19.1 ~ Hold My Breath
After the class, Louis took his sweet time, in no hurry as he rolled up his mat to store it under the wooden bench running along one side of the room, then crouched down to search for nothing specific in his bag. By the time he straightened, the music had switched off. He and Harry were the only two left in the room. Louis was an ace planner. Unfortunately, Harry had put his top back on. Gaping at the collar, it hung loosely on his torso and fell over the waistband of his low-riding gym trousers. On second thought, maybe it wasn't such a bad thing hed gone back to a semi-dressed state, Louis urge to rub all over him had only lessened slightly. He was still plenty alluring, mind, all dimples and curls and bright eyes as he grinned at Louis.
"Perrie told me you were a bit sceptical, going in. It wasn't so bad, was it?" No, it actually hadn't been. Louis' muscles felt pleasantly loose, his head clear and light.
"Bearable," he allowed. "If you get off on contorting your body into impossible shapes, that is." Harry's grin broadened.
"Just didn't want you to get bored. Hey, consider it revenge for your goal against Manchester United last month. I didn't appreciate that one bit, just so you know."
"You a Mancunian?"
"Hell yeah. Grew up a good thirty minutes from Old Trafford. It's in my blood." At Harry's proud nod, Louis gave him a long, considering look. Maybe this was a bad idea, but bad ideas were sort of Louis' specialty, the evidence right there in his pulled muscle- no one had forced him to go up against three bigger, tougher players all by himself, after all. So.
"Tell me, Harry. What is the difference between a Man U fan and a dildo?" Harry frowned. "Only one's a real dick," Louis answered his own question. After a silent beat, Harry laughed, throwing back his head to expose the pale column of his throat. Louis wanted to sink his teeth into the curve of Harrys shoulder. Since he had an ounce of self-control and no desire to end up in the tabloids, he didnt. Shouldering the bag that had been sitting at his feet, Harry walked ahead and held the door open for Louis. Just as Louis brushed past him, Harry asked,
You know why you guys dont drink tea at the Emirates Stadium? He continued without pause. Cause the cups are always in Manchester.
Ha-fucking-ha. Louis hip-checked Harry out of the way, and Harry, still chortling about his own joke, caught himself with a hand against the wall. He made a garbled noise of protest that Louis should absolutely and decidedly not find endearing. They passed the reception, Perrie chatting to a classically beautiful guy with mocha skin, prominent cheekbones and dark eyes. He was about thirty percent more attractive than any man Louis had ever met in person, and seeing as Harry was a solid contender for second-best, that was saying quite a lot. Must be something in the water around here. Or all that yoga actually did have an effect.
How bad was it? Perrie called out when she spotted them.
He hated every second of it with the fire of a thousand suns, Harry shot back. Louis ducked his head and laughed a little, shoving his hair back. It was growing out too long, hed need to fasten it into a tiny pigtail soon, and that was rather too David Beckham for his liking. For now, the headband was fine, though, or he could ask Harry for headscarf tips.
Ill be back for seconds, Louis said. Better get my friends moneys worth, right?
Why did they sign you up, anyway? Harry asked. Hed come to lean against the reception desk, elbows propped on its top to show off the tattoos scribbled onto his arms. Louis needed to map them with his teeth. He also needed to take a shower.
Theres this nasty rumor that I become a full-blown arsehole when Im injured, he told Harry. They thought yoga might make me less likely to bite off heads. The rumors patently untrue, of course.
Of course. Harry nodded, smiling. That why you sat out a couple of poses? Your injury?
Supposed to rest my left calf, yeah. Mostly a precaution, since its the same that grounded me for a couple of months earlier in the season. There was really no good reason for Louis to linger. None. He hitched his bag higher up on his shoulder and started with, So I guess- just as Harry said,
Have you got- They both fell silent, and with Perrie and the other guy watching them, it was mildly awkward.
Sorry. Harry tugged at his headscarf. You go first.
I was just going to say, Ill see you on Thursday, then. Right? Louis paused. What was it you wanted to ask?
Doesnt matter. Harrys smile pressed deep dimples into his cheeks. Nothing was fair, and this was quite possibly a new low for Louis. Hed been in the closet for over a decade, and hed learned to work around it, there were others in precisely the same situation, after all, and over time, hed come to recognize the subtle signs. Nowhere in his plans was there room for painfully pretty boys with big smiles and the kind of flexibility that relocated Louis mind to the gutter. How did that saying go, though? We all live in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars?
Okay. Louis nodded at Harry, then at Perrie and the Greek god by her side. Thursday, then.
You know you can also shower here, Perrie said. If you want to hit a pub afterwards, I mean. Like, you could join us sometime, if youd like. Harrys class is our last for the day, and we often go out for a pint after. An invitation to the pub. Huh. That went beyond and above the call of duty, didnt it? Was she hitting on him? Her tone was friendly rather than suggestive, and she also didnt seem the type to try and get some dirt on him so she could sell it to the press. In addition, the lack of distance between her and Cheekbone guy, whose name tag identified him as Zayn, implied that they might be more than colleagues. Probably not hitting on Louis, then. Good. That meant he could accept the invitation, and the promise of spending a little more time in Harrys radius had nothing to do with it. No, sir. Just not tonight, because Louis hadnt brought a decent change of clothes, not even shower gel since hed planned to head straight home and for all that Harry wasnt an option, Louis would still like to, something, he didnt know. Not dress for a date or anything ridiculous like that, just- smell a bit nicer, maybe. Louis was so utterly fucked. Sadly, not like that.
Thanks for the invitation. Even though they hadnt said a word, Louis included Harry and Zayn with a glance. I cant tonight, but if youll still have me on Thursday, that sounds like fun. Need to counteract all that healthy business that comes with yoga, right, so a pint should help.
Itll be a smoothie for you, Harry said primly. He spoiled the effect with another grin, and yeah, Louis was definitely fucked.
Youre not the boss of me, he shot back.
Still made you sweat.
Only a little bit. You come out to the pitch, lets see how you handle ninety minutes in my world, mate. Then well talk.
Harry and football? Perrie asked, a glint in her eyes. Zayn snorted in clear amusement, and before Louis could ask why that was, Harry formed finger pistols to point at his friends.
Not a word, you two.
I didnt say anything, Zayn stated, but it was obvious he was laughing at an inside joke, and both Perrie and Harry were in on it. Louis felt suddenly excluded. He worked through it by taking a step towards the door, raising his hand in a crooked wave. His,
See you on Thursday, was met with a chorus of goodbyes, and when Louis glanced back over his shoulder, Harry was watching him, but turned away with a smile as soon as he caught Louis looking. Thursday, then. Louis shouldnt be nearly this excited about putting himself through one and a half hours of contorting his body to the beat of Lorde, Metronomy and Arctic Monkeys. He blamed Liam and Niall. Also, he blamed Harry, and his dimples and the easy confidence he displayed in his body and hormones, of course. Also things, yes. Things were always to blame, that was good, blame it on the things and also on the stuff. Jesus. Louis should make a stop at Tescos and ask whether they sold brains in prime condition. He could use one.
"So you like it?" Liam was beaming, absently lifting weights that would make Louis topple over. Maybe yoga would make Louis stronger, a full-body workout, just like Harry had claimed.
"It's not so bad," Louis repeated.
"You bloody love it," Niall said, and come on now, that was a slight exaggeration. "Say thanks, you tosser." Louis crossed his arms.
"I will do no such thing." A moment later, he was caught in a headlock and inhaling a noseful of Niall's armpit hair. This had not been in Louis' plan for the day, so he twisted a nipple, hard, and ignored Niall's,
"Hey! You break it, you buy it!" Just a normal session at the gym, really. Thursday seemed a century away.
"I'll have you know" Harry slammed his pint down in what he likely mistook for a fierce statement when really, Louis had met kittens more intimidating than Harry Styles. "My classes are not just `folding a body pretzel to pretentious hipster beats.´ I am a fully qualified British Wheel of Yoga instructor."
"Sounds like a cult," Louis commented. He was trying and failing to hide his smile. Harry was just, delightful. Freshly showered and squeezed into his skinniest jeans, Louis had indeed joined Harry, Perrie and Zayn at the pub, and while earlier hed been disappointed to learn that employees had their own changing room, it had been the only low point of the evening. They had started out with careful small talk about football and London's favorite haunts, only to quickly veer into the breeding habits of ducks and the modern disregard for a perfectly prepared cup of tea, a topic very close to Louis' heart. After the first round of pints, Perrie and Zayn had drifted off to their shared home, while Harry and Louis had stayed to order another round and then one more. Since Louis didn't drink much during the season, he was beginning to feel the effect. Harry's eyes also seemed to gleam a touch more than usual, the shady illumination reducing the green of his irises to a distant thought. Fuck, but he was lovely. Their feet kept knocking together under the table, and Louis tried not to read anything into it, he'd seen the way Harry was with other people, all casual touches and quick brushes of fingers. It was unlikely Harry was as excruciatingly aware of each point of contact as Louis was. Also, Louis was only out to a few carefully selected people. He might do well to remember that. The thought of coming clean and facing the public reaction was one that made his intestines shrivel in cowardly fear. In addition, Harry was possibly straight, and decidedly not for Louis.
"Not a cult," Harry said. "If anything, it's an exclusive circle of wisdom and better body awareness. Real men do yoga, Louis."
"Real men are cunts," Louis countered, and Harry gave another one of his full-bodied laughs. He laughed a lot. Louis liked it a lot. Their gazes tangled across the table, and Louis wasn't sure what it was Harry saw, but Harry's laugh faded, his smile dimming into something softer, gentler. They sat in silence for a few seconds, the noise of the pub washing over them, some pop song from the speakers, people talking and the drag of chairs scraping over the floor. Then Harry leaned back and shook his head, both hands open on the table.
"You know, you're not what I expected when I saw the name on my class list."
"What did you expect?"
"Someone more - macho." Harry pulled an apologetic grimace, bumping their feet together. "For some reason, the media paints you as a bit of a dick, you know. Like, rude and stuff." Oh, yeah. There were stories about Louis throwing food at fans, dating female underwear models and punching teammates. They were largely inaccurate. Raising his glass, Louis took a sip before setting it back down, running a finger around the rim.
"It's a lot of exaggeration and making shit up. To be fair, though, I did tell some fans to fuck off when they booed Niall - Niall Horan, one of my best mates, reason Im in your class? For making a mistake that cost us two points. He was torn up about it already, you know, and mistakes happen. It's par for the course. Also-" he smirked at the scarred tabletop, "I did clock Max George in the jaw. Arsehole had it coming. Cost me a fine and a week on the bench, but no regrets."
"What did he do?" Harry asked. Constant slags against gays and women, complemented by a sprinkle of disrespect for the human race in general and Louis' person in particular.
"A little bit of everything. Harry's gaze was focused on Louis' face, calm and understanding.
"Meaning you don't want to go into specifics?"
"Meaning it's in the past, and the guy is Swansea's problem now. Good riddance and all." Raising his glass in a toast, Louis waited for Harry to mimic him, and they both took long pulls.
"Hey," Harry said brightly. His smile looked like summer in March. "Hey, Louis? Why did Cinderella get kicked out of the football team?" Louis cocked an eyebrow and waited. "She kept running away from the ball." The second it was out, Harry giggled into his beer, and Louis was either very, very drunk or the tiniest bit in love, because he couldn't quite help his snort.
"That was awful," he told Harry, but he was grinning too widely for it to have any impact. "You're buying the next round, just for that."
"Actually, I'm kind of hungry. Never eat much before class." Harry nudged his glass towards the center of the table. His foot was still pressed against Louis', and he was wearing a plaid shirt that granted a glimpse of his collarbones, another headscarf keeping his curls out of his eyes. When Harry leaned forward, Louis caught a whiff of cologne that he'd usually deem too flowery, but it worked on Harry.
"There's this take-away place just down the road, how bout it? I could do with a veggie burger or a hummus wrap."
"Absolutely not. I want pizza."
"You're an athlete. Shouldn't you eat healthy?"
"Pizza has tomatoes. Basil, even. That's plenty healthy for me."
"You're not a fan of natural stuff, are you?" Since Harry's tone was light, happily amused, Louis couldn't work up so much as a hint of irritation at his hippie hipster ways. Also, Louis was totally a fan of natural stuff, as Harry so eloquently put it, he smoked up once in a while, didn't he?
"But I am," Louis said. "Weed is one hundred percent natural, isn't it?" Harry barked out another laugh, and Louis found himself staring for several moments too long before he joined in. His stomach felt uncomfortably squirmy.