Actions

Work Header

by mistake or design

Work Text:

She’s just ducked under the countertop to grab a wet rag when the door jingles as it opens. 

“We’re nearly closed!” she calls - honestly, who wants a drink at 3 AM on a Thursday? 

When she straightens up she nearly chokes on her tongue. 

“Hi,” Harry says. Harry bloody Styles. Caroline’s fingers clench around the rag until it drips water onto the top of her trainers.

“Hi,” she says. “We’re almost closed. Last call was twenty minutes ago.”

“Didn’t come for a drink.” Harry slides into a seat at the counter. God, he’s- he’s different. He’s grown into his face, grown into his shoulders. His hair’s longer, fringe gone, and his cheeks aren’t as round. 

What the hell is he doing here? Last Caroline heard, he’d fucked off to London to make it big. Even had a few gigs around the city, opening for semi-famous people. She only knows from eavesdropping on the ladies who come in early on Wednesdays to drink sherry and gossip. By their account, Harry’s a hometown hero. They never give her the time of day, of course. Or a tip. 

“Well, the kitchen’s closed,” she says, business-like, suddenly wishing her hair wasn’t quite so ratty at the moment, pulled back from her face in a tight ponytail. She sets down the wet flannel- washing the counters seems less appealing with Harry there to stare down the front of her top - and picks up a dry one, starts scrubbing wet dishes clean. 

“Caz,” Harry says. “I haven’t seen you in ages." 

Caroline makes a sound like a laugh and keeps drying glasses. 

"You been alright?” he asks, quietly. 

“Great,” she says brightly, lying through her teeth. “And you?”

“I’m good.” Harry’s staring at her. “Me mum said you worked here." 

"Yep." 

"That’s cool. Love this place." 

It’s the grottiest bar in town. Caroline’s been groped, pushed, screamed at, and spat on in the last year she’s been here. The tips are shit, the patrons are mean, and bloody secondary students show up every week with their fake IDs just daring her to throw them out. 

But alright. Sure, Harry loves this place.

She forces a smile. "Yeah." 

Harry chews his bottom lip. Caroline sneaks a look, and then glares back down at the dirty glasses. Sod Harry’s bottom lip. His perfect pink bottom lip. Caroline wouldn’t be at some shitty bar if it weren’t for Harry’s bloody stupid lips. 

Harry lets out a shaky breath like he’s nervous. 

"You seeing anyone?” he asks, and it’s so - Caroline nearly sobs out a laugh. 

“Nope,” she says. “It’s late, Harry, I think you should get home." 

"Are you leaving anytime soon?" 

"No,” Caroline says tightly. “I’m not. I’d like to close up, though, if you don’t mind." 

Harry nods, slowly. 

"I’m only back for a few weeks,” he says, like Caroline asked. “Like, for the hols. Then I’m going back to London." 

"That’s great,” Caroline says, hating the cruel edge in her voice. It’s just- he’s so bloody oblivious. In that way he always was. 

“I’ll leave you,” Harry says, putting his hands on the countertop. “I just wanted to, I dunno. Wanted to say hello." 

Caroline catches eyes with him. He smiles, with half his mouth, looking sad. 

"Take care,” he says, biting his bottom lip. “See you around, maybe?" 

Caroline blinks, looks down.

"Maybe,” she says. “Take care, Styles." 

He slides off the stool, wanders out of the bar. When his back is safely turned she lets herself watch. He’s stretched out, gotten taller. His jeans are tighter. He looks like a man.

How odd. She swallows hard, and starts to wipe down the countertops. 

She lets herself into her sister’s house a half hour later, shivering against the middle-of-the-night chill, trying to be as quiet as possible. 

The house is hushed and warm. Caroline can hear a faint unhappy murmuring from the kids’ room, and she tiptoes inside, catches Zuzu awake in her crib, whimpering to herself, one chubby fist escaped from her swaddling. Lila’s asleep in her bed, just a lump under a heap of blankets. 

"Hi doll,” Caroline whispers, scooping her up. Ooh, that nappy’s full. “Oh, c'mere, let’s get you sorted, eh? Yucky yuck." 

The baby monitor’s lying on the side table, and Caroline picks it up and says, "I’ve got it, El." 

Ellie’s asleep, probably. Oh well. 

Caroline changes the baby, laughs when she giggles up at her from the table, all fat cheeks and curled tiny toes. 

"There’s a good girl,” she says, as she carefully wraps her up tight again. “There you are. Sh-sh, you’re alright." 

Zuzu goes quiet as soon as Caroline puts her down. Thank god. 

She strips out of her sweaty clothes, puts them straight into the washing machine. Brushes her teeth in the downstairs toilet, watches herself in the mirror. Harry saw this face, today. She hates herself for caring, but- well. She looks the same, as three years ago, mostly. More lines around her eyes, and she’s tired, and she’s lost some weight so her cheekbones stick out more. 

They’ve both changed. Caroline scrunches her nose up at her own reflection, and then spits in the sink. 

The sofa creaks awfully when she sinks down. She tugs the blanket up to her neck, nestles into a threadbare pillow, checks her cell phone. 4:16 AM. Fan-fucking-tastic. She doesn’t have work until six, but Lila usually wakes her up before school by sitting on her head, so that’s something to look forward to. 

She feels ungrateful, at the annoyance that passes through her. Was nice of her sister to even let her stay, and Caroline doesn’t want to be a burden. Just til you get back on your feet, Ellie had said, and her husband Jack had grunted suspiciously, barely keeping his eyes off Caroline’s tits. 

Was nice of them, though. Caroline knows that. She shuts her eyes, and before she can blink, it’s morning, and Lila’s screaming in her ear. "Wake up, Auntie Cazza!”  

She naps a bit in the afternoon, wakes up when Jack slams the back door on his way in from work, gives her a disapproving look. 

“Still sleeping?" 

"Worked til four,” she says groggily, running a hand through her hair. It barely moves, it’s so tangled. 

He grunts, stomps into the kitchen. He’s so different from Ellie, Ellie with her white-blonde hair and sweet face and small hands. Caroline’s never liked him, but then, she hasn’t got the best taste, has she. Harry Styles is proof of that fact. 

Speaking of - she swipes open her phone, startles at the message from an unknown number that looks too familiar. 

Hi caz, hope you still have the same cell#. Just wanted to say I’m sorry for holding you up at work last night. Maybe I could buy you dinner or something. I’d really like to talk. Xx H

Their old system, signing off messages with just the first initial. Caroline swallows hard, reading the message again. 

She knows, objectively, that saying yes would be the worst possible thing she could do. It’s been three years and she’s still a pariah. 

Ellie says people’ll get better in time. Jack says, under his breath, that they wouldn’t have to get better if Caroline hadn’t shagged one of her students. Caroline says - in her head only, while she grits her teeth and ignores him - that Harry was never her bloody student, and he was legal besides, and she’s been punished for it enough already by getting sacked, and- 

The list goes on and on. She can defend herself for hours, she’s certainly done it enough in her head when people look at her funny. The fact remains: it’d be stupid, to get dinner with Harry. No matter how old he is now. 

They used to meet at her flat, back when she could pay the rent. That flat two streets down from Harry’s mum’s house, where he’d sneak over late, spend a few hours, stumble back home in the wee hours of the morning. 

Caroline doesn’t let herself think about that time. 

She’s pretty sure she was happy, then, is the thing. And thinking about it doesn’t help. 

She types back: I don’t think it’s a good idea 

Even that’s such bullshit, because she knows him, she knows he’ll respond, he won’t just stop. She knows exactly how that message will make him react. They used to do this, too. Cursory refusals, for show, and then Caroline would say yes later, in the dark of her flat, in bed. Yes yes yes yes

Doesn’t have to be dinner. Coffee. Or we could meet at your place. I just think we should talk 

Caroline looks around the house around her. Her place. What a joke. Thirty-five and living on her sister’s sofa, single, working at a bar-

Right. Self-pity aside, she’s still got to think of somewhere where they can meet. 

Oh Christ, she’s such an idiot. Already so ready to give in. 

By the time she’s out of the shower, hair wrapped in a towel and the bathroom door open so the steam will let out, Harry’s texted her again. 

I get why you might not want to see me but I think you owe me Caz. I just want to chat. Please 

Owes him - owes him? Caroline lets out a strangled sound, staring down at her phone. 

Fine, she types. Working late at the bar again tonight. Come by when we close if you want to talk. 

She sets her phone down, drops her towel on the bathroom floor just as Jack walks in, his face going wide-eyed in the reflection in the mirror. Caroline yelps, and slams the door shut in his face. 

“What the fuck!” she gasps out, clutching a hand over her bare chest. 

“Wear your fucking clothes around the house!” Jack yells back through the closed door, and then mutters something rude under his breath. 

Caroline glares into the mirror, at her naked body, her hair in wet clumps around her face. Fucking hell. Fucking fucking hell, she needs to get the hell out of there.

Work’s absolutely mental. It’s the Friday before Christmas, and Caroline chugs a Red Bull at the start of her shift and prays. There’s about a dozen work dos going on, including one for the local primary school, full of teachers and secretaries she remembers meeting at education conferences. Caroline went to uni with one of the teachers. They’d done a group project together, on inclusion of developmentally disabled children in art classes. Got full marks.

Weird, the things she remembers. The woman ignores her anyway. 

By eleven the place is full-up, and Caroline ducks outside to the alley for her break, smokes a fag and eats half a sandwich. 

The second half of her shift is worse somehow. Some drunk idiot falls off his stool and faceplants into her cleavage, and the ensuing raucous laughter from his mates makes it clear it wasn’t an accident. She shoves him off and then serves him another drink, because that’s her job, never mind if her hands shake. The other bartender on duty doesn’t laugh or get angry - she never does. She’s fifty or more and built like a tank and regards Caroline with a sort of bored tolerance. The regulars all adore her. 

“What’s a bloke gotta do to get some fuckin’ service in here!” someone yells down the bar, and Caroline allows herself a split second of furious, reckless rage before she swallows it down and presents her smiling face like a sunflower to the light. 

“What can I get you, sir?" 

Harry shows up like clockwork, 3:00 AM. There are still a few people hanging around, but they’re filtering out one by one. Caroline’s just dialing a taxi for one woman who’s fallen asleep in a puddle of beer when the door jingles. 

Harry’s got his hood over his face and when he looks up Caroline catches his eye. It makes her falter on the phone for a split second - "Uhh, ye-yeah, sorry, yes, off South street”- and then catch herself. 

He slides into a stool, feet kicking audibly against the wood of the bar. 

“Hi,” he says. 

“Hi.” Caroline needs to look busy. She feels shaky inside, unsteady. “Lemme- lemme close up, yeah?" 

Harry nods, quietly. "Can I help?”

“No.” Caroline smiles tightly at him. “Thanks. I’ve got it." 

Her fellow bartender’s left for the night already - always gets off early, a perk of having worked there for decades - so Caroline takes out the garbage and wipes down the tables and sets the dishes on the rack to dry.

Harry sits, and texts, and swings his feet. 

And then it’s just them. The bar is quiet, dark when Caroline flicks off the neon light in the window. She walks back towards the kitchen, wiping her palms on her jeans, gets behind the bar, looks at her phone. 3:34 AM. 

"Your mum know where you are?” she asks. 

Harry huffs a laugh. “No. Thinks I’m staying at Matty’s." 

Caroline nods, slowly, her leg jiggling nervously behind the bar where Harry can’t see. 

"You want a drink or summat?” she asks. 

Harry shrugs, dragging his fingertip over the fake wooden bartop. 

“Sure,” he says. “If you’re making one." 

Caroline wasn’t going to, but- well. 

She takes out two glasses, still damp and warm from the wash. Harry likes sweet things, he always has. Girly drinks. He used to buy this terrible 50p mango iced tea from the corner store, bring it to Caroline’s, mix too-strong vodka drinks that got him giggly after only two. 

She makes them both a Cosmo, stirred not shaken, in a whiskey glass with a drop of triple sec. Plus a few cherries. 

Harry takes a sip and smiles, licks his mouth. "S'good." 

Caroline nods. Her hand wobbles when she goes to sip her own, and a bit splashes out when she sets it down. 

"You said you wanted to talk,” she says. 

Harry nods, fishing for the cherry in his drink with two fingers. He gets it, sucks it into his mouth, chewing. 

“Yeah,” he says, once he’s swallowed. “I, uh. I dunno. I just thought- it’s been a really long time." 

Caroline doesn’t say anything. 

"And I just- I dunno. My mum said you, uh, you got let go. From the school." 

He’s not looking at her. 

"It wasn’t about you,” Caroline says, except of course it was. It might not be on her official termination report, but it was about Harry. Her voice squeaks. “Was a conflict of interest. Unrelated." 

Harry nods, head bent. "Alright." 

"That was like years ago, anyway,” Caroline says, gulping her drink. Her face is hot. 

Harry shrugs. “Guess I’ve just been gone." 

"How’s London?” Her voice sounds fake. 

Harry smiles, blinking up at her. “It’s amazing." 

Oh, god, of course it is. Caroline’s heart clenches. 

See, that was the thing she always knew. Harry was made for better things. Better places. Even back when Harry was just a kid, practically a virgin, shaky with his hands and hungry-eyed. Caroline knew that. 

"That’s good,” she says, surprising herself by actually meaning it. “You’re making a living?" 

"Barely,” he says nonchalantly. “Just doing gigs. I work at this coffee shop during the day. It’s in Primrose Hill and super posh. One time Alexa Chung came in for a latte." 

Caroline laughs. "Nice." 

"Yeah.” Harry’s mouth quirks up. “It’s- it’s been so good. Just. Y'know. I love it here, but London’s so, like, big, you know?" 

Caroline lived in London for five years in her twenties. Harry used to ask her incessant questions about it.

She knows just what he means. 

"Yeah,” she says, sipping her drink. 

“I’m letting this American girl stay in my flat, for a month,” Harry says. “With like Airbnb. And I’ll be here for two more weeks and then I’m meeting my mates in Paris." 

"That sounds great, Haz." 

Harry nods, peering up at her. 

"Me mum didn’t want me t'see you,” he says. 

She huffs a laugh. “You surprised about that?" 

He shrugs. 

"I dunno,” he mumbles. “It’s not like we broke the law." 

Caroline sniffs in hard, steels herself. Right into it, then. 

"That doesn’t really matter, Harry." 

"Yes it does.” Harry sounds stubborn. 

“It doesn’t to everyone else." 

"Fuck them,” Harry says, with surprising bitterness. "People’re always going to talk shite. Doesn’t mean it wasn’t - good.“ 

He’s such a child. 

Caroline drags her fingers over an uneven part of the bartop, pitted with cigarette burns. Takes a sip of her drink. 

"Was in love with you,” Harry says softly. “They can’t tell me that’s wrong." 

She drains her drink. 

"Babe,” she says, a bit tired of all this, of Harry’s big dramatic proclamations and the way he’s just shown up here. “You don’t know what love is." 

"Why’s that?” Harry says, jutting his chin out. 

“Because you’re a fucking child,” she snaps. 

You know, then,” Harry says, challengingly, ignoring the insult. “You know what love is. You’re saying that’s not what it was? You and me?" 

His eyes are very wide and very green. Caroline’s caught in them for a moment. It’s been such a long time since anyone looked at her that way.  

She opens her mouth, shuts it again. 

Harry’s watching her, breathing deeply, waiting. 

"It was sex,” she says. “And you were a teenager." 

"Don’t bloody do that,” Harry says, voice going high. “Everyone does that. Don’t lie about what it was." 

"Harry-" 

"Don’t,” he chokes out. “C'mon, Cazza." 

Caroline draws in a steadying breath. 

"Why’d you even come back here?” she asks, not looking at him. 

“Did you love me too?” Harry says, and something in his voice is so plaintive, childlike, it makes Caroline’s heart squeeze. 

“Harry-" 

"I need to know that it wasn’t just me. I need that. You owe me that." 

That hits a sore spot. Caroline scrubs a hand over her face. "I don’t owe you anything, Harry." 

"Yes you do. I’m- I’m fucked up, sometimes, because of what we did. I think about it. M'scared I don’t know how to be in love because of you." 

His voice is shaking. 

"You’re so dramatic,” Caroline breathes. “Honestly." 

He lifts his head, eyes burning. "So you’re saying you didn’t feel anything for me." 

"I didn’t say that." 

"You did. You said it was just sex." 

"I’m not-" 

"You didn’t feel anything?" 

Harry slides off the stool, and for a second Caroline thinks he’s going to walk out. 

But instead, he makes his way around the bar, and something in Caroline shifts, gives way. 

She crosses an arm over her chest to hide the way she wants it. 

"Harry, what’re you doing." 

"Tell me,” Harry says, coming closer. “That you felt nothing." 

"Harry." 

Harry puts his hands on her face. It’s disarming. She was expecting his hands on her hips or her arse or her shoulders but- no. Her face. Her cheeks. His touch is light. 

"Tell me,” he says again. He has a spray of freckles across the bridge of his nose, a smattering of hair on his top lip. His mouth is pink and wet from his drink and his hands smell of cherries. “Please, Caz. Just - tell me I wasn’t by myself." 

Caroline shakes her head, eyes wide on his. 

"Fine,” she whispers. “Fine, you weren’t-” and opens her mouth for his tongue.

It’s dirty right away, like it hasn’t been a day since they last touched. He kisses her like he’s drowning in it, gasping, sucking at her tongue until her knees buckle. Fuck, can he kiss. He always could, but he’s learned. Someone’s been practicing with him, to teach him to kiss this way. 

Caroline feels a brief flash of jealousy for all the people Harry’s fucked in the time they’ve been apart - or maybe it’s jealousy of their lives, in London, being young, falling carelessly into bed together. It fades when Harry moves his hand from her face to her arse, cups the curve of it and squeezes, and Caroline feels it throb deep between her legs. 

It’s been two months since she last had sex. Some bloke at the bar with kind eyes who split off from his raucous group of coworkers and sat there, told her about his ex-girlfriend and his nan’s cancer and his dog Pete and in the end Caroline wanted to fuck him, so she did. They went to his flat. She met his dog. She sucked his cock. He needed her out by seven the next morning and she took the bus home and some woman caught her eye and mouthed slag

It made her laugh, because she wasn’t even sure if that woman knew about Harry. 

“Caz,” Harry mumbles into her mouth, groping her arse. She’s close to spreading her legs around his thigh, grinding down. Her breath shudders in and out, shaky. She can feel sweat in the small of his back, where she’s pressing her hand. 

“Caz, fuck, can I-"  he breaks off, gasping. His face is pink and his mouth is swollen. "Can I, like-" 

She knows what he wants. 

"Here,” she says, sucking at his soft bottom lip, pulling off with a pop. “You’ve got a condom?" 

Harry’s eyes go dark. 

"My wallet,” he says, shakily. “Wait- just. Wait." 

Caroline watches him dash around the bar. She exhales hard, balances herself on the bar with one hand, trying to ignore the persistent ache between her legs, the sharp feeling of wanting him. 

She doesn’t have to, though, because he’s finally fucking here. 

Home. Caroline muffles a hysterical laugh in her hand. This isn’t home for Harry. Not this town and not Caroline’s cunt. 

They can pretend for a bit, though. 

"What, like, the floor?” Harry mumbles ten minutes later, when they’re pressed against the bar snogging, her hand down his jeans. She missed that feeling, his hot fat cock against her hand. Always had the loveliest cock. He keeps shoving into the touch, breath gusting out in short pained breaths. 

Caroline nips at his bottom lip. “Good god, no. The shit I’ve spilled on this floor." 

Harry snorts against her mouth, kisses her again. 

"Where, then?" 

Caroline swallows, giving his prick a squeeze. 

"Like this,” she says, staggering back out of his grip, turning herself against the bar so her back’s to him. She bends over the bar slowly, deliberately.

“Caz,” Harry says, unsure.  

“Do it,” she says, sharply, and oh, that feels good, hot in her veins. She hasn’t told anyone to do anything like that in ages. “Like this." 

Harry’s stroking himself, staring at her arse. She can hear the wet slide of his hand. 

"Go on,” she says, hitching her hips up, undoing her jeans and shoving them down til they’re around her knees. She’s wearing her favorite knickers, a raspberry-pink thong that’s not subtle whatsoever. Not that she, like, thought this would happen. Not that she put them on specially. “Just like this." 

"Jesus,” Harry mutters, reverent. “Jesus." 

Caroline arches her back, reaches behind her to wriggle her knickers down her arse with both hands. She’s so slick she can feel it if she presses her thighs together. It’s just - it’s fucked up but it’s so hot, doing this at the bar. If anyone came in, she’d be doubly screwed. Sacked again, and no one would ever forget whose dick she was on. Everyone would know she’s not sorry for it.

Her jaw clenches and her stomach pulses and she grins fiercely, hides it in her folded arms. 

"Harry,” she says, voice coming out scratchy, sex-raw, and they’ve barely started. “Fuck me this way." 

"You’re so,” Harry starts, dazedly, and the next second he’s lifting her a little so he can get under her, her thighs spreading to let him in. His cock slides up and in, stretching her, a pain that turns into an itch for more. She lets out a whimper, hands clenching on the bartop. “You’re so beautiful. Fuck." 

She can’t make words. It’s shameful but she can’t. Harry feels bigger. Maybe it’s just the position, the way he’s under and inside her, how deep he’s in, but. 

Harry groans against the back of her neck. Rolls his hips til he’s pressed all the way inside, and right there, right like that, Caroline wants to cry. 

"Good?” Harry mumbles against her neck. 

“Harder,” she chokes back. “Up a little bit." 

He moves just like she asks him to, fucks upward with intent, and - oh, fuck, that’s it. She sobs out a breath. 

"Like that?" 

"Yeah, Harry, yeah, fuck, yeah." 

"Yeah,” Harry repeats, panting, thrusting in again, voice so low it’s barely audible. He slides a big hand around to cup her breast, thumbing over her hard nipple, and she squeaks, doesn’t know whether to push forward or back, caught and trembling. “Yeah." 

He comes like that, fucking her hard against the bar. He lasts longer than he used to, lasts until she’s shaking, pinned, shoving back against him as best as she can and feeling how deep he can go. 

She’s surprised at how quiet he is, when he comes. Just a rough huff of air, the softest lowest moan. His hands tell a different story, though, one clenching on her belly and another on her back, fingers digging in like he’s afraid of falling. 

"Go- go, go,” she pants, legs trembling, when he goes still against her back, dick softening. “Get- on your knees." 

Harry pulls out, and Caroline turns around, holding herself up by the arms. Her jeans and pants are still around her thighs, and she feels raw, open and used. 

"Go on,” she says, out of it, letting her jeans fall below her knees and then splaying her legs. 

Harry stares down at her body, chest rising and falling in heavy breaths. 

She raises an eyebrow.

He tosses the condom in the bin, falls to his knees, spreads her lips with one hand and sucks at her clit. 

“Jesus!” she snaps, hand smacking against the counter. “Jesus, fucking-" 

Harry groans against her cunt, nuzzling in for more. 

It feels incredible, after getting fucked. She’s sensitive, a little sore, and his mouth is slick and soft, the feeling of it like sinking into a hot bath. She moans, and Harry ducks his head further until she’s practically on top of him. She can feel the press of his jaw against her perineum as he buries his face inside her. 

She comes once, fast, and he doesn’t stop. Presses his fingers inside, two and then three, hooked to reach her g-spot, while he licks her clit, and she sobs when she comes for a second time, hips thrusting down against his face. Harry turns his face to the side to breathe, the sound of it loud and harsh like he was suffocating. 

"Oh fucking god,” she manages to gasp, toes curling and then flattening in her trainers. She’s still wearing her fucking trainers. 

Harry looks up at her, dark-eyed, his chin and lips slicked up from her cunt. He’s still breathing hard. 

“That- that alright?” He clears his throat. Licks his lips, slowly, savoring it. 

She’s almost queasy with how satisfied she is. Yeah, was alright.

“Yeah,” she says, on an exhale. “Christ, Haz." 

He ducks his head. Kisses the inside of her thigh and then the tattoo sitting in the hollow of her hip, a small black heart. 

It’s so tender. Caroline has to bite down hard on her lip to keep from letting out an overexhausted sob. 

"Alright,” she says, voice wobbly. She coughs. “Alright, Haz." 

She pushes his forehead, his thick dark hair. He lifts his head, staggers back up to his feet, nearly knocking over a tray of clean glasses. 

He’s wearing his shirt and that’s all, his dick hanging shamelessly, his legs coltish and long. 

She did love him. She did. It hits her hard, unexpectedly. 

How bloody awful. Wouldn’t it have been easier, if it were just the sex. If she were just the pervert who shagged a seventeen year old and got sacked. 

"You should go,” she says, and his face falls. 

“What?" 

"You should go,” she repeats, fumbling to pull up her jeans. “It’s late." 

"Cazza." 

"Don’t make this harder, okay?” she says,  unexpectedly fierce. He’s staring at her puppy-eyed. “Don’t- don’t make this harder when you know it can’t happen." 

Harry’s eyes drop. 

"Thought you said it was just sex,” he mumbles. 

“Yeah, well.” She zips up her jeans. For a minute she wants to tell him everything. The way people look at her. The whispers. The time she saw Harry’s mum in Tesco and Anne shook her head, her gaze withering, like she couldn’t imagine a worse person than Caroline. 

One of her students came into the bar, once. With his mates, of course, all his grubby little mates, boys from Harry’s class. They sat down, bold as brass, watched her tits when she walked by like they were the telly, put there for their entertainment.

She didn’t say anything. She didn’t say anything when the boy ordered a Jack and Coke, and she didn’t say anything when he knocked it onto her chest accidentally-on-purpose and they all laughed. 

People liked her, before. She was liked

Harry’s fumbling for his briefs, his jeans in a heap on the sticky floor behind the bar. 

He gets dressed while she washes the glasses they drank from, and then he touches the small of her back where her shirt rides up, and turns her around. 

They kiss for a little while, until Caroline realizes if she keeps kissing him she’ll want more. 

She pulls away, ducks her head when Harry leans in again. His hands are on her waist, gripping gently.

“I have to go,” she says, peering at her phone. 4:27 AM. Holy hell. “I really have to get home." 

Harry lets go of her hips.

"You weren’t alone,” she says, not meeting his eyes. 

“Caz,” Harry breathes. 

“You weren’t.” She sniffs in hard, rubs her palm over the back of her neck and grabs her bag off the ground. “Was worth it. Getting sacked, everything. It was worth it." 

His face shudders, goes sad. 

"You said that wasn’t-”

“Don’t,” she says, patting his cheek. “It’s over. Let it be over, yeah?" 

He chews his lip, eyes glassy. 

"Was my fault anyway,” she says, whispery. She coughs again, leans forward and kisses his smooth cheek. “Be good." 

"Caroline." 

"Go so I can lock up." 

Harry sniffles, rubs his knuckles in one eye. 

"Fine,” he says, thickly. “Fine." 

He stops at the door, turns back. His hood’s over his head, eyes glinting at her in the darkness. 

"Wasn’t your fault,” he says. “It wasn’t." 

Isn’t he pretty, like that, silhouetted by the door, his face young and earnest. Like a scene out of a film. Except in films people like them don’t end up together. 

"Go,” Caroline says, choked. 

Harry sniffles again, shoves the bar door open with his shoulder and disappears into the night. 

She’s fumbling for her house key when the door opens. Jack’s standing there, a spitrag over one shoulder, and Caroline looks up at him, feeling a bit like she’s just been caught sneaking around by her dad. 

“Home late,” Jack says, coolly. 

“Yeah. Well.” She forces a smile. “Here now." 

"Thought the bar closed at three." 

"I had to close up." 

He hums doubtfully, doesn’t move when she steps inside, so she has to press against the bulk of him in the doorway to get by. 

"Overstaying your welcome a bit, aren’t you, Caroline,” he says, following her inside. 

Caroline doesn’t look back at him. She goes to the toilet and stands there, shivering, listening, until she hears his footsteps on the stairs. 

When he’s gone she goes into the baby’s room. They’re fast asleep, the both of them, and she curls her hands around the top of Zuzu’s crib and tries her hardest not to cry. 

She almost succeeds. Keeps it quiet and brief, at least, a few wracked sobs, a few tears, and then she sucks it back in, breath shuddering.

“Love you,” she whispers, to Zuzu’s plump cheeks and her rosebud mouth. To Lila’s solemn expression and her small arms splayed out on the bed, utterly innocent. “Love you, love you, love you." 

Her heart feels weak, flooded. She leaves them to sleep and sinks down onto the sofa, tucks her knees up to her chest. Sniffs in hard. 

She can’t sleep. She wonders if Harry feels the same. She laughs at herself, at the sheer stupidity of all, wraps her arms tightly around her calves and shivers. Waits for morning.