Neon Red – Chapter 26

(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.)


Whoa, gravity, stay the hell away from me

Whoa, gravity has taken better men than me

Now how can that be?

Just keep me where the light is

Just keep me where the light is

Just keep me where the light is

John Mayer – Gravity

A spiritual rot had set up within me. A living decomposition. External signs emerged and scared those closest to me. There were deep hollows beneath my cheekbones and cadaverous rings beneath my eyes. Taryn recommended I check into a hospital, to which I refused. In time they all instructed that I venture back onto social media and pretend for the fans’ sake that everything was alright. I needed to be more active, which could only be beneficial in the buildup for the new single.

I awoke grudgingly each day, reassessing my life without end. Fabricating a schedule. Take out the trash; check. Take the dogs for a walk; check. Organize my emails; check. Sticking things to the crumbling cork board inside my mind. Practicality would be my redemption, I told myself, if only I could stick with it. Too often I fell off the wagon and rolled away into the dust. Lackadaisical. Heedless days. Stilted ruminations. Too much time spent hurtling around my own head. Needing to focus my attention on something outward and constructive like a buoy in the middle of a raging sea. Needing to find my Zen. Needing to be me again.

We facilitated the transfer of the money in installments. Precisely 100K, and then an extra 10 to keep them appeased. Imagine that. I was literally tipping my extortionists. There was never a response. Weeks passed during which I, Taryn, and the new publicist and his team remained vigilant, monitoring social media and the dark web but nothing ever surfaced online. Nor did I receive any more unmarked packages. With things seemingly settled on that front, I could finally breathe a bit easier and plot my next move while my opponent was indefinitely preoccupied.

I changed the hair up a bit, letting it grow a little longer before bleaching the tips and dying them bright green. My mom said it looked fine. Even a change as simple as this improved my mood immensely; so did releasing my collab with PARTYNEXTDOOR, a summery tune reminiscent of dancehall. I even managed to fly out for a little intimate listening party Sarah and the team arranged for me in London. It felt good to be around humans whose sole objective was to make me feel good about who I was and the things that I created. These giddy, endearing girls whose world seemed to revolve around me and my music had no idea how much they revitalized and encouraged me that day. Made me feel at home and welcome, although I would never lay eyes on any of them again.

The icing on the cake was filming the video for it at my London place with almost every UK contact I could think of. We weren’t just pretending to party, it turned into a proper fucking rager. I was back to NYC within a week of wrapping the shoot, and now that the tune had been so well received, I was looking forward to premiering the video towards the end of April.

The beginning of March seemed to creep by while I was chained to my bedroom with crippling anxiety, hardly finding the strength to peep out at the world from between my yellowing blinds. Each day dragged on with a disquiet that stole my sleep and encouraged me to smoke hourly. I had edged up to two packs a day after the extortion scheme came underway and hadn’t really found a way to reverse it yet. But April was set to fly by, leaving me in disbelief that it was already time for Haz’s first solo release.

I followed everything he did with a sickly, unblinking fixation last month, appreciative of his use of March 25th to announce his era as I now know he had been thinking of me. The advert of him walking through a dark room and a cloud of smoke set me on edge. Piercing green eyes staring directly into the camera before the date April 7th was revealed. I couldn’t believe my eyes. He was solo star now. Our worlds were no longer intertwined. He had to soar without me, and might even leave me behind. I expected him to do so. He was Harry fucking Styles after all, and the world had been eagerly waiting to get their hands on his solo stuff since the band announced a hiatus in 2015. 

Unlike me, the entire fanbase was still behind him and would receive his new projects with open arms, not disdain him for daring to enter a studio and record anything without the band in tow. For that I envied him. I had to make my way all on my lonesome, carving out a new audience of rebellious 1Ders who would stick by me no matter what, as well as picking up loads of new supporters along the way. Many people just respected that I had the balls to leave an operation that huge and do things on my own and were now interested in following my musical journey. I suppose that made my success all the more special.

On March 26th, the day after Haz’s advert ran and he blanked out his social media with white profile pics and white squares, I tweeted the lyrics to an unreleased song I’d written for him last year. Clouded in your love, but I’ll follow it. 

There was no truer sentiment at the moment

There was no truer sentiment at the moment. This thing had gotten us into a lot of shit, myself most assuredly, and I had no idea where it was heading, but all I knew is that wherever he led, I would follow. Nothing living on dead could convince me to turn back or take my eyes off of him.

Only now did I realize it was news of him that had gotten me through those days last month like a dependent stan, even if he was totally oblivious to what I had been going through. And his calls had been like little doses of life-giving elixir. Dimpled smiles through the phone. Gruff undertones and half-whispers spoken directly into the speaker. His ridiculous midnight calls where he talked aimlessly about melodies and horns and new diets he was trying. It had all helped take me out of my head on more than one occasion, and for that I felt indebted.

Once I patched things up with G, I started sleeping at her place more often and it further helped take my mind off my mind. It didn’t ease the trauma or the incurable scarring though, and every now and then I was consumed with an existential panic that made me want to run to the nearest rooftop. Anytime I glanced over and saw her engrossed in her phone or heard her react to something she’d scrolled across, my nuts shot up into my throat. I had no idea how long it would take to return to normal or to fully regain my Zen, but as it stood, my nerves were tatted and even the slightest breeze threatened to send me off the deep end. Pathological fear; day in and day out, all amounting to the sincerest desolation I had ever known.

“Hey, did you see, babe? Look’s like your boy’s gonna be on SNL next week,” G said, shooing Stich off the couch and plopping down beside me. Then she slung her feet onto my lap. The soles weren’t the cleanest, but they weren’t filthy either. She had legs for days, every silky inch exposed in a pair of homemade jean shorts that frayed along the edges. I paused GTA mid-fight and let the controller slide out of my hand to its doom. It clanked onto the floor where Zap lay at my feet. I knew what it meant when she got like this. There was no escaping a gossip session.

“Uh, my boy?” I repeated, struggling to keep my face expressionless. Of course I knew who she meant. Haz had told me the news over a week ago himself, long before it was publicized to the rest of the world. He had landed a solo SNL spot and was set to be the musical act alongside Jimmy Fallon. I was beyond proud of him, but also nervous because he would beat himself up over getting everything right, and I couldn’t be there for this one. He had to figure it out on his own, and despite me doing so myself last year, it hurt to think I couldn’t be present on these sorts of nerve-wracking occasions anymore.

“Yeah, what’s-his-face? Harry?”

“Oh yeah…heard about dat.”

“With Fallon too?? Whom I adoreeeee—”

“He’s not my boy, y’know?”

“—I wonder how well he’ll do? Is he even funny?”

“He’s alright, I guess. He should do pretty well…if things are written out for him beforeha—”

Puh-leaseee, babe, Fallon’s gonna carry that show, I already know it. I can see it now. He’s way too good and Harry just, like, well he just seems…kind of boring to be honest. He might slow ’em down.”

“Is that soh?” She wiggled her bare feet in my face. I didn’t know whether she was angling for a foot massage, but either way I didn’t bite. I wasn’t in the mood.

“So…why’d you say he’s ‘not your boy‘ by the way?”

“Noh reason…” I shrugged, noticing my hoodie was full of dog hair. I pulled it off over my head and flung it away, then straightened my t-shirt. I needed fresh laundry. I didn’t have much to choose from over here, so I’d started wearing her tees. “We just aren’t really boys anymore, yeah? I’m over all that…all that weird shit that happened last yearh…which was fucked up, by the way. We were drunk as fuck, high as fuck. Completely out of our heads. He regretted it too. I don’t even wanna think about it, babe.”

I know, babe, I know, trust me I do. And honestly that’s huge of you to admit. I’m stoked to hear it, y’know?” She ran her hand through her hair, flinging her head back over the armrest of the couch. “You’re over it, I’m over it, he’s over it…we’re all good.”

“I just still feel awful y’know?”

“You don’t have to, Z. I told you that,” she softly, moving to lay across my lap and eye me face-to-face. “I can’t believe how far we’ve come since…that.”

“Wild, right?” I cleared my throat. “It almost threw us off our game.”

“And it’s sooooo not even worth it. Look at everything we have now? Vogue is almost locked down. Versace is in love with you. I’m doing tons of new shows. Getting tons of offers. The new single is doing incredibly well. Everybody’ll love the video. It’s major, babe. We’re on a whole different wave right now, way above that petty LA shit. That stuff is behind us.”

“Forh sure…”

“Fuck babe…sometimes I just think…” she briefly shut her eyes and shook her head. “…he wasn’t even gonna take care of you…you know that, right?” I just nodded. No arguments from me. “Not like I can.” She stroked my cheek. “We were made for each other, babe. It’s like we were waiting our whole lives to link up and take over. This year is proving that to me more than anything. You and I are unstoppable.”

“I’ve got noh complaints…”

Stich sniffed around the corner of the room, looking for a new spot after being evicted from his usual place on the couch. She had interrupted our nightly ritual, in which I played video games for hours on end and the dogs chilled with me until we went to bed. Now he scooted his butt on the floor, walking in a few uncertain circles before plopping down. He set his face onto his paws and stared at me accusingly.

Sometimes I looked at him and Zap and wondered if they were nothing but instruments woven into my careful pretenses. False fixtures of domestic bliss, which I thought would look good if her and I invested in it together. Something to solidify the seriousness of our relationship. How far would I go, I often wondered, to convince myself, and the public, and her that I wanted to be here? Marriage forever lingered in the back of my mind, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be engaged again, let alone actually make it to the altar this time. Not after what had happened with Pez.

“I meannn think about it, bubba. What can a dude really do for you, anyway?” Fuck, was she still talking? “Men are sooo lazy when it comes to housework, grocery shopping, cooking, organizing, time management—the list goes on. Harry strikes me as a real diva-type.” Her voiced quavered, the low husky tones grating my nerves. “He wouldn’t have done any of that shit for you, you know that, right?” Again, I nodded. I struggled not to break eye contact so she wouldn’t become suspicious. I might’ve been being too agreeable though. 

“I think he’s kind of a dick,” her voice really shook as she fought a laugh. “Like a low-key dick, too, which is, like, the worst kind. But you probably know that better than anyone?” she surmised. “You seemed super relieved to be away from him. I noticed the difference in you as soon as we got to New York. Mom did too…and daddy-o.”

“Just needed a change of pace…or scenery, I suppose. To tell the truth I like it here, maan. The people seem way more real, not soh overly invested and concerned with appearances and success and gettin’ over on people. All that Hollywood shit.”

“Exactly. I’ve been in loveeee with New York ever since I first moved here. LA is ok, like, in pockets…but not as a permanent place, right?”

“I do miss me badmaash curry though. Haven’t found anythin’ as gud here.”

“Not yet. We’ll keep looking.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll stumble on sumthin’ sooner or later.”

“LA has it’s good points, sure, don’t get me wrong, babes,” she sighed. “But overall, I’ve noticed, it just has a different sort of atmosphere that I can’t vibe with for too long. I think I’m too real.”

“Tell me about it, I was keen to get away after like six months of being ‘dere. The world seems, like, a lot smaller in LA, yeah? Like, everybody knows everybody, soh everybody’s all up in your private affairs. Everybody works with all the same people too, soh it’s super difficult to keep anythin’ under wraps if youh wanted.”

“That’s what your boy’s problem is too,” she pursed her lips smugly. “Everybody talks about him. Everybodyyyy knows his dirt. Scandalous af…”

“He’s not my boy…”

I know, babe, I know! I’m just teasing you, silly!” She ruffled my hair with a devious chuckle. “But hey, guess what?”


“C’mere…” she crooked her finger at me so I bent down a little. Now she spoke in a giggly whisper.

“Kendall used to tell me how…when like…they’d…y’know…” I shifted uncomfortably but tried to stay the course.


“That he’d like…zone out! How freaky is that?!” She burst out laughing, then sobered, eyes glinting in the warmth of the cove lighting falling down on us. It was dark out and I had all the lights off until she came in flicking them on. It was a pet peeve of mine. She tended to flick on every light in the room the second she came in, even if only for a moment, and always forgot to turn them back off when she left.

“Kendall said that??”

“Mm-hm! Babe, that’s so messed up…like?? Is he, like, picturing someone else while he’s…ewww!! Think about it, like, how the fuck would that make a girl feel? That’s why they never really got together officially. He just wasn’t available apparently. Kept stringing her along. Kept making up excuses. Ken said it’s like he wasn’t there. Super empty inside, no intimacy, plus he’d always, like, want to leave right away. Such a dick move. Such a selfish dick move. So I can’t really imagine what that was like for you?”

I shrugged, speechless that this was a real conversation we were having. What the actual fuck. Why now after over a year following the incident last February? She had seemed so enraged and unhinged over the mere thought of him back then. It was sinister the ease with which she was discussing him and his sex life now. Had I done that good a job at convincing her he and I were over?

“I heard he basically fucks everyone. Girls, guys…dolls…” I faked a chuckle because she was desperately trying to get a rise out of me. It almost felt like a trap. “Just everyone. That’s so gross, right? I mean…I’ve got nothing against bi people or kinky people or whatever, but, it seems like he hookups with everyone in LA. I wouldn’t be surprised if he had herpes or something by now. I’m glad all your tests came back negative after that day.”

The pulse in my throat quickened. I hoped to God she couldn’t see it, but I wasn’t a fucking ninja, so I couldn’t control my heartbeat as easily as I could my face. I wanted to choke her the fuck out right then and there and drop her limp body onto the floor. She was flat-out lying at this point. The person she was describing wasn’t Haz. It enraged me to hear someone like her speaking of someone like him in this light. She wasn’t fit to shine his fucking shoes. Who the fuck did she think she was? And I was positive she was the main one spreading rumors about him in LA, on some sort of petty crusade of revenge ever since last February. Sometimes the stories got back to me through producers and mutual friends, and it fucked me up so bad that I could never really defend him like I used to. Not without exposing us.

“So I feel like he must…manipulate people to get them to sleep with him,” she absently bit her thumb nail and watched the ceiling. Her leg was bent at the knee and fanning back and forth, jiggling, rocking the couch. I looked down at her while she wasn’t looking at me and felt a sneer beginning to curl my upper lip. I fought it with everything I was, but everything about her repelled me these days, particularly when she got like this. There wasn’t even a trace of mockery or levity in the things she was saying. She sincerely believed them. There wasn’t even some perverse intention to torment me with her words. She was just speaking her mind.

“I feel like he’s a narcissist, y’know?” she groaned. “Like a manipulator. I learned about his personality type in school. Everything they do is for personal gain. Sometimes they even become murderers. They only see people as like, tools. Just a means to the ends they want to achieve. Was he ever like that with you?” 

My blinked. “Shit, I dunno, babe…maybe?”

“Is that why you were dealing with him? Was he manipulating you?!” I took a shaky breath. Now more than ever I needed to set the biggest wedge between Haz and I that I could think of, and she of all people was the one I needed to convince that I hated him. Finally, I just said it.

“Yeah I guess…he’s…not really the guy everyone thinks he is. Like the fans. He can use people sometimes. I dunno how I didn’t realize it sooner. Maybe that’s how it all got started last yearh? Shit, I fucked up soh bad, babe, even just lettin’ him come over. He basically made me do that shit, yeah? Youh know I’m not even like that. That’s not how I am. I don’t fuck with dudes…that shit is weird, maan. Not my scene.”

“I know, I know. Aw, baby, cmere.” She leaned up to kiss my lips, then hugged me. “I’m soooo glad you got away from him. He’s back in LA and we’re here. Far, far away. And I know he’s coming to New York for the show, but thank God you don’t have to run into him.”

“Yeah…” I whispered, glaring unseeingly over her shoulder. “I’m glad too.”


My heart sped as I sat on my balcony at midnight, smoking a jay and listening to “Sign Of The Times” on repeat. I was out of my head proud of him. He sounded unrecognizable on the track. Of all the directions he could’ve taken out of the band, I’m positive the world had expected him to stick to bubblegum pop or some formulaic joint, but that’s because they didn’t know the real Haz. They didn’t know the guy that I knew. Classic rock pumped through his veins. Of course he’d gone for a six minute rock ballad about us, and of course the story would fly well over everyone’s heads.

I eased out of my emotional stupor brought on by the song and drafted a text to tell him how proud I was. The minute I hit send, my phone rang. I thought he’d be sleep by now, but he managed to dial me right back. I could hear the song playing in the background of wherever he was, and there was a chorus of drunken people scream-singing ‘we got to, we got to get away.’


“Hey! Did you listen?”

“Of course I did!” I chuckled, sitting up in my chair. “It’s fuckin’ lit, babe. It’s a big tune. Unreal. I’m soh proud of youh, Haz. You’re gonna shock soh many people with this one.” His phone kept breaking up.

“Thanks, mate, really. That makes me feel so much better. I’m freaking out over here!”

“Where are youh?”

“Cheshire. Me mum’s place. Everyone figured we’d gather over here for the release. She cooked dinner and we were drunk by 9pm.” He suddenly yelled ‘ahhhhh’ in disbelief. “I’m fucking spinning mate! We had to stay up till midnight for the release, and now no one will go home. Grimmy, Adam, none of them. And none of us have slept! It’s really nuts!”

“Sounds like you’re havin’ an amazin’ time then.”

“I am!” he yelled through a laugh. “I wish you were here though…”

“Can’t hear youh…”

“I said I wish you were here!” he shouted over the noise.

“I wish I was there too. Hey, don’t worry about it, babe. I want youh to enjoy yourself, okay? This year’s all about youh.”

“You’re a such good guy, mate….” he groaned, drunk off his ass.

“Soh are youh. You’re smashin’ it.”

“I can’t keep thanking you!”

“Then don’t!” 

“I keep looking around at everything…where I am now… listening to the song on repeat, and I can’t believe this is my life. Z, like, I can’t fucking believe I get to do the thing I love, and people want to support it. We’re so fucking lucky, Zayn mate…”

“We are…loads of ways Too many to process.”

“I love…” he hiccupped, then cleared his throat. I was pretty sure he had just taken another shot. “I loved the new song, by the way. That was a sick tune, mate. Kind of tropical.”

“Fanks, babe. Youh checked it out?”

“Of fucking course I did. I can’t stop listening to it. It’s gonna be huge in summer, watch.”

“Yeah, I hope soh, broh.”

“Summer’s gonna be pretty mad…now that I think about it.”

“You’re already lookin’ ahead?” I chuckled. “Youh have a lot goin’ on this month already, yeah? The new single, SNL…”

“Plus the Rolling Stone piece—”

“What’s that? I didn’t hear. You’re mumblin’—”

“I said: ‘Plus the Rolling Stone piece’—”

“—oh yeah! Fuck, babe, I almost forgot about that! That’s fuckin’ massive! That’s, like, the coolest thing ever, Hazza.”

“I’m nervous…”

“I know youh are, but there’s noh need to be.” I grinned uncontrollably. “What’s the sayin’? The world is your oyster, babe. Just sit back and enjoy it. Maan…the Rollin’ Stone. That’s some next level shit. I think I’m kinda jealous—”

“Hey, don’t be. You might get a bloody Vogue cover, so that’s huge too.”

“Now we’re just suckin’ each other off,” I laughed.

“I’d love too…” he answered, dead serious. I could almost hear him licking his lips. 

“When are youh gettin’ here then?”

“Not soon enough…”

“Tell me about it…”

“I’ll be back there in a couple of days.”

“I hate that we couldn’t link up the last time.”

“I know…m’sorry about that.”

“It was my fault, really—”

“I can’t wait to kiss you…” he made a loud kissing sound directly into the mic. “Kiss all over your gorgeous brown body—”

“You’re soh wasted…” I snickered.

“Still…m’gonna fuck you so good, Z…”

“Oh yeah?!” I laughed harder than I had in a while. Sometimes he left me in absolute stiches. “We’ll see about that.”

“That bedroom’s gonna be rocking, mate. The headboard’s gonna be slamming against the wall allll night…the neighbors are gonna call the cops.”

“I can’t believe how shitfaced youh are right now. I wish I could record this. You’re gonna be soh embarrassed if youh remember this conversation in the mornin'” I died laughing as he made more kissy noises into the speaker, then growled:

“You’ve got a nice lil ass, you know that? I could just eat it all day.”

“Youh tell me that exact same thing every time you’re drunk. Soh yeah, I do kinda know that by now, broh.”

“M’serious…it’s the perfect handful.”

“Well yours is more than a handful and I love it.”

“I love my ass too. It’s like the best thing I’ve got going for me if you really think about it.” I cracked up at that, setting the phone aside to catch my breath. I heard someone calling him in the background.

“Well look, babe, I know youh gotta goh. I don’t wanna hold youh up. I appreciate the call.”

“No worries, mate. I’m glad to hear from you too, okay?”

“Call me soon?”

“Absolutely. I’ll be heading over soon, by the way. I’ll get to New York first and spend a little there, then gotta circle back and make a pit stop in Paris.” My stomach dropped the second he mentioned Paris, and all the memories of that night we spent together came flooding back. So did the extortion. “I can’t wait to see you, Z…” he said, sounding more sober than he had the entire call. 

“Yeah, youh too.”

“Talk soon, mate.”

“Yeah, take care.” Before he hung up, I blurted: “I love youh.” But it was too late. The other line had already clicked into silence. 

(Thanks for reading!❤️)

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