“Hi.” The voice is quiet, shy, but it's enough to pull Niall’s rapt attention out of his laptop and look to his left. It’s not often that people talk to him when he’s so engrossed in his work. He’s been told he looks intimidating.
He's sitting at a small circular table in the dog park. He comes here to work every day or at least when the sun is shining anyway - because it really just clears his head, helps him get the story to flow the way he wants it to. But normally it’s just him and Stevie this early in the afternoon… so this is new.
He's never seen this girl before. She’s little, definitely young. Her hair is light brown and it falls to her shoulders curly and wind tangled. She’s wearing a pink dress over what he thinks used to be white leggings; Velcro snap shoes on her feet have little princesses on them. Her eyes are bright green with tones of blue, wide and curious as she looks up at him.
“Hi.” He echoes her tone, soft almost a whisper that causes her to smile wide enough that it makes a dimple pop up in her left cheek.
“Is that your puppy?” he follows her pointing finger over to where his dog Stevie seems to have found a friend and is chasing another dog in circles; the two of them yipping and barking at each other. They are the only ones in the dog park right now so they have plenty of room to be alone but seem to be more content playing with each other. Stevie’s always loved playing with other dogs; she’s always dragging Niall to meet other dogs and new people.
“Yes, that’s Stevie. Is that your puppy?” Stevie may look like a pup but she's almost six years old, mix of retriever and black lab she’s incredibly smart and loves people and other pets. The dog she's playing with seems to be much younger, smaller- a husky mix of some type- he can tell by the curling tail and the coloring. The little girl’s smile continues to grow, her eyes sparkling with joy she just can’t seem to contain.
“His name is Mac, named after one of my daddy’s favorite bands. We just got him.” She moves to sit on the bench next to him, and he wants to help her, but he assumes said Daddy is around and he doesn't want to evoke any protective urges and get punched in the face. So instead he watches her struggle to climb up to the bench; her feet dangling off the ground kicking as she pulls herself up. But finally she gets up there and settles in next to him. “I was playing with him, but he seemed more interested in…” She stopped and her smile falls, “I’m sorry, I don't remember your puppy’s name.” Her lower lip starts to tremble and god he was always a sucker for tears.
“Oh, that’s okay. It's because you haven't been properly introduced.” He lets out a whistle and Stevie looks up, quickly abandoning her new friend to run over to him instead. The little girl brings her hands up to cover her ears at his sharp whistle and she lets out a giggle, her green eyes sparkling now instead of on the verge of tears. He turns to face Stevie and the little girl wiggles around kicking her feet out as she turns as well. “Stevie sit.” She sits down, eyes bright, tail wagging. “Now shake.” She lifts her paw and waits patiently. “Stevie this is…” He leans over to the little girl and whispers softly, “What’s your name?”
“I’m Olivia.” She looks at him with amazement as Stevie waits paw still in the air.
“Stevie, this is Olivia, Olivia, this is Stevie. Go ahead, shake her paw.” He nods, prompting her to slide off the bench to shake Stevie’s paw. She lets out a laugh when his pup barks and then licks her face.
Mac takes this moment to run into Stevie and then the two pups run off chasing each other in circles.
“That’s so neat… can you get Mac to do that?” She asks him clambering back up on to the bench to look at his computer. He knows she’s probably too young to really be able to read, but in case she can he closes the laptop because really she does not need to read the current murder mystery novel he’s working on- it’s not really at a kid friendly part anyway.
“It takes practice to train a dog. So you’ll have to work on that. When did you get her?” Niall asks, because he can’t help but think that he would have remembered seeing a little girl around here before.
“We got him yesterday.” She nods curls shaking around her head. “ M’daddy and I went to a place and picked him out. There were lots of puppies but we couldn't have them all. It was sad.” It takes him a moment to figure out what she’s saying, she seems to run her words together a bit, and it has been a while since he’s had a conversation with a child other than Theo but she’s well-spoken for the most part though, he can’t help but be impressed.
“Ahh, you went to a shelter?” He asks softly, and yeah, those are horrible places, he got Stevie there about five years ago himself. “Those places can be sad, but you have a new family member now so that’s great.” He smiles when her face lights up and it’s obvious that she hadn’t thought of it like that yet.
“Liv?” the yell echoes through the park and that must be the dad now. Niall can’t really see him yet but even Niall can hear the concern in the loud voice.
Olivia’s head turns away and yells, “Coming Daddy!” She slides off the bench and gives Niall a bright smile. “What’s your name?” She asks even as she starts to walk away.
“’bye, Ni-all.” She separates his name, sounding it out slowly. It’s a mouthful for someone her age. But he nods and smiles because she got it mostly right.
“Bye, Olivia.” He watches her run off, as fast as her little legs will carry her.
He can’t help but smile when he hears calls in two different voices, “Mac! Mac!” Obviously her and her dad are trying to wrangle their new puppy back on his leash. He whistles for Stevie and she comes running straight back to him, and he hopes that makes it’s a little easier for them. The park isn’t huge but there are enough large trees between him and the gate that he loses sight of Olivia and he never did catch a glimpse of her dad.
While sitting at the dog park is a habit for him, it seems to also become a habit for Olivia and her dad. He catches just a glimpse of them that next day. He looks up from his computer when he hears the gate open. This time she’s holding onto her dad’s hand. He can only assume that she got a stern talking to for disappearing the previous day. He smiles and gives her a little wave when she waves at him but otherwise they keep to the other side of the park. He has to call Stevie away with a sharp whistle a couple times. It looks like they are trying to do some training so he does his best to keep Stevie away, because it’s hard enough to teach a puppy tricks without another dog wanting to play.
He can’t help but watch the pair as they try to teach Mac how to sit with limited success. It’s obvious that neither of them really know what they’re doing, but hell he didn’t when he got Stevie either. He just knew that he needed something to get him out of the house regularly and for some reason a dog sounded like a great idea.
It’s easy enough to tell from here that Olivia obviously gets her curly hair from her father, but it's much lighter in color than his. From here he can see he’s tall, taller than Niall anyway, dark brown hair that’s curling around his head in a somewhat short halo. He’s wearing tight black jeans, a red t-shirt, and scuffed boots, but that’s all that he can really make out from this distance. He’s making zero progress on writing his book so he can’t help but be distracted by the pair. They make a cute little family.
It's four days later when Olivia finally makes her way over to him again. He hadn’t been there at the right times the days before so he’s sure that he missed out on spying on them. It’s kind of become a habit for him.
When she makes her way over, she’s wearing a mischievous smile when she greets him, “Hi, Ni-all.” She clambers up onto the bench, this time in a purple top, black leggings, and what must be her favorite princess shoes. Her hair is tied back but it doesn’t make it any less curly or tangled.
“Hi Olivia. How are you?” He asks politely closing his laptop.
“’m good! We taught Mac how to sit!” She’s busting with excitement bouncing in her seat.
“Oh, really?” He can’t help but be caught up in the little girls excitement, even though he knows the dog still barely responds to the command. They are trying with very limited success but her excitement is extremely contagious. She was probably one of the cutest kids he’s ever met- right behind Theo of course.
“Oh, he’s mad.” Olivia exclaims and she’s gone before he knows it and he can’t help but laugh because he feels for her dad. She’s a little spitfire.
Over the next couple weeks, she sneaks over to him asks him questions about what he’s doing? Working. Where he’s from? Ireland. Where does he live? Close by. And every day he lets himself get distracted by her. She always goes running when her dad calls. She’s obviously getting more comfortable with him and notices she sits closer to him each time. She asks him if they can work with Mac to get him to shake and Niall feels awful when he tells her they can’t.
“Why?” And it’s the first time he’s seen her whine, let alone really pout.
“We need treats, something to reward him with when he does well. It’s called positive reinforcement.” He feels like the words may be too big for her to understand but her curls bounce around her face as she nods to confirm that she does.
“Oh, what if I can bring treats?” She smiles and again, and she looks like she knows a secret. Man, does he feel just a little pity for her dad, because clearly he has a heartbreaker on his hands.
“Then yeah, of course I’ll help.” She gives him a hug before she runs off this time and he’s left feeling nothing but fondness. He doesn’t see her for the next couple days, but he does see the dad, and he can’t help but wonder if she’s with her Mum or if they are together… she doesn’t really talk about her mum just her daddy. In the end he knows it’s really is none of his business, he’s never been a person to pry but he can’t help being curious.
He finally hits a good stride with his book on Friday afternoon and ends up taking Stevie to the dog park much later, it’s almost dark. He’s sure he missed Olivia but he really needed to get a couple chapters done and he's successfully written more than that now. His agent wasn’t getting nervous yet, but this is the first time in the last couple of years that he’s really gotten hung up with his writing. He knows that he’s been insanely lucky that he got published at a young age and that his series of novels have done so well. Liam takes amazingly good care of him as an agent and he’s blessed that he can make a living doing what he loves. But he tries to be smart, he doesn’t live outside his means, and every advance he gets the money is invested in his future in case something would happen.
When he finally hits a good stopping point it’s 4:00 in the morning and he falls into bed, not even thinking about tomorrow.
Niall wakes at half past noon on the following Saturday when Stevie jumps up on the bed to wake him by nuzzling into his face.
“Yeah, yeah, I’m up.” He sits up and looks over to his dog sitting on his bed with boundless patience as her tail wags rustling the sheets. “Need out huh? Well I probably need some fresh air too.” He gets up and pulls on just a tee shirt and trackies over his pants and brushes his teeth before making a cup of coffee which he forgets to drink when he goes to get her leash. They spend a half hour playing Frisbee in the dog park before he notices an ad on the gate on their way out. It’s not a great ad, obviously homemade but it’s enough to catch his attention.
He takes a look and can’t help but laugh, ‘Three Barks for Treats’ it reads; a bakery that boast of the ‘best treats for people and for dogs’ . It’s not that far from his apartment building so he takes a quick picture of it on his phone and then heads back to the apartment.
With all the work he did last night, both him and Stevie deserve a treat.
He leaves Stevie at the apartment, and walks down the stairs, reminding himself to grab the mail on the way back up, knowing he’ll forget it- he always does.
It doesn't take long for him to find the bakery; and turns out to be a short five minute walk. The bakery sign reads ‘Three Barks for Treats’ with a line underneath that says ‘something for you and your pet.’ He can’t help but smile because it’s a great idea. He pulls the door open at quarter till three, only 15 minutes until closing time but he figures with a bakery that’s okay. The last thing he’s expecting is to be greeted the second he walks in the door.
“Niall!” He hasn’t even pulled his gaze away from the display counter when he’s hit at the hips with a hug and when he looks down he’s surprised to see Olivia there.
“Liv! What are you doing?” The man behind the counter hisses at the little girl but she just looks up at Niall with a big smile on her face her left dimple making an adorable appearance.
“Hi! I missed you!” She’s stepped on his foot in her excitement but he can’t really hold it against her, and she’s so light it doesn’t even hurt anyway.
“Hi. Olivia. I missed you too.” He smiles down at her.
“Olivia Caroline Styles!”
“But Daddy! This is Niall, he has the puppy that Mac likes to pay with.” She pulls off of him and turns around to face her father behind the counter as she points back at him.
“I thought Niall was your imaginary friend?” He asks his daughter as he walks around the counter. Now that Niall can see him up close he knows that his first glimpse of him did not do him justice. At first he’d thought he was quirky, but plain; now though he can see that there is nothing plain about him. This man is actually devastatingly handsome. Olivia must get her eyes from him as they both have long dark lashes and green eyes, his are a much darker shade of green as Olivia’s has hints of blue. His lean muscular arms are tattooed with seemingly random words and shapes and Niall’s finds himself a little star struck by his face. He’s clean shaven, jawline square and eyes bright as he looks at Niall.
“I’m not imaginary.” He says and then shakes his head because he’s just made himself sound like an idiot.
“I can see that.” when Harry gets close enough he grabs Olivia and picks her up, propping her on his hip. In comparison to her father she looks small but she definitely does not look afraid as he talks to her in a stern ‘dad’ voice. “What did we talk about with strangers, honey?”
“But Niall’s not a stranger, he’s my friend. He’s going to help me train Mac to shake.” She tells him with a definitive nod before smiling back at Niall, “We just need treats.” Niall really can’t help but laugh, mostly because Olivia doesn’t even realize that she’s in trouble. He tries to stifle his laugh so it doesn’t encourage her more, but she just smiles at him instead.
“But Niall’s a stranger to me, Liv, we’ve talked about this.” Luckily the bakery is empty except for the three of them because while she was smiling a second ago it now looks like she’s about to cry or yell, he’s not really sure. Niall really doesn’t always get a great read on those emotions with kids, besides the fact they can change in the drop of a hat. She must have realized that she was in trouble though, because she ducks her head before looking back up at her dad, instead of crying or yelling she gives him a shaky smile.
“Daddy, this is Niall, Niall this is Daddy. That’s how I met Stevie… now shake.” Niall had picked up on it earlier that Olivia was intelligent, but he’s continued to be surprised by her and her amazing memory.
He decides to help her out and he reaches a hand out and waits for Olivia’s dad to extend his. He sets his daughter down before reaching out to shake hands, “Niall Horan, pleased to meet you.”
“Harry Styles, Three Barks bakery owner and father to this terror.” He runs his hand over her curls and while he’s obviously a little frustrated he’s smiles down at her lovingly. And Niall gets it, he doesn’t have kids but the world is a scary place, full of scary people and kids don’t really understand fear at the mighty age of five.
“Olivia and I met in the dog park a couple weeks back, right after you got Mac.” He tells him, hoping it eases his mind a little bit.
“Yeah, I think I remember seeing you there, you hide in the corner on your laptop.” Harry nods and drops his hand to rest on Olivia’s shoulder.
“That’s me, um, I write and the fresh air does me good. And Stevie loves to be outside so it's a win win.” He doesn't really know what to do with his hands so he just shoves them in his pockets instead of just leaving them out- He’s usually great at meeting new people but Harry has him feeling unsettled.
“Oh, what do you write??” he inquires then looks down at Olivia, “Why don't you go flip the sign, hun.” She hurries over to flip the sign and lock the door with a click.
“Uh, books, I write books. Fiction. But I just stopped in to pick up some stuff; I saw your ad at the dog park.” Because now that he was here and it is Harry and Olivia in the bakery- he realizes that he looks a bit like a crazy person. “I promise, I’m not like weird or anything. I just live around here. I didn’t know that she would be here.” God- he’s so awkward and this is stupid. He knows how to be charming.
Harry looks at him confused and Niall realizes that he wasn’t even thinking along the same lines as Niall like he was worried about. Sure the world’s a crazy place, but Harry doesn’t seem to think that he’s trying to kidnap Olivia or something equally as awful.
“Sooo, you write books? Anything I would know?” Niall hates that questions but answers anyway.
“Murder mystery, about a detective name Justin Rose.” Niall tells him and he hopes- just hopes that Harry doesn’t know them. Right now that would just make this more awkward.
“Hmmm, I haven’t read those- but to be completely honest I haven’t read anything above Liv’s reading level since she was born.” Harry smiles a little deprecatingly and holds his hand out for Olivia to grab as she rushes back to him.
“I’m sure. I get that.” Niall can’t help but be a little relieved. He loves writing, loves telling a story and creating a mystery, but he doesn’t really love the attention or promotions that he has to do sometimes- but there are ups and downs of every career and he can deal with it.
“But I really did just come in for some treats- something for Stevie and me.” He clarifies just because this has been weird enough already, maybe it’s time for him to go?
“Stevie’s his dog.” Olivia whispers up at her dad but really not all that effectively and Niall can see Harry is working hard to not laugh. His perfect white teeth are biting into his lower lip and Niall gets a flash of want- wishing that he was doing that instead. Olivia’s dad really is too hot for his own good.
“I figured that out honey,” He looks back to Niall, “And I’m sure we can do that.” Harry shoos Olivia to a booth in the corner where he has a coloring book and crayons set up. “Go color, Liv, Daddy needs to work.” He kneels down and tells her. His voice is really soft so Niall’s not sure if he is actually supposed to be able to hear it or not. So he takes a couple of steps towards the counter, finally getting a good look at the place.
The place is small and quaint; most of the brick is exposed giving it an old but yet somewhat industrial feeling. The counter is obviously the main attraction; it’s all glass in the shape of an “L.” It’s stocked with all sorts of breads, pastries, cookies, and muffins, a gluten free section, and then of course at the end, in a separate smaller case is the selection of homemade treats for dogs. They’re all done in the shapes of bones, paw prints, ice cream cones, and all other sorts of designs, the creativity is insane. There is small bookshelf full of much loved books that people can read or trade as they eat. The rest of the area is decorated in warm tones to offset the brick, and set up with some booths and tables here and there for people to sit and behind the counter is a tea and coffee station- basic and Niall guesses that the beverages are not Harry’s biggest seller here.
Overall it’s a really neat set up- Niall’s impressed. He loves supporting local business when he can and this is one that he can see becoming a favorite. Everything in the counter looks delicious from the sweets to the breads. He almost wants to eat the dog treats- they look so good.
“But Daddy! I want to help Niall!” He can hear the corresponding stomp of a foot to go along with her whine. He can’t help but smile- it’s a good feeling to know that Olivia likes him as much as he likes her. She’s a very charming little girl.
“What’s the rule about whining, Liv?” He doesn’t really get hear her answer, she replies so soft, but she goes to sit in her booth anyway, alternating between coloring and looking up at Niall.
Harry goes around the counter and smiles, snapping on a pair of gloves. “Well what can I get for you?”
Niall ends up walking out of the store with more food than he could possibly eat- completely charmed by Olivia’s dad- Harry- he needs to think of him as Harry now- now that he actually knows his name.
And he is charming- from his bright green eyes to his dimpled smile, and his clumsy grace. Harry is absolutely charming- and completely Niall’s type- tall, lean, smart, kind, and 100% straight. Of course he is, he has a daughter- one he obviously loves very much and while he didn’t have a ring on- he didn’t try to flirt with Niall and Niall was too nervous to flirt with him so- ok maybe he doesn’t know for sure but knowing his luck that’s what he’s going to believe.
It’s not even that he has bad luck, he has horrible luck. His last real relationship was in college and even then he can’t say why he and Rory were together so long. Everything since then has just been a few weeks here, a couple weeks there, maybe a couple months at the longest.
He’s not lonely, but he never really has been. His imagination has always been his best friend. The worlds and characters that he creates in with his words have always understood him more than the real world has. He has his cousins and Bressie, and they are always around and close- but still they never really understand how he can lose hours of the day telling a story.
By the time he gets home, Stevie greets him at the door, ready to be let back out. She devours the treat that he got for her and he ends takes her back out the dog park, grabbing a ball to take this time. He can’t write right now, his mind still fried and is a different level of tired.
But by the time he gets home, he finds his brain wired and more and more of the story is brewing in his head and it just won’t leave him alone. He sits down at his laptop and loses the rest of the night to the world he’s creating on his laptop.