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This Feels A Lot Like Love

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The first time Harry saw Louis was in Year 4. They were both fairly young and pink cheeked, probably still pissing in their bedsheets. Harry’s curls were barely starting to form, stray wisps of hair curling on his forehead and around his flushed cheeks. Too short for anybody’s liking. He was sat alone by himself with no one to play with until a messy haired Louis wadded along and gave him his crayons.

“They’re the color of the rainbows,” he said, his smiling lips painted a cherry red.

Harry thanked him quietly and watched him walk back to his little group of friends with stars in his eyes.

The second time Harry saw Louis was in Year 11. His curls were starting to unravel into long locks of waves. His clothes were patched up and old, but everybody else was still too young to notice or care. He was sat in the bleachers at the pitch where boys were lining up to try out for the school’s football team for next year. Louis, of course, was there with his shining face and sweaty hair. He ran up and down the green meadow of grass kicking penalty after penalty kick, scoring eight goals out of ten. Harry was utterly impressed. He didn’t think it was a big deal that his eyes were pinpointed to the short statured boy with blue eyes.

The third time Harry saw Louis was in Year 13, Upper Sixth Form. Harry was minding his own business as usual and stacking heavy textbooks in his ratty, old rucksack. His clothes were bought from the Lost and Found shop two blocks away from their house and his hair was curled, swept off his forehead in a nice fringe. His classmates were finally old enough to understand that he was poor and kept to himself, mostly because when he came out last year, people bullied him mercilessly. His mum had cried and Gemma had wanted to fail her classes in order to protect him from mean bullies. But Harry wanted to be truly himself and so they called him brave.

Harry slammed his locker shut, his pigeon toed feet carrying him to his next class. As soon as his eyes landed on the pair of bullies, he turned around and headed to the other direction. Most likely to the loos where he sought out protection. Before he reached the restrooms however, a large meaty palm fell on his shoulder, stopping him shortly.

“Hey, Curly. Where are you going?”

Harry swallowed hard past the lump in his throat. He turned around, nerves prickling his skin and spreading goosebumps on his flesh.

“Um,” he said weakly. His eyes darted around everywhere except at Emmett, who was staring intently in his eyes. “I—Um—Well.”

“Um. Um. What?” Emmett sneered. “Cat got your tongue?”

“Hey, Em!”

Both boys turned around to the sound of a high, Yorkshire accented voice. Harry knew that voice anywhere. He breathed a sigh of relief at the sight of Louis running towards them, his slightly sweaty hair brushed off his forehead. He reached them and patted Emmett’s back a little too roughly.

“Drop your hands off my boy here,” he ordered with smiling lips, gesturing to Harry.

“You know this nerd?” Emmett asked, disbelief coloring his voice.

Louis tsk’ed his tongue on the roof of his mouth. He arched his eyebrow, his scrutinized eyes racing up and down Emmett’s face.

“Now, now, Em. Settle down. We’re all friends here. Why don’t you leave poor H here alone and run along to footie practice, will you?”

“But—” Emmett started, his brows pinching together.

“As your footie captain, I order you to come along. You’re late already,” Louis said, his voice stern.

No longer was the playful attitude or the mirth twinkled eyes, replaced by a puffed out chest and narrowed eyes. He was a leader for a reason.

Emmett dropped his hand off Harry’s shoulder and checked him against the row of lockers while passing by, his entourage following him. Harry tumbled to the floor in a tangle of limbs and fallen books. Louis stared at Emmett’s back angrily before dropping down to his haunches.

“Hey,” he said quietly, his voice soft. He helped Harry pick up his books and stuffed them into his rucksack. “Sorry about him. He’s a jerk.”

“Why are you doing this?” Harry asked, his voice shaky.

He hated that he sounded so vulnerable and close to tears. One thing he knew was to never let them show how much they affected him.

Louis shrugged his shoulders. He helped Harry up with a hand steadying his waist. Harry licked his dry lips, ignoring the searing burn of Louis’ touch. The heat of his fingertips made him lean into his warmth subconsciously. Louis smiled faintly, pale blue eyes searching his face.

Harry was all too aware of their surroundings. He was aware that it was just the two of them now, the hallways empty and quiet. He was sure the last bell rang somewhere before, but he was too busy tracing Louis’ sharp cheekbones with his eyes to notice.

The bell rang again, reminding them that they weren’t the only ones in the world. Louis’ head snapped up to the sound. He thumbed to the direction where Emmett and his crew left, smiling sheepishly.

“I gotta go to footie practice. Don’t worry, I’ll make Emmett run ten more laps today.”

He smiled at him one last time and jogged off. Harry’s words died in his throat. He never even asked him how Louis knew his name. What he really wanted to ask was,

You know me? I mean, you were looking at me back then?

. . .

It was Harry’s favorite season come yet, October. With its falling orange and yellow leaves, crunching underneath his new pair of favorite suede boots. The air smelling of crisp wind, butterflying leaves in the air. October with its teenagers bubbling about the pumpkin spiced lattes from Starbucks and aspiring writers spending endless hours in quaint little coffee shops bending over their brightly lit laptop screens.

It was understandable to say that October was Harry’s favorite, cozy season.

It was also the start of their school’s footie team season. Harry may or may not have lingering eyes over a certain football player decked out in their school colors of royal blue and sunshine yellow. The regal bumblebees! Go bumblebees! Harry thought it was ridiculous for a simple bumblebee wearing a royal crown but then again, he was not the one in charge for his school’s mascot or logo.

So naturally, that’s how he found himself cheering along to the students in the stands. The FW’s, or football wives, were giggling animatedly amongst themselves, waving pennants in the air. Everybody knew that only family members and football girlfriends were the only ones who were allowed to carry those colorful pennants. Their respective boyfriends would get the pennants for them, a symbol of territorial marking. Again, Harry thought it was ridiculous.

Harry was sat next to his neighbor and long-time best friend, Niall Horan. Niall was a fan of their own school’s football team and often gushed about their season on the school’s radio show with host Nick Grimshaw. He was raucous, a good laugh and a cheery presence to be around with. Harry was lucky that Niall had stuck by him throughout all these years, even when he was the first one Harry came out to and cried on his shoulder. They were with each other through thick and thin.

Bundled in coats and scarves, Harry was shivering in his seat. The honk bellowed out in the air, announcing the commencement of the game. Their team jogged out on the pitch alongside with the opposing team. They raised their hands over their hearts, attuned to the pledge of allegiance song.

They clapped hands once the song was over, the footie captains shaking hands. With a blow to the whistle, the game began. The cheerleaders ran out in the field in skimpy outfits even with the blowing wind, chanting out cheers to pump up the audience. Harry found himself echoing back their cheers, stomping his feet and cupping his hands around his mouth.

All throughout the game, Harry’s eyes chased around the number twenty-eight racing across the pitch. He licked his lips at the sight of Louis’ delicious thick thighs, toned arms—the swell of his arse over his shorts. At some point, Niall nudged him in the side with his elbow, snickering quietly.

“Hey mate, think you got some drool there,” he laughed with pursed lips to stop any more laughter from escaping.

Harry rolled his eyes, nudging him back. Even though it was the start of October season and the atmosphere had picked up on a cool wind, he felt warm all over. He was pretty sure he was burning at the touch, water racing down his cheeks to pool in his collarbones.

The regal bumblebees won 3-0. Harry stood up clapping, cheering uproariously while the rest of the fans mimicked his enthusiasm. When they were trotting down the steps, he lost Niall’s blonde head somewhere amidst other heads. He shoved his hands in his pockets and lingered by the chain link fence, eyes searching for his friend.

Niall came back with flushed cheeks and a bright smile. “Hey,” he breathed, tugging him along. “Where are we going?” Harry asked dumbly. “I bumped into Zayn and he invited me to hang with the lads. You in?”

Harry’s knees went queasy. He gripped Niall’s shoulder to stand upright.

"Um,” he said, licking his lips. His heart thrummed in his chest. His hands felt prickly with fresh sweat. “Who are the lads, exactly?”

“Just Stanley and Louis, of course.”

Louis as in Louis Tomlinson. Of course.

“So…You in?” Niall asked again, his head cocked to the left.

He looked like a happy go-lucky golden retriever with his tongue sticking out. Harry couldn’t say no to that.

Harry followed Niall as if he was the lost puppy to where Zayn, Stanley and Louis were standing. Louis had showered and changed right after the game, judging by his damp hair and fresh set of clothes. They reached them graciously, Niall clapping their backs with a smiling face as Harry stood closely behind.

“Hey, it’s Curly!” Louis cheered, the corners of his mouth quirking up in a grin.

Harry found himself smiling along. Louis’ enthusiasm was infectious. Niall introduced Harry to the rest of the guys. He shook their hands politely and smiled bigger when it was Louis’ turn, their hands lingering for longer than normal. Zayn tracked their motions but didn’t bother to say anything about it. Harry was grateful.

“So what do you say we grab some burgers and chips?” Stanley offered, rubbing his hands together and blowing hot air on them.

Harry almost forgot about the cold. He was much too warm from Louis’ warmth, his hands sweating and beads of sweat trickling down his neck. He fingered the scarf around his neck, pulling it away from his burning skin.

The boys agreed to carpool to Burger Brothers, a burger joint where they served the freshest burgers and mouthwatering milkshakes. Harry’s personal favorite. They climbed in and hummed hit song after hit song, Harry falling into a repeated mantra of this is only temporary, this is only temporary, this is only temporary.

See, because it was all too easy for Harry to get adjusted to this life. A life where he forgot he had the highest marks in his class and he wasn’t teased for his changing looks. Where he had more than one best friend and they hung out all the time, maybe even invited him to parties. Where he desperately denied having an infinitesimal crush on the blue-eyed boy sitting next to him, all loud laughs and bright smiles.

When they finally arrived at the burger joint, they squeezed into a booth. Zayn and Stanley were on one side of the booth while Harry and Louis were on the other, Niall scooting up a chair to sit at the end. Harry ignored the warmth of their thighs touching or the way Louis would casually run his fingers on his thigh. He watched him carefully all the while, but his shoulders scrunched into themselves when he realized Louis would be joking around with Zayn or flirting with the pretty waitress, completely oblivious to what his hands were doing underneath the table. Maybe it was just a Louis thing. Besides, he was known for flirting with everybody, platonic or not.

All throughout the afternoon, Harry had to endure Louis’ soft touches. On his thigh, on his shoulder, once even on his cheek when Louis patted him gently. He kept his hands tucked in between his squeezed thighs while Louis touched as he pleased, tender fingertips touching his skin.

Once they were done with their food, they leaned back against the plush leather of the booth. Harry admired the way Louis’ belly was a slight swell compared to the rest of his body. It reminded him that he was a regular boy and not some being with godlike features and tanned skin.

“How about we go to Harry’s for the night?” Louis asked, looking at Harry softly.

The boys piped up in agreement, all pair of eight eyes looking at him for confirmation. Harry found himself nodding helplessly. Mostly because he had a hard time making friends and this was his opportunity. If he didn’t say yes now, he would never be able to make friends without Niall’s help. So he nodded weakly and let himself smile at the sight of the boys whopping out cheers and hoots.

Sneaking the boys in was fairly easy. Harry’s mum had taken night shifts at the supermarket store and his dad was probably roaming dingy pugs, getting himself utterly wasted. He had learned early enough it was best to ignore their constant fighting when his dad would get home wasted to his tired mum.

They tiptoed quietly to his room, Harry nicking the door shut behind him. The lads gathered around on the floor, forming a circle. Zayn patted his pockets for a smoke and a deck of cards while Stanley produced a six pack of beer seemingly out of nowhere. Louis patted the empty place beside him, looking up at Harry with twinkling eyes.

“Want a cig?” Zayn asked, a cigarette already falling off his lips loosely.

That was generally the nicest thing Zayn could offer to somebody. It was his way of accepting him into his group of friends. He also said he was addicted to smoking though Harry believed it just helped his bad boy persona even more. Harry denied, curls twisting themselves onto his forehead.

Zayn shrugged and passed one to Louis while Stanley and Niall denied. Normally Harry would warn him that there was no smoking inside, his mum’s rules and not his, but he really needed to hit it off tonight. He had to do whatever it took for them to accept him as one of theirs.

Niall grabbed the cards and started shuffling them. Pretty soon, the silence was enveloped in raucous laughter and smoke wisps curling in the air. Beers passed between them, Harry sharing one with Louis. He passed it back to him with shining red lips. He brought the beer to his lips and swallowed. It was the closest way of kissing Louis he was ever going to get.

Some hours into the night, Harry had gotten used to the constant teasing and smoke lingering in the air. He felt himself feel heavy with sleep, the smoke tinting his clothes and hair. He didn’t care as long as he was pressed up against Louis, thighs touching, shoulders brushing. He felt hazy and drunk every time Louis’ fingertips slid on his knee, teasingly slow. He felt even drunker when he saw Louis and drank him in, his flushed cheeks, his shimmering eyes, his red lips. He was stupidly beautiful.

Once the laughter settled down and they were surrounded by comfortable silence, the front door banged shut. The air shifted with the motion. Harry’s back tensed up immediately.

“Harry,” his dad called, somewhere from downstairs.

“Oh,” Louis said, quietly. He lowered his voice even lower. “I think Hazza here has a bedtime.”

The boys giggled in their fists. Harry remained quiet, stunned. He didn’t even shudder at the new nickname. Louis teased him in front of the others, on purpose, and it made him feel small. Incredibly so. He wanted to crawl under the covers and hide from the rest of the world.

Instead, he pursued his lips and announced, “I think you lot should go.”

Louis sobered up. He stared at him, eyelids blinking, a little bit drunk. Harry wanted to run his thumb on the pillowed cushion of his lower lip. The boys around them exchanged glances and one by one, slowly stood up. They gathered their things and went to the window, propping their legs over the windowsill to escape.

Louis and Harry were swallowed in silence. Harry swallowed hard and looked down, his hands shaking. Louis looked small and vulnerable, his bottom lip disappearing in his mouth. Harry wanted to tuck him to his chest and kiss his temple. He felt this sudden overwhelming affection that if he didn’t express it somehow, he was going to burst. He was going to die. Oh god, was he drunk? Or high? Or worse, both?!

Now that they were alone, Louis cupped his cheek and held his hand, his thumb smoothing the skin there absentmindedly. Harry thought it was only because they were alone. It would hurt his hetero reputation otherwise.

“I didn’t mean what I said before,” he hesitated, his eyes shimmering. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s fine,” Harry replied, feigning casualty.

He pushed Louis’ hands away even though it hurt him at the fathom touch.

“You were right. I need to go to sleep or else…”

He motioned with his hand the universal gesture of slitting one’s throat. Louis dropped his hands. He parted open his chapped lips on a breath. He seemed to be fighting with the idea of staying or leaving.

However, he nodded slightly and slid out of the window, his legs tumbling after him. Harry leaned over the windowsill, white knuckled hands gripping the ledge. He watched Louis hop down the hood of Stanley's red, busted up car and jump through the passenger’s side gracefully. The clatter of empty beer bottles was heard as he assembled himself in the seat.

He flicked his hand in the air. Harry waved back, his smile not quite reaching his eyes. He watched the car speed off into the night with a sputter of smoke following them. He closed the window and crawled into bed, listening to the sounds of his heart thumping in his chest.

He touched his cheek where Louis last touched him with careful fingertips. He willed his body to sleep, even though he wasn’t tired. He was buzzing with anticipation that would never come from Louis’ gentle touches. He fluttered his eyes closed and rolled around, tucking his hands underneath the cool side of the pillow. He replayed Louis’ voice over and over in his head, his smiling mouth and blue eyes flickering over in his memory.

He remembered Louis’ scent the most. Still smelling of grass and clean soap and faint cigarette smoke. He could only imagine what his mouth tasted like.

Did he taste like toothpaste or like cigarette? Harry would never know the reality.

Because in a world like this, Harry didn’t have a chance with Louis, and someone like Louis would never fall in love with someone like Harry. At least, that’s what he was raised to believe in.

Harry dreamed that night of cigarette tasting lips and pressing fingertips.