“Absolutely not,” Louis declared. “No. The only thing worse than poetry is student poetry.”
Zayn crossed her arms. “You promised you’d come support me tonight.”
“Yeah, but I didn’t know it would be poetry, did I?”
Zayn glared down at her FIFA-playing flatmate sprawled out on the sofa, and resisted the urge to kick the Xbox controller out of Louis’ hands. They wouldn’t be able to afford to replace it, but sometimes the only thing that could command Louis’ attention was wanton destruction of property. Zayn opted instead for a sigh of frustration. “What did you expect when I asked you to come to a poetry slam at the student union?”
Louis shrugged, her eyes still fixed on the flatscreen. “Surely you can’t expect me to listen to you all the time. I heard ‘slam’, that sounded alright. Violent, innit. But poetry?” She wrinkled her nose in disgust. “Nah, bro.”
“I told you, it’s the final all-years poetry showcase. It’s part of my module. And you agreed!”
“I agree to loads of things,” Louis replied easily. “Such as—”
Louis stopped mid-sentence and frowned as she struggled to count on her fingers without having to put down the controller; realizing it was futile, she let out a heavy sigh and paused the game before listing items out loud with extra dramatic flair. “Such as introducing you to—and I quote—‘that fit footie mate of yours Liam’ last year. And then helping you figure out how to talk to her. And then trapping you two in the locker room until you both finally admitted your undying lady love for each other.” She paused. “That last one was my own idea, mind, but I generally tend to agree to my own ideas.” Satisfied with her own logic, Louis shook her head and resumed her game. “Have I not sacrificed enough for you, Zaynie? Why don’t you just ask the missus to go?”
“Liam’s already coming."
“HA, I bet she is!” Louis waggled her eyebrows, reveling in the innuendo. “Or at least she will be. Later tonight. Maybe poetry is her secret kink and—fuck yeah, GET IN!”
The virtual crowd roared as Louis scored another goal for Man U, and not for the first time Zayn regretted that her best friend had all the maturity and attention span of a six-year old. A six-year-old with a disturbing talent for sexual innuendos. But Louis wouldn’t get out of this commitment so easily. “Shut the fuck up, get off the sofa, and get exposed to some culture, you knob,” Zayn snapped.
Warily, Louis flicked her eyes back and forth between Zayn and the screen. “Will it be full of hipsters?” she asked, voice laced with suspicion.
Zayn sighed. “More than likely.”
“And you genuinely expect me to be in the same room as ‘em? No fucking way. It’ll smell, like, incense and kale and failed dreams. And ironic record collections. No one uses records anymore! iPhones exist. Why do they even make record players?!”
“I own a record player,” Zayn pointed out.
“Ridiculous. I’m pretending I didn’t hear that.”
“And it’s at the Student Union, yeah, not some indie café you’d want to burn to the ground. It’s just people from my course, like.”
Louis ducked her head to give a deliberately fake cough into the crook of her elbow as the Xbox version of Martin Tyler complimented her on a “spectacular” top corner goal. “Sorry, Zaynie,” she rasped over the electronic stadium sounds, “I can’t, think I’ve got, er… dysentary.”
Zayn huffed out a breath. Time to play her trump card. “Did I mention Niall’s the barman tonight?”
Louis paused her game and stared up at Zayn, eyes shining wide with hope. “Free drinks?” she asked.
Zayn nodded. “Free drinks,” she confirmed.
“Well, why didn’t you say so?” Louis bounded off the couch and nearly tripped over her Vans in her rush out the door. “I love poetry!”
“I hate poetry.”
Zayn, Louis, and Liam were sat at a booth in the Student Union on campus, and Louis was miserable. The poetry showcase competition was only a half-hour in, but she was already finishing her third vodka-lemonade of the night. Between the pretentious MC, the pretentious performers, and the pretentious finger-snapping—“finger snaps, Zayn? Really? I guess clapping is too mainstream for these people?”—Louis was having the worst night of her life.
“C'mon, Lou, cheer up,” Liam said, gently elbowing her. “It’s not so bad.”
“Disagree. This is hell.” Louis made a face. “Literally everyone here is wearing a beanie. Why. It’s spring.”
“You’re wearing a beanie,” Zayn commented.
“Yes Zayn, but I am awesome. They are all wearing them ironically, like. Or whatever. I can’t believe you’re on a course with these people.”
“Louis, quit being such a mardy bastard. For like five minutes. Just shut it.”
Louis stared at Zayn. “Fucking hell, are you actually enjoying this?” When Zayn shrugged, Louis smacked a hand to her head. “Oh my god, you are enjoying this. You actually, genuinely go to these things for fun. You’re deranged, you are.”
“Hey,” Liam protested, forehead wrinkling with the intensity of her frown, “that’s out of order. Zayn is awesome. This is wicked.”
Liam tightened her arm around Zayn’s shoulder, and Zayn smiled at her. “Thanks babe.”
“Gross,” Louis said. “You pair sicken me.”
Then Zayn and Liam had the nerve to shush her because the next performer had made it to the stage and was now gripping the microphone stand with both hands, ready to launch into her slam poem. “My body is a table, and it is red wine for breakfast,” she began, “and my breasts, which once were teats for brother’s milk, will build the house which one day you will cry in!” She raised her arms outwards, proclaiming, “you were taught to take the bull by the horns, but I was taught to be the horns,” and her performance built to a crescendo as she shouted “We are living in an open casket, but our minds are closed, as we breathe in the formaldehyde which formally shapes our forms! We will ride down, down, down, down Downing, until we are drowning, drowning in the bath that Victoria’s Secret drew, until we are no more, until we are four, until my reasons for loving you and for hating you are as strong and unending as the white picket fence around our shame and pain and the traffic of iPhone factories! AMEN.”
“What,” Louis muttered over the din of snapping fingers, “the fuck.”
“That was incredible,” Zayn exclaimed, snapping her fingers so hard Louis was sure they’d drop off into her beer. “Oh my god, she’s amazing.”
“That was literally nonsense,” Louis said. “Payno! Did you understand any of that rubbish?”
“Uh,” Liam said, her mouth turning down as she glanced back and forth between a hopeful Zayn and a confident Louis. “Um. I liked the bit, uh, where she did the… er, the simile? The bit about a casket. I liked that, it was…” She paused. “Oh, well, I s’pose the poem was about death, wasn’t it? Which isn’t so nice. But the poem, it was… good?”
Zayn’s face fell a bit. “The poem is actually more of a metaphor about Scottish independence,” she said slowly. “But to be fair, just like… That’s a sort of death. Of a United Kingdom.” She nodded at Liam, smile sliding back on her face. “So nationalistic death, yeah, babe, you’re right, you smashed it.”
Louis glared at Liam and mouthed “traitor”. Liam just met her glance and shrugged, wide-eyed.
Finally – mercifully – the second years’ section of the evening came to an end, and Louis managed to escape to the bar as the judges presented the awards for ‘Best Slammers’ or whatever it was those absurd people termed themselves.
“Niaaalllllller!” Louis called out, shoving ahead of the two people in queue. “My favourite heterosexual! Zayn and Liam are being disgusting and everyone here is insane. It’s like some sort of cult.” She threw herself dramatically onto the countertop and almost tipped over the crisps display. “Save me.”
“Surprised you’ve lasted this long, t’be fair,” Niall said with a laugh. “Should see your face. Did someone wee in your Coco Pops again?”
Louis frowned. “Fucking traumatic that night was, I’m still in therapy. Don’t care care how pissed Josh said he got, it were a new box and everything. Bang out of order.” Her frown deepened. “And I told you to never bring that up again. How very dare you!” She slammed her glass to the counter with more force than strictly necessary. “Another, barkeep!”
Niall began refilling her glass. “Can’t help you with Liam and Zayn, mate, you know they’re always gonna be cuter than us mere mortals. Even me ‘n Cher can’t compete, and we're fucking adorable. But the night’s nearly done, just Zayn’s year still to go.”
“I regret every decision that ever led me here,” Louis groaned. “I never should’ve met Zayn. Then I could be at home playing FIFA instead of listening to hipsters shout about capitalism or global warming or summat. Just can’t get me head ‘round any of it.”
Niall shrugged as he handed over her drink. “What’s not to get?”
“Poetry!” Louis spat the word, then took a long sip of her drink to cleanse the word's taste from her mouth. “It’s just so… like… shite.” Not her most brilliant insult ever, but got the point across well enough, she thought.
“You’re missing out, Lou. Poetry is sick.”
Louis gaped, open-mouthed. “What the fuck, Nialler? I thought you’d be on my side.”
“Can’t be on the side of anyone who doesn’t appreciate poetry, mate,” Niall said cheerfully. “‘It’s not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality. But, of course, only those who have personality and emotions know what it means to want to escape from these things.’”
Louis blinked. “Who are you and what have you done to Niall?” she asked. “Is this the Matrix? Am I having a stroke? Were that even in English?”
“Weren’t me came up with it, t’be fair, that were the legend T.S. Eliot, but makes sense enough.” At Louis’ blank stare, Niall continued, “Took a poetry module first year, was good craic.”
“I don’t know what the fuck you just said to me, but I’ve got the feeling I’ve been insulted.”
Niall grinned. “Reckon you might’ve.”
“Right, I’ve had quite enough of this,” Louis announced, making a show of turning her back on the bar. “Enjoy your creepy poetry cult, you dickhead. I’m never speaking to you again.”
“See you soon, Lou.”
Louis flipped him off. Niall’s cackle followed her all the way back to the booth.
By the time Louis made it back to Liam and Zayn, Nick the MC was already listing off the names of the third year performers for the final round. When he read out Zayn’s name, Zayn immediately paled and almost choked on her beer, and Louis and Liam suddenly realized why they hadn’t been invited to any of her prior readings.
“I can’t go up there!” Zayn’s knuckles were white as she gripped the edges of her spiral notebook, and she looked ready to do a runner at any moment as she babbled, “I can’t follow those performers, they were brilliant, I seriously don’t want to do it, I’ll just feel like an idiot on the stage, trying to read in front of all those people that’re clearly better than me, I’ve got to perform in front of Professor Cowell, and the judges are professional, they know what they’re doing, like, I’ll look like an idiot, I’m not doing it.” She dropped her notebook to the table, its corners bent and damp from her sweaty palms. “Maybe they won’t notice if I don’t go up, what if I just hid behind the stage or summat, you can just tell ‘em I went home, yeah, and—”
“You can do this, babe,” Liam said soothingly, all bright puppy eyes and earnest enthusiasm. “You’re brilliant, we all know it, don’t we, Lou?”
Louis looked up from her phone, where she had been googling ‘reasons why poetry is stupid’. Damn Zayn for being an incredible best friend whose stage fright was now forcing Louis to encourage more poetry. “Yeah, Zaynie, you’re gonna smash it,” she enthused. “We’ll snap extra loud for you and everything, won’t we, Payno?”
Zayn’s eyes went wide with panic. “You don’t snap in this round, you clap!” she yelped. “Don’t snap, just clap!”
“See,” Louis pointed out, “you are a poet! And you didn’t even mean to rhyme… that time.” She paused. “HA! Now I’m a poet too!”
Liam fixed Louis with A Look, which Louis felt was quite unnecessary, because she was also helping Zayn, thankyouverymuch. “I think what Louis means,” Liam said, turning her attention back to her girlfriend, “is that you know you’ve got us in the audience, and Niall, too. We’ve got your back. Just breathe, babe.”
“Exactly,” Louis said. “Everyone is gonna love you. And the one you’re reading tonight is sick. About Cthulu and all that, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Zayn said, voice slightly steadier now, “yeah, it’s the villanelle.”
“Villanelle, Liam,” Louis said in her most patronizing tone. “Also known as a villanesque. Nineteen lines consisting of five tercets followed by a quatrain.”
“Whoa, Lou,” Zayn said, a bit impressed, “didn’t think you’d remember me telling you all that on the walk over.”
“‘Course, bro.” Louis reached out for a fistbump, which Zayn returned with a grin. “I do, incredibly, listen when you talk about stuff. Usually.”
“What’s a tercet?” Liam asked, face pinched in concentration. “And a quatrain?”
“Oh, no, no time to explain,” Louis said hurriedly, pushing Zayn up out of her seat and towards the stage, “Zayn should get up on the stage, right quick, there you go, yeah, whoo, go Zayn!”
As Zayn stood in line offstage waiting for her turn in the spotlight, Liam leaned over to Louis and said, “You don’t know what those things are, do you?”
“What things are what, Liam?”
“The tercets and the quatrains and stuff.”
“I didn’t manage to read that far down the Wikipedia entry on poetry, so no.” Louis raised her glass high. “But I did learn that there’s some type called a ‘lục bát’. And it’s probably stupid too. You’re welcome for that bit of brilliant insight.”
Liam rolled her eyes but clinked her glass against Louis’. “Cheers.” Then she opened Google on her phone and asked “how d’you spell quatrain?”
The lights in the room dimmed as the MC announced the first poet on stage, and Louis shot Liam a conspiratorial grin. “Now shush, some hipster who’s a disappointment to their parents is going to use too many words to describe how some things are like or unlike other things,” she whispered. “Chug every time someone mentions their soul!”
The next few performers were everything that Louis hated about poetry—specifically, they were poets who read poems. (Her standards for hatred weren’t much higher than that.) At least Liam didn’t seem interested, either – she spent most of the time researching poetry terms on her phone, presumably so she could impress Zayn. Adorable.
But when Zayn strode confidently onto the stage, adjusted the mic, introduced herself, and then launched into her well-practiced rhymes about her favourite Lovecraftian monster, Louis couldn’t help almost enjoying herself. (Almost.) Liam, on the other hand, was enraptured, fingers clenched around her pint, all her attention focused on her girlfriend.
Zayn descended the stage to roaring applause from the general audience, and obnoxiously loud wolf whistles from Liam and Louis. (Mostly Louis.) She blushed when she got back to their booth, and Liam pulled her in for a quick kiss. “That was brilliant, you’re so brilliant,” Liam exclaimed, cheeks pink from pride and drink. “And I thought your tercets and quatrains were ace, all the rhyming, and the bit at the end, that was wicked.”
Louis was about to chime in with her own enthusiastic praise (although it would involve significantly less kissing than in Liam’s congratulations – Louis was quite entertained by tipsy Liam, note to self: get Liam drunk more often) when the final performer of the night took the stage and proved immediately, incredibly distracting.
“Hi everybody,” the girl said with a little wave and a smile so blinding it rivalled the spotlight, “I hope you’re all having a nice time! I’m Harry Styles, and this piece is titled ‘Don’t Let Me Go’. So I hope you enjoy.” She opened the leatherbound journal in her hand, but then paused to add with a husky laugh, “And even if you don’t enjoy my poem, that’s okay too! Everyone’s opinions are equally valid. Just thank you for coming out tonight and supporting live poetry.”
The girl (Harry Styles, Louis quickly amended, because she definitely needed to remember that name) was tall, with a mess of brown curls pushed back by a bandana and skinny jeans that framed her long (oh god so long) legs. Louis barely even registered the fact that Harry was wearing ridiculous hipster boots. Harry held herself with such easy, casual confidence, she fucking shone in the spotlight (even if that’s what spotlights were supposed to do), and Louis couldn’t look away. Harry was fucking radiant.
And Louis was in love.
“I’m in love,” Louis whispered to Zayn and Liam, never taking her eyes off the stage.
“What?” Zayn replied.
Louis flapped a hand in her direction. “Shut it, I’m listening!”
Harry’s poem was about… something? Louis wasn’t quite sure. But it sounded really good. Well, because Harry sounded really good. Her voice was deliciously smooth, slow and syrupy, like listening to a presenter on Radio 4. (Although one so blindingly attractive that Louis wouldn’t even change the station to something less hideously middle-class. But not like you could see presenters on the radio, mind. Because radio. Hmm. Maybe Louis should ease up on the drinks before she said something that stupid out loud.) And Harry kept repeating the line “don’t let me go” a lot, and that just made Louis think about all the ways she wouldn’t let Harry go. (More specifically, all the ways she’d hold on to her: gripping Harry’s waist as they tumbled backwards onto a bed together, pinning Harry’s wrists over her head as Louis hovered over her shuddering body, tangling her hands in Harry’s curls as Harry lowered her head between Louis’ thighs...) But Louis also did manage to pay enough attention to the poem to realize it was emotional, quite sad, definitely a break-up poem, and while Louis wasn’t sure if it was drawn from Harry’s personal experience—because who would ever be mad enough to break up with such curly-haired perfection?—she also hoped that it reflected Harry’s current relationship status.
When Harry finished her poem—far too soon for Louis’ liking, because really Harry should just replace every other non-Zayn participant—and ambled off the stage, almost tripping over her feet in those shoes, Louis whipped round to face Liam and Zayn. “Tell me everything you know about her,” she hissed.
“About Harry?” Zayn asked. Liam looked equally confused.
“Yes, about Harry! Hot Poet Harry Styles! Did you see anyone else up there shining like the fucking sun?”
Liam smiled. “That was sort of beautiful, Lou,” she said. “Think you might be into this poetry thing after all.”
“No,” Louis said, “no, not into poetry, just into Harry.” She paused. “Or at least I really, really want to be.” When she noticed Liam’s wrinkled nose, she added, “Too far?”
Zayn nodded. “Deffo too far. But yeah, I know her, she’s in my section. Just like, we’ve not really talked, but—”
“Safe, so you can introduce us!”
“Nah, you can do that yourself.” Zayn jerked a thumb over her shoulder, indicating a booth back near the bar. “Looks like she’s got a table set up.”
“A table for what?” Louis asked. She looked where Zayn had pointed, and saw Harry sitting at a booth that was covered in haphazard stacks of pamphlets and assorted paper. “Wait, they sell merch here? Like a concert?”
“Yeah, ‘course they sell ‘merch’,” Zayn deadpanned. “T-shirts, bumper stickers, bobbleheads of your favourite poets. Amateur uni poetry competitions have always got the best souvenirs, you didn’t know?”
“Fuck off. What’s it actually?”
“Probably chapbooks or summat, looks like she’s got loads of ‘em.” At Louis' confused expression, Zayn continued, “Like, small homemade books of poems. Loads of poets self-publish their work and sell it at these sorts of things.”
“Sell?” Louis snorted. “What, doesn’t that go against the whole anti-capitalism theme of the evening?” She tsk-tsked. “How hypocritical. Poets. Pfft.”
“Oi, say something like that again, and I’ll tell her I had to drag you here tonight and that you’re a poetry-hating tit who only saw her read because you were lured by the promise of free alcohol.”
Louis raised her drink in mock cheers. “Noted. Even though one day all of this will make for an amazing story at our wedding.”
“I’d buy a Zayn bobblehead,” Liam offered, all of a sudden. “I mean, if you sold merch, like. Even though it wouldn’t be as pretty as you, and your face would look all scrunched, because they never get the faces quite right, do they—like the Iron Man one we bought last week, remember, the eyebrows were all wrong—and it would probably be quite weird to look at, actually.” She nodded. “But still.”
Of course that just prompted Zayn and Liam to launch into a rambling discussion about Marvel merchandise and whether the cheekbones on the latest Black Widow figure were “Scarlett Johansson-y enough”, and Louis was not nearly drunk enough to handle this sort of sickeningly cute couple conversation. At least it was helping to distract Zayn from the fact that the judges were still deliberating scores. And it was heaps better than them making out in front of her. So she let them talk until it became absolutely unbearable.
“SO!” Louis interrupted after entirely too much time had passed without the sound of her voice, “you’re both adorable dorks and I hate you. But I like vodka. And Niall. I’m going to get some. Vodka. From Niall.”
Liam and Zayn barely acknowledged her departure, so Louis wasn’t in the cheeriest mood as she pushed through the crowds to get back to the bar. To make matters worse, everyone was standing up and blocking the aisles so she couldn’t even make her way to Harry’s booth, and Niall was too busy serving paying customers to have a proper chat; he barely managed an “alright?” as he slid her a fresh drink. As such, Louis was concentrating more on how she would find and then eventually seduce Hot Poet Harry Styles, and less on navigating her way through the room, when some dickhead wearing a seasonally-inappropriate scarf bumped into her and spilled her drink down her trousers.
“Fucking hell, watch where you’re going!” Louis snapped, but the guy didn’t even turn around, so she was denied even the satisfaction of calling him a wanker to his face.
Louis spent the next several minutes navigating her way to the toilets, cursing poetry and hipsters and the physics of drink-spilling as she wandered through a maze of various hallways. (The fact she was quite pissed didn’t help her direction skills). When she finally located the bathroom and pushed open the door, she was hit by two things: the scent of industrial-strength disinfectant, and the right shoulder of Hot Poet Harry Styles.
“Oops!” said Hot Poet Harry Styles, smiling awkwardly but bashfully like a… like a… like a gangly gorgeous giraffe.
“Hi!” replied Drunk Idiot Louis Tomlinson, who wished she were sober enough to not mentally compare a fit girl to a giraffe. “Er, I mean, fuck, sorry, I—”
“No, it’s my fault, I didn’t watch where I was going, are you alright?” Harry glanced down at Louis’ damp trousers and cringed. “Oh no, did I get you wet?”
“I’d love for you to get me wet,” Louis blurted.
Harry raised an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
Louis wanted to drown herself in a sink. “No, god, sorry, I mean, I was carrying my drink, and some arsehole bumped into me, and I was coming here to wash it out, and I’m… a bit drunk now, sorry.” She wished her brain could remember words other than ‘sorry’. She had never apologized for anything this much in her life. “Not your fault I’m wearing vodka trousers!”
“I’m sorry ‘bout your trousers,” Harry said. “But,” she added in a low tone, leaning in close enough for her hair to brush Louis’ shoulder and send excited twirls through Louis’ gut, “does that mean you need another drink? Because we should—”
But the rest of her invitation was lost in a loud screech of feedback from the microphone in the Student Union. Although the sound was a bit muffled by the distance, they could hear the MC clear his throat, tap on the mic, and begin reading off names of contestants who had made it to the finals.
“Fucks sake,” Louis cursed, wishing a slow and painful death on the MC for his horrible timing, “this was my friend’s round, I really ought to get back in there, she’ll be brickin’ it now.”
“Mine too,” Harry agreed. “I mean, not my friend’s round, my round. I should leave too.” But she made no move to leave the bathroom, or to even stop leaning against the still-open bathroom door. Louis had no complaints about this; Harry’s face was so much better up-close like this. Not that Louis was shallow or anything. (But she was. A bit.) “I’m quite nervous, actually.”
“What? Because you might win?” Louis asked. “Because you definitely should.” She paused. “Although, maybe I shouldn’t say that, ‘cos me mate’s up against you in the same category? Not sure who I should be supporting, really, because I loved you.” She blanched, and mentally blamed Niall’s free-pouring ways for temporarily disabling her brain-to-mouth filter. “I mean, your poem. Loved your poem. But it’s alright to wish you good luck at least, innit?”
Harry beamed, cheeks dimpling. “You liked my poem?” she asked. “Really?”
“Yeah, it was the best one the whole night! I mean, best other than Zayn’s, obviously, but I have to say that.”
“Obviously,” Harry said, nodding solemnly, and then, “hang on, Zayn Malik?”
“Yeah, she’s my—”
But they were interrupted by the MC booming “Harry Styles!”, followed by scattered whistles and cheers, and Harry looked more than a bit startled at the burst of noise.
Even though Louis' head was fairly swimmy at this point, she still managed to react to the news faster than Harry. “Fuck yeah, that’s you!” Louis exclaimed.
“It’s what?” Harry asked, dumbfounded. “No, can’t be.”
“They called your name, go get on that stage!” Louis grabbed Harry’s hand and pulled her out of the bathroom doorway, door slamming shut behind them. Harry’s hand was soft and warm in her own, and the contact sent little sparks fizzing up Louis’ arm and across her skin as they sprinted back to the main room.
“Harry Styles?” the MC kept repeating, his voice getting louder the closer they got to the main room. “Is Harry Styles here? Where's she got to now?”
“She’s here!” Louis shouted, bursting through the Union doors and pushing Harry ahead, urging her with a “go on, get up there, I’ll see you later, yeah?”
Harry shot her a grateful smile and started racing to the stage.
“She’s runnin’!” the MC announced. “She’s runnin’, here she goes!”
“Really sorry!” Harry shouted as she wove through the room. “I was having a wee! The toilets are ages away!” The entire room laughed with her, because that was just the sort of brilliant and loveable and perfect person Harry was. And Louis really should sit down now because all that sprinting had made the room start to spin quite a lot.
Still flushed from the combination of physical exertion, alcohol, and fairly intense hand-to-hand contact with Hot Poet Harry Styles, Louis made it back to her booth just in time for Zayn’s name to be read out. And after all the finalists were called up, and the runner-ups and third-place winner were announced, it came down to just Harry and Zayn left on stage. They both looked dead nervous, Zayn standing ramrod straight with her hands behind her back, not making eye contact with anyone, and Harry fiddling with the multiple bracelets around her wrists and staring straight at the MC. Louis wanted to comment that they were all taking this too seriously – it was only an amateur poetry night held in a student union, after all – but she still felt anxious anticipation thrumming through her veins. Liam was gripping her glass so hard it looked like it might shatter, and Louis was in the midst of peeling the label off Zayn’s beer bottle and shredding it into tiny pieces.
Okay, so maybe this was a big deal.
The MC squinted down at his list of names for what felt like ages. Louis wanted to punch his stupid smug face right in his stupid smug quiff. “And first place goes to… Zayn Malik!”
The room burst into applause—and Louis and Liam burst into cheers, with Niall’s unmistakable Irish enthusiasm emanating from the bar—but Zayn just stood there, gobsmacked, as Harry pumped her fist into the air and pulled Zayn into a massive hug. For a second, Louis wondered if they were witnessing a Zoolander moment, like Harry had thought she’d won instead of Zayn, and now she was about to steal the microphone and thank the judges for voting her Best Male Model for the fourth year in a row, but – no, Harry didn’t seem to care about losing, she was just genuinely happy for Zayn. Harry was even pushing Zayn towards the mic, which picked up bits and pieces of their conversation, Zayn mumbling “thanks” and Harry exclaiming “you deserved it!” and urging her to say something.
Louis was utterly, utterly charmed.
Liam and Louis clapped until their palm stung, and then clapped some more. Zayn was steeling her nerves for an acceptance speech, and she kept it short but sweet: “Okay, so, um, I’m not really a girl of many words, normally, but obviously I have to say, thank you for this, this is an amazing evening, I’m massively honoured to be here tonight and share the stage with so many talented poets, and, so, uh, yeah, thank you so much for this, and…” She looked over at Harry, who was standing off-stage and giving her two thumbs up. “Do you wanna, uh…?”
Harry shrugged and hopped up onto the stage, standing beside Zayn and leaning over into the mic. (And practically leaning over Zayn, Harry was so tall. Louis felt a bit faint.) “Thanks for coming out tonight, it means very much a lot to us,” Harry said. “But give it up for Zayn!” Then she gave Zayn another hug and walked back to her booth on the floor, where she was quickly swallowed up by a massive congratulatory mob of supporters and friends.
Louis needed to find a way into that mob.
Harry had sort of promised her a drink earlier in the toilets—at least, that’s what Louis assumed Harry had been in the middle of saying, because during that conversation Louis had been more than a bit distracted by the way Harry’s lips formed words and then thinking about how those lips could do other things too—and Louis was determined to take her up on that offer. But tracking down Harry would have to wait until after Louis congratulated Zayn, because her flatmate was a fucking brilliant poetry rockstar and Louis needed to tell her as much.
As Zayn was handed her prize—a voucher for the student union shop, how generous of the uni—and congratulated by the head of the Creative Writing department, the room started to empty, and the student tech team turned on the overhead lights and began packing up the stage equipment.
“I’m buzzin’,” Zayn announced, almost bouncing back to their booth as she clutched her prize envelope in her shaking hands, “this was wicked, I don’t even know how it happened, like, I—”
“It happened because you’re the best,” Liam said, and she pulled her girlfriend into a decidedly messy snog that a more sober Liam would have been embarrassed to try. Louis allowed them the appropriate amount of celebration before dragging them off to the bar for victory drinks.
Louis pushed through the remaining throng of thirsty students with a chorus of “excuse us, sorry, brilliant poetry winner coming through!” and got to the front of the queue, where Niall greeted them with a “WA-HEY” and the announcement “winners drink for free!”
“We’ve been drinking for free all night,” Louis pointed out.
“Yeah, alright, you ungrateful bastards,” Niall said cheerfully, “you’ll drink free-er. Here.” He produced a massive bottle of champagne from underneath the counter, and Louis didn’t recognize the label, which was a sure sign that Niall had nicked the good stuff this time.
“Afterparty at yours, yeah?”
“Nialler, you absolute legend!” Zayn exclaimed.
Louis agreed. “Stolen champagne is the best champagne.”
“Stolen champagne?” Liam asked, frowning.
Niall made a face at Louis, and Louis shrugged in apology, before Niall gestured in Liam’s direction. “Under capitalism, everything is stolen from the working class,” Niall began, “so this is just us working stiffs getting our own back at a minority ruling class that controls the means of production.”
“What?” Liam asked.
“He’s saying his boss already went home, so afterparty at ours, he’ll bring the booze,” Louis supplied.
Liam smiled, well on her way to plastered. “Cheers, Niall!” she said easily. “Need any help tidying before you close up?”
“By volunteering to freely perform the duties of a waged labourer, ie: me, you’re actually enabling the bourgeoisie, ie: me dickhead of a boss, to continue exploiting the working classes, Liam.”
Liam’s eyebrows drew together. “Is that a ‘no’?”
“And,” Zayn broke in, “is a student union pub really where the proletariat uprising will begin?”
“Nah, can’t be bothered with all that,” Niall said. “More the principle of the thing.” He grinned at Liam. “Towels are by the sink; I’ll wash, you dry.”
With Liam and Niall distracted, Louis and Zayn helped themselves to more of Niall’s free-flowing hospitality—if bartending didn’t also require doing actual work, Louis would quite enjoy pulling all the draught levers and mixing (Zayn said ‘disgusting’, Louis said ‘unique’) drinks. But after Zayn refused Louis’ third colourful concoction (“I’m not fuckin' drinkin’ that, mate, it’s fuckin' green, that’s disgusting.” “Not drinking it because it’s green? I think Niall and his people would find that racist, mate.”), and after Louis refused Liam’s entirely far-too-sensible suggestion that she switch to water (“Does water come on draught, Liam? Can I dispense it with a lever? If I can’t, I won’t drink it!... No, no, no, faucets aren’t the same thing at all!”), the crowd around Harry’s booth had thinned out enough that Louis knew it was time to make her move.
She downed the controversial green drink in one (Zayn was right, as it turned out; it was horrible) and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. If she closed her eyes, her whole brain felt loose and the world seemed to turn a smidge sideways, and it wasn’t an entirely pleasant feeling. Maybe she should have listened to Liam and switched to water after her third (fourth? fifth?) drink.
But there was no time for that sort of thinking now.
“Right then,” Louis said, tugging on Zayn’s leather jacket and dragging her in the direction of Harry’s booth, “I believe you’ve a classmate to introduce me to.”
Harry was stood by her booth, shoving various documents from the table into an oversized messenger bag, as her crowd of friends – which, much to Louis’ annoyance, apparently included Nick the MC – chatted nearby.
As Zayn and Louis approached, Harry’s eyes locked onto Louis’, and she shook her head, readjusted her fringe, and greeted the two of them with a beaming smile. “Hiiiiiii!”
“Hey,” Zayn said, “so, earlier, up there, thanks for, like, helping me…”
Harry shook her head, still smiling. “Don’t thank me, you deserved to make a speech, you just needed a little push to get there. And I’m chuffed you won—I mean, even though it’s weird to make poetry into a competition, because nights like these should really just be about supporting poetry in general, without bringing judges or winning into it.” She froze and clapped a hand over her mouth. “Oh no, that sounded horrible, I’m not trying to insult you, I’m so sorry!” Before Zayn could reply, Harry continued, “But I am happy you won, honest, your poem was amazing, and I’ve seen you in class, I’ve wanted to talk to you for ages.”
“Me too, you’re proper good like, yeah,” Zayn said.
Louis cleared her throat, because they had gone far too long without acknowledging her presence. She and Harry had shared a moment in the toilets, for fucks sake, she deserved better than this. “I think you’re both wicked,” she said. “And this definitely won’t be like X Factor where the contestants that come in third place end up doing the best and everyone forgets about the proper winners. You get a ‘yes’ from me.”
Harry beamed back at her. “Thank you,” she said. Then, as an afterthought, “Oh! I’m Harry. Which… you probably already know? From the toilets?” She paused. “Well, from before the toilets. Because you said you saw me read. But I didn’t get your name.”
“I’m Louis,” Louis said. “I live with Zayn so I’ve heard her practice her poem about a million times, so it was sick to hear a poem by someone else.”
“Oh,” Harry said, looking rapidly back and forth between them, “you two live together?”
Louis hoped she detected a flicker of disappointment in Harry’s eyes, and she knew she needed to broadcast SINGLE SINGLE I AM REALLY SINGLE as fast as possible. “Yeah, we’ve a flat in town,” Louis said, “just the two of us, although usually Zayn’s girlfriend is around if we need a third player for FIFA.” And in case that hadn’t been clear enough, Louis added, “I don’t have a girlfriend, though. I’m single. A single pringle. Single player mode for me.”
This time, Louis was sure she wasn’t just imagining Harry’s reaction; the other girl’s smile definitely got even wider, and it was more than a bit knee-weakening. “Nice,” Harry said. “About the having an extra player for FIFA thing, I mean. Not the, y’know, you—” She did a hand gesture which Louis assumed was meant to indicate ‘your whole unfortunate single pringle life’. Harry shook her head and smiled again. “Anyway! You’re not on our course, though, are you? I would remember seeing you in class.”
They were absolutely flirting now, and Louis was absolutely in her element. “Oh, no, I’m doing Drama. But we artsy kids gotta stick together, fend off all them hideous STEM students, with their physics, and maths, and, y’know, job prospects.”
Harry giggled. “Agreed,” she said, nodding, before pausing to add, “Although I do have some really good mates who are doing STEM degrees, and they’re really nice, so I don’t want to slag off all the STEMs, I think it’s great that people know how to do loads of different things, but I know what you mean.”
Harry had just disagreed with Louis—in the nicest, most politest way possible—and Louis wasn’t even put out. With anyone else Louis would have been annoyed, but with Harry, she was simply… amused?
Louis had it bad for this girl.
“Are all them chapbooks yours?” Louis asked, pointing to the haphazard piles of paper on the tabletop, and secretly feeling quite proud of herself for remembering the appropriate poetry lingo.
“Oh, yeah, they’re just a few of my chapbooks, one of my ‘zines, nothing special.”
“Could I take a look?”
Harry’s face lit up. “You want to read them?”
“‘Course I do!” Louis said. “Which of yours do you recommend? And how does this work, are you sellin’ ‘em, or—?”
“Selling them?” Harry asked, frowning. “Oh, no, take them if you want them, they’re yours. I don’t sell my work. I feel like that goes against poetry, y’know? Poetry is the freest of free expressions, and I mean that literally, and economically, as well. Poetry shouldn’t be kept from people just due to financial circumstances, that’s massively unfair.”
“Wow,” said Louis. “That’s… really cool of you.” Also ridiculous and endearing and other adjectives that she probably shouldn’t say out loud quite yet.
“Hang on, I’ll give you my favourite, it’s in here somewhere…” Harry bit her lip as she rifled through a handful of booklets, some no more than a few pages thick, but each lovingly hand-stapled and decorated with dizzying designs of hearts or flowers or ships or animals. After a moment she handed Louis a booklet with birds on the cover. “Ta-dah.”
Louis stared at the cover, blinked, then blinked again. She wasn’t sure if the drink was making her see things, or… “These birds have eyebrows,” she said flatly.
“Yup.” Harry popped the ‘p’ with a proud smile.
“But birds don’t have eyebrows.” Louis paused. “Wait, Zayn, do birds have eyebrows? They don’t, do they?”
Zayn shrugged. “They do here, mate.”
“Artistic license, then,” Louis said, giving a nod of approval. “I’ll allow it.”
“My friend Nick helped me design it,” Harry enthused, “he was MC tonight and he’s head of Poetry Soc, so he’s here somewhere, I can ask him about it if you—”
“No, that’s alright,” Louis said quickly. The only thing worse than Harry’s attention not being on Louis would be Harry’s attention being on that pompous hipster. “I’m more interested in the poems anyway. You wrote those.”
“Yeah,” Harry said, smiling, “I did.”
“So, speaking of artistic licence, like,” Louis started, “I know this probably sounds like the most cliché question to ask, yeah, but where do you get your inspiration?” Before Harry could reply, Louis continued, “I mean, the poem you read tonight, ‘Don’t Let Me Go’, that sounded like it were about a really tough breakup…?”
Harry gave a sad smile. “Yeah, that one was definitely inspired by real life,” she said. “It was about an ex who finished with me, but he and I are still good friends now.” She tossed her head to fix her fringe and then shrugged. “At least I got a poem out of it.”
Louis temporarily despaired. ‘He’. Harry had said ‘he’. But knowing Harry dated men didn’t crush Louis’ dream entirely. There was still a chance!
“That’s his loss, then,” Louis said, giving her most flirtatious smile. “Don’t know why he’d go and do something stupid like that.”
Harry smiled back, and quickly said, “You should read ‘Happily’ first. It’s a lot, well, happier? It was inspired by my last girlfriend, we were—” She stopped herself mid-sentence and laughed. “I sound like Taylor Swift, don’t I? Always writing about my exes?”
Harry had an ex-girlfriend!
Louis resisted the urge to pump her first in the air. “Not much of a Taylor Swift fan, me,” she said instead, “but I’ll give yours a shot anyway.”
“Thanks,” Harry drawled.
“So, this ex-girlfriend of yours…” Louis hesitated, not sure where she was going with her sentence. Her brain felt scrambled, all over the place now. How could she steer the conversation in way that would lead to Harry confessing she’d always been attracted to loud but hilarious brunette drama students she met in toilets?
But before Louis could complete the thought, Nick The MC sidled up next to Harry. “Alright, Harry?” he asked, and Louis’ dislike for him increased tenfold when he casually slipped an arm around Harry’s shoulders. The gesture reeked of familiarity and friendship and maybe a hint of something more, and Louis wanted that arm off. Now. “Everyone’s getting ready to leave for Cara’s.”
Whoever Cara was, Louis hated her, too. Couldn’t these people see Louis was busy trying to woo Harry?
“Alright,” Harry said, casually shrugging her shoulders in a way that forced Nick to remove his arm. Louis could have kissed her. Well, she’d already wanted to kiss her, but, like, even more now as a result of this. “I’m just talking to Louis and Zayn here, you don’t mind if they come—”
“I’m sure they’ve got places to be,” Nick said smoothly, which Louis took as a personal affront because who even was this guy, “probably having a victory party of their own, now that – Zayn, is it? – managed to beat you out for the title tonight.”
Harry frowned and looked like she was about to say something, and Louis could feel how Zayn had tensed up beside her, but before Louis could come to her friend’s defense and launch a tirade at Nick The Quiffed Arsehole, another one of Nick’s friends called him over and he oozed away as quickly as he appeared.
“He’s not half wrong,” Louis said, swallowing down her annoyance and hoping her tone came out more charming and less homicidal, “our mate’s sorted a bottle that costs more than our month’s rent, and you’re more than welcome ‘round ours tonight.”
Harry smiled and continued gathering her things into her messenger bag. “Thanks for the invite, but I promised Nick and Cara I’d go theirs tonight. Would be rude if I cancelled on them at the last minute. ‘Sides, they’re my ride, left my bike at home.”
Before Louis could inwardly sigh about the fact that of course Harry was the type of person who rode a bike around campus, Nick called over again, more annoyed this time, “In your own time, Harry, I’m sure Pixie won’t mind at all.”
“Hang on,” Louis said, “you know someone named ‘Pixie’? Really?” She wasn’t sure if she wanted someone with that weird a name at her and Harry's (inevitable) wedding.
Harry laughed. “No? But Nick does?” She stood up straighter and half turned to face Nick’s direction, but continued, “he’s been trying to get us to meet for ages, I think he might be trying to set the two of us up, although he’s right, I’ve got to leave now, but—”
Alarm bells went off in Louis’ head.
Harry had to leave?
HARRY HAD TO LEAVE?
HARRY WAS GOING TO LEAVE!!!!
Harry had already been forced to leave the toilets earlier, and now they were in a non-bathroom situation, and flirting! had! happened!, and Harry was being forced to leave again… Louis absolutely refused to let Harry walk away from her a second time.
So Louis panicked.
“I WRITE POETRY TOO!” she blurted.
Louis regretted the words as soon as they were out of her mouth. She had no idea what made her say that. It wasn’t even close to the truth. But she’d needed to say something – anything – to keep Harry’s attention, and that was what her vodka-soaked brain had provided her with. No turning back now.
But it worked.
Harry instantly spun around to look at Louis, leaving Nick forgotten in the background. “You do?” she asked, wide-eyed.
“Yeah,” Zayn echoed, staring at Louis, “you do?”
“Of course Zayn,” Louis said, and she would have elbowed her if it wouldn’t have been noticeable to Harry, “of course I do.” She paused, racking her brain for something truthful to add to her unexpected statement. “Wrote one that got displayed in my school, even.” That wasn’t a lie, at least – she did get a poem displayed at school. Just, it was on the wall of her Year 8 classroom. And she and Stan had done it for a laugh, even; she’d almost forgot about it entirely until now.
“That’s amazing,” Harry enthused, and her eyes were like green beacons of hope shining down on Louis, and Louis knew she was already far too drunk and far too gone for this girl to focus on anything other than the joy of having Harry Styles smile at her. “You should come to the Poetry Society’s open mic night then! I’d love to hear you read a piece. It’s two weeks from today, I’m sure I’ve got a flyer for it here somewhere…”
“Yeah, absolutely, will do,” Louis agreed. Her traitorous mouth was running on autopilot at this point, brain not even registering what she was agreeing to. Anything that kept Harry smiling at Louis had to be worth it though, right? “Definitely, because I’m definitely a poet and I love poetry and I will definitely perform at the Poetry Society’s open mic night in two weeks, yes, for sure, sounds like a fantastic night out, the more poetry the better, that’s what I always say!”
They quickly exchanged mobile numbers and Facebook names before Harry dashed off with an apology, a quick hug that lasted just a second too long to be merely friendly, and a promise that “we’ll get coffee and talk about poetry!” And Louis agreed and said it was nice to meet her properly and waved goodbye, and then once Harry was out of earshot, and the reality of what Louis had agreed to had sunk in, Zayn said “you’re so fucked” and burst into laughter.
Zayn only stopped laughing long enough to tell Liam and Niall what had happened.
Niall cackled so hard that he dropped a glass in the sink and didn’t even notice when it shattered. “Lou, mate,” he choked out, “you’re so fucked.”
“Cheers,” Louis snapped, “hadn’t realized that, thanks.”
“Oh, Louis,” Liam sighed.
“I knew I could count on you for sympathy,” Louis said, pulling Liam into a hug and resting her head against Liam’s chest. “Lovely, lovely Liam. You’re the only nice person here.”
Liam shook her head. “Oh, Louis,” she said, soft and serious. “You’re so fucked.”
Louis woke up later that night in a cold sweat, the combination of Niall’s top-shelf champagne and her own regret over her life choices a potent combination in her stomach. It was all she could do to stumble out of the living room, step around the passed-out bodies of her friends (although she couldn’t see where Cher had got to, and for some reason Josh was here even though he’d clearly been barred from all future Malik-Tomlinson parties as a result of the Coco Pops Incident of New Years 2015), and drag herself to the bathroom to be sick into the toilet.
The last thing she muttered to herself before passing out against the porcelain was “I’m so fucked.”
Louis woke up the next morning hungry, hungover, and dreading any combination of the words ‘Poetry Society open mic night’. Liam’s delicious fry-up fixed the first problem, and a handful of paracetamol fixed the second, but she was sure nothing would fix the third.
Except maybe murdering Zayn.
Because Zayn was taking far too much pleasure in Louis’ dilemma.
“You’re so fucking dead, mate,” Zayn laughed through her mouthful of eggs. “What the fuck did you say all that for? ‘Yes Harry, I’m a poet, and I love poetry, and I’d love to do a reading at an open mic night, you’re just so pretty, and your eyes are so green, and your hair is so curly, I just want to get married and have your babies because I luuuuuuuuurve you.’”
“Shut up,” Louis grouched, spearing a sausage with her fork and wishing she were spearing Zayn’s stupid face instead. “I don’t sound like that.”
Niall snorted. “You did last night.”
“Don’t you fucking start too, or when we find Cher I’ll tell her who really spilled that salsa in her shoes last night.”
“To be fair,” Niall said quickly, “Zayn were the one started it, not me!”
“Thanks for throwing me under the bus there, Nialler,” Zayn replied. “But Lou, I just don’t understand why you’d even say that, like....”
“I don’t even know why I said it!” Louis wailed. “She was just so hot, okay. I was powerless against her hotness.”
Zayn laughed. “That was fucking obvious. And don’t count on me helping you Cyrano de Bergerac this, mate.”
“Cyrano d’what it?” asked Louis and Liam simultaneously.
“I’d explain the reference,” Niall said, a massive strip of bacon dangling from his mouth, “but honestly, I’d rather see how this plays out.” And he went back to chewing.
“You lot are the worst friends ever,” Louis declared. “The absolute worst.” At Liam’s frown, Louis hastened to add, “Except for Liam. I love Liam.”
Liam beamed. “Thanks, Lou!” she chirped. “Love you too. More coffee?”
“Oi,” Zayn complained, “stop trying to steal my girl. You’ve already got one your own.”
“But that’s the problem,” Louis moaned. “I don’t.”
“Right, not sure if you’ve considered this yet,” Niall said, “but what about just telling her the truth? ‘Oi oi Harry mate, sorreh but I wor reight pissed m’self las’ night an’ I’m jus’ fookin’ gutted that I lied t’ye, is there owt I can do t’get ye t’fergive meh?’”
“That impression of me was a bit bloody offensive, Niall, but I take your point.”
“What impression?” Niall asked innocently.
Louis rolled her eyes. “How ‘bout ye feck off, ye wee leprechaun bastard, and go eat tree hundred ‘n turdy-tree potaters.”
“Ah,” Niall sighed, closing his eyes in contentment. “Just like listening to me mam.”
“I hope you choke on that bacon and die,” Louis retorted. “And what I said to Harry, it weren’t a complete lie, besides. I did write a poem that got displayed at school once, that bit’s true at least.”
“That’s brilliant, Lou!” Liam exclaimed. “Problem solved! You could read that at the open mic night!”
“I can’t,” Louis groaned. She dropped her head in her hands and her fork clattered to her plate; it was pleasingly dramatic. “I can’t read it.”
“You can’t read it because it doesn’t exist, yeah?” Zayn snorted.
“It actually does very much exist, you dick.”
“Really?” Zayn asked, voice shot through with skepticism. “You. You wrote a poem.”
“Alright. What was it, then?”
“That’s not important.”
“Ooh,” Niall chimed in, “it’s gotta be really fucking embarrassing, then!”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You didn’t have to, mate,” Zayn laughed. “Oh, this is good, this is so good. Wait ‘til I tell Harry about this in lecture on Monday.”
Louis pointed her finger at Zayn menacingly. “Don’t you fucking dare,” she commanded. “I forbid you to speak to her.”
Liam looked back and forth between them helplessly. “Right,” she said, “shall we at least hear this poem first, then?”
“If I write it down for you now,” Louis said, “will you promise to never show or mention it to Harry?”
Zayn looked prepared to argue, but Liam quickly said, “She promises!”
“Fucking hell, fine,” Louis sighed, snatching a scrap of A4 from her bag and uncapping a pen. “Just so you know, me ‘n Stan were only twelve when we wrote it. We thought we were hilarious, like.”
by Louis Tomlinson and Stanley Lucas, Year 8
Do always remember to recycle,
It’s a simple enough thing.
Cans and papers aren’t rubbish, so
Keep our planet clean!
Niall was the first to notice the acrostic D I C K, and he laughed so hard he nearly spat out his coffee.
“That’s a beautiful poem, Lou,” Liam said, her face the very picture of blissful ignorance. “Although it also could’ve done to mention the importance of glass recycling, people always forget about that one.”
“Yes, Liam,” Louis replied, with a long-suffering sigh, because she loved this girl but honestly sometimes Louis wondered how Liam had survived this long in life. “Because that were really the point of the poem. It definitely weren’t about tricking our teacher into blue-tacking a piece of paper with the word ‘DICK’ up on the wall for the entire term.”
“Oh,” Liam said, taking a closer look at the paper, eyebrows raising as the hidden message dawned on her. “Oh. I see what you did there. That’s quite clever, actually. If a bit rude.”
“I’d say I’m surprised,” Zayn said with a shrug, “but I’m not. I’m mostly disappointed it really took the two of you to write that. You can’t even claim sole authorship.”
“Oi!” Louis objected. “Stan and I did everything together! We were a duo! We were Lennon and McCartney. Ant and Dec. Shakespeare and… whoever it were actually wrote Shakespeare’s plays. I think I heard about that once.” Louis made a face. “But that’s not the point. We were the prankmasters of Doncaster!”
“Awww,” Liam cooed, “that’s adorable, I love it. ‘Prankmasters of Doncaster’.” She sighed. “Wish I’d had something like that. Nothing ever rhymed with Wolverhampton.”
“Phytoplanktons?” Niall suggested.
“Badmintons?” Zayn offered.
From the other room, a now-conscious Josh shouted, “Bellybuttons?”
Liam broke into a grin. “The Bellybuttons of Wolverhampton, I quite like that. Cheers, Josh! Toast’s up!”
Louis groaned. “Can we get back to my problem now, yeah?”
Zayn glared. “We were talking about Liam’s problem.”
“Fine,” Louis said, racking her brain for an answer and wondering how she'd ended up in a conversation that wasn’t about her. She normally tried to avoid that sort of thing. “Pokémon. You and your mates at home could’ve been the Pokémons of Wolverhamp…ton.”
“Oooh, bad job,” Zayn tutted, as Niall scolded, “You can’t add an ‘s’ to the end of Pokémon, Lou, it’s already plural!”
“I quite like Pokémon,” Liam mused. “If we were all Pokémon, which ones would we be?”
“You’re Jigglypuff,” Louis said, without hesitation.
“Jigglypuff?” Liam asked. “With the microphone? It’s not because I sang ‘Squeaky Clean Dream’ in the shower this morning and you asked me to stop, is it?”
“Of course not,” Louis lied. “It’s, er…. Because you like to dance. And jiggling’s another word for dancing, innit?”
Liam nodded, accepting Louis’ bullshit explanation with characteristic ease. Louis had always appreciated that about her. “Fair enough. And Zayn is Snivey.”
“What?” Zayn fairly shrieked. “Why’m I Snivey?”
Liam frowned. “’Cuz it’s got a, er, chiselled…” She put her hands to her face and sucked in her cheeks. “Chiselled, y’know…”
“Snivey’s just a massive nose!” Zayn protested.
“Yeah,” Niall chimed in, “almost like it’s compensating for something.”
“Compensating for what, it’s a bloody Pokémon, Niall!”
“How do Pokémon reproduce then, Zayn?” Louis said, rising to Niall’s defence. “Obviously they’ve got to have sex somehow—”
Liam clapped her hands over her ears. “We are not talking about Pokémon having sex!”
“Too far, mate,” Zayn agreed.
“So,” Niall said after a pause, “we’re just going to ignore the fact that Liam just admitted she thinks Snivey’s hot, are we?”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Yes you did,” Louis crowed, “you just compared your girlfriend to Snivey!”
“That’s not what I—” Liam sputtered. “But I didn’t—”
“Nah, it’s alright, babe,” Zayn said, pulling Liam down onto her lap. “Snivey and Jigglypuff would be a sick pair together. Them two’re just jealous of us.”
Louis and Niall made retching sounds. Zayn glared and made a show of kissing Liam’s nose before continuing, “Niall, you’re Oshawott, yeah?”
Louis and Liam had no objections to that, and Niall agreed passionately. “I fucking love Oshawott,” he said, voice full of emotion.
“And now,” Louis declared, “getting back to the original problem, ladies and gent: what am I to do about Harry?”
Niall wagged a finger. “Not ‘til you tell us what kind of Pokémon she’d be.”
Louis groaned, hating both that she had to answer the question and that she instantly knew the answer. “Harry is Pikachu,” she said sadly, “‘cuz everyone loves Pikachu.”
“And you want to shag her.”
“Yes, Zayn,” Louis sighed, “thought we’d already established that.”
Zayn paused. “So you agree, you want to shag Pikachu.”
Louis threw a slice of toast at her. Zayn dodged it.
“Now we’re even,” Zayn said smugly.
“Disagree,” Louis said, shaking her head forcefully. “You’ve wounded me deeply, Malik. But tell you what, I’ll forgive you if you let me read one of your poems at the open mic.” She smiled her most charming and beatific smile.
“Not a fuckin’ chance, mate.”
Louis scowled at the betrayal and turned to Niall. “You did a module on it,” she said, a bit desperate now, “surely you’ve still got some poems lying about!”
“Y’know I’d do anything for you, mate,” Niall said, “but I already binned all me first year papers, sorry.”
Louis had one chance left. “Liam?” she pleaded.
Liam turned her big, earnest eyes on Louis. “A tercet is a stanza of three lines, a quatrain has four lines, and a lục bát is a traditional Vietnamese verse form,” she said seriously.
Liam didn’t elaborate.
“Payno?” Louis prompted. “That all you got?”
Liam shrugged. “Yup. Sorry, Tommo.”
Louis was so fucked.
12:55 pm: Hiiii. Fancy a coffee this afternoon? H
12:56 pm: The ‘H’ is for Harry, by the way.
12:57pm: Because it’s Harry.
1:01 pm: whos this ???
1:04 pm: Sorry, it’s Harry!
1:04 pm: Harry Styles.
1:05 pm: From the poetry night?
1:06 pm: stop messing about and being so mysterious and just tell me your name
1:07 pm: It’s Harry Styles!
1:07 pm: We met at the poetry night yesterday?
1:12 pm: I came in second in the competition and we talked and I gave you my chapbook and you wanted to know why the birds had eyebrows and you invited me to your party but I couldn’t go because I had to go with Nick to Cara’s and you laughed when I said I knew someone named Pixie and you told me you wrote poetry and I said we should get coffee and talk about poetry and then we exchanged numbers?
1:13 pm: Wait. I even programmed myself in your phone as Harry.
1:14 pm: Isn’t that showing up?
1:15 pm: I’m not some random, I swear!
1:17 pm: haha m8 only joking
1:18 pm: i knew it was you !!!!
1:18 pm: you only introduced yourself about a million times in the texts :P
1:19 pm: Wait, really?
1:20 pm: That wasn’t funny, Louis. :(
1:21 pm: I thought you had forgotten me! :(
1:22 pm: it was a little bit funny admit it
1:23 pm: and you put yourself in my phone as “harry styles (poet/raconteur)”
1:24 pm: kind of hard to forget ;)
1:25 pm: And you put yourself in mine as “Louis Tomlinson (Sexy + Single)”
1:26 pm: no i didnt
1:27 pm: i definitely didnt
1:28 pm: did i ??
1:29 pm: I WAS VERY DRUNK OK !!!
1:30 pm: Hahahaha
1:31 pm: GOT YOU! :)))))
1:32 pm: oh my god
1:33 pm: you think ur so clever dont u
1:35 pm: Yes. :)
1:36 pm: Very. :)
1:37 pm: ur emoji abuse must be stopped styles
1:37 pm: but it’s not a joke if its true
1:38 pm: If what’s true?
1:39 pm: “sexy + single” . ur contacts file speaks the truth
1:43 pm: I thought so. :))))
1:45 pm: good . just so we’re clear
1:45 pm: now that’s sorted
1:46 pm: coffee this afternoon . up for it ?? :)
1:47 pm: Up for it. .xxx
T-minus eleven days until the open mic night, and Louis had yet to write a single word of poetry. But she had gone for coffee with Harry three times, kissed her twice, and watched Titanic with her once.
“The real tragedy of Titanic,” Louis had declared during the end credits, “is that Leo has to die. And then we’re forced to watch an old lady toss expensive jewelry off a boat.”
Harry gasped. “Old Rose is lovely,” she protested. “Without her, there wouldn’t be a story. She’s the emotional heart and soul of this film! Throwing away the Heart of the Ocean is—”
“Wrong! Leo’s fringe is the heart and soul of this film. Look at it, all floppy like. And that outfit with the braces!” Louis put a hand to her forehead. “I am literally swooning.”
“You’re not literally swooning,” Harry pointed out. “You’re lying on top of me. And your elbow is crushing my spleen.”
Louis ignored her logic. “What I’m saying, Harry, is that Rose was the luckiest American woman in the history of people.”
“She was on a boat that sank. She nearly drowned. Her entire family died.”
“Details,” Louis said, waving a hand dismissively. “She got to shag 90s Leonardo DiCaprio. That’s all that matters.”
Harry sighed. “Also, she’s fictional.”
“Damn. You’re right. Ah well.”
“You agreed to that too easily,” Harry said, suddenly suspicious. “What’s the catch?”
“Because then the title of Luckiest Woman is up for grabs. Years ago it would’ve been Sophia Bush or Kenzie Dalton, now that award goes to Sarah Roemer.”
“Chad Michael Murray’s ex-girlfriends, and his current wife.”
Harry wrinkled her nose in thought. “Chad Michael Murray?” she asked. “That blond one off One Tree Hill?”
Louis gasped in mock horror as her hand flew to her heart. “And A Cinderella Story!” she cried.
Harry rolled her eyes. “How could I’ve forgotten. What an incredible career.”
“Don’t be sarcastic, Harry, it sounds weird coming from you. And how dare you talk about my soul mate that way.”
“Soul mate?” Harry raised her eyebrows. “I’m getting jealous over here.”
“Yes. Well. Obviously there’re a few things standing in our way to everlasting happiness—mostly the fact that he’s got a dick—but I remain confident that one day our true love will blossom like a rose in winter.”
Harry frowned. “Roses don’t bloom in winter. They grow in spring, summer, and fall.”
“Yes, well, that were a metaphor, weren’t it, Harry? I’m s'posed to be a poet after all.”
“Of course,” Harry said. “Speaking of poems—”
“And Roses also get to bang Jack Dawsons,” Louis added hastily. (Excellent non-poetry swerve, Tomlinson, well done.)
Harry let out a sharp bark of laughter, hands flying to cover her mouth as the noise exploded out of her. Louis preened. Harry’s laugh was one of the best things about her. (Aside from her face and her voice and her smile and the way she always brought Louis tea without her even having to ask for it and the way she was so fucking genuine and excited about things and the way she was just so fucking nice, and Harry was basically perfect except for the fact that she liked poetry, but Louis tried not to think about that because that just reminded her of the mess she’d got herself into and dwelling on it made her stomach ache just a bit.)
“In that case, Lou,” Harry said once she was recovered, “I want you to write me like one of your French poems!”
Louis considered the request. “That… makes literally no sense.”
“Au contraire, mon amie. It’s an innuendo.” Harry waggled her eyebrows in a not-entirely-unattractive manner. “Innuendos are the language of love.”
“I thought that was French.”
Harry blinked. “Well, yes. A French poem about innuendos, that’s even better. All the love!”
Louis shook her head. “Yes to innuendos, no to French.”
“Because I don’t speak more than un peu de français, you weirdo. What sort of shit poem would that make for?”
“Je suis allé au cinéma avec ma copain et ma famille.”
“What’re you on about? Going to the cinema with your family? That’s a bloody awful poem. Is that the only thing you can say?”
Harry thought for a minute. “Je m’appelle Harry?” she tried.
Louis laughed. “Brilliant, that’s your foreign language credit sorted, then. Shall we go for a Spanish poem next? Think of all the interesting Spanish cinemas you could go to with your amigos!”
Harry frowned. “But your name is French, Lou-ee.”
“Yeah, but I’m not French, am I?” Louis laughed again. “You do talk some merde sometimes.”
“I think you’re focusing far too much on the French bit and not enough on the innuendo bit,” Harry said. Her hand, previously resting on Louis’ knee, moved higher up Louis’ thigh, the warmth of her fingers radiating through Louis’ jeans and down into her skin.
“Oh,” Louis said, and the air between them changed, just like that. So they were going there, were they? Fuck yes. “Well. If that’s what you mean… Got an old-timey car with windows we can steam up?”
“No?” And for a second Harry looked upset, as if that could genuinely be a deal-breaker. “But I do have a bed.”
“And what happens in this bed…” Louis replied, agonizing between finishing her joke and giving into her urge to peel off Harry’s jeans with her teeth. But the joke won out. “Like Celine Dion’s heart, will it go on and on?”
Harry nodded. “I will do this with or without your help, sir, but without, it will take longer,” she quoted, then paused. “Wait. No. That’s the wrong way ‘round, isn’t it? I should say, with you it can take longer. Because that’s more fun. You wouldn't want it to be over too soon, would you?” She shook her head sadly. “Rose really didn’t know how to sell a chat-up line.”
“No, she didn’t,” Louis agreed. “But you’re selling the hell out of it now.”
“Really?” Harry beamed. “Am I?”
Louis broke out into a matching smile, and cupped Harry’s neck to pull her in closer. “Absolutely. And I suppose that makes me king of the world.”
Harry raised an eyebrow as she struggled to keep a straight face. “That’s not the first time you’ve said that about yourself, is it?”
But Louis kissed her anyway.
T-minus eight days until the open mic night, and Louis still hadn’t written a single word of poetry. But she'd had sex with Harry.
T-minus six days until the open mic night and Louis still hadn’t written a single word of poetry. But she had spent loads of time with Harry, talking about everything and nothing all at once; Louis knew Harry had a cat named Dusty and preferred vanilla to chocolate and that she was a first year but taking a third year poetry module because she was just that obscenely talented, and Harry knew that Louis was the oldest of seven children and was 1/16th Belgian and that if she could have any superpower it would be time travel.
In fact, the only thing they hadn’t talked about was poetry – because Louis always managed to change the subject, expertly steering conversations away from Wordsworth and Plath and towards expertly-timed distractions, nonsensical segues, and sex. (She liked one of those tactics much more than the rest.)
It wasn’t easy.
Because Harry really, really liked poetry.
And Louis really, really liked Harry.
(It was mutual. They’d discussed it.)
The only problem was, Louis was a big fat poetic fraud liar liar pants on fire.
(Niall’s words. Not Louis’.)
And any time Louis wasn’t with Harry, she was trying to write that poem. She really really was.
The only problem was… poetry was hard and stupid and she hated it.
So Louis was hunched over the kitchen table on Friday night, ankle-deep in crumpled-up paper balls and in the process of throwing her pen against the wall, when Zayn took pity on her.
“You’re overthinking this,” Zayn told her. “Just write what you know.”
“Write what I know? All I know right now is Harry’s curls and smell.”
Zayn made a face. “Okay, maybe don’t write what you know.”
“And you didn’t even follow your own advice,” Louis groused. “‘Write what you know?’ Sod off. You wrote a bloody sonnet about Cthulu. Unless…” Louis paused. “Oh my god, Zayn, you’ve got a thing for Cthulu?” She clapped her hands together. “Oh, man, I knew Liam had to be into some freaky shit! She’s too nice and normal! So what is it? Tentacles? I bet it’s tentacles. I’m right, aren’t I? It’s tentacles!”
“We’re not into tentacles, you pervert!”
Liam chose that moment to walk into the kitchen. “Hello,” she said. “And what are we talking about now?”
“Ignore her, she’s being an arse,” Zayn said, at the same time as Louis shouted “Zayn says you like tentacles!”
“Tentacles?” Liam asked, confused. “What, like on octopuses?” She smiled. “I think octopuses are cute! Like the little pink one in Finding Nemo.”
“You’re too good for this world,” Zayn sighed.
Liam beamed. “It’s a great film though, been ages since we last saw it. Wanna watch it now?”
“Sure, babes,” Zayn replied, eyes soft and smile wide, and Louis wanted to throw herself off a cliff. “Be there in a mo.”
The last thing Zayn said before she abandoned Louis to another night of creative frustration was “And my poem about Cthulu wasn’t a ‘bloody sonnet’. It was a villanelle. You dickhead.”
In revenge, Louis made popcorn, then went to Zayn’s room and threw it at them.
But that only meant Liam and Zayn got free popcorn.
The Universe: 1
“Fuck it, Zaynie, I can’t do this. Write a poem? I’m not fucking, like, Albert Einstein or whoever. Why don’t I just do the ‘Cynthia’ scene from 22 Jump Street? Call it performance art. Done. Sorted.”
“No, you can’t do that. Probably best avoid taking the piss out of people who wouldn’t appreciate it or get the joke, yeah?”
“You’ve literally just described my entire life goal.”
“Fuck, don’t I know it. But this isn’t the time. You want to impress Harry, yeah? Do something personal, like. Write something passionate, that comes from the heart.”
“When did you get so fucking cheesy, mate?”
“And yet somehow I’ve got a girlfriend whilst you’ve resorted to lying to get into Harry’s pants.”
“That’s not—! I’m not—! You’re such a twat.”
“Love you too, Lou. Now just write something, you dumbass.”
“You wanted personal, you wanted passion. How’s this?”
We don’t care about Rotherham,
We don’t care about Leeds.
All we care about,
“It’s only four lines.”
“It also sounds like a football chant.”
“Well spotted. It is a football chant.”
“You can’t just plagiarize a football chant and say it’s a poem you wrote!”
“Ah, but is it really plagiarizing if you’re copying the whole thing and not just a part of it?”
“Yes. That’s literally what plagiarism is.”
“Yeah. And this is really the least of our worries at this point, but for the record, not all poems have to rhyme.”
“Right, you said they don’t have to rhyme, so take a look at this one.”
“… Louis, this is just the word ‘Yorkshire’ repeated over and over again. For half a page.”
“I know, isn’t it great?”
“What the fuck is this?”
“It’s a footie chant.”
“Let me guess. It’s called ‘Yorkshire’?”
“Got it in one, Zaynie! We’ll make a Donny Rover of you yet.”
“For the last time: Footie chants don’t count.”
“Not even if it includes clapping?”
“Especially if it includes clapping.”
“I figured after you so cruelly dismissed my heartbreaking work of staggering Yorkshire genius, I should go back to rhyming. I think this might be me best work yet.”
Roses are red,
violets are blue,
Louis is awesome,
but Zayn is poo.
“I’m not even going to dignify that with a reply, Louis.”
“Said the poo.”
“But if you genuinely want to rhyme, go for something a little less cliché next time.”
“Okay! There once was a Zayn from Nantucket—”
“Fine, alright, here’s a new one. It’s not a footie chant, and it’s not a personal attack against you, and it does sort of rhyme, but it also actually has words and shit, you’re welcome.”
You have so many relationships in this life,
Only one or two will last.
You go through all the pain and strife,
Then you turn your back,
and they're gone so fast.
So hold on to the ones who really care.
In the end, they'll be the only ones there.
And when you get old and start losing your hair,
Tell me who will still care.
Can you tell me who will still care?
“That’s… actually sort of an actual poem, Lou. Sick. Is it finished?”
“No, there’s some more after it. Want to know the next line?”
“Yeah, go on.”
“That’s the next line. ‘Mmmbop’.”
“The fuck are you playing at?”
“Well, technically, the next line is ‘Mmmbop, ba duba dop’. And there’s some ‘yeah’s somewhere too.”
“Are these… are these the fucking lyrics to fucking MMMBop?”
“Yeah. Surprisingly deep, innit?”
“… Actually, yeah. Never knew it had proper lyrics.”
“Me neither. Took many hours of rigorous research with Youtube on repeat. And it taught me one important lesson, Zaynie: I’ll still care about you when you’re losing your hair.”
“Cheers. Although if I lose my hair, it’ll only be because you’ve made me pull it out.”
“Actually, maybe I won’t care. You bald would be hilarious.”
“It’ll have gone grey before then anyway. Again, thanks to you.”
“No worries, bro. Just doing what I can.”
“Just to be clear: You know you can’t pass this off as an original poem, yeah?”
“Hanson was just three young boys with talent, dreams, and effeminate facial features, Zaynie. Their work deserves to be preserved.”
“Not like this.”
“But it would work so well as a depressing emo existential poem about the passing of time and the frailty of human existence. Or summat.”
“Still no. I’m walking away now.”
“…You’re gonna go listen to the song, aren’t you?”
“Okay, fine. I actually put work into this one. It’s got a title and everything, Zayn! Tell me it’s brilliant.”
Better Than Words
by Louis Tomlinson
More than a feeling.
Crazy in love.
Dancing on the ceiling.
Everytime we touch.
I’m all shook up.
You make me wanna…
How deep is your love?
God only knows, baby.
You drive me crazy.
Someone like you.
Always be my baby.
Best I ever had.
Hips don’t lie.
You make me wanna… One more night.
“… Fucking hell. As if ripping off an entire song weren’t enough last time, now you’ve just made a list of other songs.”
“Nah, bro, it’s actually brilliant.”
“It’s actually bullshit, more like. At least you gave it an original title.”
“Well… Its working title was ‘More Than Words’.”
“How Extreme of you.”
“Ha, nice one.”
“I shouldn’t even have to repeat myself now, but you do realize this isn’t a poem either, yeah?”
“’Course I do. It’s actually a meta commentary on art and the breaking down of the poetic ego.”
“Fucks sake. And how d’you figure that?”
“All art is borrowing, nothing is original. There’s no such thing as ‘new’ art, culture is an infinite, ongoing remix. This actually traces the lineage of the Western pop music canon, showing how these massive songs speak to each other, how they repeat each other, how there’s a common language of songwriting that builds on itself. Any artist who thinks they’re starting from scratch is wrong; in the end, all art is other art.”
“Louis, mate, I’m about to say something I’ve never said before, but you leave me no choice: Put down the blunt.”
T-minus nine and a half hours until the open mic night, and Louis still had nothing to show from all her poetry-writing attempts over the past week. Harry had spent the previous night in Louis’ bed, and left earlier that morning with a promise that “I can’t wait to see you tonight, Lou, you’re gonna be amazing!”, and Louis had tried to go back to sleep afterwards, but she’d rolled onto Harry’s side of the bed where it was still warm and the pillow case still smelled like traces of her, and it all made Louis’ stomach twist into knots of white-hot shame. She couldn’t go back to sleep. She just ended up counting the hours until she’d (1)see Harry again and (2)make an arse of herself in front of Harry.
Louis finally dragged herself out of bed to call for an emergency meeting of her squad. But Zayn and Niall were both stuck in lectures, so it ended up being just Liam sat at the kitchen table listening to Louis whinge.
“I can’t do it!” Louis groaned. “I’m fucked. I’m a liar and I’ll have to tell her why I can’t perform and she’ll hate me forever!”
“Don’t give up, Lou,” Liam said, ever the optimist. “You’ve got loads of time left. Why don’t you show me what you’ve got done so far?” Louis shoved a handful of sheets of A4 at her, and Liam frowned as she shuffled through the papers. “Er… these are just doodles… of, uh, penises.”
“Oh sorry, did I forget to mention, Liam, I’VE GOT NOTHING.”
Liam put on a determined expression; Louis recognized it as her “We’re Not Going To Win This Match But Let’s Try Not To Embarrass Ourselves Too Badly In Front Of The Crowd” face. It didn’t inspire much confidence. “Surely you’ve written something you can use. Something that can serve as inspiration. There’s loads of different types of poems, I’ve been Googling them, you can write a ghazal, or a sestina, or a senryu, or—”
“That’s not the problem,” Louis complained. “I know there's different kinds, I just don’t know what I’m supposed to write about! Harry is brilliant, I’ve read all her chapbooks, they’re emotional and passionate and heartfelt and deep and lovely, and Zayn’s brilliant, all her poems are funny and smart and witty. And they’re about, like, life, and love, and shit. I can’t do that! I don’t do serious things!” She dramatically smacked her head on the table and mumbled “The only thing I’ve written today is a sext.”
“A sext?” Liam asked, confused. “What, to Harry?”
Louis lifted her head. “Yeah, ‘course to Harry.”
“But didn’t you just, erm…” Liam flapped her hands around, “you know… do it… last night?”
“Yes. Your point?”
“But she’s only been gone two hours!”
Louis raised an eyebrow. “She’s very attractive,” she explained. “I believe I might’ve mentioned that before.”
“Once or twice, yeah,” Liam said. “But, you know, a sext. That’s… writing. Of a sort. It’s a start, at least. Harry can be your poem’s inspiration! You’ve already written about her!”
“So what, I should just read out a bunch of sexts into a microphone and convince everyone it’s actually an experimental poem?” Louis asked. “Yeah, that’s a bloody great idea, Liam, cheers.” She paused. “Wait, hang on, that actually might work!”
“No, Lou,” Liam said, shaking her head, “that’s not what I meant. You can’t actually do that.”
“Why not?” Louis exclaimed. “It’s brilliant. They’re all fucking weirdos there anyway, I can out-weird them at their own game!”
“You can’t just read out sexts!”
“I can and I will,” Louis insisted, pressing her phone into Liam’s hands and opening her WhatsApp conversation with Harry. “Now help me figure out what we can do with this.”
“Can't wait til you're sitting on my face again,” Liam read out, “I still have your taste on my tongue and—” She turned red and shoved the phone away. “No, Louis, no, I’m not reading your sexts!”
“Surely you’ve sexted Zayn before, though.”
Liam’s cheeks burned. “I’m not answering that,” she mumbled.
“So that’s a yes, then. Come on. I’m sure loads of famous poems are, like, erotic, and that. Like prehistoric sexting, yeah?”
“I’m not sure—”
“Please, Liam?” Louis did her best puppy-dog face. (She’d learned it from Liam in the first place.) “Please please please. Look, I’ll even make us drinks, and we can write this together, and—”
“It’s not even gone noon! You can’t drink before noon!”
“Course we can!” Louis opened the fridge and pulled out various containers of orange juice and half-bottles of wine. “That’s why Jesus invented mimosas.”
“I don’t think Jesus invented—”
“Just one drink, Liam,” Louis pleaded. “I’m desperate here. It’ll loosen us up, get the creative juices flowing.”
Liam stayed silent.
“Right, well, I’m going to make two drinks,” Louis said, fetching mugs from the drying rack and pouring wine and OJ freely, “and I’m just going to put one in front of you. Just casually, like.”
One of the mugs Louis placed on the table bore a bright red mark around the rim, and Liam stared at it, arms crossed. “This coffee cup’s stained.”
“Oh, that?” Louis said, rubbing away the mark with her thumb. “No worries, just a fingerprint of lipstick. Harry’s lipstick, actually. It might be the last time you ever see it. But never you mind about that.”
Liam squinted, instantly suspicious. “Why’s that?” she asked.
Louis sighed dramatically. “Oh, nothing. Just know that if you don’t drink with me, I’ll not get a poem wrote, and Harry will break up with me, and I’ll have a miserable life and die alone, and it’ll all be your fault. But I’m sure you’ll be able to live with the guilt.”
And Liam’s resistance crumbled, just like Louis knew it would.
“Alright, one drink,” Liam said. “Just one, mind. I’m still not sure this is a good idea.”
“It’s not a good idea,” Louis said, grinning. “It’s a genius idea.”
“—oh god, the way she smells, Liam, it’s like… she’s got this coconut shampoo, right, and this soap, I don’t even fucking know how she does it, she just smells so good, all the time, and is it weird that I’m obsessed with it?”
“Not weird at all, mate, I think that’s an important part of attraction, y’know? Like, after we’ve come back from a match, yeah, Zayn really likes the way I smell, right, like with the grass and sweat and stuff?”
“That is disgusting, Payno, I did not need to know that.”
“Then why’re you smiling? ... Oh, god, please don’t tell Zayn I told you!”
“I absolutely will tell her, because that’s hilarious. But back to Harry. It’s like, the way she smells, yeah, sometimes I catch a whiff of it and I’m just like… hhnnnngggggunnnfffff¸ y’know? And I can’t do anything until the scent is gone, like, I’m a prisoner. Scent-napped. That’s not a thing, is it? It should be a thing.”
“What, like you’re being held ransom by her perfume or summat?”
“Yes, fucking hell Li, exactly, that’s proper poetic, that is!”
“What, being kidnapped by smell? That’s horrible.”
“No, the other way you said it, Liam. Jesus! ‘Her perfume’s holding me ransom’, c’mon!”
“—I mean, how soon is too soon, y’know? It’s only been two weeks, but she’s all I can think about, and I dunno, like, she’s eaten my brain or summat.”
“Eaten your brain? That makes her sound like a zombie, Lou. That’s not romantic, that’s just gross.”
“Fine, how ‘bout, like, Harry’s eating my brain and my heart, how’s that?”
“Your heart’s been eaten? No, there’s got to be a nicer way to put that, like maybe, I dunno, er— what's another word for ‘eaten’?”
“... Right, Thesaurus.com is suggesting ‘attacked’, ‘bitten’, ‘chewed’, ‘devoured’—”
“Oh, ‘heart devoured’, I like that one. Devoured! New word of the day!”
“—okay, but her taste, like, it’s sweet, yeah?”
“But doesn’t that depend more on, like, what you’ve eaten, because sometimes it’s sweeter, like if you eat a lot of fruit, and other time it’s—”
“She eats so much fruit, Liam, it’s mad, she does this thing with bananas where—”
“I keep telling you to eat more fruit—”
“Not the point, Liam, the point is that she actually tastes sweet, yeah?”
“What, like all the time? Isn’t there some sort of, dunno, not like salty, or whatever, but like a tang, maybe? A bit sour? Like this one time when Zayn’d—”
“Stop right there, you smashed it Payno. Sweet and sour. Fucking class, that is. Write it down, yeah?”
“…Done! And this is a bit random, yeah, but all that talk got me a bit hungry now, fancy a Chinese?”
“You’re just full of brilliant ideas today, aren’t you? Fucking love you.”
And that’s how Zayn found them, three hours later: huddled around a piece of paper, surrounded by empty wine bottles and takeaway containers, completely off their faces, and talking at approximately fifty decibels louder than normal human speech.
“—no, it’s like, y’know when you’re in a car, like, and you just want to push the pedal down and go as fast as you can and—”
“But that’s so dangerous, Lou, you might crash!”
“That’s why it’s a metaphor, like, you just want to lose control and go for it, you can’t contain it anymore!”
“Oh, like the thing we tried last week, when Zayn used a scarf as a blindfold, and it was amazing, it’s like m’eyes were closed but also they weren’t but they were, and—”
“Alright, you two?” Zayn greeted, setting her bag down beside their table. “What’ve I missed now?”
“Zayyyyn!” Louis slurred, “So glad you’re back, we were just talking about you!”
Liam giggled and tried to shush Louis with a finger over her lips. “Shhh, don’t tell her I told you that stuff about… y'know… the sex!”
“Hang on, are you pair pissed? It’s only half three in the afternoon!”
“Is it really?” Louis asked. “Time flies when you’re having fun.”
“And when you’re drinking,” Liam added in a loud whisper.
“Yes Liam!” Louis exclaimed, “When you’re drinking, yes!” She touched a finger to her nose. “But no need to whisper, think she’s on to us now.”
“Yes ‘she’ is,” Zayn said, shooting a pointed glance at the empty bottles along the tabletop. “Bit obvious.”
“I don’t care it’s obvious,” Louis added petulantly, then she perked up: “Oi, Liam, did you hear that? How’s that sound? ‘I don’t care it’s obvious’, that could work in the second stanza, yeah?”
“Absolutely!” Liam replied, scribbling furiously on the paper. “That’s great, Lou!”
Zayn peered over their shoulders to see what Liam was doing. “Is that… are you writing a poem together?”
“NO!” Louis said, lunging across the table to cover the paper with her body. She smudged a bit of ink on her shirt, but it was worth it. “Go away! Not done yet! Don’t look!”
Zayn put her hands up in front of her chest and backed away. “Alright, Jesus, I won’t,” she said. “Liam, you’ve been helping her?”
Liam beamed up at her girlfriend. “More like we’ve been helping each other. There’s loads of words that sound good together, and we’re proper inspired. We make a good team.”
“I’m well pleased to hear it—no, really, I am, Lou, don’t give me that look—but you sure you two’re alright on your own?”
“We’re brilliant, Zaynie. We’ve got the best inspirations ever.”
“Oh yeah? And they are?”
“YOU!” Liam declared happily. “You’re m’inspiration! But shhhhh, don’t tell Louis, because the poem’s s’posed to be ‘bout Harry!”
Zayn laughed. “Sounds like you two’ve got this sorted, then, that’s sick. If you’d not got anything done by now, I were going to borrow you one of my poems, but this is even better.”
Louis stopped writing and stared daggers at Zayn. “What d’you mean,” she said slowly, “you were going to borrow me one of your poems?” She pressed the tip of the pen into the page so hard the paper almost ripped. “You mean I didn’t have to do this shite after all?”
“Uh,” Zayn said, doing a quick visual survey of the nearest exits. “But. Er. Isn’t it better to do it yourself than have to rely on others?”
“Of course it’s not bloody better!” Louis exclaimed, before collapsing into an unmoving heap on the table. “NOT AT ALL!”
After a moment of silence—never a good sign when Louis was in the room—Liam cautiously poked Louis with the tip of a pencil. “Lou?” she asked. “You alright?”
“I’m too stressed to be annoyed at you now,” Louis said to Zayn, head still on the table. “Just know I hate you forever.”
“Oh. Well. In that case. I’m going to leave now,” Zayn said. “If you need me, yeah, I’ll be in my room.”
“Your room?” Liam asked quickly.
“Course my room, why?”
Liam smiled lasciviously. “Room for one more?” she purred.
Zayn raised an eyebrow at the sudden change in her girlfriend, but didn’t complain. “For you? Always.”
Louis looked up as Liam bounded from her chair and pulled Zayn into a hard kiss. Louis threw her pen at them. “Oi, this is a serious work environment! I call the shots ‘round here. Stop it!”
“Your boss is a twat,” Zayn muttered to Liam as they pulled apart. “See you in my room.”
As Zayn left, Louis made a face. “Fucks sake, Liam, control yourself, that is not professional behaviour! No fucking on the job!”
“Sorry Lou,” Liam said, thoroughly chastised. “Just, like, we were talking about all this, and it was, y’know, sexy and that, so…” She shrugged. “Seeing her sort of triggered it all?”
“Triggered it?” Louis scoffed. “What, Zayn did? Our Zayn? Like you’re just some sort of gun, ready to go off at any moment, and she just shows up and pulls a trigger and…” Louis was struck by a sudden bolt of inspiration. “Wait, hang on, gimme that pen!” Liam dutifully retrieved the pen from when Louis had flung it, and handed it over to Louis, who wrote furiously: “Waking up… loaded… gun… there!” She leaned back in her chair to stretch her arms, satisfied, and smiled at Liam before making a shooing motion. “Alright, fine, you perv, off you go.”
“You sure?” Liam asked. “If you’ve still got more to write, then I’m all yours…”
“Nah, nearly finished now, you’ve helped loads already. Just need a line or two more, yeah, then a title. Happy days!” Louis grinned. “Besides, not my fault you’ve got no control.”
2:15 pm: Miss you already. :(
3:46 pm: I’m really looking forward to hearing you read tonight. :)
4:03 pm: Bet your poem is going to be brilliant. :)
4:11 pm: FNSHED !!!!
4:11 pm: FUCKNG FINALLLY !!!
4:12 pm: POETRRY IS MY BITCH !!!!!!!
4:15 pm: Hi :)))
4:15 pm: Finished what?
4:16 pm: And are you alright? Did you turn off autocorrect?
4:18 pm: IM NOT DRUNK !!!!
4:18 pm: U R DRUNK !!!!!!!!!!!!!!
4:18 pm: HAHAHAHAHAH !!!!!!
4:19 pm: PS I AM DRUNK LOL
4:20 pm: I could tell. :P
4:21 pm: Do you need me to bring anything? Water? You should drink water.
4:34 pm: You sure you’re gonna be OK to read tonight?
4:52 pm: Lou? :/
5:01 pm: HI this is Zayn using Lou’s phone … she’s sleeping now it’s been a long day but I’ll make sure she’s ready for tonight she’s really looking forward to it ha see u then x
5:03 pm: :DDDDDD
By the time Zayn dragged Louis out of bed, Louis had mostly sobered up, though Liam was still a little worse for wear. Louis was just thankful she’d passed the fuck out before Liam and Zayn had started doing anything in Zayn’s room; the walls of their flat were tissue-thin and she’d already overheard quite enough of their sickeningly perfect relationship, thanks. (Although Louis had dreamed about Liam moaning out “fuck, Zayn, I’ve lost my senses, I’m defenseless”, and Zayn replying “wait, what?”, so maybe she'd heard them after all. Lovely.)
“So what’s this poem of yours about then?” Zayn asked as they made their way through town and towards the uni. “Liam won’t tell me anything about it.”
Louis refrained from saying “I’m pretty sure she accidentally quoted it to you in bed”. “You’ll have to wait and see,” she said instead.
“C’mon, give us a hint.”
“Fine,” Louis said, with a dramatic sigh, “it’s about coffee cups and pillow cases and cars and guns.”
“Right,” Zayn said slowly. “That sounds… good, like, yeah? Unique, at least. Definitely not something anyone else would’ve wrote. Definitely a Louis Tomlinson original.”
“And sex. Lots of sex.” Louis cocked her head to the side in contemplation. “Mostly sex, actually.”
“Wait,” Zayn sputtered, “what?”
“Sex, Zayn, surely you’ve heard of the concept before? Keep up! The poem is mostly totally definitely just about sex.”
“Hang on, let me get this straight—”
“‘Straight?’” Louis interjected. “Ha! Good luck with that!”
Zayn ignored her (admittedly terrible) joke. “You wrote a poem. About sex. And now you’re going to read it out loud in front of the entire poetry soc?”
“It’s not just any poem,” Louis said proudly. “It’s a slam poem. Well, more like an anti-slam poem.”
“Y’know, like, how all slam poems are all practiced and rehearsed and overemotional and shit? I’m just gonna do the opposite of that.”
“Fucking hell, Lou. What d’you wanna do that for?”
Louis shrugged. “It’s just being on stage, innit? The theatre. Like, plays and musicals and stuff. It’s just what I do.” She made a face. “Only this time the audience is a bunch of pretentious pricks and I won’t get a curtain call afterwards.” She tried to cheer herself up. “Anyways, don’t much matter what it’s about anyway, does it? These wankers should just appreciate any poem that doesn’t sound like it belongs in a therapy session. Besides, even if they don’t like it – which is impossible, because my poem is brilliant and the stage is my home – it’ll serve ‘em right for being poets.”
“Love the confidence,” Zayn commented, still a hint of concern in her voice, “but how do you reckon Harry’ll react? This is only the second poem you’ve ever wrote.”
Louis had been wondering that herself, the thought niggling in the back of her mind all afternoon. But she’d run out of time to dwell on that. Instead, she patted her back jeans pocket and said, “I also brought along the recycling poem, so I’ve got a backup. That one works better on a visual level, mind, but it’ll go great. And Liam agrees with me, don’t you, Liam?”
“She’ll be aces,” Liam exclaimed. “And I think we should write more poems. All the time. It’s good fun. And Zayn could help too!”
“Think I’ll stick to my own poems, thanks,” Zayn said with a faint shudder. “Considerably less awkward to read in public. And written sober.”
“Sober?” Louis huffed. “And you call yourself a poet!”
“You’re still drunk, aren’t you?”
“A bit, yeah. Onward and upwards, Zaynie!”
“Yeah Zayn!” Liam chimed in. “Onward and upwards! Because the uni’s on a hill. Get it?”
Harry met them just outside the entrance to the Student Union. She was wearing an absurdly oversized hat and her shirt was undone two buttons too low, and Louis was very OK with all of it.
“Heya Lou,” Harry greeted, sliding her arm around Louis’ waist and leading the way indoors. “You excited? Maybe you can even join the Poetry Soc and we can do this every week!”
Louis hoped the horror she felt didn’t show on her face. But she was an actress, after all – lying was what she did. “Yeah, maybe,” she said, putting on her most winning smile. “We’ll see how tonight goes, yeah?”
Harry led them to a table near the front, where, to Louis’ dismay, Niall was removing a large “RESERVED FOR TOMLINSON PARTY OF 4” sign from the top.
Louis groaned; the absolute last thing she needed was for the sort of people who came to this event to recognize her last name from classes or the footie team. She didn’t need this hipster nonsense sullying her good reputation. (She was fairly sure she had a good reputation. And if she didn’t, she deserved it.) “Alright, what’s this about?”
“Just making sure I saved you lot the best seats in the house,” Niall replied. “No telling how busy it’ll get in here tonight, but I reckoned you’d want us up close and personal for your big night.”
The thing was, Louis didn’t get stage-fright. She lived for the attention. And she always ensured Zayn and Liam and Niall got front-row seats for all her productions, because she loved seeing their faces out in the crowd, just past the stage lights. And she was touched by their support tonight, really, she was. But Zayn and Liam and Niall also knew she was totally bullshitting her way through this poetry business, and that she couldn’t possibly sustain this lie to Harry any longer past tonight, so they could stand to tone it down, yeah? Unless this was because Niall was up to something. She wouldn’t put it past him to mock her mercilessly.
But before Louis could say something to that effect, Niall dipped into a sweeping bow and continued, “No need to thank me, I live to serve. And can I also interest you in our signature cocktail of the evening? The “Liar Liar Tommo’s Pants On Fire” – layers of grenadine, crème de menthe, crème de banana, and flaming rum.”
Ah. There it was. Fucking Nialler.
Louis laughed and tried to ignore the pit in her stomach. “Cheers for that, Niall,” she said lightly. “Always knew one day there’d be a drink named after me, but I’d hoped it’d be something better than that.”
Niall gave her an exaggerated conspiratorial wink, noticed by all four girls, and probably everyone at surrounding tables for good measure. “Only teasin’, Tommo,” he said. “’Course, the original name of the recipe was ‘Flaming Asshole’, so if you’d prefer I go back to that one instead…”
“D’you see how he treats me?” Louis said no one in particular. “After all I’ve done for him!”
“What have you done for him?” Harry asked.
Louis paused. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
“Hang on, sorry, did you say flaming rum?” Liam asked, obviously concerned less with Niall’s alcoholic insult and more with its incendiary potential. “As in, you set it on fire?”
“Best part of me job!”
“Is that safe?” Harry asked. “The uni lets you serve that? In a student pub?”
“Not burned this place down yet, have I?” Niall replied, with entirely far too much confidence for Louis’ liking.
Zayn raised an eyebrow. “And how many of these drinks have you made in the past?”
“None,” Niall said with a perplexed shrug. “No one’ll order ‘em. Don’t know why.”
Louis clapped her hands together. “Well, you heard the man! Four of your absurdly dangerous Louis Tomlinson cocktails, sir, and make it snappy!”
Niall stared at her. “What, really?” He grinned. “Wicked! You won’t regret it.”
“I’m fairly sure we will,” Harry whispered as Niall ran off, and Louis laughed.
“Be nice or he won’t pinch a good bottle for us tonight.”
“Ah yes, the famous Malik-Tomlinson afterparties I’ve heard so much about. Shame I missed the last one.”
“Cher woke up on a balcony the next day,” Louis bragged. “And we’ve not even got a balcony!” She brushed some imaginary dust off her shoulders. “Not too shabby for our first post-poetry bash, if I do say so myself.”
But Liam was still biting her lip, worried about the drink order. “You sure it’s alright for him to do those?” she asked.
“It’ll be fine, babes,” Zayn said, “we're fireproof, yeah, and he’s a professional, he’s done it loads of times bef—”
There was a loud CRASH from the back of the room, and they all turned around to see a pillar of grey smoke drifting out from behind the bar. “Not to worry!” Niall announced, wildly waving around a portable fire extinguisher, “it’s meant to do that!”
Zayn, Liam, Harry, and Louis all exchanged worried looks.
Oh well. At least if Niall burned them all to death tonight, Louis would never have to hear poetry again.
As it turned out, the Poetry Society’s open mic night was even more excruciating to sit through than Louis had anticipated. At least Zayn and Harry’s slam competition had been restricted to the most talented Creative Writing students; to Louis’ horror, an open mic night was more of an opportunity for unskilled students and non-students alike to showcase their neuroses on stage. One performer, whose poem was a painfully overwrought free verse ode to a circus clown ex-girlfriend (“how god knows/I miss that nose” was one of its better lines), proudly announced that he had sold his bike in order to afford bus fare into town for this. Louis hoped the man would be able to get home safely. Mostly so that she’d never have to see him again.
In sum: not even Niall’s surprisingly delicious (and surprisingly non-firey-death-inducing) cocktails were helping her get through this.
“This is mad,” Louis whispered to Harry, as the bike-less man was quietly but firmly ushered offstage by the MC. (Who at least was not Nick The Quiffed Arsehole this time round. Louis was thankful for small miracles. She wasn’t sure if he was here tonight, though he probably was, the smug Poetry Soc President bastard.) “How long does this go on for?”
Harry shrugged. “Till they run of names, mostly. Shouldn’t be too much longer a wait.” She smiled, cheeks dimpling with excitement, and Louis was hit with a wave of guilt. “You excited?”
“Absolutely,” Louis lied. “Can’t wait.” To get this over with.
Finally, after a fucking age, the MC called Louis’ name, and she got up and started towards the stage. Her Vans squeaked on the polished stage floor as she strode up to the microphone and stared out into the crowd. Harry, Liam, and Zayn’s table was visible even with the glare from the spotlight, so Louis was in the perfect position to watch as her friends lifted a large posterboard sign above their heads: “WE <3 YOU LOUIS”, it read in puffy glitter paint. It was simultaneously completely ridiculous and completely wonderful. Both Zayn and Liam were pointing at Harry and mouthing “her idea”.
Louis Tomlinson had the best girlfriend ever. Now she just needed to not fuck the whole thing up.
“Alright, then,” Louis began with a grin. “This is a little slam poem I like to call ‘No Control’.” Feeling bold, she went for a joke: “Sing along if you know the words!”
Silence from the audience.
Then Harry laughed, a loud snort, and Louis realized, fuck it, there was only one person here she needed to impress anyway.
(Well, four people, if she counted her mates. But they should’ve already been impressed by her being her amazing self on a daily basis.)
“No, you’re absolutely right not to laugh,” Louis said, nodding her head. “Poetry is a very serious business. Very serious business indeed.”
She schooled her features into the stoniest expression possible, and issued a pre-emptive mental apology to all her drama teachers for what she was about to do on stage. And thus, channeling her best William Shatner-by-way-of-Jonah-Hill-in-22-Jump-Street impression, she began: “Stained.” “Coffee.” “Cup.” “Just a.” “Fingerprint.” “Of lipstick’s.” “Not!” “Enough.”
She made it through the first verse, all awkward pauses and bizarre intonation and nonsensical syllable stresses, before she gave into the temptation to gauge her friend’s reactions to her deliberately terrible performance. Zayn’s initial reaction was a horrified stare, until her shoulders started to shake from suppressed laughter. Liam, meanwhile, was waving the puffypaint sign like a zealot, a shining lighthouse of unwavering support and love and Liam-ness.
And Harry? Well. It was hard to tell what Harry was thinking – which was a first, because Harry Styles had no poker face. But her look now… it was a bit serial-killer-y. Louis tried not to worry about what that meant.
Louis continued through the stanzas, escalating from monotone syllables towards the grand finale, where she threw her hands in the air and screamed “THE PEDAL’S DOWN! MY EYES ARE CLOSED!” And then, grabbing the microphone again, she whispered, with an air of regret, “No control”. Then she curtsied with an imaginary skirt, and walked off stage.
She couldn't wait to see the crowd try and make sense of her tour-de-force performance.
As soon as Louis descended the final step from the stage (there were only three steps, it was hardly a proper stage deserving of her talents), Harry wrapped her up in a massive hug. “That was amazing,” she whispered. Harry’s hot breath tingled across her skin, and Louis didn’t even need the rush of post-performance adrenaline coursing through her veins to be get more than a little turned-on. “I don’t know what to say about your performance, but the poem, fuck, it was so hot, I can’t believe it.”
“Really?” Louis asked, pulling back. “You liked it, yeah?”
“Yes,” Harry said, rubbing at her lips with her finger, eyes still fixed on Louis, and Louis realized that Harry’s serial-killer stare was actually a bit sexy, “I really, really did. Fucking hell, Lou, that was… Jesus, I don’t even know.”
Louis shrugged with false modesty. “Well, y’know, Liam helped a bit, and you were pretty good inspiration, so—”
“Is that what you meant by your text about being ‘finally finished’ this afternoon? You wrote this just today?”
“Yeah,” Louis said. “What, are poems supposed to take a long time or something?”
“Well, it depends on the poet, I suppose,” Harry replied thoughtfully. “How long does it usually take you to write a piece?”
Oh. Right. The small matter of the fact that Harry thought Louis was some sort of prolific poetry enthusiast. “Never mind that,” Louis said, tugging Harry along back to their table. “Tell me more about how much you loved my poem and how amazing I was.”
Back at their table, Liam gave her a fist-bump (nearly dropping the sign in the process), and Zayn shook her head and laughed. “I can’t believe you actually went through with it, you’re fucking mental.”
“No, bro, I mean it, like.” She paused. “You should’ve seen people’s faces, I was looking round, yeah, and no one had any idea what was happening.”
“Perfect,” Louis said. “I’m glad my artistic vision came across so clearly.”
“Lou,” Harry asked, “what was that vision? Have all your previous readings been like that?”
“Um.” Louis racked her brain for an answer that would be technically true. She’d been doing that a lot lately around Harry. It was getting exhausting. “I have not had a previous reading like that, no,” she said finally.
“So what inspired this, then? I mean, you know I liked the poem…” Harry lowered her voice, “I mean, really liked it.” She gave a confused smile, head cocked to the side. “It just wasn’t your sort of typical slam performance. And I’m not saying that’s bad, it’s really not, I liked that it was different, it was just… why? Was there a reason why you did… that?”
Well, Harry, the reason why I read my poem like a fucking loon was because I was trying to mock the entire institution of ‘slam’, because it’s pretentious and silly and dumb and I hate it, Louis thought but definitely did not say. “Dunno, just wanted to have a bit of fun with it, I suppose. So many of the other people tonight were just so serious, y’know?”
“That’s cool,” Harry agreed easily. “Some of these poems can get a little over the top and dramatic, I agree, yeah. I kinda liked that you did that too, but, like, in a knowing way? Sort of a parody?”
And oh. That was the perfect, Harry-esque answer that Louis didn’t know she’d been waiting for.
Because by avoiding the topic of poetry with Harry all this time, Louis hadn’t got the chance to see if, maybe, she and Harry shared the same feelings about some poetry-related things. So maybe, if she told Harry the truth now, it would be okay.
“Hey,” Louis said quickly, before she lost her nerve, “d’you wanna go grab a drink and chat for a second? It’s quieter by the bar, and there’s something I’d like to talk about, yeah?”
Harry’s face grew serious. “Are you alright?” she asked, voice low and full of concern. “Is it your family? Or did I do something wrong, or—”
“No, no, it’s nothing bad!” At least, Louis hoped it wouldn’t be. “It’s just a thing, d’you mind? You might miss the rest of the readings, but—”
“Oh!" Harry said with a relieved exhale. “No, that’s fine." She smiled, and Louis smiled back. “I mostly just wanted to see you tonight, anyway.”
Liam and Zayn gave Louis obnoxious thumbs-up signals as she and Harry left the table and made their way through the dimly-lit room back to the bar.
“Louis,” Niall exclaimed, “you are fucking mad, and I fucking love you.” He offered her a high-five. “Fearless bastard. Drinks on me!”
“Cheers, Nialler. But again, I’ve never paid for a drink in this room, and I never intend to. How’s about my usual, then, and Harry, what d'you fancy—”
Niall puffed up his chest like he was starring in The Godfather. “You come to me,” he rasped in his best Don Corleone voice, “on the day of my daughter’s wedding—”
“Not a wedding,” Louis interjected with a sigh.
“—And you ask me for justice—”
“Not justice, just drinks—”
“Well, you won’t get no justice!” Niall concluded his impression and looked quite pleased with himself. Louis suspected that he’d been sampling the “Liar Liar Tommo’s Pants On Fire” tonight, and she couldn’t fault him for it. The drink was pretty damn good. (Plus, it had fire.)
“Excellent,” Harry said, giving a short round of applause. “The stage lost a fine actor when you decided to tend bar.”
“Couldn’t agree more,” Louis said, “but seeing as we’re looking for drinks, not justice, think you can sort us out?”
But Niall had one more Godfather-inspired reply quote to offer. “I’m gonna make you... a drink... you can’t refuse!”
Louis rolled her eyes. “Have you quite finished?”
“Jealous of your competition, Lou?” Harry teased. “Not sure your Italian accent is as good as his?”
“Course not!” Louis declared. “It’s the principle of the thing, innit. ‘A drink I can't refuse’! Nialler, have I ever refused a drink from you before?”
“Then what makes this drink different from the others?”
“Nothing at all,” Niall smirked. “But you’re not gonna refuse it, are you?”
“He’s got you there,” Harry laughed. “Sorry.”
“Touché,” Louis conceded. (And quite graciously, too, if you asked her.) “Right then, Nialler, better fix us your final shots of “Liar Liar Tommo’s Pants On Fire”, ‘cuz Harry and I are about to have a chat, and its name won’t make sense afterwards.”
“What, really?” Niall looked almost disappointed at the prospect of a future without flaming shots, but nodded knowingly. “Good for you. I’m just going to go… get some more, uh, glasses. From the back. It’ll probably take about five minutes?” He looked at Louis for confirmation. “Or maybe longer?” Louis shrugged. “Or maybe just five minutes. Right. I’m off. To do my job. As I do. Nothing unusual here. See youse laters.”
Harry took a sip of her drink. “That wasn’t subtle,” she said, raising an eyebrow. “Whatever you need to tell me – and that Niall knows you need to tell me… and Liam and Zayn probably know too, mind you – go ahead.”
“Right,” Louis said. “Here goes.” She hesitated. The current performer on stage was sing-shouting something about her mother, and Louis realized even telling Harry the hard truth would be better than listening to that nonsense for another second. “So. Er. When we met, yeah. That night. When I told you that I wrote poems?”
“Yes..,” Harry said. Her eyes were wide and earnest, all attention focused on Louis. Louis normally loved the fact that Harry hung on her every word, but now it was a lot of pressure.
“And that I, uh, liked poetry? And that I wrote a lot of it?”
“Of course. What are you saying, Lou?”
Louis blew out a breath. “I actually really hate poetry.”
“What?” At least Harry didn’t look angry, or annoyed. Just confused.
“I really don’t like poetry,” Louis confessed. “I think it’s dull and boring and pretentious.” (Maybe that came out a little too harsh, but she’d never been much good at biting her tongue.)
Harry looked wounded, and Louis immediately hated herself. “Wait, so does that mean...” Harry began, “when you said you liked my poems…?”
“Oh, fuck, no, Harry, I loved watching you read, I really did. You’re an exception, I swear.”
“But… okay… so… why don’t you like it?
“I just don’t get it. Like you said, tonight, it’s so overdramatic—and that’s coming from a drama student, mind—and silly and everything always has to mean something else, and it’s so boring.”
“But you’re friends with Zayn,” Harry said. “I don’t understand, you went to the poetry showcase, and you said you liked my poems, and—”
“I mean, I like Zayn’s stuff, yeah, but that’s because hers is cool, and she’s my one of my best mates. And I like yours because I like you, and I guess your poems are, like, a part of you, yeah?”
Harry nodded slowly. “They are, they are a part of me. It’s like I put a little piece of my soul in each one.”
“See! You’re even poetic when you’re not reading poetry!” Louis exclaimed. “I love that you’re passionate about it, I really do. I like watching your face when someone does a good reading, and I like flipping through your chapbooks even though I can’t get me head ‘round half what you’re saying, and – okay, I will definitely never watch any of them slam poem videos you post on Facebook – but… Is that alright?”
Harry paused, considering. “Did you seriously write that poem today just because you didn’t want to let me down?” she asked at last.
“Yeah. Well, Liam helped.”
“And you’d never written a poem before?”
“Er. I’ve done one? When I told you that I’d had a poem displayed in my school, that were true! Just. Uh. I was twelve? And I wrote it with a friend? And it were just a joke?”
Harry raised an eyebrow. “What sort of joke?”
“A penis one,” Louis said, pulling the recycling poem from her jean pockets and handing it to Harry. She watched as Harry unfolded the page and read the four short lines.
And then Harry burst out laughing. “Of course you did this,” she said, in between giggles, “of course you did. That’s so you, oh my god.” She pulled Louis in for a quick kiss, and Louis melted. “I honestly don’t mind if you don’t like poetry!” Harry said. “I’m just sorry I made you feel pressured into liking it.”
“No, you didn’t! I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier,” Louis said. “But in my defence, the reason I said it in the first place? Nick was stealing you away from me, and I needed to get your attention.”
Harry wrinkled her nose. “Nick was what?” she asked. “Because I was going to a party with him? He wasn’t stealing me, and I wasn’t going to just walk away from you – before you said something, I was going to ask if you wanted to get coffee some time.”
“Oh,” Louis said, feeling enormously stupid. “You were going to ask me out even if I hadn’t said anything about me being a poet?”
“Yes!” Harry exclaimed. “Of course I was. Did you think that was the only reason I asked you out?”
“A little?” Louis admitted.
“It really wasn't why,” Harry said. She took Louis’ hands in hers, and Louis absentmindedly rubbed the cross tattoo on Harry’s thumb. (Now that she knew Harry wasn’t going to break up with her, her chances of getting to lick it in the foreseeable future had just skyrocketed). “I asked you out because you were fit, and funny, and because you thought the toilets were an acceptable place to flirt with me about ‘getting you wet’.”
Louis gave a half-smile. “Have to say, probably not my finest moment, but I’ll own it.”
“No,” Harry said, smiling wider now, “it was actually completely—”
They were interrupted as Nick – who Louis didn’t even know was here tonight, but just her luck he was – sidled up to them. Would Louis never be rid of him!?
“Alright, Harry?” Nick greeted. “Love the hat, verrrrry bold, but you make it work. Talking to the poet of the hour, are you?” He turned his gaze on Louis, and there was a challenge in his eyes. “I have to say, if Harry likes your poem, then you know it’s good, she has incredible taste, she wouldn’t recommend just anyone for Poetry Soc.”
Harry nodded. “Massively proud of Lou,” she said with a big grin, and Louis felt a tug of possessiveness in the smile. “I loved it.”
“Of course you did,” Nick gushed, in a way that exuded insincerity and smugness, “although I’m not sure everyone else has caught the true meaning of it like I’ve done. Louis, the way you alluded to ‘washing away the night before’ as a metaphor for global warming? I’m sure it went over most people’s heads, but not mine. It was breath-taking.”
Nick was a massive show-off. But as a show-off herself, Louis knew exactly how to take him down.
“Thanks, mate,” she grinned. “But the poem was actually about fucking.”
“Er,” Nick said, brows knitting together in confusion. Louis could almost see the gears spinning in his head. “But your repetition of the word ‘powerless’ was a scathing critique of the existing constitutional monarchy and—”
“Nope! That bit was also about fucking.”
Nick, significantly more flustered now, gamely tried a third time. “But that line about the stained coffee cup, that can’t have been about fucking, surely.”
“You’ve got me there,” Louis admitted. “That bit wasn’t about fucking.”
“I knew it,” Nick boasted, “I recognized it as clear reference to the Greek debt crisis and how—”
Louis made a buzzer sound, startling Nick and making Harry snort. “Oh, tough luck, mate,” Louis said with false sympathy. “Wrong again. That bit wasn’t about fucking, but it was about a coffee cup.”
Nick’s face went deep red, and he struggled for something to say. After a moment, he said, “I think the Poetry Soc is full up this year. See y’round Harry,” and skittered off back to his booth.
Louis burst out laughing. “Oh my god, Nick is so in love with you,” she said.
“What?” Harry said, shaking her head. “No, he’s not.”
“Yes, he is, he’s completely obsessed with you! ‘You have incredible taste, Harry’. ‘I like your hat, Harry.’” Louis raised an eyebrow. “Please tell me you never hooked up.”
Harry frowned. “We’re just friends, that’s it. And I only met him a few weeks ago. He’s really not my type.”
“Thank fuck,” Louis said, with probably more relief than she intended to show, then batted her eyelashes and asked, “So what is your type, then?”
“Hmmmm,” Harry said, pretending to give it a hard think. “I guess I’d have to say, someone who’s funny, and a bit loud, and, apparently, doesn’t like poetry.”
“I’ll let you know if I meet anyone like that,” Louis grinned. “Though that last one might be tricky, seeing as how we’re at a poetry night.”
Harry smiled and shrugged. “I already sort of suspected you weren’t really into poetry,” she said lightly. “Because last week, when I asked you what you thought of Andrea Gibson, you said you were happy she won Big Brother 11 because you voted for her.”
“And I stand by that,” Louis said, a bit confused what this had to do with anything, “even after the whole mess with her and JJ’s Tree of Temptation task, which was bullshit.”
“Right,” Harry said. “But Andrea Gibson is a poet.”
“What, is she really? I thought she became a personal trainer after winning the series, but a poet’s alright too, I guess.”
Harry smiled. “Lou,” she said patiently. “Andrea Gibson is a poet. You were thinking of Josie Gibson.”
Louis thought for a moment. “Oh,” she said at last. “Shit. Yeah. I guess I was, wasn’t I? Bloody hell, that’s embarrassing.” She gave a nervous laugh and took a long sip of her drink. “How’d you figure that out?”
Harry shrugged. “I Googled it. You have terrible taste in telly, by the way.”
“Big Brother is only terrible in comparison to Celebrity Big Brother, which is the very pinnacle of television entertainment,” Louis said defiantly. “But also, er, why didn’t you call me out on that at the time? Expose me for the dirty rotten liar that I was?”
Harry shrugged again. “I didn’t want to correct you, it just sort of confirmed what I’d already suspected? And anyways, thought I’d wait until tonight, see how you did. And I have to say, your slam performance? Very interesting. Definitely not what I was expecting.”
“But if you’d suspected,” Louis tried again, “then why didn’t you say something?”
“I tried!” Harry said. “But you kept changing the subject!”
“Oh,” Louis said, back to feeling like a bit of an idiot. “Yeah. Uh. So, I might have absolutely definitely done all that on purpose.”
“I’m not complaining,” Harry said, “because some of those distractions, they were… good. Really good. And I’d like to go back to doing those sorts of things as soon as possible.”
“So,” Louis said, taking a deep breath. “We’re good?”
Harry grinned. “Absolutely.”
“So this means I don’t have to come to something like this ever again, yeah?” Louis added quickly. She didn’t want to spoil the moment, but she also needed to be sure. “I mean, if it’s all the same to you, I’d rather not join Poetry Soc, or go to slams, or participate at open mics, or write poems, or even read poems, really. Just… sort of none of it. Ever.”
“Louis,” Harry smiled, “it’s fine. We don’t have to share all the same interests, that’d be boring.”
“I mean,” Louis continued, “if you’re reading or summat, of course I’ll come support you, and I’ll cheer obnoxiously loud and everything, and I know you don’t care for footie, and like, you’ve not got to come to every kickabout with my mates and stuff, that’s fine, you don’t even really need to come to any of my matches if you don’t want to, like, it’d be cool if you did, but Zayn only ever came to one match, and that’s because I bribed her by sellotaping a joint underneath her seat.” She paused. “I mean, well, Zayn comes to every game now, but that’s only because she’s with Liam. Which is good, because I’d’ve run out of joints by now.”
“I don’t mind footie,” Harry said. “And Zayn might need someone to keep her company in the stands.”
“Sick! She’d probably love that, actually.”
“And it would be nice if you came to my readings,” Harry said. “I mean, you don’t have to, but I'd really, really like it.”
“Absolutely, I love watching you read!” Louis said. (For purely non-poetry, all-shallow reasons, but she didn't need to mention that now.) “I’m just not cut out for poetry. Or it’s not cut out for me, more like. I mean, I’m obviously a revelation on the stage, that’s not up for debate—”
“—but these performances, they’re so painful to sit through, like. Everything takes a fucking age, and half the people reading could do with some serious vocal coaching and breathing training, and that one bloke, with the poem about his dog? Could barely hear him, even with the mic. And that other one, wearing the cape? Absolute mushmouth, couldn’t understand a word he said.”
“Ah,” Harry teased, “but maybe that was part of his act.”
Louis threw up her hands in frustration. “Bloody poetry!”
“What’s that about poetry?” Niall asked, poking his head up from beneath the bar. “Because as we all know, Lou, you are a massive poetry fan, who loves poetry in all its forms.”
Louis rolled her eyes. “Give it up, Niall, she knows.”
“Oh, thank fuck,” Zayn exclaimed, also popping up from behind the bar. “It’s about fucking time, Christ, thought we were going to have play along with that for fucking ages.”
Harry laughed, and Louis tried to look exasperated instead of incredibly fond of these losers she called her friends. “Liam,” she said, “if you’re down there too, it’s fine to come up.”
“Why would you think Liam’s down here?” Zayn asked, a little too quickly. “She’s, uh, in the loo.”
Niall let out a dramatic sigh and nodded at Harry. “Philistine, our Louis, isn’t she? Not liking poetry. Damn shame. In my view, it’s a vital necessity of our existence.”
Harry grinned. “It forms the quality of the light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change,” she replied, “first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”
Now Zayn was grinning at them both, and Louis had absolutely no idea what was going on as her flatmate contributed, “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought. The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our poems—”
“—carved from the rock experiences of our daily lives,” all three finished in unison.
“Let me guess,” Louis said with a sigh, because apparently this was her life now. “Andrea Gibson?”
Harry patted her on the shoulder consolingly. “Audre Lorde,” she said. “But you’ll learn.”
“Please God no,” Louis said. “No more of this.” Harry and Niall and Zayn exchanged A Look amongst themselves, and Louis felt very left out. “Right,” she said, “if you lot are gonna quote more at me, I need another drink. Or three. And it best not be called that “Liar Liar” shit again, thank you very much, because we’ve now closed that chapter of my life, cheers.”
“Excellent,” Niall said, clapping his hands together, “because I’ve come up with some absolutely grand new drink ideas, if I do say so myself. How’s about Emily Dickginson’s The Only Brews I Know? Or Stories Surrounding My Rum-ing, by Staceyann Chinn? Both served with a twist of Lime Of The Ancient Mariner!”
Harry and Zayn and Niall all burst into laughter—Harry in particular had a weakness for terrible puns, so Louis supposed those were tailor-made for her—but Louis couldn’t help but feel utterly left out of the joke. This sort of feeling was only okay when it happened to other people, not to her!
“I don’t get these,” Liam said, popping her head up from above the bar to talk to Zayn. “Soz babe, I couldn’t stay down there anymore, the floor was too sticky.” She turned to Louis. “Alright, Lou? D’you get these jokes? I don’t.”
“Nope,” Louis declared, deciding to not even ask how they’d all got behind the bar (or how long they’d been planning to make Liam hide), “nor do I care to. Liam, it’s you and me now, against the world.”
“Alright,” Liam agreed, “sounds good. Let’s talk footie instead. Midfielder! Lay-off pass! Champions League!”
“Reserve team!” Louis added happily, enjoying Zayn’s annoyance and Harry’s mild bewilderment. “Scissor kick! Squad rotation system!”
“Taylor Report!” Niall chimed in. “Offside! Keeper!” He paused. “Wait, why’re we saying these things?”
As Liam explained to Niall that he should forget about poetry and focus just on football talk, leaving Zayn torn between supporting poetry and supporting her girlfriend, Harry leaned over to Louis and whispered, “Sorry, didn’t mean to leave you out. But hand me your phone?”
“What for?” Louis asked, but she passed it over anyway. Harry had that effect on her. (Also, it meant she got to touch Harry's hands again, and Harry’s hands were so big and basically the perfect size to fit Louis’ bum, and that was a rare quality that she appreciated quite a lot.)
(Harry liked it too.)
When Harry returned Louis’ phone, Chrome was open to the Wikipedia entry for “e.e. cummings”, and Louis stared at the page in confusion. “What’s this? Is he a poet? Why’re there no capital letters?” She groaned. “You said I wouldn’t have to read more of this!”
“But Lou,” Harry said very seriously, trying hard to hide her grin (and utterly failing, because she was Harry), “I want you to know. I Vod-carry Your Heart With Me!”
Okay, so Louis would always hate poetry quite a lot. But she would also always love Harry Styles quite a bit more.
She could live with that poetic justice.