harry's never seen anything like her.
"those legs actually go on forever," he mumbles into his napkin at the restaurant while she walks by, heels clacking on the floor, smile bunching up her cheekbones like they're made of glass. harry can't help but blush when her eyes flick vaguely in his direction.
"who, caz?" nick breezily asks, eyes glazing over the menu. harry doesn't understand how he can be so nonchalant about it.
"caz?" harry's heart soars. "her name is caz? and i'm haz. it's actually meant to be."
"sweetheart," the look louis sends him is entirely too patronizing. "nick, please, can we keep him?"
"as long as you clean out his litter, darling," nick quips back, barely looking away from the menu to drop a kiss onto louis' head.
harry hates his friends.
"do you know her then?" harry asks, putting his menu in front of his face in a clever scheme to block most of it. he looks over the top to see her (it's officially an italicized her now) giving drinks to some rowdy blokes in the corner. one of them checks out her arse while she's there. harry sees red briefly.
"sure," nick shoots him a little smile across the booth, letting his fingers be fiddled with by an energized louis. "she drops into the station all the time, presents things. she's good friends with murs."
"and i've never been introduced to her before because..?"
"she's older than me, harold," nick taps out the beat to some conor maynard tune with his fork. louis yawns. "your mother wouldn't approve."
"pot, kettle!"harry scoffs back, pointedly looking at where one of louis' hands has mysteriously dropped under the table, probably drawing little circles on nick's knee because they're so fucking couple-y it's disgusting.
"you keep forgetting that i'm over eighteen, dear," louis says in a very matter of fact tone, eyes wandering around the restaurant for more exciting things than harry's crisis. "while you are still the baby of this group."
"merely speaking facts, haz."
"i hate both of you."
"don't you have college to be getting off to?" nick asks in that smarmy, bitchy way he has, and harry narrows his eyes because, well yes, but they could both go to hell.
"you're actually the devil."
"ta, ta," louis waves his little fingers, and smiles bright when nick laughs. "call me if you need a ride after school, alright?"
"i hope you both get paper cuts today and they bleed," harry scorns, ignoring the buzz in his trouser pocket that means liam's wondering where he's got to. "like really bad. i hope you get nasty, bleedy paper cuts and you cry."
"love you too, harry."
he pulls himself up, and goes to shuffle out of the booth (because school really does start in ten minutes for him, and he'll miss sociology if he doesn't leave now), when a pair of clacky heels comes closer and then she's at their table, looking tired and stressed and entirely too beautiful for this early in the morning.
"sorry for the wait!" her voice is a little rough, deep but high and pitchy in some places. it makes something erupt in his stomach. "bit of a crowd today. what can i get you?"
her nametag says caroline and harry feels warm butterflies crawl up his throat when she flicks her hair over one shoulder and smiles down at them all. the hem of her skirt is cut just at the knee where these long, long, long, flawless and long, nearly never-ending legs start, covered in black tights.
it's hard being a horny seventeen year old when there are hot, older waitresses around.
"caroline flack, haven't seen you in ages," nick immediately croons, in that charming way he has; harry sees louis roll his eyes a little. "how've you been?"
"grimmy!" she looks honestly excited to see him, a smile stretching across her face. harry would literally sell a kidney, hell two kidneys, for such a smile to be sent his way. "it's nice to see you, you look really good."
"you too," nick has that glint in his eye, that flirty, quirky, i'm-going-to-make-fun-of-harry glint. "our boy harold here hasn't been able to take his eyes off you all morning!"
he is going to murder nick grimshaw.
"aw," caroline looks to him now, and harry knows he could probably cook several eggs on his face, it's that hot. "that's very cute."
"isn't he just the sweetest?" louis asks, reaching over the table to pinch harry's cheek. "regular charmer he is. just look at that face."
"it's a nice face." nick adds in because he's an arsehole.
"such a nice face," louis says fondly, tipping him a wink before patting at his cheek and retreating his hand. "off to school with you now, we'll see you later."
harry could kill him for even bringing up school (why didn't louis just blurt from the heaven's "hey harry styles, seventeen year old boy who is only seventeen!"), but he scrambles to stand anyways, awkwardly bumbling around caroline.
she's smaller than he is, even in heels, and he breathes in a whiff of something sweet when he skirts past her. her face is smoothed out by this kind smile, obviously endeared by the bloody school child with the crush on her, and harry barely waves back at nick and louis before he skips out of the restaurant.
the cold air hits his face, and another ring in his pocket lets him know that liam's still worried about his well being, but he can't even think about anything except caroline.
nice, pretty, sweet smelling caroline flack, the waitress who's got the legs that go on forever, and the birth date that passes nick's.
he was well and truly fucked.
see the problem is his mother.
harry loves his mother a lot. she's nice and funny and good to his friends. she's pretty and always gives him a hug when he needs one, and has never chosen another person over him, even when they made the big move from holmes chapel to london for his stepdad's job – it was all harry's choice. they've always been a close unit, harry and his mum and his sister, gemma.
but she's really protective of him.
whenever he scraped his knee as a child she would go nearly catatonic, fretting and worrying and nearly driving him to the emergency ward until harry's father would tell her to calm the fuck down anne, it's just a bloody scrape.
so having friends that are older and going partying in camden on the weekends, getting drunk and smoking a joint with zayn and buying vintage clothing on sunday afternoons with nick and louis and aimee – it all scares her so much.
she doesn't like it one bit, him coming back at five on a sunday, just in time for her roast dinner. she doesn't like the way his clothes smell and how charming his friends are and how he hardly ever seems to hang out with nice, smiling, safe liam and niall anymore.
"can lou come over tonight?" he asks one friday night over dinner, rubbing at the spaghetti sauce on his nose.
nick has some kind of deejaying thing, at some club in the dodgy side of london, and louis' been complaining about a cold all week, so harry invited him over. louis' also anne's favourite out of harry's new hipster friends.
"oh," she looks at him happily. "are you staying in tonight then?"
"i think so," harry smiles at her because, really, his mum was some kinds of precious. "louis' been off and on with this cold and zayn's visiting family in bradford and aimee's in ibiza so, yeah."
"louis' such a nice boy," anne takes a sip of her wine, eyes subconsciously flicking to the clock over the mantel piece to see when harry's step dad would be in. "did i tell you i was chatting to his mum over twitter the other day?"
"you did, yes."
"such a nice family," she sighs and harry doesn't want to hear where she's going to take this. "you should invite them round for dinner one night!"
"they live in doncaster, mum," harry chews at the last of his salad before standing up and collecting his plate. "besides, i don't think we have enough room for all the girls."
"oh hush, we'll find room," she calls as harry slips into the kitchen to put his plate in the sink. he comes out just as she stands, getting her own plate off the table.
she smiles up at him and harry has to take a minute to realize that she's smiling up at him, because he keeps growing and growing. he lets her put a hand through his hair softly, smiling a bit when she tuts at the knots in his fringe.
"are you sure you're alright, darling?" she asks.
harry's mind briefly runs through all the shit happening in his life right now. there's the marketing assignment due on his teacher's desk on monday morning; his once full bank account that keeps going down every time nick convinces him to go out clubbing again; his old best friend at home sending him emails he keeps forgetting to reply to; the current best friend who's very close to failing his sociology class; liam and niall not messaging him to go see films as much anymore, finally fed up with him; the pot zayn had given him, still jammed in between his mattresses; or maybe the gorgeous, thirty something waitress at the restaurant who'll he'll never get a fucking chance with.
"i'm fine, mum."
louis lies down face first on harry's bed as soon as he's done with the pleasantries of chatting with anne (gossiping briefly about the recent scandal about adele, naturally), and waves a hello to harry's stepdad.
"you okay?" harry asks from his spinning desk chair, hesitant because conversations with louis are about as straightforward as the path of a pigeon toed duck or something ridiculous like that. he's still learning louis, even after nearly a year of bestfriendshipness.
"i'm tired as shit and my boss is an asshole and nick and i haven't had sex since saturday and i hate my life harry." louis grumbles all this into harry's harry potter pillow. he looks really comfy, tight trousers and a big jumper of nick's over his small shoulders, and harry kind of wants to cuddle him.
so he does.
louis lets out a grateful noise when harry slinks his arms around him, awkwardly tucking his face into louis' warm shoulder. he's small and compact compared to harry's gangly limbs, but harry kind of likes it.
"we could go play boggle with my mum later," harry lets out, smiling when louis laughs, "i'm serious. she asked if we wanted to play before you came over."
"i would love to play boggle with her."
louis snuggles back into harry, and harry just tightens his arms. he's unexpectedly happy, in that moment, that he happened to enter louis' bookstore on his very first day in london, confused and excited and looking for a friend.
"you and nick okay?" harry mumbles into louis' neck. the not having had sex since saturday sort of worries him, because nick and louis are a bit like rabbits when it comes to sex. harry's walked in on far too many blowjobs in bathrooms and handjobs in almost empty kitchens and, once, a hurried fuck in a coat closet.
needless to say, he knows far too much about both their cocks for a normal friendship.
"i think so, yeah," louis says, voice a little tight but genuine. "we've both been really busy lately, though. and i can just-" he takes a deep breath and harry would bet everything he has that louis' lower lip is red from all the biting it's been through today. "i know he wants to ask me to move in with him but he just won't do it."
"you could always bring it up."
"and have him run away, kicking and screaming?" louis snorts. "i don't think so."
harry's nose wrinkles but he doesn't reply because, well, yeah. louis and nick are sometimes the same person, both witty and quick and bitchy and brilliant and loyal. but when it comes to commitment and all that they're polar opposites.
"you've been together for ages though," harry frowns, letting his hand drift down louis' stomach and wishing that he could be with louis more often, that he could spend his days in and out of his work, maybe get a job himself at a bakery or something and just be over eighteen already.
"i guess," which is louis' way of saying yes, i know.
"three years on new year's eve," harry says brightly because if there's one thing that's going to cheer louis' up, it's going to that fact. "you guys planning anything big?"
"no idea," louis says in a neutral tone, but harry can hear the smile in his words. "oh hey – i should have told you when i first got in. zayn's throwing a party at our place next friday."
"bring that irish kid, the one with the stomach of steel," louis' always so fond of his college friends, always talking about how he never got to go to college, so he's living vicariously through harry. harry just thinks he likes cute boys around him to make nick jealous. "and the nice boy with the pretty eyes, the one zayn likes."
"sure," harry's pretty sure liam almost passed out when zayn had come by their school one time, looking to take harry to lunch. he won't have to beg much to get liam to come.
they lay together for another minute, just sort of enjoying it. harry wonders briefly what it would be like if this was his life, if louis was his boyfriend and they hung out all the time and were just two teenagers in love without all the added drugs and alcohol and partying and hipster business.
"can we go play boggle now?" louis says, squirming slightly, and harry laughs.
come on pop star, we're waiting
harry gets the text in world literature, phone buzzing while he hurries to write down some note about how overrated the grimm brothers really were, or something. it's obviously nick, his affectionate pop star blaring from the screen (nick's eyes had almost popped out of their sockets when harry had first sang karaoke with the group; he'd declared him a star a minute later), and louis' probably with him, the two of them just standing under some tree in the courtyard in the rain just waiting for him so they can go buy croissants or something.
give me ten minutes would you?
liam sends him a concerned look from next to harry, looking over at the iphone in his hand with slightly narrowed eyes. bless liam and his motherly intentions.
when the class finally ends he's got no less than thirteen texts, all pretty much just HAROLD STYLES HURRY YOUR BUM UP from louis and nick and he just- he needs new friends.
"have you started the essay?" asks liam as they go down the stairs, and harry shakes his head with a rueful grin, unable to even give a response to such a silly question.
it's not that he hates liam or niall. he definitely doesn't. they're both sweet and funny and lovely, really and truly. he adores the socks off them, and wants to cuddle them 24/7. it's just that they don't get it. they don't get louis and nick. they don't know why aimee's hair is the way it is, or how harry knows that lily allen and that henry holland. they don't understand why all he wants to do anymore is hang around skanky clubs and dirty alleyways with these older people.
and maybe it's also a little bit of how liam's best friend andy, when harry had been telling them a story of his weekend, had gone, "louis? and nick? wait, so they're two guys together?" with the most confused, disgusted look on his face.
andy deserved the shitty (it barely broke the skin but harry's hand hurt for weeks) punch he got for that line. and he knows that liam doesn't think the same way – pretty obvious from the way he colours under zayn's stare – but being around people who know who they are and what they are and are able to be like sexuality's fluid bro, makes harry even more foreign to him and niall. he's weird in their eyes. grown up. fucked up.
"hey pop star!" harry hears as soon as he's out the door.
nick and louis are indeed standing under the big oak tree in courtyard thing, bundled up in their coats and scarves against the cold wind of autumn. nick's got an arm around louis, pressing his front up against louis' backside, and it's like they don't even notice the looks some of harry's classmates are giving them.
don't notice, or just don't give a damn.
"get over here," louis shouts, a small smirk on his face, and harry grabs at liam's blazer before pulling him along to them, not paying any attention to the people he bumps into. "i haven't seen my little hazza all day."
"co-dependent freaks," nick says fondly, tipping a wink to liam when they get close enough. "you couldn't go a bloody hour without each other."
"shut up, you," louis says with a grin, a bright grin, one that makes harry think that an hour ago nick and louis were probably naked in nick's bed. "don't even get me started with you and fincham."
"yes, well finchy and i are soul mates, there's a difference," nick quips, bringing louis in closer so he can press a kiss against his temple. "you okay liam?"
"fine, thank you," liam sort of looks like he doesn't know what to with himself. he's got this uncomfortable look on his face, and harry wants to give him a reassuring pat on the head or something, make him feel better, but then he sees nick and louis' hands.
"you're wearing the matching mittens my mum made you for christmas last year!" he (certainly does not) squeal, and a blush hints at nick's face.
"you so are," harry's absolutely delighted. he'd only known them for a little while when his mother had given them out, claiming that every couple in the world need a pair of matching mittens. "they look adorable on you."
"they're really warm," louis says, sniffing his nose a little because he still has a cold, and nick brings his hand up (covered in a grey mitten with an artful n on it to match the l on the other side) to rub at the redness over his lip.
"they are," harry knows how hard it is for nick to admit he likes matching couple things, so he lets the conversation drop. "however, today is not very warm. up for a cuppa?"
"'course," harry agrees easily, then cuts his eyes over to where liam's still standing sort of awkwardly. he wants liam to come, but he also doesn't want to make him feel like the odd one out. "um, hey - maybe we can go get niall from his spanish class, eh? and then we can all hit the café on the next corner over."
"look at you, making decisions," louis mocks, and harry feels briefly embarrassed but liam looks a little relieved, so it's all good. "like a regular captain kirk you are."
"more spock, i think," nick says because sometimes nick and louis just have to fight about stupid shit, like star trek characters and zac efron films and who harry likes more, so they don't fight about big things, like age differences and flirting with other people and moving in together.
"you're delusional," louis says, rolling his eyes like it actually bothers him and harry can't help but let out a sigh because man, they sure are something. "spock's not even the same caliber of kirk, just get out."
"i can't even look at you right now," nick says in a big, grand huff and liam looks so fucking confused, but harry's just grinning because-
well. these are his friends. and he loves them.
the party at zayn's is already in full swing when harry finally gets there.
he told his mum that he'd be fine to take the tube with liam, but she insisted on driving them, picking liam up from his house and cruising on down to zayn and louis' shitty flat. she looks worried like usual, bright eyes and tense fingers and he can just tell she's going to say do you want me to walk you in?
"mum," he said, fiddling at the necklaces that are against his chest just so, and his sleeves all rolled up. "if you go in there you will be hit on. and i don't want to have to experience that."
she laughs, because she's awesome, and then gives him a big kiss on the cheek before wishing both him and liam a fun time.
there's a haze of smoke coming from the corner, where zayn and a couple of his art student friends are, and the sweet stink of marijuana has already saturated harry's clothes, getting underneath his collar and over his jeans.
he sees nick and louis snogging in the kitchen, louis all pushed up against the fridge and nick crowding over him like he can't help it, and harry reminds himself to get them in a couple minutes, so they don't spend the whole party fucking in the bathroom (again).
niall's on the couch in between two girls that have to be friends of nick, because they're both stylish and slutty and cool in an easy way. liam's got a beer in his hand that he looks like he doesn't know what to do with, but he's chatting with zayn and fincham and possibly nick's rapper friend steven who's just getting big in some club circles.
"i know you," comes a sly voice behind him, and when harry turns his heart almost stops because-
"olly!" she shouts, reaching a hand back but not letting her eyes leave harry's. she's smiling and there's a drink in her hand and she's wearing the tightest skirt he's ever seen and fuck he wants her so bad. "olly, this is the sweet boy i was telling you about."
she remembers him.
"who's what?" a nice looking guy with a buttoned up shirt pops up next to her. he's got nice eyes and a kind smile, but harry can't even focus on him because caroline flack remembers him and this is the best day of his life.
"grimmy's friend, the one that was really sweet at the restaurant," caroline sighs, sending a smile harry's way. "remember?"
"the kid that kept blushing, right," olly smiles big and harry's heart drops a bit at the word kid. "he's pretty fit, caz."
"i know," she winks at harry and harry's stomach erupts and he feels light headed and louis always tells him that he's so confident around girls, but no. no not right now.
olly laughs and pats caroline on the back or something before he wanders off to the kitchen. "don't do anything i wouldn't!"
harry takes a couple light breathers while caroline sips at her drink, smiling at him in such a pretty way he doesn't know what to with himself. he opens his mouth to speak, afraid of what's going to come out.
"want to dance?" he somehow says, voice a little deeper than usual.
he feels like a complete fucking ass for about three seconds until caroline grabs at his hand with a big grin and pulls him over to the mess of people in the center of the room, where some shitty pop song louis likes but nick hates is playing, and then –
and then harry's dancing with caroline, her hands around his neck and his on her sharp hipbones, and he's never felt so alive in his life.
half hour later and louis' room is empty but not for long.
"fuck," caroline mumbles under her breath before she pushes up against the back of louis' door and smashes her mouth against harry's.
she's warm and small and her mouth is hot against his, slick and sweet and tasting a bit like mint lip gloss. her hair is soft to touch under his fingers, and when he pulls on it she whines, kicking off her heels so she can throw a leg up on his hip.
he's already half hard, grinding against her flawless thighs, chest up against her round breasts, hands running down her neck. she's fierce and fiery but there's something so kind about the way she presses at his mouth, the way she pets at his dimples, the way she slips a tiny hand under his shirt.
it's really dark in the room, so harry can hardly even see her, but he can feel her pants against his neck, can hear her little moans when he runs a hand up her thigh, can taste the sweat on her skin as she squirms under him.
"i'm really going to need you to fuck me right now," she says all out of breath and quiet and harry's knees buckle because they've both been drinking but neither of them are drunk, and this is all he's ever wanted.
they drop on louis' bed and harry feels bad for about .4 seconds until caroline starts pulls at the hem of his shirt and then starts unbuttoning her own top, and then there's just lots of soft, rounded skin to feel. his hands span over her thick breasts and run up her smooth, slightly curved stomach. he kisses her messily, slips his tongue in and just climbs over her.
maybe harry should be embarrassed at how hard he is, but he can't, because she's guiding his hand under her skirt now and yes, yes please.
she's wet, so very wet, and harry barely pushes her knickers to the side before sinking a finger straight into her, as far as it can go. she whines under his lips, breathing heavily into his heavy mouth, but he doesn't let her get used to it before he slides in another, rocking it in while his thumb runs up her folds.
"fuck," he feels her swallow and chases the feeling, pressing his lips against her throat. "you're good at that, fuck."
harry grins into her neck, biting at it because he can, before setting up a steady rhythm with his fingers, in out in out, thumb rubbing while his other hand skims under her bra. he's so overwhelmed by her, so so overwhelmed.
he kisses the tops of her breasts from where they're spilling out, lets his tongue dip down until he feels her pointed nipple. she's so responsive, so good, and she knows exactly what he wants.
harry learns her tricks quickly, that she like a heavy, steady rub on her clit, and a hot mouth sucking bruises over her neck. she doesn't like his fingers too fast, prefers them when they have purpose every time, and especially when they rub at her insides. caroline lets out a loud noise whenever he does that and then runs her nails down harry's back, digging in hard.
"you're so beautiful," he whispers, pushing in a third finger, and she must have been closer than he thought because there's a sudden clenching around his fingers and holy shit.
she gasps and jerks against him, and he keeps pumping his fingers, praying that he doesn't come along with her at just the sight of this.
"fuck," and then she stills, breathing so heavy, breasts rising and falling. he eases one elbow on the side of her face, careful to mind her hair, and grins down at her, letting his dimple out.
"fuck," she says again, and then she's smiling too, one hand coming down to unbutton his jeans and okay, yes, he could get used to this.
"well you look properly fucked out," is the first thing louis says to him the next morning, eyebrows waggling.
harry woke up in an empty bed with a sticky note on his forehead - you're adorable. coffee? xx - with caroline's number underneath.
he pretty much feels like the manliest man that ever did man this morning.
"thanks for not taking your bed back," harry says, because he still does feel a little bad about that, except not really because he came three times last night and he doesn't think such a beautiful night has ever happened ever. "sorry about that."
"young harold," louis begins, eating some leftover curry straight from the container, wearing just nick's dr. dre shirt and a pair of boxer briefs. "i will always give up my bed if it's for you to have dirty sex with a thirty year old woman. you know how supportive i am."
"you're the best."
"i know," louis nods gravely, kicking over an empty beer can with his foot. someone's singing over the spray of the shower, and harry would bet everything he owns that it's nick. "your friend liam left a half hour ago after cleaning up all the cups in the kitchen. said he had to go to work, zayn said he'd go with him, they both blushed. it was a whole thing."
"sounds cute," harry's glad liam's night went well.
"so cute," louis says with a wink before holding out his spoon full of curry. "you want some?"
"i'd actually rather chew tinfoil," harry rubs at his eye and looks around a bit at the mess of the room. there's some streamers in the corner and an empty bottle of vodka on top of the mantel piece like a trophy. "also caroline asked me out for coffee. kind of? i'm not sure."
"that's exciting," louis says with a happy smile on his face and that's one of harry's favourite things about louis – that he get so genuinely excited for other people's happiness.
"yeah she's really cool," harry bites his lip and then smirks. "and like, hot as hell too. but mostly really cool."
"i saw her last week when nick and i went to go see his friend rita at this club," louis' one of the only people harry knows who never calls nick grimmy, and it makes him happier than he thinks it should. "she's really nice. didn't even know me and came up for a hug."
"yeah," louis smiles at harry like he knows exactly what he's thinking.
"i really like her," harry doesn't know why he's blushing, but he is. "like, take her out on dates and let her meet my mum like her."
"harry," louis croons, the world's schmoopiest look on his face, and then they're hugging, louis patting him down his back while harry just smiles into his hair.
nick finds them like that later, in a pair of black skinnies and an obama t-shirt, hair still wet from the shower. he looks very freckly in the pale light of the saturday morning, and the way his shirt sticks to his skinny chest is mildly distracting.
"oi," he calls, wrapping an arm around louis and pulling him from harry. "trying to steal my man, styles?"
"i'm not your anything," louis scoffs, but he smiles when nick pinches his arm.
"nice shirt," he says, eyes dipping down as he pulls louis closer, "i swear you could make a balaclava look hot."
"shut up," but harry can see the blush on his neck, the grin that's threatening to come out. "you're so full of shit nicholas grimshaw, i don't know why i put up with you."
nick hums, leaning down to kiss at louis' cheeks, his nose, and then his mouth. they stay like that for a minute, nick's arms tight around louis while he presses up on his tiptoes to meet nick's kisses. it's sweet. they're sweet.
harry clears his throat when nick's hand grabs at louis' bum though, because there's a difference between harmless, adorable snogging and outright foreplay.
"you're no fun," louis says, sending a mock glare harry's way, but nearly beaming when nick presses one last kiss on his cheek before letting him go, heading to the fridge for some breakfast.
if harry ever finds a louis to his nick or a nick to his louis, then he'll consider himself the luckiest person in the world.
they get coffee.
they get coffee and harry finds out about caroline and where she was born and what her parents' names are and what she takes in her tea and what she took in university and what she's doing now and it's lovely. it's just a really lovely date.
in turn he tells her about college and the story of how he met louis and nick (louis took him under his wing about five minutes after he'd stumbled into the bookstore he works at, and it's been like that ever since) and what he wants to go into, what his hobbies are, what his mother's like.
harry walks her home because she says she doesn't live too far, and when they get to the townhouse that caroline shares with her roommate, a pregnant girl named louise, harry kisses her and kisses her and kisses her until she actually pushes him away laughing and shoos him off.
it becomes a thing after that.
the two of them. being something.
and it's really awesome.
"triple date harry, come on," liam pleads as they walk to world lit together, puppy dog eyes out and eyebrows all bunched up. "you know you want to, i can tell."
"i really don't li," harry lets liam navigate them through the halls, concentrating on the most recent text from pixie, something about a birthday party on saturday that he simply must come to. "caz and i aren't really those kind of people. and neither are grimmy and lou. in fact i'm pretty sure they're the exact opposite."
"it'll be fun though!" liam's gotten more persistent since the party, since zayn walked him home, since zayn kissed him (harry's been hearing about this all week). "we'll be at niall's family restaurant so it'll be cheaper and we can all meet caroline better and i can get to know louis and nick more and it's really just a win-win for everybody, harry."
"you're crazy," harry sighs, ruffling up his hair. "you'll be too shy to even say anything to zayn, and he'll get stressed and start chain smoking outside. meanwhile caroline will realize how young and immature i actually am, and leave me. and nick and louis won't pay for their share and they'll probably do something sexual and get us kicked out of the restaurant."
he lets out a heavy breath. liam looks vaguely impressed, if not terrified.
"but-" it's said so hesitantly that harry holds in an eye roll and looks at liam, trying to understand him. "but i really like zayn. and i don't know how to be with him alone yet. and i feel like if we're all there, then maybe i can like- i can. i don't know."
harry's heart hurts a little as he watches liam all defeated looking in the middle of the empty hallway, head hung a little low. his shoulders are slouched and his tie is twisted and harry wants to cuddle him.
"okay, fine." harry sighs all loud and gusty. "i'll ask caroline. and lou and nick-"
he's never known liam to be the kind of person to hug another person, especially him, but he's suddenly got more liam in his arms than usual, and he's a bit frightened by it at first, but then he just smiles because liam's happy and harry's happy and everything's pretty spectacular.
louis and nick think the triple date is the best idea ever.
of course they do.
"can we get matching tuxedos?" nick asks louis as soon as harry's done telling them about it, wonder in his eyes. "drive there in a limo, pinning on corsages, the whole deal."
"it's not prom!" harry whines over the excited sounds louis' making into nick's neck, both of them squealing and shouting too much to be considered actual adults. "we're just going to some pub and liam and zayn are going to get together properly."
"if everyone had such a blasé attitude towards life, harold, nothing would get done," louis tells him with a straight face, which stretches into a grin when nick bites his jaw. "but actually, can we wear matching lapels?"
"perhaps we could both go a la jedward for the occasion," nick suggests and louis' eyes go so wide harry's momentarily frightened.
"no one is being jedward! stop having this conversation!" a couple teenagers (and isn't harry one to talk) from the table next to them look over with sneers on their faces, but harry doesn't care. "you both need to stop."
"oh my god harry you are the biggest fucking buzzkill," louis rolls his eyes as nick drapes his arm across louis' shoulders, running his fingers over the tight braces there. "why are you so against us having fun?"
"i'm not against you having fun, i'm against caroline breaking up with me when she sees me being young and immature and doing triple dates when we haven't even been dating two weeks," harry's face is probably red but he doesn't even care. he needed to get that off his chest.
"harry, darling," nick takes a bite out of one of louis' fries and then levels him with a look. "caroline flack is one of the absolute nicest people i know. she's funny and loyal and smart and lovely, and you two are so good for each other, i promise. so please, stop with the teenage whining bull shit and let me eat my mcchicken in peace."
he kind of smiles before taking a bite out of said mcchicken, and although harry feels about two feet small, he also feels like his heart's grown a lot, because nick doesn't throw around compliments he doesn't mean (at least, not to his real friends). apparently it took a year until nick told louis he loved him, and even now he rarely says it aloud.
"honestly haz, don't worry about it," they take turns being good cop and bad cop. right now, louis' smiling at him like he's a confused three year old. "if she doesn't get how completely lovely you are, then she's obviously nuts, okay?"
"okay." he's still not sure.
louis reaches over with the hand that isn't twined with nick's to pat harry's cheek. "we both love you very much, harry. don't forget that, alright?"
harry nods because there's a lump in his throat and he doesn't think he could talk if he tried.
asking caroline goes a lot easier than he expected.
he pretty much just calls and says, "uh, hey so, um, nick and louis want to do this triple date thing with you and i and some other friends and like, yeah. so. do you want to go or..?"
and then caroline says, "that sounds like fun. what's the dress code?"
and harry's like, "oh. you – you want to come?"
and caroline's like, "yeah, of course. jeans work?"
and harry pretty much cheers because he's actually dating the coolest person ever.
his mum offers to drive them again.
it's on the tip of harry's tongue to say no, to shake his head and leave the house and just get far away from her. but he hasn't seen her properly in ages and she keeps giving him sad little looks when he gets in the house at half past eleven on a wednesday and harry can't do that to his mum. he just can't.
"where are you going so nicely dressed?" she asks as the drive down the busy streets. she glances at the crisp blazer over harry's shoulders and liam's nice button up shirt and pressed trousers. it's a friday night and, according to niall (but when should anything niall every says every be taken seriously), that's the pub's fanciest night.
"just this thing."
"a party?" anne asks, almost as if she doesn't want to know.
"a thing," harry's really nervous, and he doesn't want to have this conversation right now. "it's just a thing."
"and you're involved with this thing too, are you liam?" she asks smiling that sweet, motherly smile at him through the rear-view mirror.
"it's just a triple date thing," liam says in a nonchalant voice, as if with one sentence he didn't just ruin harry's entire life.
"a date?" his mother turns her head to see harry so quickly he's afraid she might've gotten whiplash. "you're going on a date, harry?"
"i hate you liam."
"sorry, haz," he actually sounds sorry. anne waves him off.
"harry, why didn't you tell me you were seeing someone?" she looks so earnest and like. she looks sad. sad that her seventeen year old son didn't disclose the facts of his relationship with his mother.
"it's not really a big deal."
"who is this young lady?"his mum asks, eyes all wide. "or gentleman."
"girl, mum," harry sighs, sinking down into his seat. "it's a girl."
"okay," she shrugs, switching lanes seamlessly and checking her gps to make sure she's going the right way before leaning over to pat harry's leg. "you know i wouldn't care either way, dear, don't you?"
"good," anne clears her throat and then puts a bright smile on her face. "so who is she?"
"her name's caroline," harry looks over his shoulder to send another glare at liam (who still looks incredible apologetic) and then huffs again. "she's really cool and gorgeous and i like her a lot, and that's all i'm telling you mum, okay?"
they sit in the mostly quiet for a minute, don't stop believin' coming from the car stereo. anne taps her long, pink nails against her steering wheel while harry wills the ride to end, for the horan's pub to just appear out of the night.
"caroline," his mum lets out in what she probably thinks is a nonchalant manner. "pretty name."
"i'm stopping, i'm stopping," she laughs, patting his knee again. "we're here anyways, don't worry."
they park across the street from the pub and harry lets the butterflies in his stomach sit for a minute before he turns to his mouth, cheek out, intent on getting his usual goodnight kiss from her.
instead, his mother is getting out of the car.
"mum?" harry's frozen momentarily but then he scrambles for the handle and all but wrenches himself out of the car. "mum, where are you going?"
"going to go meet caroline of course!" she says over her shoulder as she crosses the street daintily in her work high heels, and harry loves his mum, really, but now is really not the time.
harry can hear liam behind him, trying to keep up with everything that's happening, as he scampers across the street, running after the woman who's most likely going to lock him up and never let him leave her arms again once she realizes that caroline's a thirty two year old woman, not the sixteen year old girl she's picturing in her mind.
they get to the door at the same time, but harry blocks her from opening it, standing tall and pleading with his eyes.
"mum, please," harry bites his lip and tries to do that thing that louis says he does, the one with the sad mouth and the pinched eyebrows and the big eyes. "mum, please don't go in there."
"harry styles," she gives him a disgruntled look and tries to like tickle him out of the way. "what are you so worried about?"
"nothing – i just -" he can't think.
"are you really that embarrassed of your own mother that you won't allow me to meet the girl you're seeing?" and when he looks down at her, her eyes are a little damp and her mouth is tight and harry feels awful. he feels so awful.
and that is, of course, the moment he hears nick's voice call out, "hey pop star!"
they're all coming down the footpath at the same time. nick and louis holding hands and wearing matching blue flowers on their dinner jackets. zayn's behind them in a leather coat, but he's holding pink roses in his arms and harry wishes he cared more about liam right then, because he bets liam's face would be absolutely priceless right now.
and then, walking next to zayn, is caroline. she's in this pretty pink dress with thick, purple tights over her long legs, and a corduroy coat. her hair is up and braided and her smile is soft and happy and she's never looked more gorgeous. to this harry is sure.
"anne!" louis cries out delightedly when they get close enough, wrapping his arms around her in a bear hug. nick gives harry an eyebrow raise, to which harry replies with a panicked look, before going forward to give his own hug.
"you both look so handsome!" anne smiles all big, smoothing down the lines on nick's shoulders.
"cleans up well, doesn't he?" nick says with a bright smile, bringing an arm around louis' waist.
louis glares up at him and pinches his side, "shut it."
"shutting it," nick replies dutifully, but he leans down to kiss louis on the nose, because that's just what he does.
(caroline told harry on one of their sunday afternoon dates, wandering through camden markets together, that nick used to have a black heart and would go out and sleep around and wouldn't date anyone for longer than a month. harry almost doesn't believe her)
"and you must be caroline!" his mother says and harry's heart stops.
for a full second it just ends. everything's over. his mother will request that they stop seeing each other and then caroline will realize how young he is and everything will fall to shit and his mother will send him off to like, military school in switzerland and he'll miss being best man for louis at louis and nick's wedding and that can't happen. none of that can happen.
"that dress is absolutely gorgeous!" anne says, a bright, genuine smile on her face as she reaches out a hand to shake caroline's. "i'm anne, harry's mum."
"caroline, and thank you," caroline says back, and harry can tell she's nervous, even if it's an emotion he's never seen on her before. her back is tense and she looks a little worried around the eyes, but she's holding up better than harry is.
"you're every bit as pretty as harry said you were," anne says, and harry can feel a blush spread across his cheeks at the words, turning them red. "it was lovely to meet you."
"you too," she smiles bright and it's like they're speaking another language that he's just not getting.
anne turns then, smiling up at him, and pats his face with one hand, almost too fondly. it looks like she's trying to tell him something with her eyes, but it just looks like the usual come home before midnight and i love you that's always there.
"have fun, okay?" she smiles, leaning up on her toes to press a wet, motherly kiss against harry's cheek. "call me if you need a ride."
harry swallows, and then grins. "will do."
"good night boys!" she calls over to where nick is biting down louis' neck, mumbling something that's making louis giggle like mad.
she takes off after that. she just walks across the street and into her car and starts it up and waves as she drives off down the road, making a right at the first intersection and just continuing on.
not a single word.
he feels a hand slip into his then, one that's small and warm and attached to a beautiful, long legged, bright smiling woman. caroline grins up at him, still obviously a little shaken up, and pulls him a bit towards the doors.
"come on," she says, following after nick and louis and a blushing zayn and liam. "don't want to miss this."
"coming," harry says with a grin, slipping an arm around her waist and following her inside the pub.