Louis’ life is boring. He knows he shouldn’t say something like this because being bored and rich makes him a walking, talking stereotype, but the fact of the matter is that the most exciting thing that has happened to him in the past month is when he found twenty quid in a pair of chinos he hadn’t worn since the previous summer. So, yes, he’s got a boring life. Just because his boring life happens to be gilded, it doesn’t mean that it’s any less boring. Being bored in expensive furniture is still being bored.
Such are his musings as he sips on his morning orange juice in the tasteful Victorian conservatory that runs the length of the manor. That description alone makes him feel like a proper wanker, to be honest, but that’s how his mother usually describes it: Victorian because it’s made of wrought iron, he imagines? and tasteful was a word used by a minister’s wife when they came over for dinner-cum-arse-kissing the year before. How a Victorian monstrosity of wrought iron and glass can be considered ‘tasteful’ when it’s been affixed to a Georgian manor he isn’t quite sure, but then again, he’s no architect. What does he know?
Listlessly looking out of the glass panes to the seemingly endless stretch of their backyard, he sighs and wonders just how far boredom can stretch his mind before it snaps and makes him do something like Jack Nicholson’s character in The Shining. He can’t remember having ever been this bored before he went off the university, but the bustle of his life in the past year, as well as the freedom of being away from home as an adult rather than as a kid in boarding school, has made coming back here seem like a death sentence. As happy as he was to spend time with his sisters and mother, he had forgotten to take into account the fact that their lives had continued while he was away and that he did not quite fit as well as before in them, and so he finds himself spending most of his days alone, roaming the halls and sighing like some sort of depressive Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Louis stretches and then reclines back on his chaise longue, yawning and wondering if it would be inappropriate to have a nap before lunch. He decides that he’d rather not give his stepfather one more reason to yell at him and then sighs again, because why the hell not. It’s not like he has anything better to do. How did people do it in the olden days? No, but really: how did people live in complete idleness before the Internet and television? He has both and he still feels like he’s going stir-crazy; he can feel the strands of his sanity coming loose and it’s not even July, yet. For fuck’s sake, he’s been back for a week.
Movement in the backyard catches his eye and he sits up, squinting against the sun to try and see what’s going on. Two people are walking across the lawn, one of them taller and leaner than the other. From the gait of the shorter one, Louis can see that it’s his stepfather: he walks with short, nervous strides, his back ramrod straight and his head held high like some sort of balding peacock. Everything about his stepfather’s walk screams ‘overcompensating’. Scratch that: everything about him in general screams it and if Louis’ mother is to be believed, he really does have something to overcompensate for. The other figure Louis doesn’t know. The person walks with a slight slump, like they’re trying to look smaller than they actually are. Their steps are languid, for lack of a better word; everything about them seems relaxed and pleasant.
Louis rolls his eyes with a groan. Here he goes, applying physiognomy like he walked out of a 19th century novel. He’s hopeless. The person, whoever they were, is probably the new gardener. The previous one had been fired the week before when Daisy found him smoking a joint in the shed and his mother had been adamant that they find a new one before long. House staff gossip might be the only thing keeping Louis safe and that realization makes him cringe.
As they come closer to the conservatory, Louis can make out more details about the stranger: for one, it’s a man, with large shoulders stretching the fabric of his red and black plaid shirt. A wide-brimmed hat is perched on a mane of brown curls, which peek and curl out from underneath it. Louis can only see his back and the way his hands are clasped behind it as he follows Louis’ stepfather around the yard, nodding along to whatever the man says. Louis shifts to sit on the edge of the chair to try and get a better look, only to scramble back in a hurry when he realises they are coming his way.
Opening the book he finds on an end table nearby, Louis makes sure to look enraptured by his reading before his stepfather slides open the door and walks in, the stranger on his heels. It takes all of Louis’ will not to peek over the top of the book. He needs to look calm and composed, not like a silly little boy in search of a thrill.
“… there isn’t much to do in the conservatory except keep the plants alive,” his stepfather drones, walking them around the area without glancing once at the plants.
“It will be done, sir,” the stranger replies in a deep, slow voice.
Louis looks up at the sound of it. He’s only human, after all, and a voice like that, one that shoots straight through him to make him shiver with something fierce and, quite frankly, unknown, deserves to be paid attention to. What he sees is a tall man who looks to be in his mid-twenties. The curls he saw at the back of his head frame his face and soften his features, the best of which are wide green eyes and plump lips. The sight of those lips makes Louis’ breath hitch and he goes back to his book before he gets noticed.
“Louis,” his stepfather’s voice snaps, making him look up again even if it’s the last thing he wants. “This is Henry, he’ll be our new gardener.” Louis forces a smile and waves. “Come, Henry, I’ll show you the shrubberies out front.”
In a few stiff steps, Louis’ stepfather is already at the kitchen door, but the gardener lingers back, still smiling at Louis pleasantly. “I’m Harry, actually. I’ve already told him, like, five times.”
Louis lifts an eyebrow almost disdainfully, mentally kicking himself for it because the worse thing that could happen in that moment, when there’s six feet of literal sunshine smiling at him, is for his aloof defence mechanism to kick in.
“Hi, Harry Actually.”
No. He did not just say that. That did not just happen.
Harry chuckles and nods at the book in Louis’ hands. “My sister loved those books when she was younger.”
With an uncertain frown, Louis closes the book so he can look at the title. The Secret of the Old Clock. A Nancy Drew novel. The sexiest man Louis has ever seen just saw him reading one of the twins’ books. He blushes and reopens it, trying to feign indifference. If he’s going down, he’d rather go down in flames.
“It’s quite good. I think you’re awaited in the kitchen.”
“I’ll see you around, then. Have a nice day.” Harry lifts his hat in greeting and then leaves without another word.
As soon as the kitchen door is shut, Louis fishes his mobile out of his pocket and opens a text message to Perrie, typing furiously.
MAYDAY THE NEW GARDENER IS FIT AND HE SAW ME READING ONE OF PHOEBE’S BOOKS PLEASE COME AND KILL ME!!!!!!!
Perrie’s reply is almost instantaneous: What kind of fit? Movie star fit or underwear model fit?
DOES IT MATTER????? Louis pauses in his redaction to think about Perrie’s question. Farmer fit. I can put you over my shoulder and carry you around fit.
So, fireman fit but with a rugged look about him. Take pictures for me ;)
Louis flings his mobile away with a grunt. He’s screwed.
Just how screwed he is becomes apparent the next morning after he walks out of the shower in nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist and goes over to one of the windows to open it. He lets his eyes travel over the scenery, barely paying attention to what he is seeing, until he sees him. Him. Harry the Fit Gardener. Crouched by a flowerbed, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbow and at least half of the buttons undone, all Louis can see is the top of his hat and the tanned skin of his forearms. Harry is close enough that Louis can see him from the second floor and he leans forward almost automatically, hands resting on the windowsill and head completely out, to look at him closer.
His hands are dirty and there’s a smudge of dirt on his cheek, right underneath his cheekbone, and Louis has to admit that it does wonders to his bone structure. Why he’s noticing that while looking at the gardener he’ll never know, but he’s sure Cosmopolitan is to blame. It usually is. Harry’s shoulders are wide and they stretch his shirt even more than they did the day before when all he was doing was walk around the property and the fabric of his shirt is light enough that Louis can see the way the muscles in his back shift when he lifts his hat to run a hand through his hair before putting it back on. Louis bites his lip and lets out a small whimper at the sight, leaning forward even more.
Which is when Harry chooses to look up, eyes falling immediately on Louis. He smiles, big and happy and obscenely beautiful, before waving. Louis pushes himself away from the window with a squawk of panic and shuts the window before closing the curtains and walking as far from it as he can, cheeks on fire. Harry saw him half naked and staring, for fuck’s sake.
Louis can never, ever be seen by him ever again.
Life never works the way Louis would want it to, though. He’s managed to furtively navigate his house without being seen by Harry - which wasn’t all that hard, to be honest, considering that all he had to do was stay indoors. It worked well for him for a time and he could even scoff and tell his sisters that he wasn’t gay, thank you very much, whenever one of them brought up how fit the gardener is. The fact that he is, in fact, gay is irrelevant for the moment because it’s not like a) his family can know and b) he’d ever consider even approaching Harry, let alone touch him or, god forbid, shag him. Even if he’d probably be warm and smell like sweat and dirt and sun-kissed skin, and he could lift Louis in his arms effortlessly and take him up against a wall. Even he if could do that, he never would, and that’s the thing Louis needs to remember, grimy modern day Aragorn fantasies aside.
“What is it with wanting to sleep with dirty men?” he asks Perrie, sipping on his glass of lemonade spiked with his stepfather’s expensive vodka. He lowers his magazine to look at her.
Sitting by the pool is a very dangerous decision, he knows that, but Perrie insisted that she absolutely needed to see the Fit Gardener and Louis did not have a better excuse than ‘but he’d know I exist’, which. No. It wouldn’t have worked. Not with Perrie. He, at least, kept his clothes on, unlike his best friend who decided that a bikini was appropriate. Well, it is, but. Whatever.
“I don’t know, babe,” she replies lazily, readjusting her black straw hat and flipping a page of last month’s Cosmo. “It’s probably a primeval instinct? Like, it’s bloody attractive to see a man who looks like he could kill dinner with his own hands? And it’s like, you know he would give you strong offspring.”
“My instincts don’t give a shit about finding a strong seed.”
“No, in your case it’s because you’re a nelly bottom.” She lowers her sunglasses to look at Louis over them. “So, you’ve been daydreaming about shagging your gardener?”
Louis rolls his eyes and pushes up his sunglasses with his knuckle. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Why not? There’s no shame in that.”
“He could hear us,” Louis replies, trying (and most probably failing) to sound composed. He glances around nervously.
“It wouldn’t be that bad, you know. It might—” She stops talking and a smirk appears on her face. “Well, well, well, look who’s coming.”
Louis’ head snaps up and he bites his lip when he sees Harry walking closer to the pool, carrying a small tree. He does not seem to notice them as he drops it on the ground and stands back up, his back to them. He wipes his brow and just as Louis is beginning to wonder if he might get out alive from this moment, Harry takes his shirt off and uses it to wipe the sweat from his face before throwing it over his shoulder. Perrie puts a hand over her mouth to muffle her giggles and Louis can guess why she’s uncontrollably laughing: he doesn’t know if he’s breathing anymore, but he knows that he’s beyond staring at Harry and well into ogling territory.
Harry’s shoulders are even more impressive naked and Louis never knew he had a thing for shoulders, but he can’t stop looking at them and at the way they taper down into a smaller waist and what looks an awful lot like love handles right above the waistband of his jeans, and Louis can’t breathe.
“Hey! You!” Perrie calls, cupping her hands around her mouth so her voice will carry. Harry turns around and looks uncertainly in their direction, his frown visible despite the distance. Louis isn’t quick enough to stop Perrie from motioning Harry closer. “Come here!” He does, to Louis’ dismay, and his smile grows as he gets nearer. “Hi, I’m Perrie,” she says once Harry is close enough.
“I’m Harry, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Hello, Louis,” he replies in that deep, devastating voice. “How can I help you?”
Perrie turns to Louis and lifts her eyebrows, her face hidden from Harry’s view by the brim of her hat, and Louis tears his eyes away from Harry’s tattoos, filing away the need to have a proper breakdown about that later, to look at his face. His gorgeous, gorgeous face.
“We, hum...” Looking around wildly, Louis’ eyes fall on the pitcher of lemonade. “Lemonade!”
Louis had meant it to be a question, honestly. It was supposed to come out as an offer to Harry for a glass of lemonade, but then his eyes slipped back to Harry’s chest and he did the mistake to glance down and there were branches of laurels tattooed on his hipbones and before he knew it, the interrogative sentence turned into an exclamative one and he ended up looking like a lunatic who shouts the name of things he can see.
The corner of Harry’s mouth twitches into a small smile. “Lemonade?”
With a long-suffering sigh, Perrie sits up straighter in her chair and picks up her empty glass, filling it and handing it to Harry. “I think he meant to offer you a glass.”
“Oh!” Harry smiles in earnest and nods, taking it and gulping down almost half of it in one go and then grimacing. “Thank you. Is it spiked?”
“Vodka.” Perrie winks.
“Good, I needed it. It’s a hot one today, isn’t it?”
“You tell me,” Perrie replies. “But it must be even worse for you, babe, working in the sun like that. Do you want another glass?”
“If it’s not a bother.”
Louis watches them be charming with each other, still not quite able to make his lungs work normally. At least he’s not gaping, which is honestly surprising. Harry gulps down another glass as quickly as the previous one, his throat working quickly and Louis licks his lips and stifles a whine in his own glass of lemonade. On which he chokes, naturally.
“Hey, easy there. Don’t die, I wouldn’t know how to arrange funeral wreaths and I might lose my job,” Harry says, and through the tears filling his eyes as he coughs, Louis sees him move closer.
“I’ve got it,” Perrie says quickly, coming over to check on Louis.
“I’m fine!” He pushes her away and wipes his eyes before clearing his throat. “It’s nothing.”
“I should get back to work.” Harry gives his glass back to Perrie and then shifts his eyes to Louis. “You okay?”
“Yes, yes, I’m fine,” Louis snaps, feeling himself redden under Harry’s attention. “You can go.”
Harry nods, looking slightly dejected. “Have a nice day, Louis. Perrie.” He lifts his hat at her in greeting and then walks away, going back to his tree and leaving Louis to his own misery.
“You weren’t lying,” Perrie whispers once he’s out of earshot. “Charming, polite, sexy, and with hands like those, you just know he’s hung like a horse.”
“Perrie!” Louis squawks, throwing his magazine at her before getting up and taking the pitcher with him. “I’m going back to my room to die of mortification. You do whatever the hell you want, you—you vile quisling.”
With that, he stalks off towards the house and to his room, slamming the door shut. He throws himself down on it face first, letting out a groan. He’s never leaving his bedroom again, not until all the leaves have fallen and fit gardeners don’t have work anymore. Maybe then it’d be safe, but he might stay in anyway. The world has nothing to offer him, not when he can’t even manage one simple conversation with someone he finds attractive.
“I’m going to die an old maid,” he moans when he hears the door open and close. “And then get eaten by my twenty cats.” Turning his head, he gives Perrie a pitiful pout. “Can I move into your house for the summer?”
She waits until she’s gone to fetch a light cover-up from her bag before answering. “No, you can’t. You know my mother dislikes you.” She sits on the edge of Louis’ bed and strokes his back. “I promise it’s not as bad as you think it is. I’m sure he finds you charming.”
Louis lifts his head to look flatly at Perrie. “Right. Obviously. That’s exactly what he thinks.”
She rolls her eyes. “At least you can be sure that he’s gay. He did not even seem to notice I’m wearing a bikini. I was almost insulted, to be honest.” Perrie pinches his hip and Louis scoots away with a groan. “Stop being such a drama queen, babe. Everything’s going to be fine, don’t worry.”
Rolling to lie on his back, Louis sighs. “I don’t even know why I care so much what he thinks. It’s not like he matters. He’s only the gardener.”
“You’re right,” she says, kicking off her sandals to lie next to Louis. “He’s only the gardener.”
Something in her tone tells Louis that she’s not convinced. He isn’t either, to be entirely honest, and that’s terribly worrying.
It’s been five days since Louis nearly died in front of Harry and he’s been avoiding him ever since. He keeps inside the house, away from windows, and he makes sure to try and be forgotten by him. He can’t ever be seen again, not after how much of a fool he made of himself. He will never live down the burning shame of having been caught being so vulnerable by the man he fancies. Never, ever, ever. For the first time in his life, he wishes for rain.
Staying indoors also means he’s kept away from his sisters, who spend most of their time playing in the yard. He can’t afford to join them, so he keeps to his room and marathons television series on his laptop, feeling more and more like a slug as the days go by. Days of inactivity have messed up his sleeping rhythm, making him groggy on good days. The worst part is that no one seeks him out, no one comes up to ask if he’s alright. His sisters have their own lives and his mother is busy putting together ten charities at once while being 7 months pregnant. The last thing on her mind is her sulking son and his mood swings. If they don’t want to see him, well, he doesn’t want to see them either. So there.
This complete isolation explains why Louis nearly jumps out of his skin when there’s a knock on his door.
“Come in!” he calls, pausing his episode of Skins as Phoebe walks in.
“Daddy wants to talk to you in his office,” she says before running out, calling Daisy’s name down the hall.
With a long-suffering sigh and a feeling like someone poured lead in his stomach, Louis gets out of bed and slips into a pair of chinos and a mismatched shirt before heading downstairs. He can’t even be bothered to come and get Louis himself, he has to send his daughter. That tells a lot about how much he values Louis.
Louis knocks on the opened door, peering inside and walking in when his stepfather motions him in and raises one finger to tell Louis he’ll be with him in a moment. Louis slumps in one of the leather chairs facing the large mahogany desk, looking around as he waits and tries to pretend he’s not eavesdropping on the conversation. Not that it’s interesting; it sounds like he’s berating one of his employees. There’s a framed family photo on the desk and Louis picks it up, frowning as he looks at it. He’s not on it, but that’s not entirely surprising. Judging by the ages of his sisters, it was taken in the past year, while he was away at university. He puts it back down when he catches his stepfather’s disapproving stare.
At last, he hangs up and turns his attention to Louis, looking at him above his glasses like some sort of James Bond villain. Louis sits up a little straighter.
“You wanted to see me?” Louis asks.
“Yes, I’ve been meaning to talk to you about your education,” his stepfather replies, rummaging through the papers covering his desk before taking one sheet and looking it over. “You’re still registered in English literature.”
Louis shrugs. “Yeah, I am. That’s what I want to study.” Lie. It’s a blatant lie, but the truth would be even worse. At least, the study of literature draws a sort of respect in terms of tradition or whatever, but if Louis told him what he really wants to study is theatre, he might as well pack his things and go live on the streets.
“I thought we had a deal, Louis. I let you study literature because it was too late to transfer once I found out, but we’d agreed that you would attend law school at the end of your first year.”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to become a lawyer. I never agreed to that deal, I just walked out of the room.” With a slam of the door, if Louis remembers well.
“I hope you realise I will not be supporting you financially beyond your graduation? How do you expect to thrive with an English degree? No, Law is the best option, I will call them and see that your file is sent to the right people to start the transfer process. You might have to go to a few interviews, but nothing too stressful. You have the grades and the academic background to easily get into the program and if not, there are ropes I can pull. It’s only three years, too, so it’ll only set you back one year. Nothing too dramatic, you’ll concede.”
“I don’t want to. You can’t force me,” Louis replies, gripping the armrests of the chair tightly. “You can’t control every aspect of my life.”
His stepfather raises an eyebrow. “Alright, then find a job. Support yourself. Once you’re independent, you can choose what you study. In the meantime, you will do as I say. I’m only trying to give you a good future.”
“No, you’re not,” Louis snaps, rolling his eyes. “You’re trying to preserve your precious reputation. You can’t have your name associated with someone working a lowly, mediocre middle-class job.”
“This isn’t what it’s about, do not twist my words,” he says calmly, which only infuriates Louis more. He never raises his voice, no matter how heated the argument gets. In comparison, Louis’ short temper makes him appear childish and immature and isn’t that exactly what the wanker wants?
“It’s about controlling my life, just like you control Mum’s. We’re not your bloody employees,” Louis lets out, trying to keep his voice even, involuntarily slipping into his natural, Yorkshire accent, the one his stepfather hates so much. Well, fuck him on that front, too. He can’t be angry and sound posh at the same time; it doesn’t work.
“Watch your language, son.” Meaning: you sound vulgar, please go back to the accent I allow you to have.
“I’m not your son,” Louis spits viciously, narrowing his eyes. “We both know that.”
The man’s entire face twitches, but he remains calm. “Be it as it may, I still control you for as long as you live under my roof and waste my money.” Leaning forward, he stares at Louis, eyes boring into him. “You will go to law school. It isn’t up for discussion.”
Louis lets out a chuckle. “I won’t, though. You can’t force me to go to school.”
“If you decide to sabotage yourself by failing your classes on purpose, don’t bother coming back here. You’re getting A’s, or you’re on the streets, is that clear?” he asks, his voice dropping to a near whisper. “I have given you the best education money could buy from the beginning, you will not ruin it with your pathetic rebellion. You’re almost 20 years old, it’s about time you start acting like it.”
“Mum would be upset if you kicked me out. She might even leave you.”
His stepfather laughs, smirking. “Your mother wouldn’t leave me. Do you think I’m not aware she stays for the sake of her children? She wouldn’t endanger her daughters even if it were to defend her son. You’re not the centre of her universe, Louis. Grow up.”
“I’m not going to law school,” Louis repeats, his knuckles turning white under the strain he’s putting on them. He will not give him the satisfaction of losing his temper. Not this time.
“Then pack your things.”
They stare into each other’s eyes and time comes to a halt. Louis’ heart is hammering in his chest and his eyes prickle with unshed tears, but he will not flinch. The alternative is dire: law school will most definitely kill him. He can’t do it, he won’t do it, he can’t make him to do it.
“I’m serious,” he continues. “You won’t be missed.” The man’s eyes flick down to the picture Louis was holding earlier and something inside of Louis breaks.
Getting up without a word, Louis storms out of the room and slams the door as hard as he can on his way out, feeling a spark of satisfaction make its way through the several layers of anger, resentment and emotions he doesn’t even have a name for when he hears something shatter inside. He runs out of the house and stalks across the lawn, hands fisted by his sides and eyes burning with the tears he’s holding back. He only stops once he finds a stone bench in a secluded part of the garden, hidden from the house by a tree carrying heavily-scented flowers. Louis sits down on it and leans forward, resting his elbows on his knees and holding his head in his hands.
He breathes hard against the knot in his throat, but despite his best efforts he feels tears rolling down his cheeks. He wipes them angrily then runs his hands down his face, hating himself for letting the—the wanker get to him like that every single time. He doesn’t matter, he repeats to himself. He doesn’t matter, he doesn’t matter.
Louis laughs bitterly. Of course he matters. No one matters more than him because without him, Louis is nothing. His university education, the roof over his head, every single thing he owns, he owes it to that arsehole. And oh, how he makes sure Louis never forgets it.
His head jerks up at the sound of leaves rustling. He wipes his eyes again and rearranges his hair just in time to see Harry come into view. Louis tenses and jumps to his feet, his cheeks reddening. He doesn’t have his hat, today, probably because the sky is overcast, so his curls fly freely around his head, a tangled mess that makes Louis ache to run his fingers through them.
“I’m sorry, am I in your way? I’ll—I’ll go, I didn’t mean to—”
Harry raises a hand to silence him, a small smile tugging at his lips. “S’your backyard. I’m the one who’s in the way. I just...” He brings his other hand from behind his back and Louis sees that he’s holding a pink rose. “I heard you crying and I wanted to make sure you were okay.” Taking a plastic bag from his pocket, he holds it out. “I also brought biscuits. Mind if I sit with you?”
Louis swallows and looks at Harry without saying a word for a bit too long. It’s becoming awkward. He clears his throat and nods, sitting down and watching Harry do the same. He opens the bag and offers it to Louis. Normally, he’d be grossed out to see hands as dirty as Harry’s handing him food, but. It’s Harry, who smells like wet dirt and sweat and like what the colour green would smell, fresh and like foliage or cut grass.
Louis realises he’s staring a second too late and he ducks his head.
“I made them last night,” Harry says, still holding out the biscuit.
Louis grabs one and takes a tentative bite, preparing himself to lie if it tastes awful. His eyes widen as a rich taste of chocolate floods his mouth. He looks at the biscuit in bewilderment and then at Harry, who winks.
“It’s really good,” Louis tells him, shoving what’s left of the biscuit in his mouth and wiping the crumbs from the corners of his mouth with the back of his hand.
“Thanks. Oh, and this was for you.”
Harry gives Louis the rose and he takes it, bringing it up to his nose to smell it with a glance at Harry. Louis flushes even more when their eyes meet. He looks away, biting his lip.
“Thank you,” Louis says in a small voice, smelling the rose again.
“My pleasure. Beautiful eyes like yours shouldn’t be crying.”
“Oh, god,” Louis chokes out, putting a hand over his eyes so he doesn’t have to see Harry anymore and can pretend that it’s not happening. It cannot be happening.
“Too much?” Harry asks with a laugh, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m sorry, that was completely out of line.”
“No! I mean, yes, it was too much, but no, it’s not...” Louis sighs and shakes his head, shoving another biscuit in his mouth so he does not make a fool of himself even more.
Harry takes a biscuit, too, nibbling it in silence for a moment before turning to Louis. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“It’s nothing, really.”
“Didn’t sound like nothing. I’m no one, you can tell me.” Louis frowns at Harry’s words, which only makes him smile. “I’m only the gardener. Between telling me and the garden gnomes your sisters forced me to place on the front yard, there’s no difference.”
Louis sighs and shakes his head. “My stepfather is a wanker.”
“Tell me something I don’t know, please.”
The ghost of a smile appears on Louis’ face. “He wants me to become a lawyer and I really don’t want to.”
“Naturally,” Harry replies, nodding seriously and handing Louis another biscuit. “So don’t become a lawyer.”
Louis lets out a bitter chuckle. “If I don’t become a lawyer, I’m homeless.”
“Ah, I can see how this is a problem.”
“Right.” Louis stands up and starts pacing back and forth, wringing his hands, mostly thinking out loud. “So I told myself, ‘just get a job, Tommo, and you can move out and be free from him’, which might actually work, you know?”
Harry nods again. “That’s what I did. It works.”
“Yes, but even then, he still owns me. He pays for my university.”
“You could still—”
Louis cuts him off with a wave of his hand. “He sends me to Oxford. Assuming I miraculously get loans for the tuition, there’s still my flat to pay and believe me, it’s not the kind of flat you can afford on minimum wage.”
Harry whistles, eyebrows raised. “Right.”
With a sigh, Louis sits back down and takes the last biscuit. “I don’t even know why I’m telling you all this. You must think I’m a daft, rich brat who complains about the silliest things.”
“I don’t,” Harry replies without hesitating and Louis flusters. “I think you’re stuck in a fucked up situation, it’s like... damned if you do, damned if you don’t.”
Louis nods and looks down, staring at the way he’s nervously scratching the skin around the nail of his thumb with his index. The knot in his throat is coming back and he bites his lip, willing himself not to cry. “It just really sucks,” he says in a small voice.
“It does.” Harry strokes his back and Louis congratulates himself for not jumping out of his skin when he first feels Harry’s hand on him.
They sit in silence for a moment, Harry’s hand wide and warm on Louis’ back, and he can feel himself slowly calming down, can feel the way his anxiety is receding, like a tide. He takes a deep, shuddering breath and turns to Harry, who gives him a smile.
"I just want to do something I love, you know? But he says that what I like is useless."
"What would that be? Wait, let me guess." Harry bites his lip as he thinks and Louis has to look away because, well. Harry's lips are a big problem in his life. “Creative writing? No, no, I’ve got it. It’s drama, isn’t it?”
Louis has to bite back a smile, finding himself looking at Harry with amazement and incapacitating infatuation. “Drama, yes. I’m studying English, right now, but I’d like to be a drama teacher. With little kids, maybe? I like kids.” He frowns, realising with horror that all they do is talk about him. “What about you? You like, hum...” He sniffs the rose. “Flowers?”
“I love children, too. I volunteer at a children’s hospital from time to time. I play with the kids, read them stories, stuff like that.” Harry scratches his cheek, smearing dirt on it. Louis’ fingers twitch to clean it off. “I never liked school so I knew I didn’t want to go to college and I was good at gardening, so it just sort of happened.”
“So you work and do volunteer work?” Louis sighs, crestfallen. “You must think I’m useless.”
“The thought didn’t even cross my mind. And if you’d seen my flat, you wouldn’t want to spend too much time there either.”
“It must be cosier than this big, daft house,” he comments, smelling the rose once again.
“If by ‘cosy’ you mean ‘inhabited by a smelly, messy Irishman’ then yes, it’s quite cosy. I’m glad you like the flower,” Harry says, running a hand through his hair.
“I do. It’s gorgeous.” He gives Harry a lopsided smile before biting his lip, getting increasingly nervous as silence stretches between them. He needs to find something to say and quick before it becomes too awkward and Harry leaves. “So, hum, do you like working here?” he asks, letting out the first thing that comes through his mind.
Harry turns to look at him, a soft smile on his face, and Louis finds it hard to breathe. “It’s alright. The pay’s decent and they leave me alone. This other house I used to work at, they spent the day with me hovering over me to make sure I did stuff right.”
Louis frowns, feeling guilty all of a sudden. “Do you need more money? I could ask for you, without saying it’s from you. It can’t be healthy to work hard like you do.”
Harry shakes his head, frowning, too. “No, I’m alright. It’s tiring, but it’s only for the summer, Come October, no one will need me.”
“I’ll ask. You work all day in the sun, you deserve more.”
Shaking his head again, Harry sits up straighter, his face becoming hard. “No, don’t ask. Eight pounds an hour is more than the minimum wage, I can’t complain.”
It hits Louis how out of touch he is with reality when he’s floored to hear what the minimum wage is. He’d never stop to think about it, never had any use for it, really, but now that he hears it, it sounds absurd.
“You can live on that?”
With a chuckle, Harry shrugs. “The government says I can, but it’s...” He gazes at the manor for a moment before turning a smiling face to Louis. “You’ve got to love ramen noodles.”
Louis lets out a laugh, shaking his head. “You’re funny.”
“Yeah? Never heard that one before. Usually, it’s ‘ugh, please stop talking’ whenever I try to be funny,” Harry replies, winking.
Louis feels his cheeks colour and he gets up rapidly. “Well, thank you for spending time with me. And for the flower.”
“Are you feeling better? I’d feel terrible if I let you go back in there when you’re sad.”
“Right now, I’m okay. I’ll go spend a few hours in my room pretending to be dead so the wanker forgets I exist.” Louis finds himself sniffing the flower once more, pressing his lips tightly together against a smile.
“Okay.” Harry pulls on his own shirt, straightening it and smoothing it down before he looks at Louis again, his eyes softer than before. “I’m glad you like the flower. My ex, he’d complain whenever I brought flowers home. Said it made the flat smell like his nan’s.”
He. His ex, masculine pronoun. Harry’s gay, or at least bi. Louis inhales sharply, feeling himself blushing. He looks down at the flower, trying not to let it show that by indirectly telling him that he’s gay, Harry’s just made his entire bloody year.
“Is that why you’re no longer together? The flowers, I mean,” Louis asks timidly, unsure whether he’s overstepping boundaries or not.
“No, not at all. Well, the flowers didn’t help, but it was the cheating that did it for me.”
Shit. Nice topic of conversation, Tomlinson. Good job.
He hands Harry the rose. “I think you need it more than me.”
“No, you keep it. It was a while ago, I’m over it. I wasn’t in love with him, don’t worry about me.”
“If you say so.” He stays silent for a moment, looking around and trying to pull his thoughts together into a coherent sentence. “Cheating is terrible. Is it weird that I’m angry at him even if I’ve never met him?”
“Thank you, it’s nice of you to say that.” Harry sighs and scuffs the tip of his boot against the dirt. “What about you? Any disastrous stories about ex-girlfriends to rival mine? Don’t let me have this pity party alone.”
Louis snorts, his eyes widening when he realises what he just did. He looks down. “No girls, no. I don’t—I’m like you.” He frowns, upset and angry that he can’t get himself to say the word out loud.
All Harry does is nod, what Louis thinks is the hint of a smile on his face. “Thanks for telling me. It means a lot to me that you trust me enough to tell me.” Harry sounds touched by Louis’ confession, which makes him feel strangely emotional.
It’s not that Louis completely closeted, either; his closest friends know and he’s about to tell his mother and sisters. It’s part of his plans for the summer, he just needs to find the courage to tell them. He isn’t sure why Harry’s reaction to the confession hits him so hard. Maybe it’s because when he told Zayn and Perrie, they seemed unfazed by a confession that was earthshattering for Louis. Their reactions were underwhelming, if he’s honest. At the time, he wished they’d acknowledged how big it was for Louis to confess that.
“Okay,” is all he manages to reply, a knot forming in his throat. “I’ll go, now.”
“No, no, you stay, I’ll go back to work.”
Harry pulls Louis into a hug before he can brace himself for it and he lets out a gasp of surprise, wrapping his arms around Harry’s waist and pressing his cheek against his chest, breathing in his smell and feeling his knees weaken. Harry holds him tightly and strokes up and down his back, his cheek against the top of Louis’ head, and Louis thinks with a sigh that he could die in that very moment and be happy with the life he’s led.
Letting go of Louis, Harry lets his hands run down his arms before he smiles. “Have a nice day, Louis.”
Louis nods and forces a smile. “Thank you. You, too.”
With a smile and a wink, Harry gathers the empty bag and puts it back in his pocket before standing up. “Don’t forget to put the rose in water. Warm water.”Louis barely manages to keep his dreamy sigh in until Harry is out of earshot.