Maybe Niall had the right idea about two-wheeled vehicles.
Parked in the area just around the bend, past the art store, the red moped looked so pristine and untouched, it could have been bought today, its sleek coating gleaming in the sunlight. Harry moves slightly to his left to avoid the glare. He can tell Louis takes very good care of it and he wishes he had the same patience to clean his guitar because the battle scars on the wooden surface are getting more noticeable by the day. He makes a mental reminder to clean it when he gets home.
"So, here she is," Louis says, extending a hand toward the vehicle, and he waits for Harry to start walking before ambling behind him. "The love of my life. Been through hell and back on this thing and she still looks brand new."
Harry nods and inspects it closer. The only other time he's ever seen a vehicle under four wheels this close was when he was about ten and his older cousin had taken him for a drive around the neighborhood on the new motorcycle he got for his birthday. It may have been because at that time, he was just a tiny runt and everything seemed bigger than they actually were, especially the motorcycle, but when he gets closer and closer, the moped seems to shrink with each step, and when Louis clambers up and sits himself into the black leather seat, he highly doubts it'll carry both of them at the same time.
"Don't worry," Louis says when he sees Harry eyeing the vehicle with furrowed brows, and Harry watches him secure the helmet on his head. "It's not as bad as it looks. I had to take Niall home after he got piss drunk at a party a few months back. It was his first time drinking and he threw up the entire ride."
Harry laughs and imagines Niall's face beet-red and puking everywhere, and after considering the amount of effort it must have taken to get him home, he sighs and slides the helmet around his head. It's snug but it fits, and after a very excited Louis moves forward a little to make room, he walks up and swings a leg over until he's seated comfortably in the space behind him.
"You're sure about this?" Harry asks, and Louis nods as he grips the handlebars to rev up the engine. The moped shakes and Harry instinctively grips Louis's waist in surprise. Louis jumps at the touch.
"You alright?" Louis asks, looking over his shoulder.
"Yeah, I'm just, erm, just a bit jumpy at this sort of stuff," Harry says with a chuckle, and he quickly peels his hands off Louis's waist, his face already turning red. Louis laughs and shifts in his seat, edging closer to Harry.
"It is quite bumpy at first, I admit," Louis says, and Harry feels his pulse quickening at their closeness, and he wishes that there's more room behind him to move back because he's afraid he might be a bit too close. Louis doesn't seem to mind, however, and he goes on, "but it gets better after a while, trust me. You just have to get the hang of the movement and all that but once you get past that point, it's all smooth sailing."
Harry nods but he's not quite sure he heard what Louis said. There's too many things going on at once—his heart's pounding out of his ears, Louis's backside is a needle's width from the front of Harry's pants, and he's trying to find a happy medium between moving up against Louis and falling backward from his seat behind him.
"Sorry if it's uncomfortable, how close I am," Louis apologizes, and Harry's relieved he brought it up. "But the closer you are to the edge of the seat, the more weight you put in the back when we turn a corner and the more likely we are to get into an accident."
Harry shakes his head and fidgets with his helmet so his hands are doing something. "No, it's fine, I get it. But, erm, where should I—"
"Anywhere you want," Louis cuts in with a shrug. "My shoulder or my waist is fine."
Before Harry can make a choice, Louis moves forward in his seat and motions with his head for Harry to follow. Harry gulps and shifts forward.
"Alright, hold on tight," Louis says, and with a rumble that shook Harry down to his toes, they move forward and Harry's hands immediately grab for Louis's waist, and soon, they're driving down the street, the wind whipping Harry's face and he's glad he had the helmet to hold his hair down.
"You said you lived just off Cheshire Street, right?" Louis asks loudly and Harry nods, unable to find his voice. He grips Louis's waist tighter as they turn a corner. His waist is slim and tight, and it feels like it might break in two if Harry applied even the slightest of pressure, but he can't seem to loosen his grip, and the more he tried, the harder they press down on Louis's skin.
"I'm going to go a little faster, okay?" Louis says, and Harry looks at him incredulously, wondering how much faster they can go, and when he feels the moped accelerating, it's like a hook is pulling at his stomach through his back, and he holds on tighter when he feels like he's going to fall backwards out of his seat.
"You're doing great!" Louis says, but Harry isn't assuaged, and with each passing second, it seems like they're going faster and faster, and it feels like he's been risking his life the entire day for a boy he's just barely met.
When Harry's grip gets too tight for comfort, Louis takes his as a cue to slow down before he crushes his bones to dust, which shouldn't be too hard for him considering how large his hands are. He dials it down and soon, Harry's hands are relaxing, and he takes a deep breath and asks, "You alright back there?"
"Still alive, I think," Harry replies shakily and Louis laughs.
"Have you ridden one of these before?"
"Not a moped, no," Harry says, the strength of his grip fluctuating as they hit a few bumps, "but my cousin took me for a drive on his motorcycle some years back. I can't really remember how it went but I never rode another one ever since."
Harry laughs. "No, not that I can remember. I guess I've just forgotten how it feels like is all."
"True. Still, it's pretty fun, right?"
"Sure, if you use the term 'fun' loosely," Harry jokes. Louis grins and Harry's hands tighten when they ride past a truck backing up to turn the bend.
"So, Cheshire Street, huh?" Louis says after finding the right speed to get Harry's mind at ease. "Ni used to go there a lot."
"Yeah, to visit his friend, he told me," Harry says, and Louis nods and wonders whatever did happen to Liam, with his shaggy brown hair and the birthmark on his neck. He knows Niall stopped seeing him after he left for uni but he's never spoken about him since. He figures they just lost touch and never reconnected, but he knows Niall still misses him. Niall's never had a large collection of friends growing up, only keeping those closest to him, and Louis knows that after him, Liam came a very close second. If he didn't know any better, he'd have thought they were seeing each other. Thinking about it though, he's never actually seen Niall attempt to have a relationship with anyone; if he wasn't working or studying, he'd be locked up in his room playing with Jess or digging up his guitar and playing a few songs before resigning on the sofa in front of the telly and sleeping there—
"Just moved to the flat this morning," Harry cuts through his thoughts and he kicks himself inwardly when he realizes he's missed his turn.
"Did you?" Louis asks, turning at the next stoplight instead to get back to the right path. "How do you like it here?"
"It's great. I got a bit lost going around at first, though. Didn't think I'd ever find my way back. Came across the café by pure accident."
"But that's good, at least you have somewhere to start with your career path and everything."
"Yeah, definitely. And thank you for taking me home, really, you didn't have to."
Louis laughs and shakes his head. It's the hundredth time Harry's said this but he never seems to tire of hearing it. Or hearing Harry's voice in general.
"Listen," Louis starts, slowing down when he sees the yellow light. "If you're not doing anything tomorrow, I'd be more than happy to show you around. I know this place like the back of my hand and it'll be easier with the moped."
"No, you don't have to do that," Harry says, and Louis smiles when he hears it again. "I mean, you driving me home is more than enough. I don't want to put more things on your plate with everything and—"
"Come on, Harry, I got you a bloody broken nose your first day here," Louis interjects. "And I have the day off tomorrow and the only thing I have to do all day is unpack my bags and maybe redecorate Niall's room. What do you say?"
Harry takes a moment to consider and his hands tighten when the light turns green. "Alright. I need to look for a job anyway and yeah, it'll help loads. Thank you so much."
Louis grins, his face heating up, and he feels his stomach flip in joy. "No problem."
Harry's knees are wobbly when he peels his legs off the moped frame and plants them on the concrete, and he's forgotten how much he loved solid ground.
Louis has one foot on the ground and he watches Harry take the helmet off, and after shaking the curls loose with clawed fingers, he offers it back to Louis with a smile. Louis shakes his head.
"I'll take it back tomorrow. Have you got a mobile?"
Harry nods and fishes it out of his pocket.
"Dropped my phone this morning and it broke so I'll have to go get a new one later," Louis says, and Harry's amazed at how quickly he's pressing the buttons. Harry's technological skills were rudimentary at best, and he's not sure if he's ever texted someone more than a hundred times. It's usually just his guitar and a pen occupying his hands. "I'm giving you Niall's number, okay? Just call me when you're ready to go and I'll be right there to pick you up."
Louis hands back the mobile and Harry brushes his skin as he reaches for it, sending a jolt down his arm. He smiles and looks down on the screen, eyes tracing out NIALL HORAN in big, bold letters.
"Sure, alright," Harry says, stuffing it back in his pocket and grinning at Louis. "I guess I'll, er, I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Yeah," Louis says with a nod. "So, I guess I'll be going now. Have a—have a good evening, Harry."
"Thanks. You too." Harry tries to ignore the stinging in his cheeks and waves as Louis starts up the engine and speed off down the road. When Louis disappears around the corner and out of his view, he looks down at his hand holding the helmet and wonders how different his day would have been if he'd decided to stay home and work on his songs instead. He wonders if he would meet ever meet Louis again. He shakes his head, grips the straps tight, and pushes through the building doors with a smile on his face.
"Shit!" Harry exclaims when the door finally gives in, and he falls face-down on the floor with a loud thud, the helmet rolling across the room and stopping against the sofa. Picking himself up and rubbing his forehead, he sees Liam appear from the kitchen with a Chinese take away box, chopsticks stuck between his teeth.
"You alright, mate?" he asks after taking the chopsticks out and sticking it in the box. "Did I not tell you to shake the handle as you're opening the door?"
Harry smiles, his face turning pink in embarrassment, and he walks over to the helmet and picks it up. "Sorry, I completely forgot. The whole day's just been crazy." He grimaces when he sees scratch marks on the smooth surface, and he sighs and tries to wipe it off with his sleeve.
"You're telling me," Liam says, walking over to the sofa. "I was out over at—God, what the hell happened to you!"
Liam's tone catches Harry off-guard and he jumps, dropping the helmet on the floor again, and he curses under his breath when he sees more scratch marks. "Nothing, I, er, I just fell walking down the street earlier. No big deal."
"Got in a fight, more like. Let me see." Liam drops the box on the table and makes his way to Harry, eyes readily inspecting the bruise on his nose. He clamps his thumb and forefinger on the bridge of his nose and gives it a slight pinch, and Harry recoils and tosses his head back and out of Liam's grip.
"Shit, man, that hurts," Harry says, ghosting a finger over the stinging area. "It was just a small altercation."
"Alright, alright, I believe you," Liam says before turning around and making his way back to the kitchen. "Better get some ice on that to reduce the swelling. Hang on."
Liam comes back with a bag of ice and Harry takes it with a smile. When he left this morning, Liam was missing a sock and the place was a dump. How did he get to be so fatherly all of a sudden? He presses the bag on his nose and winces in pain, but the relief washes over him in a second and soon, he's making his way to the sofa, plopping down on the soft cushion and setting the helmet next to him.
"So what happened?" Liam asks, picking up the box and sitting next to the helmet.
"I was at this café, right, and this bloke comes in and starts threatening the barista out of nowhere," Harry starts, putting it as simply as he can.
"And you dove right in, didn't you?" Liam asks after eating some of the noodles. Harry shrugs.
"He was really nice to me, the barista. Got me my first performance here. I couldn't just sit there, you know?"
Liam nods and sets the box back on the table. "So you already made a friend, huh?"
Harry smiles and places a hand on the helmet. "Two, actually."
Liam's eyes drop to the helmet and he asks, "Oh, yeah, where did you get this anyway?"
"One of them dropped me off today," Harry replies, picking up the helmet and looking at it. "He's going to show me around tomorrow."
"Oh, cool," Liam says, standing up and snatching the box. "Have fun tomorrow, then. And don't aggravate that nose." He says the last part with a finger pointing at Harry's face, and he laughs and stands up, fingers around the straps.
"Thanks, I won't," Harry assures him, adjusting the bag on his nose, and Liam smiles and throws the box in the garbage.
"There's some more Chinese in the fridge if you want," Liam says, making his way to his room.
"Maybe later," Harry calls out, and Liam utters a soft "goodnight, then" before disappearing behind the door. Harry smiles and makes his way to his own room. He sits down on the bed and props the helmet on the bedside table, his head swimming with images of everything that happened earlier, but especially of Louis, and he feels another smile creeping its way back to his lips, and when he closes his eyes and lies down, hands folded over his stomach, he can hear a song wrapping itself around his brain.
The sun has already started setting when Louis gets back to One Way, and when he ambles inside, he sees Niall already preparing to end his shift. The place is almost empty except for three people seated at different tables, and he stops and unclips the helmet and slides it off. He brings a hand to ruffle his hair and he makes his way to the bar, where Niall's wiping down the countertop. He sets the helmet next to Niall's hand and he looks up with a smile.
"So, how did it go?" Niall asks, throwing the towel under the counter and undoing his apron. "Did he make it home alive?"
"Just barely," Louis says, watching Niall take off the apron and hang it on a hook on the back wall. "Took it better than you did your first time, actually."
Niall smiles and gives him a punch on the shoulder.
"Mike wants to see you," he says, tossing his head to Mike's office, and Louis's heart drops, fearing the worst.
"He's firing me, isn't he?" Louis says, dropping his shoulders. Niall shakes his head.
"He just wants to straighten some things out is all. Besides, he likes you too much to let you go."
"Sure," Louis says with a chuckle, and he stands up and makes his way to Mike's office, his heart picking up speed.
He knocks three times and Mike's voice sounds from behind the door. "Come in."
Louis pushes through the door and sees Mike shuffling some papers on his desk, filing them neatly on the side. When Louis first applied for his job, Mike intimidated him. Nearly twice his size in both height and build, Louis almost wanted to go back outside and check if he misread the sign on the window, or if he's even in the right establishment. People as burly as Mike usually worked at construction sites, Louis thought, or had a wrestling career. Either way, when he was being interviewed, he almost blurted out a quick apology and ran away in fear of what might happen to him if messed up on the job, but Mike turned out to be the best employer Louis ever had. One of the nicest people Louis has ever met, Mike was a sensitive soul trapped in a bodybuilder's body.
"Hey," Louis says with a wave of his hand, and Mike drops the packet of papers on the desk to wave back.
"Hi, Louis. Go on, take a seat."
Louis nods and sits down, resting his hands on his lap and twiddling his thumbs.
"Are you alright?" Mike asks, folding his hands on the desk and leaning forward. Louis nods. "You know you can talk to me about anything, yeah? I'm not just your boss, you know."
"I know," Louis says, eyes dropping to his hands. "I know."
Mike sighs and sits back in his chair. "How come you've never told me about the Zayn thing? I could've given him a proper whack over the head, you know. That'd make him leave you alone."
Louis brings his eyes back to Mike with a laugh and shakes his head. "Niall didn't even know, really. I just thought it'd stop if I just gave him space and—I guess I was wrong."
"Well, anyway," Mike says with a smile, "if you ever have trouble like that again, don't hesitate to tell me, okay? That way, I can put these guns to good use. Show 'em who they're messing with."
Louis chuckles and nods, his mind getting more at ease.
"So," Mike continues, his brows knitting together. "Zayn's banned from ever coming in here again. If he comes back in and I'm not there, you can call the police on him. They'll come right up and take him away so you won't have to worry about anything."
Louis clings to every word and he feels a weight lift off his chest. "Really?"
"Yep," Mike says, nodding. "But—and you have to listen, this is important—if you think it's going to happen again, try to make sure it's off the premises. I've had loads of complaints today and lost a lot of customers because of the disruption. I know it's not your fault and I'm not blaming you, but please try to settle disputes away from work, okay? We're already having trouble getting customers in."
"I completely understand," Louis answers, sitting up straight and looking Mike in the eyes, "and I should have taken matters to my own hands, I shouldn't have let Niall take it for me. Or Harry."
Mike's eyes perk up at Harry's name and he leans closer. "And about that. I don't think I've ever seen him before. Did you know him?"
"Not really," Louis says, shrinking back in his seat. "We just sort of got to know each other right before Zayn came."
"Shit," Mike says disappointedly, and when he opens his mouth to continue, Louis cuts in, "I know, I know. I was the same way. I felt terrible, I offered him a ride home and everything. And I offered to take him out and show him around tomorrow since it's his first day in the city today and—"
"His first day in the city and he got in a fight? With someone he doesn't even know?"
"I know, I know, it's really bad, isn't it?" Louis says and Mike nods incredulously.
"You had better show him a good time tomorrow, then," Mike tells him, and Louis nods earnestly. "And the next time he comes here, give him whatever he wants on the house, the poor lad."
"I will, don't you worry," Louis says, getting up from his seat. "I'll make everything right, you'll see."
"I trust you, Tomlinson, now get out of here and get some rest," Mike says, and Louis excuses himself with a "goodnight" and slips out the door with a wave.
Niall's already waiting for him on the other side of the door with the shopping bags in his hands, and he walks up to him with a smile.
"So?" Niall asks, giving Louis a bag to carry.
"Well, Zayn's banned from coming in here."
"That's good. What else?"
Louis turns to him with a grin, cheeks flushing, and Niall's eyes narrow, brows coming together.
"I, erm, well, I'm taking Harry out tomorrow."