There’s snow on the ground, crunching deliciously underfoot, and frost decorates window panes like the most beautiful works of art. It’s the perfect Christmas card picture, every Winter Wonderland come to life, and yet Harry can enjoy none of it as he hurries out of Hollyoaks village before anyone sees him. Looking over his shoulder like some paranoid spy in an action film, except the only thing he’s running from is a family that seem happier without him.
The duffle bag he found he could fit his entire life into not long ago now holds the presents he had bought his little brother and sisters for Christmas, presents he chickened out of giving because he couldn’t face the family’s disappointment. He knew Ant, Dee Dee and Rose would be overjoyed to see him, their faces lighting up and all three of them hugging his knees for dear life; they’re just children and children never remember anything at their age. It was his father he couldn’t face yet. Just raising his hand to knock on the door had his heart racing and he choked off a sob as the flashbacks of the last time he saw his dad rushed at him. Him, pleading for another chance, to be forgiven and absolved of his sins, begging to be loved like he used to be… like Ste still was, while his dad told him, with a face as impassive as stone, to never show his face around the village ever again. Harry couldn’t do it, couldn’t stand to see that cold, hard gaze again. He really is a coward.
Harry feet take him to a bar, he knows by the raucous laughter and warm light streaming through the windows even before he looks up from the ground. Maybe the noise will stop him thinking, maybe the alcohol will drown his self-pity and sorrow, maybe being surrounded by people will stop him feeling so fucking lonely. It’s only when he’s sat down and ordered his first pint that he realises a bar isn’t going to work. He barely has a tenner to his name, and now he’s wasted half of it on this drink. He should be saving every penny he has, his many adventures in homelessness have taught him that much. He could return the kids’ presents, he still has the receipts and they were only little things wrapped in newspaper, but just the thought of doing it makes him feel like a shit brother as well as a shit son. Maybe after Christmas.
If only he had a job, but all the rejection letters and emails he has received since leaving the village remind him that no one wants a college drop out with a criminal record as long as his forearm. He knows the application he sent in yesterday will be yet another no. Why he keeps on trying, Harry will never know.
His phone buzzes in his pocket. A text from the distant friend he had been staying with, and was staying with no longer. Harry didn’t bother reading whatever bullshit excuse they gave him. He’d heard them all recently. He didn’t even know them, just a Facebook friend from boarding school. All the others had been mere acquaintances before and now would never talk to him again, let alone help him. He’s running out of friends and sofas to crash on, and quickly.
Harry wonders if this is his life now. No family, no friends, no job, no money, no home. He sips his beer - at least he has that - and locks eyes with a man across the bar. A businessman, briefcase at his feet, tie loose and shirt unbuttoned, who’s eyes graze Harry’s figure as his lips turn up into a smirk. There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach and the beer no longer tastes of anything. It would mean money, he supposes, and maybe a place to sleep for the night if the man goes for a hotel room and not a back alley. And if he closes his eyes, he could pretend James never sent him away.
Harry downs his beer and takes a deep breath, putting on a smile and wiping under his eyes - no client has ever liked a crying rent-boy - when a young woman suddenly takes the seat next to his and orders a pint and a mojito while looking straight at him. Harry aborts his move to the businessman’s side, caught under this woman’s gaze like a butterfly in a display case. She smiles, and he admits she’s rather attractive for a woman, warm skin, warm smile, and pretty eyes. She hands him the pint, sips her own cocktail, and introduces herself.
“I’m Sadie. You looked like you could use a friend.”
Taken aback, Harry stammers through his own introduction. She laughs at how much of a fool he looks, but somehow Harry isn’t offended. This woman, Sadie, saw he was sad and wanted to help. Harry has never know anyone to do that before, especially not for him. What kind of idiot would he be if he refused free help.
“So,” she asks, “do you want to talk or just drink?” Harry likes her, straight to the point. It’s refreshing.
“Drink, but I can’t pay.” Harry answers honestly. He certainly can’t now that the businessman has turned his attention from Harry and is now chatting up some other guy at the bar.
Sadie just smiles even wider. “Don’t worry, it’s on me. I hardly go out, I might as well make the most of it.”
Harry takes her up on her offer, drinking as many as she is willing to pay for, hoping that this night might end in a sofa to sleep on and some breakfast in the morning.
Harry comes to the next morning with the worst hangover he has ever had, pounding tribal drums in his head and the Sahara in his mouth it is safe to say he feels like shit. One bonus is that he has found himself a bed to sleep in, and it may be the comfiest bed he has ever slept in - aside from James’ that is. But he can’t, for the life on him, remember how he got this bed. Did he go home with that businessman after all? Or has he committed yet another crime and broken into someone’s house?
If it’s the latter, he wants out of here as soon as possible. Harry spots his clothes across the room and manages to put them on after a bit of fumbling and cursing. He’s about to go searching for his bag when the door opens and a girl he vaguely remembers from last night backs into the room with two steaming mugs of coffee in hand. She grins at him when she spies him across the room.
“I find coffee to be a good hangover cure, and I have some bacon too if you’re not opposed to it.”
“What?” What was her name? Sally? Sarah? Sadie, that was it. Harry looks around the room, the cogs in his brain clunking into action. Pastel pink walls, makeup on the desk, pictures of Sadie and who Harry presumes are her family. Is he in her room? Why would he be in her bed? Harry is pretty sure he’s gay, the last girl he dated was Cleo and he has come to terms with how fake that relationship was, so it makes no sense for him to have slept with a woman now. Unless super-wasted Harry is as straight as a ruler. It’s true he’s never been that drunk before, but he doesn’t think that’s how it works. He’s gay, not to mention in love with someone else. There must be a reasonable explanation for all of this.
“Coffee, then breakfast, and I have some aspirin too, your head must be pounding.” Sadie carries on talking, handing over the mug and sitting down on the bed. She’s wearing a flimsy dressing gown and nothing underneath, Harry quickly averts his gaze. But he’s not subtle. “Why so shy? You weren’t last night.” She grins, endeared by is apparent shyness. Does she not know he’s gay?
“What did we do last night?”
She looks down at the duvet then back at Harry, raising a delicate eyebrow. “Isn’t it obvious? We slept together. Look, I know one-night stands have a bad rep, but we got to know each other quite well last night and I’d like to see how this goes.”
Not well enough if she doesn’t know he’s gay, Harry thinks. He sighs, running a hand through his hair. “I don’t think that is such a good idea, I—”
“You said you needed a place to stay, right? Well, why not?”
Well…, Harry thinks. He could always use a place to stay and some stability while he gets a job and some cash, and eventually get back to James and make amends, and if Sadie is offering, it would be rude to say no. Besides, would he rather stay in a central-heated flat with a girl who thinks they slept together or on the street selling himself to every man that passes his way? The answer is clear. He’ll find some way to let Sadie down slowly, but in the meantime, he’ll enjoy the home comforts while he can get them.
“Okay, then. Let’s do it.”