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.

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