Neon Red – Chapter 22

I’ll leave you words underneath your door

Underneath the singing moon

Near the place where your feet pass by

Hidden in the holes of wintertime

And when you’re alone for a moment

Kiss me whenever you want

Patrick Watson “Je Te Laisserai Does Mots”

I wished I was an actor. In moments like these, surrounded by all the lights and thunderous shutters on the red carpet, I imagined I was Shah Rukh Khan or somebody. The Japan premiere was a welcome reminder of all we had achieved this year, which had been overshadowed in the throes of my petty personal drama. So, I pretended it wasn’t me for a while, that way I could enjoy it.

Theatre had been a refuge in school, as it allowed me to escape mediocrity and all the unexpected grief that came along with my mixed ethnicity. That awful feeling of not belonging one way or another. The white kids looked at me funny. The brown kids didn’t always accept me into the fold because of my Celtic genes. I was just different, and sometimes it gave me the impression I was a leper. 

Therefore, slipping on someone else’s skin, as psychopathic as that may sound, had always been a pleasant retreat. Someone as sick as Danny Zuko from Grease. His only concern was being a stud and snagging the hottest bird in school. Plus I got to sing, which I loved. I used to slip his personality on like mask, hiding behind his insane bravado, walking around with my chin in the air, just short of beating my chest. The leather jackets were pretty dope too.

A fan pulled me forward by the sleeve and I stumbled toward her amid all the chaos. All the spindly limbs spilling over the crowd barricades. She had the prettiest jet-black hair and eyes I had ever seen. Like apparition out of a Japanese folk story. She couldn’t speak English, so only jutted her phone in my direction. I leaned in with a shit-eating grin and a thumbs-up while she snapped a few shots. The first couple turned out blurry because the girls behind her were trying to shove their way to the front. The third time was the charm, apparently. 

There was so much weeping and shrieking I could hardly think straight. Incessant sounds that quaked down the street for blocks whenever someone opened the doors. A hand on my back guided me over to the first interview, and I saw that we’d been broken into teams again like at the previous screenings. For some reason, Haz and I kept getting linked up to form an awkward duo. He seemed reluctant every time, as the first premiere had lined up with news of the engagement. Purposefully, of course, as Pez and I figured there was no better time to announce the news for optimal exposure. Thinking back, it had been a super shitty thing to do to him. Now that we were paired for interviews, fielding questions about my fiancé presented all the peril of drunkenly navigating a mine field.

His stares could be ice cold sometimes. Soulless even. We’d had our good moments since the massive fallout over August; times where we’d make love and everything seemed fine, but then a switch would flip in his mind and he’d go right back to punishing me. Ignoring me, reviling me quietly in his head. 

Back in Brisbane in October, he really flipped out when he found out I had plans of meeting her in Sydney. Little Mix were on a press tour for their new album and had flown in for a few days. She and I had made plans to meet up there since we would be on the same side of the world after a good stretch apart, and how could we not? Weren’t we supposed to madly in love? Isn’t that the type of shit fiancés do? Well, Haz didn’t see it that way and felt it was an unnecessary trip for me to make. He thought I was just doing it for the headlines and gave me the cold shoulder for a week after I met her. I was only just beginning to break the ice again.

I’d be lying if I didn’t confess all the angst and estrangement didn’t make the occasions we did fuck so much more explosive and gut-wrenching. Still, sometimes I felt weird and alone and just wanted, no needed, him to be kind to me. It hurt badly to see he couldn’t be moderate with me, like ever. It was only extreme hated or savage arousal. Hardly anything in between. Barely a charitable laugh here or there for my little attempts at jokes whenever we got a quiet moment backstage.

This was no fault of his own really. For now, I was only tolerable to him when he was horny, and when he unloaded, he liked to roll off me and leave without another word spoken. It made me feel cheap and good-for-nothing, but I suppose he was only giving me as good as I gave him emotionally. A taste of my own medicine. I’d done a really shitty thing this summer, which I couldn’t undo for a while. We had to ride the engagement out for at least a year or two to make it all believable. I knew that meant he would never be fully alright with me until things were copacetic on my end, and until Pez was a thing of the past. For now, I’d just have to occupy myself with making him smile. That would be one hell of a reward for me.

“Wuddup, broh,” I chucked my chin at him when he glanced over at me. He gave a pensive nod, listening to a woman translate the words of the Japanese journalist. She smelled strongly of hairspray and gin.

“What was it like returning to your hometown for the movie after finding so much success?” she asked. He and I looked at one another, then he took the lead.

“Um, I think it was great? Y’know?” He gave her a dimpled half-grin. I simply nodded in agreement. “Quite eye-opening, I think. Quite nostalgic…but, uh, it really made me feel massively grateful for everything we’ve achieved. All thanks to them…” he jabbed a thumb over his shoulder to indicate the legion of weeping girls behind us.

“F’sure,” I chimed in.

“And to see our parents so proud made me feel, uh, quite warm. Y’know? And oh yeah, I also enjoyed mowing the lawn! I missed that a bit. It, uh, made me feel, like, grounded in a way?” He couldn’t talk without his hands. “Pulled me back down to earth a bit to focus on the little things.” If it weren’t so loud I might’ve made a quip about his unintentional pun, but that would’ve set me up for a mortifying tumbleweed, since there was no real chance of him hearing it or finding it funny.

“Yeah, like…” I began, edging closer to the mic as an excuse to get near him. “I thought it was quite cool to see me mum all settled in the new house, yeah?” He met my eyes and for some reason I delivered my answer directly to him. “To see her cookin’ away for the family. That’s what I’m used to from growin’ up. Everybody gatherin’ around the kitchen as the food was, like, being prepared, soh like…to goh back home after soh long and see everybody thrivin’ and at peace is, like, a dream come true for me.”

He lowered his lids a little like he was contemplating my answer. I bumped him with my elbow. It was time to kick it up a notch. There was no way I wasn’t getting a smile out of him before the interviews were over.

“So, highlight of the movie? This Is Us? Highlight of the movie?” The translator asked. This was my shot. He had no idea what was coming. I let him answer first.

“Well…we were in Japan for a lot of the movie, uh, I think probably that. Yeah…” He looked quite pleased with himself for sucking up to them. Such a media-trained, people-pleasing posh boy, never venturing off script for one second. I was about to fuck all that up.

“Yeah, um, and…” I began, thoughtfully. They directed the mic my way and he was staring right at me again. I stared back. “Youh get to see, uh, Harry quite a bit with his top off, soh that’s always a nice highlight…” He looked scandalized and told me to stop, but it still earned me a smile. I counted it as win. Even so, it wasn’t enough.

Later we were ushered to another group of reporters for a new interview, during which the journalist handed Haz a stuffed animal, and they reminisced on the last time they had encountered each other. He spoke to her in broken bits of generic Japanese, and I was the odd man out, only able to smile and nod like an idiot. Soon the translator joined us.

“What’s the one thing you love about each other the most?” This was right up my alley. I took the lead on this one.

“Uh, I love Harry’s curls, y’know? There’s not much…not to love about Harry…” I stoked his feathery hair. “But the curls, y’know, are an obvious one for me.” Now he was blushing. I had more than succeeded at pulling a genuine smile out of him. He was absolutely melting for me but trying to play it cool externally. Now if only I could make it last. No more mood swings for the rest of the day. “I don’t know what Harry loves about me—”

“I love Zayn’s beard…” that was pretty honest. He typically stroked it every chance he got when we were alone. He liked to help shave it too. “And his eye…brows…” 

I couldn't help but laugh at that

I couldn’t help but laugh at that. It was certainly something that’d be lost in translation. He surprised me further by looking me right in the eye and tossing his arms up for a hug. I was way too happy to be shocked, and moved into the fold quite reflexively, catching myself and trying to keep things platonic. But something in the back of my mind sensed that he didn’t want to let go.


The end of the year was upon us, and I was no more clear on certain issues that had been bugging me since January. Were was the lucidity that was supposed to come with age? I was over 300 days older than I was at the start of 2013, but none the wiser. Where were my solutions? All the answers my parents couldn’t lend me. Nothing I could seem to find among my friends. Concepts I couldn’t decipher in the Quran. Only the silence of Allah, which made me think he was apathetic towards my existence. God is dead had been a phrase that had haunted me my entire life, and one I sought desperately to disprove. Yet, all there was to look forward to was more uncertainty on all accounts. The only thing I could truly depend on was change itself.

Childish Gambino’s “3005” filled my head as I lay back in nothing but my briefs across the center of the bed, staring up at my phone. I had already dropped it on my face twice in five minutes, which let me know I was exhausted, but not ready to doze yet. Twitter was a deadzone, apart from stan wars and political debates that went all of nowhere

My sisters were clowning all over IG along with my cousins. I DM’ed Waliyha since I saw she was active and told her I hated the shoes she had posted. They were these bejeweled stilettos and she was far too young to be thinking about shoes like that. She sent back the middle finger emoji and a broken heart. I told her I missed her, then she returned the sentiment. I couldn’t wait to get home again and bug them. It was always WWIII when we met up and I wouldn’t change it for all the peace in the world.

Over the summer I had gotten word she was sick, and it left me feeling useless. A ruptured appendix had sent her straight to hospital and no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get to her. Ultimately, she had to have it removed because it left her with so much pain. My mum and sisters kept me updated every step of the way, and I made sure the surgery and her hospital accommodations were all covered. Plus, I funded her a shopping spree for the second she recovered. A few weeks later, she sent me a pic of her sitting on the floor of her bedroom surrounded by tons of shopping bags, and it did my heart good to see that she was okay. Still, I beat myself up for not being there, then tried to make up for it by asking her to star in the “Story of My Life” music video, to which she agreed.

A text from Haz flashed across my phone. It simply said: “Check the door.” I jumped up and flung the door open, only to see a cd in a homemade sleeve laying on the floor. I grabbed it up and stared down the hall in both directions, but it was eerily vacant. Not surprising, as it was well after 2AM, but I still wondered how long ago he had been there.

I dug my laptop from under a few things on the desk and brought it over to the bed where I lay down on my stomach and examined the disc. On the front of the paper sleeve in his handwriting there was a message written in Sharpie:

“All the things I want to say, but don’t know how.”

“I really love you. So much. And I’m really sorry for punishing you all the time. I know I’m confusing you. I promise to stop. But I honestly don’t know how to tell you what I’m feeling anymore.”

My throat tautened as I fought some unidentifiable emotion. Something akin to rage, tempered by despondence, distorted with confusion. My eyes welled with hot tears that I refused to let fall. They burned with the effort to constrain them, blinding me.

I couldn’t believe he was apologizing. I couldn’t believe he had taken the time to do this for me. It was the most honest thing either of us had done in a while. Sure, we had exchanged tons of music over the years, mostly digitally, but this was the first time he ever had put forth the effort of compiling and burning a mix for me. I was so touched it made my brain hemorrhage.

I took a deep breath and turned the sleeve over and the tracklist was written out neatly on the back. Ten songs, most of them I had never heard of before. I popped the CD into the computer and followed along with each one, angry tears falling onto my touchpad once the first track had finished.

1. John Martyn – “Couldn’t Love You More”

2. The Zombies – “The Way I Feel Inside”

3. Van Morrison – “Sweet Thing”

4. Otis Redding – “These Arms of Mine”

5. Ray LaMontagne – “Burn”

6. Van Morrison – “I’ll Be Your Lover Too”

7. Patrick Watson – “Je Te Laisserai Des Mots”

8. Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros – “Home”

9. Johnny Cash – “You Are My Sunshine”

10. Etta James – “I’d Rather Go Blind”

I couldn’t understand what we were doing to each other. I slapped my headphones off and dragged my hands down my face. He made me hate myself. No one ever told me they loved me so deeply. The things Pez or any of my other girlfriends had said couldn’t come close. How was it possible that he loved me this much? How? How? How? I didn’t know if I could reciprocate all this, and it made me feel so shitty I wanted to die or runaway or just erase him. I didn’t know how to form the fucking words to say it back. He would always be better at this than me, and wasn’t fair.

I slumped onto the floor beside the bed and buried my face into my arms atop my knees. Just breathe…just breathe. Nothing else mattered right now but air. Not him, not me, not words, not music. Just air. I wouldn’t talk to him. Fuck him. I was too outdone to speak just now. I wondered if he felt self-satisfied for what he had done. I wondered if he expected me to lavish him with praise and mutual words of affection. Fuck that. He didn’t know how twisted and unromantic I could be. 

Some days I thought I’d kill for him. Yet most days I thought I just wanted to kill him. He had that sort of maddening effect. He flirted with everything that moved. He weaponized his smile and his eyes against me. He disarmed me with his whispers or a carefully placed hand when he knew I was irritated with him. He denied me until I needed him. It repulsed me to admit that. Who the fuck was this guy, that I should need him? Men don’t need men. Men need women, they need mothers…maybe a father, but never their mates.

Was Haz a mate though? No. He was this disturbing amalgam of friend, lover, co-worker, neighbor, priest, heroin, and…well, me. In some ways were extreme opposites, but in others, we were scarily alike. He was a bizarro world white boy version of me. It’s funny, I never really thought of him as white. I saw so far beyond that. Maybe because he had done everything in his power to become more like me so I’d feel no objections to spending time with him. It was a freakish and cunning quality he had. A shapeshifter. From one day to the next, sometimes hour to hour, he could become different things. Whatever I needed of him. Brother, lover—lover, brother.

When we first started fooling around, I felt extreme guilt afterwards, because it seemed like I had violated something that shouldn’t have been tampered with. But I had to get my hands on him anyway. It felt like I’d die if I didn’t. And I have no fucking clue why I wanted him so badly in the beginning. Some sort of sick fantasy I wanted to toy with and hoped to later throw away. I guess I just wanted to see what boy-loving was like, as my dad would so disdainfully put it. 

I thought back to how often my friends used to jokingly call each other f-ggot and tried to apply the word to myself. Me? Fuck no. Not me. That wasn’t me. I wasn’t the face of whatever the fuck that was. I wasn’t the poster boy for that shit. I just liked whatever I liked and it was it. And most days I wanted to let go completely, to forget about that side of me and everything it had driven me to do in the dark, but for some reason I never really could. 

I have no clue of how he bewitched me. How he warped my desires into craving him perpetually. Was there something about his maleness that mystified me? Not really. I’d met hundreds of good-looking men in my life, and none were even a fraction as irresistible as he had been. So what was it?

After I gathered myself a bit, I texted him to come over. I knew we both should’ve been asleep by now because we had so much press to do in the morning, but there was no way I could sleep without him. I didn’t care what it’d take to get him here. Apparently, it only took three words, because after I texted: “I need you.” He was well on his way.

In the meantime, I got up and blew my nose and washed my face. I slid a t-shirt on because it had gotten cold, then sat in the center of my bed and listened to the mix again. It felt more surreal the second time around because I had processed every word. The first track nearly broke me again. I felt so unworthy of him feeling that way over me. The second track was haunting. So was the last. The fifth was familiar. He had sent it to me at least three times already.

The nineth made me smile tearily. The third was a classic. The eighth grew on me quickly with its wild and quirky romanticism. The fourth I remembered from a mix we had listened to at his stepdad’s cabin, and it left a gaping hole in my soul, filled with bygone years and achy memories Times I wished I could relive. Wished we could’ve done things correctly from the beginning. Sometimes we were awful to each other, but we were learning as we grew older. Feeling our way through the darkness of adulthood, leaving behind the light and carelessness of adolescence.

The seventh track was in French, and once I looked up the translation, I realized it was the most romantic thing anyone had every done for me. Such a sweet and sleepy lullaby. The imagery in the lyrics left me wispy, full of recollections he and I would never come to experience in this lifetime. Perhaps in another.

When he knocked, I got up and took a deep breath, staring at the closed door. My everything stood beyond that simple piece of wood, unaware of the depth of my love for him. How fucking fortunate was I to be able to say that? To know that? I took a few careful steps towards it and waited for him to knock again. I wanted proof he was real, that he was alive, that he was eager to see me. His knock came again, slower and inquisitive, as if he knew I was standing right behind the door.

“Z?” Was his soft inquiry. “I can hear you. Open up…” I opened the door and he was stood there in sweat pants, a t-shirt, and a beanie. He stepped inside the room, shutting the door, then hugged me so hard my back cracked and the wind leapt from my throat.

“You’re an idiot. Did you hear me knock?”


Later we lay in the bed under the covers making out lazily with no intentions of making love. I was too drained to even think of my dick at the moment. He seemed content to just hold me atop him, snaking his hand down inside my briefs occasionally to stroke my ass. It felt more intimate than sexual. His touch was casual, explorative, and possessive, never seeking to arouse.

“Will youh stay the night?” I whispered between kisses, drowsily seeking out his mouth. “Don’t leave me in the mornin’ please. Okay?”

“We’ve got press in the morning. They’re gonna be looking for me.”

“I don’t care.”

“Did you listen to it?” I only nodded.

“Did you like it? I made it myself.” Again, I nodded.

“Well…do you love me?” he breathed. I nodded. “Then why don’t you say it?”

“Because I’d rather show it.”

“I want you to tell me sometimes, ok?” he whispered groggily. “I need to hear it. Please say you love me…please say it…”


“But not now, I guess…because it wouldn’t be spontaneous. Not from heart.”

“Always from the heart,” I mumbled.

“You can say it now if you want…” 

I pressed my lips to his cheek and he inhaled deeply through his nose, like it was his last breath. He shouldn’t have to beg me. 

“I love youh, Harry. Very much. Youh hear me?”

He was already gone. Far from me. I wouldn’t hear from him again until tomorrow. I hoped I was a better version of myself in his dreams. Someone who did all the things he’d like me to do. Like the spontaneous I love yous and skinny dipping and putting the cap back on the toothpaste so the tip wouldn’t harden after the air got to it. I wished I didn’t smoke and that I was unafraid to hold his hand in public. That I had proposed to him instead of Pez. If he were awake he probably would have told me that the real me was in fact the person he dreamt about. That I was already the man of his dreams. I don’t know if I’d believe him, but inadequacy was okay, I suppose. Perfection was boring.

(Thanks for reading! ❤️)

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