The next day, as Louis pulls open the door to the shop and everybody’s head flicks up to beam at him (“Louis!!”), things are much the same as the day before. It’s still the Ice Age and it’s still fairly miserable and uninspiring and he’s tired and wishes he was at home, snuggled up with his heated blanket, his cat, his siblings (though he would rather set himself on fire than tell them so) and a mug of tea.
Again, the café is filled just enough for him to be annoyed. But today he’s a bit crabbier; because he has a closing shift. (Yay.) And the only good news is that Zayn is his Supervisor through it all—small victories.
“Tommo,” Zayn greets mildly as he’s shifting through some official-looking papers at the work station. He glances up casually, his eyelashes nearly brushing the ceiling, his hair looking impossibly soft and deliciously disheveled. Did Louis ever mention how unfairly fit Zayn is? Freakishly and unfairly fit? “Are you my closer tonight?” he asks, a smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“I am indeed,” Louis smiles in response, unzipping his jacket and allowing the fumes of coffee to assault him, hoping they will miraculously seep through his flesh and ignite his very sludgy, still-in-bed veins. He glances around at who’s working—neither Liam or Niall.
“Looks like we got the dream team, then,” Zayn mutters as he peruses the schedule, pleased, and glances up at Louis. “Liam’s coming in at five.”
“Yessss,” Louis suddenly grins, mood lifting immediately as he offers up a cheeky wink. “A night to remember, then, Superior?”
“A night to remember,” Zayn agrees with a chuckle. “So. You’re gonna replace Missy on bar as soon as you get on the floor, alright?” he adds lazily.
Louis’ heart positively sings.
“Sounds perfect,” he trills, and nearly skips into the backroom to deposit his belongings, tucking his journal into his pocket as he passes.
Liam arrives fifteen minutes before five and Louis’ already in a good mood (business having been pleasantly steady and the customers and partners alike providing Louis with sufficient laughs and fetching smiles) so the outlook is already pretty positive, all in all. He’s been patient and accommodating and hasn’t rolled his eyes once—not even when someone ordered a “S’mores” beverage. Which. No.
So he’s feeling even more gregarious when Liam steps onto the floor, tying his apron in the back and smiling.
“Look who it is,” Louis beams, topping off a white mocha. “The Payne. Bringing the pain.”
Liam rolls his eyes but smiles amiably. “Let the games begin.”
“’S not a game, Payno. It’s a matter of life and death, the Starbucks. Ain’t that right, Superior?” Louis calls sweetly, capping the drink and setting it near the drive-thru window.
“Fuck Starbucks,” Zayn mutters in response from across the way, crouched and entering the code to the safe.
Liam furrows his brow, opening his mouth—to scold Zayn’s language, no doubt—but Louis cuts him off, laughing.
“Starfucks?” he offers.
Zayn grins, casting an appreciative glance Louis’ way. “Wanna go to the pub after we close?” he asks, rising from his crouched position. “Need a drink after this week.”
“I never say no. You coming, Liam?”
Liam shrugs. “Yeah, I guess.”
Louis beams. “Perfect. Now let’s make sure to close up fast tonight, lads. Don’t wanna be here till the wee hours of morning. Louis’ thirsty. Louis needs pink vodka.”
“Louis needs to stop talking like that,” Liam chides with a smile and shake of the head.
Which makes Louis kiss his nose. “Louis talks as he pleases, dearest friend.”
“Did you just kiss my nose!?” Liam balks incredulously, as though his nose has never been kissed before. Honestly.
Naturally, Louis grins lasciviously, flicking out a wink as Liam splutters. “I could kiss your dick next time?" he offers sweetly as Liam turns the color of raspberry syrup.
“Oi! Not on my watch,” Zayn calls from the other end but he's grinning and drumming a pen on the counter; Liam merely rolls his eyes.
“You’re creepy. Do you know that?” he says, brushing past Louis and assigning to his computer at the drive-thru.
“I have an inkling,” Louis smiles breezily, casually petting at his hair which makes Zayn chuckle and Liam glare.
He loves his life. Sometimes. Right now.
“Speaking of kissing dicks, though,” Liam says, lowering his voice as he closes the cash box, and Louis can’t help but laugh. “I wonder if Harry will come back tonight.”
“From yesterday? My husband?”
Louis thinks for a moment, sifting through nameless faces and searching before suddenly—
“Ohhhhhh, Hipster Boy? Hideous, pretentious jacket? A smile that is altogether too sure and a phone that can’t be ripped from his hand? Scarf that lasts for ages? That one?”
Liam positively glares. “Harry. Yes,” he says coldly and it makes Louis smile wider.
“Ah, you got his name then? Well done, Payno,” Louis says easily, rinsing his machine and assembling his shot glasses. “Dare I say I’m proud? How’d you do it? You’ve got a date? Proper chatted him up, did you?”
There’s a brief moment of hesitation as Liam clears his throat, resolutely looking nonchalant as he adjusts the volume on his headset. “Not exactly.”
Louis quirks an eyebrow. “Oh?”
“I, uh. I might've looked at his gold card," he mumbles sheepishly, now inspecting the cabinets.
Delighted, Louis guffaws. “You what?!” he laughs, doubling over the stainless steel counter as Liam sniffs the air, features smooth. “Does he even know you have his name?”
“Of course he does,” Liam snaps, but his expression breaks into amusement as Louis continues to cackle unabashedly. “Granted, he did seem a bit surprised when I said it, but…” He shrugs. “Oh well!”
“Well, I’ve got to hand it to you, mate. Good job! You’re the creepiest I know,” Louis laughs, wiping delicately at his eyes with the back of his hand.
Oh, Liam. Lovely, shameless Liam.
He grins, a suspicious twinkle in his eye. “I also added him on Facebook. His name’s Harry Styles, he’s from Cheshire, loves cats, and his profile picture is of him holding a child on his shoulders. His cover photo is him sitting on top of a mountain. Louis.” He places his hands on Louis’ shoulders, stares him dead in the eye. His green apron glows. “I’ve struck gold.”
Oh dear lord.
“Gold, you say?” Louis tries not to snort. Hardly. Sounds a bit cheesy and boring, to be honest. But Louis is nice, so he won’t spoil the fun. “Yes, I think you may have, friend. Now get him before he disappears into the night on his scooter—“
“He doesn’t have a scooter.”
“—Details,” Louis brushes aside, before continuing seamlessly, arm thrown around Liam’s shoulders, “and don’t be a tit and fuck it all up with your emotions and easy attachment. He seems to be a simple type, so he shouldn’t be difficult to trap.”
“Thanks,” Liam replies dryly, but Louis merely grins, pinching his cheek.
“Look at our Liam. Found his Prince Charming at the Starbucks!” he coos.
Liam beams, eyes unspooling and shoulders slumping in a daydream.
“I wish you all the luck in the world,” Louis continues, disengaging himself. “I know it’s been awhile. And it’s starting to show, to be honest. All this talk of babies lately…”
“Shut up,” Liam glowers, snapping out of his reverie and smacking at any part of Louis he can reach. "Just because you're soulless..."
Louis grins, about to agree--
But then suddenly the heavy sound of the door is heard and, like clockwork, there he is: Hipst—er, rather, Harry. There is Harry.
“Ohhhh, lookee, Cinderella; speaking of! Charming’s here,” Louis whispers, jabbing a finger into Liam’s ribs as he sidles past, immediately making to busy himself in order to avoid unwanted conversation and leave them to it.
He goes straight for the coffee grinder. Elegantly (or what he likes to think is elegantly—he can only do so much with a horse brush) he picks up the comb, dusting the excess coffee particles into the bin and wiping the residue off of the metal bits, half-consciously eavesdropping with a bemused smile soaking his face.
“Harry,” Liam greets, a little breathlessly, and Louis bites his smile because he really is dangerously close to laughing in their faces and he absolutely refuses to ruin this for Liam. He’s going to be a good mate. A proper bestie.
“Hi,” Harry greets, and his voice is just so deep, isn’t it? Such a dopey voice. Sounds a bit like the thick, creamy breve toppers Louis scoops onto doppio espressos.
Louis slides his rag around the machine, takes his time scrubbing the forgotten corners. His back faces the pair.
“I’m sorry,” Louis hears Harry continue after a momentary pause, and he sounds it, his tone flavored with embarrassment. “I’m shit at names. What was yours again?”
He can practically hear the sound of Liam’s heart deflating. Louis frowns.
Clearly, Harry is thoughtless. Probably looks down on the 'little' people. Doesn't think baristas deserve names or summat. They're all just work bodies to him.
“Oh. No problem," Liam lies through his teeth, his tone clearly distressed. Louis makes a mental note to buy him a round tonight. "It’s Liam, actually.”
“Ah, yeah! Of course!" Harry croons, recognition coloring the tone, and Louis eases up a bit, movements a little less clenched. "Liam! Hi, Liam. How are you today?” he continues kindly and it’s all very polite and cordial and smiley and Louis is totally rolling those eyes of his. Since he’s been on good behavior all day, he figures it’s allowed.
“Really good. And yourself?”
God, this is boring. He re-dips his rag in the sanitizer water, carefully squeezes it of excess droplets. The sound is a bit harsh, water dumping down in great plops.
“Pretty good. It was my first day of lessons today. At school. So. I think it went well?”
Hm. He must be a student.
“Oh yeah? What do you teach?”
“Well, we’re discussing Transcendentalism right now, actually. So I’ve just been showing my students a few of my favorite paintings and things and exploring its definition. You know, the typical stuff,” Harry laughs nonchalantly, probably waving a pinky-ringed hand in faux modesty.
He's obviously pretentious. But...at least he's teaching interesting things. Whatever.
“That sounds fun,” Liam lies. (Because Liam is probably the most unscholarly person on this planet; he can name any composure within the first three seconds of any sonata but mention the word 'literature' and he balks and starts talking about ice cream.) “Do you talk a lot about…that stuff? As an English teacher?”
Louis pauses momentarily as he’s wiping down the sinks. He once wanted to be an English teacher. A long time ago. In a galaxy far away.
He continues working, discreetly humming the Star Wars theme song.
“Well, I mostly just discuss the relevant themes or cultural eras that surround whatever text we’re reading," Harry explains slowly, too slowly. "So. Uhm. I guess?”
Not very articulate for an English teacher.
“Cool.” Liam’s tone sounds the very opposite. Louis has to bite back a snort. “So. Can we get you something to drink, Professor Styles?”
“Yes, please,” Professor Styles chuckles, and the sound of a phone being unlocked clicks through the air. “Coffee in a mug. Three seconds of soy, please.”
Louis rolls his eyes.
He continues working, works as Liam fetches the coffee and teasingly counts the soy, and works as he hears Harry laugh and smile and it’s all just a bit annoying to him because this odd little duck is now apparently an English teacher (an occupation Louis once truly seriously considered) and is so obviously confident and just a bit…obnoxious? No, that’s not the word. Overly-confident? Overly-good? Maybe that’s it.
In any case, he’s all pleasant words and pretty looks and he wears scarves and sips from his mug as he plans his apparent lectures and…
It’s just annoying.
So it’s only after he’s left the counter that Louis finally stops cleaning everything in sight and reassumes his position at the espresso machine. He’s there for all of five seconds—as Liam rushes to the safety of the backroom and begins excitedly retelling every single word Louis had already just heard between Harry and him, over the headset, as Louis jots down a quick ‘Liam’s Prince: A Hipster with a Degree, existing in a school and, undoubtedly, misshaping the youth’—when suddenly Louis’ aware of a presence in his peripherals.
He looks to his right (the handoff plane) and briefly wonders if he’s missed a drink as he slips his journal into his apron pocket, lightning fast, before he realizes who it is.
“Can I get you something?” he asks Harry, walking forward begrudgingly, a polite, toothy smile in place.
Harry smiles, shrugging, his mug sat on the counter between his large hands as he stares at Louis, that bloody scarf wound around his neck in large loops. He’s not wearing the beanie today. Good. It was inexplicably obnoxious on him. Now his hair's all loose and swirly, fluffy atop his head. Much more natural this way.
“So that’s a no, then?” Louis asks with a raised eyebrow.
“I just wanted to say hi,” Harry responds, still smiling, eyes wide and very nearly the color of Louis’ apron beneath the soft lights. Does this kid blink?
Louis nods slowly, his smile retreating. “I see. Well. Hi.” He places a hand on his hips, leans a bit on the counter as he eyes the boy before him.
“Louis?” he repeats, dumbfounded. How the actual fuck does this guy know his name?
Instantly, Harry’s face falls, any bravado gone. “Is it not Louis? I’m sorry—I thought--what is--?” he stutters, and Louis notes his slightly pinkened cheeks and his blinking eyes and his face that suddenly looks much less cardboard-y. He looks flustered.
So, naturally, Louis can’t help but take the piss a bit.
“It’s actually Barnabus,” Louis says, feigning offence and folding his arms over his chest.
Harry stares. “Barnabus,” he repeats, and Louis can clearly see him wracking his brain, trying to recall the truth in this.
“Barnabus,” Louis affirms, face unrelenting as he glides disapproving eyes over Harry. “But I couldn’t expect you to know that, Henry.”
If possible, Harry’s face falls even more.
“My name’s not Henry,” he protests, looking truly stricken, lips in a comic pout.
He's like an errant toddler, Jesus.
“Well, my name’s not Barnabus,” Louis reasons smoothly, face impassive.
“It really is Louis, isn’t it?” he asks slowly, a hesitant smile suddenly beginning to reform.
Louis shrugs. “I suppose it is. What’s yours, then? Liam mentioned it but I don’t really remember,” he lies, realigning his steaming pitchers with lazy movements. Bored.
“Harry,” Harry replies, and he still looks put out, glancing down into the surface of his coffee briefly before pulling his gaze back up, cheeks still pink.
“So, Harry,” Louis continues, unfolding his arms and pressing the ‘Rinse’ button on his machine, lining up his shot glasses beneath the stream. It’s a bit of a nervous habit. “How did you know my name?”
Because it’s not like he’s seen it on his nametag—Louis never wears a nametag. Despite it being ‘mandatory’, he absolutely refuses to abide by the rule. For no other reason than just because he’s expected to. (He’s kind of a shit like that.)
Harry shrugs (he’s a big shrugger—it’s annoying) and keeps his stare on Louis, watches him as he fiddles with the glasses. “Heard a few people call you it. Yesterday when I was here. When they were saying goodbye to you when you were leaving.”
Louis’ eyebrows shoot up as he turns to look at him.
Harry smiles confidently in return, clutching his mug.
“Weird," Louis comments idly, side-eying him. He pauses, watching Harry's smile grow. "But good to know.”
And with that, he walks away, striding towards the backroom because he’s had quite enough of this boy. The workplace is not a time for socializing.
“Nice chat, Henry,” he calls over his shoulder as he continues forward.
He can’t hide the smirk in his voice, practically feeling the smile fall from Harry’s face.
The rest of the night is spent with Harry wasting Louis’ fucking time.
Not that he talks to Louis because, no, Louis would not allow for that. He is careful to always distract himself or turn away or even just simply walk away the minute Harry looks like he’s about to approach him—he doesn’t have time to make friends or entertain the bored little English teacher just because he’s struggling to formulate his lesson plans.
Harry does, however, talk to everybody else.
Including Zayn. Whose verbal communication usually mirrors that of a tombstone. Not tonight though, apparently—he’s been chatting away with the curly, elbow-patched, teacher boy, laughing at his jokes and keeping eye contact easily, not a shred of disdain coloring his irises.
Louis huffs around the shop, busting his arse to finish all the chores that need to be done before close, picking up the slack that his [suddenly] conversationally-gifted colleagues are leaving behind.
Liam’s in absolute heaven, batting his eyelashes and laughing coquettishly every time Harry says…pretty much any word. When he was sent on his lunch, he spent most of it talking to Harry (who, Louis was happy to note, approached Liam first) and laughing about… Well. Who the hell knows. Still, it made Louis smile as he collected dishes and swept crumbs off of the counters.
But he stopped smiling after social hour became social hours.
Because then Zayn—who already takes for-fucking-ever when he counts cash drawers and counts pastries and does every other little task he (and only he) can do—was milling about, laughing with Harry like he were one of the regulars that have come for, say, more than two days in a row.
‘Hipster Prince has become Hipster Pest’ Louis scribbles down, trying not to break the pen in his clenched fist.
He continues to work around them all, gritting his teeth and firmly avoiding Harry’s gaze which he feels following him, prickling at his skin incessantly and unpleasantly. The fucker.
So it’s a colossal relief when the store finally closes, the clock ticking ten o’clock and sending Liam and Harry on their way.
“Should I ask him for a ride?” Liam asks nervously, zipping up his jacket and ambling up to Louis.
Louis peers at him over the stack of dishes in his hands, crumbs tumbling down his apron. “You have a car, Liam. Why on earth should you need a ride?”
“But like. Should I lie?” he asks, eyes wide.
A sigh escapes Louis as he brushes past him, dishes clanking together with each movement. “I think he’ll figure it out, to be honest.”
“Should I ask him to get food, then?” Liam continues, following him closely, eyebrows furrowed.
Louis rolls his eyes, ignoring the massive brown eyes and fearfully drawn lips. “Sure, go ahead, I don’t care—just leave my store so I can clean it up and leave this bloody place!”
“Hey, still up for a drink afterwards?” Zayn asks suddenly, popping up out of nowhere from around the corner.
Liam looks to Louis, instantly delighted. “OH! I’ll invite Harry!”
“Perfect,” Louis sighs, exasperated, dumping the stack of dishes into the sink and sending spits of suds and flecked water everywhere—namely on Louis’ face and apron. Marvelous. “Now go and flirt or fuck or whatever, and leave!”
With a beam, Liam trots away, catching up to Harry (who has just packed up his belongings carefully, eyes continuously flicking to the backroom) and together they exit the store, chatting amiably.
“Have we got a new friend?” Zayn asks after he’s locked the door, watching through the large windows as Liam and Harry walk into the night, surrounded by swirls of breath and moonlight.
Louis laughs from the back, elbow deep in suds and dishes. He slides his hair out of his eyes with the driest part of his wrist. “God, I hope not.”
Zayn chuckles as he walks away, and Louis scrubs for his life.
Harry doesn’t come.
“Said he has to get up for school tomorrow,” Liam pouts, already three drinks in. Which is excellent because it most likely means heartfelt crying will occur at some point. Louis’ favorite.
“Sorta makes sense tho, doesn’t it?” Louis says, thumping him on the back. “On account of him being a teacher and all?”
Liam doesn’t respond, just hiccups despairingly.
Zayn raises his eyebrows, sending Louis a look.
Louis sighs. “Don’t worry, Payno. You’re making remarkable progress. I think he likes you!” he encourages, faux-smile bright beneath orange lights and lingering cigarette smoke.
Simple as pie, Liam perks immediately. “Yeah? You think so?” he asks eagerly, shooting up in his seat. He looks from Louis to Zayn, then back again, like a meerkat.
“Oh yeah,” Zayn agrees with forced feeling after catching Louis’ threatening eye, and it’s so exaggerated and over the top that Louis wants to laugh, wants to laugh forever. Zayn clinks his glass against Liam’s reassuringly as he nods fiercely.”A lot, I reckon.”
“Yeah? A lot?” Liam asks, eyes positively shining, thirsting for affirmation.
Louis laughs, unable to keep it in any longer, throwing his head back and sliding further down the booth, throwing open his arms to rest on the back of it.
“A lot, a lot,” he reassures though his laughter, and presses a sloppy kiss to Liam’s forehead before he orders them all another round, sending a wink to Zayn from across the table.
“I sure hope so,” Liam sighs, on the verge of being downright glum.
Taking pity, Zayn reaches over in an uncharacteristically tender act, squeezing Liam’s shoulder sympathetically. “Don’t worry, Payno,” he says, breathe tinged with hard liquor and cigarettes. His hair is wilting a bit—it somehow makes him look even better. Fucker. “You’ll probably end up marrying the bloke--you never know what can happen.”
“Yeah,” Louis laughs, kicking up his feet with a cocksure smile as Liam blinks morosely. “You never know what can happen.”