Neon Red – Chapter 16

(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 know places we can go, babe.”

Lykke Li – I know places

August 2013

He hates me. He hates me. He hates me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. He hates me. He wouldn’t let me touch him anymore. He was ignoring me everywhere we went. We hadn’t made eye contact in a month. He hates me. He wouldn’t answer my texts. I’d sent three the night before, and he still hadn’t responded by afternoon the next day. He hates me. I had really fucked up this time. He would never be the same again. We would never be the same again. Not until I called it off. Not until I told him she was gone. He was punishing me. He knew how badly I needed him, yet he wouldn’t answer. I can’t believe people thought he was a nice guy.

“Fuck youh.” I spat, tossing my phone way. “I’m tryin’!” I shouted, to no one but myself, seated cross-legged at the head of my hotel room bed. “I dunno what to do…” I grabbed my phone and went to his text thread again. Cold as stone. Still no response. But there was one from Pez, and a few from Tommo. He had some weird rash growing near his groin and had sent a pic. I tossed my phone away again.

Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. It felt like my intestines were crawling all over the place, getting entangled, pulling at my other organs. I was starting to sweat. I slammed my head back into the headboard until I was sure something had fractured; whether it was the wood or my skull, I couldn’t tell. I just needed him pick up.

“Now, Haz, now!” I quailed, absently biting the collar of my t-shirt. Would he never love me again? Would he never give a fuck again? He acted like he hated the sight of me; like I was the Elephant Man or something. Like my hands disgusted him. My eyes, my lips. My smell. All the things he used to be addicted to.

What are you afraid of? I asked myself. Quit being a bitch and just call! It rang and rang and kicked over to his voicemail. Shadows were beginning to shift in the room, like everything was edging closer to me. Trying to wall me in; shut me down. But the voicemail was enough for me. I just needed to hear his voice. Even through the phone; even in a generic, indirect way. I hadn’t heard it since the last press junket at the end of August, and it was already the end of September. This was by far the longest we hadn’t talked or texted since we’d met. I called a few more times just to hear the recorded message, heedless of the fact that I was leaving tons of missed calls on his log. He’d probably think I was daft when he eventually saw it.

A knock landed on the door. “Hey….Zayner…” I could hardly summon the energy to utter: “Yeah?”

“Time to head to soundcheck, mate. We’ll head downstairs in about 15.” It was Preston.

“Yeah, got it.” I replied, shutting my eyes and vibrating with an inexplicable rage. I felt like I was five again, back when I simply couldn’t understand when my parents told me I couldn’t have something. It was the worst feeling on the planet. I would sit and cry myself to sleep and convince myself they hated me. Now it felt that way times 1000, because I knew for a fact he did hate me and that I disgusted him. My absolute worst nightmare was to repel people. I felt like I had repelled people my whole life just by being quiet and brown, sat in the corner of the classroom looking suspicious to all the white kids. I never had their approval. Now I was reliving all those apprehensions I felt when he and I first met, back when I thought someone like him would never find interest in someone like me.

“Fuck youh….” I said, tearing up. “I don’t fuckin’ need youh, Haz. Who the fuck do youh think youh are, anyweh? Youh ain’t nothin’ special, maan. You’re average as fuck. Youh think you’re better than me, posh boy?? Youh think you’re too gud to answer the fuckin’ phone for me?!”

I took a few rocky breaths, realizing I looked like a straight up lunatic yelling in an empty room. Plus, I didn’t have a right to be upset. Not technically. I don’t know what I expected of him anyway. I knew he wouldn’t be happy with the news, but I thought he’d eventually understand that an engagement meant nothing at the end of the day if we never actually got married. I had promised him that at least. And he knew me well enough to know I would never marry her or anyone else. That I couldn’t do that to him. So why the fuck was he shutting me out? Exactly what had changed between he and I? Nothing, absolutely nothing. The only thing different is that she had a ring, and that the press would mention us every now and again as if we were making plans. What was so fucked up about that? Especially if it only helped protect he and I in the end?

I couldn’t begin to understand him when he got like this. He was so fucking childish and petty when he got jealous. So fucking weird. I hated that part of him. And he was punishing me like I’d never been punished before in my life. It hurt like hell because I knew I’d lost him for good. How long could he hold a grudge remained the only question to be answered. How long before he warmed up to me again, if ever? He was a warm guy, right? That much I knew. It was difficult to make him angry, and it was difficult to make him act out, but I seemed to be the exception to each one of these things.

He got angry at me often, and blocked me every now and again as a show of defiance. But this time, he just wasn’t answering at all, which was somehow a move crueler than blocking. Because at least with blocking I knew he couldn’t realistically keep me blocked forever, and that he had felt passionately enough to do it. But with him screening every single call for nearly a month, things weren’t looking good. I think he was finally over me.


Later at soundcheck for the first show in Adelaide, Australia, he didn’t look at me once. I fucked around with Lou and Liam as we ran through the songs and watched him isolate himself, occasionally pulling Niall and only Niall into a private conversation at the flank of the room. His mic was set up two places away from mine, which wasn’t surprising. He was probably tired of me stalking around the room with my eyes. I might’ve been freaked out too if I could feel how unflinchingly I stared at him between songs.

The second we were free of performing, my mind went directly back to him. To be honest, it never really left. My eyes darted compulsively in his direction throughout soundcheck, tracking his every move like a P.I. Each time he checked his phone, I took note. Each time he sipped his water, each time he ran his fingers through his hair, each time he adjusted his in-ears, I registered it like a creep.

I knew the patterns of his behavior better than I knew my own. Most of the time I could tell what he was feeling based on how often he pressed his lips to his tattoo or how aggressively he adjusted his mic pack. I had read and studied him for years like a course book. So much so that I could practically sense his moods before he exhibited them. It was insane. I was insane, but this is what he had reduced me to after weeks of stonewalling.

We wrapped up the last song on the setlist and he was off to the side of the room untangling his headphones. That was another ploy he used to shut me out, keeping his headphones on whenever we had to travel together to deter anyone saying anything to him, particularly me.

A deeply annoyed part of me surged forward and before I had consented to the idea of approaching him, I was standing at his side, picking up someone else’s water to justify my being there.

“Hey…” I managed to get out as he popped the grey Beats into place. He then removed them with thinly veiled irritation, lifting his eyebrows in a way that said: “What?”

“Nothin’…I just said: ‘hey’” I grinned. The gesture was not returned. “How are youh, anyweh? Youh gud?”

“Hey, yeah. What’s up?” I took it to be genuine inquiry into what I’d been up to since we’d last spoke, but apparently it must’ve been rhetorical, because he dipped before I could even open my mouth to answer.

I watched him go, eyes slightly widened, in awe of how wrong I’d been. Of how stupidly I’d misinterpreted the exchange. Of how I’d mistaken a passing wussup for a genuine conversation starter. What the fuck was wrong with me? What was I, 14 something? It was such a cringey amateurish thing to do, and my face and neck flushed with embarrassment as I glanced around in hopes no one else had heard. My fingers were shaking when I self-consciously scratch my eyebrow. Read the room you, idiotNo one wants to talk to you. I scolded myself, following the crowd out of the door.

Before the show we gathered backstage and did our normal charge-up routine. When we put our hands together and sang Eddy Grant’s “Electric Avenue,” I broke my neck to shove past Liam’s hand to lay mine on top of Haz’s. He didn’t look up at me like I’d hoped, avoiding all manner of connection, but I squeezed his fingers and held them a bit longer than what was appropriate.

Just the feel of his warm flesh against mine after so long made me sick with butterflies that rocketed up my esophagus into my throat…choking me. I could practically taste the smooth, clean textures of his skin against my tongue; skin I used to study and longed to kiss the blood from. Feathery soft. Always flushed for me. Always scorching and inviting. Pulsating in anticipation of my touch. Clenching in anticipation of my entry. Our bodies crashing, grinding, locking together like super magnets.

I missed eating his ass like a pig at a trough. Sucking on his nipples until he was pulling the hair from my scalp and gasping insensible things. Missed him proposing to me over and over and over again before he came. Missed him wrapping his legs around me before we fell asleep. Missed him joining me in the shower where I would kiss him beneath the water until he couldn’t breathe, then bend him over against the wall for the next 20 minutes or more.

He walked past now on his way to the stage, and I grabbed ahold of the tail end of his t-shirt, following him up the few steps to the darkened area just behind the screen. The crowd was roaring. I could hear my heartbeat between my ears, feel the bass of the music in the soles of my feet. The floors were jumping.

That brief handhold must’ve gotten to him too, because as we stood waiting on the cue to head out, he inched closer and closer until our arms were brushing, making my stomach knot. Then in a flash, he was gone, rushing from behind the screen to captivate a sea of screaming faces for the next couple of hours; forgetting about me.


“Hey, Zayn, mate.” Lou drawled, climbing onto the steps to sit beside me. I chucked my chin at him, before watching the audience in a mindless daze. Out there, there was movement but very little distinction. A howling mass rising out of the shadows with glow sticks and neon-colored signs. A tsunami of sound that rushed the stage, reverberating against the farthest walls before ebbing back out to sea.

“I missed this so much…d’you know what I mean?” Lou asked.

“F’sure. There’s nothin’ like it, yeah?”

“But to be honest, the break could’ve been a little longer, if I’m fair,” he smirked. I glanced down at him with a half-hearted grin.

“Yeah, but, that’s always the case, innit?” I shrugged. “Might as well get it over with. Has to be done.”

“Of course, of course.” Then suddenly he grabbed my knee. “Bro! No fooking way…check out that sign just there…read it, read it!”

“Gross…” I said, shuddering and sneering. It was something about where we should collectively blow our load.

“That’s so sick, mate! What’s wrong with that girl’s mum?? Has she even seen it?!”

“She probably made it after she got here when the mum wasn’t lookin’. That’s what I’d do.”

“How d’they even get them things past security though??”

“I guess they don’t have the manpower to read 10,000 signs before they let everyone in. It’s a risk they have to take….which would explain why we see soh many bloody rude ones.”

“Rude doesn’t even begin to cover it. Honestly, mate,” he laughed, glancing up at me with squinty eyes.

“Alright lads! I’d say it’s going pretty good!” Liam declared, coming to stand beside the stairs with his hands on his hips. His black t-shirt was already soaked with sweat. All that dancing really took it out of him. I bet he smelled pretty ripe too.

“First show back, boys! We’re killing it.”

“Sure thing, Payno.” Lou said. “And I was really killin’ your mum last night….”

Heyyyy…” Liam scowled. Lou laughed uncontrollably.

I just shook my head and glanced off down the stage. Haz was walking around, waving at fans, drinking water, tossing the water onto crew members below the stage. Someone threw an open water bottle back at him, but he ducked. It skidded across the stage leaving a massive trail of water that someone was sure to bust their ass on later. It’d probably be Payno.

As we moved on to another song, I took my place on the left quarter of the stage and grew acquainted with a few beaming faces in the audience. People I felt comfortable singing to. There was girl with purple hair holding a sign that said it was her birthday. I mouthed happy birthday to her and she broke down into tears like I’d kicked her puppy. The surrounding fans comforted her. I didn’t know whether to feel smug that I had that sort of effect on people, or feel terrible because I had made her sob and she probably wouldn’t stop until the show ended.

When I turned to head across stage, Haz was right there, skipping backwards until he ran into me. We collided and he spun around, smiling blindly, as if he was caught off guard. I waited for him to stop smiling once he saw who he had run into, but he didn’t. He just took a deep breath and lifted his brows, as if to say, “this job is crazy”.

Even though it wasn’t a particularly meaningful smile, and he would’ve offered it regardless of who he ran into, it still kicked my heart down my chest with a steal-toe boot. I struggled to find a quick and playful response, but he danced away and I knew I had blown my chance.

Thankfully he seemed to warm up to me after that, and we spent the rest of the show catching each other’s eyes across the stage and sharing more smiles than I could count. It left me swimming and feeling higher than I had in a while. I got really lucky when he decided to say something to me between songs, even drawing me into a semi-whisper. His slightest touch made my stomach do flips. He liked my facial hair. I had shaved my beard down to just a mustache and a neat little goatee and he couldn’t stop laughing. I told him I’d always wanted a mustache and goatee like this since I was a kid, and that my dad used to draw it on me with a Sharpie. That really cracked him up.

Still, there was something in our interactions that let me know things weren't as they should've been

Still, there was something in our interactions that let me know things weren’t as they should’ve been. The banter almost seemed forced. Unnatural. Like he was just looking to fill up the awkwardness and silences that tended to grow between us more than any of the other boys. I couldn’t help but notice he still didn’t interact with me the way he interacted with Niall, Liam, and even Lou. Everything he said to me seemed obligatory, or pitying. Like he felt sorry for me standing around waiting on him to say something. I could sense how eager he thought I was, and damn if he wasn’t right. I felt like I was crushing on him all over again, desperate for a single glance my way, and gearing myself up with cool responses in case he actually spoke to me again. Fuck, I was pathetic.


The next morning, we were told to meet in the hotel conference room for a meeting on the upcoming Japan leg of the tour. I made my way down after barely getting any sleep the night before, since Lou and I had stayed up smoking and pigging out. When I got to the meeting room, I ran into Niall who was wearing a tank top, oversized pajama pants, and thong sandals.

“Zayn, man…it’s soh early. What’re they thinkin’ wakin’ us up like this? How’re we supposed to get any sleep” I laughed a little. “What’s up with you? How’ve you been?”

“Shit, Nialler, just chillin’. Can’t wait to get back in me bed.”

“I know, right. Goin’ straight back to bed, me. Watch. Try and wake me again. Ain’t happenin’!” He ran his hand back and forth across his flat hair which was still a little damp from his shower. His face was swollen too, like he’d gotten even less sleep than I did.

After the team assembled, we migrated into the 10th story room where they provided fresh coffee and bagels. There was also a fruit arrangement in the center of the massive table, which you had to lunge across the wood to reach. As we picked our seats, most of the boys spread out away from each other, but I brushed past everyone and took the seat directly next to Harry’s. If he had any sort of reaction to my being there, he certainly didn’t let it show.

Three slides in, my mind was reeling, losing focus from the agenda. I drummed my fingers until I realized how loud and distracting it was for the speakers and immediately stopped. I was sick of studying him and trying to figure out where I stood after everything. He was so dialed down and low-energy of late; barely interacting with anyone else. Had it affected him that much? Had his personality entirely changed? All the warmth he had exhibited towards me onstage yesterday seemed to vanish in a matter of hours. Now he sat and looked straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge my existence in the least, or the fact that I’d gone out of my way to sit near him.

“Yourf mood swings are out of this fuckin’ world, youh know that?” I muttered. “I can’t keep up with youh, Haz.” He frowned but remained silent and kept looking ahead. Pretending to listen intently as Paul broke down what we could expect in the upcoming shows. The press, the meet and greets, a few surprises for the setlist. The usual. He was assisted by a member of Modest who’d Skyped in to join us from the UK at like 10PM at night.

Haz picked his coffee up to drink it, and it was then that I noticed his fingers were trembling. My heart skipped a beat. He was just as fucked up as I was. He wasn’t as unfeeling as he was pretending to be; it was all an elaborate façade, one that he had sold without fault. In truth, everything was pinned up, making him quiver for an outlet. He probably wanted to scream at me, punch me, spit in my face. I couldn’t imagine how much he must’ve been holding back since the last time I saw him in August.

My spirit sank even lower then, as I watched him set the cup back down and draw his hand under the table, where he clutched them together in his lap. His knee was jumping too, far more wired than my own.

“Youh okay?” I whispered, despite the fact that we were isolated on the far end of the table, removed from earshot of everyone else in the room. He’d gone over here to escape me, not anticipating that I would follow.

“Haz?” I followed up my question. He just shrugged. “What? Youh mad at me or somethin’?”

“Mate, just pay attention to the fucking meeting, alright?” he snapped, raising his voice at me for the first time in forever. I swallowed it like a bitter pilled. He was not ok. I was not ok. But there had to be a way to make him see we could be good again. He needed to understand we were still us. We would always be us. He needed to know he could trust me. Why didn’t he trust me?

When he brought his hand back up onto the table for another sip, I sat mine beside his and brushed them together every chance I could. He eventually caught on to what I was doing and moved his cup away in annoyance, later clutching his hands together in his lap. I bumped his knee with mine a few times. When he scooted away, I followed. Eventually I just went for it, snaking my hand beneath the table and onto his lap to brush his fingers. They were still trembling, but they didn’t shy away like I thought they would.

I flipped his palm over and drug my fingers between his, as though I was going to interlock them, but never really did. I knew it was a tease he couldn’t resist. Holding hands had always been his favorite thing to do. I think he felt that it validated us. Now his were flexing, clawing for mine now, not wanting it to stop. Still tentative, but very much aware of what they had been missing. I heard him exhale a little, propping his free arm onto the table and hiding his mouth with his fist.

I spread his hand wide and ran my lead finger in feathery circles around his palm, watching his stomach clench visibly. He sank lower in his chair, ready to melt onto the floor. This was the sort of communication I lived for. Touch was all we needed. It conveyed far more than words ever could, and was straight to the point.

All the fine hairs on the back of my neck stood up as his response jumpstarted my nerves. I let my thumb caress his fingertips, back and forth, up and down, each one delivering a new jolt of electricity. Eventually he caved and interlocked our fingers, squeezing them enough to let me know he was enjoying it. I read so much in his touch, too much to unpack, but mostly longingCraving. He’d been dying for my attention. Dying for me to chase him. I felt like an idiot for not trying sooner. I hope he could read how glad I was to be near him. To have him be receptive of me again. I hoped he knew I would kiss him the first chance I got.

When he was unquestionably ready, I let his hand go and massaged the inside of his thigh. He sighed in a gratified agitation, sitting back in his chair and spreading his legs for me. My hand slipped slowly up and down his inner-thigh, squeezing my way up to his crotch where I let my knuckles brush his bulge repeatedly. He clasped the armrests of the chair and shifted in his seat a little, before shoving my hand back towards his crotch as I pulled away. It said more. It said hurry.

I was so glad we were the only two on this side of the table, otherwise we’d be screwed. I said fuck it and full-on grabbed his cock, stuffing my fingers down between his balls and the seat. It was so fucking soft and hot I could feel my mouth water and all the blood rush to my own dick in a single heartbeat. I slid my hand deeper and Haz winced. His knee hit the bottom of the table as his excitement mounted and became uncontrollable.

Across the table, Liam coughed and cleared his throat in a way that warned us to cut it out. It was becoming obvious what was going on. I hadn’t realized how conspicuous my arm looked, extending out towards his lap in plain view of everyone around us. Good thing most were still focused on the Skype call, and no one had directed their attention our way since the meeting began. We were right back to the same old gimmicks. The same old cheap hedonism. Utter recklessness. I withdrew my hand and Haz clung onto my wrist, not wanting to let go. I kept pulling away and he held onto my fingers until the last possible second. Later I texted him to meet me in the hallway of our floor after the conference ended.

(Thanks for reading!❤️)

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