Electing Strange Perfections

Chapter 2

Louis wakes up to find a large bouquet of flowers on his desk. He’s never seen flowers like this - although this does not mean anything because botany and him make two; they’re a deep purple at the centre and become lighter towards the edges until they turn white and almost frilly. The bouquet has been carefully arranged in a tall glass vase and there’s a card resting against it. It is unsigned and only says ‘for Louis’ in a handwriting he’s never seen before.

Hands on his hips, Louis stares at the bouquet, unsure of how to react. There is no one, and he really does mean literally no one who might send him flowers, unless it was a joke. It’s probably a joke, he decides, picking up the card to look closely at the handwriting. It’s neither Zayn’s nor Perrie’s, that’s for sure. Liam from country club, maybe? No, that’s nonsense. He’s only ever said four words to Louis: ‘Pass the salt, please.’

He leans forward to smell the bouquet and startles at the scent of mint. Smelling again, he frowns when he realises he wasn’t wrong. They really smell of mint. Louis shakes his head and fetches his mobile, going back to stand in front of the flowers, staring them down with his most intimidating glare, as he waits for Perrie to pick up.

“Ever heard of purple flowers that smell like mint?” he asks as soon as she picks up.

“Good morning to you, too. Flowers that smell like mint? Why’d you want to know?”

“Because there’s a bouquet of them on my desk.” Louis moves his mobile away from his ear with a wince when Perrie lets out a piercing shriek. “That was wholly unnecessary.”

“You’ve got a secret admirer, babe! I can’t believe it! Send me a picture, I want to see them!”

Sighing and rolling his eyes, Louis snaps a picture and sends it to Perrie, groaning when he hears her cooing. “Don’t.”

“They’re gorgeous! Was there a card? What did it say? This is so exciting!”

“There was one, yeah.” Louis picks it up again, stroking the blue ink with his thumb - it’s uneven and pale, like someone used a cheap, almost empty ballpoint pen - and frowning as he hears a muffled conversation coming from Perrie’s end. “All it says is ‘for Louis’ and I don’t recognize the handwriting.”

“My mother thinks they might be gloxinias. You should go ask your gardener, he would know.” Louis can hear the smirk in her voice and he sighs.

“Not a chance.” Perrie doesn’t know they talked the day before because this event is filed under ‘Things Perrie Can Never Know’. It’s for Louis’ own mental health.

“Do what you want, but don’t complain to me if you end up dying alone.”

Louis hangs up without another word and throws his mobile on his bed with a frustrated groan. The windows of his bedroom are opened and he can hear the lawnmower from a distance. He knows that if he looked out right now he would be able to see Harry and that’s why he turns his back to the windows.

A normal person would go out and ask the bloody gardener about the mystery flowers in his room. A normal person would also have a bloody clue who might have sent them, but Louis isn’t a normal person. Louis develops incapacitating crushes on house staff that force him to creep around his house so he is not accidentally seen. He’s—he’s Sybil Crawley, for fuck’s sake, except that he will never end up with his own modern version of the brazen Irish driver.

Instead of asking Harry, he does the next best thing: question every member of the staff. He knows it wasn’t his mother or one of his sisters who brought them up; they’d have woken him up to find out who might have sent them. It had to be one of the staff. He spends the day at it, fruitlessly: the bouquet allegedly appeared in the kitchen and one of the maids brought it up, but no one has a clue who might have put it there. For all Louis knows, it’s from one of the maids. There is one who always smiles at him whenever they pass each other in the hallway. That’s terrible news.

He chooses to ignore them and puts the vase away in his closet.

The next morning, a bouquet of lilacs stands in the place of the gloxinias. Another card, saying the exact same thing, rests against it. They join the gloxinias in the closet with a long-suffering sigh and a roll of Louis’ eyes. He does not even bother telling Perrie about them. From his bedside table, the rose Harry gave him seems to be silently judging him. He glares at it for good measure.

Yellow puffs. That’s what he finds on his desk on the third morning. Lilacs had been an easy one and now he almost resents his secret admirer for once again picking a flower he doesn’t know. They join the two other bouquets in his closet. Eventually, the maid will find them and realise her affections are not welcomed. He hopes it happens before they wither and make a mess.

The same day, Louis talks to Harry again. It happens by accident, really: Louis is out of the house and trying to find a corner in the shade where he might be left alone to sulk for a few hours - the Law School Fight had a sequel - and his feet carry him towards Harry on their own. He is crouching by a row of shrubs, shirtless, his skin glistening with sweat under the relentless sun, and he looks up and beams at Louis when he sees him.

“Louis! Hi!” Harry stands up, readjusting his hat and pushing up his sunglasses with his knuckle before wiping his dirty hands on his jeans and offering one to Louis.

Not that Louis notices it, because it’s the first time he really pays attention to their height difference and it is making him dizzy. Harry isn’t only taller, but broader, making Louis feel minuscule and almost childlike next to him. And fuck, if it doesn’t turn him on that he has to look up at him. He would feel surrounded by Harry if he held him in his arms, safe and loved and—

He shakes his hand, timidly smiling up at him. “Hi, am I bothering you?”

“Not at all,” Harry replies in an earnest voice, smiling back and shit, his smile is turning Louis’ brain to mush.

To keep some of his wits about him, Louis ducks his head, eyes falling on the birds tattooed below Harry’s collarbones and the butterfly in the centre of his chest. He swallows thickly and looks back up, only to find Harry still smiling at him. He shifts his gaze to the shrubs, noticing that they’re the same yellow puffs. He frowns.

“What are those, exactly?” he asks, pointing at the flowers.

“They’re mimosas.” Harry moves closer to the shrub, close enough that if Louis wasn’t rooted on the spot and shifted slightly to the right, their bare arms would brush.

He stays motionless.

“Mimosa? I thought it was a drink.”

Harry laughs. “It’s a flower, too. I love the scent, it’s very special.” Harry crouches again to smell one of the branches before looking up at Louis expectantly. Louis imitates him and leans in closer to breathe it in. He’s startled at the smell. “What do you think?”

“It smells like...” He sniffs again. “Like fabric softener.”

“And whipped butter, and...” Harry sniffs it again, his face inches away from Louis. “And honey. I love it,” he says, getting back up and offering his left hand to help Louis up.

Taking it, Louis notices the small cross tattooed between his thumb and forefinger and lets his eyes roam over the anchor covering the outside of Harry’s wrist and up his arm, where there is more to see than he has time to take in without risking being a creepy staring weirdo. The ship catches his eye, though, and he wishes he could spend time watching it closely to take in all of the details. Instead, he finds himself paying attention to how small his hand looks in Harry’s, which is not helping his case at all. He pulls it away and takes a few steps back, trying to make it look casual.

“You know a lot about flowers, then?” Louis asks to fill in the silence, feeling silly for basically stating the obvious.

“I know a few things, yeah. My mum taught me everything, I would always help her with our garden when I was younger.”

“Do you know anything about purple flowers that smell like mint?” Louis asks before he can talk himself out of it. It’s just a question, Harry doesn’t have to know the reason behind it, Louis is making a fuss over nothing.

Harry lifts his eyebrows and nods quickly. “Gloxinias. They’re not flowers, you know. It’s an herb. I planted some over there,” he says, pointing over his shoulder. “I love them.”

“Did you also plant lilac?”

Harry smirks. “I didn’t have to, the trees were already there. All I had to do was trim them.”

Yes, definitely one of the maids who went and cut flowers straight out of their garden to give them to Louis. If his mother knew, she’d sack the poor girl.

“Oh, I see,” Louis says, shifting his weight between his feet. He casts his eyes around, trying to find something else to say. “What were you up to?”

Lifting his hat to run a hand through his hair before putting it back on his head, Harry smiles. “Trimming the shrubs. I’ve been at it all day. Your mother wants them to be perfectly round and it’s quite tricky to achieve.” He nods at a pile of branches on the ground, some of them carrying flowers. “It kind of breaks my heart to cut off the flowers, but I was given orders.”

Before he can think it through, Louis asks: “Can I help you with anything?”

“Absolutely. I need someone to tell me if I’m getting close to making them round. I keep having to go back and forth and my knees are killing me.”

“It mustn’t be easy being old,” Louis says, biting his lip as he waits to see if Harry will take it as a joke. He really hopes he will. He’d probably have to move out of the house if Harry didn’t.

“Hey, I’m only 25,” Harry says with a laugh.

Louis snorts. “Only 25.”

Harry rolls his eyes and shakes his head, adjusting his hat before crouching in front of one of the shrubs and picking up a pair of secateurs. “Whenever you’re ready to stop making fun of me, you’ll need to take a few steps back and tell me where I need to cut.”

Louis ends up spending the afternoon with Harry, helping him with the shrubs before following him around as he completes a few other tasks, holding his tools for him or running back inside to get them both tall glasses of (spiked) lemonade. Hours later, as he stands in front of his standing mirror, assessing the damages of having spent the day in the sun - freckles, thousands of freckles - he can’t hold back the dreamy sigh that escapes his lips when he thinks back to how easy the conversations with Harry had become after the initial awkwardness.

Changing into his pyjamas after applying a thick layer of after-sun lotion, Louis climbs into bed and sighs again, smiling up at his ceiling. He feels like he can still hear Harry’s laugh as if he were right there and it doesn’t take him a lot of efforts to conjure up the memory of his smile and how warm it made Louis feel. He lets his mind drift and it only takes a few seconds before Harry’s half naked body fills it.

He swallows dryly and runs his hand down his chest, his eyes fluttering shut as he imagines that it’s Harry’s large, callused one instead of his own. Slipping his hand inside his pants and wrapping it around his growing erection, Louis lets out a sigh and files away his guilt for later. The heady scent of the flowers hidden in his closet and the clean, fresh smell of cut grass drifting in from the open windows are almost overwhelming, the two of them permanently linked to Harry in his mind, and the images that go with them make him quicken and tighten his hand: Harry kissing him; Harry, laying him down on the ground and covering Louis’ body with his, slowly making love to him with the starry night sky blanketing them; Harry in his bed next to him, skin warm and golden against the white sheets, smiling before moving down to lie between Louis’ legs and take him in his mouth, his green eyes locked with his own; Harry naked and wanking, his muscular arm moving fast and Louis’ name on his lips when he comes; Harry—

Louis comes with a gasp and it takes about three seconds for his guilt and shame to catch up with him. He wipes his hand on his sheets and rolls around to hide his face in his pillow, groaning. He wanked to thoughts of an almost complete stranger having sex with him. A stranger who is six years older than he is and his employee. He’s a terrible person.


Small blue flowers surrounded by what looks like a cloud of foliage are what Louis wakes up to the next day. That, and his stepfather’s foul mood greeting him when he enters the kitchen, refuelling their never-ending fight over Louis’ future before his breakfast has popped out of the toaster oven. Louis downs his cup of tea and stuffs his face with half-buttered toasts as he listens to his mother’s husband explain every way in which Louis is a failure, only shutting up when Louis walks out on in mid-sentence to escape to the backyard, tears stinging his eyes.

He has to congratulate himself for not crying in front of him. He will at least give himself that. He won’t let that man see that he’s getting to him, not if he can help it. Wiping at his eyes furiously, Louis wanders around the yard, not quite ready to admit that he’s searching for Harry. It’s not like he doesn’t know that he’s shit at school and has no ambition; he does. Acutely. There is nothing he knows better than that. He also knows that he’s nothing special, just one more ordinary guy with no future but the one his parents will buy him, never earning anything and having everything handed to him without having to work. He’s never known hunger or strife and yet he’s crying like some big baby because he’s being told the truth about his condition.

What does it say about him that the two father figures he’s ever had want nothing to do with him? His own father left before Louis could even walk and his substitute one despises him and always makes sure that Louis knows he’s not one of his own. He feels like an outsider in his own home and he can’t even be himself, can’t be honest with the ones he loves in fear that he will be thrown out, or worse disowned. And his mother does nothing, but he can’t blame her. She was dirt poor when Louis’ father abandoned them and he understands her for wanting to keep the security she founds with her husband. She has four other kids and two more on the way to think about, her useless older son who isn’t even there for more than half of the year matters very little. So what if he’s constantly fighting with her husband? He’ll be gone by October.

Angrily wiping at his eyes, Louis heads towards Harry when he sees him bent over a flowerbed, making sure to be noisy as he comes near so that Harry will notice him.

“Hey, you,” Harry says, squinting up at Louis with a smile. “Good morning.”

“Morning,” Louis says dully, forcing a smile. “Planting flowers, today?”

“Yeah. They’re called love-in-a-mist,” Harry replies, holding up a pot and showing Louis small blue flowers surrounded by a cloud of foliage. He bites his lip and says nothing about the bouquet of them in his room. “I love the name, it’s so romantic. It makes me think of, like, Wuthering Heights.”

Louis smiles in earnest, this time, nodding. “Yeah, it sort of does. Kind of makes you want your own Heathcliff.”

Harry winces. “No, no, you don’t want Heathcliff. Edgar’s better.”

With a surprised laugh, Louis shakes his head. “You’d choose Edgar Linton over Heathcliff?”

“Huh, yeah,” Harry replies, rolling his eyes. “I’ll choose financial stability over a cruel and abusive man anytime.”

“You mean you’d settle for boredom and no passion?”

“Heathcliff is a terrible person, I don’t understand why you’re defending him!” Harry says with a laugh.

“I’m just saying, at least he made Catherine feel things.”

“Terrible things, yeah.”

“Better terrible things than nothing at all.”

Harry nods pensively before laughing again. “Let’s agree to disagree, yeah?” Harry goes back to his work with a final wink at Louis.

Watching him for a moment, Louis thinks back on what his stepfather says – rather than say, deal with all of the emotions having a literary argument with his gardener made him feel – about how he’s useless and can’t do anything for himself. Where he’d felt sadness and despair earlier, he’s now filled with a burning rage to prove him wrong and show that wanker that he can do things. Important things, unexpected things, like… like planting flowers.

“Can I help?” Louis asks. “I’ll be shit, but I could try?” When Harry looks up at him with a surprised smile, Louis blushes. “If you don’t mind.”

“Of course, you can help.”

Louis watches Harry get up and he takes a step back so he’s not in his way. “I just hope I won’t kill them.” His words get caught in his throat when he sees that Harry has started unbuttoning his shirt and is taking it off, his skin tanned and smooth and right there.

“I really doubt you will.” Laying his shirt down on the ground, Harry kneels down once more. “You can kneel on my shirt so you don’t stain your trousers.”

Louis falls down on his knees gracelessly, keeping his eyes away from Harry. “I’ll stain your shirt.”

“Don’t worry, those are just my work clothes. They’re already ruined. So, the first thing you need is this,” he explains, holding up a small shovel. “It’s called a trowel. You’ll use it to dig a hole for the plant.”

Taking the tool in his hand, Louis studies it for a few seconds. “Okay, so I just… dig?” When Harry nods, Louis digs it in the ground, frowning to find it hard to break through. He pushes a bit more and takes out a couple of inches of dirt before smiling. “Done! What’s next?”

“It’s not deep enough, love,” Harry says, covering Louis’ hand with his own to guide him and making Louis’ heart skip a beat. “Move your hand like this, it’ll give you more strength. It’s pretty packed, it can be a bit hard.”

Harry is pressed up against his side, their shoulders touching as his large hand covers Louis’ over the trowel. He’s placed his other hand on Louis’ hip for balance as he leans forward to dig in the dirt and Louis is pretty sure that his brain has short-circuited as soon as Harry touched him and he’s now working on autopilot, letting Harry guide his movements. That’s not to mention his choice of words, talking about depth and hard and calling Louis love while he’s shirtless and glowing in the sun. It’s not fair.

“I don’t think I’m any good,” Louis says weakly, letting go of the trowel when Harry releases him.

“You’re learning, it’s alright. The next step is to get the flower from the pot and put it in the hole,” Harry explains, picking up the pot he was showing Louis earlier without moving away, staying close to Louis, his hand still on his waist.

Heat radiates off him and his smell, the usual mix of foliage and sunshine, is almost overwhelming, making Louis’ head spin. He turns his head to smile at Harry, only to find his face mere inches from his. Louis breathes in sharply, eyes widening and flicking down to Harry’s lips as he blushes. It feels like time is standing still, Louis’ world narrowed down to Harry’s body so close to his and every point where they’re touching: Harry’s hand on his waist, his forearm across the small of his back, their shoulders pressed together. Louis would only need to lean in an inch or two and he’d be kissing Harry. He swallows thickly at the thought and licks his lips.

Harry’s eyes flick down rapidly before he seems to wake up and blinks, shaking his head. “The flower. I was saying it goes in the hole. Like this.”

He lets go of Louis and gives him the plant, explaining to him how to cup his hand to hold it and its roots properly, before he watches as Louis carefully places it in the hole.

“I know the next part!” Louis says excitedly, too cheerful as he tries to sound casual. He covers the plant with dirt and presses down to level it with the rest of the flowerbed before wiping his hands on each other to shake off the dirt. “I did it!”

“Good job!” Harry says, sounding like a kindergarten teacher and frowning as soon as the words came out. “I mean, great, that’s awesome. I knew you could do it.” He pats Louis’ back and leaves his hand in place for a few seconds, making Louis shiver.

To keep himself busy and avoid doing something embarrassing under Harry’s attention, Louis takes out his mobile from his pocket and snaps a picture of the flower, sending it to his friends. “I don’t think anyone will believe that I gardened if I don’t send them a picture as proof.”

“Do you want a picture of you next to it?”

“No, no, I look awful right now. I’m covered in dirt, not to mention my puffy, red eyes.”

Harry shrugs. “You’re still cute. Do you want to plant another one?”

Louis blushes and feels like his insides have collapsed in on themselves, like in those videos of buildings being dynamited. Harry thinks he’s cute.

“You’re only saying that so I won’t cry again.” Getting up awkwardly and wiping his trousers, Louis hesitates. “I should get back in, I told the twins I’d teach them how to braid their hair. Thank you for… for being there.”

Harry gets up again, wiping his dirty hands on his slightly less dirty jeans. “Anytime. You know where to find me.” He seems to hesitate for a moment, placing his hand on Louis’ shoulder and staying motionless for a second before squeezing it comfortingly and dropping his hand.

“T-thanks,” Louis stammers out, flushing even more. “Good luck with the flowers.”

Turning on his heels before he can make a fool of himself, Louis hurries back to the house, feeling like an entire rookery has moved to his stomach.


Colourful flowers with markings in their centre that almost look like a grumpy face and a day spent with Harry learning how to use their lawn tractor. Red, pink and orange flowers that look like they were made by tightly coiled silk paper and planting more flowers with Harry. A bouquet of red and yellow tulips. Purple flowers with long, thin petals and following Harry around all day pushing a wheelbarrow filled with gardening tools he learns to identify by sun fall. By the eight day, Louis’ room smells like a funeral home and he can’t enter his closet without knocking over a vase.

And then on the ninth day: nothing. No flowers on his desk when he wakes up. Louis rubs his eyes and blinks against sleep before looking at his empty desk again. It can’t be. For eight days straight, there had been flowers waiting for him on his desk. He feels cheated that there are none because he’d grown used to finding them there. It was quite flattering to know that someone liked him enough to send him flowers even if they ended up hidden in his closet. He felt important, but clearly, he messed that up, too. Another good thing in his life that he’s managed to fuck up.

Listlessly, he gets out of bed and drags his feet to his closet, opening it. The flowers are all there, sitting pretty in their vases, the earliest ones already wilting and losing their petals. It’s a sight as pitiful as he feels so he shuts the door and goes over to his windows to pull back the curtains, only to find that it’s raining outside. It means no Harry and an entire day of endless boredom. He should probably just go back to bed. He doesn’t, though, because if his stepfather finds him in bed after ten, he’ll have a fit and it’ll trigger round seven of the Law School Fight so, instead, Louis gets dressed and makes his way downstairs, slumping on the living room couch and reaching for the television remote.

Half an hour later he’s watching a movie he missed the beginning of, something about a florist and a newlywed bride who fall in love and there’s that terrifying lady from Game of Thrones in it so Louis keeps watching, feeling deliciously seditious for listening to a movie about lesbians under his stepfather’s roof.

His rebellious attitude comes to a screeching halt when the florist explains that the lily she just gave to the other girl means ‘I dare you to love me’. He feels the blood drain from his face and he sits up straight on the couch, the movie completely forgotten. Flowers have meanings. Of course, flowers have meanings, why wouldn’t they? If people have birthstones and some believe that the alignment of the stars can predict your future, why wouldn’t others attribute meanings to flowers? It’s some kind of new age nonsense he’s always scoffed at, but just because he’s a pretentious little shit doesn’t mean that people don’t believe in that stuff.

Running back upstairs for his mobile, Louis dials Perrie’s number, pacing back and forth nervously while he waits for her to pick up.

“Pez!” he shouts when she answers. “Flowers have meanings!”

“And?”

“And someone’s been putting flowers in my room every morning for the past week! Maybe she’s trying to tell me something!” He’s going in the right direction with this idea, he can feel it.

“She? What are you talking about, babe?”

“I think one of our maids is in love with me and she’s been putting flowers in my room every morning and now I think there might be a meaning behind them. Like a secret message,” he rambles, throwing open the door of his closet. “I can only recognize gloxinias, lilac, mimosas and tulips, though. Isn’t your mother into gardening? She probably has one of those flower books, hasn’t she?”

Perrie sighs. “I’m on my way.”

Louis thanks her profusely and then spends the twenty minutes it takes for her to come over moving the flowers out of his closet and into the middle of his room. He arranges them in the order he received them and tries to make the wilting ones look slightly perkier, only to end up with handfuls of petals. He leaves them alone and picks up his laptop to try and find a website that will give him the meanings.

Perrie grimaces as soon as she enters the room. “Oh, for fuck’s sake, it smells like a funeral home in here.” She opens the windows before dropping her bag on the bed and sitting next to Louis, who closes the lid of his laptop and turns his excited grin to her. “You look like a maniac.”

He ignores her comment. “Did you bring the book?”

“Yes, I did.” She pulls it out of her handbag and lays it down on the bed, the thick volume dipping the mattress. “I can’t believe you hid this from me for an entire week!” Louis expects the question that comes, Perrie not missing a beat in asking it: “Do you think Harry might be the one sending you the flowers?”

“No,” he says without hesitating.

“You asked?”

“I don’t need to. It’s obvious that he’s not.”

Perrie is silent for a moment, staring at him with a frown. He’s about to ask what she’s thinking about when she rolls her eyes. “Whatever you say, babe. So, flowers?”

It takes them an hour to find all of the flowers in the encyclopaedia. Perrie sifts through it while Louis writes down the name on a piece of paper that he places on the floor before the vases. Once they’ve identified all eight varieties, he stands before them with his hands on his hips. Outside, a storm is raging on, dimming the light and giving their activities a sort of moody Romantic atmosphere. Louis has to admit that he kind of fancies it and that a part of him almost wishes for a power shortage so that they may light candles.

“I feel like I’m in an Austen novel,” Perrie comments as she picks up Louis’ laptop, mirroring his thoughts. She moves from the bed to the plush armchair Louis keeps in his room, sitting sideways and draping her legs over the arm, her flip-flops dangling from her feet. “Alright, so what’s the first you got?”

“Gloxinia,” Louis replies, picking up the slip of paper to write down the meaning she’ll tell him.

“Alright, babe, here we go.” She reads what’s on the screen and bites back a smile. “Love at first sight.”

Louis clears his throat, feeling himself flushing as he writes it down. He moves to the next one in line. “Lilac?”

“First emotions of love.”

Louis writes it down. “Mimosa?”

“Secret love.”

“Love-in-a-mist?”

“You puzzle me.”

“Pansies?”

“You occupy my thoughts.” Perrie lets out a giggle. “Lou...”

“Shh, let’s keep going. Ranunculus?”

“I am dazzled by your charms.”

“Tulips?”

Perrie lowers the lid of the laptop to look at the bouquet. “You’ve got red and yellow in there. They mean...” She reads in silence for a moment. “Red is a declaration of love, yellow means ‘there’s sunshine in your smile’. Aw, babe, this is so sweet!”

“Keep going,” Louis insists, feeling more and more nervous for reasons he can’t quite comprehend. “Aster?”

“Daintiness or a symbol of love.”

Jotting it down quickly, Louis then sits on the edge of his bed, looking at the bouquets in a new way. “Fuck,” he breathes out.

Perrie looks up at him and begins smiling, only to stop abruptly when her eyes fall on something behind him. “What’s that?” she asks, nodding her head.

“What is what?” Louis turns around, expecting to see a spider on the wall or something like that, but the only thing she might be staring at is the pink rose Harry gave him when he found him crying. “Oh, that’s nothing. I got in a fight with my stepfather and Harry found me crying so he gave me that. He was probably going to throw it away and only did this to make me shut up,” he says in a monotone, reciting what he’s been telling himself for days to avoid getting his hopes high.

Perrie bites her lip and scrolls the webpage for a while before looking back up at Louis with a beaming smile. “Pink roses mean secret love.”

“But this pink rose means ‘oh shit, my employer’s son is slobbering all over the garden and he’s in my way, how can I get him to leave without getting sacked’,” Louis replies in an approximation of Harry’s slow, Northern drawl.

Perries slams the laptop shut. “Louis.”

“Perrie,” he replies in the same tone, rolling his eyes. He’s already annoyed by the conversation he knows he’s about to have before it even happened.

“Do you honestly think that a gardener with a bloody butterfly tattooed on his chest doesn’t know about flower meanings? Harry looks exactly like the kind of sloppy bohème hippie who’s into bollocks like flower meanings.”

“He’s not a sloppy bohème hippie!” Louis snaps, feeling personally insulted by what Perrie said. “He’s a free spirit.”

“Bloody hell, Lou.” Perrie sighs, running a hand through her hair. “Alright, I’ll make it obvious to you if you refuse to see it. When did you receive the first bouquet?”

“Nine days ago.”

Perrie puts the laptop down on the floor and comes back to the bed, climbing on it and sitting on her legs before reaching inside her bag for her mobile. She thumbs through it for a moment. “You texted me about fighting with the wanker ten days ago. And the next morning you got flowers talking about love at first sight.” She gives Louis a pointed look before continuing. “When did you start following him around all day?”

“The morning I got mimosas. I went out in the yard and he was cutting—” Louis stops mid-sentence, understanding hitting him like a freight train and knocking the breath out of him. “He was cutting mimosas, said he’d been at it all day.”

“And you say you didn’t get any this morning?” When Louis only shakes his head, Perrie laughs. “Guess who isn’t working because of the rain.”

It was Harry. It’s been Harry from the start and Louis was too much of a stupid wanker to realise. Harry’s been telling him he loves him through carefully picked flowers for a week and Louis’ been hanging out with him as if nothing was happening while the fittest, nicest, most amazing person he’s ever met was sending him morning after morning declarations of love. And he thought it was one of the maids! It was Harry. Harry. Harry the Fit Gardener who walks around shirtless with a smile like he’s the reason the sun rises every morning and Louis’ been too busy being oblivious to notice. He could have been snogging Harry for the past week.

The thought makes him blush and he falls backwards on his bed, lying with his arms in a cross. “What do I do, now?”

“Tomorrow morning, you’re going to go find him and tell him you’re a bloody moron, but that now you’ve seen the light and want to marry him and have his babies.”

Louis kicks in the general direction of Perrie, smiling when he hears her let out a shout of protest. “You really think it’s him?”

Perrie pushes him off the bed with a groan.


It rains the next morning, and the one after that. On the third rainy morning and the three more that come after it, Louis changes his morning routine to include a solid minute of cursing at the heavens for getting in the way of potential snogging time. Something might actually be about to happen to him and he’s confined in his home and kept away from the man he’s been pining over by the bloody English weather. The only thing that brightens his day, if only slightly, is the text he gets from Zayn, his college roommate turned best mate, telling him he’s back from his faux Dilettante trip around America due to a broken down van and a newly discovered and profound distaste for Americans. The text offers to have tea in two days and Louis hopes he’ll have managed to at least find out what it’s like to kiss someone sober before he sees Zayn, if only because Zayn will probably have wild stories of making out next to the Grand Canyon with a stripper with a heart of gold he picked up in Las Vegas.

It turns out that it does not happen because it just keeps on fucking raining and when he sits down for tea with Zayn in the conservatory, he’s still story-less outside of ‘so there’s this bloke who’s been giving me flowers’. He feels like shit, to be honest, and the constant rain isn’t helping his mood, running down the windowpanes of the conservatory in sheets, making Louis feel like he’s in an aquarium. The air hangs heavy with humidity, making his joints ache and the hair at the nape of his neck curl.

“So,” Louis says, stirring his tea before placing the spoon back on the saucer, blowing on the tea before taking a small sip. “Any wild stories to share?”

Zayn scoffs, leaning back in his cushioned wicker chair. His perfectly coiffed quiff and his designer leather jacket, the way he looks up at the glass ceiling and sighs and the attention he’s putting into looking like a tragic Romantic hero makes Louis excited for what he’s about to hear. If Zayn appears to be channelling the spirit of Châteaubriand, Louis is in for a fantastic time.

“Not really,” he finally says mournfully, looking back at Louis. He’s artfully unshaven, looking rugged and mysterious, and Louis’ oldest sister walked into a doorway when she saw him. It’d be annoying if it weren’t Zayn, whom Louis knows carefully calculates everything he does to achieve this careless look.

“Whatever happened, it was definitely more fun than my life since the end of the term. Tell me,” Louis prompts him, knowing Zayn well enough to know that he’ll hear the story even without prying, but that Zayn enjoys the attention and is more prone to give details if he’s guaranteed an enthralled audience.

“Our van broke down in Colorado.” Louis smiles, trying to look like he knows where Colorado is, or what kind of reaction Colorado should get out of him. Zayn continues without paying attention to Louis. “And not in the cool part of Colorado, but, like, in a national forest. We’d been driving for a week and then we were forced to stop, a hundred kilometres outside of Denver, in the middle of the night.” Zayn opens his eyes wide for emphasis. “We huddled up in the back of the van while Liam waited outside to stop someone so they could call for help because none of us had mobiles.”

“Country Club Liam?” Louis asks, surprised.

“Yeah, yeah. We were hooking up when I was planning that trip, so I was kind of forced to invite him.”

“You hooked up with Country Club Liam?! No, wait, more importantly, you invited him, but not me?!” Louis squawks, offended.

“You hate Kerouac,” Zayn replies in a tone that tells Louis just how annoyed he is that he has to answer.

“Yeah, so?”

“The plan was to reproduce Sal’s itinerary in On The Road, you know, a sort of pilgrimage in the steps of the Beat generation,” Zayn mumbles into his tea. “In one of those Westfalia vans.”

Louis blinks at him a few times, torn between amusement, exasperation, and indignation. He goes for the former because he really does want to hear the rest of the story and the other two options would chase Zayn out of the house. “You’re a bloody pretentious wanker.”

Zayn smiles, rolling his eyes. “So, we’re all piled up in the back of the van and there’s no place for all of us, right? Because we were supposed to take turns driving. But now we’ve got to all be there together, except for Liam, who’s out in the dark waiting for a kind American to stop and offer assistance.”

“Nice oxymoron,” Louis says with a snort and Zayn nods with emphasis.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought, too, but then this—this man, this like...” Zayn narrows his eyes for a second, looking for the right words. “Imagine a stereotypical Canadian.”

Louis smirks. “Got it.”

“Make him the size of a grizzly bear and you’ve got the man who stopped. And do you know how I know how big a grizzly bear is?” Zayn doesn’t wait for Louis’ answer. “Because he took us to his house and he had a stuffed one in his living room. One that he’d killed himself.”

“You went to the home of a stranger in the middle of the night? Didn’t your mother teach you anything?” Louis shakes his head. “You’re the son of a bloody ambassador, Zayn, you’re worth millions in ransom.”

“We were desperate.” Zayn takes a sip of tea and from the way his posture changes, his shoulders tensing up and his face lighting up, Louis knows he’s about to get to the most interesting part of his story. “So it was me, Country Club Liam, one other bloke from uni and then those three girls, all crammed into that man’s van, and he turns on the CD player and there’s a musical playing. That one you love, with the witches and stuff.”

Wicked?”

“Yeah, that one. He drives us to his cabin in the woods—”

“For fuck’s sake, Zayn.”

Zayn raises his hand to shush Louis. “The girls all go up to one of the bedrooms and we hear them moving a dresser in front of the door. Can’t blame them. So it’s just us blokes downstairs and the man asks us about our story, you know, how we got there and stuff, and he brings out a bottle of bourbon.”

“Zayn...”

“And we started drinking and just, you know, just shooting the shit and then at some point I was sitting in Liam’s lap and—”

Zayn.”

“We were just snogging at that point! But then it got out of hand and, like, more serious, and—”

“Holy shit, Zayn, don’t tell me you had a gay orgy with a lumberjack and Country Club Liam.”

Zayn shrugs. “What if I did?”

Louis leans back in his chair, chuckling around a sip of tea, shaking his head. He knew, from the moment he met Zayn by walking into his dorm and seeing who was probably the most beautiful man he had ever seen outside of a magazine standing on his bare mattress to hang a The Dark Knight Rises poster that he wouldn’t be bored with him. When it turned out that Zayn was as much into snogging people at parties than he was comic books, Louis’ life got just that much more complicated and not in an interesting, ‘hooking up with his roommate’ kind of way; it got stuck at an awkward five minutes of snogging at a party before their room turned into Zayn’s love shack and Louis more than once found himself having to wait outside of his own room before he could go to bed. He was the first to offer they move into a flat with separate bedrooms.

“I can’t believe you. Like, the fact that you exist. I can’t believe it.”

Bristling, Zayn huffs. “Are you judging me?”

Louis raises a hand in atonement. “Not at all. I’m just—Zayn, you had an orgy in a cabin in the woods in the middle of Colorado, excuse me for being a bit startled.” Louis runs a hand through his hair. “Fuck, up until now I didn’t even know you were hooking up with Country Club Liam. We’re supposed to be best mates.”

Zayn shrugs. “Didn’t want you to judge me or whatever, I know you don’t like Count—Liam.”

“You still could have told me. Just like you could’ve told me about your trip. All I knew was that you were going to the United States.”

“Are you mad at me?”

Louis looks into Zayn’s worried eyes and softens. He would have turned down the offer, had Zayn made it. The prospect of living in a van with six other people is frankly appalling and Zayn is right: he doesn’t care about Beat writers and would have made everyone miserable. And, well. Had he gone abroad, he’d have never met Harry. Louis glances out the windows, sighing when he can’t see anything through the water covering them. He misses Harry probably more than he’s allowed.

“No, I’m not. No more secrets now, okay? Even if I have to imagine you shagging Country Club Liam.”

Zayn nods, finishing his tea and pouring himself another cup. He grabs a sandwich and leans back in his chair, the saucer balanced on the arm. “What about you? What have you been up to?”

No more secrets, Louis thinks, dreading the way Zayn will react when he finds out about Harry. Probably like Perrie did. He’s not looking forward to it. “Not much. There’s, hum, we’ve got a new gardener and he’s fit.”

Zayn stretches his leg to kick Louis’ shin. “And you invite me when it’s raining? You suck, mate.”

“You invited yourself!” Louis replies, laughing. “Besides, I’d rather keep him for myself,” he adds, hiding a smile in his cup of tea.

“Yeah? Have you made a move yet?”

Louis sighs, putting his saucer and cup back on the table to curl up in the chair, sitting on his legs. “Not exactly.” He launches into the story of the past weeks, beginning with the first time he saw Harry up until the moment he realised he inadvertently found himself in a Victorian courtship with a 25 years old gardener and how he’s now waiting for the weather to clear so he can—well, he isn’t sure what he’ll do. He tells Zayn as much and is relieved to see that Zayn takes this seriously.

Nibbling on another sandwich, Zayn stays quiet for a moment, lost in thoughts. “Have you considered giving him a flower as an answer? Since that’s his thing?”

Louis considers it, scratching at his thumbnail. “So what, I walk up to him, hand him the flower and then run away?” His tea’s going cold on the table, but he’s too nervous to drink it. Now that they’re talking about doing it, Louis realises that he probably does not have the courage to respond to Harry’s advances.

“It’d be best if you didn’t run away,” Zayn says with a chuckle. “He might want to kiss you after you do that. You don’t want to miss it.”

“But what if he doesn’t? He might change his mind.”

“Do we need to go have a look at the flowers again, Louis? Is that what you need to realise how much of a twat you’re being right now?”

Louis sighs, running his hands down his face. “I’m just worried because I really, really like him, alright? And I can’t believe it’s happening.”

Zayn softens, smiling kindly. “Don’t worry, you already know he likes you. If anything, he’s the one who should be worried sick over this. Should I look up which flower you should give him?”

Louis picks up his cup of tea and nods, feeling a knot form in his stomach when Zayn takes out his mobile and starts typing on it rapidly.


It rains for another two days, but on the third, Louis wakes up to sunlight pouring in through the curtains he forgot to shut the night before. His laptop is opened next to him, abandoned there after he fell asleep watching a movie. He stretches and yawns, stopping it all mid-movement when he sees a vase filled with red flowers on his desk. He lets out a giggle and jumps out of bed, picking up the encyclopaedia Perrie left him before sitting on his desk and leafing through it quickly until he recognizes the flowers as being carnations. Going back to his bed, he wakes up his laptop and clicks through his Internet favourites until he finds the right website and sees it:

Carnation (red): My heart aches for you.

He runs to a window and throws it open, peering outside and squinting against the bright morning sun in search of Harry. He places his hand over his brow to shield his eyes and looks around, his heart hammering in his chest and his fingers feeling numb from nerves. At last, he sees Harry, knelt in the wet grass and bent over a shrub, his back to Louis. Louis bites his lip and allows himself to stare for a few seconds before he shakes his head to snap out of it and hurries to shower.

He takes longer than usual to get ready, scrubbing his skin until it turns red and washing his hair twice. Picking his clothes takes close to an hour before he settles on a pair of red chinos and a white shirt with navy stripes. He slips on a pair of comfortable trainers and then gives himself a last glance in the mirror before going down for breakfast.

He barely eats; his nerves make him nauseous and after twenty minutes he gives up and runs back upstairs to his mother’s craft room, where he picks a piece of white cardboard and a length of red ribbon. He punches a hole in the corner of the cardboard and writes down ‘meet me in the gazebo for lunch? L.’ in his best hand using a golden pen.

Going back to his room, he carefully takes one of the carnations out of the vase and ties the card to the stem with the ribbon, making a bow as best as he can. He knew that growing up with four sisters would one day be useful; he’s better than he’s willing to admit at crafts. Then he’s out of his room again, running down the stairs and out of the house before he can be seen carrying a flower.

It’s only once he’s walking across the lawn towards Harry that he realises it might not be the best idea to give it to him himself. He’ll probably blush and stutter before running away, which is not the image he’s trying to project. He has to be cool and composed, not act like a scared teenager. Changing his trajectory, Louis heads for the shed where Harry leaves his bags, taking a detour to avoid being seen by him. He places the flower on Harry’s lunch bag carefully and then runs back out, hurrying back towards the house to get his keys and hop in his car. He has an hour before Harry stops for his lunch.

His first stop is Sainsbury’s to buy food for a picnic. He spends a few minutes in front of the grapes, debating whether there’s a possibility that they might feed them to each other, but the thought makes him blush and he scurries away, instead buying a tray of cupcakes for dessert. After that, he gets bread and cold cuts for sandwiches, grabbing a pack of sliced cheese and a pot of mustard before moving on to get them lemonade, hurrying when he sees that time is running out. Throwing his purchases in the trunk of his car, he then drives to a florist to pick up a bouquet Zayn had called to have prepared despite Louis’ protests.

He gets back home with fifteen minutes to spare, and he hurries to the gazebo to set everything up, sneaking a tablecloth, glasses and utensils out of the kitchen as he goes. He has to duck behind a thicket of shrubs to avoid being seen by Harry and it’s with a hammering heart that he begins setting up the gazebo for their picnic, laying out the table and placing the bouquet where Harry will sit before sitting on a chair and breathing out deeply.

Now, he only has to wait for Harry to get his message.

Louis is about to check the time on his mobile for the twentieth time in fifteen minutes when Harry knocks gently on one of the pillars of the gazebo. He’s holding the carnation and, although Louis can’t believe his eyes, smiling almost shyly. He appears to have changed out of his work clothes, wearing a thin white v-neck shirt and a pair of black skinny jeans instead of the faded plaid shirt and torn jeans Louis is used to see him in. He’s still wearing his hat, the curls sticking out from underneath looking soft and almost feathery in the sunlight.

“Hey, I got your message.” He sniffs the flower, looking at Louis through his eyelashes as he does.

Louis gets up and wipes his hands on his trousers, not quite sure of what he’s supposed to do next. He swallows, his throat painfully dry, and smiles. “I got yours.” Harry beams and it gives him courage, so he adds: “Even if it took me a week to understand.”

“More like two weeks,” Harry corrects him, walking up the two steps of the gazebo and delicately placing the carnation on the table. His eyes fall on the bouquet and he glances up at Louis. “For me?”

“Y-yeah. I hope you like them. You can—” Louis clears his throat. “You can sit.”

Staying up, Harry picks up the bouquet and frowns in concentration as he observes it. “Jonquils, red camellias, daffodils...” He pauses to give Louis a smile. “And red gloxinias.” He brings it closer to his face to smell it, closing his eyes for a moment. “They’re all love flowers, you know.”

Louis bites his lip. “I know.”

Harry finally sits down and Louis mirrors him, wiping his hands on his trousers once more. “You look lovely today, Louis.”

Flustered, Louis lets out a small laugh and rubs the back of his neck. “Thank you. Do you want lemonade? I bought, hum, stuff for sandwiches. And cupcakes,” Louis describes despite everything being laid out on the table for Harry to see.

“Great! My lunch today was six days old shepherd's pie that my flatmate made and I don’t have a microwave, so it would have been old, cold shepherd's pie.” Harry takes the glass of lemonade Louis offers him and drinks a small sip, smiling when he puts it down. “So, what made you understand what I was trying to tell you?”

“It rained and I didn’t get any flowers,” Louis replies. “And my friend Perrie. She’s the one who helped me with the... the meanings.”

“I should probably get flowers for Perrie to thank her, then. I really thought you’d understood when you asked about the mimosas, but then you started talking about something else and never brought it up again.”

Louis laughs self-consciously, busying himself with opening the bag of bread and taking out four slices for Harry and him. “I couldn’t even imagine that you might be the one sending them.”

Harry takes the offered slices and then uncaps the mustard, putting a thick layer on his bread. “Why not?” He licks mustard off the edge of his thumb, eyes on Louis, and Louis has to look away.

“Well, you’re—you’re you and I’m me, basically.”

“And?”

“And guys like you don’t flirt with guys like me. That’s not how it works,” Louis splutters out, laying slices of cold cut on his bread with shaking hands. He’s not even sure he’ll be able to eat, but the motions help him stay focused.

He nearly jumps out of his skin when Harry places his hand on his forearm. Harry squeezes his arm when he notices. “Hey, relax. You don’t have to be nervous, this isn’t a regular first date. You’ve already got me.”

Louis lets out a strangled laugh, shaking his head. “You’re not helping.” He puts a hand to his cheek, feeling it flushed underneath his palm.

Harry lets go of him and nods, going back to preparing his sandwich. “Alright, we’ll just talk. We’re used to that, aren’t we?”

With a nod, Louis gulps down his lemonade and pours himself another glass. “Yes, talking is fine. I like talking to you.”

“I like talking to you, too.” Louis lowers his eyes when he sees Harry’s beaming smile and takes his time cutting his sandwich into four triangles. “So, hum, where did you learn about what flowers mean?”

“My ex,” Harry replies after chewing a bite of sandwich. “He was into things like that, like the horoscope, you know, that kind of stuff. He taught me about it. He’d give me messages through them, like ‘you look lovely today’ or ‘sorry, I cheated on you again’.” Harry shrugs. “It was the best thing to use for you, because if it turned out you were the kind of person to be offended if someone from the house staff developed a crush on them, I’d be able to deny it, you know?”

Louis blinks, needing a few seconds to take in all of what Harry just said. “You’re really honest, aren’t you?”

Harry shrugs again. “Yeah. Being honest with your feelings is easier. It avoids a lot of messes. I knew I liked you from the moment I saw you pretending you hadn’t been staring at me by reading a child’s novel.”

“Fuck,” Louis breathes out, hiding his face in his hand. “I was hoping you’d forgotten about it.”

Harry lets out a laugh. “Nope. I didn’t forget. Don’t be embarrassed, I thought it was charming.”

“Can you—tell me more about yourself. We, hum, we always talk about gardening or my stepfather when we’re together, but I barely know you while you know everything there is to know about me.”

“I’d argue that I don’t, but alright.” Harry thinks for a moment. “My name’s Harry, I’m 25 years old, I grew up in a wee village in Cheshire before moving to London when I was 18. I’ve been working as a gardener over the summer for three years, now, and the rest of the year I pick up whatever temp job I can find to make ends meet. I share a lousy flat with an Irish bloke I met in a bar fight.” He pauses to sip on his lemonade. “That’s all there is to know, really.”

Louis nods. “You met your flatmate in a bar fight?”

Harry laughs. “Yeah. There were those two blokes bothering a group of girls and we both got up to defend them at the same time. After we were done, we got smashed together and I woke up on his couch. He offered me to move in the same day.”

“Did you—with him?”

“God, no!” Harry laughs again, shaking his head. “Niall’s extremely heterosexual.”

Louis nods again and takes a bite of his sandwich, pondering on the exciting world Harry seems to inhabit where people take on jobs they like rather than secure ones and where they go out into the world and move in with strangers they’ve met in a brawl. It’s a world where one’s sexual orientation doesn’t matter and isn’t something to hide. Harry is free and independent, doing his own thing while Louis sits alone in his bedroom and worries about everything. He wishes he had the courage to throw himself at the world like Harry does, but he knows he doesn’t have it in him. He’s scared of everything, even of a man who’s made it obvious that he likes him.

The saddest thing is that Louis wouldn’t even know what to do if he had the freedom Harry has. He goes through the motions of his life without ever stopping to wonder if he enjoys what he’s doing; realising he might not would be terrifying, to be honest. He’s in university because that was the thing to do, the intuitive next step to take, but he can’t say that he likes school or what he studies. He considered drama, but he knew that his stepfather would not have let him; the next best thing was literature, in a sort of self-sabotaging, masochistic way. With a literature degree, he’s made sure that he’ll never do any of the things his stepfather wants from him while at the same time making himself dependent of him. The thought makes him sick, but he wouldn’t know what else to do. He likes reading books because he’s always done it, but he wouldn’t be able to say what he likes or wants to do with his life.

“What about you?” Harry asks, pulling Louis out of his thoughts.

Louis clears his throat. “Hum, my name’s Louis, I’m 19 years old. I grew up in Yorkshire, until my mum married the wanker and we moved here. I go to university, where I study literature, and, huh, that’s it.”

“I don’t believe that this is all there is to you.”

Louis sighs. “My friends are the most interesting part of me.” When Harry lifts an eyebrow, Louis continues. “My two best friends are, respectively, in line for the throne and the son of a foreign ambassador.”

“Aren’t we all in line for the throne, though?”

Louis shakes his head. “Not like Perrie. She won’t tell me how close she really is, but, like, she was invited to the royal wedding.”

“The same Perrie who offered me lemonade?”

“That one. And Zayn, fuck, Zayn spent like, three weeks in America and he managed to have a gay orgy with a grizzly-bear-killing lumberjack and Country Club Liam.”

“Country Club Liam?” Harry asks, visibly amused.

Louis blushes. “Oh, he’s just this bloke from country club, I’ve like, always known him but we never spoke, but then we ended up in the same hall and Zayn hooked up with him,” Louis rambles, feeling childish for having a silly nickname for Liam. Adults like Harry don’t use nicknames like that. Adults like Harry also probably talk to people they’ve been seeing at least weekly for nearly 15 years.

“I didn’t even know people actually went to country clubs. I thought it was a movie thing. See? Your life is interesting. It’s fascinating to me. What does one do at a country club?”

With a shrug, Louis takes a sip of lemonade. “We play golf, mostly, and talk about trust funds and stock exchange.”

Harry gives him a smile. “You play golf?”

“Sadly, yeah. I ride horses, too, and I fence.” Louis picks at his sandwich, feeling the weight of Harry’s eyes on him. “Stop looking at me like that.”

“Like what?” Harry asks, his voice playful.

Louis glances up. “The way you are right now.”


“Like you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met? Why, am I going to make you blush?”

Louis lets out a giggle and covers his mouth with his hands, blushing. “You can’t say things like that!” he protests, his voice coming out in a squeak. “I’m trying to look cool and you’re ruining it.”

Harry pouts, reaching across the table to stroke Louis’ hand. “You don’t have to. Just relax and have fun.”

Louis inhales deeply and lets out a shaky exhale, forcing himself to hold Harry’s eyes. They look impossibly green in the sunlight and they’re looking at Louis with such fondness and tenderness that he feels himself blushing once more.

“I can’t stop blushing, it’s really annoying.”

“I think it’s adorable. I haven’t had this effect on a guy in such a long time.” Harry says with a bright smile. “But I know what you mean, I used to be like that, too.”

Louis scoffs. “I don’t believe you.”

“You should! There was a time when I was bashful. I wouldn’t lie to you about that.” Harry puts his hand over his heart, nodding emphatically. “So I know how hard it is for you right now, but I want you to know that you don’t have anything to worry about. Nothing you could do or say would make me run away, unless you told me you’re like a cannibal or something.” Harry leans forward. “You’re not, are you? Because I once went out on a date with this guy who was really into biting and it was just weird.”

Louis shakes his head, smiling and completely charmed by Harry’s attempt to calm him down. He lets out a sigh, resting his chin on his hand. “You should tell me more about this guy.”

Harry launches into the story, gesturing and talking with his hands, and Louis lets himself be lulled by Harry’s deep voice, listening to its timbre much more than he pays attention to the story. Despite his nerves and the vague nausea he’s been having since they sat down, Louis really enjoys his time with Harry. He’s charming and funny and he looks at Louis like he matters. It doesn’t happen often, people usually overlook him, and it leaves him reeling whenever he notices Harry doing it. It’s especially fascinating to see Harry becoming so animated; Louis had always imagined him as a dark and mysterious man who kept to himself and tended gardens, but it turns out that he’s closer to an excited puppy than the Harlequin novel hero Louis had imagined. And he really, really likes it.

“Louis?”

Louis blinks and sees that Harry is waving his hand in front of his face to try and get his attention. He smiles sheepishly. “I’m sorry, you were saying?”

“I was asking what one does with a literature degree.”

“Oh!” Louis purses his lips, feeling bad for having missed half of the conversation. How Harry went from talking about a past date to asking Louis about his future, he doesn’t understand. “Not much.”

“So do you know what you want to do when you graduate?” Harry opens the plastic box of the cupcakes, taking one out and licking icing off his fingers.

“Anything but become a lawyer.” Louis watches Harry bite into the cupcake, barely holding back a whine when icing gets on Harry’s nose and he tries to lick it off. “Are you always this ill-mannered during dates or are you doing this especially for me?”

Harry’s eyes widen and a slow smile stretches across his lips. “There you are. I was wondering when you’d stop being shy.”

Fighting the impulse to lower his eyes, Louis shakes his head. “I’m still shy, but your manners are too appalling to keep quiet.”

“You’ll have to teach me proper table etiquette.” Harry is smiling playfully, deliberately having terrible manners (or so Louis hopes): in the ten seconds Louis looks at him, he wipes his mouth with his arm and then rests his elbows on the table.

“Absolutely,” Louis replies, taking a cupcake for himself. “You’re in dire need of a lesson on manners. Your mother should be ashamed.” He has no idea where he’s finding the nerve to give Harry lip, but he’ll have plenty of time to be mortified about it later.

“What about tomorrow night? Are you free?”

Louis’ eyes widen. Another date with Harry in less than 48 hours; it’s too soon and not soon enough, it would seem, and he needs to remember to breathe because he isn’t sure he’s been doing it at all in the past minute.

“Hum, I think I am,” he replies, trying to sound like he isn’t sure. Cosmo says to not agree to dates right away because then you look desperate. “Can I let you know later?”

Harry frowns briefly, pursing his lips before smiling once more. “Sure, I’ll give you my number, just text me when you know. Preferably soon? I’ll need to go to Tesco, I’ll be cooking.”

Oh, Christ, Harry’s inviting him to his flat. Louis isn’t sure of the rules for that. Will he have to put out if they’re at his flat, especially since he’ll be buying all of the food? What’s the etiquette in terms of dating when you’re visiting the guy at his own place? They haven’t even kissed yet, he isn’t sure he should be going to Harry’s place, not if he doesn’t want to look like a floozy.

“I will,” Louis replies, his throat dry. He hands Harry his mobile and watches him type his name and number in, biting his lip at how small it looks in Harry’s big hands. Taking it back, Louis checks that everything is in order and chokes on air. “You put yourself in as ‘Harry the Fit Gardener’?!”

“Don’t think I didn’t overhear you and Perrie,” Harry replies with a smirk, getting up and grabbing his bouquet. “I have to go, but thanks again for the flowers, I love them.”

Louis stands up, too, and shoves his hands in his pockets, not knowing what to do next. Should they kiss? Everyone says not to kiss on the first date, but at the same time, he really, really wants to kiss Harry, so maybe he could? Harry probably wouldn’t mind, although he might dislike that Louis doesn’t know how to kiss, and fuck, Louis doesn’t know how to kiss, he can’t kiss Harry before he practiced, he’ll have to call Zayn or Perrie for help, shit.

Harry answers all of his questions by leaning down and pressing a kiss to Louis’ cheek, one hand on Louis’ shoulder. “I really hope you can make it tomorrow,” he says in a low voice, his breath tickling Louis’ ear and making the hair at the back of his neck stand up. Brushing his nose against Louis’ cheekbone, Harry leans back and smiles one last time before walking away. Louis collapses into his chair as soon as he’s disappeared behind a hedge and bursts out in a fit of nervous giggles, hiding his face against the table.

I just had lunch with Harry!!!!!! he starts typing to Perrie. He invited me for dinner at his place tomorrow. Do I go????

He leaves his mobile on the table as he starts cleaning up, and it buzzes less than thirty seconds later.

YES OMG GET IT LOU, Perrie replied, and Louis laughs when he reads it.

But what if he wants to have sex?

Louis waits until he’s back in the house, the picnic supplies safely stored back where they belong, to open Perrie’s reply.

Do you not want him to take you in a manly fashion over a table?

Louis blushes and runs up to his room, shutting the door and slumping in his armchair.

We haven’t even kissed yet D:, he replies. What if I suck?

Perrie’s reply is instantaneous: I’m not helping you practice. Call Zayn.

But I really should go to his place? What if he’s an axe murderer?

He probably doesn’t keep an axe in a London flat. But there’s one in your shed and you’re still alive. Do the maths.

Louis chuckles. But I suck at maths.

GO TO THE BLOODY DATE TOMLINSON.

Sighing nervously, Louis nods to his mobile and opens a text message to Harry, staring at the blinking cursor without any idea what to write. Whenever he starts typing ‘Hey!’ or ‘Hi!’ he feels too casual, but without them it sounds rude, and he won’t even start on what to say next, he has no idea. After fifteen minutes of slight panic and heart palpitations, he settles for something simple: ‘It’s on’ with a smiley face. Harry looks like the kind of guy who likes smiley faces.

So Louis types: It’s on ;) quickly before he changes his mind and realises just as he’s pressing send that he pressed the semicolon instead of the colon and now he’s flirting with Harry. With a yelp, he locks his mobile and places it on the end table next to him, staring at it like it might catch fire.

His mobile buzzes a minute later, the screen lighting up, and he sees that it’s from ‘Harry the Fit Gardener’. Picking it up with shaking hands, Louis unlocks it.

Yay! Can’t wait to see you! :D <3

Louis stares at the message, his breath stuck in his throat. Harry sent him a heart. Louis feels like his brain is screaming because Harry sent him a heart. He takes a screenshot of the message and sends it to Perrie with a dozen exclamation marks, before replying to Harry on a whim.

Shouldn’t you be working right now?

While Louis reads Perrie’s reply (just as many exclamation marks), Harry replies.

What are you, my boss? Wait.

Bursting into giggles, Louis puts his hand over his mouth, typing his reply with one hand.

Not your boss, his hated stepson.

Louis walks over to the window to see where Harry is. Finding him by the fountain, Louis rests his elbows on the windowsill and watches him, biting his lip against a grin when he sees Harry wipes his hands on his trousers before slipping his mobile out of his pocket. He’s too far for Louis to see how he reacts to the message, but seconds later, his mobile buzzes in his pocket.

Should I call you Cinderella?

Dialing Harry’s number before he can think about it twice, Louis bites his lip nervously until Harry picks up. “Go back to work!” he says quickly before hanging up, watching Harry closely to see his reaction.

He stares at his mobile and laughs before typing on it and putting it away. His reply makes Louis’ heart melt.

You can stop me talking to you, but you can’t stop me thinking about you.

With a barely contained shriek, Louis starts planning his outfit for his date, feeling like he’s floating on cloud nine.


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