Lunch was supposed to be the usual, sordid affair- one which he had every school day, wherein Zayn would pick at the dollop of bland, grey mush he bought from the skinny old lady at the counter with a plastic spoon and try his best to not catch anyone’s eye, lest they do something hazardous to his health (or his belongings, to an extent).
This grotty period in which noisy high school students sit down to eat and/or chatter aimlessly was usually accomplished by reading a book, but Zayn had learnt the hard way that food stains don’t come off of book pages easily. So here he was, surprised, yet again, when Liam bounded up to him as soon as he entered the scruffy cafeteria, a huge grin plastered on his face. A blush, which seemed like a permanent adornment on his face whenever Liam was in the vicinity, spread across his taut cheeks and to the tips of his ears, successfully letting Liam know how much he was affecting him.
“Hello!” He greeted Zayn cheerily, his mirth evident in the way his eyes crinkled from his enormous smile. Zayn’s heart fluttered lightly, like the wings of a butterfly. He liked to think that this beautiful angel was seeking him out, gently prodding him out of his shell because he was just kind like that, however wrong he might be.
Truth be told, Zayn loved how Liam was sticking with him, like they’re glued to the hip. But with the thoughts of danger suffocating him, Zayn can’t let himself be seen with Liam anymore. He just can’t. The cons weighed out the pros, and that was enough reason for him to push Liam out of his life for good, despite the nagging thoughts of him being selfish roaming in his head and the ever-present guilt at the bottom of his stomach- not to mention his everlasting love for the jock, which he was afraid to acknowledge just yet. And Zayn, being the mediocre pessimist that he was, made a rule to himself right then and there- to never, ever let Liam close.
But of course, he just had to break the rule as soon as he made it.
“Hi.” Zayn responded shyly, a smile as big as Liam’s threatening to spill from his lips. Liam replied by pulling Zayn’s arm to a small table at the rear end of the cafeteria, where the doors that led to the soccer field were.
“Man, I waited so long for you! Mr Brown dismissed us early- you know how he is,” Zayn realized that Liam somehow knew that Mr Brown was his homeroom teacher. It’s because Harry’s my classmate, he insisted to himself, ignoring the fluttery feeling he had in his gut. “You had Chem in your last period, right?” He inquired lightly, snapping Zayn out of his daze as he pulled out a seat for him. Zayn sat on the hard plastic chair, his blush turning a deeper shade of red.
“Yeah. How’d you know…?” It was a valid question, Zayn knew. Yet Liam’s face turned a light red, and he quietly muttered, “I just do, okay?” while placing his lunchbox on the table. Zayn found out that Liam looked cute when he blushed, and he also found it cute that he brought packed food for lunch.
“Well, the chem lab is a bit far from here, so you being late is understandable.” Said Liam with one of his adorable half-smiles, brown eyes trained on Zayn, who was trying hard not to look like he was staring and to not look away at the same time. Zayn had to resort to nodding to keep himself from saying something unbidden and forever humiliate himself in front of the only person he wanted to impress.
“‘Re you gonna buy lunch or are we gonna have to share?” Liam joked after a moment of silence passed. Zayn offered him a smile, before remembering his rule earlier. He had to do something before he gets in too deep.
He opened his mouth to say something, but no words came out. Liam didn’t notice.
“Not that I have a problem with sharing.” Liam added hastily, noting the somewhat pained look on Zayn’s face.
“I… I don’t want to eat.” with you. Damn it, Zayn thought, slapping himself inwardly, why can’t I just be blunt for once?
“You sure? You’re as skinny as a stick, you have to eat something, at least.” He picked up a banana from his lunchbox, offering it to Zayn. A look of concern had long since appeared on Liam’s face, and Zayn was one again stricken with a feeling that made him warm and fuzzy all over.
“Here, you need this more than I do. I’ll spoon-feed you if I have to. And I hate spoons, so that would be quite a challenge.” He added with a chuckle. Zayn let out a quiet, breathy laugh, determined to not show how affected he actually was with the simple statement and do what was needed to be done.
“Liam, don’t get me wrong, I appreciate what you’re doing but…” Zayn fought down the guilt that was threatening to choke him as Liam looked at him in wonder.
“Yeah?” Liam prodded, and Zayn plowed on.
“It’s just… I’m not really comfortable wi-with eating with someone.” Zayn spluttered out, and it was true. At least he wasn’t lying. He wasn’t comfortable with people seeing his indifferent eating habits (at least, not close enough to be able to criticise it closely). The smile slowly faded from Liam’s face, and Zayn wished he just didn’t say anything- or that the ground would just swallow him whole, whichever suits him at that moment.
“Oh… oh. I’ll just- I’ll just leave, if you want.” A hopeful look flittered across his face, and Zayn had to look away to say his next words. All the while, his heart was beating fast in his chest, and he had to squish down the guilt he was feeling because it was overwhelming him, and his lungs constricted in his chest as he said the word that had the potential to make or break him.
His voice soft and quiet, but Liam heard it, Zayn was sure. There was a moment of silence, before Liam gathered his things. He definitely took his time, and Zayn was fervently hoping that Liam wasn’t waiting for him to flag him down again and take back what he said. It was when Liam stood up from the plastic chair beside his, and Zayn’s eyes snapped to the hurt look on the brunet’s face, that he finally relented.
Liam stopped in his tracks.
“Yeah?” His voice was quiet- barely over a whisper, and Zayn regretted his words. Liam was only being nice, and here was Zayn, pushing him away like what all his friends did to him. Liam was spending time with him, and not with his jerkface friends, out of choice because he wants to get to know him better, and what did Zayn do? He closed off, and tried to keep his distance, because he doesn’t want to get beaten up, and he regretted his decision. A lot.
“I- actually, I- I’d like the company v-very much.”
Damn being selfish. I’m used to being beaten up anyway.
Zayn knew he was in trouble when Liam excused himself to the bathroom and Louis appeared, seemingly out of thin air, yanking him out of his chair and through the double doors with astounding force. His head hit the iron door, and he winced. Louis dragged him to a somewhat secluded spot at the back of the school, and pushed him up against the brick building, the grip on his arm replaced by a steely clutch on his right shoulder. Zayn bit his lip, trying to keep himself from making any sort of noise. His painful bruise was topped with a new one, and the pain burned away his short-lived moments of happiness.
A few agonizing seconds passed, and Zayn tried his best to not writhe under Louis’ powerful grip. The boy’s eyes were on fire, obviously relishing every moment Zayn was in pain. There was no mercy in those dark blue eyes of his- the ones which Zayn were obsessed with not too long ago.
“Listen, queer,” the grip on his shoulder tightened even more, and Zayn allowed himself to wince, knowing full well that Louis wouldn’t notice, “stay away from Liam, or you’ll get a horrible repeat of last year. I don’t want him to become like you.” His words were venomous, and they ripped through Zayn’s heart painfully. Louis cackled, punching Zayn in the stomach hard before walking away.
The double doors slam shut, and the noise of students drifted through the gap before fading away once more.
What Louis said was warning enough, he decided