Dreams Unwind

[f o u r]

I cross my arms over my chest once I reach the end of the path, watching in amusement as the other students stumble to a stop, their voices buzzing together. Someone hisses It’s Harry Styles, holy shit, it’s Harry!, and I bite back a giggle. He’s smiling widely, posing with the people courageous enough to ask for pictures, signing things that are shoved in his direction. I step off to the side when a kid from my afternoon class shoves past me; my movement seems to catch Harry’s attention. His gaze darts my way, just for a split second, and his grin grows in size. Making sure no one is paying attention to me, I raise my phone, wiggle it. He nods almost imperceptibly, and I walk away, typing out a text to him that I’d be at my car.

He and I have been texting off and on all morning, mostly of his doing; his first message had been confirmation that we were still planning to meet up and look for Tubs together, and any text after the initial thumbs-up emoji I sent was simply in response to the boredom-induced jokes he kept sending. My desk-mate hadn’t been pleased with my distraction, or the incessant vibrating of my phone in my pocket, but even her annoyance couldn’t take away the inkling of happiness that lingered under the worry.

I climb out of the car as Harry approaches fifty minutes later. Luckily, there isn’t anyone following after him, everyone having dispersed for class now that his attention is no longer on them. He holds out his arms, and I let him wrap me up in a tight hug. It’s comforting, nice. My heart skips a beat as the scent of his cologne surrounds me, nearly as warm as the embrace. Eventually, I breathe in deeply and then step back. If anyone were to see us… I don’t care about what people might say to me, but I certainly don’t want to make things difficult on him.

“How was class?” he asks as he rounds the car, sliding into the passenger seat.

“It was class.” I watch his long fingers buckle the seatbelt then shake off the thoughts. “How was your morning?”

“It was productive. Got some things done.”

“That’s good. Productive is always a good thing.”

“It would’ve been better if I’d had some decent company. Hell, I would have been glad to settle for yours.”

“Oh, wow, ouch!” I laugh as he gives me a cheeky grin.

“It’s payback for the mean things you said to me yesterday.”

I shake my head and reverse out of the parking space. Silence fills the car as I drive, but it’s comfortable, though tinged with the remnants of anxiety and guilt. As important as Tubs is to me, I keep managing to forget about his disappearance, and even though it’s never for long, it still makes me feel like an awful human being for it ever happening. My stomach churns discomfortingly, my throat tightens. Harry’s hand is warm, gentle, when it wraps around my wrist, and I avoid the way his eyes soften in concern. He tugs on my arm lightly; my hand falls from the steering wheel on instinct, and a shuddering breath escapes as his fingers lace with mine.

“It’s going to be okay, I promise.”

I force myself to nod and focus on finding a place to park. Harry doesn’t let go of my hand, nor does he make a move to get out of the car, even after the engine is off. I scrub at my eyes with my free hand then turn to face him. His lips twist into a sympathetic smile, and his grip tightens just a bit.

“I keep forgetting,” I admit on a whisper, and the dam breaks.

The centre console digs into my belly as he pulls me toward him, his arms coming up to wrap around me securely. I ignore the pain and let him hold me through my tears. He doesn’t say anything, none of the trite drivel I’m used to people saying when they try to comfort another. The silent strength he offers is much more comforting than the cliches anyway.

“Joey, listen to me,” he murmurs when we separate, “it’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with forgetting something. This is a new situation for you, right? So of course your brain would automatically assume your cat is safe at home. And I haven’t made it easier to keep your mind on it, have I?”

I let out a watery laugh. “No, you haven’t. You keep distracting me.”

“Yes, my evil plan has worked!” Harry flashes me a wide grin then brushes a tear from my cheek with a tender touch. My heart flutters in my chest; when our eyes meet, his smile softens, goes caring and sad at the edges. “We’ll find him.”

I nod shakily, reach for his hand, and murmur out a thanks. He waits until my breathing is more steady before he pushes open his door. We walk side-by-side into the store, and I wonder if any of the few patrons in the library are going to recognise him. I’d chosen the public library instead of the one on campus simply because of the risks of him being recognised and swarmed; as evidenced by my fellow students, no one cares about the fact that he’s an actual person who might not want to be bothered.

Thankfully, we exit the building thirty minutes later without incident, a stack of papers in hand. I glance at the time on my phone screen, sighing. We’ve spent nearly all of the break I had between classes, which means I won’t have a lot of time to hang up the posters before I have to go to Development of Sociological Theory. Harry seems to notice my preoccupation and worry, because he sets a hand on my shoulder gently, stopping me from getting into my car. He doesn’t even need to ask - as soon as he looks at me with that concern in his soft green eyes, the little divot between his brows, I immediately explain without thought. Nodding slowly, he steps closer, tugs me in against his chest.

“How about we go back by the vet’s office, put up some posters there since that’s where Tubs got loose, then I’ll keep putting more up while you go to class?”

“Harry…”

His lips are warm and gentle on my forehead. “Don’t argue with me, or you’ll be late.”

We go up and down the block in opposite directions, taping the posters onto every hard surface we can find; I reach Doctor Simmons’s office first, and I slide the rest of my half of the posters into my bag then lean against my car and wait. Harry shows up after another few minutes, and something in my chest tightens at the sight. He’s texting, his attention firmly on the phone in his hand, so I let myself stare openly like I hadn’t earlier.

The jeans he’s wearing are relatively unremarkable beyond how they hug his legs, and his white T-shirt is similar to dozens I’ve seen before. But somehow, he makes the entire outfit seem completely different than anything else. Or maybe it’s because I’m beginning to know his personality, I’ve gotten to see how sweet and caring and generous he is...

“Anywhere you need me to drop you off?” I ask once he’s close enough that I don’t have to shout.

“Hmm? Oh, no, my mate’s on his way. I messaged him on our way back from the library, so he should be here any minute.”

“You sure?”

His laugh sends my heart racing, and I lean into his hand as it strokes over my hair. “I’m positive. You have school to get back to.”

“Well, I’m not leaving you here alone, so…”

“Stubborn girl. Fine. But don’t blame me if you’re late.”

True to Harry’s word, his friend pulls into the lot not even ten minutes later, and a heaviness fills my gut as he opens his arms. There is no hesitation when I step into his hold. He promises to text me later, and I nod against his chest. I force myself to not pout as he releases me, turns to walk away. I wave once he’s buckled into the passenger seat; he smiles brightly back at me before the car exits the parking lot, disappearing from sight.

Well, fuck.