How to Marry Harry
Could Harry Styles be the perfect man for Jo’s daughter Bayley? Surely he would be, if Jo could only wrangle a meeting. When Jo coerces her sister Bobbi into a trip to the UK to follow musician Harry Styles, along with a cardboard cutout of her daughter in a red bikini, she wasn’t planning on everything turning to custard. Even though when it comes to Jo and Bobbi, that’s usually exactly what happens. Divorced and lonely, has Jo become so invested in her daughter’s future she hasn’t even considered there could still be love out there for herself? And will she ever learn that you can never just have ‘one cocktail’? Bobbi thinks they’re going to one concert and then to Scotland to scatter their beloved late uncle’s ashes. She’s just along for the ride but will her efforts help or hinder Jo’s plans? When Jo and Bobbi meet Adam, a teenager bunking off school and also following Harry, helping him reconnect with his father could lead Jo in an altogether unexpected direction.
“When it comes to choosing between your head and your heart, always choose your heart. Your head knows everything and everyone, but your heart only knows you.”
– Harry Styles
As the coffin was carried up the elegant church aisle, Jo could feel Bobbi shaking beside her. Not, as you might expect, with grief, but with barely contained laughter. Jo couldn’t look at her sister.
“Stop it,” she hissed under her breath as she nudged her side. Bobbi let out a snort, tried to cover it as a sob. Their mother looked down the pew at them in bewilderment. She wasn’t wearing her glasses so she hadn’t noticed Donald, Uncle Bill’s best friend and one of his pallbearers. He’d known Bill for years, and they’d both belonged to the New Zealand Scotsmen Society.
Donald had come in a kilt. And like a good Scot, he’d followed the rules about what went under it. He’d also managed to tuck the back of it into its tartan waist.
Donald was not a young man. Years of gravity meant Bobbi and Jo currently had a front-row view of Donald’s wrinkly old testicles.
It was not a pretty sight.
Jo looked across at her daughter Bayley, gorgeous in her black pantsuit. She smiled back and as she reached out to hold her mother’s hand, her gaze caught Donald’s visible family jewels, swaying from side to side, as he stepped up to place the coffin on the altar. Her face went white, then bright red. She looked at her mother in horror. Her mortified expression set Jo off. She couldn’t help it. She dissolved into a fit of laughter that caused Bobbi and then Bayley to start giggling to themselves, like a line of well-dressed hyenas.
Their mother looked up from where she was making notes in her little purse pad. She was no doubt rating the flowers and the coffin’s suitability for her own or their father’s final show.
Doreen loved a good funeral.
Thankfully, their father noticed Donald’s exhibitionism, doing a quick tug on his kilt to cover the pendulous scrotum, and they managed to pull themselves together for the rest of the service.
It was actually a lovely ceremony and the music Bill had chosen was an eclectic mix of bagpipes, hymns and something modern Bobbi and Jo hadn’t recognised. Bayley informed them it was Harry Styles — ‘Sign of the Times’.
They’d done the tea and club sandwiches and now they were at Jo’s having a drink. “Here’s to Uncle Bill,” said Bobbi.
“And may we never see another baggy ball-bag like that again,” added Jo.
“Well, now we know what’s under the kilts.
They both shuddered theatrically.
It was almost enough to put you off Scotsmen for life.
Group message to: Bobbi, Bayley
Have you seen how hot harry styles is now?
Don’t you think he’s a bit young for you? You’re spending too much time alone
Oh, I just googled. Cute!
Jo sipped her third coffee of the day and idly scanned through her emails. There were two new ones since she’d last looked, one from a clothing company trying to convince her to buy a pair of patterned lounge pants, so her life would be complete, and the other from Uncle Bill’s lawyer. She deleted the first one and contemplated the second.
Uncle Bill had been married to their mother’s late sister Avis and had left Jo and Bobbi a small legacy — and a task to complete. He wanted his ashes to be returned to the town in Scotland he had grown up in and he’d left them some money for a trip to do this. Instead of reading it, Jo opened a new window and typed in ‘Harry Styles, Falling, music video’.
Message to Bobbi
Harry Styles Performs a Crosswalk
Harry Styles – Adore You (Official Video)
Harry Styles: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert
Such a lovely voice. I could listen to him talk all night.
Message to Jo
It sounds like you did. What time did you go to bed? That drummer rocks it though. She’s so good
Cute jumper BTW
The house was quiet. It had been quiet before Marcus had left, and now it was just her. She’d found out he’d been cheating on her and that it wasn’t the first time. Now he’d moved in with his current girlfriend and her two young children and the thought of how that must be going made Jo almost cheerful; Marcus had never been particularly tolerant of small children.
Sure, she was sad that her marriage was over, he was the father of her child after all, but she had been surprised to realise how relieved she was as well. Jo had to admit they hadn’t been happy for years and Marcus had worn down her self-esteem. She used to be a fun person but she’d become more quiet and withdrawn around him. It had just been easier than dealing with his moods.
She put Harry’s latest album on and turned it up nice and loud.
In the midst of unloading the dishwasher and wondering whether she could be bothered having a shower, the phone rang. Glancing at the incoming number she could see it was Bobbi so she picked up. They usually spoke at least a couple of times a week.
“Jo, have you spoken to Mum today?” Bobbi very rarely bothered with any preamble or introduction.
“No, I’m trying not to. Why?”
There was a dramatic sigh at the other end. “Oh, the usual. Dad had what was probably indigestion but could be a heart attack and should she make an urgent appointment with the doctor? He insisted it was because she put too much cream in the seafood chowder. Then she was wondering which funeral home she’d use if he ended up succumbing, and it wouldn’t be the one Shirley Campbell used for her husband because they got his sister’s name wrong. I can’t figure out whether she’s genuinely worried for Dad’s health or just looking forward to throwing a party.”
Shutting the dishwasher door, Jo tucked the phone under her chin and started to wipe down the kitchen bench before taking the phone and her cup of tea into the living room where she sunk onto the sofa, her feet tucked under her.
“The latter, I would say.”
“Anyway, are you okay? You seem to be coming a bit unhinged. First you’re sending me cat videos, then photos of chocolate-dipped pickles — what were they like, by the way?”
“Not quite how I imagined, but not terrible either. I’d never thought of making them till now. Marcus hated pickles.”
“Another black mark against him,” Bobbi muttered. “So, what’s with the obsession with this Harry Styles?”
“I wouldn’t call it an obsession,” Jo said indignantly. “I’ve just had a bit of time on my hands and I’m really loving his music. And he seems so nice and quite adorable really.”
“So you like his music but you just happen to like to look at the videos while you’re listening?” Bobbi chuckled.
“No. Well, not just that. I’ve also downloaded both his albums and I listen to them when I’m walking. His voice is mesmerising.”
“Well, I’m not judging. I started looking for recipes using eggplant the other night and ended up two hours later Google-stalking Curtis Stigers’ house. He lives in Boise, Idaho, just FYI.”
“Did you know eggplants are actually a berry?” Jo informed her. “Or an emoji,” Bobbi said drily.
By the time she hung up it was well into mid-morning. The day stretched ahead, but not unpleasantly. Jo had always been a bit of a homebody and worked from home as a proofreader.
She hadn’t really admitted to herself that ever since Bayley had left home to study to be a chef, she was still trying to find a purpose for herself. She’d spent all those years being someone’s mum, someone’s wife, a daughter, a friend to people she both knew well and didn’t really know at all. Who was she? Who had she even been before? What music did she used to love? What books did she read that weren’t for work?
She and Marcus had been together since she was twenty-one and they’d gotten married and had Bayley within two years. Being young and impressionable, she’d formed her opinions around his, but over the past few years had found she didn’t always agree with him. Actually that was probably an understatement. Then he’d played his hand. She was just now beginning to realise hers wasn’t the losing one. Now, there was a trip to the United Kingdom to look forward to and plan.
Flipping open her laptop she googled ‘Top things to do in the UK’.
Her only trip to Europe had been just before she’d met Marcus when she’d gone on her OE with a friend from school. They’d done a budget tour which involved what felt like 200 countries in four days, drinking anything cheap, shagging as many of the single guys on the tour as they could (kudos if you bagged the tour guide) and then sleeping on the bus and missing most of the sights along the way because they were so hungover.
The follow-up to this was living in a dingy flat in London with two other Kiwis and an Aussie girl, which was so outrageously expensive that she and Lisa had shared a room to reduce the rent. Jo had been working as a nanny six days a week and she’d been so miserable she’d come home after six months.
But this time it would be different. This time she was interested in culture and history, scenery and eating good food. And she’d be travelling with Bobbi, who was interested in the same things, unlike Marcus, whose idea of a fabulous holiday was to go to Fiji and relax at the resort pool for a week, eat expensive, uninspired food, and drink wine that had good reviews. Then he’d book an all-day fishing trip, seemingly forgetting that she got horribly seasick but still insisting that it was something they should do together.
She copied a few links for ideas for the trip and sent them to Bobbi, along with a ‘Harry Styles smiling’ compilation and a particularly nice photo of him she’d come across on Instagram.
After lunch she put in a few hours of work and went for a walk before having dinner and a glass of wine.
Then Jo pulled out her wedding album and flicked it open to a random page. Several of the photos already had doodles drawn on them. Marcus had a purple mullet in one and now she drew a moustache on her ex-mother-in-law and hummed happily to herself. It was kind of like scrapbooking, she reasoned, blacking out one of her ex-husband’s teeth.
She topped up her glass and was sitting contentedly on her sofa, checking her Facebook messages. There was one from Bayley.
Mother, please stop sending me Harry links. I do not need to know that we have the same favourite book. YOU also don’t need to know all these personal things about him.
Are you OK?
Do you not like him? And I’m absolutely fine, thanks for asking
He seems perfectly charming and very talented. I like his solo music
That accent, I could listen to him talking for the rest of my life. He’d make a lovely boyfriend for you
Well . if you can organise that I wouldn’t say no hahahahahahaha 🙂
I’ll work on it. Can be my new hobby. How is everything with you? Are you getting enough sleep and taking your iron tablets?
Wriggling her shoulders, Jo opened another Google window and while checking the time caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror hung above the sideboard. Her hair looked slightly dishevelled, fringe a little too long, and the cardigan she’d thrown on had a large hole in one arm. It was almost midnight and she had been online for hours. She reached for the bottle of wine and was surprised to find it empty. But there was a bottle of Frangelico unopened in the cupboard and that would make a good little nightcap.
Too easy to drink though, she realised, as she poured the second one and typed ‘harry styles, live performance schedule’ into the Google search.
March. That would be a lovely time to visit the United Kingdom. And if the dates didn’t work out, well, it’s not like the tickets would be unsellable. Before she could change her mind, Jo clicked a few times and then pulled out her credit card to check the security number.
The next morning Jo sat in her home office gazing out the window. She was about a quarter of the way through proofreading a very tedious book titled ‘Manuals, Guidelines and Standards for Meat Processing in New Zealand’. It paid the bills, and she could pretty much work the hours she wanted but she felt it would be a lot more interesting if she were proofreading bodice-rippers or even autobiographies of famous people, rather than learning how important it was to have the right grinder for processing dog food. She did have to concede that because of her work, she now had a better than average knowledge of things that most people had no interest in knowing anything about.
There was a ding in her Inbox and pleased for an excuse for a break, she clicked ‘View’.
Thank you very much for purchasing tickets for Harry Styles Love On Tour
She went upstairs to make a coffee and decided to ring Bobbi. “Hi, it’s me,” she said when Bobbi answered.
“I know it’s you, I can see you on my caller ID. You’re getting as bad—” “— as Mum. I know.”
“So, what’s up? You’re not working?”
“I am. I can only handle about an hour before I start to feel like I’m going to have nightmares about falling into a boiler and nobody realising until scraps of my clothing are found in someone’s dog roll. How are things at the bar?”
Bobbi had been running ‘Bob’s Your Aunt’ as a cabaret bar for five years, since her partner Leo left it to her. They had gotten together when Leo was in his early sixties and Bobbi in her thirties and nobody was more surprised than the two of them when Bobbi had become pregnant. But she had lost the baby fairly late into the pregnancy and their focus after that had been the bar. She hadn’t let it show to many people but she was devastated when Leo had died.
Now Bobbi ran the bar with the help of Sam, her fantastic manager. Bayley had just started working there as a sous chef, which was great, but Jo sometimes felt a little jealous that her sister saw more of her daughter than she did.
“Everything’s pretty good. I’ve just signed up a fabulous Stevie Nicks tribute act. You’ll have to come down and stay soon.”
“I’d like to see that. We can do some planning for the trip too,” Jo said quickly, and then added, “Speaking of, you’ll never believe who is doing a UK tour next year.”
There was a very brief silence.
“I think I can probably hazard a guess,” Bobbi answered drily.
“It’s Harry Styles,” Jo enthused, unnecessarily. “So, will you come with me? Just one little concert. Please say you will.”
“Well, if the alternative is sitting in a hotel bar drinking by myself …” “Great. It’ll be fun.”
“I guess I can hope that he might wear one of those open shirts. I do like the tattoos, I must say.”
Jo leant her elbows on the table and cupped her free hand around her coffee mug.
“So, you’ve been looking at the links I’ve sent you then.” She tried not to sound too smug. “I have to say, I’m not a fan of tattoos. I really don’t like that giant moth on his torso.”
Bobbi sputtered a laugh. Jo loved the sound of her sister’s laugh and even though she knew Bobbi couldn’t see her, she smiled back in return.
“It’s a butterfly,” Bobbi said. “Obviously.”
“It looks like a moth to me,” Jo shuddered. She’d always hated moths. Bobbi knew it and as a child she would torture Jo with them by chasing her around the house with one of the gigantic, hideous things cupped in her hand. If she got close enough to Jo, she’d then release it practically in her face.
“Perhaps you could lay your hands on Harry’s butterfly tattoo. It might be good therapy to cure your fear.”
“Bobbi! You do realise how young he is? I was thinking more son-in-law material than boyfriend.”
They both pondered this for a few seconds and then at exactly the same time exclaimed: “But it’s a fine line.”
“Which one of you hoes left their fuck-me boots in the hallway?” Bobbi shouted as she manoeuvred around the offending footwear on her way to the storeroom with the last of the gin delivery.
Owning a bar with a drag night cabaret was fun, but sometimes it felt like the queens were just too much chaos, even for her. It wasn’t the boots or wigs so much as the bitchy arguments and high drama over who was better at their makeup, or who had stolen whose boobs. Sometimes she felt like she was the most masculine chick in the building. And that was saying something, considering her rack.
When Leo had died, she felt quite daunted by the prospect of taking over the business.
There was so much more paperwork than she’d realised. She was used to running the bar, managing the queens and being a social face to the customers, not doing wages, taxes and insurance. Leo had left things in a little bit of a mess and it had taken her a few years to sort out, but finally it was running smoothly and she’d ironed out a lot of the kinks.
In some ways, the learning curve had been a welcome distraction from losing Leo. His death had rattled her. She’d had to get used to being on her own again.
They had slowly grown into their relationship. Bobbi had always teased Leo that he’d just worn her down. He’d had a thing for her when she first started working for him in her twenties, behind the bar. They’d never married, but when they did move in together, that was when Leo had renamed the bar for her. His big romantic gesture. She’d done a lot of wild, spontaneous stuff before they became a couple. She had a lot of fun, experimented a bit with guys and partying, but Leo had always been there, kind, steady, and adoring. It hadn’t been mad passion, more like a comfortable pair of boots than sexy heels. But they’d genuinely liked each other, enjoyed each other’s company, talked about books, liked cooking together, even liked the same music surprisingly, although Bobbi’s musical taste did tend to lean towards the old classics rather than modern.
Although now, she found herself humming along to ‘Meet Me in the Hallway’ every time she came down here thanks to Jo and her constant music links. That damn Harry was wearing her down.
Still, he was a bloody nice-looking kid, with some serious talent, so if Bayley was keen, she might actually be a perfect fit for him. Her niece was gorgeous, talented, funny and smart and probably Bobbi’s favourite person ever. Even if she was biased. But she was as close as Bobbi had to her own kid, and if she wanted Harry, Bobbi would try to give him to her.
She’d never really planned to have kids. She loved them. Had even thought about teaching at one stage, but she’d never planned for her own. If she really thought about it, maybe it was just that she always thought she had more time. Even now in her forties, she felt like she was in her late twenties. It was only when she got out of bed wrong and something twinged, or she had to rummage in her handbag for her reading glasses, that she felt her age.
Before Leo, none of her relationships had lasted long enough to consider having a kid with them. That possibly reflected on her taste in men at the time, she supposed. She’d always gone for the bad boys, and they didn’t make for family men much.
When Bay was born, she was smitten. She adored that kid from the moment she arrived in the world. She changed nappies and fed her solids, took hundreds of photos and showed them to everyone she knew. She went to every birthday party with the ‘fun aunty’ gift in tow. She went to as many of her school things as she could, babysat whenever Jo would let her. Rode roller-coasters and played tea parties and watched Ice Age over and over. Bayley was the love of her life.
It was a shame Jo hadn’t had more kids. She was an amazing mum, and she would have suited having half a dozen babies. But she’d had trouble conceiving after Bay, and then Bobbi suspected things had gone a little south in the marriage. She wouldn’t have put it past Marcus to have gone off and got a sneaky snip even. He was never much into the fatherhood thing. But he always made out like there was likely something wrong with Jo. Bobbi had never really warmed to Marcus. She’d tried to get along with him, but he didn’t make it easy.
Bobbi had had a few occasions to worry as a young woman about unplanned pregnancies, but never got pregnant, so she’d sort of assumed she might not be fertile. When she found out she was expecting, she was as shocked as anyone. Nicely shocked though. And excited. Leo perhaps hadn’t been quite so enthusiastic — he had grown-up kids from his first marriage — so he wasn’t looking forward to going back to nappies and sleepless nights, but he was supportive and happy for Bobbi.
When they lost the baby, it was the worst pain Bobbi had ever known.
They’d even tried again after a few months, but without success. She tried not to dwell too much, but it lingered still, like a dull ache.
She was lucky Jo had shared Bayley with her. Bloody lucky to have Jo in general really; they were best friends as well as sisters.
They’d done some random, slightly crazy stuff in the past, so the idea that someone as famous and adored as Harry Styles might pick her niece from the billions of wannabes in the world might be far-fetched, but Bobbi was a romantic at heart. There was someone for everyone, right? So who was to say that a small town girl from New Zealand wouldn’t be Harry’s Ms Right? All they had to do was help lead him to her.
She was mulling over a few more ideas for that when Polly-Esther yelled out to tell her there was a large parcel for her to sign. Plan A had arrived.
Last summer Bobbi had snapped a fantastic photo of Bayley in her skimpy red bikini and had the picture enlarged onto a full-sized cardboard cutout. All it would take was for Harry to spot her niece during the concert and he would be smitten. And surely he’d have to notice this.
It was a little more ungainly than she had anticipated though. As she carried it up to her apartment, she did wonder how she would get it on the plane, or into cabs and things. Still, it would be worth it.
Downstairs, she found Sam in the small industrial kitchen talking quietly to Bayley as she prepped for the dinner service.
Sam had been managing the place for almost six years now, and she was bloody lucky to have him. The customers loved him, and the queens all tried desperately to hook up with him.
She’d never heard any gossip about his love life since he’d started behind the bar at twenty-two, and he took his job very seriously. The place would be in great hands while she was away with Jo, and she was starting to look forward to it more and more as they planned. She and Jo had done several holidays together and they always had a blast. Although, thinking about the last time they’d done a trip away and Jo had made them stay in an old converted women’s prison, she made a mental note to ask what accommodation they had booked so far.
Her phone dinged with a message and she opened it to see another Harry pic.
Rolling her eyes, she showed Bayley her phone. “Another shot of your Mr Right, Bayleaf, courtesy of your Harry-obsessed mother.”
She watched Bayley’s face as she took in the photo and laughed at the blush that crept over her.
“Help me, Sam,” she cried.
Sam just smirked and said, “Well, he is pretty gorgeous, Bay, and so are you.” Bayley turned even pinker, and Bobbi thought, Harry really would love her.
“Your mum and I will get him to fall in love with you, Bay, but when you and Harry hook up, I want to be thanked in the wedding speech, okay?”
Bayley seemed to be concentrating very hard on cutting up her peppers.
“Right now, Auntie Bob, I’m more worried about finding somewhere to live than someone to marry.”
“What? Why? What’s wrong with your flat?
“The landlord is selling and wants to do it up first so we have to be out next month.” “Well, why don’t you move in here till you find somewhere? I’ve got two rooms.” “Yeah but you’ll be away for a month soon, and isn’t Sam staying at yours?” Bayley looked up and across at Sam as she spoke.
“Well sure, but he won’t mind, will you, Sam? You’re both always here working anyway, it’d make life easy.”
Sam raised his eyebrows and then studied his nails.
“Ah, yeah, nah, that’s cool. I mean, it’s your apartment. I’m just glad to stay rent free for a month. It’s still free, right?”
“Yes, Sam, free. So long as you don’t burn the place down or run it into the ground. I know you’re saving for a house deposit, so it’s all good. Your mum will probably appreciate the break too.”
Bayley shrugged. “Well, yeah, maybe then, if I can’t find anything else. Is it free for me too, my favourite aunty ever?”
Bobbi laughed. “Only if you deep-fry some pickles tonight and then come up to watch
The Princess Bride with me after your shift.”
“Deal,” Bayley said, “now get out of my kitchen.” “As you wish,” Bobbi grinned.
As she headed back into the bar, a pink wig poked its head out of the second door and asked, “Boss, any chance you’ve got a spare pair of falsies lying around?” and Bobbi couldn’t help but think a holiday was just what she needed. Thanks, Uncle Bill. And perhaps she’d meet a hot Scotsman to entertain her for a while.
Her phone dinged again and Bobbi roared with laughter when she opened the link Jo had sent her: an image of Harry in a kilt. Sometimes their sister telepathy was scary.