In a beautiful turn of cruelty, Louis’ shift the next day starts at the crisp hour of eleven in the morning.
And, sure, that’s not all that early—but Louis has been sleepless and angsty and adjusted to the night life so his body is mildly confused when he drags his carcass out of his sheets at 10AM and pulls cold cotton over his sleep-tingly limbs, still warm and creased from his sheets. But whatever. He’s already in a shit mood; might as well get this day over with.
After all, Liam and Harry will probably be going on the date soon, so. Distractions will be welcome.
He kisses his mum goodbye, kisses his sisters (despite their protests) and drives his clunky car to work, blinded by sunbeams bouncing off of crystallized snow. Everything’s white light and cold, his breath pluming and his hands numb in his mittens.
It doesn’t get any warmer when he parks his car and tucks his keys in the pocket of his jacket, jingling and cold, poking out at odd angles. It gets even colder when he scuttles across icy pavement and waddles inside, ripping off his stocking cap and fluffing a hand through his messy hair, cheeks brazen red.
And it get colder still when he sees Liam sitting at a table near the backroom, all by himself, hands folded over a book atop the table, lips pursed and brows furrowed.
What the hell?
Frowning, Louis’ strides slow. Isn’t he supposed to be with Harry right now? Or, at least, soon? Shouldn’t he be getting ready? Doing his hair? Snapchatting everyone? Updating his relationship status on Facebook?
“Payno?” he calls tentatively, voice sounding just as unsure as he feels as he walks to the table.
Liam lifts his head almost immediately, his frown deepening the moment he meets eyes with Louis. “Hey.” His tone is off.
Louis stops, bites the cushion of his lip. Instinctually, his hands tighten in his jacket pockets, his posture stiffening because something feels wrong right now and that something feels like it has something to do with Louis.
“What’s up?” he asks, feigning casual as he shifts his weight, closely watching as Liam gently unfolds his hands, picking up the book on the table and—
Louis’ blood drains from his face.
Oh dear god. That’s not a book. That’s…
That’s Louis’ journal.
He stops breathing.
“Look, Liam, I—“
“You left this on the desk last night,” Liam says calmly, quietly; too calmly, too quietly.
Louis swallows, clamps his jaw shut as he wills his pulse to remain steady, skin flushing with shame.
Moments pass, silence filled only by the bustle of Starbucks; coffee being poured, milk being steamed, syrups being pumped, voices carried and greetings called, crisp pastries being stuffed into bags and handed off to eager hands.
“You should’ve told me,” Liam says at last, eyebrows creased as he thumbs gently at the journal before him.
“You shouldn’t have read it,” Louis argues, face so damn hot as his jaw clicks defiantly, standing tall and gripping the liner of his jacket for dear life.
“But I’m glad I did,” Liam protests gently, turning in his seat to look at Louis full on, eyes wide and sad. Very brown. Very canine. “Like, I know I shouldn’t have just started reading, Lou, but it was open, it was just sitting there, and I saw my name and I couldn’t stop and…” He drifts off, lips thinning into a frown as he smoothes another hand over the cover, Louis shrinking in his shoes. He looks up. “I didn’t know.”
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” Louis responds quietly, breathing through his nose.
“I mean, I suspected,” Liam adds, searching Louis’ eyes. “But I didn’t realize how…intense it all was.”
Louis hangs his head then, ashamed and burning as he rubs a hand across the back of his prickly neck. “I’m sorry, Liam,” he says, quiet and genuine and sounding so unlike himself that he chances a look up, trying to school his expression to neutrality.
But Liam’s already looking at him, slightly incredulous. “Sorry? For what? There’s no reason to be sorry, Lou. You’ve been an incredible friend. Like, shit.” He whistles, low, shaking his head as he looks back to the journal, eyes searing through its pages. X-ray vision. His tongue darts out to lick the line of his lips, his next words careful. “I’m the one who should be sorry.” Pause. “He likes you, you know.”
Again, Louis stops breathing.
“He told me,” Liam continues, sounding just a bit more strangled than before. His own cheeks redden, his Adam’s apple bobbing on a swallow. “The other day. At lunch. The reason he asked me to go was because he wanted to talk to me about you.” Again, he swallows. “I honestly didn’t think you actually liked him, so I told him as such. And, er, I may or may not have insinuated that you and Zayn had a thing? Sorta?” He winces as Louis’ eyes bug.
“Zayn? Are you serious? You told Harry that Zayn and I had a thing??”
“I was panicked!” Liam rushes, defensive and red. “I just figured that if he thought you were tied to someone else, he would officially give up on you! I genuinely didn’t think you were interested in him like that!”
Sighing, Louis rubs his hand over his eyes, fingers lingering over his temples.
Fuck. This whole thing is a mess.
“Then last night, I found this,” Liam continues, face still read but tone stronger. “And I read it. And…I just couldn’t go through with it today,” he exhales, shoulders slumping as he searches Louis’ face almost desperately, perched on the edge of his chair now. “I couldn’t go on that date, Lou. Not when… Not when it’s like this.” He gestures towards the journal, eyes pained. “You should’ve told me.”
“I should’ve told you,” Louis nods, feeling an odd combination of numbness and adrenaline. “I absolutely should’ve told you but it felt like such a shitty thing, such a shitty situation that I didn’t even want to mention it to you. I thought you adored him—“
“Not, like, that much, to be honest,” Liam shrugs, though his expression is still pained. “He was just…there. You know how I get. Give me any decently attractive man in within reaching distance and I’ll be on the hunt.” He smiles wryly, almost shyly, and it procures a small laugh out of Louis. It sounds like relief. “And, uh. Just so you know? I told him everything.”
Louis’ laughter dies.
“I told him the truth. About you and Zayn, I mean. Like, I don’t know if he called you or what—“
“He didn’t,” Louis says faintly, eyes widening as his fingers prickle.
“Well.” Liam purses his lips. “Then he’s probably waiting to see you in person, I guess He was pretty… Well. He seemed pretty passionate about the whole thing. Was a little mad at me. Maybe a lot. Went on about misunderstandings and things. So, uh. Yeah. Sorry.” He flashes a small and shamed smile, head ducked.
Louis can only stare.
“I’m sorry, Louis,” he says quietly, frowning.
Immediately, Louis shakes his head. “No, I’m sorry, Liam.”
“I am,” Louis protests, insistent.
“Well so am I,” Liam protests harder, standing up and stuffing the journal in Louis’ hands.
As one, their eyes meet, reluctant smiles budding on their lips as Yvette calls out a venti mocha with no whipped cream. There’s just one pause, one moment of hesitation—and then they hug, barreling their chests together as they thump backs and smile into each other’s shoulders, Louis carrying a tiny, overwhelmed smile in his mouth.
“Fuck, this was overdramatic,” he laughs as they part, Liam scratching the back of his neck.
“Oops?” he offers, squinting his eyes.
“Oops indeed, you fuck,” Louis laughs, just because, relief flowing out of his pores as he tries to soak up all the information he just received. Fuck. All this drama? Over nothing? He’s too old for this. “So you really don’t care if I were to date Harry?” he asks again, just to be sure, as they make their way into the backroom.
“Honestly? No,” Liam says simply as he follows him, hands in the pockets of his khakis. “Truth be told, I’m still talking to that one guy I went on a date with way back when.” He smiles, embarrassed. “I know. I’m a prick. But I think I like him?”
“Oi, fuck’s sake,” Louis can only sigh, unable to hide his smile as he grips Liam in an unexpected headlock and mussing up his hair, Liam squawking protests and flapping like a bird.
For Louis’ entire shift, Harry fails to show.
Which isn’t, like, terribly concerning or anything.
‘Harry hasn’t texted or anything. Hasn’t come to Starbucks. What gives ???????’
Aside from that text Louis frantically sent to Liam over his lunch break, he’s been completely unaffected.
So he’s not exactly expecting it when he clocks out and leaves the backroom, ready to hide in the nearest rubbish bin and croon about the missed opportunities of his life, when he suddenly finds Harry waiting for him, leaning up against the wall with wide, unblinking eyes and a scarf that nearly covers his mouth, skin prickled with cold and hair swirled from the icy wind.
“Can we talk?” he asks instantaneously, bounding off the wall, and it’s gentle and he’s Harry.
Louis exhales, feeling his nerves jingle as he swallows and nods, pressing his bundled up apron into his chest. “Um. Yeah. Of course.”
They shuffle to a more secluded corner of the store despite the place already being fairly empty, given the weather and time of day. Even for a Saturday, late afternoon/early evening provides a lull. Thankfully. They stop near the small tower of newspaper, leaning against the wall and facing each other, the hum of music drifting between their expectant bodies as Harry nibbles on his lip and Louis bites absently at his nails, their eyes stuck on each other but neither speaking.
Then, as one—“Liam talked to me”—“So Liam told me.”
They blink, staring at each other for one pressed moment before their smiles erupt at the same time, laughter coloring the air.
“Right,” Harry chuckles, nervous, as he exhales and tugs his scarf away from his mouth, smoothing one hand through his hair. “Right, so. Cool. Same page, then.”
“Same page,” Louis nods, but he’s expectant and buzzing, something playful lying just below the surface. He smirks, bats an eyelash or two. “Now would you care to tell me what exactly this page entails?”
Harry puffs out a laugh, shaking his head as he shifts his weight, shoulders relaxing that much more as he sets fond eyes on Louis, exasperation coloring the corners. “Making me spell it out.” He shakes his head, lips pressed in a held-back smile.
“Well, you are an English professor,” Louis points out, and Harry laughs, relaxing still more. “Spelling should be your specialty. I mean, you claim you can quote Jane Austen novels—“
“So I’m sure you can outline a single page for me, Henry.”
“Fair’s only fair?” Harry questions, smirking.
“Something like that. Now. Harry Styles. Is there something you would like to tell me?” Louis grins, birds taking flight in his chest as he tilts his head and smiles patiently, watching Harry lick his lips and straighten his posture, words assembling in his head.
“I thought you were with Zayn,” he blurts out first, eyes taking on a slightly wild edge. “That’s why, after we kissed, I was so stand-offish. Remember that strange advice I received? Yeah, that was Liam. He told me to back off of you because you were with Zayn but I didn’t understand because we had literally just kissed and you never said anything!”
“Because I’m not with Zayn,” Louis points out calmly.
“Exactly. But I didn’t know because it seemed believable, I dunno. Like, I already sorta thought you had a thing for him and thought it was sorta obvious so it was super easy to believe him, you know? And then, like, I was just confused and maybe a little upset. And I’m sorry for not communicating that to you. I should’ve been more clear even though… I was pretty clear the night I kissed you, I think.” He pauses, lifting his eyes to Louis’, a smile tugging at his lips.
Louis returns it, reaching out to tug once on his scarf because Harry looks so adorable all bundled up, sweet and wide-eyed and shy. “You were, darling. It was almost mildly embarrassing,” he teases.
Harry only grins wider. “I know. It was bad, I know.” He sounds anything but apologetic as he takes a step closer, eyes zeroed in. “It was really shitty that I just, like, pursued you so intently without knowing your feelings, though. I should’ve been more respectful, especially given everything with Liam.”
“Did you know he liked you?” Louis asks, face softening into genuine curiosity. “Like, did you have any idea? Because I thought it was apparent, with the way I kept mentioning him, that he was the one chasing after you.”
“I thought you were just trying to steer me in another direction,” Harry protests, low and earnest, frowning slightly. “Especially after Liam told me you were with Zayn. I thought I was making you uncomfortable.”
“Shit,” Louis curses, low and exhaled. “I didn’t even think of it like that.”
Harry nods, careful and slow. “But I figured it out, sorta. Even though I was still interested in you. I just thought I didn’t have a chance? You know? But I still sorta had this hope and I know that that’s not really healthy—to be that attached that quickly and to just let everything show, wear your heart on your sleeve and just, like, pursue? I know that. I know that it’s much better to take a step back and focus on yourself first and play it—“
“Oi, oi, oi,” Louis interjects, eyebrows shooting up in tandem with his hands. “Did you read a self-help book or summat? Where’s all this coming from?”
A flush dots Harry’s cheeks and neck. “Uhm. Well, I’ve been talking to my sister at night, after her kids have gone to bed and when I can’t sleep,” he mumbles through a vivid blush and Louis laughs, limbs relaxed and feet light.
“No, you idiot,” he laughs fondly, taking Harry’s hot cheeks in his hands as he smiles, soft and crinkled like worn sheets. “Don’t do that. Just. Don’t.” He drops his hands, tugging Harry to stand directly in front of him, looking him in the eye. “There’s no ‘right’ way to act. Just be honest with me, yeah?”
Harry nods rapidly. “Same to you.”
“Promise,” Louis agrees, gentler. “Cross my heart and everything.” He makes the motions, swift and clumsy with cold, jumping fingers.
And Harry smiles, taking another step closer. Louis’ eyes soften at that, soften even more when Harry’s eyes flit to his lips, his hands coming up to grip Louis’ arms.
“Oh?” Louis quips, a little breathless as his own eyes fall to Harry’s mouth. “Going to kiss me now, are you? Like the proper romcom that we are? Kiss me in this Starbucks? Where we first met?” He wants it to sound cheesy but it just sounds like a sigh, coasting on espresso fumes and melted buttery sugar.
“And what if I do?” Harry teases in a low question, shifting forward that much more, fingers pressing into Louis’ arms in a promising kind of way.
“I won’t stop you,” Louis says simply, and Harry glows before leaning in, so gently and hesitantly and sweetly and plants his lips upon Louis’. It’s sort of wonderful. For the mere fact it’s Harry, even. His lips are bitter and warm like coffee and his skin is smooth as milk and it’s an effortless kiss, their mouths sliding together. “Remember that time you sang Moulin Rouge to me in the middle of the store?” Louis suddenly asks, lips mumbling against Harry’s mouth.
And Harry breaks off, bursting out a laugh. “I was wooing you,” he says, chuckling brightly, looking down at Louis fondly as he swipes a hand across his cheek.
“My god, you were embarrassing,” Louis murmurs, shaking his head.
Harry swats at him but beams. “Well, remember that time when you liked me back?” he asks, words twisted up into his kiss-bitten lips, and Louis grins at that, leans forward and catches his mouth again, feeling his spine prickle at the swipe of Harry’s tongue.
“Yes,” he breathes into Harry’s mouth, and he feels Harry smile. “I do.”
“Good,” Harry sighs, holding him that much tighter, lips moving closer, forming words against the warm cushion of Louis’ own as he tilts his head, eyes catching in the light. “Gotcha.”
And when their mouths meet, Harry’s hand finds Louis’ heart.