Neon Red – Chapter 8

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

**********.

Paris, France

Paris, France

February 2017

Balmain Womenswear Show. I sat in the front row, surrounded by hundreds of susurrant strangers. The gentleman beside me kept coughing into a callused palm before shaking hands with a number of other guests. The unwitting, is what I called them,  many of whom went on to shake other clueless hands. It was no longer a mystery how contagions were spread.

Photographers from different publications dropped every so often to snag a few pics. I mustered a cheeky grin or two, but mostly sat looking as awkward as I felt. Sometimes the flashes caught me off guard and resulted in great sensory disturbance. Shimmering blotches filling my line of vision whenever I looked ahead. I grew tired of smiling. The effort was mechanical and I had become a dead-eyed marionette. I stopped grinning to avoid looking like a creep, but probably just gave everyone the impression I was pissed all of a sudden. The photographers filtered away and stopped coming after a while, which was a win for me.

 The photographers filtered away and stopped coming after a while, which was a win for me

It was dark here. The models passed beneath a mirrored archway like something out of a futuristic funhouse. As they advanced, each body multiplied into a legion of marching clones in the crystal surfaces, then vanished in a split second. Eerie ambient music accompanied them, stirring the room like an omen; as though our souls were in jeopardy of being siphoned off by Ammit.

A dim runway divided the room; its reflective surfaces creating the illusion of black ice. Theatric lights were everywhere, shooting towards the ceiling in great blinking towers. As the models passed, I gaped. The looks were ferocious. The designer had leapt far beyond sexy and well past female empowerment to foster a primitive nightmare. Full of cold, leathery blacks and earthy tones like amber and muddy greens. Indigenous prints. Animal faces. Exquisite beadwork and tassels. Fearsome makeup fit for Amazonian goddesses. No, warriors.

The interstellar tunes grew on me

The interstellar tunes grew on me. G passed first, hardly a trace of the girl I knew. She didn’t bother to look my way either, not that I wanted her to with all that man-eating makeup. There were racoon-esque smears around her eyes, and a fat metallic strip down her lips as though she had kissed a brick of gold.

She was more focused than I’d ever seen her. I didn’t envy her job of strutting down a glossy vinyl strip in a room full of caviling spectators. Wannabe royals. Arbiters of different fashion houses who looked about with downturned lips, caught in a perpetual state of ennui. Cameras glared from all ends ready to catch her slightest misstep, ensuring it would go viral. When I weighed everything, marching in stilettos that high seemed far more difficult than performing a few tunes live. I’d choose the latter over the former any day, as opposed to taking my chances on those merciless stilts.

Now the score was full-on heavy metal. Someone was shredding on an electric guitar. Some of the models’ clothes featured wolfs like those corny graphic tees from the early 2000s. Unsurprisingly, I grew bored of watching humans in gaudy costumes walk in a straight line, and started hoping someone would fall to shake things up a bit. Just completely eat shit. That would be scenes. I’d even record it. I wasn’t advocating for any broken bones or anything, just a good trip and fall, and then a chorus of gasps, and maybe even a bit of laughter. Maybe a few beads spilling across the runway, tripping her gangly friends.

I checked the time and it was only six minutes in. Fuck, it felt more like ten. I kept looking to see G circle around again but couldn’t spot her. To be honest, it was hard to recognize anyone. I thought maybe I saw Kendall, but that was until someone else walked by behind her who also looked like Kendall.

Some of the crystal and metalwork was painfully iridescent, drawing me in like an attention-deficient child. When it caught the light, speckles of rainbow were cast across the room and the effect was overawing. Apart from that, I didn’t see how anyone could wear this stuff in a practical sense, or even in a formal setting, But it was pretty cool to look at for what it was worth. And maybe that was just it. It was simply another form of art, and for some people it was impactful.

Now we looped back to the eerie space voyage soundtrack. I don’t think this designer knew exactly what he wanted to aim for. Seemed like a sci-fi dork and a rock groupie landed a gig together and were trying to make the show feel as radical and counterculture as possible, with supernatural undertones tossed in for added shock value.

About halfway through, I was convinced I’d made the wrong choice by flying to Paris and surprising her after all. The universe had gifted me the perfect out with the supposed lost passport excuse, but as ever, I let the guilt get the best of me and flew to France anyway. Fucking simp

I just didn’t want her to be disappointed in me. It was rare that she openly expressed disappointment, but this time had been the exception. She told me she’d been counting on me to be there, and that she was a little embarrassed to have made a big deal out of me coming, only for me to bail at the last minute. After that, I knew I had to show up, rain, shit, or shine. She deserved that much at least. And she had always shown up for me.

Still, this show felt so endless. And to think, I had many more in store in the coming days with fashion labels I’d never even heard of before. Just the same rotation of females marching by in slightly different outfits than the ones who preceded them. How was that entertaining? Was it even necessary? What ever happened to good old-fashioned catalogs? It would save the designer a shit ton of much money, as opposed to this freakshow, which was mostly just an excuse for fashion elitists to gather and congratulate themselves on designing awful, impractical clothes.

I kept wanting to hit fast-forward until I got to the end of the lineup, but there was no hope. Time check: 12 minutes in. I had no idea how long this would go on for, but I could’ve sworn I’d been sitting here 30 minutes by now.

One girl walked by in a feathered number with heavily padded shoulders, and she looked like a giant bird-woman; reminiscent of the ending scene of Black Swan. 15 minutes in and it was official. I had never experienced something so painfully unexhilarating before in my life, and I had literally watched paint dry one time as a kid. My uncle paid me a few pounds to make sure no one interfered with the fresh coat he’d slathered on in the dining room; and that was one shitty paint job.

My phone buzzed. It was a text from him. Struggling to suppress a grin, I bit my lower lip. He said: ‘I don’t miss you.’ I snickered and replied: ‘Yeah, okay. Well, I miss you.’

**********

“Gosh this stuff won’t come off. I’ve washed it like five times since the show”

“Just leave it alone then, yeah?” I said from the hotel bed, sitting against a mountain of pillows and watching YouTube videos on her Macbook. “Y’know you’re starting to make your eyelids all raw and puffy, babe. People’ll think you’ve been, like, crying since I got here.” She laughed.

“Right, they’ll think you’re, like, horribly abusive or something. Hah!”

“Not funny…”

“It kinda is though…” We laughed. “I don’t know about dinner tonight, Z. I’m super exhausted—”

“I know youh are.”

“—how does room service sound?”

“Always sounds gud to me.”

“Thought you’d say that,” she snickered, peeping out of the bathroom for a second, where she was putting on a slimy face mask. I could hear her fingers dipping into that putrescent mush from here. It was some plant-based concoction from the Netherlands that her mom swore by.

“So, how’d it go?”

“The show?” I asked.

Duh….”

“Oh, well shit…” I chuckled. “It was wicked, babe. Youh looked super badass. Like you’d kick anyone’s ass—”

“I know right?! Ugh, baby, I loveeeed those looks so much! Olivier did not disappoint. I didn’t want to take the last one off. I felt, like, someone out of the Matrix. Like I suddenly knew taekwondo or something…”

“How sick would that be?”

“I’ll get there. I’m still into boxing right now. Working on my uppercut.”

“I noticed. Youh’ve been doing a lot of shadow boxin’ latelyh. Just don’t practice it on me, yeah?”

“I’ll think about it…” she giggled.

My phone buzzed. It was Haz. He was acting weird. I could tell there was something he wanted to say, but was reluctant to. This time all he sent was: ‘You don’t miss me.’

“My trainer said I’m sooo naturally gifted at it—”

“Youh are…”

“—Z, he couldn’t believe how far I’ve come with even just the fundamentals.”

“Once youh have those down, youh can really do damage…”

“He’s thinking about letting me spar. I’m down. I’m just sort of, like, naturally athletic, thank God. So I guess a lot of this stuff comes easy to me. Like fighting, or running, or climbing. You know?”

“Uh-huh.” I replied, while also replying to him. ‘You know I do. Don’t say that.’ 

She started singing. I needed that to stop immediately. She may have been naturally gifted at a lot of things, but singing wasn’t one.

“Hey, G, youh know what I heard was gud cardio?”

“What?”

Canoeing…” At that, she burst out laughing, then looked around the doorframe at me.

“What on earth do you know about canoeing?”

“Don’t worry about it. Just listen up,” I grinned. He still hadn’t texted back yet. I sent a few question marks.

“I was thinking about bouldering, though, babe.”

“Shit, I meant kayaking, G, not canoeing…”

Whateverrrr,” she laughed. “I’m thinking of bouldering, I said. You listening?”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve never been like, actual rock climbing. Bell, has, but not me. But this one time, I went bouldering with Rob…it’s like when…y’know, babe. When you see the wall in the gym with all the stones sticking out?”

“Right, right…”

“So yeah, that’s bouldering. Unbelievable core building, and honing upper body strength. That’s essentially what I’m thinking of doing next, right? Just, like, a different sort of movement, y’know? Like, workout the muscles that haven’t been used in a while.”

“Sounds sick babe.” It was a while before he texted back: ‘Prove it.’

G came stomping across the room to ruffle through her luggage for something. She was only in her bra and panties, a lacy flesh-toned set. She squatted to get a closer look into the suitcase, presenting the outline of her spine, bumpy along her smooth back. She hunched deeper and deeper into the case, and I thought she’d fall in. Her hair was in a massive topknot that flopped around at the crown of her head like a girthy boner. I nearly dropped my phone when she glanced my way.

“What’re youuu lookin’ at, bubba?” she teased with a squinch of her nose, before heading back into the bathroom.

It was a while before I could respond to him: ‘Whose baby are you?’ I could sense the hesitancy in his response. After a reluctant while, he texted: ‘Yours…’ A moment later he asked: ‘Are you mine?’ My stomach flipped. I couldn’t reply soon enough; boney fingers fumbling: ‘Always.’ At that, he said, ‘I love you so much.’

Before I could return the sentiment, G shut out the bathroom light and climbed into bed beside me, having rinsed off her face mask and unpinned her hair. It fell down her shoulders in long, tawny waves. She looked sun-kissed and smelled freshly showered. Her arms were warm. Her cheeks, rosy. Her eyes, sleepy and makeup free. A bit red around the lids. She was wearing my black t-shirt from yesterday and soft, cotton panties. When she lay across my lap and gazed up at me expectantly, I couldn’t pretend I didn’t know what she wanted.

**********

Later as she lay asleep beside me, I searched for my phone in the darkness, finding it on the edge of the nightstand. I hurriedly responded to his last text, knowing my delayed response would upset him. ‘Love you more, baby. So, so much.’ 

He must’ve been up, because he responded and was in the mood for talking. ‘Can you talk now?’ he wondered. ‘Of course,’ I insisted, climbing out of bed stark naked and moving into the sitting room. I gathered my briefs along the way and put them on before calling him.

Heyyy, Z,” he sighed, and it was evident how pleased he was that I’d called. “How’s everything over there?”

“Cool, babe, cool. Busy day, is all.”

“Busier than expected?”

“Yeah,” I laughed. “Always…”

“Fashion week is a hassle—”

“Soh I’ve learned.”

“You okay?”

“Mm-hm.”

“Good, mate…I was worried about you getting overwhelmed.”

“Don’t worry ’bout it, babe. I’m doin’ amazin’, seriously. What’re youh up to anyweh?”

“Shit, just getting more media out of the way. I met with Rob today.”

“Stewart?”

“No…” he laughed. “No, he doesn’t want to see me again. He thinks I slept with his daughter—”

“Recently?”

“No, like…2013 or something.”

“Well…uh, did youh?” There was a pause, before he guiltily wheezed,

“Uhhhhhh…maybe…?” We laughed.

“Right, right…I think I remember dat, yeah?”

“M’talking about Sheffield, though. Rob Sheffield. Remember I told you—”

“Oh yeah! The Rolling Stone, right?”

“Mm-hm”

“Sick, babe! That’s actually incredibly cool, Haz. On your first album? That’s unheard of.”

“Thanks, mate…I thought so too. I mean, it’s alright, y’know?”

I tiptoed back into the bedroom and made sure G was asleep before grabbing my smokes from my jacket pocket. I fumbled for my lighter while he described most of what the interview had entailed.

“It’ll be a gud story, sounds like.” I deduced, heading back into the sitting room and out onto the balcony. The view from the Four Seasons George V was quintessentially Parisian. Comically so. I had an unobstructed vantage of the Eiffel Tower and the Cathédrale Américaine de Paris, both towering darkly into the night.He’d be pissed if he knew we’d be having breakfast overlooking this particular sight every morning.

“Youh guys didn’t miss a beat.”

“I tried to cover everything. He asked me a lot about dating—”

“He ask about me any?”

“—of course. Everyone does.”

“What’d youh say? Nothing terrible I hope.”

“No, never…” he laughed. “Not in any public outlet anyway.” We laughed again. “I just told him you were alright, y’know? Told ’em we hadn’t spoke much since you left, but, uh, that I respected why you left. I understood it. And I did, Z. I really did respect it. And, uh, I told him I wished you luck.”

“Jeez…”

“What? Something wrong?”

“Nothin’…nothin’…” I rubbed a hand down my face. “I were just thinkin’…that’s soh, like, sad, innit?”

“Me wishing you luck?”

“Noh, noh…the us not speaking part. If it were really that cold between us, maan, I dunno how I’d handle it. After everythin’?”

“I know…” He sighed into the speaker. I wished I could feel the warmth against my cheek. He cleared his throat and continued, “I was sort of sad saying it, Z. I just…I just felt sort of down. Rob changed the subject after that, and I was grateful.”

“I don’t like thinkin’ of us like that. All separate and unconcerned with each other.”

“For a while we were.”

“And it killed me…”

“Me too, y’know…”

“Soh the album?” I decided to switch the subject to something less depressing.

“Yeah, it’s finished. Just time to market my ass off. Any tips?”

“Youh’ll do gud, babe.”

“Think so?”

“Noh, I know soh. Trust me, maan. It’ll be far better than anyone expects. Even yourself. You’re too close to it right. Youh need a bit of distance to see it from an outsider’s perspective. You’re gonna feel soh proud when youh see everyone else reactin’ to it, yeah?”

“I know right?” he chuckled softly. His voice was low and husky. Just shy of a whisper. It sounded like he was in bed, although it was mid-day over there. “Like, I’m nervous and shit. But mostly excited. I just want you to hear it, Z. It’s for you, to be honest. All of it’s for you,” he laughed with embarrassment. ” Ever second I stood in that studio, you were on my brain. I try so hard not to make every song about you…” My heart lurched. I couldn’t respond. Then he whispered, “Z…baby…you hear me? I need you to be proud of it.” 

I stared out at the moon over the buildings across the street, half-hidden with cloud cover. I exhaled and let the cigarette smoke color the air around me, before it drifted away to join other Parisian pollutions.

“Noh, babe, it’s all youh. It’s all for youh. Youh gotta give yourself credit.”

“I love you…”

“I’m soh proud of you…” I murmured.

“Where is she?”

“Asleep.”

“Where are you?”

“You know where.”

“The balcony?”

“Mm-hm.”

“What’re you wearing?”

“…Um…just briefs…”

“Good…” I could hear his breathing slow, spilling out of him after being thrust from deep within his lungs. I needed to feel it on my face, in my mouth. In my hair.

“Get in the shower…” he demanded, and I obeyed, butting the cigarette on the glass breakfast table. I couldn’t get there fast enough. I was already trembling, feeling my way through the darkness to the bedroom toilet. All I could hear was my breath, labored from the cigarette and giddy with excitement.

Once inside the shower, I let him know. He wanted me to wash her away. I kept the water low to control the spray, taking the body wash into one hand and rubbing myself clean. My cock flopped against my fingers, brushing my thigh. There was no way I would get out of this alive. I was more turned on than I’d ever been earlier that night. Something about this felt so wrong, and my entire body was responding. Knowing she was in the other room both made me want to shit myself with fear, but also shout his name loud enough for her to hear. My stomach was in knots. My legs felt spindly and wobbly. My dick was so slippery I could barely hold on. By the time I’d rinsed myself clean, listening to him murmur crazy things into my ear the entire time, I was rock hard.

“Finished yet?”

Yes…” I rasped, nodding as though he could see. 

“Good…” He was sucking his fingers. I knew he was. I could hear it through the phone and had a visceral reaction to the noise. 

Fuck, Haz!” I shouted, inexplicably upset. Becoming delirious and sleep deprived. “Why the fuck d’youh have to do this to me?!” He sucked them louder. I swallowed thickly. “I can feel that, baby…how can I feel that?”

He made me rub it out again; slowly this time. He told me to taste my pre-cum. He needed me to taste it for him. Afterwards he asked me what it tasted like and I whimpered “I don’t really know…” Like his, maybe?

He told me to put the phone near my dick so he could hear my hand working. He sighed and said he wished he could put it in his mouth. He told me it was his. Told me he wanted to suck the tip. Dig his tongue into my peehole until I convulsed. Lick his way down to my balls. Spin me around and eat my ass until I couldn’t stand.

Only Harry fucking Styles could make me stand in a shower in the dead of night, risking the health of my phone, fucking my hand like a lunatic, and eating my own pre-cum. I could hear him tugging himself through the phone, breath shallow. I could hear his greasy palm. Warm lube dripping along his meat. Big pink cock, quivering to be sucked. 

He could barely speak for moaning so unreservedly. Moaning from his soul. Rasping my name. It was an accusatory, desperate sound. He sounded so unlike himself when he got like this. It only made me harder and sore to the touch. He forever took advantage of my oppressive sex drive, making me his fool. Whether he was aware of it or not, a part of him knew how fucked up I was and used that to his advantage. It was a sickness I dealt with in total alienation, day after day. He was my only real fix, but he was only available part-time, and that left me to make do with what was right in front of me. I braced my back against the shower wall as my knees weakened; geriatric as fuck. My shoulder blades knocked achily against the stone. 

I held off as long as I could, slowing my vigor to more languid, meandering pumps, waiting on him to finish. I could go any minute now. It all depended on him. “Don’t cum, baby…not yet,” he pleaded. “I need you. Z, I need you…” he panted. “Please…I don’t want it to be over yet. I don’t want you to go back to her…”

“I know, I fucking know…” I growled, pulsating, ready to unload down the drain. I shut my eyes, lost in the pitiless storm of water, steam, and mortification, listening to him exhale, imagining it was his cock in my hand and vice versa. I saw us laying side by side in the center of his bed, writhing in sync. Drenching the sheets in sweet. Limbs entangled. Stoned out of our minds; only on each other’s pheromones. Mutually assured destruction.

He came in a prolonged sigh that bordered on sobbing. I followed, hoping the water would muffle my stunted whimpers. When it was over, I didn’t want to let go. I squeezed myself until it hurt and I felt dangerously touched-out. 

When it was all said and done, I shut the water off exhaustedly, hearing it stave off someplace behind the wall. Now I remained where I was, back against the stone, staring out at the shadows of the room. He inhaled sharply, trying to recover. My screen was dotted with water. Neither of us spoke. In heartbeat, he hung up and I was left feeling diminutive and used.


WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT!

-HUGE drama in Paris

-Flashback to 2013, picks up after the engagement

-Flashbacks to 2014-2015

-More Zarry in all time periods!!

Can’t wait to share the next few chapters with you! Thanks loves 🙂

Neon Red – Chapter 7

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

**********

Will you lay yourself down and dig your grave

Or will you rail against your dying day?

Sleep On The Floor – The Lumineers

Everything I’d overcome, beginning long before Simon Cowell called my name in 2010, seemed to position me to conquer music on my own. Lots of strife to scream into the mic about. Lots of angst to inform my lyricism. Lots of ambivalence to keep me questioning…keep me curious. I was always a solo artist, Jawaad used to say. When I entered the X-Factor at 17, it was entirely on my own, and I had been prepared to sing my style of music. Cover the artists I’d grown up listening to and knew by heart. Shit that I could identify with. Turns out, the years with the band had been nothing more than a glorified derailment, and according to J., I was now back on track. Primed to take over the world.

For a time he was consumed with the idea of redemption. He’d read the biography of a Muslim revert from the eighteenth century who had essentially sold his soul to the devil and traveled the world transfixed with hedonism and avarice, but in the end returned home a redeemed man. I was not one for heroic comparisons, but he insisted it was allegorical to my experiences in the white man’s band, and that I was well on my way home when I left them in 2015. Never to step foot on that musty tour bus again, stale with the odor of unchanged socks and unwashed feet. Never to hear the roar of the rubber against the road. Never to watch the sunrise soar over a Norwegian cityscape again. Never to revist Peru. Never to run late to soundcheck in South Africa or the UAE, because I hadn’t made it that far. 

I don’t know if I quite saw things the way J. did, although anyone who succeeded in music is generally thought by the public to have undertaken some Faustian Bargain behind closed doors. It was weird to think that’s how he saw me. Regardless of what anyone speculated about how I got my start, or how I acquired all this wealth and stardom, I can rest assured my soul was intact. From Day One I maintained who I was at my core, never sold out, never bent, and instead of robbery, I liked to consider the band a growing experience and an opportunity to dip my toe into what awaited beyond paths of convention. One for which I was eternally grateful.

I couldn’t deny I was born a maverick, despite how laughable and overused the notion had become in pop culture. I was an island. I was one called out from among many. An outsider intended to walk alone. Most of the time I couldn’t shake the notion I was trespassing as I moved from continent to continent with the other boys, leaving my footprints all over the globe. Culture shock was an understatement. Homesickness seemed like a mild agitation compared to what I experienced whenever I awoke in a strange country, miles removed from anything and anyone familiar. No Bradford to be found. No people who looked or sounded like me. Going months without seeing my dogs. Days without sleeping. Longing for the shadowy rooms of my parents’ first house. The one I had been technically too young to remember. 

To cope, I sat on my own writing hundreds of tunes I feared would never see the light of day. That is, until 2014 after I met the right people. We started to establish a sound unique to me that would incorporate both my Eastern and Western musical influences; and as a result ease my conscience. For a while those were the only two warring parts of myself. A struggle to not let the East overshadow the West, and similarly not allow the West to erase the East. My roots were of value to me, even if I’d never stepped foot in South Asia. I was fortunate to develop a working relationship with a London-based Pakistani producer before I ever left 1D. He presented himself trustworthy and understood the internal cultural struggle well; helping me to navigate it with the music we created. 

Naughty Boy had accepted me into the fold like an adored little brother who he deeply believed in. “We’re on the rise…” he’d always repeat like a homemade mantra, with a glimmer in his eye that reminded me of polished apples. He hardly let me travel anywhere alone when I was home from tour, since according to him it was safer for someone of my caliber of fame to travel in numbers. I failed to question his philosophies because I trusted him beyond reason. He was the older brother I had been dying for growing up in a universe of women, and at times being incapable of connecting with my dad because of the generational gap. Likewise, I’d fallen in love with his cat, which was an obese Shorthair dying of diabetes. I had prayed for that damn thing. 

Then I’d met his mom, who quit cooking when she left his dad, so there was no food in the house whenever we visited. It was a two-story converted flat on the edge of Birmingham that she’d been granted in the divorce, and it was usually a pigsty when we stopped by.  Dishes of half-eaten food forsaken in the living areas. Spills from over turned glasses staining the carpet like abstract prints; which we pretended were Rorschach tests. Like spotting wispy animal effigies in the clouds. The reek of weeks-old roast nested in the molding, in the sofa. It probably sat congealed in a porcelain dish at the back of the fridge, hairy with mold. 

Dirty laundry left in piles in the hallway outside the toilet. Vermin scurrying around in plain view. Beady-eyed mice and tawny ants. Shahid (Naughty Boy) had trouble getting her to clean up, or to move into a new place. She liked that it housed the memories of her happy domestic past. Whenever he sent a cleaning lady over, she refused to open the door. She had become paranoid and too peevish to interact with anyone other than him. Eventually he confided that she was exhibiting symptoms of early-onset dementia, which left him unsure of how to help. We became inseparable ever since; airing out our darkest and most disturbing secrets in his London studio, helping each other through our shit. Once I even came unnervingly close to telling him about Harry after a few too many beers, but thankfully I bit my tongue instead.

Having a producer to myself had been a life-changing experience, one that ought not be taken for granted. He was someone invested in me as an individual, and didn’t need to cater to my four counterparts who were all making sure their contributions were heard. That relationship soured by mid-2015, though, when I suspected Shahid was leaking all my new shit. It wasn’t difficult to figure out he was being paid for exclusive listens; people in the media desperate to get their hands on any inkling of Zayn’s Malik’s new solo stuff. To cut ties with him hurt more than I cared to admit, after everything we’d been through together in that studio, particularly with all the indispensable guidance he’d imparted that I would cling to for the rest of my life. But when it came down to it, I just couldn’t trust him the way I hoped.

I admit I didn't enjoy sending those tweets in July 2015

I admit I didn’t enjoy sending those tweets in July 2015. In fact, it hurt me when I read them back to myself 5 minutes later, but it was too late to change anything by then. The damage was done, and if I deleted them then it would seem I’d been mistaken about his intentions, which I wasn’t. I still felt a lump in my throat whenever I thought back to the late nights we’d shared in London with his boys and my cousins, getting high, ordering takeout, running the streets absolutely stoned. Hitting a few bars to  finish off the night. 

It was all laughs, and we were all obsessed with the booth. Obsessed with unloading onto the mic in unmitigated streams of consciousness that left us in tears. It was the most authentic studio experience I’d ever had, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. But when I looked back, it was plainly obvious he only associated with me because I was “on the brink of greatness.” 

He let clout and his growing social media engagement cloud his judgement, and ended up posting some really reckless shit a time or two. Like the demo I recorded for Haz a few years ago. Now the entire world had heard it and dissected it and attributed false meaning to the things I confessed in a song meant for one person’s ears alone. The only excuse we could come up with was to say it was a rejected 1D demo, when anyone with two active braincells could see the song was never meant to be heard by the public. I was in a terrifying state-of-mind when I recorded it, thinking I’d lost everything for good. But Haz reassured me in every way after he got the email that he was mine and only mine, forever. And when Harry said “forever” he meant it quite literally. He was scary in that way.

“Business or pleasure?” a gravelly voice ventured beside me.  He was my seat mate and had been asleep since we boarded. He hadn’t turned to look at me; but instead kept staring ahead at the hive of mussed brunette hair in the row before him, clearing his throat with a impatient compulsion. 

“Uh, both, I guess.” I answered, looking at his liver-spotted hands and thick, yellow nails. “You?”

“Always pleasurable for me…always.”

“Is that soh?”

Yesss, of course, my boy.” He had a whiny drawl at times, like a veritable drunk. But I’m certain he was sober. “I’ve enjoyed the notion of flying since I was a small concern…” The corners of his eyes lifted in a smile of tender remembrance.  Deep crevices came to life, framing his droopy lids. “Couldn’t ever afford to take to the sky back then. Air travel was never particularly inexpensive, you know. My folks thought it a luxury, and I suppose they were right. It’s always been the road for them.”

“Same, by the way. I didn’t see the inside of a plane until I was, like, 18.” I chuckled. “It felt a little embarrassing admitting it was a first for me back when the tickets were purchased. All my friends had flown before.”

“You’ve got me beat. I was at least 27 before I could afford my first ticket. Flew over to Canada for business. Another man’s business, that is, never my own until I was about 40.” He cleared his throat. “Stayed under 24hrs before heading home.” Finally he glanced over at me, beneath the brim of his old-man-cap. A gray Herringbone tweed, like something out of the 1920s. He smelled like spearmint Dentyne and pipe tobacco. “Say, where you from anyhow?”

“The U-Kay…Bradford, originally.”

“You sound it. Can’t be mistaken.”

“Soh I’ve been told.” I laughed, pulling my headphones away. “Youh from New York, or just visitin’?”

Schenectady. Born and raised.”

“Never been.”

“You ought to. Everyone should.”

“Maybe I will,” I gave it consideration. “I’ve been trying to, like, take my time and explore the place since I got there late last year. Uh, my girlfriend’s shown me around a bit, but really only, like, the neighborhoods around Manhattan. She’s been there a few years.”

“There’s much more to New York than the cinematic dreaminess of Manhattan…”

“I would think soh. I’m excited to have my family over from the U-Kay…show them around a bit. Maybe we’ll get into sumthin'” 

Later he told me about the trouble he’d gotten into as a teen stealing cars and joyriding them on the weekends. There was a whole car thief ring where he was from, ran by the local butcher, and they all taught each other to drive. Meaning mistakes were commonplace and never corrected. A lot of them had driven with both feet, some riding the brake and ruining the transmissions. He and his friends made it a monthly ritual until one of the newbies lost a hand in a head-on collision with a teacher. She didn’t live to tell the tale, and the guy had been charged with her death; made to serve his sentence with the new handicap. Luke, my old-timer seatmate, said it was the last time any of them went within a hundred feet of a stolen car. He thought karma had it’s way with him when his Buick was stolen a few years later, and he was left to bum rides around town.

I told him I was a musician and he didn’t hold it against me. He thought it was cool I’d been in a boyband, although he couldn’t name a single member of One Direction if his life depended on it. He told me about his three ex-wives, two dead, one survived. Then he told me he had known one of the girls from the Manson Family who hadn’t been apart of the murders. That his aunt used to babysit her once she moved to California. I wouldn’t understand the significance of that reference until I got home and researched it. Towards the end of our talk he had dozed off again, but not before inviting me to visit him in Schenectady anytime I wanted.

**********

In my quiet time I liked to replay the greatest year of my life, longing to relive it. Perhaps make different choices. Perhaps live more keenly in the moment. The last few hours of the flight was no exception, and in an instant, I fell back into that mode of thought; “Just Like Honey” by The Jesus and Mary Chain seeping through my headphones.

2016 came and went in a heartbeat. My solo career shot out from under me like a crotch-rocket I was ill-equipped to manage. That was owing to the power of 1D, of course, and my leaving it so infamously. Landing a #1 on the Billboard was beyond my wildest dreams. Nothing I’d ever thought of aspiring to, seeing as how the band never achieved one for itself. We came close a time or two and the sales were always through the roof, but a #1 on the Hot 100 for an international artist was like stumbling across a four-leaf clover. It rarely ever happened, and  if it did, it was usually a flash in the pan sort of thing. Something that required the careful attention of industry specialists and a formulaic rollout. All supplemented with just the right airplay and continuous hype. Nothing I was aiming for in the least. I just wanted to make the music I wanted to make and send it out to my fans. I’d do it all for free if I could, since I’d made my money and was content in that department.

‘Where do we go from here?’ — had been my first question when Taryn and a few friends brought over giant #1 balloons and champagne. Later they got me a massive arrangement of cupcakes in the shape of the number and took me to a fancy sushi bar. The world was my oyster, or so a dozen colleagues had assured me. Simon had personally called with congratulations since he had helped author the deal right out of the gate. I also got loads of DMs from old friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while, like Bieber and Katy Perry and even some of the suits over at Syco and Modest. Liam eventually reached out, then Niall. Nothing from Lou, and of course nothing from Haz until we ran into each other again at the gala.

I checked my phone compulsively to see if he had texted yet. Still nothing. He was upset and attempting to give me the cold shoulder. Fuck if it wasn’t working. I broke, which he claimed I never did first, and texted him a poop emoji. Ten minutes passed and I got agitated that he hadn’t responded. I wished there was a way to unsend texts. Fuck him, anyway. Best thing to do was set my phone down and call it a day. He would stay pissed for a while, as long as he was under the impression that I had left him to be with her; which technically was the case, but not really. It didn’t sound right once you said it aloud, because in truth, I never left LA. 

I was still laying right there beside him. Could almost taste his skin on the tip of my tongue, so utterly lifelike were my recollections. I was never more present than when I was with him. G often got the absent me. The aloof one emotionally preoccupied with what was happening on the opposite coast. My thoughts tucked away in The Hills behind the soaring doors of a 1940s mansion. A place that once belonged to a renown film producer who had driven off a cliff one drunken night. Yeah, she got that version of me. The inattentive scatterbrain. 

I imagined I could still smell every bit of him on my dominant hand—just the way I liked. I pressed the back of my fingers to my nose and inhaled like a sicko, glad Luke was still asleep. There was nothing left since I’d washed my hands earlier, but to be on the safe side, I needed to make a pit stop in the restroom before G caught up to me and found any traces of him. Problem was, I despised airplane bathrooms. They made me feel claustrophobic. And there was always some dickhead who had pissed the toilet seat by the time I got there.

Typically it seemed like there was piss dripping from the walls when I stepped into a space that small where strangers had been shitting all day. It gave me the creeps, like one of them portable chemical toilets at a festival that had seen better days. Probably serving a stretch at a  seedy truck-stop before making its way to me. I had hair-raising memories of an outdoor festival that had been rained out a couple years back, and when I stepped inside the toilet, it was pitch black. Full of vomit and muddy footprints and wet toilet paper. I left there still having to piss, that is, until my cousins and I were able to relieve ourselves on the side of the road outside the venue.

Up, I got. Making my way to the first-class toilet and avoiding eye-contact with the other passengers in case anyone wanted a selfie, I was relieved to find it unoccupied. I marveled at how spacious the room was before staring at myself in the speckled mirror. It looked like someone had sneezed directly onto the glass and hadn’t bothered to clean it off. Just my luck.

**********

Babyyyyy!” G squealed when she saw me, running down the sidewalk along Arrivals in a red peacoat and collapsing into me. “Heyyyy, Z!! Oh my gosh, I missed you sooo much!” I laughed and squeezed her, lifting her off her feet a bit.

“Yeah, youh too.” After that, she started in on me, wanting to kiss with her extra sticky lip gloss. It landed on my cheek first, then on my lips and consequently in my mustache. It was thick and tacky like body wax—almost impossible to remove without that special solvent.

Heyyy, babe,” I chucked, pulling her back for a quick kiss on the forehead. Sometimes I shuddered, thinking: If only she knew where my mouth had been. My stomach flipped at the thought of her finding out. We still needed to have The Talk.

“Oh god, babe, damn I missed you! It’s been like, ridiculously boring without you here. Apparently, according to Leah—”

“Oh yeah?”

“—I must’ve said that like a hundred times since you left, but hey, it’s true, right?”

“Well, youh too, babe. I missed youh too. C’mere…” I grabbed her over to me by the waist and we walked side by side for a bit, until she got tired of the dawdling strangers and charged forward through the masses. She knew I didn’t like crowds and always helped me push past them. We took a few pics here and there, but when it became overwhelming, she rushed the remainder of the way to the SUV.

She climbed in first and I followed, plopping my bag onto the seat between us. The driver shut the door. New York was a bit chillier than Hollywood, winds like the whispering prelude of a nor’easter, so I was glad I unpacked my burlap jacket before landing. I glanced over and she was already lost in her phone, free-falling into cyberspace and heedless to my existence. I wanted to smoke so bad my fingers itched. She smelled nice as hell. Powdery and fruity, like deodorant and mid-summer mornings.

“Oh wait, look-it! You missed this…” she laughed, reaching over to show me a picture of the botched Spaghetti Bolognese she’d made the other day. My recipe, which she’d been trying to nail for a while now. “I’m getting better, right? I think so!” She never waited for the answer. A girl of many rhetorical questions. “The sauce just wasn’t it, y’know? It wasn’t the consistency I wanted. Not exactly. Don’t you think? You always complain about that. Anyway, it’s probably better you missed it—”

“Right, don’t embarrass yourself in front of the master, babe. Maybe next time. I’ll have to teach you a thing or two—” That got me an elbow to the rib.

“Ew, you’re suck a tool,” she snorted. “But guess what?”

“Wha—” 

“You’re here now, so I can make you be my test pig—”

“More like a lab rat! Shit, not again…”

“—yeah, that too,” she laughed brokenly, like hiccups. 

I missed her Californian accent. It was a stark contrast to what I’d been hearing the past couple of weeks—listening to Haz drone on in his lazy, indulgent way. Lips sometimes pressed to my ear in bed, talking me to sleep. Without question I preferred his more. Mainly because I’d grown up with it, and over time it had become synonymous with home. But hers was a nice change-up after a long time away. It helped jolt my brain back into NY-mode.

Also…” She drawled, scrolling through her emails; those varnished nails like oily candy. “…Vogue called while you were away. Anna wanted to have a sit-down.”

“Anna herself? Is that soh?”

“They’re really REALLY interested in having the two of us together.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yup-yup,” she said, leaning her head on my shoulder as we settled into the gridlock traffic headed out of the airport. The driver was an old Indian guy who wouldn’t turn the radio on and kept all the windows up. The cab was filled with the leftover smells of his peppery lunch. I tried to roll the back one down for a bit of fresh air, but found it locked. He definitely had no concern who we were, and wasn’t angling for a tip by any stretch of the imagination, since he hadn’t offered a smile since we climbed in the truck.

Yooo,” I said. “Mind unlocking the windows, bruv?”

“I know, right,” G interjected.

“No problem, sir. Very good,” he replied with a heavy accent, glaring at me through the rearview mirror. He had crazy white hair and eyebrows, like Raiden.

“Thanks, maan,” I offered. He nodded. I set my cheek on top of G’s head and sighed. It would be a long trip back to NoHo.

“A cover?” I asked belatedly.

“Dunno yet. Hopefully—” Suddenly something occurred to her. She always came to life when talking about fashion, springing off my shoulder to look me in the eye. “Wait, Z, oh my gosh, there’s no way…like, a cover?! Could you imagine?!”

“What’s that?” 

“You’d only be like the 8th or 9th guy to ever do it!”

“Do what?”

“The cover?! Helloooo?! Keep up!” She snapped her skinny fingers. 

“Ah! Okay, sick.”

“With it being us together, that would be major!” 

“Major.” I repeated, raising my brows like she was crazy. 

“Z?! Think about it. Look at me! Look at me real quick. YouMeVogue….” She sighed, fanning her hands around like a stage actress. “The cover?! Together?! That would be the most insane thing to ever happen…right?! People will eat that shit up. Tell me I’m wrong, Z. You know I’m right.” She bubbled over with laughter before gazing dreamily into the distance. “We would look, like…stupid sexy!”

“Yeah, that’d be quite cool. Pretty sick—can’t even lie,” I said. “On some historic shit—”

“Fuck yes, babe—see that’s what I’m talkin’ bout,” she barked, acting like a dude and punching me in the chest.

Sickkk broh.” We laughed. After a while of riding in silence, she shrieked, starling me and the driver. Then she threw her phone on the floor.

“Wha—babe, what the fuck? Is it the game?!” I asked. She rolled her eyes, sulking against the opposite door. I picked up her phone and all I saw was: Game Over and adefeated high score.When I closed the app and mocked her, she blew an indignant raspberry across the car and snatched her phone back to respond to a text.

“Yo, babe, I’ve got this massive fucking pimple in my earh,” I remembered.

“Gross.”

“Will youh pop it for me?”

“Hell, no.”

“If youh loved me youh would—”

“You’re cracked if you think I’m popping your ear pimple?!” She dissolved into laughter. “What’s wrong with you? That’s not even something you ask somebody!”

Babeee, but it hurts—” her phone rang. It was Bella.

“My sissy’s calling shush.” She said, popping a hand over my mouth. I talked through it and she tightened her hold. “Hey babes,” she answered the call. “How’s it goin’?”

While she was busy, I slapped her hand away and checked my phone. There were a few missed calls, but none from one contact in particular. He was probably deep in his feelings by now, knowing I’d landed in NYC and was most likely with her. I thought about texting him again, but decided to let him mope a little more. I dialed up my mom and she picked up right away.

“Hey youuuh!” she sang, always in a good mood. “How’s my sonshine?”

“Hey, mum, really gud. Youh okay?”

“Good, son. What’ve youh been up to? Heard you’re travelin’ around today. That’s what T. told me, anyweh.”

“I already have done. But I’m home now. Soh happy to be back too. Just wanted to check in, see if you’re alright. See how things are back home.”

“Well, they’re alright for the most part, Zein. As good as can be expected. Dad’s been a bit out of it, latelyh.

“Still? Since January? Well…he was mostly alright when I was there—”

“Well, he’s done his back in again—”

“Again, mum?!”

“Mm-hm—”

“What’s it like the third time?!”

“Old, nasty injury, it is—”

“What’s he even doin’ over there?!”

“Trying to keep up with your uncle at the gym, I suppose. I dunno. He’s only told me he’s pulled it again, not exactlyh how. I told him he has to take it easy, Zein. It never really healed properly from the truck—from the old accident. He rushed to get back into the gym too soon, in my opinion—”

“—It was never properly looked after.”

“—it never fully mended, now has it? Now he’s payin’ for it over and over again. It’s just gettin’ worse, I imagine.”

“Not gud, maan. He knows better than to act like that. What’s he actin’ all tough for, anyweh? He ain’t no spring chicken.”

“Who dares to tell him that?” she chuckled.

“He don’t wanna end up on a cane, or in a wheelchair or somethin’ like that. Talk to ’em, mum—”

“What’d youh think I’ve been doin’, Zein? He won’t listen. He misses his boy. Maybe if youh were here—”

“Oh don’t start like that, mum. I don’t wanna hear it again. I don’t mean to be short, but it’s the same old talk all the time. I’m too tired to hear it now. I was just there in January, weren’t I?” 

G had gotten off the phone and was absently running her fingers through my hair, messing up my deflated quiff. “I come when I can…youh, know that, mum.”

I know, I know, son, but he’d do good if he could see your face every now and again. The girl’s do what they can, but sometimes he needs to hear it from a man. His brother’s no good, anyweh. He’s gotten him into this mess to begin with—in the gym.”

“Yeah, well, I’m comin’ again soon. Tell the old man I’ll see him in a bit, alright? Tell ’em I said take it easy or he’ll have a proper beat down waitin’ for ’em when I get there.” She laughed and promised she’d convey the message. We said our goodbyes, and G was looking to make-out before I could even put my phone away. 


WHAT TO EXPECT NEXT!

-Zayn surprising Gigi in Paris (February 2017)

-Major drama in Paris

-Flashback to 2013, picks up after the engagement

-Flashbacks to 2014-2015

-More Zarry in all time periods!!

Can’t wait to share the next few chapters with you! Thanks loves 🙂

Neon Red – Chapter 6

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

**********

February 2017

Hollywood Hills

There was still the trouble of the luggage whenever I headed somewhere for an extended stay. They seemed to lose mine specifically. One time my big Vuitton duffel ended up in Maryland while I was stuck Vegas for an entire weekend, and that’s when I learned it was better to buy most things wherever I was staying, as opposed to trying to travel with them. That would also explain why I thrifted clothes from my friends or wore the same grungy things several days in a row when I was away from home. It’s how I got by.

Now I reached across the bed to grab my phone and check the time again. In doing so, I eyed the lock-screen of G and I sitting cheek-to-cheek in front of the crumbling fireplace in PA. Thankfully I remembered to switch it back before I headed home. Home…that was debatable. It was already 7am in LA, and the rest of the day needed to count for a week’s worth of preparation that should have been done a month ago. My passport had been lost until a couple of days ago and I had to bow out of the trip altogether. G tore me to shreds when I found the nerve to tell her. She was apparently hoping to flaunt me among her fashion friends at multiple dinners and shows in the ensuing weeks. Thankfully, the maid found the passport wedged between a couple of shoe boxes in the back of the closet where it had fallen from a jacket pocket. When it surfaced again, I decided to the news to myself and surprise G by popping up in Paris unexpected. But first, I needed to make it back to NYC to see her off and put on a convincing performance that I’d be staying home.

I looked down at the bed with a growly exhale, rubbing a hand down my face and pulling at my beard. He had curled on his side facing away from the room, looking as pitiful as possible. It wasn’t going to work. Not this time, Haz. “I ain’t dealin’ with this right now—” I mumbled to myself. It was becoming increasingly more difficult to keep all parties happy. One was aware of the other, though the other was ignorant that the one was back in the picture. It was a big mind-fucking mess most days that left me sleepless. What complicated things further was that I still hadn’t had The Talk with her yet, to inform her of what was going on between he and I. I just couldn’t handle the stress at the minute. Plus, it was easier to just keep quiet right now since she and I were super busy for the next 2 months and forced to stay in our own lanes.

He always picked a fight before I left to deal with her—whether he was on the phone or in person, like clockwork. Same old talking points. Never coming to any clear resolution. While I’d been spending time with him in the earlier part of February, she’d blown into LA unexpectedly after the Buddha racism scandal, sobbing and thinking her career was done. I dared to defend her on Twitter with a stupidly worded quip and was eaten alive for it (rightfully so; which is something I’d never admit to anyone.)  

But I drew the line at people accusing me of being racist when it went against the very fabric of my being. That accusation, of all the others lobbed at me and celebrity-kind, was nonsensical and unfair. I hadn’t been the one to put the cookie to my face and squint. Even I knew that was monstrously disrespectful, and I imagine it had been done in the spur of the moment when she was a bit tipsy. Unfortunately for her, in this mindless day and age where we felt the need to record our every waking moment to upload onto the internet to convince he world how fun, luxurious, and enviable our lives are, that few damning seconds was caught on Bella’s IG story and published to millions in the blink of an eye. Hard lesson learned, indeed. 

G stayed much longer than what was reasonable, and Haz got pissed he was losing time with me because she was there commanding all of it. After reassuring her she’d be forgiven by the public in time, I moved on to attend a swanky Billboard event in West Hollywood, and she made consecutive appearances on Ellen and Fallon which helped to shine up the damaged edges of her image again. At least to the satisfaction of her team who’d taken a few hits lately from other members of their clientele. 

The public was bought and sold so easily it was comical. Absolute sheep. Nothing but herd animals desperate to be led, desperate to be told what to think, how to think, when to think. All they needed was a strategically dropped tidbit here or there—like a planted picture or a staged video diversion, and they were back to their mindless frivolity and pointing the finger at someone else.

No news lasted online these days. Everything was vital so nothing was really vital. All media was overly accessible and unabashedly partisan and extremely PC, so it bred pseudo-intellectuals and posturing morons; and also platformed hypocrites. It gifted us cancel culture and cat videos and IG models and homemade porn. It’s difficult to imagine how the world would’ve progressed without companies like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon, and Google. The internet had reshaped all manner of life, from top to bottom. 

Sure, in it’s infancy, the web proved instrumental to the betterment of society and communication at large. Sort of like the dark web became integral to the transference of critical information and unregulated commerce. As a result of all this, social media was invented and meaningful conversations took place across the globe. Vast movements were formed to oust societal ills, philanthropic efforts thrived, and social justice got a new megaphone.  All good things. These days, however, too much of that was abused and much of it had become meaningless. It had completely lost it’s novelty and become a glorified swamp in desperate need of a draining. An unenviable job fit for none other than Allah Himself, but even He wouldn’t touch this situation with a galactically sized pole. 

I tried to tell G some of this to make her feel better, but she put so much stock into social media and public opinion that my sermons just came off as cynical and futile.  She couldn’t see what I saw. That everyone braindead, wanting to be scandalized by a celeb’s slightest mistake because it gave them something to pontificate about. Humans needed to feel virtuous in order to feel that they mattered, so they chatted shit online day in and day out until they were self-satisfied. But the impact of these mini scandals could always be minimalized depending on how quickly one could get another story front and center to draw the attention of the fickle away.

We had friends in the press for that; colleagues who liked to be paid upfront and on the hush tip. I’d seen many a greasy palm proffered for payment of an online favor or two. Friends in high places to combat our enemies at major outlets. G’s parents had most of these publications sold up from the day she was born, especially the tabloids who corroborated their output to saturate the top results on any search engine with nearly identical wording. Same with the police departments across most of Hollywood and executives at major fashion houses. The Hadids were rubbing elbows with everybody. 

Haz was still sulking. I jumped onto him with my full weight and he laughed reluctantly.

Stoppppp…” he groaned.

“Noh, youh stop.” I blew a sloppy raspberry against his cheek——baby soft.

Ewww…” He dragged me back onto him and looked in my eyes. His smile unwound and faded as he watched my lips. His gaze was sleepy but fixed. Now he pulled at my lips with idle fingers.

“Hey…” I whispered, watching his shiny lids droop lower by the second. “Youh sleepy…hm?” He shook his head. “Yeah, youh are. Haha…youh can’t hang.” He shook his head again, still staring at my lips. I licked them to make sure they weren’t dry. He parted his mouth lazily, letting the fat tip of his tongue slip past his teeth. There were no words exchanged. No words needed. I knew what he wanted, which he expected me to provide without hesitation. In an unhurried caress, he ran the tip of his tongue along the top of his bottom teeth. I could feel their jagged edges as if I’d done it myself.

It didn’t take long before we were kissing—much deeper than I intended to. I lay half atop him, tongue in his mouth, snaking a hand up the towel to pull at his warm cock. He was halfway where I needed him to be already. Big and floppy. When I crushed him in my palm, he gasped down my throat in shock. Now he tugged at my hair, squeezing the back of my neck as hard as he could without breaking it.

Baby…” he rasped when I broke. “You’re gonna be late—”

“I don’t give a fuck—” I couldn’t half finish speaking before our lips met again, his tongue touching mine so tentatively it made me quiver. I was already rescheduling my flight in my head; making up excuses to tell everyone waiting on me back on the East Coast.

Haz…” I exhaled. His tongue felt ungodly fucking good. I couldn’t stop flicking it against mine because the sensation shot straight to my groin, igniting my guts along the way. The odd thrill of it was addicting. Right now, his mouth tasted like OJ, but sometimes it tasted like toothpaste, or coffee, or like the lemon in his dumb citrus-infused water. His hair didn’t help either. It was still damp and heady, reeking with the cologne in his shampoo. Dove For Men. I always bought that specific brand so I could recreate his smell whenever I wanted.

Moaning like he was, squirming like he was, smelling like he was—he was fit to be devoured. His eyes were always asking for it, too, and I was proper up for the job. There was never a time when I wasn’t ready to fuck him stupid. Fuck him till he lay winded; unable to use his limbs. This dude made me savage. I was prepared to do criminal things to him. We made love continually when we were together; in a way I could never fuck a girl without damaging her for life. In a way that toed the line of human decency. That’s why he was problematic. He was too down for it. Too fit for it.

This man was in my head nonstop, in all sorts of sordid ways. Ways too unseemly for a high priest to absolve. I was without hope, and he was all there was for me. The only inevitability I could be sure of. The only thing I would return to without fail, even if it took me numerous lifetimes to hunt him down again. I’d hooked up with many people in some of the remotest corners of the world, but none inhabited my thoughts the way he did. Being with him was like being in bed with my dealer; indulging far too often on too much of a good thing. Sometimes I felt like I was floating outside my body, watching myself OD in his arms, choking to death on my obscenities. No matter how derelict he made me, or how used up and emotionally battered—he was all I was drawn to. All I had ever been drawn to really. That made me a fiend. His freakshow. His jester. Now there was only hiding and waiting to be done when we were apart. No living.

I broke the kiss and bore down into the green pooling about his eyes. It was an inconsistent shade of green. Sometimes I wondered if it was only a figment of my fevered imagination. The color was situational, not grounded in any mode of reality—as changeful as a mood ring. Sometimes it cut right through me like jagged bits of emerald. Then at times it was cool and opaque, like jade mined from sacred faults beyond the terrestrial.

Right now, they were more hazel than green because he was warm inside. Gooey and indolent, just the way I liked him. His love oozed from his insides like molten metals, heat trickling from his pores—gaze luminous. All ablaze for me. I ran a fingertip along the tops of his bottom teeth, slogging the terrain his tongue had explored earlier. He pulled it into his mouth and sucked on it softly. His hips were rocking to create friction for his cock against my clothes. If he came on my ripped Ralph Laurens, I wouldn’t give a single solitary fuck. I love when he came on me. I love when he came in me. But it meant I’d have to change again, and by now I was completely out of clothes. And I didn’t want to risk being seen wearing anything he’d been photographed in previously, so I needed to keep my last jeans nut-free if I could help it.

Woahhh…” I chuckled, taking his rigid cock back into my hand and pumping a few times; leaving him wincing for more. I wanted to blow him till he forgot his name. When he released my finger, I bit down on his lip and kissed him again, refusing to let up until he shook for air.

**********

The flight was supposed to be six hours long but felt more like a day. Three hours in and half-way across the US, my legs were twitching. I flexed as best I could, at one point kicking off my boots to let the dogs breathe. Settling back in the chair, I opted for Pac instead of classical. Me Against The World, the album. Shutting my eyes, I tossed my head back with an exaggerated sigh, heedless to the folks around me. 

The 90s felt ideal right now. After a while I went from mouthing lyrics and nodding my head to coming short of a headbang and rapping aloud. The chorus of the title track was such a fucking mood. I hummed it and tried to forget about everything around me. The dead-eyed people like human crows. Forget I was 30,000 feet in the sky, miles above earth, returning to monotony. Away from my sweet, addictive escape; hurled back onto the unforgiving planes of realism. 

Away from the source of my starved daydreams and nighttime fantasies; back to her. Just her. Away from my opiate, my fountainhead, my bloodline. Merely thinking of him made my breath hitch. ‘Always on my mind…always on my mind….’ —was a consoling refrain I muttered to myself in moments like this. I just hoped he knew he was present. Never an afterthought. 

“Shed So Many Tears” was too hard-hitting. I considered skipping it, but hit play and meditated on it instead. Things were looking ok for me now, unlike the cold, winding chasms of 2014 and early 2015. Times where it felt like I was walking a demonic conveyor belt that routed me back to the same position every 24hrs without end. I was constantly moving and calculating my every step, but at the same time getting nowhere. It bore the artificial momentum of a gym equipment. All the futility of a mounted hamster wheel. Everyday for a year had felt like a continuous daymare; one in which I couldn’t stop thinking about thinking

Back then I felt indescribably shitty. Waking up each morning simply wishing I hadn’t. Vacant-minded, like an empty picture frame hung on a principal wall. Mocked by dinner guests. All the world watching me lose sight of myself. Trapped in a dissociative, thought-numbing stupor. I’d rather be drooling mad (howling mad) than just empty. An outsider amongst close family and friends. A trespasser in my own home. It was an unnatural level of detachment that I thought I’d never return from. 

Actual depression. A way down feeling, like I was trapped in quicksand and pocketed someplace beneath the earth’s surface. Breath-feeble, barely transferring oxygen to my vital organs. Brain in atrophy. Depression lied. It was an untiring frame of mind, a constant companion. And if for a split second I ever felt unburdened, I was punished for feeling alright. It got to the point where I didn’t feel decent unless I was unwell. Only then did I trust how the rest would play out. That’s the thing about mental illness: your outlook was the first to go. The first thing to get fucked. Despair was the only order you could be certain of. That it was all bad all the time grew comforting, because at least then I knew what to expect. 

Now that my head was above the surface again and I could take full, unimpeded breaths, I rarely allowed myself to reflect on my sicknesses in detail. It triggered too many thought patterns that threatened to drag me back to that awful place kicking and screaming. Yet, a wise man knows even the darkness boasts value. It lends one perspective on how to move forward unaddled, and warns all to remain close to the light. 

I forgot I used to do this! What to expect next:

-Zayn returning to Gigi in NYC

-Zayn surprising Gigi in Paris (February 2017)

-Flashback to 2013, picks up after the engagement

-More Zarry in all time periods!!

Can’t wait to share the next few chapters with you! Thanks loves 🙂

Neon Red – Chapter 5

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

**********

February 2017

Hollywood Hills

(Present Time)

“Paris?”

“Paris…” I sighed, seated on the edge of the bed beside him, slipping my heel into a wobbly YSL boot. They were his. Our feet weren’t exactly the same size, but they’d do. Whenever we set our palms and soles together, his were wider, not much longer. It’d been that way since we were teenagers. He laughed down at my feet today, wondering if I was into Chelsea boots suddenly. Only this pair specifically, I told him, since he’d worn them all week. I pocketed something whenever I left and he rarely ever saw it again, but deep down I knew he liked the idea of me pilfering parts of him.

Three years ago I’d pinched his favorite belt; flimsy and discolored thing it was. Mosaicked with broken leather. Hanging pale and powdery looking in the back of my closet. Flung amongst scrawny t-shirts and unraveling jumpers and scarves that had seen better days——all his. Old faithfuls, I called them. Fraught with a fusion of weird odors since they had walked with him the longest. Abandoned things, merely waiting to be discarded. His leftover traces evaporated by the day, and I clung to them as long as I could. Archiving it all so methodically I’d know if one had gone missing or been rearranged in the slightest. A reaper of personal effects. The bone collector. The hoarder.

Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You” eased the room as I sneezed into my sleeve. I’d been feeling a bit ill since I woke up, trying to come down with the flu, I’d imagine. He seldom ever turned the heat on for the LA winter, except at night when I told him I was cold. By now it had taken its toll on me.

“Bless you…” he said, following a second sneeze.

“What’s the time?”

“Half, six.”

“Shit, already?” I puzzled, running a hand through my bangs.

“How long?” he asked, staring mournfully at his lap; all depleted looking. I hesitated.

“How long what?”

“How long’s it gonna be this time?”

“Youh know…long as she needs me.”

“Long as she needs you?” he repeated, with a sort of false incredulity. He knew the routine.

“Yeah…I suppose. That’s what I said, innit?”

“Right…ok…” He sneered; the gesture but a minimal twitch of the lip. “Mate…well, that’s not gonna work, alright?” There was something like disillusionment in his voice. He rubbed an eye to occupy his face——to keep it from emoting. “You always make indefinite plans, then?”

“Latelyh, yeah…”

“What’re you, like, unemployed or something?” I hated when he used humor to mask his annoyance. Passive aggression made me nauseous, like ascending elevators. “Your schedule that open, Z?”

“I mean…it’s whateva’.” I chuckled thoughtlessly. “Youh know how I am. I ain’t gonna trip about nothin’.”

“Well, you ought to—”

“What?”

“I said you ought to!” he snapped. Retreating, he pretended his concerns were pragmatic. “You should keep busy, y’know. Keep out of trouble. An idle mind— and all that.”

Today, we were misaligned. I shrugged, dusting off a ripped pants’ leg; finding any excuse to avoid eye contact to deaden his hold over me. It was tightening by the moment——the way a constrictor applied more pressure the harder you sought to escape. I couldn’t make him understand anything lately without bringing her up. It was the only sore subject that ever got the best of us, and he was forever picking at it like a scabbed wound.

Time strove against me from the moment I woke up. I was running late for a meeting with Taryn to wrap up changes to the France itinerary, but there was no way to convey this without giving him the distinct impression I was thrilled to go. Frankly, I wasn’t. Fashion Week in Paris would be hectic as hell, and since G was needed on call for all sorts of random shit, I needed to be as open as possible——certain not to withhold emotional availability, of which she often accused me.

Now he rubbed a bare foot back and forth along the carpet in sheer agitation—frantic enough to spark a fire. It was the final mechanism of self-restraint. And like a virulent toddler, he’d get to throwing shit if I weren’t careful. I couldn’t take my eye off that reddening foot; and there was a need to be wary, because he might’ve taken my observation as mockery. I envisioned the friction seeping into his restless bones, channeled in currents from the rug. Microscopic eruptions of energy, imperceptible to the naked eye. The electricity would transfer the moment he touched any surface. I hoped it wouldn’t be me.

“Easy, Haz,” I said. He kept going. I rolled my eyes at the tattoo on his big toe—although the scroll of George Michael lyrics on his ankles were pretty sick. I checked the time on my phone like he hadn’t told me a moment ago, hissing inwardly. There was no time to make it across town to Beverly Hills before traffic set in, and I still needed coffee to resuscitate my brain following the activities of the previous weeks. Most days I’d lain here beside him, all but comatose. 

It would take all the strength I could muster to resist the craze of the airport this morning, plus, Taryn would be pissed if I missed our last sit-down before the flight to NYC. I texted her to have coffee waiting for me in 45min. Her response was dry but gracious; still annoyed I’d spent the last couple of weeks in an undisclosed location, refusing to take her calls. I bet she’d blow a head-gasket if she learned where I’d slept most nights.

“What about you?” he asked again, taking my phone from my hand and tossing it onto the bed. He’d been talking, apparently, and I hadn’t heard. All I saw were his big palms moving. His voice a familiar drone. Sometimes it withdrew to the back of my mind in habituation. The equivalent of comfortable silence or finishing each other’s sentences without error. A symptom of profound intimacy.

“What?”

“I said, ‘What about you?’ Aren’t you even listening?”

“What about me, exactlyh?” I grinned. “I ain’t too busy these days.”

“You ought to be—”

“How’s that?” I lifted my brows, looking him in the eye. His features looked peeled back, like he was gritting his teeth. “What, youh my manager now or somthin’? I ain’t payin’ youh, broh.”

“Right, ’cause you couldn’t afford me,” he muttered.

“Oh yeah?”

Yeah. You’re too cheap.” We laughed.

After I stood up and stretched, he grabbed my belly, chewing on his top lip. I sidled away, needing to temper whatever was rearing between us at the moment. Unsettled tension thickened with sexual nervousness, enough to keep us going at each other well beyond noon. Fucking and fighting, one behind the other.

He lay back across the mattress, clad in nothing but resignation and the creased towel. He stretched his arms up over his head and all I could see was the bottom of his ribcage and the edges of the butterfly.

Paris…” he repeated, as though the word held ulterior meanings.

Par’ee…” I replied, in an affected accent, moving to the vanity to get a splash of his cologne. He kept one hell of collection. An assortment of fragrances he deemed genderless, which could easily be mistaken for the countertop of a high-end perfumery. There were dozens of them. Loads of Tom Ford. Vintage Chanel. An array of Gucci and some other Italian junk that smelled like a loogey hacked up by a dude who’d eaten a handful of garlic cloves. I asked him to toss it out a while ago because it made him smell like a busted old man. He said it was a gift, but that he’d get rid of it for me.

“This still here? What I tell youh about that?”

“I forgot—”

“Smells like ass. Sweaty ass——”

“How d’you know what that smells like?” I laughed and tossed it into the bin beside the nightstand, whose surfaces reflected a tiny, dented version of the room. A world askew.

Paris….” he sighed again, sometime later.

“Why d’youh keep sayin’ it like it’s a death sentence, yeah?” I watched him through the mirror as I combed my fingers through my hair. “It’ll only be a week or soh, babe.”

“I know…”

“Then chill, alright? What’s the big deal?”

“Ever think it’s because you never took me to Paris, idiot? Never even thought to ask me if I wanted to go. And you never even let me take you anywhere either.” Ella Mai’s “10,000 Hours” drowned his mutters.

“True,” I conceded, half-heartedly. “But youh can’t really say we haven’t both been in Paris at the same time, now can youh?” I was used to spinning shit in my favor. Getting people to realize they already agreed with me. Sometimes I thought I’d make a good lawyer. “Plus, we all seen the Eiffel Tower together, remember? Lou got sick after eating all them oysters before——”

Escargot—”

“Noh, it’s oysters, innit? Remember?”

“Fuck the Eiffel tower.”

“Oh yeah? What’s it ever done to youh?”

“It’s so boring, mate!” He laughed a defeated laugh. A cringe attempt to sound unaffected. “It’s such a cliché! Everybody’s always making a big deal out of it and shit—”

“Sounds like you’re the only one making a big deal out of everythin’ today—”

“M’not…,” he sulked. More derisive as the morning wore on. It was his way of advising me I better not take her to the Eiffel Tower. That he couldn’t handle it if I did. Lucky for me, G had been to Paris a million times and with each visit, these colorless attractions were the furthest thing from her mind. If it was on a postcard, she’d likely visited a dozen times, so their appeal diminished to the periphery of her general interests. Obsolete; like outgrown clothes or day-old news.

Try as he might to pretend otherwise, Haz was wild about these touristy things. The Eiffel Tower was the predominant image of romance around the world. With his quixotic outlook on love, something like this held great significance for he and I. It should have been understood that it was preserved for us, but I learned this the hard way when I took Pez to the tower in 2013 during a TMH Tour stop. He came plodding into my hotel room afterwards, super annoyed.

“Youh know Hitler almost got rid of the Eiffel Tower?” I ventured. “It literally survived World War II, and you’re sittin’ around hatin’ on it——”

“Fuck Hitler.”

“Babe, chill,” I snickered. “I’ll take youh later this yearh, alright? We can, uh…like find a way to get over there somehow, right? Might have to fly separately, of course——”

“And wear disguises once we get there? Forbidden from holding hands on the street? Oh, gee thanks. Can’t wait, mate.”

I stepped into the quiet of the toilet to breathe for a minute, and returned with my hair presentable. Time to hit the road, as Paulie used to say. My flight was at 9am to jet back to NYC and finalize details for the Paris run, and I still hadn’t properly packed. Always busting my ass at the last minute, cramming mostly sentimental things into the smallest bag I could find, murdering the straps with each trip. I wouldn’t be surprised if one ripped clean away from the seams this time. I hated luggage, I hated having to unpack and repack at TSA, and I hated checking bags. I sought to minimize the time I needed to stand before those vultures, and that meant bringing as few items as possible. I guess I was still scarred from my earliest flights with the band, which revealed my supposed “kind” were problematic flyers. Delayers.

My first trip to the US had not been a dull or routine. I could never pass for one of those regular Joe Schmoe type of guys. The sort who didn’t raise questions at first glance; like those posh boys in clothing adverts I envied growing up. I was pegged as soon as I walked into that place, and I would never forget that flight. 

Before escorting me worlds away to dominate the scene with my mates in America, that trip had forced upon me many embarrassing lessons. Firstly, the boys had terrified by asserting the plane would perform ludicrous maneuvers mid-air; sure to defy physics. Apparently that morning it was my turn to be colluded against. We often turned on each other with the pitilessness of politicians—and I found that I didn’t enjoy the idea of being lied to, even in a ploy as innocuous as this. That I even believed their lies revealed much about me at the time. Such as the depth of my own unacquaintance with life outside the meager blocks of my Bradford neighborhood. Ignorant of all things beyond the shabby terraced housing that nurtured me.

Straight out of the gate, TSA treated me like a public enemy they were keen to collect the bounty on. Dead or alive; any condition would do. Since 9/11 I’d heard horror stories from friends and family of how adversely they were treated at airports for years following the attack, but I wagered they were just exaggerating to gain pity or to have interesting hiccups to talk about at the gym or over dinner. It wasn’t until I faced the spine-numbing gravity of being questioned firsthand that I knew it was real. As real as anything the eye could discern, or mind conceive. Never business as usual for me.  

I nearly missed my flight because I was profiled relentlessly the minute I stepped within a hundred feet of security, despite it being over 10 years following the attack. All this in spite of our team having it out with them for separating me from the other boys who were gifted the Joe Schmoe Pass.  

A large black woman with tinted glasses set her sights on me first, and looked more than disinclined to engage. She had a neat French roll and eyed me like fresh-meat as I approached, later dealing out instructions as though I were the thousandth person she had encountered that day and was exasperated of repeating herself. From there I was steered into a separate TSA line for the problematic where their hostility only escalated. It was wildly apparent, no longer, implicit. They spoke sternly and impatiently. Barking orders, instead of the typical firm but polite guidance.

Their suspicions of me were so inevitable it felt comical. It all played out exactly like the stories forewarned, leaving me numb over life’s boggling irony. It was sort of like discovering bigfoot was real firsthand; not just a dreadful fable murmured over campfires. Like I’d seen him walk square up to me and look me in the eye; mano a mano

My dad warned me about “random selection” security checks before I took off, with all the gnashing hesitancy of the time he told me my German Shepherd was dead. It had been missing a few days when he finally found it run over near the auto repair shop owned by a family friend. It had lain a few days undiscovered, stewing in its own rot, I’d heard, eaten all over with insects and stinking up the vicinity. Everyone was too afraid to touch it, women and children alike (even the flinty-eyed shopkeep who was rumored to have killed a man in the 90s.) The other local lads only approached to take pictures, which they would later pass among friends at neighborhood haunts.

My dad wouldn’t let me see him. ‘It’s taken care of’ was all he’d ever say. Each time I asked, he’d clamp a hand onto my boney shoulder and incline his head. A grievous sigh usually followed. Then he’d shut his eyes, the gesture betraying knowledge of monstrous things he longed to unsee. And despite his efforts to shelter me, I still dreamt of viscera for weeks on end. My imagination producing images far worse than any hell reality could render.

Now he urged me to be cautious and instructed me on how to behave once I got to the airport, as if preparing me for war. I was seventeen and still drenched behind the ears, so he dutifully did all he could to prepare me for the adversities I’d face beyond his reach. For the times he couldn’t storm to my side like he had my entire life. Always the first to gather me up when I’d fallen from my bike, or gotten kicked out of school, or got into neighborhood scraps that resulted in black eyes and bloodied knuckles; which my mom nursed tenderly.

I was too dumb and entitled to appreciate how good he was to me. I was eager to get onboard that flight and prove him wrong, so I never really heeded the things he illustrated about air travel, or how it could spell trouble for a boy my color. He knew there was no way I would blend in with the other four, as I’d been a sore thumb ever since I started school. I was careless to think he’d be wrong, even though I was different from other brown boys of my lot. Born lucky, no doubt. My fortune with the band was evidence enough of that alone.

Once I experienced my fair share of airport horror, I was unable to call him and tell him things had gone well like I hoped. Often, I wondered why I had been so eager to disprove him. Longing to see a fracture in his façade; in his stony resoluteness that assured him he knew best. Teenage defiance manifested in many forms, as corrosive as cancer, and I thought leaving the pitiful boundaries of Bradford would be the first step to proving I could be better than my parents; better than my cousins; better than my feckless classmates. My small-world parents who went on in a bumbling, humiliating ignorance of all things greater, larger, farther.

Boy had I been wrong. I would come to appreciate how dimensional they were in time. How subtly knowledgeable. How well-travelled on the paths that truly mattered. I’d also come to value my roots more and more as I got older. The airport incident was the first rude awakening I would receive in a series of many. Bradford wasn’t just a place; it was a state-of-mind. A worldview. A flesh-searing brand that dominated my manner of speech and modes of thought. It had authored my aspirations and was now the only thing that bound me to the earth when outsiders sought to elevate my mere humanity.

Once we landed in America, I was pulled aside and questioned for hours about my family tree, my religion, my education, and all sorts of other absurdities. Fathomless things my 17-year-old brain was incapable of contriving; like the dealings of foreign governmental entities, weapons-making, and money laundering. They talked to me like I was 40. Like I was from an underdeveloped nation and likely to have affiliations with covert terrorist organizations; as if I was likely to be related to murderers. 

From then on, I felt nothing but paranoia and misanthropy creeping in, always questioning my surroundings and mapping out escape routes. It altered the landscape of my mind irreparably. Agoraphobia sprung roots and would continue to grow every day for the rest of my life like a brain tumor. A frightening and cureless mental atrophy.

From that moment on, I was acutely aware that everyone I encountered thought I looked like a bad guy, and there was nothing I could do about it. Whether I was or wasn’t a bad guy remained irrelevant. How could that be? When I assessed myself in the mirror, I didn’t feel devious or capable of harming others. I didn’t look weird or calculated, like I was harboring machinations to upend the world. And it wasn’t because the way I dressed that they questioned me like a far down and bottom-feeding thing. Making me feel like the whole world was staring down at me through a microscope. It was my face, my coloring, my aura, my name

According to them, the name Zain Malik had “flagged” something of concern in their system, and they were only following up on that. No racial prejudice motivated their inquires, they assured me. ‘Yeah, right.’ I wanted to respond sarcastically. ‘Likely story.’ I wondered if the name Joe Schmoe might flag anything in their system of concern. How many Zain Maliks were there, anyway? And just how many happened to be connected to radicalized terrorists?

I didn’t have the balls to demand they tell me what had been flagged in their system, even though I had called their bluff straightaway. Instead, I stood there woodenly and let them have their way; looking to other adults for help, which they were not permitted to give under any circumstances. Just like when you had to witness a family member being accosted by traffic police. It was instinctively understood that we all became powerless in those moments. As a kid I’d watched my godlike dad who was greatly esteemed in many households be reduced to “yes, sirs'” around white men just because they were wearing a particular uniform or totting a slew of honorific badges. Wielding a license to kill if they saw fit. Most of them were younger than him too, so to witness him being berated by someone half his age had been scarring. The hostility it bred in me became asphyxiating over the years, because for too long a time it had no outlet. But that was before music saved me.

TSA threatened to place Paul Higgins on a governmental no-fly list if he protested any further on my behalf. How could I be blamed for something so completely beyond my control, he’d asked. I wondered the same, asking myself how I could look more blameless in order to set everyone else’s minds at ease? I could never not look like the villain if they judged me on physical attributes alone. It was a despairingly hard pill to swallow, and my first introduction to real self-loathing; not just that teenage angst shit when I was weirded out by my own body. God forbid I grow a beard or dress traditionally; I couldn’t imagine the glances that would’ve been leveled my way then.

That was my first experience in the United States. Massive double doors slamming as they herded me down a weakly lit corridor to a frigid office. Interrogated all alone. No counsel; no cohorts or friendly faces. They offered me water as it trying to present themselves trustworthy. I felt like a cornered rat. It certainly wasn’t my first brush with racism or xenophobia, since school had been my introduction to each of those. Kids were emotionally feral. They’d say anything that popped into their mind, and I got the brunt of that growing up. However, this was the first time it had been done to my face; not shouted behind my back as sat in a crowded classroom or walked through a teeming cafeteria. This time it had been done face-to-face by an adult in a professional capacity, in an airport full of others choosing to look the other way. 

The institutionalization of my mistreatment and all these other thuggish practices put in place for people of color were especially ghastly. That shit was written in the rulebooks, it was agreed upon and considered standard practices. It wasn’t the work of a few covert racists on the force breaking the law to accost me. It was the law. I felt helpless because I damn well was. And I became enraged the longer I sat there. But I knew any display of emotion would falsely confirm their suspicions and give them probable cause to take the examination further, so I bit my tongue and remained quiet. I bit it so hard that it bled.

That day, I would never forget. It was a horror show that deepened my anxiety about flying to the max, one I’d be sure to tell my kids about. I was mortified by the time I was released to the others in the waiting area of Arrivals. They had stayed behind for me instead of going ahead to the hotel to get comfortable, and that was like a soothing balm applied over the open gash TSA left on me.  Still, the pang I felt at seeing them on the other side hassle-free made me want to vomit. But I didn’t want to resent them either. They were as blameless for their names and coloring and history as I was. 

I ignored Harry when he asked me if I was ok, something he had asked compulsively since we first met. I avoided all contact and hoped he wouldn’t take it personally. Any excitement I felt about leaving Europe had been completely shat on by the run-ins with TSA; both going and coming. In the car, I put my headphones on and zoned out; heart beating a mile a minute. 

Now I ran a hand down my face to shake off the memory, feeling awful for the tormented kid I once was. After dredging up the past, I now feared the impending trip more than ever before. Thankfully, following the explosion of 1D onto the global stage, I no longer had issues with TSA. They knew me as a frequent flyer and a model citizen, who rarely inspired a second glance from them these days. Even so, I couldn’t help but despair for the millions of other brown boys out there with similarly ethnic names, who would never be gifted the privilege of fame or money to ease their inequities.  

Neon Red – Chapter 4

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

**********

I shut the faucet off with my toes, stewing in the tub. Damn near lulled to sleep by the jets, I inhaled the steam and closed my eyes. It was cold here. If it weren’t for the water, I’d be trembling. The lights were out, apart from the black tea candle flickering on the vanity. It let off an eerie glow that barely penetrated the darkness, its bittersweet perfumes filling the room.

It was 3am and he was asleep, buried beneath the duvet like a wounded animal the last I saw him. I’d been up for a while, watching him frown in his sleep; fighting the urge to smooth his brow with my fingertips. I stopped myself, thinking they’d be too cold. It was hard not to kiss him just then; but I told myself it’d be evil to disturb his sleep considering how jetlagged he was. Overcoming my fixation to read his dreams, I took a walk around the house in nothing but my briefs to make sure it was secured. Once he’d gotten here, it slipped my mind to lock everything up, since I was buzzin’ from the moment he stepped out of the car. Last thing I needed now was for some overzealous fan to hop the gate and find any trace of him here.

At the front door I looked down the walkway, recalling a hundred different times I’d watched him come and go——sometimes glad, too often mad, a time or two enraged. His storming away played before my mind’s eye so vividly, only for him to turn back and shout at me again. White t-shirts with the sleeves rolled to the shoulder. Ripped skinny jeans. Bandanas and headbands. Distressed Chelsea boots. Now wild Gucci florals barely buttoned to his midriff, billowing open to expose the butterfly——just the way he liked it. Big hats covering long, gorgeous curls. Messy topknots. Always with the Chelsea boots. The cross around his neck swinging violently anytime he gesticulated in anger.

It was hard to talk over him when he got like this

It was hard to talk over him when he got like this. It was incredibly rare that he shouted, but when he did, it was with good reason. Apparently, I had that effect on people. Always pushing him to that point; and I was probably the only one on the planet capable of upsetting him this much. It was a weird flex that gave me a front row seat to the worst sides of him, but I liked that I was exceptional——for better or for worse. He could use me for target practice for all I cared, and I wouldn’t complain a lick——long as I stood out from among the rest.

Most days he’d say a heated word or two, then he’d clam up and leave before I saw the tears. When he cried, he got red in the face first, and a vein slowly swelled at the temple. Those were the telltale signs I looked for and I knew to ease up when I spotted them. Don’t make him cry, don’t make him cry—I forever scolded myself. I couldn’t stand to see him tearing up over me. Nothing was ever worth it.

Typically, he got like this when I wouldn’t budge on my position or wouldn’t do what he wanted——‘wouldn’t break’ as he’d say. I regretted not breaking sometimes just to let him know I cared. I always cared about the things he was upset about, even if I didn’t understand how best to express it at the time. With me and emotions, I was pretty much the same; meaning I dipped before he ever pushed me remotely close to tears. I liked to cry alone and as soundlessly as possible because I hated the sound of my own sobs. It was a repulsive sound that spoke of fragility and worst of all, discomposure.

If there was anything my dad taught me well, it was the importance of self-possession. How could you expect to win an argument or be taken seriously if you didn’t have a firm hold on yourself? It wasn’t like that toxic mentality in some households where men weren’t allowed to show any emotion whatsoever. Hell no. In fact, he encouraged me to deal with my feelings and to confront the things that were bothering me in a conscientious way. To not keep things pinned up because they would ultimately affect my health. And he was a fitness freak, insisting that good physical health would help you keep a firm check on the mental.

He was a huge proponent of talking through shit and not letting it eat away at you (which I still fell short of doing despite his careful instruction.) But on the flip side, he wasn’t overly emotional either. He led by example; inspiring me to maintain composure in all things, because only then would you know how best to conquer any given situation. My dad was a mean strategist and a relentless thinker, and a lot of that had rubbed off on me. We were a quiet, dignified kind; an introspective kind, but others would be wrong to mistake our silence for oblivion. We were always involved, even if it didn’t seem we were. We liked to observe and process things before committing to speech, and in most arguments I found that this was the best practice to adhere to.

Harry didn’t like that I didn’t talk much when he was upset. He couldn’t understand I was just observing him to get a hold on what he was saying; and trying not to offend by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time while he was overly sensitive. I tended to say the wrong things when I rushed into speaking, and so whenever I stayed silent, he got the sense that I was ignoring him or being condescending.

He accused me of thinking he was crazy too; but that wasn’t the case in the least. He was one of the most rational people I knew. Super stable and well-adjusted for his age. Despite divorce, he’d come from good stock and had absorbed the best of two successful dads. That’s why I liked to be around him. He made me think beyond the now. Beyond the mundane; down the road to what was possible. And he kept me balanced; merely by possessing all the things I lacked——extroversion, congeniality, naivety, warmth, a sense nobility. My infinite——if we were one person, we’d be immeasurably perfect.

I wanted to be him when I grew up, or so I’d always thought whenever I watched his type on TV as a kid, winning souls with nothing but a smile and a carefully worded phrase or two. He had a lot of them tricks in the stash. The ace up his sleeve, so to speak. It was a legit superpower that left me wondering the last seven years how he and I could be so alike and so drawn to one another, yet so utterly different.

Even if we didn’t see eye-to-eye, he was the sort of person who could respect that we saw things differently——and he genuinely respected it too, not harboring secret contempt that we had disagreed long after we moved on to new subjects like other people I knew. And he made it a point to view things from my perspective before he gave up on any discussion. He needed to understand me just as badly as I needed to understand him, and he put the work in to achieve that at all costs.

How could I dismiss someone like that as crazy? Just because he got a little emotional every now and then? That’s nonsense. But I suppose I was guilty of having called crazy a time or two when we were younger and still figuring things out, but the truth was, his reasoning was to be admired, whether I wanted to hear the lectures or not. That old soul talked more sense than a lot of people twice his age. Gave him a worldly way of viewing things, while I could sometimes be a little narrow in my thinking. My man was a progressive, cosmopolitan, altruist, and that was wildly beautiful.

Remembering him from three years ago as I stood at the front door made my throat constrict with the threat of tears. Summer rain whet my senses as though it were yesterday. I could smell the wind that carried it from afar. Hear his fist and his rings banging on the metal door until I opened it. Felt the humidity greet me, wafting pass my face to suffocate the rest of the house. I can’t remember why he was upset. I can’t remember what day it was. It was some time in 2014, just before sunset. There were already tears streaming down his face. He’d been crying on the drive over, which was dangerous. Driving emotional was just as bad as driving drunk. In my experience, emotions could be equally as impairing.

From then on, he would hide these sorts of reactions from me and I would never see him this way again. The pit in my stomach became unbearable after seeing him like this. I needed to leave this memory before I got lost here again. I let the drape fall back in place over the window adjacent to the front door, shutting out the past indefinitely.

**********

Upstairs, in an attempt to unwind, I lay back in the jacuzzi tub and shut my eyes. There was only the sound of water, like I was in one of them old European bathing houses for invalids. There was the unchanging smell of soap and flesh. My flesh. Warm water, reviving me on a molecular level. The jets massaged the kinks out of my joints, soothing over the bruises I’d acquired in bed earlier tonight. Fortunately, I had a day or two to recover before I needed to be seen by anyone; otherwise there would be questions. My cousins wouldn’t given me a moment’s peace.

Every time we met up, he made certain to impart damage so I’d remember who I belonged to when he wasn’t around. A few hickeys down my neck, fingerprints around my arms, and now I was beginning to suffer the repercussions of the scratches along my ribs and back. They didn’t feel so sexy once they were met with hot water. The pain was searing, like I’d been flayed alive and set on fire afterwards. Wild sex was only theoretically good in the moment—like when his nails were raking every part of me in stupefying ecstasy. Great shouting orgasms; one after another. It’s like he hadn’t came in years. Who could blame him though? When it was good, it was gooood, and I needed to hear him cry out whenever I touched him the way he liked. Yet with total abandonment came total savagery, and he’d bitten me a time or two on my thighs and pecks—and that shit hurt. Marking his territory, I suppose. There was no stopping him when he got like this. But I guess there was no stopping me either.

The morning would of course see us parting again. I wasn’t ready for how he might react this time. Typically, it was absolute scenes and left me stressed for the remainder of the day. He got more angry than sad whenever the time came to part, because he didn’t like for me to see him cry; so, he just got pissed instead. Sometimes the separation hit us like a mule-kick straight to the Solar Plexus, winding us for days.

The moment he left, I knew I would spend the rest of the week sulking, not eating well, smoking too much, not wanting to speak to anyone else. It’s how it always played out. At night I’d lay awake and remember every second we’d spent together until I fell asleep. It was the only way I could sleep really, hypnotizing myself with all the dizzying memories I’d collected of him. Either that or scrolling through my phone’s gallery until I was too tired to hold it in front of my face. When I was feeling extra pathetic, I’d even kiss the screen, imaging the inviting warmth of his lips that never denied me contact.

 When I was feeling extra pathetic, I'd even kiss the screen, imaging the inviting warmth of his lips that never denied me contact

Bare footsteps padded across the tiles towards the tub, just as I began to doze. I never heard the door open. My eyes were still shut, involuntarily. My body grew heavier the closer he got, not allowing me to dislodge from this unsightly slump. I knew it was him. It had to be him. I could smell the muted remnants of his cologne wafting from his body after a bit of perspiring. He stopped to take a leak and I relished the sound of his piss hitting the toilet bowl in a loud, forceful torrent; like he was wielding a firehose.

The running water must’ve woken him up, and he was probably upset I wasn’t in bed. I sensed his movements still, each and every one, like I was stalking prey through a dense forest after dark. He was probably running his fingers through his hair or rubbing his eye. Then he was upon me, but I had yet to shift in the slightest. It was the worst sleep paralysis of my life. I prayed to God he wouldn’t shove my head beneath the surface and keep it there until I checked out. Not that I believed he would, but being incapacitated and left to the mercy of another human was one of my top three worst fears in life.

Proving me to be a paranoid idiot, he pressed his lips to mine; sleepily. It was a heartfelt caress that said: Where were you? Stolen kisses were the best kisses, and this one worked like a proper disenchantment. Soon I was free of the spell, finally able to open my eyes and see him for what he was: entirely nude and half-awake himself.

For a while all I could make out was his shifting form, then slowly his skin glowed with all the luminosity of a northern star. He kissed me all over my face, measured and contemplatively. Hungrily, like my skin was made of sugarcane. Then he asked where I’d gone. He couldn’t sleep without me. These things were whispered between honeyed kisses, and I could smell my dried saliva around his mouth from earlier.

“Grab my smokes, babe,” I breathed, shutting my eyes as his lips landed repeatedly on my temple. When he left, I exhaled shakily, meditating on the overwhelming intimacy of the moment. We were undoubtedly the only two people left on earth. This was the only inhabited place. There was no tomorrow, no yesterday, only now; only us.

He returned with the empty pack, rolling the last cylinder between his pretty fingers. I rested my head on the brim of the tub and he popped the filter between my lips, lighting it with the pack of matches from my nightstand——they were from a dodgy strip club I’d visited with Mike and Ant the last time they stopped by. With the help of the flame I saw his face with an almost supernatural clarity. His eyes were half-lidded and tired. Unfocused when they landed on me, but soon staring diligently at the tip of the cigarette. That was all I could spot before he blew the match out and tossed it into the bin beside the vanity. Now he sat bare-assed on the floor beside the tub, freezing on the tiles; lighting and blowing out the remainder of the matches one by one.

“Wasting good matches, youh are,” I remarked, taking a pull from the Marlboro and exhaling the smoke away from him.

“It’s kinda fun…” he mumbled, chin propped on the brim of the tub with a childlike listlessness.

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah…” he chuckled.

“Since when are youh soh obsessed with fire, then?”

“Am I obsessed?”

“I’d say soh…first downstairs with the lighter. Now this…”

“Y’know there’s a word for that, right?”

“What’s that? Arson?”

“Pyro—…pyyyyy—uh, shit what is it?”

“It’s alright, then—”

“P-pyro—…fucks sake—” he got up and ran into the bedroom for something. I enjoyed watching his ass jiggle the entire way. When he came back, he was scrolling through his phone, then shouted, “Pyromania! Yeah, that’s the one.”

“Well, I’ll be damned…”

“Guess I’m a pyromanic now.”

“Nothing to be proud of—”

“You’re right. Probably not—”

“—but isn’t that like,” He set his phone on the sink, half-listening, then sat down. “For people who actually want to start fires all the time, though?”

“Shit,” he laughed. “you’re right again, I guess. Actually, it is. Maybe, uh…maybe I’m not that specifically, but I just like the way it looks, y’know? I could stare at it all day. But I’m not gonna set anything on fire—” 

“I know youh won’t—”

“I almost can’t sleep without a fire in the winter—”

“Or autumn. Trust me, I know better than anyone.”

I felt him staring at me so I turned my face to stare back. Dipping a hand in the water, he made idle circles on the surface in front of my chest before suddenly flicking a handful at my face.

Hazzz!” I snapped, flinging a handful back at him. His laughter echoed throughout the room, reverberating off the water. “Chill, babe!” I flung his hand out of the water and he rested his wet face on the brim of the tub again, subdued. I took another pull of the cigarette and watched the ceiling.

“Look at me.”

“Noh…”

“M’leaving tomorrow. You ought to look at me while you still can.” I looked at him right away, drowning in his eyes. When I looked down at his lips, he kissed his first two fingers and then set them to my mouth, dragging them down my parted lips.

“Is that all I get?” I asked, sitting up and shutting off the nearest jets.

“For now.”  He leaned across the tub to steal my smoke, which lay burning between my fingers on the opposite side of the brim. I slid my free hand (dripping wet) down his spine to his ass; massaging the silky curves of his flesh until I was practically hard again. When he managed to grab the cigarette, he took a big hit and blew the smoke directly into my face by accident. He laughed as I fanned it away, plumes of smoke spouting from his chuckles. Then the entire thing fell into the tub and was snuffed by the water.

Neon Red – Chapter 3

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

**********

When he got cold, I brought him inside to the theater where we sat unaffected in the dark and kept talking like nothing had interrupted the earlier discussion. The projector was shut off, so we were surrounded by silence, apart from our own voices. There was a funny stench in this place, which I hadn’t sat in for over a year. The seats needed to be aired. The carpet could do with a shampooing. This whole place could use a touch up actually; as it was musty and dusty as fuck.

We had taken our boots off at the door, now he propped his feet up on the back of the seat in front of us, flexing them about. His socks were slightly mismatched, but similar enough where he probably hadn’t noticed when he was pulling them on. I wanted to rub his feet and get him a cup of hot cocoa, and help him unwind, but I figured I needed to ease into things. We’d taken our coats off too, so he was slowly but surely loosening up. Our elbows were touching on the armrest, and it felt right.

Rolling Stone had offered him a cover spot, which he accepted. He would tour sometime later this year, God willing, taking on iconic showrooms he had seen his idols play. Places he had dreamed of playing his entire life—undercutting his worth in my opinion—but I respected his decision to establish an intimate relationship with his audience before he returned to arenas. In them huge places the fans all sort of faded into the background and became a bedlam of screams and flailing hair and red-rimmed eyes. Without doubt, the smaller shows would be a nice warm-up for whatever came next.

This here got me a bit down, I’ll admit,” he flexed the fingers of the injured hand. “Can’t play as much as I’d like. M’thinking about surgery later this year—”

“Oh yeah?”

“—but that might set me back a bit more.” He looked at me, hopeful I’d provide a solution.

“Better to get it o’va with before the shows start, I guess. What would they even do to it? It’s not broken is it?”

“I’ve had it looked at a few times here and there last year. Nothing’s broken really…just, uh, tight tendons or something.”

“How’d youh even hurt it?”

“Jerking off too much—” We burst out laughing.

“To be honest, that wouldn’t be the least bit surprisin’. If anyone injured their hand violently jerking off, it’d be youh, Haz—”

“Oh c’mon, mate, you jerk off way more than I do. I remember that shit—”

“Fuck off broh, youh know that’s a lie! Youh literally can’t goh a day, I’d bet.” At that he laughed and buried his face in his palm because he knew it was true. I wanted to run my fingers through his hair. His grey Carhartt beanie was begging me to snatch it off.

Touche, mate, touche…” he conceded, settling in the chair and tossing his head back over it.

“Takes one to know one, I suppose. Don’t worry, you’re not alone…my wrist is all fucked up.” I assured him. He kept on about the things coming up this year. How it would make or break his life. He wondered if the fans would think he switched up too much and choose not support his new sound; or the new look; or the new crew.

“I’m sohhh jealous, broh…I tried to get a band together a while back. It’s hard to trust people to stick around, yeah?”

“Well, sumtimes. But you, uh, just have to vet them better I find. I was lucky I guess, especially when I found Mitch—”

“Who, the pizza shop guy?”

“Yeah,” he chuckled drily, with barely concealed disdain. He hated when I called him that.

“And it was cool Adam was down, as well. You’ve been knowing him forever—”

“Almost as long as you.”

“Yeah…” I nodded. “Hey, can I be in the band? Not as a vocalist or anythin’…I know that’s all youh.” He had shut his eyes while he rested, but now opened one and looked over at me.

“What’re you bringing to the table then? No one’s paying you to stand around and look pretty.”

“I play a mean triangle, mate. Youh forgot about that?”

“Sorry, mate, Sarah’s got the percussions covered, and she’s a bit of a hard-ass when it comes to that. What else you got?”

“Shit, that’s it then, innit?” I laughed, sitting back and tossing my head over the headrest like him.

I could already see the places his career would go—more remarkable than Nolan movies even. It was only a matter of time, and he was the sort of artist who would excel more and more with age, like Elton John or Prince. Our time in the band was only a taste of the things he’d experience on his own, I was sure of it.

For some artists, boybands were a good way to become rich and famous with little unique effort. Everyone got the same rewards no matter the size of their individual contribution, sort of like taking an equal grade in a group project that one didn’t help to fulfill. That wasn’t the case for him, though. He was like one of those kids who had done all the work and had everything figured out and actually understood the assignment, but still had to split the recognition among five others who didn’t do nearly their fair share.

Not to slag myself or the other boys, because I certainly feel as though I contributed my fair share in the vocals department, but the other boys and I never really understood the assignment. Not just the band shit, but all the peripheral stuff like celebrity, networking, brand diversification and evolution. A lot of that stuff flew clean over our heads and we simply lived in the moment, totally unlike him. Haz was rarely ever a part of 1D. Most days we felt we were just a part of his breakout story.

We kicked it a while longer, remembering incriminating moments from on the road. Drudging up things that maybe needed to be addressed in therapy. We all picked up our vices over time; some of us more than others. I smoked too much—he drank too much sometimes whether he was willing to admit it or not. The sound of his laughter filled the room and made this old cavernous dungeon feel like a home again. I told him I was glad he was here, then finally got up the balls to lean over and kiss him on the cheek. The sound of it echoed throughout the theater and for a moment we paused. He smiled, looking ahead, rubbing his eye after.

I asked him who he kept in touch with, but he hadn’t spoken to any of the other boys in a while. Too much had come between them before he left, diminishing any notion of them coming together again. A reunion was out of the question. Much had come in the way, diverting them onto different paths. The deeper he was driven down this solo route, the more he realized there was no plausible return. It would be condescending for him to do so. The others had taken roads that tentatively led back to each other if all else failed and if ever they should choose to reunite, but Haz’s path would take him very far, very quickly.

Like me, when he cut ties it was tacitly understood it was not a temporary arrangement, no matter how promising the media-trained answers they were instructed to give the fans. He didn’t have the heart to tell them the truth anyway, nor did he need to clarify anything upfront. Let the chips fall where they may, and in time the world would amend its expectations and understand. That’s how most things worked out. His most loyal would unquestionably follow him wherever he went, and the fake ones would be the first to fall by the wayside, as I’d heard someone say one time.

“Sumtimes I just think,” he began, speech lazy, jetlagged off his ass. “…maybe we want too much? But then again, uh…it’s like…is it really even that? Or is it just that the band thing went so crazy, a lot is expected of uz now? And we’re afraid to do less? It will never be okay for uz to do less. Our egos are out of control. Plus, they’ll eat us alive if our albums aren’t number ones, if we don’t sell out aren’ers or our own. Right? Won’t they?”

“Mm-hm. I feel youh. I felt that a little on my own, but then eventually I was just like, fuck it, y’know? I can’t keep up with all that mindset. It’s toxic, maan. When youh think about it, like really think about it, Haz, youh don’t have to worry about impressing a single person in this world, or living up to their irrelevant expectations. I mean really, who says youh have to anyweh? That’s the power youh hold as an artist. Youh make the rules that’ll govern your career from start to finish.”

“True…”

“Make yourself proud first, Haz, honestly. That’s cliché and all, but if I’m honest, that’s where it’s at. If at the end of the day when youh lay your head down to rest, if youh are proud with the things you’ve accomplished, who the fuck can tell youh you’re not successful? Youh just gotta beat them at their own game, that’s it, yeah? Redefine what success means so that it meets your expectations and no one else’s. It’s that simple.”

Later our hands gravitated towards one another. Fingers brushing back and forth, tentatively but on purpose, making my ears burn. Now he was nervous about what lie ahead, just as I had been a year ago. Now was the time to finalize the ideas that’d been stewing in the safety of his mind for so many years. It was a scary thought, because you only had the one shot, and damn if it weren’t the most important first impression you’d ever make on your listeners. I totally get what he was feeling though. History demonstrated that no one who failed on the first album try really has any credibility for a second. In this industry, you had to get it right the first time or it’d chew you up and spit you out and piss on you as you lay in the dust.

Most of us had been planning our first solo album from the time we could hit a decent note (I remembered vividly nailing a few and my older sister telling me to shut up, that I couldn’t sing.) It was all a part of the dream to become a singer, envisioning how you’d be received by the world. What your sound would be. What your stage name would be. What your first album would look like. The title—everything. Simply everything. Now he was thinking up visuals for his concept art and looking to set up a photoshoot soon.

A while later he said he wished I could come to the premiere of his movie, but promised he’d cop me the link to stream it before it was released to theatres. It was like an editors’ copy they sent around for notes, and he had managed to gain access to it. The longer we sat there, fighting the prevailing silence, I got a sense he was pissed at me. We walked to the kitchen so I could get him that cup of hot chocolate I owed him, and he sat atop the counter while he drank it. Like an idiot I left the bag of marshmallows too close, and he started popping them into his mouth and talking with it chock full of them. The bar of Hershey chocolate I liked to shred on top of the finished drinks was nearby too, and he started wolfing the little rectangles down one by one.

“Youh not gonna save me any?”

“Nope. You don’t deserve any.”

“Youh mad at me or something?” He just nodded, setting his cup aside and swinging his socked feet.

“Why youh mad?” I asked, setting my cup on the counter and moving to stand between his legs. There, I gazed up at him, directly into his eyes for the first time since he arrived. He kept looking down, so I held his face with both hands, forcing him to look at me. “Wus wrong, babe?” His eyelids fluttered downward, just short of closing. I could tell he felt embarrassed about something.

“Hazza…?” My voice had softened, since I knew that’d get to him. “What’s up babe? Youh mad at me?”

“M’tired…”

“That all?”

“Well…you hadn’t kissed me yet—” he blurted out, beginning to pout. It was the cutest shit ever. “I been here how long, Z? You think I came all this way not to be kissed?” My eyebrows lifted in bemusement and shock. He was seriously upset with me. His cheeks were still a bit red from the outdoor walk so I couldn’t take his attitude seriously. His eyes were downcast again. I knew I had sensed something off all along, but I would’ve never guessed it was this.

“Well fuck then!” I laughed. “M’sorry, babe…I’m an idiot….don’t be mad at me.” I murmured, stroking his cheeks. “C’mere…” He was right. What the hell had I been thinking? It was our first time kissing in practically a year, so the jolt that ran through me the moment our lips touch was crippling. His tongue was sweet—super chocolatey and playful. He was going to town, tonguing the shit out of me. I could tell he was hungry—had been waiting to do this since he first laid eyes on me in the backyard. When we broke there was a visible spit line, and he was hazy eyed and smiley. Perfectly content.

“I didn’t want to rush it,” I told him, wiping my mouth with my thumb, then wiping his. “I thought it might freak you out if I jumped all over youh as soon as youh stepped foot at the house. Youh know the gate’s not that high.”

“No, you’re right. There’s no rush. We can take it slow,” He nodded, holding my chin and planting a few more rapid pecks to my lips, showing he didn’t want to let go just yet. I counted half a dozen pecks my now. His lips were softer than I remembered; his tongue sweeter. His breath smelled like Hershey and I was growing drunk on it, staring at his mouth relentlessly. He set our noses together and laughed. Now his hands were all over my ass, slipping beneath my waist band and over my briefs. He had trapped me between his legs by locking them around me and crossing his ankles. I hugged him in forfeit, resting my head against his chest as we picked up our conversation where it had left off. We rocked side to side a little and I could see myself falling asleep like this. Gucci cologne overwhelmed my senses, and I burrowed between his pecks to inhale it, full-tilt.

I asked him what he was driving lately; the question was muffled against his distressed Led Zeppelin T-Shirt. I started humming “Stairway to Heaven” just then. When I stopped, he asked me to keep going. He liked when I hummed. Eventually he told me he had bought two new cars since I last saw him, a bright yellow ’72 Ferrari and a vintage Land Rover from the 80s for camping trips. 

I stood up and fished for a jay I rolled just before he arrived, which he then took my lighter and lit for me. Eyes locked on the task at hand, he studied the tip until it caught fire and filtered down to a smolder. Then he kept playing with the lighter’s flame, swiping his fingers in and out of it. Burning a piece of plastic from the marshmallow bag. 

Satisfied with himself, he smirked, looking up into my eyes with a strange sort of detachment. Almost like he expected something. Almost like he wasn’t fully present in the moment. It was like we were strangers, but not. I felt at home with him, but also never really at ease. It was always a battle to find middle ground with this guy. And his eyes were eating me alive. The lights in the kitchen were half out, but I knew every incandescent speck of those irises by heart. Every sinuous discoloration seated deep within the jewel-like membranes. I had spent so many nights getting lost within them. Enough to know how he was feeling at any given moment, and right now he wanted me to take him to bed more than anything. He was salivating for it. I smirked ever-so subtly, letting him know that I knew. I sensed just how desperate he was for me to get inside his guts. His lids drooped in a silent plea for me to quit staring at him. I didn’t care. I wanted to fall into his eyes and make my bed in that lush, fibrous green forever. 

Now I grabbed his jaw after a few hits and exhaled into his mouth between kisses; kisses that were spilling hungrily onto his chin, his mole, his nose. We were getting more stoned on each other than what we were smoking. He started coughing, but then laughed it off. Kind of belatedly, I told him he couldn’t possibly live enough lifetimes to drive all them cars. They’re sitting and collecting dust.

“Yeah, but I like to look at ’em,” he grinned, taking his beanie off and shaking out his hair. Shit, I had forgot how short it was now. There was still a good length though, just enough for me to pull on. He squinted over at me through the smoke. I gave him a lazy wink. Sometimes he just looked a lot like his mum. Normally all I saw was Des, but around the eyes, no one but Anne manifested. I kissed his puffy red lips again and forgot about Anne in a heartbeat. He scooted to the edge of the counter so that his bulge met my belly, becoming forceful and demanding, letting me know where his mind was.

He was wearing a wacky Gucci cardigan with all these clunky embroidered appliqués and “Spaceboy” sprawled across the back. I discovered the letters when I reached around and started massaging the back of his neck and shoulders from where I stood. The design was a tribute to Bowie. I stole it immediately—at least for the duration of his visit—and the cherry on top was that it smelled like him. Well, now it smelled like weed, but I still got a few whiffs of him on occasion.

I tried it on and told him how obsessed I was, but it was oversized and the sleeves fell over my hands

I tried it on and told him how obsessed I was, but it was oversized and the sleeves fell over my hands. I looked like a kid sneaking and trying on my dad’s clothes when he was at work. We snickered as he rolled them back for me. He kept trying to unbuckle my pants, but I wouldn’t let him. It was too soon for all that. When he popped a piece of chocolate between his teeth, I surprised the shit out of him and ate it right out of his mouth. His laughter made me feel soft and summery, and I took advantage of his head being tossed back by sucking and biting his neck; lips mouthing his Adam’s Apple. His skin tasted warm and clean. He shuddered when I nibbled his collarbone, biting my way back up to nip at his earlobes.

Apparently, this particular cardigan was sold out, so there was no hope of getting one in my size anytime soon. “It’s yours,” he said, totally out of breath, but I wouldn’t dream of taking it. I knew he was just as obsessed with it as I was. Moments later we forfeited all pretense and went upstairs so he could shower. We barely made it up the steps for falling over and making out midway. The jay had been left on the counter, burned down to a blackened stub.

When he came out of the shower in a towel, I went in to undress and got freshened up a bit

When he came out of the shower in a towel, I went in to undress and got freshened up a bit. Now he was waiting for me in my bed, wearing absolutely nothing. I was looking at his underwear crumpled on the floor in the corner by the stall. He had to leave the next day—always in and out like a phantom. This was starting to feel like nothing but a super expensive booty call; but I sure as fuck wasn’t complaining. We wouldn’t link up again until his birthday, so I knew I couldn’t let this moment go to waste. It was like our first time all over again, and the thought made me bone-weary and giddy. 

I stood undressed (down to my briefs) having reapplied my deodorant and a dab of cologne. I faced the closed bathroom door; heart was raging against my chest. A weird energy seeped through the threshold and filled the bathroom air.  I could almost feel him on the other side, cock in his hand, lips parted and panting, preparing himself for me. I shut the light out and stood in the frigid darkness like a fiend, shoulders heaving at every inhale. Fuck it—I thought at last. He had come all this way just for me. Now was the time to act. It was do or die.

Neon Red – Chapter 2

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

Probably a thousand times in the past five minutes, I thought about joining him in the shower. In time, my better judgement prevailed, as that would set me back hours. I was already groomed and dressed, and whenever I went there with him everything got dirty. Plus, I liked to take my time. Shower sex never ended quickly—like last night for instance, when I slipped in after him unexpectedly and we didn’t leave for what seemed over an hour. He was limping by the time we toweled off and headed to bed early for a change. He fell asleep ahead of me, nuzzled against my chest; and once he was out, I felt the warmth of his breath against my skin—one of the most gratifying things I’d experienced in recent memory. I pressed my lips to the top of his head, nuzzling his hair as lightly as I could without disturbing him.

Before drifting myself, I thought back to early January and how we collided all over again. A drunken New Year’s Eve text was all it took. He had initiated it. Something like, ‘Miss you’. Or, ‘Doesn’t feel right without you.’ My contact in his phone was ‘cheekbones’ but his contact always varied depending on what I was calling him at the time. So when ‘b’ flickered across my screen as a notification (something I hadn’t seen in months) it put an instant pit in my stomach—sort of like the feeling of free-falling.

I called and we spoke. How could I not? He was alone on a windy rooftop somewhere, teeth chattering, having slipped outside a New Year’s party in Malibu. Right then and there, he must’ve told me he loved me like a hundred times—super compulsively. According to him, it was a mistake for us to split again last February. To his estimation, we deserved to give ourselves a chance. We had been working at this long enough and deserved a proper adult try. That way if things didn’t work out, at least we’d know we once gave it all we got.

Then it was back to the I love you’s, almost as if it was all he could say—like he wasn’t sure he’d be given another opportunity to tell me. He was wasted too, the words occasionally slurring, stammering, and trailing off, but I knew what he meant. It overwhelmed me so badly that I could never keep up with that energy. Even now, weeks later, I couldn’t process what was happening, all of which had been initiated by the New Year’s call. A call I had taken with bated breath in the closet of my bedroom while G was in the next room at our own little party (attended only by her family and friends; never mine.)

The next day (New Year's Day, 2017) before I caught a flight to London for work, I went and got a reminder inked across my dominant hand in big, accusatory letters, so that no matter how much I beat myself up, and no matter how much I wanted to ge...

The next day (New Year’s Day, 2017) before I caught a flight to London for work, I went and got a reminder inked across my dominant hand in big, accusatory letters, so that no matter how much I beat myself up, and no matter how much I wanted to get down on myself, claiming I had no one to turn to except myself, there was now no way of looking past the fact that I was loved. Why had this feeling evaded me before? In all the years we’d spent together, I always thought I felt something akin to love, but never this grown-up shit; this enduring shit. Not in all my time with Pez or G combined did I feel this way. Positively nothing compared to the way I felt after that New Year’s conversation.

I had hung up and exited the closet, levitating. Enshrouded in the utter mystery love. Love, love, love, love love…I was in love with someone in a very adult way, and I suspect it had been this way for a while. And if I’m being honest, it was electrifying. I could feel it fucking with my nerve-endings; my heartbeat; my sight. My stomach couldn’t stop doing flips. It was by far the dopest shit ever. We were in love. He and I. He and I. He and I. He and I. He and I.

What now? Marriage? He’d laugh at that. A more astute question would be: Why now? I kept wondering at it all day before my London flight. We hadn’t slept together in nearly a year; since February 2016. It was now January 2017 and the mere thought of this dude made me giddy to the point of feeling fatigued. Why do I love him more now? Better yet—Why does he love me more now? After everything?

“You’re perfect”—was another thing he repeated on a loop that night. I was uncomfortable with the reverence he showed me. It forced me to respect and view myself in a new light. That was the proper kind of love, right? The bettering kind? The restorative kind? But still I was uncomfortable with worshipful affection. And I was uncomfortable walking around feeling this way without sex. Shouldn’t that be the motivating factor at the center of all this? Shouldn’t it all come back down to mere biology? Bodily chemicals and animal sensations? Otherwise, what was the source of it? To not know meant to not be in control, and that was petrifying.

The remainder of January was going to be a drag if I didn’t figure all this out. I wasn’t cut out for this soulmate shit. I was such an alone type of person, I couldn’t fathom being someone’s everything, and I couldn’t handle the idea of him becoming mine. That would lend him both opportunity and license to leave me or forget me; which I could not survive.

Love was bewildering. How much of me did it require? Last time we collided, it wasn’t proper. We’d hurt someone else badly in the process, seeking our own selfish ends, and scarred each other yet again. None of it had been planned. It had been serendipity at it’s finest, almost as if it were ordained by powers beyond our purview. This time, however, we’d be stepping off that ledge together, hand-in-hand like some sort of sordid communal death wish.

What was I supposed to tell G? No, not yet—apart of me begged. I couldn’t entertain the thought just yet, but I knew I had to let her know at some point. The talk we had last year where she decided she didn’t want to end things had nearly been my undoing. What choice did I have but to obey? Like Haz, she held the power to ruin me The mortification I experienced was downright eviscerating. It took me a while to feel normal around her again. To feel like the man; to feel worthy. Guilt ate away at me morning, noon, and night. She was dry and terse for a while, basically wanting me to grovel. And I did because I didn’t know what else to do. Assuaging her fears became my only concern. Infidelity was no joke, but the added complication of it being with a man (and a famous man at that) there was nothing I could do but capitulate.

What made her believe in us again was the sex. That was like the all-encompassing tonic that resolved everything. She needed to feel desired again. She needed to hear that I preferred her. That I was only drunk when I had been with him. I told her all she needed to hear and then some, and although the lies sickened me, it got us back to civility and my life back to normal.

This was where I could feel her trusting me again, which on some levels made me feel undefeated and illimitable. How did I hold this kind of power? How was she still here? How was she not disgusted by me? Why wouldn’t she just let go? I pressed her on this repeatedly and she only ever said, ‘I want to make this work.’ Never any whys or hows; just that she thought we could be something great; and it helped that her family adored me. So, if that outlook was enough for her, then it was certainly going to be enough for me.

With all these fresh new realizations brought on by reconnecting with him steadily jabbing me in the brain like botched acupuncture, more and more windows seemed to open for him to hurt me, to desert me, to not follow through after I had essentially given up my normalcy to be with him again. But what was my normalcy when compared to my world, which he contained? He was unquestionably my endgame.

Along with this came the realization that I’d have to officially let her down permanently. I couldn’t keep one foot in and one foot out of the door forever. A man can’t be in two places at once, as my Dad always reminded me. Was I really considering this right now? Letting her go conclusively? The notion gave me acid reflux—picturing both our families simply asking, why? She had already worn me down in the department of feeling ever since explosion in 2016—having effectively lobotomized me to the point that I thought I was incapable of love. Incapable of caring. This year, I was done tiptoeing around her feelings. I promised Haz we’d meet soon. There was nothing particular in mind really, no true timeframe mapped out since we had a way of falling into place with little effort. It would happen sooner or later, I told him, but of course he wanted sooner.

Later that week after I wrapped the shoot for the video with Taylor, he was the first person who came to mind. The first one I wanted to explain the concept to, because it was dope and I knew he’d think so too. Now we were in this weird thing where we’d agreed to see each other again, so little things like this mattered. G and I hadn’t talked yet, and in fact, she hardly entered my mind unless I was standing right in front of her. I didn’t call her about the video shoot; didn’t even have the inclination to. The guilt I thought I’d feel over carrying on with him again behind her back was nonexistent. By now, it was probably like one of them bizarre psychological mechanisms that was self-imposed to save you from yourself, like habituation or dissociation. My mind knew that if I thought of her too much, I risked revisiting the overwhelming levels of guilt I experienced last year after she found out.

The self-loathing I faced for months in the aftermath made me want to off myself. Straight up. He probably felt the same; but was left to deal with it alone (she made me change my number, but it was only a matter of time before I reached out to him again.) So maybe my brain didn’t want me reliving that pain again. Yet it also knew that I could no longer deny him or be without him for similar reasons. The thought of him being with someone else had driven me mad since the day we went our separate ways last year, and it was only a matter of time before I disintegrated without him.

Part of me was vulnerable in a way I couldn’t identify. A naked feeling of unmitigated embarrassment. Even this video shoot made me feel like I was doing something wrong. I don’t know if it was because Taylor was involved and I now felt a sense of accountability to him, but for some reason, I needed his approval for the moves I was making. Sort of like when we made love. He needed to tell me I was doing alright, which he had a way of conveying without actually speaking. We had ways of conveying things to one another that no other human could necessarily grasp.

Funny how that works; the second we get back in touch, his is the only opinion I rated. Plus, I wanted to gauge how he might’ve felt about me spending time with her. “Cool.” Was his response to the collab after we’d been talking for a while. He said he fell in love with the vocals right away. Since the video required Taylor and I to spend some time together, we got a bit chummy backstage, and I wanted him to know we were only good friends through G. Regardless, my loyalty always lied with him.

After filming, I had a few days to visit the fam in Bradford before heading back to NY in mid-January, thanks to Taryn. My thoughts played tricks on me for a while, like I was on a bad trip and couldn’t come down from the high. Straight up ill. I called him up, sweating like it wasn’t the middle of winter, and without question, without even the merest inkling of a suggestion on my part, he chartered a jet and booked it to London from LA. Twelve hour flight, at least 100K—at the drop of a hat, all for me. I had never felt more sought after in my life—it was lunacy.

An entire pack of Marlboros came and went as his flight departed and I knew he was on his way to me

An entire pack of Marlboros came and went as his flight departed and I knew he was on his way to me. Fretful of how to act when he got there, I kept replaying bits of our New Year’s conversation in my head. That morning, I sent a private car to pick him up from the airport. I met him at my place in London with a handful of hothouse grocery flowers. They’d gone limp before I got them home, but he appreciated the gesture, toying with the colorful cellophane as we made our way to the back door to get rid of his bags. After an absurd amount of hugging and resisting the urge to maul each other, we walked around the yard so I could smoke and caught up for a while.

“How’s everyone?” I asked, watching him watch his feet as he walked, kicking aside clumps of frozen snow along his path. The rest had melted and made the lawn slushy.

“Really good, actually.” He glanced to me with a sideways grin, one eye squinting against the sun. He kept his hands in the pockets of a navy Belstaff peacoat and shrugged a little. “Gem’s busy, Mum’s busy, Rob’s good. He’s doing alright, y’know? And Mum…she’s, uh, she’s helping my uncle start up the diner—remember I told you about that?”

“Yeah, youh did—”

“Just a little place at the edge of town. Gets a lot of tourists stopping in lately. He’s smashing it already, mate—”

“Oh yeah? Pretty cool…”

“I told ’em he needed to hire a barista, though. It’s a simple addition, and the coffee sales alone would cover their salary in a few months. Easy money,” he chuckled.

“For sure.”

“If I’m honest, he really only needs to pop in one of them fancy expresso makers—you know the ones. Just save the money on a new hire altogether. Learn to work it himself. You know how people are about expresso—”

“And your Mum’s involved then?”

“She’s just trying to help with the accounting and the administrative stuff for a while, till he finds a numbers guy. She’s retired y’know? Always looking to help out.” He shook his head fondly. “How about you? How’s yours?”

“Yeah, same, I suppose. Mom’s gud, Dad’s gud, the girls are gud.”

“How about you?”

“Me?”

“Yeah you,” he laughed, bumping me with an elbow.

“Shit, Haz, I dunno.” I cleared my throat, sidestepping a pile of ancient dogshit that had frozen over. “Just missed youh a lot, maan.”

“Yeah, you too.”

“How was the flight over?”

Longgg….” he retorted with a groan.

“That was wicked though…that you came all this way.”

“Think so?”

“Yeah, I do,” I said contemplatively. “We’ll make it count…somehow.”

“Hope so…”

He seemed vaguely evasive

He seemed vaguely evasive. Not enough to confront him over, but not enough to ignore either. I started fixating over every conversation we’d had since New Year’s (while he complained about the London weather) wondering where I’d taken a misstep. He chatted shit about the state of the landscaping in the yard, saying he remembered when it used to be my dream house, and now I had let it fall to shambles. I told him to quit breaking my balls because I hadn’t been there in a while to keep up with it, and there was no sense wasting the cash if no one was here to get offended by the mess. Then he said he was offended.

The snow had ruined a lot of my bizarre yard attractions; the teepee had collapsed under the pressure of built up snowfall and frost. It’s a shame because it was one of our favorite places to hide whenever we were in town during breaks in the tour. Just huddled together on a mountain of pillows, removed from every stitch of technology. Making out until we fell asleep.

He used his boot to overturn the decapitated head of my target practice dummy, which had been lodged in a hill of frozen snow

He used his boot to overturn the decapitated head of my target practice dummy, which had been lodged in a hill of frozen snow.

“You might wanna give this guy a funeral, mate” he remarked, shaking his head at all the arrow holes riddling the face. “Looks like Swiss cheese. Fuck’s sake, what’s he ever done to deserve this?” he laughed and coughed into his sleeve.

“Youh sick? Wanna go inside?”

“I guess I’m alright. It’s a little cold but it’s what I need after being cooped up on that plane so long—”

“It’s the worst, innit?”

“—yeah, my legs could use the workout.”

Cool, cool,” I replied. “Youh know, maan, he was a real fucker, that guy. I got the order to take him out…without prejudice.”

“Is that so? Mate, be honest. You were waiting to chop the head off that thing the second you bought it.” We laughed, leaving the rubbery mass to roll down into the slush.

“What’s that?” I asked when he coughed into his sleeve again. Apparently he’d hurt his hand last year during filming and now had it in a brace. “Youh never told me about that.” It was all I could do not to unwrap it and kiss it until it felt better. I wasn’t even in a position to offer a massage. We were being weird just now, lots of sidelong glances and nervous smirks. Not much eye contact that endured beyond a second. Loads of beating around the bush in our carefully dealt offerings of conversation.

Neon Red – Chapter 1

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

February 2017

Hollywood Hills

The water had run cool. Two of the overhead lights were out, lending the stone the feel of an underground grotto. The walls still hissed with the steam from when I first stepped in. I liked to keep the temp just shy of boiling; that way it’d break down my sinuses and get a good sweat out of me. Draw away all the venom, like some dreadful detox straight out of the dark ages. I imagined I could watch it trickle out of my pores onto the floor to be washed away with the remainder of my impurities.

I’d been in there so long my hands were pruned. I ran them down my face and chest, and the skin on my fingers felt loose and lumpy—as if I was battling a premature infirmity. Nina Simone’s “Lilac Wine” started up on the intercom and cast a spell throughout the house. I stood entranced, unable to shift in the slightest. Feet planted into the black granite on either side of the drain like I weighed a metric ton. Water spilled down my head, blinding me with my own bangs. They lay drenched and flattened against my skull like a satin veil.

Something about her cadence unnerved me, like I was listening to the articulation of a curse; or the anguished cries of an earthbound spirit. If sorrow was a sound, her voice would epitomize it. A sound like dereliction. It spoke of a lifetime of strife—adult strife, but indirectly girlhood strife. Chilling realities incapable of being formulated by a mind like mine. Our paths were not one. Our times were not the same, yet she spoke to me. Called to me in that achy timbre paralleled by nothing of this generation.

My throat twitched with what seemed misdirected emotion. I couldn’t tell if I was feeling things on my behalf or hers. In an instant, I was submerged in the hideousness visited upon a musician of her gender, race, and era. I struggled not to become enraged. I had never felt so dispirited, like nothing I did mattered. That my existence was futile—loathed even. I wanted out. I was glad I could get out. I quailed to imagine what it would be like if I couldn’t leave whenever I wanted.

My mind boarded a passenger train straight back into the 50s. I was sitting at the table closest to the stage in a dilapidated country tavern, lit only by a few sconces and an occasional candle. She was her own pianist; head sometimes bent drunkenly over the keys. Heart droning. This song had been covered a million times, but Nina didn’t just borrow anything. She reinvented; she robbed; she revolutionized. “Lilac wine is sweet and heady, like my love. Lilac wine, I feel unsteady, like my love. Listen to me, I cannot see clearly. Isn’t that he, coming to me?”

The water was cold now, almost unbearably so, yet I remained, staring down the week at the persons and places prepared to expend me. So many things looking to monopolize my time. To snatch me away from where I was—perfect peace—indefinitely. Nothing felt more egregious. I needed to be here. I needed to see this thing through—at least for a while—but life never afforded me the opportunity. “Lilac wine, I feel unready for my love. Feel unready for my love…”

Before my eyes flashed all the hours to come. Every agitated step of my way to the airport—the flight itself, wrecked by turbulence. I was deeply annoyed with the process of flying, but it couldn’t be avoided. TSA was a bitch. Boarding was a bitch, too—slow and drawn out. I always regretted not flying private the moment I had any contact with a commercial airline. Now I saw myself seated, headphones in place, zoned out. Probably listening to classical—an eighteenth-century orchestral piece—my most damning guilty pleasure.

Suddenly, I thought of the plane crashing and never being able to see him again. What if in an instant, it was all over? If tomorrow wasn’t promised, then neither was the night, or the afternoon—or even the next few hours. All I saw was his face, half hidden by the sheets, smiling up at me. Sleepy eyes and tousled hair. Dimpled cheeks. It was like watching a silent movie. It had the soundless haze of memory; one ill-defined and getting blurrier by the moment. The deeper I recollected, the more evasive his face was.Lots of these little scenes whizzed by, more than I remember ever taking in, and they moved far too quickly for me to delve into a single one. All I saw was him, again and again and again, as if I were flipping through an endless photo album brimming with stills on every page. Covering every possible space like an creepy mosaic.

Was that it then? Was that everything? Had my card been pulled? Had I done enough? Had I let him know enough? Our time together was always so brief, so stolen—so strained. Eaten away with the paranoia of being discovered or exposed. Had I taken care of him while I was here? Had I made enough room for him in my thoughts? In my contemplations of the future? Why was it so hard to picture us together 20 years from now?

As much as I’d like to assert I had done my best for him, truth was, if I died today, he would be of the least consequential aspect of my world. The very last to have a say in what became of my remains or where I was laid to rest. Cruel, yes, but I had designed it that way—kept him marginalized to the extreme in my list of friends, colleagues, and romantic partners. Cold-hearted, but necessary. It was the first time I understood the phrase: necessary evil. Sometimes I was the coldest MF he knew. Sometimes he hated me. But whether he admitted it or not, I know he also depended on me to manage the parts of us that were hard—all the ugliness he couldn’t stomach. Like leaving him in 2015 to create a window to liberate us both. I knew my exit would set a fire under him, big enough to make him call it quits as well; an idea we had toyed with occasionally (perhaps even plotted.)

There were other hard parts I had to deal with, things he couldn’t bring himself to contemplate. In death, our separation would be more abysmal than anyone else I knew, because it was necessary for it to be that way. He would be forced to attend my funeral under the guise of a distant friend. Not brother, not lover—not even a close comrade. He would be shoved to the sidelines while G and her family were prioritized; allowed to sit beside my parents and let the depth of their grief be known.

He would not be allowed to manifest such symptoms. He could not reveal his devastation like G could. Everyone would pat her and sympathize with the anguish visited upon a significant other in times as these, knowing it was an altogether different degree of loss than anyone else would experience. None would pat or commiserate with him. He’d stomach every bit of desolation until he returned home, forced to sob alone without consolation.

Icy water pounded down my face, but I was so locked in these miserable reflections, I hardly noticed. I was beginning to panic on the inside. If I died, where had I left him in all this? Adrift? Bereft of me? No place at the table. I set a shaky hand to the shower wall to brace myself. I was beginning to inhale the water. But how could it be any other way? I couldn’t even confer anything to him in my will either, least of which being my love or my regard, because if I did, they’d all know. Anyone who suspected in the slightest would then receive all the confirmation they ever sought.

Sometimes he just felt like a pariah. A thing I couldn’t come within ten feet of without destroying all I had built for myself and for my family; everything I had worked so tirelessly to acquire these past two years. Though I’m convinced this notion pained me more than it ever did him. He was so understanding—so unconfrontational. So undesirous of hurting me. He never pushed back; always conceded, always caved. However, that was nothing to gloat over, because it meant he left me to war with myself whenever I became difficult. I was the one stuck there alone—sick with my own reasoning. Sick that he never put me in the position where I ever needed to defend myself.

For me, he underpinned all things, bookending my days and entering my thoughts almost hourly for the past six years. But to them, he ought to have been nothing to me. He couldn’t even request a lousy keepsake from among my personal effects without drawing their suspicions down on him. They’d say: Weren’t you the guy he hadn’t spoken to in over a year? The guy he hadn’t mentioned in forever? He must’ve despised you? Surely you two must’ve been at odds for there to have been no reconciliation?

They would accuse him of showing up only to ease the guilt of his conscience for having not been a meaningful part of my life while I was here—utterly unaware that at times he was the only meaning in my life and had been the only reason I made it this far—

Fuck, I needed a smoke. I needed my plane not to crash. When I hopped out of the shower and toweled off, Sia’s “Reaper” revitalized me. I used his hairdryer and a few of the near-empty products he had lying around to keep my hair from frizzing. One of them smelled like petrol, so I vetoed it immediately. By the time I was dressed, The Cranberries “Linger” meandered about the bedroom as I stepped outside the toilet to check up on him.

 By the time I was dressed, The Cranberries "Linger" meandered about the bedroom as I stepped outside the toilet to check up on him

He must’ve been downstairs, since all I saw was a crumpled imprint in the center of the bed where we’d lain. I stepped onto the wooden dais along the windows—which he and I had used as a makeshift stage to pretend we were in a band whenever we were drunk—and watched as birds whizzed by out of sight. Aimless, I was. Too many converging, early morning thoughts. I was more aimless than the birdbrained sparrows who often flew directly into the glass and fell to their deaths.

“But I’m in so deep…you know I’m such a fool for you. You got me wrapped around your finger. Do you have to let it linger? Do you have to, do you have to, do you have to let it linger?”

He approached quietly from behind, holding me without a word. He was quiet in the mornings, quite unlike himself. He was nude, too. I could feel everything and wasn’t complaining. His breath was in my hair. I held onto the arms that encircled me, leaned back into the body that surrounded me, and shut my eyes. This was the last of it for a while. Time to relish every mili-second of contact before he was gone again. The sinews in his arms rolled around every time he moved, and I searched for them beneath my fingertips. His strength was so intoxicating, so fortifying, so warm—my pupils slipped back into their sockets and I was sightless.

The mere thought of his size was deeply arousing—it was all I thought about. His hands, his feet, his chest—the breadth of his shoulders. The way he could throw me around. Up against the shower wall, stabilizing me, destabilizing me, bending me to his will. There was something fucked up about it. I liked the idea that he could rip all my clothes off. Or that he could choke me out whenever I pissed him off, yet would never dream of doing so. He was mostly gentle with me, and I had to beg him to so much as shove me up against a wall.

That I felt protected with him was something I took for granted for too long. I never realized the danger inherent in dating a man, and now understood how so many women could have a hard time of it. I was lucky in that he was a protector type, not a fighter. He would rather walk away from me than shout me down.

Aside from feeling safe with him, I was also invincible. Who else could protect me like this? Who else could hide me? Who could dwell in this alienation with me, discarding their outer self to accommodate my need for secrecy? He saw my greatest vulnerabilities, but never used them against me. He knew that I liked men. He knew I was obsessed with his cock. Truly, I have given him all the power. I have exposed myself in irredeemable ways. Given him all the tools necessary to ruin me, but he would sooner ruin himself. He would absolutely kill for me—kill for us, and there was something outrageously sexy about that.

We must’ve been thinking the thing, because all of a sudden, a tired whisper broke the silence. “Kill me if I ever leave you,” he said. I deserve nothing if I ever take you for granted again.” I turned my head to hear him more clearly and he kissed my ear; whispering obscene things that got me weak-kneed. He squeezed me hard around the ribs and my breath hitched. Few people saw this side of him. All my blood flooded my groin, I was half hard already. He flattened his palms against my abdomen, toying with lifting my shirt. Then his hands slipped beneath and I followed, playing with his fingers, unsure if I wanted him to do this.

“There ain’t much time,” I said, haltingly. He ignored me, slipping a hand beneath my waistband to massage my bulge over my briefs. I needed to stop this. He was lifting me through the material, working me up and down—but I doubled over and twisted away the second his hand slipped beneath my briefs. Too far. He knew I was running out of time.

“What’re you afraid of?” he chuckled lazily.

“Youh already know…” I shut my eyes, disappointed with myself for backing down. When I opened them, he was biting his lip, sniffing the hand that had touched me; rubbing his own cock with the heel of his other hand.

“You’re a sick fuck, youh know that?” I told him, agitated that he intended to take care of himself; with or without me. After a while, he left to shower and the desperation I felt watching him walk away (bare-assed, cock in his hand) and being unable to participate was profound. My guts twisted up and I got jittery with withdrawal.

I found coffee and a muffin set aside for me on the nightstand. He opted for orange juice. I drank a little of his to compensate for the morning kiss he forgot to give me. Coffee in hand and pulling on a cigarette every now and then, I stood barefoot at the glass wall that had surveilled our hedonism my entire stay, obsessing over the panoramic view of the Hills at sunrise. This view was the saving grace of this place, adding more property value than any other amenity he could list.

As for the rest, it felt too much like a clinic—and this is coming from a minimalist myself. All the surfaces were cold and sharp. Really soulless and sterile. It would be a nightmare to raise kids here, which is how my mom assessed the serious value of any house she entered. Even the parapets surrounding the open stairwell and second floor gallery were made entirely of glass. Sure, it looked sick, but it was the least bit practical. One false move and it would come shattering down.

This place also bothered me because it had the quality of being unlived in—like one of them film stages. Or like an open house model that despite being furnished simply lacked warmth. Nothing about it was distinctly him, unlike his London place which was full of relics of his remotest travels and strangest memories. Full of the mad art he was fixated with and had collected since 2013. I much preferred his London place to this one, because in a lot of ways it felt like our place.

Neon Red – Prologue

(DISCLAIMER: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. It’s important to remember this is all totally fabricated, embellished, and exaggerated for entertainment purposes.)

February 2017

Hollywood Hills

Last night was a movie. The party was full of huge names and familiar faces, all smiles and incessant laughter; all imbibing. But mostly it felt like I was on the outside looking in, watching everyone teem inside a snow globe like agitated insects, unaware of me entirely. I walked the block a few times before it began (trying to catch a bit of air) observing them as they arrived. All were herded into the outdoor café of the restaurant that had been reserved for the exclusive guestlist. I studied them like a zoologist who’d newly discovered a frightfully humanoid species of apes, but ultimately remained unimpressed with my findings. 

The private after party at the house the following afternoon had been even wilder. I drank too much and could barely see straight even as I lay here over 14 hours later. Brain fog was real, and it had only begun to disseminate after a short nap. As I awakened and gauged my surroundings, much of the haze remained. Tonight was quieter and more uneventful, which suited my present frame of mind. I was doing a lot of vacillating lately, unsure of everything. And I was troubled to find that I was alone when I awoke—top five worst feelings in the human condition. There was nothing like a warm body beside you to jumpstart the day. Someone to animate a room. Breathe life into the stillness. I was too still. I needed to shake things up. The room was uncomfortably dark and uncomfortably silent. Mute and colorless, like I was experiencing the very nadir of a bad dream. Still buzzing, I was in no condition to argue if this was reality or not. As I lay sleepless and gathered myself, I figured there was no real chance of slipping under again anytime soon.

The New Year had disturbed my sleeping habits, and as I was trying my hardest to abstain from medications to get me sorted again, I couldn’t help wishing for a few drops of melatonin to ease the illness of consciousness every now and then. Some nights I petitioned whatever God there may be to tranquilize me (if only for a few hours) but he never really heeded my prayers. I think I was hungry too, which always made it difficult to stay asleep after I’d fallen.It was well after midnight, as the massive view from the master suite illustrated for me, and I felt the sudden urge to write, but couldn’t gather my thoughts long enough to put pen to paper. 

I kept remembering the party, since it was the inaugural public outing in a long list of them to come for the new year. Lots of carpets. Lots of obligations. Lots of countries. I shuddered, slipping a hand under my shirt to rest on the warmth of my stomach beneath the sheet. It was the most self-comforting thing I could think to do. My other arm was flung over my face in a half-hearted resignation.Flashes of leering faces played across my mind like vintage home movies. The footage was grainy, despite being recorded mere days ago. Insects flickered around the lights in these faint recollections. The weather had been ok. Nice for a nighttime get-together. A bit chilly for LA, but it was winter after all. As I perused the best images of the night in this disturbing little mind movie, I couldn’t help but conclude I didn’t miss the company or their small talk or the ceaseless voices seeping from within the reel after I’d shut it off and my thoughts had gone black.

I looked over at my phone on the nightstand and it was all of 3AM. Why the fuck was I awake? I was parched from the alcohol, which refused to leave my system, so I convinced my body (completely leaden) to carry me downstairs for a bottle of water. He wasn’t where he was supposed to be, so there was no coercing him to get up and grab it for me.

As I rounded the last step on the open stairwell, feet hitting the chill concrete (a familiar sensation) the yard greeted me in all its glory since the shade hadn’t been drawn over the floor-to-ceiling windows of the principal wall. Typically it gave the space a breathable indoor-outdoor vibe, but at the minute it was an unlit void; just plain eerie.

He was planted on the sofa, doing precisely what I’d considered doing only a moment ago; writing. Except, his head was cocked back over the couch and he had dozed off mid-sentence—mouth parted. His snores seemed to be the only sound around for miles. I went to him through the alien domain of early morning where everything was cloaked in shadow, and removed the pen from his hand. He came to slowly, eyeing me like he couldn’t tell if I was real or not.

“Hey…” he whispered, squinting to see me more clearly. All the lights were out behind me because I’d forgotten to turn them on. He’d been using the light from the open window to write, but the night had gone cloudy and the darkness surrounding us was intolerably black.

 He'd been using the light from the open window to write, but the night had gone cloudy and the darkness surrounding us was intolerably black

“Z?” he rasped.

“Mm-hm,” I nodded, straddling his lap.

“Y’sure?”

“Yeah, it’s me…”

“Hey baby…” he sighed, wrapping his arms around my waist; crushing me so tight I thought my ribs would crack.

“Ready to goh to bed, then?”

Mmm…” he groaned, burying his head in my chest. I dug my fingers into his hair, still coming to terms with how short it was. He looked like a different person.

Hazza, Hazza…” I breathed dreamily, half asleep myself (unsure of how I had made it down the stairs without tripping and falling face-first.) I felt so heavy and lazy just now. “Let’s goh upstairs, babe.”

“M’not done,” he muttered.

“Finish tomorrow.”

“No.”

Yes.” I pulled his head back with two fistfuls of hair so that his eyes met mine. “Youh still drunk?”

“Think so…”

“It’s been like a day, though…”

“Mm…” his eyelids drooped and he looked completely wasted. Vivid green irises peered out from beneath, seeming to house their own light, like they’d stored it up from the sun throughout the day. They watched me flatly and insensibly, like two cold emeralds. I wished they were alive and registering all that they saw, but I knew I wouldn’t get that again until he was sober.

“Haz? Youh hear me, babe? Sober up, okay?”

“I am…”

“Noh,” I planted a quick and noisy kiss to his mouth. “…you’re not, babe. Gotta be sharp today, remember? You’re finalizing everythin’.”

“What day is today? Saturday right?”

“Noh, Friday. It’s after midnight, so technically tomorrow is Saturday.”

“Fuck’s sake…I’m so confused.”

“Yeah youh are…” I laughed.

“I wanted it to be Saturday.”

“Youh already lookin’ past today? Why youh worried about Saturday, huh? Big plans?”

“No, just a few meetings…lunch with the label. I like Saturdays,” he cleared his throat. “They’re my lucky day.” He was talking nonsense. “You?”

“Yeah, noh, same. Few things to get sorted, but I guess it’ll be an alright day. But I wanna see youh again before I goh, yeah?” At that, he squeezed me.

“You’re not going back to New York. It’s not happening.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“M’sorry. Gotta goh, babe. At least for a while. Youh’ll be there soon, yeah?”

“Eventually. Not soon enough.”

I kissed him again, toying lazily with his tongue. He tasted like Listerine. He grabbed my ass with both hands, squishing it absently before slinking them up the back of my shirt in search of my heat. When he found it, he sighed against my mouth, pressing his fingertips along my spine. Then his palms ran up and down the length of my back, scratching it until I shivered and broke the kiss with a laugh.

All I could think was how much I would miss him in the coming days, despite the fact that he was still right there in front of me, digging his nails into my flesh like he was scared I’d run away. So much would keep us apart for a while. Both of our plates were pretty full at the moment. My only offering was the video I’d filmed and edited for him yesterday, hoping the acoustic version of my latest single would tide him over until we met again.

Over the course of the next few weeks, I’d be busy attending the Clive Davis gala (without him there to unearth all the memories of our reunion last year) then the Grammys themselves, and eventually a Billboard event before I returned to NYC to link up with G. He, however, had the album drop approaching, as well as the Dunkirk premiere, on top of lots of minor obligations riddling his schedule in between. We would be strangers for a while, unless one of us surprised the other and canceled a few things to make time. There was just no room to breathe, except for right here right now. But during the day, his place in the Hills became a madhouse, and if I didn’t want to get exposed, I needed to take my leave before the afternoon arrived.

This year was about to eat him alive (if 2016 had been any indication for me) but it would ultimately be a rewarding whirlwind that I wanted him to experience every second of. This was the year he took the world by the balls and reminded them of who he was, and he needed to be sober for it to progress as planned. He needed to be mindful and present, the importance of which I always tried to impress upon him.

“Don’t want youh to miss anythin’…” I whispered, mostly to myself. I was glad he couldn’t hear. It was a half-baked sentiment that would’ve seemed out of context if he’d picked up on it. I just liked to speak my thoughts sometimes, in hopes they’d come true. I’d given him a little break from sober living this week because it was his birthday, and he didn’t want to be a killjoy at his own party where he had been forced to take a dozen toasts, but now we were back to business and I needed him to sober up.

Even though I couldn’t join him openly at the cafe the other night, I’d gone with him to Malibu and stalked the neighborhood until he had made the rounds, rubbing elbows with his endless roster of celeb friends and industry darlings. Then I took him home for a private nightcap which spilled into the afternoon of the following day. Meaning, we were drunk off our asses and making love in the living room in plain view of anyone who approached the house. We’d gotten messy with his favorite tequila and later a smorgasbord of greasy Mexican takeout. It was our ideal kind of morning and I wouldn’t have traded it for the world.

“Hi, baby,” I breathed, gazing down at him as he struggled to stay awake. The only response was a flutter of his eyelids. Then he grinned up at me like he was trying to weasel out of a parking ticket. The eyes did all the talking. Sick eyes, I always thought. Cat eyes—as wicked as his smile. Arresting to the extreme like the rest of him. He captivated me anew every day. There was never a lack of things to observe and understand about him, like a kaleidoscope that continuously magnified his being into infinity.

He knew how dangerous that smile was and used it against me whenever I was upset with him. Dimples and all—he was way too self-adoring and well aware that those cheeks were the most irresistible part of him. But the eyes had me. As far as I was concerned, they could administer healing to the sick, facilitate long-standing peace in the remotest and most war-torn corners of the world, and exonerate him of murder in spite of the most damning indictments. The eyes were key, and I could never forget them no matter how long I’d been away.

They housed in them all the things he could never seem to convey. Sometimes he got too in his head when it came to saying how he felt, so every now and then he’d quit mid-sentence. Usually when he was speaking with someone unwilling to let him take his time to articulate. He still got really nervous when he spoke to me sometimes, even though we’d been at this thing a while now. Whenever that happened, he usually resorted to texting me lyrics or sending emails in hopes they could speak for him. I had to learn the hard way to listen to him through his music. It’s where he was the most open.

Leaning in to kiss his pretty, puffy lips, I exhaled into his mouth. It all felt too good to be true. We were us again. After everything, we were still us. 2017 had ushered in a new realm of understanding. I was beginning to grasp that no matter what stood in our way, we would always be who we were when we were alone, and not an ounce of that could be diminished by external forces.

He welcomed my tongue with renewed vigor; becoming vocal. He always hummed when we kissed, savoring every ounce of any contact we made. Touching was his drug and he needed that fix often, even when we were doing something as innocuous as having dinner or watching a movie. Some part of him always needed to be in contact with some part of me. Elbows bumping. Arms pressed together. Head to shoulder. Hand on my thigh. Fingers interlocked. Feet intertwined underneath the table or beneath the sheets. He couldn’t go without some version of it, and I was happy to oblige.

Kissing was his thing too. Long, slow, and sensual (like in the movies.) I never kissed anyone the way I kissed him. With others, kissing was a chore. A cold peck here and there throughout the day. An emotionless, ancillary part of sex. But with him, it was a necessity; and it became my favorite thing to do.

I was just worried about keeping him happy. The more vocal he became, the more I was sure I’d done my job. I’d be lying if I say I didn’t love it when he whimpered. It reminded me he was mine. That he needed me, despite how big he got, despite how sought after he was; despite how many Hollywood circles he navigated without me. At the end of the day I was still the only one who could make him weak. He was small for me and needed me to protect him, to hold him, to always be around. Only me.

Now he rose with me in his arms, locking my legs more firmly around his waist, and carried me up the stairs to the bedroom despite my protests. I laughed when our noses bumped, lifting my brows and gazing at him with all the love I could stomach. He was only half-coherent, and this is when he talked his craziest. He told me all the things he was getting ready to do to me, and had I been standing, my knees might’ve gave.

“Promise?” I whispered with a drowsy half-grin.

He went on, becoming more graphic as I egged him on; and I shivered with an eagerness to be undressed and spread apart. There was nothing better than when he got like this. Raw, forward, and unforgiving in his pursuit of me. I pressed my lips to his temple, mumbling how much I loved him, how much I needed him; breathing in his nighttime musk.

There was nothing left to say, there was only left to be. He and I. He and I. The night always felt unending. I was the least bit concerned about the sun coming up when we were together. The morning usually meant separation, and though he’d snuck out of bed after I fell asleep earlier, the last thing I was willing to do was let him go again.

Harry, Harry, Harry, I thought. His name answered every unvoiced question. He was all things familiar. All things good. He was my old and my new. My beginning and my endgame. With him, I didn’t have to talk all the time, and he didn’t bother to make me speak because he knew what we had transcended any and all convention. It lay beyond words, beyond conception; until there was nothing left to convey or be understood.

Upstairs we got in the shower and made out until we were out of breath. Water got in my eyes, so I shut them and let him take over. I hummed Tony Bennett’s “The Way You Look Tonight” while he washed my hair. He tried to join me, but didn’t know the lyrics well, so he laughed his way through them. After we dried off, I wrapped a towel around my waist and smoked a Marlboro on the terrace, watching the way the night sky seemed to surrender to the day.

I saw my time with him slipping away before my very eyes, measured by the return of the light. The wake-up calls would commence soon, from his team and mine. I crushed the filter in the tiny hotel ashtray he’d stolen for some reason months ago, and blew the last remnants of smoke from my nostrils like an angry despot.

Later he walked up behind me and presented two glasses of whiskey (mine on ice.) It wasn’t his typical choice, but it had been a birthday gift from a new friend and he wasn’t particularly wasteful.

“Bottoms up.”

“Again, babe?” I asked. “What happened to sober, remember?”

“Mate, c’mon, what do you want from me? It’s our last night.”

“And?”

Annnd, don’t give me shit, alright?” He was already so wasted. His eyes were only half-open. “It’s just to help me sleep.” He grabbed my face and squished my cheeks together, kissing me all over until I relented.

“You’re soh annoyin’…”

“Yeah, but you love it. I won’t sleep with you here otherwise. I miss you too much when I’m sleep.” We toasted and drank and he finished his one gulp. I sipped mine for a while before he took it from me and swallowed the last drop.

“I was drinkin’ that?!” I slapped him on his bare belly with the back of my hand (he was stark naked as usual.) He growled and lifted me again, carrying me back inside and shutting the sliding door with bang. He lay me across the mattress and climbed atop, burying his face into the crook of my shoulder. I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed his jaw. Biting his neck, his earlobe. His skin tasted sweet and salty from a faint post-shower perspiration.

His voice drawled on about what he’d been writing and I thought I could listen to him drone forever. I took pleasure in the way his heavy voice vibrated the bed, and the way I could feel it in the pit of my chest.

“It’ll be alright,” I said quietly. He was nervous about the album drop and kept switching around the title and tracklist every few hours; running loads of random titles by me. I vetoed everyone except his name. I thought it was perfect for his debut. He could lead with his name because it had always been an entity unto itself, well established in Hollywood before the band ever parted ways. Beyond that, he wouldn’t let me in on the thing. I was too close to the subject matter. He wouldn’t let me hear a single tune or melody no matter how much I begged. He wanted it to all be a surprise when the time came, because so much of it dealt with the time we were apart.

Jamaica helped a lot, which he told me a while back, thanking me for the recommendation. When filming had wrapped in France and he returned to LA, I was right in the beginning stages of making the move to NYC. At that point we still hadn’t seen each other since the second split in February earlier that year. From there in September 2016, he took off for Port Antonio. The exact place I had visited a few months before in June, creating a vibe in the studio with my cousins and a few producer friends. We’d gotten high every day; sometimes twice a day. Pigging out on the local cuisine, listening to local artists and attending parties with perfect strangers. Dark, sweaty rooms. Smoky dancefloors full of unintelligible shouting. Jamaica was a lit.

He’d gotten there a few months after me and stayed in my villa with a tight knit team of industry specialists. He said he had gotten out everything he’d put off since February because of filming, which had interrupted his writing at the beginning of the year. Beyond that, I got no inside information as to what took place or what he had gained out of his experiences there. Everything remained a mystery to be unveiled in May, and he was filming a documentary to make sure there’d be exclusive insight into the Jamaican getaway.

From the sound of it, I had cause to worry. I think the footage would prove to be a form of punishment for me, detailing what he had gone through both in 2015 and again in late 2016 when we were apart. Already I had left him twice now, and I was hella nervous to get a glimpse into what was like without me.

To my dismay, we hadn’t been in touch a lot after Dunkirk. We’d kept our distance after the big blow-up with G earlier that year. Rightfully, she’d taken a long time to be alright with me again. I’d given her major trust issues and now she felt a little insecure about what she could offer me. I guess she didn’t understand how separate those things were in my mind. That one had nothing to do with the other, and that there was no need to compare. But her heart was fragile and her worries wouldn’t abate on my word alone.

I, however, was just confused. Depleted, torn—pulled in two polar opposite directions. There was no room for myself in my own head, since I constantly concerned for other people. Lately it was like my heart was in a never-ending battle of tug-of-war, and my arteries threatened to explode at any moment.

Theoretically, my life would be so uncomplicated if I just stayed away from him for good. But I missed him all the fucking time. Sickeningly so. Having had him for that brief spell in 2016, only for him to be ripped away again felt like I’d broken the same bone twice, and any chances of it healing were out of the question. The broken ends had fused together improperly and rendered the whole thing of little use. What good was my love to anyone? I was no good at it. I’d fucked it up so many times in the past. Who wanted it anymore? It was ugly and twisted and had depreciated beyond any modicum of value. So had my word and my credibility.

I wanted to call off our second break-up in 2016 and get a one-way jet to France to make love to him on set (just the way he had begged me to.) But each time I looked at G, I couldn’t help but feel I at least owed it to her to try. That was the decent thing to do. Avoid self-indulgence at all costs and make penance for what I’d done to her. Try and honor my previous commitment, whatever the hell that may have been.

Harry had erased everything to do with her the instant he reappeared at that gala. Even so, I knew I still needed to try, even if it came down to pretending. And I owed it to myself not to make the same mistakes over and over again. They said that’s a sure sign of insanity. To keep doing the same things over and over and expecting different results. But hell if he and I weren’t the epitome of insane.

After about an hour of him venting his fears for the coming weeks, we made out some more and lay facing each other across the center of the mattress. Pillow-talk was still our go-to, even after all these years. Always in the dead of night when we should’ve been asleep. I could imagine us doing this exact same thing in 20 years’ time. A little older, a little more grim. Our faces aged and our voices a bit more distinguished. Every time we were ripped apart, coming back together felt like we got to relive our first time again and again. I wondered how many ‘first times’ we’d have in the future.

He was asleep now, sprawled out beside me spread-eagle. All talk and no play. He hadn’t touched me after we got in bed. Too drunk and exhausted, I presume. I pulled a sheet over him and stepped back on the balcony for another smoke. Twilight kept me company, assuaging me with its tranquil tints. I flicked through my phone and Googled my name, along with March 2015. I did it from time to time to revisit the headlines and see how far I’d come.

After I left, I’d read the news obsessively, keeping up with every tiny thing involving the band because it meant keeping up with him. At his urging, the hiatus was approved mere months after my exit, then he left to follow me (still unsure whether I would accept him or not.) He sacrificed for me, yes, but most of all he waited. I was confident he would wait for the rest of his life while I figured my shit out. And when I finally returned to him, I’m convinced his love for me wouldn’t have waned in the least.

In the traditional sense, we were the slightest bit complementary. Not on paper like G and I, and no more ideally in practice itself. I know this got to him more than it should have. I tried to tell him he and I were attuned on a cosmic scale, one incapable of being understood from a finite perspective. We couldn’t understand the thing that brought us together, because it was not of this world. We only knew that whatever lie between us was meant to be, in all it’s appalling incompatibility.

I liked to think he and I were diverging opposites that depended on each other to keep the world afloat. Our separations mattered just as much as our togetherness. It was all about balance. Yin and yang. Fire and ice. Oftentimes like oil and water, repelling each other for the common good of the people in our vicinity.

G may have garnished my world and made me look presentable public-facing; understanding my keenest anxieties despite being powerless to alleviate them. But he was my serotonin. The center of my gravity. He was more me than the carbon and oxygen that comprised my flesh. Our love was changeful, yes, but it was real. As mercurial as the brimstone that filled the livid bowels of the Earth, but it was eternal.

We were that which burned deep and unseen. Unfelt by the common or the mindless or the mediocre. We were that which could not be confined, even by each other. He was not my soulmate—he was my soul. He and I were each other.

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