one year, four seasons, a thousand memories; a boy with a camera and a girl with maps who find themselves in each other.
(alternatively, the one where harry and freya fall in love slowly and again and again.)
- - -
the first time freya meets harry, he nearly steps on her. he’s got a leaf in his hair and he’s stuck in between the branches of a particularly snaggy bush. he has on aviators and a faded band t-shirt, and he’s got tattoos snaking up his arm, an odd assortment of ink splotches against pale skin. (eventually, freya will know what each one means and doesn’t mean, and she’ll trace them with a light fingernail and leave a tattoo of her own on harry’s skin. but that, like most things, comes later.)
“hello,” says freya, because what else are you supposed to say to a boy who’s crashed through the surrounding foliage and nearly left a horrible dirty shoe print on your chest? “you nearly stepped on me.”
“sorry,” harry says, grimacing as he tries to yank his way out of the branch’s grasp, all the while holding onto the camera hanging from his neck. “sorry,” he says again, more sincerely, when freya gets up, forgoing her battered copy of gatsby to help him. his skin is hot from the august sun, and he’s got a little bit of a sunburn on his nose. “i, um. got lost?”
“s’a big park,” says freya agreeably, untangling harry from the thorns. “it’s brand new, too. just was finished last year.” she hesitates, her fingers stilling over the i can’t change… on harry’s wrist. “that’s why i’m mapping it out.”
“mapping it out?”
freya points to the graphing paper resting securely underneath gatsby. there are half-finished sketches, sloping lines and curves that show the elevation, the waterfronts, where the park begins and ends and begins again. it’s not a true-to-life rendering for most, but it is for freya; she has her favorite spots labeled, the well-worn paths she takes. the park is her safehouse, her secret.
“so you’re new here, then?” freya asks before harry can do more than peer curiously at the papers.
harry laughs a bit awkwardly, tugging the last of himself through the branches, into freya’s secret. “is it that obvious?”
“yeah,” freya says with a small smile. “this is a small town. most of us we’ve known since we were toddlers.”
harry grimaces again. “my, um. my mum moved us out here, like, a couple days ago?” he ends all of his statements like questions, freya’s finding out. she wonders if it’s because he never got answers. “from cheshire?”
“how d’you like it so far?” freya asks. she’s never been farther than the outskirts of town, not that she doesn’t want to sprint out of the tiny boundaries of her little village, not that she doesn’t want to lose herself in a city of lost souls.
“it’s great,” says harry automatically, and freya eyes him disbelievingly. “alright, it’s a bit shit, honestly. didn’t want to come here, especially not for sixth form.” harry looks down at the grass and starts picking at it, tearing up clumps and letting them go in the slight breeze. “my last year, and they couldn’t wait just a little longer?”
he sighs. “sorry,” harry apologizes again. “it’s not shit here, it’s lovely. i’m just. frustrated.”
freya chews her bottom lip. “no, it is kind of shit here,” she says, and harry looks up. he has dimples; freya can see a hint of one poking at his cheek. “but at least you’ll know someone at school.”
harry blinks at her, the dimple getting more pronounced. his eyes are green like summer, and they’re amused and warm and so lovely. “yeah?”
“freya murdoch,” freya says in lieu of an affirmation. after a moment’s pause, she sticks out her hand.
he takes her hand, his long fingers wrapping around hers. “harry styles.”
it’s autumn, and freya meets a boy who has a camera around his neck and eyes that remind her of summer.
- - -
everybody loves harry, with his cheeky, mischievous grin and his mass of curly hair and his light green eyes. freya watches him the first day, listens quietly to the whispers and giggles of her friends — acquaintances, really, tired familiar faces that coexist for the simple reason that they don’t know how not to — and she thinks that harry’s going to be swallowed up by the monotony of a small town, trapped by the sticky sweet image of roots and family and security. their paths crossed one, brief glancing moment, but freya’s sure that they will not cross again.
until she heads to her favorite spot in the park, and harry’s already sat there, cross-legged, still wearing his uniform, tie loosened and eyes hopeful.
“hi,” she says dumbly, caught off-guard by his presence. “what are you doing here?”
“this is a really nice spot,” harry says, glancing around at the tiny clearing. it is; it’s sheltered by trees, but the width between branches is large enough that sunlight’s constantly filtering through. the first time freya had seen it, she thought immediately that this was it; this was her spot.
“i know,” says freya for lack of anything better to say. she shifts the strap of her rucksack on her shoulder. “but… what are you doing here?”
harry dimples, holds up a camera — the same camera she’d seen when they first met. “thought i might take some pictures of it, actually,” he says, a hopeful lilt in his voice. “if that’s okay with you?”
“i, um,” says freya, and harry’s smile is starting to dim, which isn’t right. harry is summer, and freya is not going to be the summer solstice. it’s just that — harry probably has a ton of other stuff to do. she knows his type, knows that somebody would be crazy not to be enamored by him. freya’s nothing but a pile of books, a map, and pipe dreams. “i mean, it’s fine, harry, um.” she shifts awkwardly. “yeah, just. feel free.”
“are you sure?” harry asks, and now he’s got his bottom lip pulled between his teeth, worrying, and the thing is, freya thinks that if she said no, harry would leave. he would get up and walk out, taking his curls, his green eyes, his summer with him.
so, freya says, “yes,” instead of “no,” and harry flashes his thousand-watt grin at her, and freya tentatively, shyly, smiles back, and her world opens up a sliver more.
- - -
they talk about everything and nothing in their little alcove, sheltered from the world. the leaves turn their colors — crimson, gold, and orange — and then they start falling, drifting to the ground as the earth turns to darkness. freya learns that harry’s got an older sister in uni, that he loves his mum, even though she took him and plopped him down in her hometown. she learns that harry wants to be a freelance photographer, but he’ll probably go into law because that’s what his mum wants, and he tells her that photography is just a hobby — but.
but freya sees the way that harry looks behind the lens when he’s focused on the subject — a single leaf with a dewdrop at the tip, the dappled plain of their clearing — and she thinks that it’s not a hobby; it’s harry’s life. it’s harry’s heart.
so, freya tells harry things in return; she tells him about her mum, how her dad left them too. he laces their fingers when she starts to stumble over her words, and she clings onto him like a life raft. she tells him about her little brother, how she worries about him, and freya tells harry, one day, in a whisper against his shoulder, that she wants to leave this town, start a map that doesn’t include the familiar back fence of her home, doesn’t include the same old tired faces.
“me too,” says harry after a moment of silence. his fingers are intertwined with hers, and they’re leaning against the bark of their favorite tree. the days are getting colder and shorter, and freya remembers when the sun shone through the scattered canopy of trees and how harry’s eyes looked underneath the light. “can i come with you?”
freya cracks a smile. he sounds nervous, does that thing with his bottom lip where he chews and gnaws at it. it should be strange, how well she knows him already, even though it’s only been a blink and a half since they met. it isn’t, though, and she finds herself nodding. “‘course haz,” she says. “wouldn’t want it any other way.”
“because i’m your best friend, right?” asks harry, a teasing lilt in his voice, and freya grins.
“the best,” she tells him, squeezing his hand.
at school, though, they still don’t talk. harry’s brilliant — of course he is — and freya isn’t, and they don’t have the same classes, or the same lunch. it’s like harryandfreya don’t even exist outside of their clearing, and even though freya tells herself not to mind it, she does. she does.
“and then zayn punched him right in the face, it was brilliant,” harry tells her one day, the both of them huddled on the single slab of stone, since the rest of the ground is packed and cold from the earlier frost. “you know zayn, right? malik?”
“yes, i know him,” freya snaps. “i’ve only been in school with him for my entire life.”
harry freezes and turns to look at her, confusion and hurt evident on his face. freya immediately wants to take back everything she’d just said, and she exhales shakily, her breath coming out in a dim haze of vapor.
“fuck, sorry haz,” she mutters, looking away from harry’s pitiful expression. “i’m just tired.”
“oh.” harry’s silent, and freya can feel his gaze heavy on her shoulder, and she knows that he’s got his lip between his teeth again. she knows he doesn’t want to push her, doesn’t want to make her uncomfortable by asking why. it’s no surprise when harry drops it with an, “alright,” and then continues.
nothing changes, except for how it does.
freya sees harry in the hallways, and she smiles at him because that’s what she always does, and harry smiles back briefly, clinically. they pass like strangers, touching no more than the brush of their elbows. it’s like that, now, at school. strangers.
harry’s more distant now, more hesitant, and he’s got some sports club after school now. all he talks about now are his new friends. freya recognizes their names: louis tomlinson, liam payne, niall horan, zayn malik. she doesn’t recognize harry.
(“do you know freya murdoch?”
freya pauses in her perusal of the library, and she peeks over the tops of the books. it’s harry and some of his footie friends from the previous season. she recognizes all of them, but she only focuses on harry, who looks up from his book.
the boy — james brighton — whispers, “she’s fit, yeah? looks a bit like this one porn star i saw last week, s’pecially with glasses on. it was like a tutoring sort of thing, and the bird blew the bloke under the table. think she’d do that too?”
the rest of the boys laugh, and freya flushes, heat prickling at the back of her neck. harry’s face remains blank.
“nah,” harry says when the laughter’s died off a bit. he closes his book. “she’d have to be able to tutor you for that.”)
suddenly, the clearing meetings are stilted and awkward, like players who have forgotten their lines and how to be around each other. freya doesn’t bring maps for harry anymore, doesn’t scrawl a home on harry’s forearm in magic marker, and harry doesn’t bring his camera anymore. they don’t hold hands, and on the first day of winter, freya walks through crunching snow in the half-darkness only to find their clearing untouched, without hint of bootprint or harry. harry’s always waiting for her.
freya stares at the clearing for a moment, then turns around and starts marching, a dull pounding in her chest. she can’t explain the gaping hole, the feeling of emptiness in her stomach, but she knows that she’s angry, furious even.
she marches all the way to harry’s house, the nicest house on the street. they’ve got fairy lights strung up already, and freya remembers helping, remembers laughing when harry dropped the string of lights into the snow and pouted until she handed them back to him, stretching on her tiptoes to reach his open hand.
harry answers the door, still dressed in his sports kit, and when he sees freya, he smiles tentatively. “hi frey,” he says.
freya digs into her bag and throws the huge stack of papers at him, whips them with some sort of malicious delight — all the maps she’s ever drawn for him, including the one she drew connecting their houses and their clearing in some sort of lopsided triangle — at harry’s face. harry squawks and instinctively raises his hands.
“fuck you,” freya says calmly, then turns and trudges down the driveway onto the street. she wants harry to run after her, wants him to ask her what he did if he doesn’t know, or explain if he does. she wants him to thread his fingers through hers, brush the hair out of her eyes, use those stupidly pink lips to quiet all the doubts freya has running through her mind. she wants harry.
he doesn’t follow her, and freya doesn’t look back.
- - -
this year’s christmas hols are the worst in living memory. jesse is at his worst, being a menace even on christmas day, her mum’s working double shift because she splurged on jesse’s gift, and freya doesn’t go back to the clearing. she can’t, because that place is theirs, except she and harry are no longer a theirs.
“something wrong, love?” her mum asks tiredly over christmas ham, and freya looks up, pastes on a smile because her mum’s so tired. she doesn’t need to be hearing freya’s stupid teenage, sixth form drama.
“nope, i’m fine,” freya says, and it’s both gratifying and sad how quickly her mum believes her. “jesse, quit being a brat and hogging all the mash.”
“i’m hungry,” jesse protests, and the moment’s forgotten. at least, freya thinks so until the next day, when her mum slips her a couple quid and tells her to go shopping, to treat herself a bit, and veritably kicks her out with a soft kiss to freya’s forehead.
at least freya knows where jesse got it from.
she’s walking aimlessly around the town square, peering into windows and kicking up snow because she’s already gotten her mum and jesse presents, when someone calls her name.
“oi, s’that freya?”
she looks up and behind her shoulder, and her heart sinks a bit. it’s louis tomlinson, and it’s harry, who’s staring at her with summer eyes, and her breath catches a bit in her throat. he’s paler than she remembers, but then again, winter can do that to you. he’s wearing a beanie, but some of his curls are obstinately fighting their way out, and his nose is pink from the cold.
louis waves at her, a sort of come over, and freya bites her lip, shoves her hands in her pockets, and walks over because she can’t very well walk away now that she’s seen them, and they know that she has.
freya pretends not to notice the way harry tugs on louis’ sleeve and subtly shakes his head; she pretends the chill she feels around her is only due to the cold of the air.
“freya, right?” louis asks, friendly and bright. he’s the oldest one in their year, and he’s the only repeat from last year. that’s why, freya supposes, he doesn’t quite know who she is.
“that’s me,” she says, studiously ignoring harry. “s’there something i can help you with?”
louis’ grin flickers a bit, turns into a bit of a smirk before he says, “it’s not me, really. it’s actually one of my mates, y’see, he’s sort of pining after some bird he’s been gone for since he started school.”
“louis,” says harry, his voice low and rough and so, so familiar. he sounds distressed though, and freya doesn’t look over at him, just keeps her eyes fixed on the space beyond louis’ shoulder, even as he turns to look at harry. “stop it. let’s just go.”
“yeah,” freya says without looking at harry, “just go, tomlinson. haven’t you got better mates to hang out with?”
louis’ smile dies a little bit, and he’s darting questioning glances between harry and freya, his blue eyes flicking back and forth.
“freya — ” harry starts, reaching out to touch her elbow. his gloved hand is like an electric shock to her system, and freya jerks back, heart beating erratically.
“no,” she says instinctively, and then she looks up at harry, wide-eyed, and watches as his face crumples in on itself. her heart hurts; harry is summer, is white teeth flashing in a dimpled grin, and she never wanted to break that. “i’m sorry, i have to — i have to go.” she looks wildly at louis, who stares back at her, and then freya’s walking away, leaving the both of them behind in the trampled snow.
- - -
there’s a knock at her door the next morning, and freya answers it in her pyjamas and her hair messy and tied atop her head. it’s harry, of course, who looks devastatingly good in his parka, nervously worrying at his lip.
“harry,” freya says, because despite it all, her first instinct is to still say his name.
“freya, i need to talk to you,” he says without preamble. “please, i know you hate me, but please, let me speak.”
maybe it’s the dredges of sleep talking, but freya nods, opens the door a bit more. “i — yeah, okay. come in.”
he’s been over to her house before, but harry has never seemed as awkward as right then, twisting his hands around each other. she awkwardly sets a cuppa in front of him and then sits across from him in her favorite old armchair.
“i’m sorry,” harry says after a few moments of them staring into their respective cups of tea. “i’m sorry for pulling away. i was just — scared, and it was hard being around you, frey.”
freya winces; each word feels like a dagger slipping slowly, agonizingly, into her rib cage, lodging between her bones. “harry,” she starts, the hint of a plea, but harry shakes his head, twists his hands again nervously.
“i just — i, um, i liked you so much, it was hard to breathe,” harry says in a gust of air, and freya’s heart stops. “i thought getting away was probably better, because i couldn’t, like. i couldn’t stay there in that clearing and just be your best mate, and i thought — i thought it’d be easier.”
“easier,” freya echoes faintly, and harry glances down, takes off his beanie and plays nervously with his hair.
“for me,” he clarifies. “i was selfish, i know, i just. i didn’t want to ruin anything.” he laughs bitterly. “and yeah, the irony strikes me too.” he looks back up, eyes trained on her, and freya feels like she can’t breathe. “say something,” he begs.
“i — so, then, all this time?” freya asks incoherently, and harry goes a horrible, wonderful red.
“um, yeah? i, uh, realize this might be too little, too late, so if you’re going to tell me i’m crazy, don’t hold back.” harry blinks at her, and freya is so fond of this stupid, stupid boy, she might actually implode from endearment. “any day now.”
“harry,” says freya. “you are the dumbest person i know.”
harry winces, looks down at his stupid yeti paws. “actually i think i’m quite clever, but i guess i deserve that.”
freya sets her tea down on the side table. “you think that you saying that you’ve had — had a crush on me this entire time is going to help anything?” she swings her legs out from under her and pads over to harry, who’s looking up at her with pained green eyes, eyes that look like the park during summer. “you were my best mate. d’you know how it feels when your best mate calls you an idiot?”
“well, louis does it all the time, so,” harry says weakly, looking up at her. freya’s aware that she’s in her pyjamas — her hello kitty ones to boot — but she doesn’t have time to change, because she’s afraid if she leaves, so will harry — and he’s already snuck into her life, already settled in the hollow space in her heart too much.
“you’re an idiot harry styles,” freya declares before stooping down to cradle harry’s face and kiss him.
harry’s surprisingly responsive for someone who’s been taken off-guard, and he deepens the kiss almost immediately, licking into freya’s mouth with what seems a single minded intent to have freya fall apart. freya rather likes the idea of harry putting her back together after, though.
they kiss for what seems like ages, until freya’s mouth is bruised with all the could have beens, now the what will bes. they only break apart when jesse’s voice comes across, blaring through the silence:
“mum, harry and freya are kissing!”
harry laughs against freya’s lips, and it’s the best sound she’s ever heard.
- - -
freya meets louis tomlinson, officially, on new year’s eve, and he’s spectacularly sloshed.
“freya, it’s so meet to nice you!” louis declares confidently, and freya hides her laugh when louis hugs her, smelling like the inside of a brewery. “our hazza’s been moping for ages since your fight, you know. can’t tell you how many times he’s cried — ”
“alright lou, that’s enough,” liam payne hurriedly butts in, grabbing louis by the hem of his shirt and pulling back. he flashes a genuine, sweet smile to freya. “s’a pleasure to finally meet you, though.”
“likewise,” freya says, and she actually means it. sort of. she likes liam well enough — partners in grade ten, once — and the fact that harry’s there, his fingers laced with hers, unabashed, makes everything a little bit better, a little more wonderful.
(“it wasn’t you,” harry says seriously after freya admits — under pain of a tickle massacre, since apparently they’re five — that she’d been scared that she was being replaced.
“it was,” freya insists. “i could’ve talked to you, i could’ve made an effort, but i didn’t even try. then i overheard that day in the library — ”
“hang on,” harry says, “what day in the library?”
freya flushes. “you know. um, james said something about me, and um. tutoring.”
realization flashes across harry’s face, followed quickly by a dark scowl. “james had no right to say that about you,” he says fiercely. “like you’d ever — tutor him.”
“s’that what you meant, then? that i wouldn’t tutor him?” freya asks, and harry’s scowl drops into confusion.
“yeah, why — oh. oh no, frey, that’s not what i meant,” harry says contritely, cupping freya’s flushing face in his hand. “i didn’t mean to imply that you weren’t capable of tutoring anyone, i — ”
“no, it’s fine,” says freya quickly. “i mean, i know i’m not the brightest bulb, y’know. in the year.”
“you’re brilliant,” harry says immediately, somehow managing to sound both sincere and fierce. “like, mad brilliant. bonkers brilliant.” he pokes her cheek, and freya smiles.
“you just want me to tutor you, don’t you?”
“it’d be nice, won’t lie, yeah.”)
there’ll be talk throughout the school, how harry styles was spotted kissing freya murdoch at midnight, how they’d held hands the entire night and disappeared with a bottle of wine. girls will whisper, boys will talk, and harry and freya will both know that they’d run to the park, hands clasped together like always, and sat together, leaning against their favorite tree, passing the bottle back and forth just as often as kisses, shadowed by the bare branches of the tree overlooking their clearing.
- - -
when the cold weather breaks, they shed their layers, peeling away the winter weather to reveal a fresh new bud. freya integrates her friends with harry’s, and suddenly, she’s calling louis, texting niall, painting and drawing with zayn, and chatting with liam. harry’s an absolute hit with her friends, but why wouldn’t he be?
freya starts drawing again, starts mapping out things like path louis will take to finally asking eleanor out and when zayn and liam get their head out of their arses. she sticks them on harry’s corkboard, where all his favorite photos are pinned. she features in most of them.
they make pillow forts in the middle of harry’s living room when the weather gets bad outside, all april showers bring may flowers, and that’s where freya gives herself entirely to harry, finds out how exactly harry looks with arms braced around her, how he bites his lip when she nips at the junction between his neck and shoulder. she traces the tattoos on his chest afterwards and imagines drawing the map to his tattoos — why he has the packers one on his shoulder, or why the love banner is covered over by the swallow.
it’s may, and it’s exam week, and freya is going to fail, she knows it. harry’s been tutoring her in all her classes, but it’s not going to be enough; she’s just not smart enough for this.
“haz, it’s pointless,” she sighs, frustrated, running her hands through her hair. harry looks up from the textbook. “i’m not going to absorb anymore. it’s too late.” she throws her hands up dramatically. “just leave me here to die.”
“you need to stop hanging around louis so much,” harry remarks offhandedly, and freya starts to pout before she catches herself.
“can’t help it, though. it’s true. i’m not going to get high enough marks to go to london with you.” it’s not freya feeling sorry for herself; harry’s basically guaranteed a spot at a college in london, and freya’s — well, freya’d be lucky to even get into somewhere local. harry seems to disagree, though, doggedly continuing to encourage freya to study harder.
“i love you,” says harry, and freya says,
“no, seriously, harry, stop saying that i will, it’s not — what?” harry’s face is bright red, eyes a dark green.
“i’m in love with you,” harry says again, and more color rushes to his cheeks. “like, kind of terribly. s’why you’re going to go to london.”
“because you love me?” freya asks after a beat of silence, her heart accelerating, because, yeah, she’s kind of terribly in love with harry too.
“no, that’s kind of a bonus,” says harry. he pulls out a crumpled piece of yellowing paper and slides it over to freya.
the paper’s old and wrinkled with water damage, and the edges are curling in on itself, but she recognizes it. it’s their map; the road to london. she’d thrown it at harry during the winter, and she’d expected never to see it again, but.
“you saved it?” freya asks.
“all of them,” harry says with a smile hidden in his voice. freya traces the lines and curves of her pen, reads gorge of horrible, necessary exams from their map.
“harry styles, you are the sappiest sap ever to grace the planet,” says freya.
“but you love me anyway?”
he doesn’t really need an answer to that, not really, but freya gives him one anyway: “yeah, i s’pose i do.”
- - -
(the summers in london aren’t quite the same as back home, but there’s a familiar summer in harry’s eyes, so freya thinks that it’s okay. they’re going to be okay.)