“This is such a bad idea,” Louis comments from where he’s perched on the counter, supervising the eggnog preparation. “Someone is going to get hurt.”
“Emotionally or physically?” Harry asks, glancing over his shoulder as he stirs the content of the pot.
In the living room, Niall, Zayn and Liam – Louis has all of his classes with Country Club Liam now that he’s a law student, so he’s been upgraded to just Liam – are decorating the tree. Liam has climbed on the arm of the couch and is trying to reach the top of the tree to place the star, his balance precarious, and Niall and Zayn are standing by in case he falls. Well, Zayn is; Niall is on his mobile, probably live-tweeting the entire thing.
Christmas music is playing – Michael Bublé’s album, and they had a proper laugh when they heard his ‘no homo’ version of “Santa Baby” – and the festive cheer in the flat is almost palpable. Niall came down for the weekend, the last one before the end of the semester, and Liam dropped by to study with Louis, but that ended pretty soon when he hit it off immediately with Niall.
As for Harry, he moved in in mid-November after a month of unsuccessful long-distance relationship. They were both miserable and when his contract ended with Louis’ family, he showed up on Louis’ doorstep with the largest bouquet of flower he’d ever given Louis and a suitcase, eyes wide and pleading as he asked if he could move in because he missed Louis too much.
The sex had been phenomenal, that night, Louis riding Harry for the first time and discovering a new passion of his.
For the past month, Harry has been working in a bakery close to their flat and watching him over the weeks made Louis feel like he was watching Harry bloom. He loved the job from the very first day and within two weeks, he was talking about opening his own in a couple of years, eyes bright and smile brighter as he talked of the different ways he’d learned to make pastries and bread that day. He is happier than Louis has ever seen him and his mood does wonders to Louis’ own, which is always rather low because of how much he hates law school. Coming home to a boyfriend who smells like fresh bread and a bag of croissants still warm from the oven makes up for it, he supposes. Auditioning for a play has helped a lot, though; even if Louis didn’t get an important part, he still gets to do what he likes most. It brings things into perspective, showing him that school isn’t all there is to his life. He is not his studies.
Louis dips a spoon in the pot, tasting the mix and handing the cinnamon to Harry with a wrinkled nose.
“Liam’s dating Sophia, now. He won’t get in between Zayn and Niall. I think his experience this summer scared him off dicks for the rest of his life. So, physically.”
“I’ve got the paramedics on speed dial,” Harry replies, sprinkling spices in the pot.
“Why? You’re afraid you’ll forget the number?” Louis asks, giggling.
Harry rolls his eyes. “I won’t even reply to this.” Tasting the eggnog, Harry nods. “Have we got rum?”
“Yup,” Louis replies, hopping off the counter to go to the cabinet where they keep their alcohol. “Fine one, too, Zayn’s dad gave it to us. The bottle is still sealed.” Wandering into the living room for a moment, Louis watches the other three work, grinning. “Nice work, lads, your mums would be proud of you.”
“You could help, this is your flat,” Niall comments as he holds up a box of ornaments for Zayn to hang them.
“I’m helping in the kitchen,” Louis says with a shrug, moving over to the alcohol cabinet. Crouching by it, he takes out the bottle of rum and places it on the table behind him. “You’ll all thank me when we’re drunk, later.”
“No one gets drunk on eggnog, Lou,” Harry says from the kitchen.
“Is that a challenge?”
“It shouldn’t be,” Liam replies. “It really shouldn’t be.”
“I’m up for it,” Niall adds.
“No,” is all Zayn says. “You’re not.”
Laughing, Louis gets back up, picking up the bottle from the table. As he lifts it, he noticed a few envelopes on the table. “Who brought in the mail?”
“I did,” Liam says, looking up from the tangled Christmas lights he was busy frowning at.
“Of course you did, Liam,” Louis replies, shaking his head with a smile. He quickly looks through the envelopes, discarding the bills one by one before he reaches the bottom of the pile and sees one addressed to him.
Bringing the alcohol to Harry, he studies it closer, running his thumb over the handwritten address. It’s his mum’s handwriting. He’s been in contact with his family since he agreed to the deal, but he hasn’t visited them, yet. He’s not welcome in the house, that part was made clear to him. His mother asked to give his stepfather time and Louis has no choice but to agree even if he misses them like crazy. The envelope he has in his hand holds so much promise that it’s got his head reeling.
Opening it with trembling hands, Louis swallows around the lump in his throat when he pulls a Christmas card out. It’s one like they always send to their acquaintances every winter, with a family picture on the cover of all of them wearing ugly Christmas sweaters. This year, the new twins are wearing matching pairs of reindeer antlers and Louis giggles, covering his mouth with his hand.
“What is it?” Harry asks.
“A Christmas card from my family,” Louis replies, working hard to keep his voice steady as he flips open the card. “Happy Holidays!” he begins reading out loud. “You’re cordially invited to our annual Christmas celebrations, during which we will also be celebrating the birthday of our beloved son. Please RSVP…” Louis trails off reading, his voice catching in his throat.
“Lou…” Harry begins, but Louis shakes his head to shut him up.
“Did I understand this right? Are they… am I…”
“You’re invited to spend Christmas and your birthday with them,” Harry completes, nodding.
“Okay, I wasn’t sure, I was afraid it might have been a hallucination,” Louis replies, his voice thick with emotions. He runs his eyes over the card again, reading the words over and over again until they feel real. “It also says… it says that I am allowed to bring a… a guest. You’re invited.” Louis looks up at Harry, his eyes shining with unshed tears.
It’s Harry’s turn to look in shock and he brings a hand to his mouth, eyes wide and disbelieving. “Am I? But I’m staff!”
“You’re my boyfriend, too. If I’m allowed to be a part of the family, so are you. Will you come?”
“If you want me to.”
“I do, I really, really do.”
Harry nods and then he’s lifting Louis into his arms, hugging him tightly. Louis wraps his legs around Harry’s waist and clings to him, laughing into his neck as tears roll down his cheeks.
Of all the things Louis expected to happen after he agreed to the conditions, being invited to the biggest family affair of the year with Harry wasn’t one of them. So, to think that it will also double as his birthday feels surreal and a part of him is afraid he’ll wake up to realise it was all a dream.
“If you’re going to shag, please turn up the music, I don’t need to hear it,” Niall comments and Louis flips him off over Harry’s shoulder. He won’t let some Irish bloke ruin his moment.
“I’m so happy right now,” Louis whispers, kissing beneath Harry’s ear. “I feel like my heart could burst.”
“I’m terrified of meeting your family as your boyfriend, but it’ll be fun. I’ll play with the kids.”
Louis lets out a wet laugh. “I’ll meet my new brother and sister, oh my god.”
“They’re adorable, you’ll love them.”
Nodding, Louis tightens his arms around Harry’s neck. “It’s been an exhausting six months. I think I want the next six to be calm. I deserve it.”
“Okay, I’ll wait seven months before I propose, then,” Harry says, laughing.
“Don’t even go there, Styles. Don’t,” Louis warns, grinning. “Don’t you dare.”
“Seven months, to the day.”
“I bloody hate you sometimes,” Louis says, laughing. He squirms out of Harry’s arms and picks up the card once more, looking at it with a bright smile that crinkles his eyes. “I still can’t believe it.”
Harry presses a kiss to his temple before he returns to the eggnog. In the living room, the three others have started singing along to the record, harmonizing surprisingly well. Snowflakes as big as feathers are falling outside, twinkling in the light of the streetlamps, and the flat is warm and cosy, smelling of sugar and spices. Everything is quiet and comforting, like being wrapped in a thick blanket in front of a fire with a warm cup of tea.
Pulling on Harry’s sleeve and leaving him just enough time to take the pot off the stove, Louis drags him along to the living room to give the boys a hand, joining their singing and grinning when Harry does, too, marvelling at the way their voices sound together.
“You know, boys, we should all drop out of school and start a band,” Louis comments.
“Yeah, put us in matching sweaters and we’ll make the ladies swoon,” Harry adds.
“As long as we don’t dress like Niall,” Zayn says, sticking out his tongue when Niall huffs.
Taking a step back to look at the scene, at Harry and Liam working on the tangled lights, at Niall and Zayn quietly bickering, Louis sighs happily, not quite believing that his life has turned into something this close to perfection.
And to think it all began because he pretended to read a Nancy Drew novel.