what you’ve been able to, though, and that I was able to help with whatever is obviously wrong.”
Louis snorted. “Yeah, well. I feel a little better knowing you know there’s something, but I don’t think I’ll feel fully better until I’ve explained it all.”
“Yeah. Fair enough.”
“Night, Patrick,” Louis whispered.
“Night, Lou. Love you.”
Louis didn’t reply, he just sat on the phone waiting until the line went dead.
Louis finished eating the scrambled eggs he’d made for himself once he realized he was the only one in the house. He wasn’t sure where either Grandpa or Jay had gone so early on a Saturday, but it was for the best. A quiet morning gave Louis time to solidify his plans for the day.
Today was the day he explained to Harry what had happened. Why he left. He wasn’t ready to talk about it, he could still barely bring himself to think the words and go back to that time of his life, but all Louis could think about as he was falling asleep was how he had no right to talk to Patrick about everything when Harry still didn’t even know why Louis had left.
Louis had always assumed someone would tell Harry. Jay was the only one who knew everything, but he’d assumed she would tell Anne at the very least, she always told Anne everything. He’d always thought she would be the one to break the news to Harry, tell him why Louis couldn’t stay somewhere he associated with so much pain. It was only when he’d done everything to Harry’s house that he realized - fully and completely anyway - that Harry had never learned why. Louis had never been able to bring himself to say it out loud, and his hiding from the memories in the way he did meant Harry never knew, and that wasn’t right. Even in the mess that was his over-emotional state, Louis could recognize that.
It was time that Louis tried to stop being so selfish.
As he’d tried to sleep the night before, he had also thought about how complete he felt. He truly couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt like his heart was anything close to whole. He’d believed it was wrapped up tight enough to make do, but since coming home he’d felt pieces he’d thought lose forever - and even some he didn’t know were missing in the first place - inserting themselves back where they belonged. Spending time with Grandpa at the museum, hugging Robin, dancing with Liam, getting chided by Niall. All of it had felt as if those he loved so long ago were unknowingly helping him fix what had been broken.
The conversation that was coming with Harry might just tear his heart right back apart again, but Louis was more ready for it now than he ever had been. If nothing else he’d been thinking and feeling before was enough, the healing he felt within was enough to tell him it was time.
Louis stood up to wash off the plate when the front door opened and Jay walked in carrying a small bunch of flowers. They were the same flowers she and Louis had chosen all those years ago when it had happened. She must have somehow known that Louis was finally going to be facing the past.
Walking up to Louis, she handed him the flowers then pulled him in for a tight hug. “Take him to the grave, okay? It’s time.”
“How’d you know?” Louis asked, already feeling the tears at the surface again. He was never going to be able to hold himself together enough to get the words out to Harry at this rate, but he was going to try his best.
“A mama knows these things sometimes,” Jay said before stepping back. “Be sure to give him a hug for me and tell the little one how much I love them.”
Louis nodded fervently. “I will.”
Jay gently patted Louis’ cheek and took over the washing. “Go on, now.”
Louis quickly rushed out of the house before he lost his nerve and headed over to Harry’s house.
Relieved to find the truck in its place, Louis walked up to the porch and, for the first time since his return, he knocked.
A slightly rumpled and confused Harry opened the door.
“Hey,” he said softly, almost timidly like he was afraid Louis would yell like he had last night. “What are you doing here?”
Louis bit his lip and shifted his weight. “I was hoping we could talk.”
Harry’s eyes glanced down to the flowers and Louis knew exactly where his mind went.
“They’re not for you,” Louis said quickly. “It’s part of the explanation.”
Harry nodded and opened the screen door to let Louis in. “Lemme get dressed real quick?”
“Course,” Louis said. “Dress for outside. We’re gonna go on a little walk.”
Eyeing Louis curiously, Harry nodded and headed upstairs.
As he got ready, Louis looked around and saw that most of the changes Louis had made earlier that week were gone, but some things had remained. Apparently Harry had liked the television and speakers Louis had picked out, but he noticed a few of the throw pillows he’d found had stayed as well. It made him smile. He’d thought of Harry as soon as he’d seen them, and apparently he still knew him, even after six years.
“Okay,” Harry said. “Ready.”
Louis nodded and headed back to the door. Instead of walking towards either of the vehicles, Louis led them to the woods in the back. He knew the path would likely still be there that led to an old, small gathering of gravestones. They were old enough that many of the names and dates had worn off, but Louis had always loved it. That was why he’d chosen it with Jay as the location for their honorary grave marker. That, and it was almost guaranteed to not be found.
As they walked, Louis began to speak.
“The summer after we graduated was pretty much perfect,” Louis said, a smile slowly growing. He hadn’t allowed himself to think about what happened before very often, so remembering the good times was nice. “We were still in that newlywed phase and we had decent full time jobs lined up. Everyone was staying close, so we could keep up with the guys, and our house was coming together. It was like all our dreams were coming true.”
Louis paused and looked at Harry, finding the lines between his brows that always indicated he was thinking hard about something. He was waiting for the “but”. Louis could tell.
“It was so damn hot that summer, but we insisted on going out almost every night anyways. Do you remember that one night in August? In your truck?”
Harry’s lips pursed, but Louis could see the smirk peeking through.
“Don’t really forget a night like that,” Harry said, eyes flicking up to Louis’.
“Yeah,” Louis said, rubbing his neck. It had been a night of exploration and firsts for them, which they hadn’t really expected to find after being together more than four years. The surprise of finding something new made the rest seem that much more exciting. On top of all of that, they’d forgotten to restock the condoms in the truck, so they’d gone without. “Well, for some people, once without protection is enough.”
Louis let the implications settle, just to see if Harry would pick up on it without his having to say it bluntly. Louis steeled himself to just do it - finally say it out loud - but then Harry’s steps faltered. Louis turned his head and a look of surprise and shock was on Harry’s face.
“Enough…” Harry blinked several times rapidly, licking his lips and swallowing before saying, “You mean, you got pregnant?”
Louis nodded. “Yeah.”
Harry’s breathing had picked up and Louis could see he was confused. “You… I mean…” Clearing his throat, Harry finally said, “Please keep going.”
Louis couldn’t help but smile. Even when Harry was being presented with news that could very much make him just as emotional as it had made Louis - even though Louis knew he deserved Harry’s anger - instead Harry was gifting Louis with patience. He always had been an incredible person, and Louis was only reminded of that again.
“I wanted to surprise you,” Louis said softly. “I found out in late September. I almost told you right away, but decided instead I wanted to surprise you. That I’d go to the first appointment, get a recording of the heartbeat or an ultrasound photo or something and use that to tell you.”
Harry’s eyes were bright, and Louis felt so heavy with the words he was about to have to say. He didn’t want to extinguish that light in Harry’s eyes, but he already knew how this story would end.
Deep down, Harry had to know as well.
“What happened?” Harry asked.
They were still standing in the middle of the woods, the birds chirping and sounds of animals wandering around making Louis feel small and inconsequential. He knew his words had weight, though, so he took care in figuring out how exactly to say the next part.
“I’d gone with Mama to visit Pappy’s sister in Montgomery, you remember that?”
Harry nodded. “Yeah. She wasn’t doing well.”
Louis took a deep breath to try to steel himself. “She wasn’t. But I also started bleeding and cramping really bad while we were there. Mama rushed me to the hospital and it was then I learned. I’d lost the baby.”
One of Harry’s hands covered his mouth, the other slowly reaching out for Louis. It had been so long and Louis had caused him so much pain, but hearing those words still caused Harry to want to reach out to Louis. To soothe him. Support him.
Feeling that he didn’t deserve the comfort Harry was offering yet, Louis ignored Harry’s movement and pushed on. “It was determined I was only about six weeks along. They couldn’t even find the fetus, so a procedure wouldn’t be necessary, and that was confirmation to me that I didn’t need to tell anyone else. That it was early enough, only two weeks or so after I’d found out, so obviously I would be fine.”
Harry shook his head. “No. Lou, it doesn’t work like that.”
Louis snorted. “Yeah, well. I know that now.” Nodding, Louis turned and starting making his way towards the clearing again. He hoped it would be easier getting the rest out if he wasn’t having to look directly at Harry. “Mama and I decided we would still make a little grave marker for our little one that could have been, and we gathered some flowers for it that day.”
“Are those the same kind of flowers?”
Louis nodded. “Yeah. She got some more for me this morning. She somehow knew I’d be coming and talking to you today. Think she knew I was finally ready.”
“That’s nice of her,” Harry said, softly.
Louis nodded and swallowed. He knew the story wasn’t done yet. In some ways, the worst part was coming up next, and he needed to pause. This was somehow even more painful than talking about losing the baby, because it was the part he never had ever shared with anyone, not even his mama. It was a burden he had born alone for so many years, and he still had no idea how to even begin to put it into words.
The emotions were still so raw, so painful, and speaking them out loud somehow felt like Louis would be giving them new life. New power. He knew he had to brave it, though. Take the risk of allowing those emotions to hurt him again with a renewed vigor, because Harry had a right to know what had brought Louis to leave. Louis understood that now.
They were almost to the grave, so he allowed himself to wait until they were there in the presence of the only physical proof of the struggle Louis had been grappling with ever since.
Louis easily guided them to the small marker, set near the edge of the trees and now mostly overgrown with grass and weeds. He cleared it up a bit, set the flowers down, and then settled in front of it.
Just like all the others surrounding it that had been worn down by age, the marker was plain. Not even knowing if the baby had been a boy or girl and definitely lacking a birth or death date, Louis hadn’t known what to add. His mama had suggested that since it was mostly symbolic, maybe it was best to leave it be.
Harry joined Louis and they both stared at the inconspicuous stone.
“I thought I’d be fine. Able to go back to normal, especially once my hormone levels evened out again,” Louis said, clearing his throat. It kept getting thick with tears, making what was already a difficult task near impossible. “But, really, I wasn’t fine. I wasn’t anywhere close to okay, and I didn’t know what to do about it. I felt like I was drowning, like I was stuck somewhere I didn’t want to be and I couldn’t figure out what to do to be able to breathe normally again.” Louis’ chest heaved, trying to help him breathe through the waves of emotion that felt like they were crushing him all over again. “I didn’t know what to do. You were still so happy and I was trying my hardest to feel that way again too. I kept trying to recapture that feeling we’d had over the summer, hoping and praying that we could get pregnant again and replace the heaviness, the darkness that had taken over, but it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t getting pregnant again, and I was so sad. I couldn’t shake it.”
Harry scooted closer and tentatively wrapped an arm around Louis’ shoulders. Louis couldn’t deny the comfort now. He felt like the heaviness was dragging him down all over again, as if the darkness of those emotions was just as prevalent and just as fresh as they had been all those years ago.
“I didn’t want to make you sad too. You had no idea we’d even had a chance at starting the family we’d always dreamed of. The family we hoped and planned for.”
The tears were falling fast now, the snot making a mess of Louis’ nose. He did the best he could to wipe it all away, but his sleeve was quickly becoming saturated and doing nothing more than smudging his tears across his face.
“I felt stupid for it, too, because like I said, it was so early on when I lost it that they couldn’t even find the baby on the ultrasound. There weren’t enough remains to test and know if it had been a boy or a girl. Nothing. It was like it had never been there, but I knew. That baby had been there, and my body knew the baby had been there, and I could not get past it. Everyone was so excited about the new stage in their lives and was moving on, and I felt like I could barely breathe in this town. This place that had witnessed everything, including my deepest sadness, and no one even knew.”
Harry cleared his throat. “I could tell something was going on, but I had no idea it was so bad. I’m so sorry, Lou. I should have known or pushed you for answers or just...something. Anything.”
Louis shook his head quickly to cut off Harry talking like that and leaned into him. “There’s no way you could have known. I didn’t want you to know. And if you’d pushed me to talk, I would have just run away sooner.”
“I just…” Harry cleared his throat, emotions coming through in his voice and making it break slightly. “What finally made you leave?”
This Louis knew well. He’d thought long and hard about it for so long, it became all he could think about. This was something he could explain easily. At least he hoped he could.
“I’d started thinking. Dreaming, I guess. I’d always talked about getting into fashion in high school, so to distract myself from the pain and the feeling that things were going well for everyone except for me, I started researching. I looked into different programs and various designers who were hiring. I put out my own ideas and applied places, never expecting to ever hear back.”
“But then you did.”
Louis nodded. “Charles got back with me and wanted to see more of what I could do. So I sent him some other things I’d come up with and he hired me on provisionally. That was right before his big break, so when he made it big, I had my in and I didn’t have to worry after that. I saw it as a chance to leave the town that made me feel like I was stuck, and stifled, and filled with pain I couldn’t ever show or share with anyone, and start somewhere new and fresh so I could try to heal. Try to find myself again.”
Harry remained quiet for a little longer before he quietly spoke up. “I went up to find you, you know.”
Louis froze. “You what?” Leaning back and off of Harry’s shoulder, Louis wiped his eyes so he could look at Harry clearly.
Harry nodded, biting his lip. “I thought you needed space or something. That’s what Jay made it sound like, so I tried to do that, hoping you’d come back. When it was clear you weren’t, I saved up for about six months to afford a plane ticket. I googled you, since your number was disconnected and your Facebook page abandoned. That was how I found you were connected to Charles Jeffrey. I flew up there since I couldn’t think of any other way to get ahold of you and figured at least then you’d be forced to deal with me.” Harry laughed humorlessly. “I don’t know what I expected to find. Maybe you hurting as much as I was? Confused and lost, like I’d felt ever since the day you left without any word or anything?”
Louis felt more and more sick with every word.
“But you weren’t sad when I found you,” Harry said, pain emanating from his eyes. “You weren’t lost. You were so happy, Lou, and it was then I realized you hadn’t been happy for months before you left. I thought I’d done something to hurt you, to make you unhappy. I left New York City without ever having spoken to you and determined to make something of myself so I could fix what was wrong with us. That way, when you came back, I could show you I was worthy of you and could make you happy again, just like whatever you had found up there.”
Louis had no idea what to say to that. It was true. He’d felt so free for the first time in so long, he’d grabbed onto life in New York and then he had done his best to not look back. He’d never really considered Harry in any of it, though, and that was the most selfish and horrible thing he’d ever done. Yes, he’d needed time away to heal and take care of himself, but he never should have done it the way he had. It wasn’t really an excuse, but he had been so lost for so long, he didn’t know what to do or how to do it. It was only now, six years later, that he was finally finding the gumption to talk about it and try to fix some of what he’d broken.
And yet, despite all of that, here Harry was. Of course he was angry with Louis when Louis returned asking for a divorce. He had every right to be. As Louis stayed longer, though, Harry hadn’t fought with him so much as Louis had picked the fights. Louis had continued prodding Harry right where he hurt the most, and all Harry had asked was to be left alone. To be given the chance to say no to the divorce. And Louis wouldn’t give him that.
How much pain had Louis put Harry through all these years without even realizing, and yet here Harry was, comforting Louis?
“I’m glad you finally explained all of this to me,” Harry said, so low, Louis had to lean towards him to hear him over the rustling of the trees. “That you told me all that even though it was hard, because now I know there was nothing I could have ever done to keep you here. It wasn’t me that drove you away, it was something else. You needed to leave for you, and you need to cut ties with this place that caused you so much pain so you can finally move on instead of feeling held back and connected to all of that.” Harry shrugged. “It makes sense. It hurts, but it makes sense. It’s nice to finally know your side of things so I can do what you’ve been asking me to all this time.”
Harry stood up, and the tears continued to fall for Louis, blurring his vision. Louis was confused, though. Where was Harry going? What was he doing?
“I’ll have the papers to Jay’s by this evening. Then you can be on your way away from the place that is connected to so much of your pain. Then you can finally move on with your life. Sorry it took me so long to see that.” Harry took a breath and studied Louis’ face once more, before he finally said, “Goodbye, Lou.”
Making an aborted movement like he was going to reach out to Louis once more but decided against it, Harry then turned around and walked back towards his house through the woods without saying another word.
This time, Harry did the leaving, but Louis was still the one crying over a blank gravestone that memorialized not only their lost child, but also the rest of their hopes and dreams they’d been gathering from the time they were children.
Louis stayed and cried until the tears ran dry and he had a bit of a headache. Then, feeling lighter than he had in years but still just as broken, he dusted himself off before heading back to Harry’s house and finding Harry had already gone.
Well he supposed that was fine. He’d still gotten what he’d come for, hadn’t he?
The divorce papers weighed heavily in Louis’ bag. He felt like he’d been living in a haze ever since Saturday morning. He had finally returned home that afternoon, emotionally wrung dry, only to cry on his mama’s shoulder some more when she told him Harry had finally signed them and dropped them off. He thought he’d be happy and relieved when that time finally came, but Louis felt like he had finally started putting himself back together again only to fall apart once more.
Knowing his lawyer wouldn’t be in the office on a Sunday evening, Louis had the Uber take him to Patrick’s building. He’d faxed a copy of the papers over on Saturday as it was, he just needed to give the hard copy over first thing Monday morning so they could officially be filed.
Until then, it was probably best that he go over to Patrick’s and figure things out with him. Louis and Patrick had been texting all day, so Louis knew he’d be home, but he wasn’t sure he wanted the conversation that was coming at him when he hadn’t recovered from yesterday just yet.
Thanking the driver, Louis gathered his luggage and was glad Patrick lived in a building that was nice enough to have security in the lobby. Carl came rushing out as soon as he saw Louis unloading the suitcases from the trunk and helped him get them inside.
“Welcome back, Louis. Hope your trip was nice,” Carl said with a wide grin. “I know Patrick missed you.”
Louis tried to smile even as he felt Carl’s words press against the sensitive parts of his chest, prodding the wound that had been uncovered again yesterday. “It was just what I hoped it would be,” Louis finally said. “Thank you for helping me get everything in here.”
“Sure thing. Have a nice night.”
Louis didn’t bother telling Carl he’d likely be leaving before Carl’s shift was over. He had to focus all of his words and energy on Patrick.
Finally reaching Patrick’s floor, Louis shuffled all of his luggage out of the elevator and began his slow movement down the hall. Stopping in front of the familiar door, Louis squared his shoulders and tried to gather the courage he would require in order to do what he should have done years ago. Louis looked down at his luggage and was taking one last full breath when the door opened without his ever having knocked.
Patrick was standing there with a sheepish smile. “I heard the ruckus and was waiting for you to knock, but ended up feeling creepy just standing by the door, listening to the sounds you made.”
Louis chuckled. “That’s fine. Hi, Patrick.”
“Hey, Lou.” Patrick’s face was calm and kind, but he didn’t lean in for their kiss hello like they had been doing for over two years, and that was enough to remind Louis things weren’t okay. They probably wouldn’t be between the two of them ever again.
Together they got Louis’ luggage into the apartment and then Patrick nodded towards his living room.
Louis had never once felt this awkward in Patrick’s presence, but he supposed he’d never laid himself quite so bare in front of another person like this before either. Well. Anyone other than Harry. But Harry was different and special in so many ways.
That thought stopped Louis. Harry was special, wasn’t he? Louis had always known that. He’d just been so consumed by pain and fear and confusion for so long, that he had forgotten.
That same pain and fear had also made Louis feel like he wasn’t really able to seek comfort from him, which was what had gotten him here. It was the first time he’d ever felt that way, so he hadn’t known what to do, other than to run.
So he did. He ran and tried to bury the past and now, here he was, having to tell a man he loved that he could never love him fully and completely because a part of him would always belong to the man he’d left in Alabama. That he’d been married to that man this entire time, and the reason Louis had left him was because he’d lost the child his husband - ex- husband - never even knew about until this weekend.
Covering his face, Louis was at a loss regarding where to start. There was no way to word it and make it sound okay. He was pretty awful for having dealt with things how he did and for keeping all the secrets he had through all that time.
“I should probably start all of this by saying I’m sorry,” Louis said, finally uncovering his face and finding Patrick calmly looking at him. “I’m a horrible person who has treated you in the worst way, so I’m going to try to clear the air now and then you can decide what happens from here.”
Patrick’s brows furrowed and he leaned forward. “Louis, I might not know everything, but one thing I do know is you aren’t a horrible person. I’ve known you long enough to know that much.”
Louis gave a weak smile before he said, “Thanks. I feel like a horrible person, though.”
Nodding in understanding, Patrick didn’t say anything, so Louis got started.
He recounted the basics of his and Harry’s entire relationship. How they were best friends who became so much more as they got older. How they got married the weekend after Harry’s eighteenth birthday on the same beach where they shared their first kiss. How they bought an old house they both loved and put so much of themselves into it so it would be ready to house all of the children they would one day fill it with.
But that was when things went wrong, and the pain caused Louis to feel so lost and so broken that he couldn’t even find solace in the one person he had always been happiest with.
So he left. He left and started anew in New York, dreaming that the past was entirely gone and done and that Harry would definitely sign the divorce papers. After all, it had been four years by the time Louis had the courage and money to get some drafted up by a lawyer.
Except Harry had refused. And then Louis met Patrick. He and Patrick had felt so easy, so simple when nothing with Harry and Louis had ever been easy and simple. It had been deep and strong and messy and complicated and beautiful in all it’s roughness. Patrick had been the perfect foil to the only relationship and love that Louis had ever known, so he took it. He took it and he held onto it and never wanted to let it go because that ease and simplicity was everything he craved.
But after two years of back and forths between Harry’s refusals and Louis’ lawyer at his wit’s end, Louis finally had realized he needed to do the job himself. He’d gone down to Alderford and while he was down there, he recovered some of his lost pieces. Parts of himself he thought were gone forever.
And he realized that he’d been wrong. Louis had been wrong to leave with no explanation. Wrong to not confide in Harry the way he always had and the way he’d promised to on that beach. Wrong to lie to Patrick all this time by not telling him the whole truth about Alabama and what Louis had left behind; the pain he harbored within himself for so long.
For all that the story was the same as he’d told Harry, just with the background information Patrick needed, the experience itself was entirely different. It was hard, but it didn’t feel as raw. The pain was still radiating from his chest, but it felt muted in a way. Like explaining it all to someone who wasn’t so central to it helped Louis not feel it quite so keenly.
And through it all, Patrick listened. He listened and he offered tissues and rubbed Louis’ shoulders and never once said a judgemental word or asked a probing question. He took what Louis offered as he offered it and never demanded anything more. And that right there was Patrick summed up, wasn’t it? He was so perfectly kind and gentle and still somehow not at all what Louis wanted or needed as a partner in life.
Louis needed Harry. He always had and he probably always would. Too bad he came to the realization right as Harry was finally letting him go.
It was dark outside the windows when Louis finally had said everything he’d come to say. The silence felt oppressive but also somehow relieving as it surrounded Louis on Patrick’s plush couch. Patrick himself wasn’t angling his body towards Louis for the first time since Louis had begun speaking. Instead, he was sitting straight forward on the couch, leaning his arms against his knees, and Louis wasn’t sure if that was a good or a bad sign.
Shaking his head, Patrick took a breath and said, “I don’t really think there’s a decision for me to make here.”
“What do you mean?” Louis said, feeling stupid for not fully understanding what Patrick was saying. “Of course you have a decision to make.”
Patrick looked at Louis with a wry smile but there was heavy sadness making his green eyes darker than Louis remembered ever seeing them. “No, I don’t. Louis, I’ve played a role in your life for the last two years, but this is something that goes so much deeper and goes back so much further. I can’t touch that.”
After the tears that had been at the forefront for him emotionally the entire weekend, Louis expected them to resurface now, but they didn’t.
“Does this mean you forgive me for not telling you all of this?”
Patrick sighed and raked his hands into his thick, dark hair. “I’m not going to lie and say it doesn’t hurt that you didn’t tell me all of this, but I’m also adult enough to recognize that this isn’t about me.”
Blinking, Louis shook his head. “But, I don’t…”
Patrick looked over at Louis again and said, “If you want to hear you’re forgiven, then yes. Of course I forgive you. But I don’t feel like I’m the one you really need to hear that from. I think that’s going to be found back in Alabama.”
Louis swallowed harshly. He was right. Harry had said he understood, that he would cut Louis free and sign the papers, but he hadn’t said he forgave Louis for not telling him in the first place, and that’s what he really needed to hear.
“You still love him, don’t you?”
Louis’ head jolted up from where he’d been looking at his lap to find Patrick watching him curiously.
“You do,” Patrick said softly, sadly. “You should tell him.”
Shaking his head, Louis said, “No. I can’t, now. He signed the papers. The lawyer already has them and started the filing as much as he could without the physical documents in his hands.”
“It’s never too late,” Patrick said.
Louis took a deep breath and felt it’s cleansing power as he admitted, “I think for some things it actually is.”
“Thank you for sharing your story with me,” Patrick said, reaching out a hand and letting it rest gently on one of Louis’. Then he stood up and leaned over to give the top of Louis’ head a kiss. “I appreciate the courage it took for you to come and tell me all of that. Please let me know if there’s anything else I can do for you, okay?”
Nodding and knowing that this was the last time he’d probably see Patrick, Louis gave him as genuine a smile as he could muster after the weekend he’d just had. “Thank you.”
Patrick quietly left the room, and Louis texted Bebe asking if she and her brother could come pick him up. He didn’t feel like being alone right now, but he also knew she wouldn’t ask him too many questions until he was ready.
Louis probably couldn’t answer any of her questions yet, anyway. He had no idea what came next.
Louis was tired of talking. He felt like that was all he’d been doing for the entire weekend and now he was doing the same thing at work.
Bebe had waited until they were back working on stitching on a gazillion jewels that needed to be specifically placed for Charles’ next show. With their hands busy and everyone else working on their own projects and not very likely to overhear them talking in their own corner, Louis sighed and filled her in.
He didn’t give specifics this time and kept it to the basics. It was much shorter that way, but it left Bebe with more than enough questions. He answered what he could and told her to cut it out when it got too close to where he was still healing, but in the end she sat back in her seat and looked at Louis.
“Well, fuck, babe. I need to meet this Harry guy.”
“What?” Louis asked, shocked that was where her mind went. Her brain worked in mysterious ways. “You absolutely do not need to meet him.”
“Yes I do,” Bebe said, her dark eyes boring into Louis with intensity that showed she was serious. “One day when we actually get some vacation time around here you are going to take me on the full tour of Alder-bama or whatever it’s called. That’s going to include the love of your life and the man you’re still pining after, despite the fact you’re now divorced.”
Snorting softly, Louis said, “Yeah, okay. Where will you sleep? My mama’s only got the couch and that’s my bed.”
Rolling her eyes she said, “I’ll sleep on your couch while you sleep in the bed with your husband.”
“I already regret having told you any of this,” Louis teased.
“Sure you do,” Bebe said, smiling. “I’m impressed you kept all of it back for so long, though.”
“Yeah,” Louis said. “Same.”
After that, Louis’ days found a new rhythm. A new normal. Most everything was still the same, but it was different now as well. He occasionally got texts from Niall and Liam, which was new but also welcome. Louis could finally think of home without feeling the familiar pain thrumming within him. It was slowly but surely becoming more of a dull ache, and Louis was relieved. It was about time it wasn’t just ignored and hastily bandaged. It felt good having parts of himself in the open to those who most needed to know.
It was especially nice to have Bebe on his side. Of course, that also meant she was constantly asking him if he had reached out to Harry, but it felt more teasing and fun than anything. He could handle that.
It had been about a month of Louis relearning himself and adjusting and healing when he got a call from his lawyer.
“Hello, Mr. Buford. What can I do for you?”
Louis was trying to finish up his current project, because if he could, Charles was going to be out of town for a couple of weeks which meant Louis could have a couple of days off. They were ahead of schedule, for once, and Louis wanted to take advantage of that.
“Good afternoon, Louis. I’m so sorry to have to reach out to you, but there’s been a complication.”
Furrowing his brows, Louis stopped what he was doing and asked, “What kind of complication? I thought you said the papers had been filed and all was well.”
“I did,” Mr. Buford said. “I just… Mr. Tomlinson, I’m afraid that you’re still married.”
Louis laughed lightly but also was worried he couldn’t catch a full breath. He grabbed hold of Bebe’s sleeve and started making his way to the exit. He didn’t want to have this conversation in the middle of their workroom. “I’m sorry, what?”
“I’m afraid that your divorce did not go through,” Mr. Buford said. “You’re still married.”
“How is that possible?” Louis asked, finally on the street and realizing that might not have been a good idea either. The noise was horrible, but at least he didn’t have ears other than Bebe listening. She looked at him worried and he scrubbed at his face. “Harry finally signed them while I was down there. That’s why I returned them to you.”
“You’re right,” Mr. Buford said, sounding careful. “Mr. Styles did sign the paperwork. But, as it turns out, you didn’t.”
Louis blinked in shock when he realized Mr. Buford was absolutely correct. Louis had been in such an emotional upheaval over everything that had happened, his focus had been entirely on obtaining Harry’s signature and not the fact that his was also required.
“Holy shit,” Louis said, quiet. He looked up at Bebe and saw her looking confused. She offered a small smile, but otherwise just stood and waited for an explanation.
“Now, it wouldn’t take long to remedy this,” Mr. Buford said. “All we need is your signature to finalize this and get it filed with the state of Alabama and it should be fine. If you want to just make your way to my office, we can get this all taken care of.”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Louis said, trying to buy time. “I’ll uh, I’ll let you know when works for me. I’ll be in touch.”
“Of course,” Mr. Buford said. “You know my number. Feel free to reach out anytime.”
“Thank you,” Louis whispered before locking his phone and turning to his friend. “I’m still married.”
Bebe’s eyes widened. “How is that possible?”
“I got Harry’s signature but was stupid enough to forget to sign it myself,” Louis said with a groan. “Oh my God, something is seriously wrong with me.”
“No,” Bebe said, coming forward and grabbing Louis’ shoulders. “This is fate.”
“What are you talking about?” Louis practically cried. “This was a mistake.”
Bebe shook her head. “You found out right before we’ll have several days off, right? You promised me a tour of Alabama, Mr. Tomlinson-Styles.”
“It’s Styles-Tomlinson, actually,” Louis muttered as Bebe took that for agreement and rushed forward.
She squealed in his ear as she squeezed him in a tight hug and said, “I can’t wait to see the place that made you!”
Louis snorted and said, “You’re ridiculous.”
Shrugging, she said, “Let’s go get your man.”
“No,” Louis said, shaking his head. “That’s not what this is about.”
“Then why are we going down there? I thought that was the plan, especially since you two aren’t actually divorced.” Bebe pulled back and looked him in the eyes. “Babe, he thinks you’re divorced. If you don’t still feel the need to actually divorce him and think there’s a possibility of him taking you back, then we need to get down there and tell him in person that you two are still married.”
“He’s not going to take me back,” Louis said, shaking his head. “Not after all of this.”
“Why not?” Bebe asked. She folded her arms and said, “I mean, he might not. But there’s still the chance that he could. Isn’t that worth a shot?”
Louis was silent. He couldn’t deny the fact that ever since Patrick had forced him to realize that he was still in love with Harry that he’d considered what it might be like to try again. Maybe this really was his chance to try again. Maybe Bebe was right.
“Fine,” Louis said, sighing. “But our first stop is going to be a glass factory I didn’t have a chance to check out when I was down there last month, alright?”
“Yes! Anything!” Bebe said, jumping up and down and clapping. “Okay, let’s get in there and finish so we can get flights booked and pack!”
Louis couldn’t help but think this was probably a horrible idea, but there was no denying the flicker of hope that had lit within his chest.
Louis hadn’t been able to get much information out of anyone when he’d asked about the glass factory when he was down in April. It was strange. Everyone got a bit cagey and started give vague non-answers and it only served to make Louis more curious.
He’d finally gotten Jay to admit to knowing where the factory was located, and when he had called her with the flight details, he’d been sure to get the address as well.
At this point he was wondering if she had pulled his leg, though, because it felt like they were out in the middle of nowhere. Granted, most of south Alabama was the middle of nowhere, but he’d still expected signs or something.
“Look!” Bebe cried, pointing out her window. “There’s a billboard that says something about ST Glass!”
Sure enough, it gave directions once people left the freeway. Relieved, Louis continued following Google Maps.
“It’s beautiful down here,” Bebe said. “It’s different from how I imagined it.”
Louis looked at her quickly before focusing back on the road. “What exactly were you expecting?”
“I dunno,” she sang. “My only real experience with the south was Mardi Gras in New Orleans back in college. I guess I kinda expected something like that and not just a bunch of land with an occasional plantation.”
Louis snorted. “Yeah, well. Welcome to Alabama.”
It only took another twenty minutes before they parked in front of a surprisingly modern looking building with signs making it clear it was open.
“Okay, let’s go inside,” Bebe said, starting to skip towards the front door.
Louis was interested as well. Of course he was. It was because of him that they were there at all. But there was something about the place that felt familiar.
That feeling made no sense, because Louis hadn’t ever been to this town and he was fairly certain this building didn’t exist in this capacity when he’d left. It was close enough to Alderford he would have known about it. But all the same. It was an almost eerie sense that made him feel like it was important. Something to take note of. So instead of rushing in beside Bebe, Louis took his time and observed.
Just as he’d reached the door, he heard a plane start up and when he looked to the side, he saw Jake’s - Harry’s - plane take off. Did Harry have something to do with the glass factory?
They walked in and learned they’d missed the factory tour for the day, but that they were more than welcome to peruse the showroom and let any of the employees know if they had questions. Louis and Bebe thanked the young woman and started walking around the shop.
Louis easily found the glasses he had loved so much in New York, but soon also found the same glassware that was used at the town festival. The ones that Zayn and Liam had tried to claim were donated.
Harry’s plane had been here, the glasses had been donated to the festival, and the photo indicating ST Glass had something to do with the town history due to its location of prominence in the town museum. Louis was coming to some pretty heavy conclusions, he just needed something to finally prove his suspicions were correct.
“Oh my God, this is so beautiful,” Bebe said from a few aisles away. “Louis, you’ve got to take a look at this.”
Louis wandered over and felt his heart begin to race.
“How do you think this was made?” Bebe asked with awe.
Louis reached up and gently touched the glass piece. It had a fairly flat base that tapered in a little before it then spread out, like a glass version of a tree with all of its limbs reaching for the sky.
“It’s what happens when lightning touches the sand,” Louis whispered. He pulled his hand back and found several similar pieces.
If he hadn’t already been confident, he was now sure. Harry owned the glass factory.
“Me and Harry used to go to the beach to watch the storms roll in,” Louis continued, slowly allowing himself to creep into the memory and the feelings it evoked within him. “We loved the way the lightning reflected against the water.”
“Isn’t that dangerous?” Bebe asked.
Chuckling, Louis said, “Yeah. But we didn’t care. We’d go out there for hours. It was during one of those storms that we had our first kiss, actually.”
Louis looked up at Bebe and her eyes were wide, making them look even larger than they already usually appeared. “Really?” she asked, her face melting into a smile. “That’s kinda cute even if it makes me worry for you.”
Rolling his eyes, Louis said, “We obviously are fine. But it was during our second kiss that we were actually struck by lightning on the beach and we made this discovery.”
“You were what?!” Bebe cried. “Oh my God, Louis!” She was almost frantically searching him as if he’d still show signs of an event that had occurred almost twenty years ago.
“We weren’t hurt! Just a little sizzled, is all,” Louis said. “But after we came to, we noticed the sand had turned to glass where it had been struck. So we dug it up and learned it made these beautiful creations. He still has one in his house, actually.”
“Wow,” Bebe said before she smacked him on the arm. “I can’t believe you two were that stupid.”
Louis snickered. “Stop. I guess he still goes out there and finds them, though. There’s not many, probably because they’re hard to find, and that’s also likely why they’re so expensive.”
Bebe finally looked at the price tag and whistled. “Wait. Harry owns this place?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think so,” Louis said as he kept walking.
At the end of the aisle was a photo of the owner and the employees he opened the shop with, according to the sign. In the middle was Harry, smiling wide with his dimples showing. He had a bun, so at some point he’d grown his hair out long enough to wear it like that. Louis had missed so much. He couldn’t help but wonder if there was a chance at avoiding missing out on even more.
“Holy shit, is that your Harry?” Bebe asked, leaning in and squinting to get a better look. “He’s a good looking guy. Why’d you leave again?”
Louis elbowed her, causing her to hiss and rub her side, but he knew she was acting like it was worse than it actually was.
“Shut up,” he said, laughing. It was only when he took a closer look at the sign, that he realized why the name of the factory was what it was.
Harry had made sure the plaque said Harry Styles- Tomlinson. ST Glass.
“Oh my God,” Louis groaned rubbing his eyes. “I fucked up so bad, Bebe. He’s never going to take me back.”
“Sure he is, babe. But we’ve gotta get back to your hometown first or we’ll never have a chance.”
Louis nodded and then walked with Bebe out of the showroom. It was time to find Harry and see if he was willing to talk.
“Mama, he’s not anywhere,” Louis said into his phone. He was at Mel’s Diner, sipping on a milkshake as Bebe finished her dinner. “We went to his house and it was empty, no sign of his having been there. We sat and waited for awhile and also called Liam, Zayn, and Niall, and none of them had seen him today. I have no idea where he could be.”
“Well, honey, you might need to come home to regroup and keep looking in the morning.”
Louis groaned. He didn’t want to have to wait any longer than he needed to. The nervous energy had slowly been building ever since his talk on the phone with Mr. Buford, and now he needed to make sure Harry knew as soon as possible. He wasn’t sure why he felt that way, just that he did. So he was doing his best to ensure that happened.
“I even tried calling him,” Louis admitted. “Went straight to voicemail. I think he got my number off of Niall and blocked me.”
“Honey, I wouldn’t blame that boy one bit if he did that.”
“I know,” Louis whined. “Me neither.”
“Come on back, honey. Bebe can stay with me and you should maybe try your hand at actually stopping by Anne and Robin’s.”
Jay said it as kindly and gently as she could, but it still made his heart clench.
“Aw, Mama. Do you really think so?” Louis whined. “I’d really prefer to get this taken care of with Harry first. It’s not worth going over there and having Anne flay me when I don’t even know what Harry’s going to say.”
“I rather think Anne could be looked at as more of a practice. A dress rehearsal, so to speak,” Jay said, obviously smiling.
“You’re being mean,” Louis said, taking another sip of his milkshake. “But I do think you’re right. I’ve gotta put on my big girl panties and get the job done.”
“Damn right,” Jay said, sounding pleased. “I’m serious, though. Bring Bebe over here, because she sounds like a gem and I want to meet her.”
“I will,” Louis said, smirking at Bebe who just made a face back. “We’ll be over once she’s done stuffing her face.”
“Hey,” Bebe said, tossing a fry at him. He laughed and dodged it while Jay tutted at him and told him not to talk about women that way.
“Yes, ma’am,” Louis said in a teasing way. “See you soon. Love you.”
“You get incredibly southern the longer we’re here,” Bebe said, her smile growing wider. “I really love the whole southern charm thing you’ve got going on.”
“Shut up. I’m married, you know?” Louis said, jokingly and Bebe laughed in response. “Besides, you’re not my type.”
Bebe shook her head and said, “Don’t I know it.”
Fifteen minutes later, and Louis was standing outside of the door he never used to have to knock at. The door that always held his best friend behind it’s slats of wood. The door that never made him even consider he might not be welcome or that there might actually be animosity waiting on the other side.
So much had changed in six years.
Louis knocked and allowed exhaustion to rise within him. He was so incredibly tired. Tired of constantly having to explain and apologize. Tired of having to reach out and feel the pain of his poor choices over and over and over again. Tired of the pain due to the one thing that definitely had been anything but his choice. One day, hopefully, the pain would fade as would the exhaustion that came with it.
The door opened and a hitched breath told him exactly who it was without even looking.
“Hi, Anne,” Louis said softly. “Would it be alright if I came in?”
“Harry’s not here,” Anne said as she stepped aside. “But you’re welcome, anyway.”
Louis finally looked up at her in surprise. “Would I be welcome even if Harry was here?”
“I’d have to let him decide that,” Anne said, with a soft smile. “To what do we owe the pleasure?”
Louis looked at Anne and took her in. Just like with Robin, she had aged, but gracefully so. She was still everything he remembered her to be from his time growing up and practically living under her roof.
“I think I need to apologize to you as well,” Louis finally choked out. “I never meant to hurt you or anyone, I just…”
“Oh, sweetie.” Anne pulled Louis in and hugged him tight. “Honey, you hurt my son, and that does make a mama’s heart smart. But once Harry came home that day and explained what you’d finally shared with him?”
Louis pulled back and saw her looking at him with tears in her eyes.
“I know the pain you experienced, but I don’t know what it feels like to go through it alone, and for that I am so sorry. I’m sorry that you felt you couldn’t share that pain with anyone and I hope you know I cannot blame you for the choices you made due to that pain.”
“But,” Louis said, his own tears coming now as well and causing his breathing to hurt a little as he focused on his body functioning as it should. “But I just left, all of you. All of you who loved me and I loved back, without any reason or anything.”
“I know, baby,” Anne said, pulling Louis back in. “But you were hurting and didn’t know what to do. You came back eventually. That’s all that matters.”
“I came back and gave him divorce papers to sign,” Louis whispered. “How awful am I?”
“You were confused,” Anne said forcefully. “I assume you’re back to fix things now? That’s how it sounded when Jay gave me the heads up earlier.”
Louis wiped at his cheeks as he pulled away, embarrassed at the wet spot Anne now had on her shoulder. “I wanna try to fix them, if he’ll let me.”
Anne cupped Louis’ cheeks and stared into his eyes. “Do you love him?”
Nodding as best he could, Louis sniffled and said, “Yes, ma’am. I do.”
“Do you promise to never run away from him like you did again?”
“Yes,” Louis said, taking a shuddering breath as he continued to calm himself down. “Yes, I promise. I’ll never run away like that again.”
Anne nodded. “Then honey, make sure he knows all that and let him decide.”
“How am I supposed to do that if I can’t even find him?” Louis asked, annoyance starting to flare. “We’ve been to his house and I’ve been calling everyone, but no one has seen him. We missed him at the factory and I think he blocked me.”
“Oh, don’t get all huffy and take a look at the sky.” Anne started walking towards the kitchen, but she paused and looked over her shoulder and said, “I heard there’s a storm that’s coming in.”
Louis looked out the windows that faced west and saw nothing, but then he realized what she meant and rushed behind her to the kitchen. He couldn’t see the ocean from it, but the sky was clearly visible and sure enough, storm clouds were starting to form.
“Thank you,” Louis said, rushing forward to kiss her cheek in thanks and then he was rushing out of the house.
He ran down the path that was exactly the same as it had been during all the years they used it growing up. The light was waning as the dark clouds rolled in faster than Louis had seen in years. There wasn’t anything quite the same as a storm in Alabama, and he found he had missed it more than he had allowed himself to realize.
As he stumbled over the hill, he looked out at the beach he had last seen in his dream a month or so ago. It still looked hazy, like it was still something his mind was conjuring rather than what was actually in front of him, but he knew it was just a result of the residual heat on the sand from the sun. It had been a warm day, but the rain would cool it down quickly.
Louis looked down the beach, and found a strange path of large metal rods sticking out of the sand. He followed them with his eyes and found Harry with a stack of them at his feet, working one down deep into the sand. Louis supposed that was one way to get the sand glass creations a bit more regularly than just chancing upon one when it happened.
“Hey!” Louis shouted, hoping his voice could be heard above the wind and the waves. He started making his way through the sand, and Harry gave no indication that he’d heard him, so Louis tried again. “Hey, Styles! What are you doing?”
Harry froze at that, so Louis knew he’d been heard. When Harry looked over his shoulder, his face showed shock and confusion, and Louis hoped that was the worst he had coming.
“Did you hear me?” Louis pressed again as he got closer. Harry didn’t keep working, he just watched Louis walk up to him as if he didn’t believe his eyes. “I asked what the hell you think you’re doing? This is a public beach, you know. You can’t just go around sticking rods all over the place because you feel like it.”
Harry rolled his eyes, pressed one last time on the rod in hand, and then turned fully towards Louis.
“If you bothered to spend any time around here you’d know this happens on a regular basis and everyone in town knows about it. Even the mayor signed off on it.” Harry licked his lips and tilted his head. He studied Louis while his hair flew in the wind, making it look like a wild nest on his head. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d flown back to New York.”
“I did,” Louis said. “But I’ve gotta talk to you. Did you know you’re really hard to get ahold of?”
Harry looked at him warily before he leaned over and picked up the remaining metal rods. “I’m not if you’re a friend, and I’m not sure we’re that anymore. Besides, I thought talking to me was something you’d be avoiding from here on out.”
“Yeah, well that was before.”
Lightning flashed above them, and it was only then that Louis realized how quickly the storm had moved in, leaving them in near darkness with wind whipping around them and the rain obviously coming quickly.
“Before what?” Harry turned away from Louis and kept walking down the beach, but Louis could still hear the sound of frustrated laughter trickling back to him on the wind. “We’re divorced. You got what you wanted last time. Why are you here?”
“Because we’re not,” Louis said.
Harry didn’t react, just dropped the rods with a clatter as he quickly worked another one into the sad.
“I said, because we’re not,” Louis repeated as he stomped closer. He had to be careful, his stomping kicked up a lot of sand that the wind was more than happy to whip around.
“We’re not what?” Harry yelled as thunder clapped and rain started pouring down around them. Louis followed him as he moved with a much quicker pace to get the remaining rods into the sand, and Louis started carrying the extras in an attempt to help.
“We’re not divorced!”
Harry looked at him, shock evident on his face, even as he swiped at his eyes to keep the rain water out of them. “What do you mean? I signed the papers.”
Louis handed over the last rod and as Harry worked it in, the rain was making his shirt nearly sheer and Louis could hardly believe the ways Harry’s body had changed since Louis had left. Then again, Louis’ had as well. He’d left when they were still practically children, but seeing Harry’s muscles working right in front of him, Louis realized he had truly become a man, and he wanted to get to know that man in every way he was allowed to do so.
“You signed them, but I didn’t.”
“What the fuck, Louis?” Harry asked, whipping around to Louis and swiping his hair off of his forehead as the rain continued pouring down. Louis got distracted by a stream of water making its way down Harry’s neck underneath his shirt when Harry asked, “You came after me for years for a divorce and once you get it, you don’t bother to sign it yourself?”
His voice was exasperated, hands flying, but Louis knew he had to keep asking questions rather than giving any answers.
“Why didn’t you tell me about ST Glass?” Louis shot back. “You even opened a store in New York and donated the glassware to the festival and never once even hinted to it. You let me believe you worked on cars with Liam. Why?”
Harry shrugged, doing his best to ruck a hand through his wet hair. It was something he always did when he was overwhelmed. Louis hoped he was overwhelmed in a good way.
“I did it for you. To show you I was worth coming back for. When I realized it didn’t matter what I did because you leaving didn’t really have anything to do with me, I figured there wasn’t really a point in you knowing anymore.”
Louis walked closer and Harry let him, but Harry’s face was still tense. Louis could see him working his jaw as the lightning continued to flash around them.
“Thank you for doing that for me,” Louis said.
“You’re welcome,” Harry said. Shaking his head, he said, “Why did you come here to tell me about our not being divorced? Why didn’t you just sign the papers and make it official?”
“Because maybe I don’t wanna be divorced from you after all,” Louis said.
Harry smirked and looked away from Louis, allowing them to still remain physically close but without the intensity of meeting Louis’ gaze. “Why do you still wanna be married to me?”
Louis had been hoping Harry would ask him that. “So I can kiss you anytime I want.”
Pressing forward, Louis kissed Harry for the first time in six years, and it was everything he remembered it being. He waited a moment for Harry to reciprocate, telling himself that if he didn’t, Louis would pull away. When he did, Louis wrapped his arms around his neck and pulled him closer.
Harry’s hands made their way around his waist, and Louis felt the last piece he hadn’t realized he was waiting for snap back into place in his heart. Things were right, once more.
Lightning struck one of the rods close to them, causing Harry to pull back. Louis smiled at him, grabbed his hand and yelled, “Come on!”
They ran across the beach and when Louis was about to take the path to their parents’ houses, Harry tugged at his arm and pulled him to keep going towards another path Louis hadn’t seen before. It was one they’d never needed to use when they were younger, but Louis saw it led to a small parking spot where Harry’s truck was waiting.
They climbed in and looked at each other, wide eyed, and started laughing.
“Oh my God,” Louis said, laughing so hard he was bent over with his forehead resting against the dashboard.
“I had no idea this was how today would turn out,” Harry said, his laughter making way to a sober look on his face. “Were you serious, though?”
“Yeah,” Louis said nodding. “I mean, there’s a lot to figure out. But I do mean it. I want to stay married, if you’ll have me.”
“I didn’t fight for you in my own way for six years to deny you now,” Harry said, shaking his head as if in disbelief. “Let’s go home. We can start to talk.”
“Yeah,” Louis said. “Okay. Let’s go home.”
Six Years Later
“Caroline Jay, get your booty back inside this kitchen,” Louis called. He was exhausted and more than ready for Harry to get home and help with the kids. Caroline especially. She was so full of energy today, Louis could hardly keep track of where she was.
That wasn’t usually an issue, but Louis was supposed to leave later tonight for a quick trip to New York, and that wasn’t going to happen if he couldn’t finish packing.
“I want tzzz,” Dan whined from where he was standing by Louis’ leg. He pulled on Louis’ pants, as if that would help matters at all.
Louis hiked the band back up above his baby belly and kept swaying as he stirred the large pot of macaroni and cheese he was making.
“Honey, I’ve got macaroni and cheese coming, so if that’s the kind of cheese you want then you’re in luck.”
“I want tzzzz!” Dan screamed before throwing himself onto the floor and wailing at the top of his lungs.
Sighing but ultimately choosing to ignore him because he could survive another five minutes until supper was ready, Louis hoped the swaying motion would keep the teething and fussy one year old on his back happy.
“Caroline, if you’re not back in here cleaning up your play-doh by the time I’ve gotten to zero, you’re getting your butt smacked!” Louis threatened. He started the countdown at five, but by the time he said four, the sound of scurrying feet were on the stairs and she had appeared before he even hit two. “Thank you, little miss. Now please, clean up your mess, or it’s getting taken away for another week.”
Dan continued to cry, albeit with less gusto than before, and Louis thanked the Lord when the timer on the macaroni went off. The sooner he got these kids fed and bathed, the sooner he could actually work on the rest of his to do list.
“Well what is going on here?”
Louis looked over his shoulder from where he was pulling the milk and butter from the fridge as Harry swooped in and tossed Dan in the air before twirling them around in an attempt to get him laughing instead of crying. There was a snotty, tear-filled puddle in the middle of the kitchen floor now, but that could wait for later. Louis was just happy his headache wasn’t getting worse.
“Hi, baby,” Harry said, leaning over for a kiss. “How was your day?”
Louis smiled. “Fine, until about fifteen minutes ago. The kids all made new art for you, it’s drying in the mud room.”
“Ooh, new paintings, huh?” Harry made a silly face at Dan, making him giggle again. “I love when they make new masterpieces!”
“How about your day?” Louis asked.
Harry had met with some investors that morning about the possibility of extending his storefront locations to California and Seattle. He hadn’t decided either way, but figured looking into options wouldn’t hurt.
“Went well,” Harry said, smiling as he leant down and gave Caroline a kiss before setting Dan on his own chair so he could help with the Play-doh clean up. “I’m thinking of moving forward with Seattle and they’d be supportive.”
“That would be great,” Louis said, before turning to the others. “Supper will be ready in just a minute. Get that back to the shelves and wash your hands, alright?”
Once the older two were out of the room, Harry came over and pulled Louis into a hug. They rocked back and forth and Louis closed his eyes, allowing Harry’s warmth to encompass him.
“How are the littles?” Harry asked.
He was always so careful and sensitive in how he asked Louis about the kids and himself. Louis appreciated the love and care he put into everything he did.
“She’s been kicking a lot today,” Louis said, smiling. “I’m glad she’s making her presence known, but I’d also rather she not be so forceful about it.”
Harry laughed and leaned down to give Louis’ belly a kiss. “Baby girl, I need you to be nice to your mama, okay?” Once he’d stood back up again, he looked Louis in the eyes. “And you? Are you doing alright?”
Louis sighed and nodded. Some days were low as he was reminded a little too harshly of the baby they lost. The opportunities that Louis pushed away because of that. He tried not to, though. They’d been blessed with so much love and life in their lives, just like they’d always hoped for. That didn’t erase the pain of their first, though.
“Yeah,” Louis said, smiling. “Today was a good day.”
Harry studied Louis’ face intently before leaning in for a kiss.
“I want a kiss too, Daddy!”
“You do?” Harry said, once he’d pulled back and turned towards the two older kids. “Well my goodness, I’m just not sure that can happen unless you’ve done everything Papa asked you to do. Have you put away your toys?”
“Yes!” the two kids yelled.
“And did you wash your hands?”
“Uh-huh!” Dan even held out his hands, still wet, to prove it.
“Well then, I guess you can get kisses!” Harry immediately began kissing both of them multiple times in quick succession, skipping between their cheeks and causing them to squeal with delight.
Louis looked on, smiling as he dished out the pasta. He usually tried to force feed the kids veggies as well, but he really did still need to pack. He couldn’t just throw a bag together when he was going to New York to attend the reveal of Charles’ new line that Louis had collaborated on.
“What time is Liam getting here?” Harry asked.
Louis checked the time. “I think he said he’d be here in about an hour.”
“Here, let me finish this for you.” Harry came into the kitchen and started cleaning up the dishes. “Get on upstairs and finish packing. I’m sure you’ve not gotten to it yet.”
“Hey,” Louis said. “Are you saying I’m a procrastinator?”
“Are you saying you aren’t?” Harry shot back.
Louis stuck out his tongue.
“Oh, and give me this one too,” Harry said, motioning at the baby wrapped to Louis’ back. “I’ll make sure she gets fed as well.”
“Thanks, love,” Louis said, feeling the release of pressure from his shoulders, back, and stomach as Bryn was lifted out of the baby carrier. “She’s been extra fussy, but I think the pain relievers finally kicked in.”
Harry nodded and shooed Louis upstairs. The landing at the top was strewn with stuffed animals that Caroline had decided needed to feel a bigger part of the family and come play with them. She’d lost track of them halfway through her mission, as usual, and therefore left Louis pushing them aside so no one would trip over them later.
His life was utter chaos with the kids and Harry being kept busy with the glass factory, but he wouldn’t have it any other way. He still got some time to himself as often as possible, and that gave him time to create designs and keep up with the fashion world. He still went up to New York several times a year and even joined Charles for New York Fashion Week the past two years.
Louis loved that he and Harry had found a way to make their lives work, even after all the mistakes.
It hadn’t been easy. There had been a lot they had to work through, and from time to time it felt like they were working through it all over again. But in the end - even when that happened - Louis didn’t run, Harry didn’t give up, and they did the best they could with what they had to work with.
The pain was dwindling, but it was still there and that was okay.
They were happy. Truly happy. Nothing else really mattered.