Neon Red – Chapter 15

(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 think I made you up inside my head…”

Sylvia Plath – Mad Girl’s Love Song

We were limitless. I collapsed on top of him, wheezing and unwilling to withdraw. He emitted a soul-stirring warmth around me, occasionally clenching and reminding me of how honored I was to experience this part of him. No one else could enter here. It was the most sacred place on earth. Reserved unquestionably for me alone.

My head reeled. I started to doze, but he shifted, prompting me to finally get up and grab the handcuff keys. All the candles had just about burned out. Still, the silver glinted in the darkness, leading me to them. I climbed back onto the mattress and released one hand, then straddled his waist to release the other. He sat up confusedly, forgetting to remove the blindfold. I took it off for him, tugging it down around his throat and brushing the wild strands from his forehead. Afterwards we stared at each other, panting in the silence.

Suddenly my head snapped to the side, and it took a while to realize he had slapped me. I recovered, acknowledging I deserved it and that I was devoid of a coherent reply. Now we were both stunned, gaping at each other in distrustful awe. Then in a flash, he grabbed the back of my neck and kissed me savagely. Madly. All I could do was hold my breath.


Later as we lay in the unlit quiet, surrounded by nothing but the sound of a lone car passing on occasion, I held him from behind and nuzzled the back of his neck, remembering how I’d done so the first time we touched. I had never inhabited a place so undisturbed. It seemed the building had been vacated by everyone except us. No intrusions to our peace; nothing hindering our crummy little oasis. Though I was aware it was all makeshift and threadbare, and would be leveled with one swift breeze, I still felt untouchable.

As I twisted and lay on my back, blinking up at the ceiling, I sensed a movement at the foot of the bed. Right away my body locked up with fear, and I lacked the strength to even lift my head from the pillow. I gazed inert down the length of my nose, finding the silhouette of a tall, slim woman glaring down at us.

“G?!” I panicked, sitting up and yanking on the lamp switch, only to gasp awake seconds later, inhaling Haz’s clammy skin. I’d fallen asleep against his belly, lying on my stomach towards the lower half of the bed. I crawled around now to make sure no one was behind me, then hopped up to flick on the nightstand lamp. Afterwards I opened the drapes to search the parking lot beneath our room for newcomers. The same three cars were there; as well as the same two dozen crushed beer cans lined along a wheelstop on the opposite side of the lot where a party had congregated earlier.

I planted the side of my fist into the glass, fighting through a tremulous inhale. Behind me, Haz lay spread-eagle across the entire mattress as if he was rooming alone. I thanked Allah I wasn’t on my own tonight, amazed by how agonizing my nightmares were becoming. Yet the mere sight of him was enough to sedate me, shutting off the disturbing corridors in my mind.

He was sprawled out on his back, facing me, but sound asleep. I climbed back into bed, lifting his eyelids one at a time. He woke up but didn’t have the energy to open his eyes. He let out a wounded little whimper and turned his face to the other side of the room, forgetting me.

“Babe…” I muttered, kneeling over him in the center of the bed; desperate for a dose of his nonsense to ease my conflagrant nerves. I could smell the smoke in his hair. The perspiration in the sheets. It was a lonely hour, and the room seemed to be getting smaller by the second. “Haz…?” I pressed my lips to his cheek until he smiled an unconscious smile. “Wake up, baby. I had a nightmare. I need youh…”

“Hm?” he answered, stretching awake, but never opening his eyes. My mouth was dry. We bought all that booze and plenty of dirty toys, but no water whatsoever. No food either. I was beginning to feel a bit dehydrated, and could hear our stomachs growling in the total absence of sound.

“Wanna see the Eiffel Tower with me, babe?” I knew it was crazy-risky, but the cover of night was on our side, and it was realistically the only time we would ever have the opportunity to do so.

“Fuck the Eiffel Tow—” his mutterings trailed off as he dozed again, head lolling like a tranquilized grizzly.

“Deep down, youh know youh love it.” I said, forfeiting and laying half atop him on my stomach. “You’re gonna be mad youh didn’t goh. Just wait.”

Later he popped wide awake and pressed his lips to my ear, mumbling that he was sorry and that he’d been dreaming of me. Hearing his drawl pass directly into my ear was my absolute trigger, and I was blessed no one was around to hear the sexy, dizzy things he conveyed to me. Lips absently brushing my flesh, flicking my lobe. The heat of his breath radiating through my core, making my bones judder like an electric chair.

“Never stop talkin’” I sighed, shifting onto my back and letting him fall down over me. “Cover me…hide me…” His weight rocked me, knocking the wind from my chest, but I loved the idea of being smothered. I felt safer this way. Surrounded at all ends. Shrouded from head to foot in the secrecy of his embrace.

Before I knew it, we were up and showering and mapping out a nearby Velib station to rent bikes for the journey. The moon vanished behind cloud-cover as we walked the unpeopled streets, hair damp; clothes rank with the fumes of our sleazy lodgings. When a drizzle began to fall, I tugged my hood up and watched Haz walk ahead into the shadows, unfazed.

The rainfall intensified and overtook my senses. I thought about turning back. It was difficult to make out anything in our path. I imagined we were treading some post-apocalyptic hellscape in the remotest corner of the world, in search of other survivors. Places fraught with pits that gaped ten feet across. The earth looking to swallow us up; like those demonic car-eating sinkholes that broke open in the middle of cities.

“You good?” he turned back and asked, dragging a hand down his face to free it of water.


“Wanna turn back?”


“No chance…” he grinned, sticking his tongue out to taste the rain.

“What if it’s radioactive?!”

“Then I’d reckon we’re already fucked, mate.” We laughed. “We’re soaked as it is!” He held my hand for a bit, playing with my fingers; then tried his tongue at a few French phrases he’d picked up since he got here. His accent was god-awful.

“Y’know, I’m no expert, babe, but I think your accent’s a bit terrible.”

“Hey, it could use some work,” he let my hand slip away, glancing back with a grin as he moved ahead.

When we made it to the nearest Velib station on an abandoned corner a few blocks away, the rain let up a bit. I entered my info and freed a couple of bikes. Next, we were coasting down a steep decline on a road so narrow I thought I could spread my arms and graze the buildings on either side. After bending a few corners, we were officially lost, and the GPS was struggling to keep a signal in the dreadful weather. Haz snatched my phone away and pretended to throw it.

Yoooo!” I cried. “Chill!”

“Mate, that’d be wild, wouldn’t it?!” he laughed. “What if I actually did it?! Remember last time?? You were soooo pissed, you literally tackled me! Remember that?”

“All too well…” I grabbed the phone back and rerouted us, and we took off, eating up the pavement side-by-side like two wide-eyed adolescents. Teenagers all over again. I remembered exactly how we were with a mouthwatering clarity. Out for blood. Dumb and dangerous in our lust for any sort of stimulation we could find. Hormone junkies. Addicted to everything. Fucking each other when we ran out of girls. Fighting when the machine of the band took its toll on our mental and we had no clue how to get away from one another.

On the next decline, Haz clenched his tongue between his teeth and spread his arms, trying to keep the bike balanced hands-free.

“Broh, you’re askin’ for trouble, yeah?” I panicked. “What if the fookin’ wheel flies off?! What then? Youh’d land face-first, Haz. Youh know that right?”

Shuddupppppp, already! I almost had it!” He sped away from me and tried it again, this time on level ground so I didn’t feel as worried. 

When the distance between us grew intolerable, he felt it without looking back, and stopped to wait for me. The pull between us was baffling. A wonderment of unearthly spectacle. I had no idea what was keeping us together, but I was deathly afraid of its power over me.

“M’tired…” I groaned as we linked up and took off again. 

“I’ll show you what tired is when we get back to the room…”

“Haven’t rode a bike in like forever.”

By the time we reached the tower, the threat of dawn was real. The sky was becoming lighter by the moment. Simple variations with the passing of time, the minutes trickling by unaccounted for. The world was discolored with the backdrop of poor weather, but still dark enough to obscure who we were; even from each other. There were times he got away from me and I didn’t know who I was following, yet I wouldn’t dream of slowing down.

We landed in sight of the tower by way of a narrow, unoccupied street flanked by historic buildings. The sort of buildings I imagined you’d find in the background of Les Misérables. The streets were in an awful condition here, deep cracks shooting down the length of the road out of sight. When I gazed ahead, my breath hitched. We were as close as we could get without riding out into the open in the middle of downtown. There were a few lost souls milling about here and there, so I decided not to risk it.

I’d visited the tower many times before and had already gone through the first-time formalities, like when you met distant relatives and were expected to show respect. When I was younger, I was rightfully overawed by its scale and its ghostly aura. All the old-world craftsmanship and the prestige it emitted at a glance. The stories it must’ve held, having kept vigil over such a remarkable city for so long. I had even gone inside for the full experience once, so there was really no need to tempt fate in doing so again.

“We’re here…” he marveled, slowing to a halt beside me. “Fucking finally.” His voice was clumsy, trapped between the unmoving stone of the neighborhood. It had the feel of a graveyard just now. I nearly told him to keep quiet.

The tower stared back at us from a distance, no less overwhelming or poignant than when I stood up close. Bats zoomed around between the buildings, veering too near for comfort. The windows watched unblinkingly, like empty eye sockets. The structure itself, blackened as we had arrived long after the final light show, loomed in the night like an eerie spacecraft ascended from another dimension. A frightening omen.

I set my bike down and approached the end of the street on foot. Haz’s handlebars clanked against the pavement before his lumbering footsteps followed. He hugged me from behind and I absently turned my face to rest against his cheek, unable to shake the pit in my stomach or take my eyes from what stood before us.

When he sighed, his body vibrated around me, animating my blood. “It’s so…beautiful,” he whispered. “Even like this…lights out…”

“I wish we’d gotten here earlier, soh youh could’ve seen the lights.”

“I prefer it this way…”

“Yeah…” I leaned back into him. “It’s quite like us…innit?” He turned me around and planted his lips to mine, kissing me slowly and meditatively, clutching my jaw with one hand and the small of my back with the other.

On the way back to the motel the rain vanished and we took our time dodging puddles in the pavement. Before long we spotted a river and headed towards the old-timey bridge to catch our breath and chill. The muscles in my legs were screaming. I had only grown hungrier. He started crooning Mancini’s “Moon River” as we approached, getting louder as we set our bike’s down and gazed over the railing at the moonlit water.

“What if life were a musical? And we just broke out into song at a moment’s notice?”

“I’d probably kill myself,” I groaned. He took a coin out of his pocket and dropped it into the water with a snicker.

“Why’d youh do dat for?”

“I dunno…just felt like the right thing to do.”

“Youh make a wish?”

“I’m not five, mate—”

“Could’ve fooled me—” that earned me a shot to the nuts. I doubled over with a laugh.

As I recovered, I jumped onto his back, following which he pretended to toss me over the bridge before planting me on the parapet like a frustrated parent.


“Fine by me,” I muttered, pulling out my smokes and lighting one.

“If you do that, you’re gonna be wheezing twice as hard on the ride back…”

“Soh be it. That’s a chance m’willin’ to take, yeah?” He leaned idly over the railing again and I ruffled his hair. “Talk to me or sumthin, fam. You’re too quiet.”

“That’s rich comin’ from youh broh,” he mimicked my accent.

“Youh know what I mean, dickhead,” I laughed. “I wanna hear your voice.” Sometimes that was all I needed. Sometimes I made him talk until I fell asleep. His pillowtalk was on another level, especially when he was a bit buzzed, but still lucid.


“Oh yeah? What for?” I exhaled and the smoke cloaked us.

Everything…the movie…the album…you and I…”

“I’m gud if you’re gud. I could do this shit forever, Haz. No need to worry about us this time.”

“Yeah,” he looked over at me with a hopeful furrow in his brow. “Then it’s all the other stuff that’s weighing me down. I can hardly catch my breath sometimes.”

“Thought it was my job to take your breath away?” He only smiled.

“I mean m’just fooking nervous, is all. It all seems to be happening at once, y’know? I can’t stop obsessing over everything. Playing everything out in my head again and again and again like I’m daft. The tracklist, the announcements, the fan reactions, the interviews…what I’ll say when the time comes…the critics, the reviews, the charts…too fucking much. But the movie, thought…it’s good. I know it is, and that’s no thanks to me—”


“Sure, mate, I did my part, but to be honest, uh, this one’s all Nolan, I think. He’ll come out as the star of this one for sure. Trust me. His genius is gonna shine through everything. He had his hands in like every element of this. It was fascinating to watch…and I’m glad, because, uh, this sort of takes some of the pressure off me for now.”


“The storyline is captivating, and, uh, the execution is scarily real. No one will find anything bad to say about it, I think. And, uh, Jeff said it should stand me in good stead. Get a few people talking about me in Hollywood. Get my name on a few short lists for future roles. It’s all the other shit I’m terrified of. The music is all me, so there’s really no hiding anymore.”

“And that’s why it’ll be unbelievable,” I said. “Because you’re unbelievable, babe.” He craned and planted a kiss to my cheek before retreating to his spot, still overlooking the current.

“That genuinely means more to me than you’ll ever know…”

“I’ve been where youh are before…not too long agoh, actually.”

“I can’t imagine how you did it. And all on your own too, with none of our old contacts?? To be honest, you’re the one who’s un-fucking-believable, mate.”

“Tell me about it,” I snickered, watching the tip of my cigarette before taking another drag. “I’ve been thinkin’…why are youh soh afraid of failure, anyweh?” I asked. “Why do youh give it that kind of power over youh? You’ve always been obsessed with gettin’ every little thing right. I remember that shit, broh. Youh used to drive yourself mad. A few times youh even made yourself sick.” He shrugged and couldn’t look me in the eye. I studied the light outlining his profile.

“Music is supposed to be enjoyable, Haz, from top to bottom, right? From makin’ it to deliverin’ it, to listenin’ to it. This is your dream job, babe, but youh manage to turn it into such a joyless headfuck for yourself.”

“I don’t mean to.” He looked about half his age. I figured I didn’t need to be too hard on him in such a fragile state.

“I know you don’t mean to, babe, but youh have to chill. You’re goin’ to do amazin’, I promise. It’s inevitable. You’re Harry Fucking Styles…and beyond that, you’ve put in the work to guarantee success. Hard work will always pay off. It’s, like…a law of nature.”

“Fucks sake, mate. I feel better already…”

“Y’know, there’s not a lot I’m sure of in this world, but I do know one thing…” he looked over at me, vacillation in his eyes. “Youh were chosen to be great. Like…born for it. It’s your destiny, Haz. Just sit back and accept it. M’serious, maan, youh have noh limitations, other than the roadblocks youh setup for yourself inside your mind. I saw it in youh when we first met, and I’ve only become more sure as the years tick by.”

“Z, what the fuck? Where did all that even come from?! You’re one hell of a motivational speaker!” He kissed me so hard I could taste the gratitude; it was present in his urgency.

It was the least I could do to return all the encouragement he had given me without fail anytime I wanted to quit or give in. He had been my rock for as long as I could remember, always checking on me and making sure I ate. Always pushing me to be the best version of myself. So much so that even when we weren’t together, I still relied on that solid foundation he had invested in me, and during the start of my solo career would often stop to wonder what he would think about certain things I was working on or scheming up for my first album.

He knew me both as a dumb wannabe kid and a superstar. He knew me before our success was certain; way back before we ever took over the world. He was there when I finished puberty and there in the earliest stages of my musical education. He knew me as Zain, before all the other adjectives and labels had been added as I grew up in the public eye.

I had known his funny little cherub face, and he had seen the infantile stages of my fashion. All the hideous faux pas. Those the days when I was still figuring out how to style my hair well enough for a boyband. He had heard my voice crack. Had counted my acne. Had seen my terrible early attempts at writing and was the only person who knew I’d written a humiliating screenplay when I was 12.

God, the cringe he must’ve withheld to spare my feelings, I dread to think of it. But that was Harry. He loved me with a deep, almost parental sensitivity and a Christ-like absolution. Fully and forever. Without judgement, devoid of condition. With the patience of a saint and the blind steadfastness of a puppy. He was sweet to me even when I was mean. He ate everything I cooked even if he didn’t particularly have a taste for it at the minute, and always stayed on the phone with me when I called him at 2, 3, and 4AM—

Now he stood away from the railing and stretched, the leaves at his hipbones peaking from beneath his shirt.

“Hey…” he smiled.


“Whatcha thinking about?”

“Nothing, really…” He tried to read my thoughts. His stare intensified; those eyes the only thing aglow in the darkness. Weirdly luminescent, like seafire scudding along the coast.

“I’ve been meaning to ask,” he began, scratching the back of his head and breaking eye contact. “So, uh, what was with all the whips and chains and stuff…?”

Hardly!” I laughed.

“Oh well excuse the fuck out of me. I only meant the fooking handcuffs and blindfold and bag full of toys!” I exhaled the last of the smoke into the sky, thumping the butt onto the ground, which he later stepped on.

“I dunno, maan. Just wanted to try sumthin different I guess?”

“Oh, you guess?” he scoffed.

“How was it?”

“Pretty fooking wild, not gonna lie. I wasn’t expectin’ it.”


“Just because I wasn’t expecting it doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it, mate. Those are two totally separate things.”

“For real?”

Mm-hm,” he finally grinned, unable to control a laugh when rehashing the memories. “I’m definitely glad you did it. Surprises are good…and at the end of the day I trust you to look after me.


“It’s been what, six years now since we started fooling around? Seven since we’ve known each other. You’re keeping things fresh, Z, you always do. I get it, and I can appreciate that.”

“Yeah…” I chuckled, unable to hide how insecure I felt. Now he stepped before me, titling my face and bearing down into my eyes like it was the first time he had ever seen me.

“Sometimes it’s nice to feel like I don’t know you,” he murmured, staring at my lips.


“Seriously…” he kissed me breathlessly, brushing our lips together with feathery strokes. “…it makes…everything…more intense. More mind numbing…more reckless. Like I don’t know what’ll happen next.”

“Youh like me being unpredictable?” I breathed, brow knitted, starring at his kiss-swollen mouth.

“All the fucking time…” We made out again, following which he watched me curiously. “Now it’s time for me to repay the favor…” My stomach knotted, forcing me to avert my gaze.

“W-when?” He kissed me deeply. Our lips parted with a smack and I stared up into his torrential green eyes.

“I don’t wanna to lose youh….” I whispered woozily. “Not now…not ever. I think that’s why I did it. Youh make me insane.” I felt his thumbs stroking my cheeks, and his gaze was becoming more languid, more alluring. “…sort of like finding ways to keep youh to myself. Finding ways to use youh up soh no one else can have youh…in some fucked up way.” He leaned closer, just short of kissing me again. The hypnosis of his gaze arrested every muscle in my body. I sat nearly paralyzed before him. “I’m soh scared to confront the things youh unlock in my mind.”

“It’s ok…” he whispered, pressing our lips together. Later he assured me, “I’ve been there too. Thrown myself into that darkness…”

“Really?” He nodded, releasing my face. He leaned back against the railing and gazed up at the sky.

“Early on…when I was so, uh, intimidated by the Stephanies and Rebeccas and Perrieswhoever. I just wanted to use you as much as possible whenever we were together, hoping you’d have zero energy left for someone else.”

“I guess we’d be surprised how similarly we think about most things if we just fuckin’ talked about ’em.”

“That’s all you, Mr. ‘talkin’ ‘bout it’s not my style.’

“Yeah…” I watched the ground in a daydream. “M’changin though. I feel like I’m more willin’ to talk through shit as I get older. It really does help, Haz.” He wrapped his arms around my neck, leaning his weight down onto me. I liked to bear his weight because it let me know he was real. We were real. I wrapped my arms around his waist and slips my hands up the back of his shirt, making home in the warmth of his bare flesh. He sighed in response, and the sound was gratifyingly familiar. I felt possessive of it. How could one even be possessive of a sound? Like his moans or his laughter or his whispers…all mine.


When I got home to New York, I laid around for a few days, hardly eating or speaking. G thought I was pissed at her and didn’t come by for a while. I smoked ‘til I felt ill, not answering the phone for anyone, not even Haz himself. The withdrawals were getting worse, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to see him again for a while. Why bother chatting to him in the meantime and making myself more miserable? 

We had made it back to the motel after visiting the tower and gathered our things before heading our separate ways like the last time. All I had to look forward to now was when he came to New York in a month or so for work, and had promised to carve out a few days for me on that occasion.

I sent him the link for Kailash Kher’s Teri Deewani after he called for the fourth time that day to no avail. That was all he would get for now. I was drained and needed to preserve all the energy I had left for work and making things right with G.

T had booked a photoshoot for the afternoon, so I sifted through my jewelry in the bedroom to find a few pieces that would be complementary to the looks. In doing so I stumbled across a silver rose ring I’d worn for a shoot last year, and which I had only chosen to wear at the time because it had reminded me of him. I twisted it around between my fingers before running downstairs to the office in nothing but my t-shirt and briefs to find a pen and paper.

This made me think of you. I want you to wear it so whenever you feel overwhelmed you’ll remember our talk on the bridge. Think of it as a good luck charm or something. Keep it cared for, babe, and I want to see you with it on when you come to NY.

I signed it with a large Z and folded the paper in fours. I then found the packaging supplies T kept around the house and did my best impersonation of a Fed-Ex employee, before dumping the package in the outgoing mail pile.

Before moving away, I noticed there was a large yellow envelop in the incoming mail pile, which typically indicated something important. I looked it over, finding no return address, but my name alone stamped on a label in the center of the envelop. Ripping it open, I found a stack of large photos inside, timestamped from a few days ago. My blood seemed to slow. My breath became labored. I flipped the first photo over and my knees gave almost instantly. I collapsed onto the floor, dropping the envelop and sending the pile fluttering around me.

All I had ever feared since I was 18; all I had ever worked and calculated to evade my entire adult life was suddenly rushing at me like a groundswell. My lungs seemed to shut down; gasping to intake the slightest whiff of air. I didn’t even have wind enough to cry, but that didn’t stop my body from sobbing uncontrollably. 

(Thanks for reading! Next chapters: 2013!❤️)

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