Harry groaned as he felt beads of sweat drip down his neck. He wiped it away, letting an irritated sigh escape from his lips. He hadn't even gotten off of the landed plane and already he was annoyed.
Not that he hadn't been before, but this variable just escalated that fact.
His mother, Anne, tapped his knee lightly, pointing out the window, "Look outside, Harry."
He leaned over his mother towards the window and looked out, inwardly groaning at what he saw.
Green. Too much green. And way too many open fields. He knew what countryside looked like, but this was just…way too much to live in. He huffed back into his seat and his mother patted his knee again,
"Don't look so down. This will be fun. It's only for a summer."
Harry rolled his eyes and his mother leaned down, whispering sternly in his ear, "Stop pouting. You got yourself into this. We're in a beautiful town—make the most of it."
The plane finally stopped and Anne stood up, grabbing her carry on that was sitting in front of her seat and exiting the row, before Harry even had a chance to stand up.
Harry watched his mother exit the plane swiftly, and Harry, not really wanting to start this "vacation" he was being forced on, took his time gathering his belongings and exiting the plane.
The second his feet hit the pavement and he sucked in a breath of air, he felt his lungs give out almost instantly. He coughed as the humidity and dry air swept over him, and he had to cough multiple times to try and regain his breath back.
He narrowed his eyes at his mother, who was waving over a taxi to come and pick them up. After all, it was her fault they were even in this mess in the first place.
Well, granted, he was technically the one who started the fist fight in the bar. And yes, one could say that he made the record label look like fools for even signing a 4 year contract with him (or so Simon, his manager, says). But in the end, it was his mother who thought this trip would be "good for him" and that he needed to "get away from the paparazzi and spend some time with his family."
And all Harry had to say to that was "bullshit."
He loved the fame he had back home. Being the youngest contestant to ever win the X Factor definitely had its perks. Not only was he doing what he loved to do, but he was making a ton of money, and he always had a gorgeous man or woman at his side, accompanying him to parties and clubs. It was the greatest life any person could live.
Yet, here he was, standing in front of the small, Franklin County Airport, watching his mother try to talk to the taxi driver, giving him directions to their destination, which was what Harry actually feared the most.
Not only was in the United States, away from everything he knew and loved, but he was also in the state of Tennessee, where people rode on tractors and horses and everyone had southern drawls that were almost impossible to understand.
Harry had loved it when he was 10 years old, but now—8 years later—he really just wanted to get the hell out of here and go back home.
"Harry! Come on dear! We are going to be late if we don't get moving."
Harry stalked over to the taxi and slid into the back seat, his mother taking the respective seat in the front.
"Hi! I'm Mark, and where did y'all say you were going to this fine afternoon?" The taxi driver, with a terribly thick accent, spoke with such enthusiasm that it almost irritated Harry, but his mother spoke for the two of them,
"Palmer, please?" She asked.
The taxi driver started the engine, "In Grundy County?"
"That's right!" Anne said.
"Perfect! That's where I'm from!" Mark gave her a toothy grin and rolled out of the airport. The airport wasn't far from where the two were going, so the taxi driver tried to make small talk,
"So where did y'all say you were from? I know you're from somewhere 'cause of your accents!"
Anne smiled attentively and nodded, "We are from London."
Mark leaned his head back in understanding, "Ah, so you're the distant cousins of the Horan's?"
Harry looked up instantly, slight worry in his voice as he spoke, "How'd you know?" To say Harry was nervous was a clear understatement.
All of Harry's family in the United States knew he won the X Factor the past season—but they had all been sworn to secrecy. Should the time come where he would need an escape, it was arranged that he would have the States as that route, and he knew he wouldn't be bothered.
Since the UK X Factor was highly overcast by the US X Factor, and considering the town of Palmer only held 700 occupants, Harry was sure his secret would remain just that, as he was positive no one would even know his name.
But now? Now he was worried.
"Palmer only has 700 people in it," Mark said simply, "You'll come to find that word travels fast in a small town. Plus," Mark added, "Bobby Horan owns the town hardware store—that's where I buy all my guns."
"G—guns?" Harry stammered.
"Yeah, you know—for huntin'." Mark said with a chuckle.
At this Harry relaxed, "Oh right, hunting." He lowered into his seat, making sure to pull his aviators over his eyes.
Mark continued to drive and talk to Harry and Anne, his welcome words and bubbly personality making the car ride enjoyable…at least for Anne. Harry had to admit, for a taxi driver in such a secluded town, he sure had a positive outlook on life. He continued to talk endlessly on how the town was full of great, wonderful people who would welcome the two with open arms. He spoke of everyone's hospitality, and Harry never saw Mark's smile falter or the glisten in his eyes die down as he gushed about his friends and neighbors.
Harry gazed out the window, shaking his head in amazement.
Mark was the kind of person you didn't see walking down the London streets.
To Harry, this was oddly refreshing.
"Say kid," Mark said after a while of his chatter, "What's with those sunglasses? You look like one of those famous people we all see on those T.V. specials."
Harry stunned again, and Anne took notice, "Oh, I just got those for him. They're nice, aren't they?"
Anne gave Harry a reassuring smile but Mark shrugged, waving his hand in the air as he made a final turn onto the dirt road where his cousins lived, "I guess. Though, if you're plan was to get around unnoticed, you won't have much luck wearing those."
It was 15 minutes later when Mark parked in front of the small, two story country home he would be staying in for the next few months.
Harry heard his mother squeal with excitement as they both waved Mark goodbye. Just as they turned around to face the house, a short, very blonde woman came running out of the front door, her apron on and a huge, infectious smile plastered on her face,
"Anne!" She cried as she bounded the front wooden steps of her home. She opened her arms and Anne laughed, hugging the woman and continuing to laugh as the woman joined her.
Once they broke apart, Anne smiled windily at Harry,
"Harry, this is my cousin Maura. You remember her, don't you?"
Maura Horan looked up at Harry and smiled at him, and he couldn't help but take in her high energy as he grinned back.
"'Course I do. Hello Maura." He said.
"Oh, enough with this 'hello' nonsense" She exclaimed happily, "I've known you since you were 'bout the size of a dwindling stack of hay! I changed your diapers and watched you and Niall fight over horse races! Come here and give me some love!" She opened her arms and crushed Harry in a hug, which caught him off guard. But the energy and sincerity that was radiating off of her was so overwhelming, Harry was starting to feel a bit of it himself. He hugged her back, and it was when they parted that he remembered the other person she had mentioned.
"Oh yes! My son! You must remember him," She turned to Anne, "Oh I remember the days when they were inseparable."
"So do I." Anne agreed, smiling at her.
"Let me just call for him—Niall! NIALL! Get down 'ere and say hello to your cousins!"
A few moments later, Harry caught sight of a tall boy with hair that matched his mothers making his way down the wooden steps. Harry had to smile at the traditional southerners outfit he wore—A short sleeved plaid shirt, overalls and boots.
Niall walked down the path and stood next to Maura, his grin identical to hers. He first took to Anne, who smiled at him,
"Anne!" He enveloped her in a hug and she, also taken by surprise, patted him on the back and laughed,
"Hey Niall! How have you been?"
"Been doin' good." He said, "School's just let out so I've been working at the farmer's market."
Anne let out a polite, "Oh," and Niall brought his attention to Harry. Harry's green eyes met Niall's blue ones, and Harry had never seen such a spark in anyone like he saw in Niall.
It was a bit unsettling. Even after being reacquainted with his mother.
"Harry! You—I—I can't believe you're back! It's been what? Almost eight years! That's insane! I'm so glad you're here!" Harry opened his mouth to speak, and at least try and fake some sort of happiness, if not for his mother's sake than for Niall's—because it was almost impossible to be any type of mean or rude to the boy. In just 45 seconds of speaking with him, Harry knew there was no way he could have a sincere, true disliking for his cousin.
Niall grabbed him in a hug before he was able to say anything, and Harry had to laugh at his enthusiasm, patting him on the back and returning the hug.
Niall pulled away and tugged on the straps of his overalls, grinning slightly as he looked down at Harry's luggage,
"Did y'all need help carryin' your stuff in?" He made way to grab Harry's large suitcase, and Harry began to protest,
"Oh, no, you don't have to do that! I can—"
"Oh naw. It's okay! I got it!" And Harry watched in amazement as Niall, whose arms seemed as though they couldn't carry the mail to and from the box, lifted up his suitcase with ease and walked it up the steps and into the house. Harry glanced at his mother and Maura, who simply shrugged,
"He looks like a twig, but he's sure got the muscles of a jockey."
Anne nodded in understanding but Harry looked at her confused, "A jockey?"
"You know—a person who race horses."
"Oh." Harry said dumbly.
"Oh yes! The annual derby is happenin' round these parts in a weeks' time! Well surely you remember, Harry? You and Niall loved them when y'all came 'round for the summer!" Maura said, clapping her hands together.
Harry only shrugged in response but Maura continued, "Oh, well, this year we have a real good shot of getting one of our own jockey's up to McMinnville for their derby in a few months!"
Harry nodded along with his mother, but inwardly rolled his eyes. So that was the big thing they did here in Palmer? Horses? Racing?
Sure, Harry may have liked watching the races as a kid, but that was years ago. Now it was taking a lot of energy to not roll his eyes at Maura's excitement for it.
"Who is he?" Anne asked Maura, now ushering Harry to follow her and Maura into the house. Harry made to grab Anne's suitcase and trudged it up the wooden steps, making sure to drop it at the side of the doorway to grab later.
As he followed Anne and Maura into the house, Harry took note of the interior—small, country, yellow walls, and wooden floors. Harry had to admit-with all of the knickknacks and paintings of fields and just the feeling he had—the house was extremely homey. A sense of familiarity soared through him, and suddenly, all of the happy memories of him and Niall running rampant around the familiar house filled him up with a sense of amazement.
But he wouldn't let his mother know that.
Harry walked into the kitchen just as Maura sat down at the small kitchen table, throwing a pitcher of iced tea in the middle of the table and offering Harry and Anne cups,
"His name is Louis Tomlinson."
"Who?" Harry asked, thanking Maura as she poured him a cup of iced tea.
"That jockey I was talkin' bout earlier." Maura said.
"Oh." Harry said absent mindedly, stirring his tea with his straw.
"And what makes you think he's so good?" Anne asked, taking a sip.
Maura smirked, "You just have to watch him. He's so graceful on his horse. He's been riding ever since he was a little boy. But he's only just moved here a few years ago."
"How interesting." Anne said, sincerely.
"Sure is," Maura returned, "But what's even more interesting is—and you didn't hear this from me—but that boy shouldn't even be in this town."
This got Harry's attention and he perked up, leaning into the conversation, "Why's that?"
Maura, clearly excited about Harry's interest, leaned into the table too, as if she were telling a big 'ol secret, "Well, you see, Louis caused quite a scandal last season. Had the whole town in an uproar."
"What did he did he do?" Harry asked with an eyebrow raised in anticipation.
Maura took a sip of her iced tea and gave Harry a look, then shifted her eyes to Anne, "I don't know if this appropriate for children."
Anne gave a knowing look to Harry and smiled at Maura, "I think he can handle it." She said reassuringly, and Harry could tell in her tone of voice that she knew Harry could pretty much handle anything—given his lifestyle back in London.
Maura sighed and looked back into the living room, making sure Niall wasn't walking down, it seemed like,
"Good. Niall's heard the story but it makes him slightly uncomfortable. I can understand, and I'm sure it's make you wary too, Harry."
Maura sighed, but vindictively, as if she had been dying to tell them Palmer's biggest gossip story, "Louis was caught kissing the Mayor's son."
Anne and Harry both gave her confused looks and Anne spoke, after a few moments of silence, "Is…is that a bad thing?"
Maura looked at her, shocked, "Don't you know who the Mayor is?"
Anne shook her head and Harry listened, "Donnie Carson is a very conservative man," Maura began, "He's got this town runnin' in strict lines. So how do you think he felt on the fact that Sam was not interested in the woman he had been set on him marrying? And instead, he was interested in boys?"
"I'm thinking it didn't go very well," Anne returned shooting a worrisome glance to Harry.
"You bet your bottom dollar. It was a commotion in the town square, and there was even a fight between Donnie and Louis in the farmer's market!"
"Oh my." Anne said.
"Oh my indeed." Maura returned. "Well, long story short, Donnie shipped Sam off to college in some New England state, and Louis stayed here."
Harry hummed and took another sip, "But why would Donnie make Sam leave? Why not Louis? That's his son, isn't it?"
Maura sighed sympathetically, "Donnie wants to make a name for this small town. And Louis is his only chance to do that. If he makes it to the derby in McMinnville, that'll boost our reputation. Sam, bless his heart, had nothing going for him 'cept his grades. Sam didn't have any way of making a name for himself here. So he left."
"That sucks." Harry said to himself.
"You bet. And poor Louis—now, I have nothing wrong with the gays, mind you—but the poor boy. He just sits 'round town, reading books on horses and jockeys. When he's not in school, he's with his trainer, or he's with his horse. Doesn't really have many friends besides that trainer of his—Liam, I think is his name. I tried getting Niall to have a go at the two but he's a bit intimidated."
Harry hummed to himself in agreement. He could see Niall being intimidated by someone with so much power in such a small town.
Harry lifted his head at the sound of boots pounding against the hard wood floor. Well speak of the devil.
Maura turned and grinned brightly when Niall returned from upstairs, "There you are, Niall. Where've you been?"
"Setting up Harry's room." He turned to Harry, "Come on, then. I'll show you the way."
Harry stood up and followed Niall, turning back and waving to the two women at the table.
The stairs creaked loudly as both boys walked up them, and once they reached the top platform, Niall spoke,
"So what were y'all talking about down there? My mom is such a gossip queen. Sorry 'bout that."
Harry shrugged, "It's not a problem. I'm used to it, you know." Harry said, giving Niall a knowing look.
Niall's eyes grew wide in understanding, "Oh that's right. You won that singing show, right?" He added as an afterthought, "Must be nice living the high life."
Harry shrugged again, not wanting to paint a picture of how perfect his life was to Niall, who would probably envy him in some sort of way. Niall continued,
"Yeah. Life here isn't too shabby, you get used to it the longer you stay."
"Wonderful." Harry muttered sarcastically.
"What was that?" Niall asked, opening the bedroom door adjacent to the platform and leading Harry inside.
"Nothin'." Harry said, taking a look around the small bedroom. It was standard, and quite possibly boring. But the way Harry saw it, he would only be using this room for sleeping—so quite frankly anything would do.
"Right," Niall said, "So this is your room. It's not much, but it's somethin'." Harry nodded in agreement and Niall muttered a quick goodbye, about to open the door when Harry stopped him, a question burning in his mind,
Harry cleared his throat, "Your mum…she was talking about Louis Tomlinson—"
Niall hummed in response and took a seat on Harry's bed. He looked up at him, "She always talks about that kid. I swear, she's obsessed."
Harry laughed slightly, "Right. Well, is it…is it true? What happened to him? With the Mayor's son?"
Niall nodded, "Sure is. Every word. I feel a bit bad for Sam, but he was heading off to college anyway. Louis is lucky he got to stay around. The Mayor is very…conservative. He don't believe in teen pregnancy or gay rights…or none of that."
Harry ran a hand through his hair and pulled a bit at the ends, letting out a groan. Niall caught this and gave him an inquisitive look, "What's the matter?"
Harry gave Niall a strained look, "You can't tell anyone what I'm about to tell you. My mum knows, yeah, but I'm telling you because you're family. And I'll be living with you for like, four months."
"Al'right, tell me."
Harry sucked in a deep breath, "I'm—I'm gay, Niall."
"Yeah, so?" Niall said nonchalantly, without missing a beat.
Harry raised an eyebrow, his nerves suddenly leaving him, "You—you don't care?"
"Not really. I mean, I do, 'course. You're my cousin." He reiterated, shaking his hands, "But I don't care that you like other men. That's your prerogative, not mine."
"Oh, well, thank god." He said, smiling easily now. He had been afraid to tell Niall this secret when he had first arrived, but after hearing the news about the Mayor and his views, the thought scared him even more. It was a small town—news traveled fast. And he didn't want to learn that the hard way. Harry continued, "It's just that your mom said you weren't comfortable with the talk of it—"
"My mom doesn't know jack shit 'bout me." Niall said, and his choice of words startled Harry, "To her," the blonde continued, "I will always be her good little boy. She refuses to see different."
"Well, you're lucky then." Harry confirmed.
Niall grinned, "Not when your curfew is still 10 PM."
Harry gave his cousin a sympathetic look, "Are you serious?"
"Sad, isn't it?"
Niall nodded and rolled his eyes when Maura called for him, "Niall! Get your butt down here and load up the pick up! You have to take this load to the farmer's market!"
Maura called out again, "And bring Harry with you! You need to get him a job!"
Harry gave Niall a startled look, "A job?"
Niall grinned, "Well yeah. What else are you going to do in this small town for four months? Watch the tumbleweeds roll by?"
Harry returned Niall's grin but rolled his eyes, lifting Niall up from the bed and following him out the door. Before they made their way down the stairs, Niall stopped him and whispered in a hushed tone,
"Look friend, you know I'm okay with your secret. But not everyone will be. This is a small town—as small as it gets. Word gets 'round fast. If I were you, I would keep that secret to the insides of this house. Don't go spreading it 'round. If it does, there is every chance in hell the Mayor will hear about it. And trust me, you don't want that. I've seen what he can do, and it ain't pretty. Ya hear?"
Harry found Niall's intense tone to be a bit off putting. While he appreciated Niall's concern, that same concern made him extremely nervous to even be in this town.
However, Harry nodded, which earned a smile from the blonde haired, blue eyed boy. He followed Niall down the stairs, a million thoughts running through his head.
By the time Harry and Niall had loaded the truck with the load and Niall turned on the engine, Harry was sure that the next few months were going to be the most interesting ones he's ever had.