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.

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