The phone call came in as Louis was driving, traffic on the 405 alternating between crawling and those fitful dashes where you think you’re about to go somewhere but it’s really just that a couple of cars have changed lanes. He didn’t always answer when he was driving-- his hands free device made things sound a bit garbled at times --but it was well within his usual business hours and he hated the idea of missing a client when cash has been tight.
He flipped off the car next to him as he spoke. “Hi, this is Louis Tomlinson with Tommo’s Parties. What can I do for you today?”
“Umm hi,” a slow, deep voice said. Louis raised his eyebrows; it was a handsome voice, if that was possible. “I’m Harry, got -- number fr -- Niall Horan?”
Louis nodded. “Yeah, I know Niall, great guy! We’ve worked with him loads. What kind of party do you need planned, Harry?” He grabbed a tiny notepad and pen that he kept in his glovebox and readied himself to take down important information.
“It’s a baby shower, actually, and I know it’s --t notice but I was wondering if -- cou -- do it by Friday?”
It was Monday. Normally Louis would say no to anything on such short notice, because of course party planning takes time. But this part of the summer was always a deadzone for planners, and Louis was no exception. As long as the guest list for the shower was less than fifty people, he figured he could make it work.
“S -- y, I know it’s soon. But my sis -- s about to fly back to England, and she’s only just told -- at she’s pregnant. I really wanna do someth -- or her before she leaves.” Even through Louis’ broken up reception, Harry sounded desperate, so Louis had mercy on him.
“Yeah, absolutely. We can do it if the guest list is less than fifty. Is that doable?”
“Oh, yeah, it won’t -- mor -- an twenty or so? I can get you an exac -- umber tomorrow if that’s okay.”
“It’s fine, Harry, no worries. I have several venues in mind that could host a baby shower. West Hollywood alright, neighborhood-wise?”
Harry laughed. “I love West Hollywood,” he said, his voice bouncier than before. It made Louis smile, because any man who was friends with Niall and loved West Hollywood was probably at least a little bit gay, and Louis couldn’t help but love working with his community.
“Great, we’ll get on fine, then. We’ll text details about the time if that’s okay with you, I’m driving right now so it’s a bit difficult to call venues but I’ll be back at the office soon so I can get it all nailed down by end of business today.”
“Won -- ful! Oh! The theme!”
“Right, absolutely, you had something in mind?” Usually Louis would clear everything up in a message, but if Harry knew he wanted a particular theme that wasn’t the typical fluffy bunny/pastel color thing, it was easier to get it down now.
“Yeah, my sister is really into -- ogy, and I think she’d appreciate a -- bra theme.”
Louis mouthed a curse word at his stupid hands free device for mucking up an important detail. “Missed that last bit, could you say it again?”
“Sure, yeah, it’s a -- ebra theme, you know with the, umm, design? The wha -- ver it’s called. She’s actually a professional -- logist if you can believe it.”
“Um, right so a zebra theme?” Louis made a mental note to double check that with Harry when he emailed about details, not bothering to write it down since he was certain he’d remember to ask.
“Ahh, now you’re bre -- ng up,” Harry said, his voice still sounding pleasant. “Look, Niall sai -- ou’re great, so I trust you.” He seemed like an easygoing enough client.
“That’s great, Harry. Text me your email and I’ll send you a contract and more details today, yeah?” Louis’ exit finally loomed in the near distance, and he had to resist the urge to pull over to the shoulder to zoom past the line of cars keeping him from it.
“Sounds -- d! Thanks again, Louis.” Harry hung up and Louis drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, wishing he could just magic himself off the goddamn freeway.
He got home not long after and made all the necessary calls, locking down a venue that could seat up to forty if necessary. He made a note of all the details Harry had mentioned, then opened up a new email and asked him a few questions about timing, any dietary requests people might have, and if there was anything else he might need to know.
Harry got back to him pretty quickly with answers, providing a guest list that actually was close to twenty people, a mention of one peanut allergy and a request from his sister that nothing contain raw garlic or onions (cooked was fine), and telling him that while they didn’t want an open bar, he did want to have a refreshing non-alcoholic cocktail included for everyone.
Louis drew up the contract and sent it back to Harry, who signed it electronically and sent secured payment online to retain Louis’ services, and they were set. Louis got right to work.
His catering and kitchen manager put together a menu, the bar they were holding the party at suggested their watermelon cooler as a perfect non-alcoholic beverage, and while that wasn’t everything, it was quite a bit handled. Louis just had to figure out what a zebra theme would look like.
Later he’d say that he probably should’ve texted Harry about it, but in the moment he figured it was a problem he could solve himself. He had some zebra print napkins printed up in shades of yellow and gold, with a table runner made to match. It would be tight getting the latter on time, but the people he worked with guaranteed they could come through-- fortunately it was a slow time for everyone, not just him.
As the party approached, he pulled together a variety of finishing details: warm brown candles with a gold zebra print on top, burnished gold branches to complement everything and adorn the table, the usual baby shower prediction games, but done over a transparent zebra print background, and a few zebra figurines that he felt weren’t too overly childish. And since for baby showers he usually liked to give the prospective parent some sort of soft toy for their future child, he went with an adorably floppy stuffed zebra.
The day of the party arrived, and Louis set up the space with a practiced hand. By the time he was done, the room was decked out in chic (though not really understated) zebra print in warm shades of gold. The floral arrangements he’d done went along beautifully, and the food that his catering team provided looked absolutely amazing-- fresh and vibrant, with a few nods to the zebra theme by way of white and dark chocolate covered strawberries and a zebra print painted cake.
Louis was just checking in with the bar to make sure that they’d made enough watermelon cooler when a stunning man in a cream colored suit walked into the room. He was wearing sunglasses with pink-tinged lenses, and he slid them up onto his head as he surveyed the room with a slight smile on his face. Louis nodded at the bartender before stepping away to greet the man.
“Yeah, hi.” They shook hands, and Harry’s palm was warm and comforting against his. “This is, uhh. It’s really beautiful,” he said, gesturing toward the tables behind them.
“Thanks,” Louis said, trying not to look too pleased with himself. “I have to say, the zebra theme was one of the more unusual ones that I’ve done for a baby shower. Think I had an 80s themed party once that featured zebra print, but obviously that’s not what you’d want here.” Harry stared back at him, looking as though he was trying not to laugh. Louis narrowed his eyes a bit but continued. “Yeah, when you said your sister was a-- zoologist, was it? --I figured she’d want something that said zebra without actually having all the black and white of a--”
A loud, honking laugh burst out of Harry’s mouth, and Louis took a step back. Harry clapped a hand over his mouth, but couldn’t actually contain the giggles that started to spill out and wouldn’t stop. Finally he doubled over, resting his hands on his knees and letting himself laugh with reckless abandon as Louis looked on with growing confusion and horror.
“I-- I’m sorry, it’s just,” Harry wiped at the sides of his eyes, “it’s so gorgeous. But it’s not what I said at all.” He was still laughing enough that Louis thought it was possible he’d misheard.
“Sorry, are you saying this isn’t what you asked for?”
Harry nodded, finally holding in his giggles properly. “Libra. I said Libra, not zebra.”
Louis’ eyes widened, and he covered his eyes, not wanting to see evidence of his mistake anymore. “She’s an astrologist, not a zoologist,” he said, his words obscured by his hand slowly drifting down his face.
“Yeah, baby’s due in early October, so she should be a Libra.” Harry looked around the room again, still grinning. “It’s very balanced, I think she’ll like it.”
“The baby or your sister?”
“Well, my sister is a Cancer, but I think she’ll like the balance. The baby won’t like anything unless you happen to have put watermelon on the menu somewhere. She starts dancing whenever my sister has some.”
“It’s in the drinks,” Louis said, unable to contain the defeat in his voice. “Which are one thing not entirely zebra themed, thank God.”
“Hey,” Harry said, putting his hand on Louis’ shoulder. “It’s really gorgeous. My sister’s going to love it. I’ll tell her I asked you for an adventurous theme since having a kid is something new and exciting for her, and you took it to zebras. She’ll be blown away.”
“Thanks. I feel a bit like I’m cheating you, though, I mean you asked for--”
“Yeah, no. It’s perfect. You’re getting paid in full with a bonus for somehow finding a variety of sizes of gold zebra print napkins in coordinating shades.” Harry picked up a stack of napkins that Louis had been planning on placing at the bar. “Seriously, how’d you do this?”
“Ordered them special, chose the colors and sizing. Table runner too.”
Harry raised his eyebrows. “You’re good.”
“Yeah,” Louis shrugged. “Have a terrible hands free device in my car, though. This is the worst thing it’s done to me, so I’m going to replace it tonight.”
Harry looked like he was about to say something when a woman-- Louis guessed it was his sister --came in looking like she was about to collapse from the heat. Harry went to her, and Louis went back into party planner mode, clearing everything away and stepping to the sidelines to make sure everything ran smoothly.
In spite of the miscommunication, the party went pretty perfectly otherwise. Everyone loved the food and several people complimented the decor, a few of them even whispering that they never imagined zebra could be done tastefully. Harry’s sister either didn’t notice anything amiss or was too polite to mention it, and when she opened the gift that Louis had given her she booped her brother on the nose with it and waved her thanks to Louis. So it really wasn’t all bad.
And Harry managed to catch Louis’ eyes repeatedly throughout the night, giving him secretive smiles and even winking at him as he rearranged the display of zebra strawberries at one point. As the final guests were leaving and Louis began the process of breaking down and cleaning up the room, Harry came to stand in front of him.
“That couldn’t have gone better,” Harry said, picking up a candle like the one Louis was getting ready to box up. “My sister was blown away, and so was everyone else. Seriously, Lou. You smashed it.” His smile was soft and it made Louis feel warm inside. Comforted after his silly mistake.
“It’s lucky. If you weren’t such a nice client you could’ve been pretty upset over it.” He bent down to pick up a box for the candles. “As it is, do you think you’ll use me again?” Though he didn’t mean anything flirty by it, when Louis looked up at Harry he was met with a playful smirk.
“I think you’ll have a hard time getting rid of me, honestly.” Harry kept helping Louis put things away, an easy silence stretching between them. They’d gotten most of the candles and floral items put away when he spoke again. “Okay, so there’s something I wanna tell you.”
Louis sent him a questioning look and he continued. “Well so Niall told me about you, yeah? And when he did, he kind of said you were single and my type, and I’ve been looking for an excuse to call you for a couple of months now.” Harry slid his hand through his hair, forgetting his sunglasses were there and knocking them off his head and under the table. He and Louis both bent down to grab them at once, their hands meeting when they came to rest on the sunglasses like a perfectly cliche meet-cute. Louis looked up and found he and Harry were eye to eye.
“So you’re saying this whole party was a way to meet me? Hell of a lot more expensive than a dating app, love.”
Louis smiled at Harry and Harry smiled right back, each one of them looking like a fool in love but not caring.
“This is a pretty good story, though. Zebra themed and all that.”
Louis shook his head, barely holding back a grin. “Libra wouldn’t have been nearly as good.”
When they married four years later, the wedding had a zebra theme. It was tasteful and classic and still over the top, and everyone agreed there was nothing better suited to both Louis and Harry.