"I'm telling you this as a friend. You're a soppy idiot."
I played with my beer bottle, noticing the liquid that sloshed around inside had begun to dwindle. The hope that Niall would have retrieved another one for me was scarce. He was in full on charm mode as he tried and failed to chat up the girls perched on the wall to our right.
"Why?" Harry laughed.
"Have you seen yourself lately? You've changed."
"I don't see that as a bad thing though," he replied, "I quite like it."
He'd softened up and it was because of her. Little doe-eyed Bo.
"You're turning a bit wet, mate. No-one is going to take you seriously if you carry on."
"I'm not a push over," he almost snarled in defence.
I cracked a smile as a solid fist thumped my shoulder. My hand clutched the bottle, determined to save the little remaining alcohol. The old Harry was still there, perhaps buried beneath a few squishy, pink hearts and god-awful flowers. But I don't think he could ever really put that behind him, not with that much raw emotion. I knew what was going on in that house when we were younger. You couldn't just bury all those memories, no matter how big the hole or the shovel.
"I haven't miraculously lost the ability to smash your face in," Harry continued to bite back.
I'd forgotten how easy it was to wind him up. He was a laid-back guy to get along with, but god forbid you insult his aptitude to throw a punch and you'd be laid out on the floor in a second. It took a lot longer for them to get up. I'd seen it happen.
"I don't doubt that," I lightly laughed.
He refused the beer I offered to get him. And when I made my way back, all be it slightly distracted and swaying, I could tell he was looking at her. I hung back a little, observing the unreserved attention given to the female that carefully tottered around the edge of the pool. She laughed as Hayley called up to her from the water, occasional splashes being exchanged in teasing play.
It surprised me when Bo's small stumble had Harry flinch in his seat, almost as if he was ready to jump up at a seconds notice. Bo regained her balance (or lack of it), falling back into her tip-toeing pattern. Bo must have sensed his concern upon her, because hair was flicked out with her intended movement. A small smile confirmed she was fine.
"What was that?"
"What?" Harry glanced up, following me as I took my seat beside him once more.
I nodded in the direction of Bo.
"Oh, Bo's not a very strong swimmer. I don't..I just don't want her falling in." He glanced to her once more. "We're going to swim together later."
My thought processes were interrupted.
"Oi, Haz!" A guy shouted down from the house. "Nailler!"
The jeering prompted Niall in the diversion of his entertaining conversation with his newly found lady friends. He tipped two fingers from his forehead in a confirmed salute before bidding farewell and joining Harry in the journey up to the house.
I'd been told to keep an eye on Bo. So when she wandered back over to the seating I was going to take the opportunity to question her on her plans for the future, where she saw herself in five years time and her intentions concerning young Harry. Politely, of course.
"So, you and Harry?" I began.
She had chosen the seat opposite mine and to the left, picking up the drink she'd left on the small garden table in the middle.
"What about us?" She smiled, before the glass was raised to her lips.
"Do you want his babies?"
I silently applauded for myself on the timing, midway between taking a slip and swallowing. What liquid she hadn't choked down was sprayed out in a cough. Points went to her for projection.
"I-umm, it's a bit early to be thinking about that. We haven't been dating all that long."
I shrugged off her answer. She seemed...sensible. Did Harry want sensible? I had always imagined him shacking up with some tattooed, pierced, not-afraid-to-throw-a-punch kind of girl. Bo was tame. Unless she had some sort of naughty ink creation hidden somewhere only Harry had explored. I was going off topic.
She shifted in her seat looking mighty uncomfortable. Time to move on.
"But would you want to get married?"
"I hadn't thought about it. I'd like to see him in a suit though."
Her posture transformed, leaning forward slightly as if gearing up for my next question.
"So, what do you do?"
I stretched my legs out, crossing my ankles whilst taking another swig of beer. It crossed my mind that I should probably steady my pace with the alcohol, but the thought soon shimmered away as the bubbles fizzed and my head began to swim.
"I work at a music place in town; we sell all the old vinyl records along with the new stuff."
Not quite as stuffy as I previously thought, maybe there's hope for her yet.
"With that Dan bloke?"
I scrunched my nose up in disgust. Harry had been less than reserved about his feelings toward the guy. I hadn't even met him and he sounded like an arse.
"Dan's a friend," Bo sternly replied.
I'd hit a nerve. I thought about pressing the subject further, but by the way her face hardened I didn't particularly want to discover the boundaries of the topic.
"Are you at uni?"
It confused me when her eyes and demeanour softened, Bo's tone lowering along with the mood apparently. Another touchy subject maybe?
"Has Harry talked to you?"
A few more people had floated away, and over to where some stupid guy had been dared to down another shot. I'd taken swimming lessons when I was younger, did the whole pyjamas in the pool thing, but I doubt I'd be able to fish him out in my current state. We'd both be bobbing around together.
Bo's eyebrows rose in prompt and it took me a few seconds to cotton on the conversation once more.
I think I was starting to slur.
"Oh, I guess not. I can tell he's not that keen on me going, but I'd love to take a writing course."
Hmm, trouble in paradise. At least she had plans to get away from this area. Not much prospect for someone with bigger dreams. That's what Harry and I had done, escaped from the looming ghosts of our old neighbourhood. Nothing much there for either of us, not now anyway.
"What do you do, Louis?"
I cleared my throat, not really prepared for her to reciprocate my attempt at probing questions. This was my interrogation, she couldn't just flip the situation. But as the self-inflicted intoxication progressed, there was little I could do to keep my mouth shut.
"I work for the police," I blurted.
Why did that answer always carry that sort of reaction? I wasn't going to drag her away in handcuffs.
"Don't look so nervous. I'm not an officer, I work with all the data, more of a techy guy."
"Oh, so you like computers? I'm not very good with them."
Bo smiled, tucking her legs up underneath her, the semi-tanned limbs resembling something of a pretzel. I was kind of hungry.
"It comes in handy with all my mates."
I couldn't have blamed her for her next question, I'd have asked too. It was almost instinctive.
My head was rattled with the shouted instruction to shrug it off, play it cool. But apparently my mouth was in no mood to have secrets kept.
"You can play around with stuff, wipe things off, add things in, search for people."
My hand dramatically swiped up to clamp over my big mouth. Bo giggled, amused by the unintentional gesture to forcibly prevent another slip. I was an idiot.
"I wasn't supposed to tell you that," I desperately informed her.
The bottle slid through my slack fingers, clanking to the paved ground and rolling under the seat my bum was parked in.
"I won't tell anyone," She frowned.
"I could lose my job."
In my panicked fluster I hadn't realised our change in position; no longer separated by the small table between us. Bo sat to the right of me, my hand clasped in hers.
"It's alright, Louis. I'm not going to tell anyone else."
Her voice was soothing, and the glittering in the blue depths of her eyes reminded me of a promise between two young children. The kind you would seal with a pinky shake. She wasn't going to tell anyone. Maybe that's why Harry liked her. He trusted her. And with all the fucked up things he'd experienced, all the lies and secrets he'd kept close to his chest, Harry needed someone to confide in. It was Bo.
"You're alright, Bo," I jested in appreciation.
"Well gee, thanks," she mocked, releasing my hand.
I eased back further into the cushion, relieved that the admittance of foul play wouldn't stray any farther than our two-seater. I fought against the persistent need for words to fill the gaps between conversation. A fight I was drastically losing. Perhaps a couple more confessions couldn't hurt.
I picked at a thread that had unwoven from the cushion beneath me, careful not to tug it any looser. The sharp turn Louis's head caused mine to meet his line of glassy vision.
"I've taken things off the system for your boy."
"Harry? What kind of things?"
I'd known for some time that Harry's actions were far from his angelic appearance. Despite his dimpled smile and soft kisses, there was much more to the gloved boxer.
"Now, that would be telling," Louis teased, "one did involve a car though, wasn't much left to investigate once Harry finished. It was around that flower park."
His features emitted a humoured testing vibe, curious as to how I would react. There hadn't been much vehicle related crime recently, a few stolen cars, but nothing major.
"Harry held a grudge," he replied, "...and a lighter."
"Wait, was that...was that the car in Rose Park? They said someone put a baseball bat to it and then set it alight," I recalled a little bewildered. "Was that, Harry?"
"Shhh." Louis grinned, holding his index to his lips like a child.
I'd seen that car. My friends and I had been walking to school through the park when a rather tall police officer had ushered us to a diverted path. He hadn't told us why the route was restricted or what was causing the inconvenience, but inquisitiveness is ripe in kids that age. We'd been stealth in our movements, patiently waiting until the officer had moved on to make a dash through the trees that ran alongside the road. We'd discovered a burnt out car, no windows, the bonnet and roof spectacularly caved in. It was a right mess. In the newspaper a couple of days later the police had begrudgingly admitted that they had no leads on any suspects to the crime, nothing to trace the culprit.
Vandal could be added to Harry's list of offences.
Images of a younger Harry fought for my attention; face blotched with smeared black marks, chest heaving as his eyes danced with the flames from the smouldering shell of a car. In my mind, his body weight rested on the bat he'd aided to convex the roof and bonnet. Such a troubled angel of a boy.
I had no time to question Louis on the matter because my name was being shouted at a distressed pitch.