Singing Sweet Caroline
with diamonds in her eyes
And you can't remember the tune
Make it chill, make it flow
Everything in the afterglow
Let me go and I'll forget
Happiness in retrospect
E ti scorderai di me
Quando piove i profili e le case ricordano te
E sarà bellissimo
Perché gioia e dolore han lo stesso sapore con te
Io vorrei soltanto che la notte ora velocemente andasse
E tutto ciò che hai di me di colpo non tornasse
E voglio amore e tutte le attenzioni che sai dare
E voglio indifferenza semmai mi vorrai ferire
Non basta più il ricordo
Ora voglio il tuo ritorno
-Ti Scatterò Una Foto, Tiziano Ferro
What is the health-benefit ratio of exercising while smoking?
Louis is contemplating this deep philosophical question as he jogs down a country lane, holding the soggy end of a cig between his lips and negotiating the tricky balance between biting it and letting it slip. Maybe he can convert it to a song lyric?
A man can still get fit
If the cigarette isn’t lit
Louis thinks about chucking it into roadside shrubbery, but first of all, he feels responsible for the integrity of his pop-punk aesthetic— dark blue hoodie, knee length shorts, Vetements crew socks, Nikes trainers, long fringe, Ray-Ban wraparounds and a single, unlit cigarette between his lips (though regrettably, no one’s around to see it)— and second, Britain’s full of self-congratulatory wankers wanting to clean up after other people’s roadside chuckaway, and Louis’ not going to satisfy those weekend do-gooders. They can fuck right off; they’re not getting his trash.
Moreover, like an idiot, he brought a lighter but not a pack of smokes. At least he’s on his way to Waitrose, so he could just get a fresh pack.
He’s tucked a credit card into his fancy inside shorts pocket (Tracksmith Session Veloce, size medium, price millionaire), and this time he remembers to bring his house keys, which is grand, since locking himself out of the Hadley Wood house isn’t fun.
It’s far worse than in London; no one gives flip about him here. Everyone’s rich as filth, as both locksmiths in town are quite aware. Unfortunately Louis also knows this from personal experience, having locked himself out of his house more than once (a side effect of owning multiple homes). Fuck the bourgie locksmith monopoly of greater Enfield anyway; he’s begging for a lock, not the secret to immortality. But at heart, Louis knows it’s his own fault.
Currently he’s dead bleary, to be honest. He had slept poorly the whole time he was at Glasto*. Who wouldn’t, with seven mates competing each night for loudest snores and farts after their benders? Glasto was a fucking grand time, bless, but now Tommo has to get his arse in gear and make up for the exercise he’s missed.
As Louis knows, it’s always promo time, especially with a single coming up for release (Krystle yells at him all the time about his bloodshot eyes, but a flabby midriff can't be easily fixed). Hence his late and reluctant run. Louis figures he can get snacks for tea at Waitrose and knock out two birds. So he’s given in.
Gnawing on the fibrous tip of the cigarette, he approaches the store and spots a bin outside. Should he get rid of it? He makes up his mind, no, and sticks the lighter inside his hoodie, putting flame to stick with barely enough room to clear the tip (Tommo lives right on the edge). Dry end lit, he takes a deep drag, tapping the ashes impatiently. His throat feels like a small campfire, twigs poking at the raw edges from running. He kinda likes that.
The pastel evening light has become somber. He still has to make the reverse trip; time is running short (Harry would appreciate this pun, he thinks, then immediately deletes the thought). He knows the Bentleys and Jags of the neighborhood are no kinder to an ex-Billboard chart topper than two apathetic locksmiths. They’d run him over without a second thought.
A kid, about sixteen or seventeen, comes up to him and makes a strange face. Is it… admiration? Nausea? Who knows. Kids these days have unreadable faces. They might be lords of depression or maths geniuses or both; their faces all have the same abrupt look of panic, like a herd of wild horses being chased by wolves.
Calm down, Louis wants to tell them. There’s so much worse to come, you don’t even know. Run with the wind, breathe it all in, let it go. Feel yourself, lad, while you can.
“Can I have a light?” the kid interrupts, his voice barely out of puberty.
Louis checks him out. The kid holds his body gravely, shoulders dragging and feet scuffed, even though his skin’s clear and the hair looks clean. He doesn’t even sound old enough to drive— his dad should probably come pick him up. But then Louis thinks about those horses running inside him, how they used to feel, how their numbers shrink year by year, how they’re barely running in him anymore.
“Come ‘ere then,” he answers, holding out his lighter and flicking it on.
“Got a spare smoke too?”
The kid becomes sheepish. He’d intended to bum a cigarette off Louis, and the best thing is, he doesn’t recognize him. Louis is just another bloke-with-things-one-could-ask-for, not a celebrity-one-can-demand-things-from. Louis wants to clap him on the back. Well done, lad!
In another lifetime, Louis would’ve been just like this child, hanging out aimlessly on a summer evening, knocking a football about or having a beer.
Louis clicks the lighter off, squints his left eye in the half-dark, and tucks it in his pocket.
“Rotten luck, mate.” Normally Louis would give him the lighter, but not today. This one has sentimental value. “That was me last cig. Another time, maybe.”
“‘S’alright,” the kid answers. He peels off without a glance back, already looking around for some other diversion. Louis draws a few more puffs and then stamps it out. He heads into the store.
He navigates the aisles with an efficient familiarity, grabbing a bottle of chocolate milk (the perfect after-workout hydration, Harry had told him once but that’s beside the point, chocolate milk’s fucking delicious), a couple of Ritter Sport bars and a sleeve of Jaffa cakes, and takes them up to checkout. Louis is normally a McVities Digestives man, but it feels like a Jaffa cake night tonight, the air buzzing with midsummer’s heat and the insects thick around the trees.
Besides, Louis never buys Digestives from Waitrose. Some things belong to some places and not other places; Louis has always had, shall we say, a romantic memory.
He wonders whether the snacks cancel out the running and also the smoking. Did the poison in the spider bite cancel out the effect of gamma rays in the literary classic, Spider-Man, Into the Spider Verse? ‘Course not. Joy and fear are amplified, synthesized, when we do things for fun that might also kill us. Life’s ridiculous, and we should enjoy the superpowers of youth when we can. Carpe diem, YOLO, memento mori, and all that, jardin d’hiver, My Generation and the more adrenaline to those who fucking win. We all know the song, don’t we: tonight let’s get some, and live while we’re young.
Louis is piling his goods onto the checkout belt when the store’s glass doors slide open. The sliver of sky in the store’s upper windows is dimming fast. Louis notices that, but not the doors opening nor the people coming in. He’s realizing that he procrastinated a half hour too long, and now must run back in the dark, carrying a Waitrose bag on his wrist like a fucking plebe.
Therefore, when he glances up, Louis is unprepared to meet the glorious eyes of Harry Styles, sparklingly green and lively within the chiseled, manscaped face of Harry Styles, atop his unfortunately perfect body with his luminously glossy hair, posing model-like at the front of the store, and dressed like a fucking dream.
Actually Harry looks quite normal for Harry on a night out, but in Louis’ eyes, Harry will never look like less than a god, and not always in a good way (see: Loki, Hercules, Shiva). He’s with a couple of photogenic people whom Louis doesn’t recognize— but isn’t he always, these days? Poseurs.
Simultaneously it dawns on Louis that he’s sweating like a cold plate left out too long, in rancid running clothes and with his hair matted. Excellent timing, as always.
Louis is trapped in line, and can neither go up to greet them nor pretend he hasn’t seen him. For a second, Louis contemplates putting his sunglasses on as a disguise, and then realizes how extremely douchey it would look, pretending that he doesn’t exist in the same world as Harry Styles when Harry's already seen him.
After all, Louis isn’t a child; he can do this. Act cool. You’ve got this. He raises his hand in greeting like he’s hailing a cab in New York, while Harry looks steadily back at him, or through him, neither returning his greeting nor moving on. Feeling self-conscious, Louis stares at his hand as if it’s disembodied and waving of its own volition, and then awkwardly uses it to smooth his fringe. He sees Harry glancing at his mates and stifling a laugh, and suddenly Louis doesn’t feel embarrassed anymore, only petty and fucking defensive.
“Sorry?” Louis answers, redirecting his attention to the cashier. “Oh yes. Bag please.” He feels a cold flash travel from the jaws up.
“It’s an extra charge.” The cashier waits.
“No, yeah,” Louis stammers. “Of course, I understand. I’ll pay for it.”
The cashier, a sturdy woman with whitish blond hair, rings up Louis’ items and tells him the total. Louis pays with his credit card, gathering up the bag.
He’s glad that Harry and his companions are no longer in sight. He glances around quickly and walks furtively out of the store, setting out to jog back home along the rapidly vanishing road markings.
What in hell’s name is Harry doing in this neighborhood? Louis twists open the chocolate milk and gulps it like a stiff cocktail. Harry’s house isn’t in town, and the last Louis knew, he was in New York, doing an interview and a photo shoot with Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone.
Louis had heard he was back, but he hadn’t see Harry since they last sparred. Since they last... tangled. That was a mistake, Louis tells himself. After they fucked, he had ignored a few texts from Harry, hoping that he would take the hint, and hoping that he himself could stop thinking about it.
Sex is one thing. Tenderness is no longer on the books for them, not if they’re going to beat each other to a pulp for it, and besides, everything hurts too bloody much and keeps on hurting.
Louis and Harry have unconsciously carved up England the way that generals divvy up territories after a war, with an unspoken treaty not to cross lines. Hadley Wood is Louis’. Harry should know.
Louis caps the milk and tosses it into the shopping bag. He quick-walks down the road, trying to outrun the darkness. The shrubbery feel alive. The night is starting to creep him out a little. Not that many cars pass him, and the ones that do all zoom madly past. Thanks to the town’s climate change initiative, the streetlights don’t come on until 10 PM, and anyway they’ve all been converted to useless energy-saving moons of Pluto (LED lights) that illuminate fuck-all. The town’s rich (who don’t walk) get to feel virtuous, but it leaves Louis a blind man.
Louis has seen enough horror movies in his lifetime to know that the minute he starts really running, a serial murderer is going to jump out of the bushes on the side of the road and kill him. Every. Single. Time. So he’s not giving them the satisfaction; he’ll survive this walk just fine. He’ll go at his own pace and he’ll get home, thank you very much.
He will get his Jaffa cakes there if it’s the last thing he does. And when he arrives, he’s going to make a cuppa (hopefully someone left milk), and he’s going to dunk those cakes. He’s going to strip to nothing, drink his tea, and dunk his biscuits in the nude, like the lord of the manor that he is, the absolute king of his fucking castle. Despite a quickening pulse, Louis makes himself take a slow and steady pace.
Off in the distance, Louis hears a train rumble, which is funny as there aren’t tracks on this side of town. Of course he has left his phone at home. It must be getting on eight or nine o’clock PM.
Louis is perhaps fifteen minutes from home, ten if he runs, when he feels the first cold lick of precipitation on his wrist. A few seconds go by. Then he sees something out of the corner of his eye, like a light switch quickly turning on and off, but Louis instinctively knows it’s lightning (cue the mad serial killer), and he also knows his Jaffa cakes have a good chance of getting soaked.
Murderer or no, Louis takes off in a sprint without overthinking it, his Waitrose bag making a mad crinkly sound flapping on his wrist.
He can move the famous Tommo booty when he has to. Those weren’t train tracks he was hearing, he realizes— too late. Distant thunder is rolling steadily toward him. Now rain is falling on him in sheets, fat chains clinging to his eyelashes.
In retrospect, back at the store the sun hadn’t been setting extra fast nor the earth spinning harder to piss Louis off (nor was God punishing him for procrastinating), but the storm clouds had been blowing in, and that’s why it had gotten dark so quickly.
Brilliant, Tommo. Brilliant, brilliant. You absolute knob.
He’s running madly down the middle of the street when a car pulls up close behind him, its lights pinning him like a firing squad. Louis gamely scoots to the shoulder of the road, feet landing on gravel and dirt. Instead of passing him, however, the car slows and pulls up next to him, and the driver’s window rolls down.
This is it, Louis thinks. The serial killer has found me. Me and my Jaffa cakes.
“Are you going to get out of the rain?” Harry yells.
For a second, Louis keeps running, his brain not registering anything except strategies for escaping from homicidal kidnappers. Resist. Scratch and bite. Aim for the eyes. Knee him in the balls and yell like Lady McBeth. Murder! Murder!
“I’ve got Jaffa cakes!” Louis yells instead. He feels slightly psychotic. To emphasize, he raises the bag and points to it, on which raindrops bounce off as loud as a snare drum.
Louis can barely make out Harry wiping his face from the driver’s seat, but his voice is unmistakable, imprinted into his brain. Louis has only heard it every day for seven years, and quite a few days after that. He would know it was Harry through a hail of bullets.
“Get in,” Harry orders.
Louis shakes rain off his arms. “Yeah, alright.”
He runs around the front of the car and gets into the passenger seat, dripping everywhere. Harry’s driving his Range Rover Autobiography. The leather seats are nice and wide: they keep a good distance between them.
For a moment they ride in silence, until the lights of Louis’ gates start coming into view. As Harry approaches the driveway, Louis clicks the remote and the gates swing inward. Water flings hard onto the Land Rover’s windshield, but the wipers carry it away like massive paws. Harry expertly takes the familiar curves to the garage, where he kills the engine and they sit in silence.
“Listen,” Harry begins.
“I was going to make tea,” Louis blurts out at the same time. The awkwardness fills a noticeable gap.
“So, it’s pouring,” Louis says.
“We were on our way home from theater,” Harry warily explains. “Jack was hungry. I wasn’t here to snoop on you, I swear to God. I thought you should know.”
“Lowden,” Harry answers. “And his girlfriend Saiorse. We went to theater together tonight.”
“Saiorse Ronan?” Louis’ eyebrows lift up. “And Jack Lowden. Wow. Way to drop names. Grabbing a bag of crisps at Waitrose with Harry Styles, on the way home from the West End.”
Harry squirms. “Stop saying it like that. It’s not that weird.”
Louis chuckles. “No, not weird. No one can imagine anything more boring.”
Harry says nothing. He merely waits, both hands on the steering wheel. He’s just gotten back from New York himself and is feeling jet-lagged, not thinking the fastest.
He is also lying. Harry wanted to stop off in Hadley Wood, on the off chance that Louis might be here. Jack and Saiorse had indulged him without his having to explain it. After Harry said he wanted to drive home by himself, they understood straight away, called an Uber and went back to London on their own. Harry had waited with them, which is why he found Louis on the late side.
“Imagine a tabloid story being that boring,” Louis is saying. “Three British stars go to Waitrose after the theater, bumps into another star. They exchange salad recipes and split a baguette. The end.”
“You’re not just another star,” Harry murmurs under his breath, hands still draped on the steering wheel and eyes focused straight ahead, staring at the dripping garage door. “Not to me.”
Pretending he didn’t hear him, Louis puts his hand on the car door handle. The Autobiography is top of the line, and this one comes with custom double-stitched leather on the doors, supple as bespoke gloves.
“Come in for tea, anyway,” Louis says. “You’re my hero for the evening.”
“Me?” Harry’s face does a quarter turn toward Louis. “Why?”
Louis opens the door a crack. The rustling of rain seeps through.
“Saved me Jaffa cakes.” Louis’ eyes dance with mischief. “You like those. Also, you’re not a serial killer.”
Harry allows himself a smile. “I’m not even going to ask.”
“I’ll tell you inside,” Louis says. “Come on. Let’s get out of this rain.”
In the kitchen, Louis occupies himself by setting out cups and plates, boiling water, opening biscuit boxes and chocolates and plating them. His stomach has curled into tight knots. He makes small talk, asking after Anne and Gemma without broaching anything too deep. He fusses with an uncharacteristic nervousness, perhaps because this is his home, and Harry has managed to cross some invisible barrier.
“Can you make your own tea?” Louis says. “I’m going to run up and change out of these wet things. Will just be a minute.”
“Do you want me to make yours as well?” Harry asks nonchalantly. “I think I know how you take it… unless it’s changed.”
“Sure, yeah,” Louis turns. “Milk, no— ”
“No sugar,” Harry finishes for him. Their eyes flit to each other briefly, brushing like moths. Of course he wouldn’t forget. “I got it. Go.”
“Thanks.” Louis tries to sound lighthearted. His eyes come up and dart away. “Make it strong, yeah? I’m freezing.” Harry nods quietly. “Be right back.”
Louis sprints up the stairs, head in a jumble and pulse beating fast as the rain. The thick carpeting masks his steps into the master bedroom. Ever since he started wearing socks, Louis’ feet have become sensitive to the cold ground, and he’s happy to have the carpet as buffer.
Right now, he needs a buffer between himself and Harry. When Harry gets him in person, there’s nothing he can do but give in. No amount of memories or rationality will talk him out of it, and he suspects the same goes for Harry.
So many of the phrases from the past, from videos on YouTube for instance, have become loaded with other meanings, but all stays quiet on their ends. Fans believe whatever they want to believe. It’s mutual, we’ve discussed it.
If they could tell the world the truth, where would they even begin? And in the meantime, there’s a gulf between them, that gets crossed again and again. It’s unnerving but also enthralling, and Louis can’t deny that either.
He strips, savoring the feeling of air evaporating from his skin. He goes to the master closet and picks out a plush dressing gown, the closest he can be to being naked but still decent— and screw it, he knows what will likely happen. He’s going to give in, can taste it already, and he stiffens, hating, dreading, and wanting it. He’s thinking of the improbability of Harry happening to be in Hadley Wood, and he’d love to believe that it really is just a coincidence. He looks at his two bare legs, and wonders whether anything matters. The leg hairs curl like pig tails from the rain. With a small sigh, Louis takes the stairs down two at a time.
His tea waits on the counter, perfectly made. The chocolates and biscuits lie on the plates untouched, exactly as he left them. The kitchen is quiet otherwise. Louis takes a quick look around. Harry is nowhere to be seen.
“Harry?” Louis calls, and then repeats. “Hazza? Are you here?” Then again, louder, “Are you planning to kill me? Stop playing around, you’re scaring me.”
He’s expecting Harry to come out of a bathroom, or jump out and scare the crap out of him, but none of that happens. Then he notices a handwritten note tacked to the refrigerator door.
- Louis, really lovely to see you. I’ve let myself out. Didn’t want to bother you. Enjoy your evening. Love, H.
Holding the note, Louis sinks into a barstool, one leg dangling off the edge. Harry’s handwriting looks like him, his looped corners, the careful way he crosses his A. It looks so much like him that Louis almost says it out loud. He breathes quietly, waiting for more, knowing there’s nothing else coming.
“Guess you get to eat in the nude tonight, bebe,” Louis tells himself. He is bebe.
And lately we seem to have it right
Yeah, and I've finally found the place
I said I'd get you 'round
Talk through all the things you thought that I'd forget about
Nothing's really changed between then and now
Trying to play this off like it's not all I think about
Once it was so right
When we were at our height
Waiting for you in the hotel at night
I knew I hadn't met my match
But every moment we could snatch
I don't know why I got so attached
It's my responsibility
You don't owe nothing to me
But to walk away, I have no capacity
Louis is carrying a drink back from the kitchen. Loud music pumps in from the pool area outside, and from the living room inside, with house-trap beats clashing against each other. The conversations are difficult to hear. Words float by here and there. In town… sick gig… long time… Melrose… WeHo… oh yeah? Me too... the names of various songwriters and producers. And gossip, of course gossip, with the help of an abundance of alcohol and many loose lips.
Louis has a cigarette in one hand and a vodka Red Bull in the other, and he’s listening to a songwriter he’s written with before tell him about an independent project. This being LA, Louis drove ten minutes to get here and has a juicy wedge of lime in his drink. The project sounds cool enough, but as a general rule, Louis’ not really into these Hollywood parties. He’s busy enough. He can’t keep getting roped into things he has only a peripheral interest in. Anyway he’s mostly here as a favor to Julian, and is already thinking of a quick and graceful exit.
A tray of food is being passed around: toast with avocado mash and sweet figs. It’s time for Louis to go.
“Darling, I’m going to find the bathroom,” he says to the songwriter, before taking his drink upstairs.
If he wanted to, Louis could walk down the street, get into his car, and drive ten minutes to wee in his own toilet, but the vodka has just started to settle into the fuzzy corners of his brain. He winds through the party, passing more fillers and silicone than in a toy manufacturing plant, taking care not to bump into any fake boobs. People scoot aside for him on the stairs leading to the second floor.
Once there, he looks for a door to the bathroom. There are smaller groups on the landing, in two’s and three’s, including a particularly unpleasant musician who had clashed with them once, before the hiatus, when they were still One Direction.
The guy’s sitting on the carpet, talking to a girl— trying to impress her, it looks like. Louis lifts his chin in greeting, but the guy passes over him as if he isn’t even there, and keeps talking.
“Totally overrated,” he’s saying, as Louis approaches. “I’ve heard stories you won’t even believe.”
“Ooh, share,” she squeals.
What a self-important bore, Louis thinks. The girl must be a newbie; she has that uninitiated look.
The musician makes a sly sideways glance and Louis, and continues. “His album fucking sucked. Here’s some insider gossip— his producer has won awards up and down, worked with Kanye, you know? But in the end, no one gave a fuck about his whining.”
“Really!” Newbie is hanging on to every word.
“Harry’s a fake,” the musician says. “A total phony. His kindness act? All for show. He’s awkward as fuck in real life, sticks out like a sore thumb wherever he goes.”
“I think his voice is sexy. He’s so hot,” she insists. “Doesn’t he have a lot of fans?”
“They’re barking up the wrong tree,” the musician laughs. “You know what I mean? Harry’s never gonna fuck ‘em. Not in a hundred lifetimes. He swings for the other team.”
Louis has had enough. He steps up to the musician and leans down.
“Heard you finally beat the assault charges,” Louis says quietly. “Congratulations. Your manager must be earning some serious overtime pay.”
“Takes one to know one,” the musician sneers. He turns to the girl and gestures toward Louis. “Tommo here’s Harry’s ex. He’s not much to look at, is he? Can’t blame Harry for dropping him.”
“Oh, you couldn’t tap this if you tried,” Louis replies, smirking. “Not with all your sexually transmitted diseases. Glad that third antibiotic is finally working out.” Louis turns to the girl, who is subtly backing away. “Miracles of modern medicine, am I right? Rumor has it the doctors have never seen anything so nasty.”
Glaring at him, the musician tries a counter-offensive. “Harry is known to have pretty low standards, but Louis Tomlinson here couldn’t even meet them. Safe to say, Harry has come to his senses and moved on.”
Louis casts a sympathetic look at the girl. “They say herpes is forever, but I can see that last stage has been brutal for him. Seems like it’s already gotten to the brain. Shame it won’t be long now.”
The musician starts to get up, his face flustered and red. The girl, however, has already hurried down the stairs. Louis wonders whether the guy is on something stronger than alcohol tonight, because his balance seems off and his color looks poor.
“You fucking little— ” The musician is on his feet, fists clenched.
Louis speeds up, running down the hallway and opening the first door he sees. He runs in and slams it shut, locking it in place. The musician is pounding on the door and calling Louis a slew of expletives, threatening to bring it down.
The commotion finally dies away. Louis sits with his back against the door. The bedroom he’s in is unremarkable, with Roman shades on the windows and a ruffled duvet on the bed. The party’s going strong downstairs. The bass thumps its way through the ceiling, vibrating Louis’ gluteus maximus.
He’s trying to decide whether it’s safe to come out, when it dawns on Louis how unfair this whole thing is. Here he is, risking his world-class gluteus maximus for someone who probably doesn’t even care about him. Dragging people on the spot is fun, for sure, and he’s quite good at it (with such an easy target), but shit like this does absolutely nothing for him, career-wise. Now Louis is hiding in a bedroom with a dubious lock (which, frankly, he could pick in a minute with a paperclip) instead of getting into his car and driving ten minutes home to watch Westworld. The fact that he got himself into it doesn’t even matter, because when someone comes after Harry, Louis is going to come out swinging. It’s a given. Defending Harry from pricks is why God invented his fists.
Only one person in the world should come get him now, Louis thinks, and that person’s probably eating some overpriced trendy sushi at Nobu with his overpriced trendy friends. Louis rolls his eyes. Nevertheless, Louis will try. He pulls out his phone.
Hazza, he texts.
The dots blink by. As expected, there’s no response. Louis actually can’t be sure whether Harry is even in LA. He has a mild panic attack thinking that by texting Harry, he has shown his hand too early. Does it make him look desperate? A small part of him wishes he’d deleted the text. Being the first to make a move is against everything Louis stands for. Frankly, he’d rather make a run for it. Damn. But it’s too late, as a text flashes up.
Where are you?
Louis’ eyes light up and his entire mouth relaxes in a gigantic smile. He’s here. Harry’s here, in LA.
In his mind, Louis can see Harry shaking his head. Harry knows how Louis feels about these things.
Louis doesn’t need Harry’s sarcasm, and he can’t afford etiquette at a time like this. No pity, just rescue.
Come get me
No time to say ‘please’? Harry texts, Or are you trapped under a heavy object
Louis quirks his head. It’s a reference from the movie, “When Harry Met Sally.” Harry and his rom-coms, Louis swears to God. Who let him watch his first one?
I was defending your honor from ___. Louis texts. He was being a dick about you. Well, about me too. Couldn’t let that pass.
He’s not worth it, Harry texts. You shouldn’t have engaged
Too late. I’ve locked myself in a bedroom upstairs
Louis pauses, his head buzzing a bit more and fingers feeling slippery.
Locked yourself— do you hear yourself Boo. Are you twelve? Harry texts. Is shit going down at recess tomorrow
Are you listening to me? I’m fucking hiding
Hold on. My big sister Gemma can help
SHUT THE FUCK UP
Louis smiles broadly. No one gets him like Harry. No one is as fast as Harry. It’s like they never stopped.
I was this close to getting a fist in my face, DICKHEAD
No reply. Louis texts impatiently.
Are you coming or not
Where is Harry anyway? Why can’t he just say yes? Louis puts his face against the coolness of the door, the thumping music downstairs starting to give him a headache. The vibrations seem to go straight to the center of his brain. Da dum Da dum Da dum.
Can’t. Harry types. I’m at a thing right now
Thing? What thing? What are you talking about?
A thing. An art exhibit
Louis can see Harry strolling around with his phone in his hand, being distracted and not looking at the art, people circling him and taking sneaky photos.
Do you really need me to come, Boo
Yes. I told you so
A few seconds go by. Louis feels exposed and a little silly. He’s more buzzed than he’s willing to admit. Very likely Harry is with a group of people, and he’s reluctant to make an excuse to leave. Louis also knows that Harry loves art exhibits. Loves. Adores. He is about to tell Harry to forget it when a text pops up.
Fine. Harry pauses. Give me a half hour
I’ll be waiting in my tower, Louis texts, excitement bubbling up inside. Tower of power. Text me when you get here and I’ll let down my hair. Tell no one.
You’re crazy, you know
Louis imagines Harry covering his mouth with the back of his hand, laughing, tilting his phone so no one else can see. Louis wants to see that in person, wants it so much he can taste it. He knows this is probably a mistake, but he has a good excuse, doesn’t he? He just wants to see Harry laugh. There’s nothing wrong with that. Okay, maybe he just wants to see Harry. He just wants, alright? Is it a crime? Stuff it. Harry’s his friend, Louis tells himself. Just a friend. This is all conceivably innocent.
A half hour later, he hears a soft knock on the door. Louis springs up, fixes his fringe quickly and unlocks it.
Standing in front of him is Harry, wearing some pastel-colored abomination on top, and bell-bottomed trousers below. His hands are covered in giant rings. His hair is pushed up and back. There’s the ghost of a bandana tan against his forehead. He is incredibly adorable tonight, eyes wide, cheekbones sharp, skin the color of bronzed caramel.
“You’re lucky you’re so handsome,” Louis tries to repress the joy in his voice, “because your outfit is a crime.”
“You don’t like it?”
Louis studies him from head to toe. His vodka buzz has almost worn off. No matter what, seeing Harry gives him a lurch in the heart.
“Harry,” he says, shaking his head in pity. “Harry. Harry.”
Harry extends a hand. “Shall we?”
Louis steps across the threshold and runs down the stairs. The party’s still in full swing, with people draped over every piece of furniture, and heavy smells of alcohol and weed in the air. Louis takes a quick look around but doesn’t see Julian. He’ll have to catch him later. He darts out the door, and as has happened thousands of times before, Louis waits ten minutes for Harry to follow. Louis stands in the darkness of the yard, barely able to see past the dark silhouette of the house across the street. Beyond that, the lights of the valley float like sailboats at sea. There’s no one else around.
“Alright?” Harry comes toward him. He’s walking carefully across the yard in expensive loafers.
When he gets close enough, Louis takes Harry’s hand and pulls him in. He puts Harry’s arm across his back and sinks into the cuddle, his head tucked into the nook of Harry’s neck, soft lips on his skin. His hands open wide to go around Harry’s shoulders, and a thumb anchors into his back.
For a second, Harry does nothing, letting Louis rest against him. Then, tentatively, he turns his face and gently, imperceptibly, kisses Louis behind his ear. A hand runs through Louis’ hair, ruffling the bottom of it, feeling the strands separate around his fingers. His palm stretches across the small of Louis’ back. He hugs him closer, his hands remembering the familiar contours.
“You’re okay now,” Harry mumbles. “It’s ok, Lou. Relax.”
Louis digs his head into Harry’s neck and stays there. Harry’s hand fluffs through Louis’ hair, separating the curls at the nape of his neck and rubbing his neck muscles lightly. Harry is wearing an unfamiliar cologne— maybe from his new campaign, Louis realizes. Underneath, Harry still smells like Harry, a block of salt mixed with sun, wheat, and honey, a summertime smell, a picnic.
“Are you ok to drive home by yourself?” he asks Louis. “Do you want me to take you?”
Louis sighs contentedly. “I can drive.” He breaks away. “Thanks for coming. You probably didn’t have to... I mean, I’m sorry you missed your art thing.”
“It wasn’t a good one anyway.” Harry studies him closely. “Louis…” Harry bites his lip. He pulls on his belt loops and straightens out his pants. “If you don’t need anything else…”
Louis blinks ravidly. “I mean, if you want…”
Harry slows down without meeting his eyes.
Louis continues, “That is, if you have nothing else to do.”
“If you want some company, you can just ask me,” Harry says in a straightforward way. “No need to beat around the bush. I’m already here.”
Louis considers for a moment, a feeling of uncertain, awkward gamesmanship in the air. Louis’ romantic memory wants to punch or kiss him, but he waves it away as leftover alcohol. Silly boob.
“Come watch TV with me then,” Louis blurts out. It’s the best he can come up with.
Harry raises an eyebrow. “TV.”
“We can watch whatever you want,” Louis says. “No obligations. We don’t have to, like…”
Harry starts walking to his car. “See you at yours.”
Louis half-walks and half-runs to his car, unlocks it and gets into the driver’s seat. If he hadn’t driven here, he would have let Harry drive him home. Louis loves being driven around like royalty. He loves commenting on all the people in the streets, loves putting his feet on the dashboard. He loves not having to pay attention to anything around him and holding the driver hostage. He loves the way Harry listens to him, laughs, teases. He loves driving with Harry, he realizes, because Harry’s a good driver and a good listener. Harry has always listened to him, no matter how silly, no matter how sad.
Once he arrives home, Louis runs in and gets blankets for the sofa, sets out snacks for watching in the family room. Usually he is sprawled out nude on his king sized bed, but tonight’s not the night for that. Best behavior, he reminds himself. Harry’s just a friend. The phrase from “Finding Nemo” creeps into his head, unprovoked: Harry is a friend, not food. Friend, not food. No matter how much he resembles a midnight snack, Harry is not food.
The doorbell rings. Louis runs to the foyer and opens it for Harry. They stare at each other for a beat. Then Louis says, “Come in.”
Harry steps into Louis’ space and shuts the door behind himself. Louis doesn’t back up, so Harry ends up being crowded into his space, their limbs tangling with each other.
“Sorry,” Harry says, scooting sideways, away from him.
Louis is puzzled, insulted even. Where is the Harry that asked him to wank off from an airplane? Where’s the Harry who fucked him in a boxing ring? Doesn’t he want that anymore? He’s withdrawn so much that he’s giving Louis the impression he doesn’t even like him.
Louis retreats to one corner of the sofa. He grabs the remote and pulls a blanket around himself. Harry takes the other end, feet on the ground like a normal person. They decide on watching the Black Mirror episode, Rachel, Jack, and Ashley Too. As the show progresses, they find themselves yelling at the screen together, passing snacks back and forth, and trying to predict what will happen. Louis scoots out of the corner of the sofa, as does Harry, and they eventually end up sitting right next to each other in the middle.
“I knew it,” Harry says. “Ashley’s a modern day creepy doll, but with wifi.”
“Well, you could see it a mile away, couldn’t ya,” Louis answers, passing Harry the bowl of gummy bears and Minstrels. “She’s one of them uncanny valley things, like— a sentient robot. The question is whether she uses it for good or evil.”
Harry takes a sip of water first. “Miley’s good in this.” He eats a small handful of snacks thoughtfully, one at a time. “It’s like Hannah Montana gone bad. Though they do show the manager as being rather two dimensional.”
“Oh, she’s one-dimensional, mate,” Louis says. “Pure evil. True to life.”
“Ha!” Harry cackles. “You’re right. And Rachel’s the fan who believes all the publicity.”
“All the feel-good stories.” Louis agrees. “We had some of those, back in the day. Still do, in fact. All of them caught up in the music industry machine,” Louis uses quote fingers. “The symbolism’s a bit pedantic, but I get it. They’re still nice fans. Can’t blame them really.”
“Whereas,” Harry goes on, “Jack’s the cynical one who’s above it all. You can tell because she likes ‘real’ music.”
“Oh, innit. Jack’s into the gritty stuff,” Louis agrees, “like that doesn’t have its own PR angle. They’re both naive in their own way.” Harry nods quietly in agreement. “And the actual pop star being half dead— ”
“Comatose,” Harry interrupts.
“Yeah, yeah, comatose,” Louis corrects, “but they still use her to make money— ”
“Oh!” Harry elbows him. “I know. She’s basically a warm body generating cash.”
They both let the words sink in, keenly aware that One Direction were also warm bodies generating cash, the Rumpelstilskins of their rose-colored hour, spinning gold for everyone— themselves included. Meanwhile, the wolves were catching up to the wild horses inside them, thinning out the herd minute by minute, until there was only one left.
“Her aunt really didn’t give a shit what happened to her.” Louis leans back. “The show had to go on.”
“Show went on.”
Harry leans back as well, their shoulders touching. They both think back to times past, memories good and bad, too many nights when the show went on despite the boys being half comatose, too many stages, too many flashing cameras, too little time to say all the words they wanted to say.
“I like that Rachel’s like a fan who’s brainwashed at first,” Harry says, “but eventually gets a clue from the doll. Ashley Too cut through all the bullshit for them.”
“She didn’t fuck around!” Louis laughs. “Told it like it was.”
Harry nods. “Like real-life Miley.”
“Miley really did turn out pretty great, didn’t she? Doesn’t it remind you of the bears?” Louis asks. “Ashley Too, I mean. She’s a toy that tells the truth to fans far better than the actual pop star can.”
“If only our bears could talk, imagine what they would say!” Harry looks at the bowl of gummy bears with a tender amusement, and picks out a green and blue one. He puts them side by side. “What would they say?”
Louis realizes that one of his arms has been wrapped tightly around his chest, and the other is resting an elbow on it, with his hand on his chin. It’s as if his whole body is unconsciously shielding himself— against Harry and everything that’s happened. Louis realizes that Harry has not said a harsh word, in all of their exchanges, even though Louis has lashed out. Harry has come to Louis when he called. He’s picked him up when he needed him. He’s found him when he was lost. Harry is still his anchor, his sparrow, his butterfly. His Harry.
With care, Louis picks up the blue bear, and says quietly, “He would say, I’m sorry, I guess.” He turns the bear in his hand, like a tiny replica of the rainbow bears. “He would say to the green bear, I’m so sorry. For everything. You are still everything to me.”
Harry falls silent. He’s holding his body still, not making eye contact. Louis knows just how he feels. Louis looks down at his hands, the gummy bear seeming insignificant and small.
What if the wild horse that’s left in him is not a horse? The wolves have been taking down horses one by one, but the one that’s left isn’t anything like what they expect. He is a zebra. He belongs to no herd, and he will outrun them.
Harry’s fingers stray toward his. Louis looks at the familiar tattoo of the crucifix by his thumb, the ink of the anchor that is unmistakably Harry’s. His skin, his knuckles, his sinews. Louis knew Harry before all of them. He knows Harry, not as Harry Styles, but as his Harry, through thick and thin, for all time. He threads his hand through these long, familiar fingers, and, with determination, turns toward Harry.
“He would say I love you,” Louis says. “I love you. No matter what.”
Harry’s eyes are the color of a motionless lagoon, and Louis’ are the turbulent sea. The storm will carry the tide in, and Harry will always shelter him.
“Boo,” Harry says. His voice is unsteady and low.
Louis leans in.
Come say hi on Tumblr, and thank you for reading!
The songs in this fic are from Louis’ current list of 28, as of July 9, 2019.
*Glastonbury Festival, a music festival in the United Kingdom from June 26 to June 30, 2019 which Louis in this story attended
This story is part of a canon-compliant series set in 2019 (current, actually!). You can read the other parts here.
Part 1: Thumbing My Way Back to You
part 2: Heel