Neon Red – Chapter 33

(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.)

**********

Love set you going like a fat gold watch.

Silvia Plath – Morning Song

Back at my apartment, I tossed a few shirts and a couple of pairs of jeans into a carry-on bag and almost tore my room apart again searching for my passport. That is, until T found it under what used to be the dresser. Now she sat with me on the couch in the lounge with all the lights off. We hadn’t bothered to turn the telly on either, as silence felt appropriate for now.

It was even quieter than it had been a G’s house between her screams. For some reason, my heart had convinced me I needed to get out of New York as fast as humanly possible. Away from these for walls. Away from the familiar sights, smells, and sounds. At this point even the sight of my own bedroom was a trigger, ensuring I wouldn’t be sleeping there any time soon. It housed ominous vibrations that were rewiring my mind each night, leaving me more and more unhinged come morning. In two or three weeks’ time, I had no clue who I’d become or what I’d be capable of.

I urged T to book me a one-way ticket. I was glad to run anywhere-but-fucking-here with zero inclination of when I’d be returning or if I ever would. Fuck this place. Things hadn’t been right since the first envelope arrived back in March leaving me in bits on the floor, and I had been kidding myself pretending everything was fine after the initial payment. Deep down I was fully cognizant they would be back with more demands and I should’ve broken the new to Haz. Now it seemed everyone on the planet knew except for him, and that was entirely my fault. Plus, I couldn’t stop thinking of the ledge of my rooftop. The gentle relief to be had by simply letting go. A quick fix all. The end of me.

“Sweetie…” T tentatively set her hand atop mine. I flinched, then shifted to be free of her, unable to stomach the notion of being touched. I was truly repulsive. Like I might taint her if she stuck around too long.

“T…y’know, maybe youh oughtta call it a night?” I wagered, refusing to look her way. I lit a cigarette and exhaled the smoke through my nose. “I’ve kept youh out long enough as it is. M’not payin’ youh overtime, yeah?” It was a lousy attempt to break the ice. Her laugh was half-hearted.

“About that…” she began, scooting closer and trying to meet my eyes. “I’m not going anywhere, babe. I booked myself a ticket too—”

“T—”

“Nope! Nope, I don’t wanna hear it! I’m not letting you go off alone on this one. It’s way too freaking much, dude. I mean, look at you?? You’re not yourself…you’re breaking down left and right…you’re destroying things! Z, sweetie, this isn’t you. And I’ll be damned if I sit here on my ass while you leave, then later get word that you’ve done something awful to yourself over there…out of my reach. Hell no, not on my watch—”

“I can’t have youh be a part of this,” I finally looked over at her, brow furrowed. Throat taut. Stomach knotted with trepidation. Unmovable trepidation. Somebody needed to tell me it was ok. That this would end soon. But no one could give me that guarantee, not even Allah himself. Still, I pretended to do the noble thing and kept her at bay.

“This shit’s actually gettin’ dangerous, maan. The way they sent out that new picture—” I stopped and took a shuddering breath, rubbing a hand down my face.

“Trust me, I know. That’s why I’m comi—”

“Noh, T, it’s too dangerous! How many times do I have to say that, huh? Use your brain. That cropped picture was a warnin’, broh. Almost like I’m startin’ to piss them off. Like I’m not movin’ fast enough for them or sumthin. Who knows what they might do next time? And I don’t want youh to…like, get swept up in the crossfire, okay? I don’t want them to find out who youh are—”

“Ugh I don’t carrrrre! If you’re in this, I’m in this and it’s as simple as that. And I am 100% going with you, whether you like it or not. Don’t worry, I paid for my own non-refundable and non-transferable ticket, so it’s a done deal. I’ll be in coach, but I’ll link back up with you after we land. Then we can figure out our next more from there. Don’t give me anymore lip.”

I took a deep breath, resting my head back against the coach. Inshallah. If it was His will that I made it through the night, then I would no doubt need help collecting my thoughts come morning. I couldn’t see myself sleeping peacefully anytime soon, and I tended to make loads of little mistakes when I was sleep-deprived, like texting the wrong people; so it would be useful to have her present. Plus, there was no use in debating her further. She was pretty stubborn when she got self-righteous, kind of like me. I’d come to appreciate that about her, as I knew she always had my best interest at heart. My road-dog, my ride-or-die, my pillar of unwavering and unflappable strength. Trying to dismiss her after she’d seen how distraught I was earlier was idiotic on my part. Of course she wouldn’t let me go off alone, and now that I knew she would be there, I couldn’t see myself doing any of this without her.

“Well, if you’re gonna tag along, yeah, at least call and see about an upgrade for yourself. I can’t be seen with anyone who flies coach, maan. That’s fuckin’ embarassin’—” she shoved me and we laughed, our voices echoing throughout the loft.

“You’re paying, then.”

“Of course,” I grinned. “But seriously, T…. thank youh.”

**********

When we landed at Heathrow it was early evening in the UK, around 6pm to be exact. I checked my phone after switching it off airplane mode, and I had nearly a dozen voicemails from G and her mom. I was in no shape to answer. With Yolanda calling, there was no telling what G had told her to prompt this many calls her overnight.

I was done. There was no way in fuck she didn’t know about everything. About me cheating, about Haz, about Paris—all of it. And if she knew, it was only a matter of time before the entire family knew, and perhaps the press as well. That is, unless she was so disturbed and embarrassed by my truth and the things I got up to that she determined she had no choice but to conceal it all. Maybe by some fucked up twist of fortune, my truth was so revolting to the average person that the world would conspire to ensure it remained untold.

I wheeled my luggage along behind Taryn, hood up, beanie in place, shades on, hoping no one would notice me. So far so good. Just play it smooth. Don’t act evasive, which would no doubt tip the paparazzi off that I was a celebrity. For now, they were all at bay, drinking coffee and chatting along the flanks of the terminal; cameras switched off. Thank fuck.

Still, I kept a wary eye on my surroundings, pupils darting anywhere I sensed the slightest bit of movement. A daunting and inexplicable phenomenon commandeered my brain. I glanced around and it was as though everyone was watching and knew exactly what I was thinking. Perhaps they had even been waiting on me to arrive. Perhaps G had already gone to the press to smear my name, and they all knew I’d be running for the hills; fleeing home to London like a spinless eunuch.

The thought broadcasting got out of control when I stopped my mind mid-sentence, afraid G could sense my plans and would get to Haz before I did.

Sometimes I felt like I was Truman Burbank, trapped inside a harrowing simulated reality. All things that occurred within my life, both the good and the bad, were strictly predetermined. Some greater power was fucking with me big time, probably sitting back laughing as I spiraled further and further into a depressive state.

In truth, I was only reacting to that rigidly fixed stimulus, not creating any waves of my own. My comically staged virtual reality was probably being televised someplace in the real world, and now there were people who knew about Haz and I and wanted us to succeed and end up together, but there were others who despised my relationship with him and were caught up in the illusion that G and I were the perfect couple who ought to be together forever. I couldn’t keep everyone happy. No matter which direction I chose, tons of people would end up loathing me.

By the time we got to the exit, we moved through the bustle along Arrivals to the end of the throng until we found the black SUV she had ordered. Inside, she sat beside me and I shut my eyes, listening to the roar of the roar.

“Driver? Can we make a pit stop at the nearest Starbucks please?”

“Noh, T, I’m gud. I just wanna get home and re—”

“Ew, not for you, grumpy. Get over yourself. It’s for me.” At that, I cracked up, amused by how blunt she could be sometimes. She ordered me coffee anyway and it did help to clear my head a bit. Shoving the brain fog to the outer reaches of my cognition and perking me up a little.

When we got to the house, she checked the mail and collected a few packages left out front, then we headed inside. It was cold here, as the heat hadn’t been on in months. I cranked it on now to knock the chill out the air, as London was a bit cool today. Then I headed upstairs to crash. She shouted up behind me that she had a lot of work to catch up on and that I could call if I needed her.

The first thing I did when I got into the privacy of my room was take all my clothes off and light a joint I’d stashed in the nightstand the last time I was here. I lay back across my bed listening to a bit of Drake while I finished it. After “Energy” all I could think of was the absurd amount of people trying to destroy me. If it wasn’t for the buzz leaving me lethargic and glassy-eyed, I might’ve fucked this room up as well.

After a quick shower, I pulled on a clean pair of briefs then dug through my luggage for Haz’s hoodie, which I’d stolen from his apartment recently. It still smelled like him a bit. Tom Ford’s Tobacco Vanille was the most prominent. It was a scent that had taken some getting used to for me, but now I craved it so much when we were apart that I’d bought a bottle for myself that I sprayed onto my sheets whenever I slept alone. Since I’d left the bottle back in New York, his hoodie would have to do for now.

After I beat off lazily, grinding into my mattress, remembering the things he’d done to me at his place in Tribeca, I slept straight through the evening until around 1AM. When I woke I stretched and headed downstairs, hungry as shit, but knew T would be asleep by now. I saw evidence of how hard she’d been working in the kitchen where her laptop was still propped open on the counter and surrounded with paperwork, but the woman herself was nowhere to be found.

As I had when I was a kid, I opened the fridge a few times to search it in vain, knowing full-well there was nothing viable inside. I did the same with the cupboards, as though on the third or fourth look something would magically manifest. Problem was, it was so late it’d be impossible to find someplace open this late that also delivered. No shot in hell.

My mind still said: Fuck it. It was worth a try to go out and find even a few scraps if I could. Even the glass of water I choked down did nothing to kill the hunger pains. T in all her omniscient splendor hadn’t bothered to grab me anything earlier today and have it waiting, which as unusual for her. Except I couldn’t really complain. Everything we were doing lately was off the cuff and haphazard. It was difficult to remain organized in a climate like this.

Thankfully the Range Rover was sitting on half a tank, so I hopped in and Googled 24hr food joints near me. I popped a smoke in my mouth and lit it, not knowing it would be the first of many that night. I’d probably set a new record for chain-smoking in the span of an hour. Bone-weary, I scrolled endlessly through the search results, finding nothing of use. On the third page, I finally ran across a pub hereabouts that was still operating after midnight, so I took a chance and called them up. Although the kitchen was about to close, they squeezed my order in when I told them my name. I asked for chicken wings and a burger. They assured me it’d be right up.

Now I cruised through the old neighborhood, on my second cigarette, realizing now much I’d missed this place since the permanent move to the States. These streets had been neglected ever since, and I often glared past them whenever I visited, tucked away in the back seat of a hired car, headphones on and face glued to my phone. Tonight, I saw a few things I’d spray-painted around town that had been washed away with the rain. They transported me to simpler times. Days of unrestrained revelry. Too many laughs shared around these byways with my cousins. I recalled pissing on a telephone pole when we got shitfaced and there had been no toilet in sight. Vomiting down manholes. Racing the dirt bikes and ATVs through the streets, blasting Pac and Biggie, upheaving the affluent serenity that surrounded us like we owned this city.

Eventually I saw the sacred metal box and slowed to a halt beside it. I put the parking brake on and meditated on the quiet energy it emitted. Imperturbable, like my parents’ house. A vault containing bloody and forgotten chunks of my boyhood. How could something so irrelevant be so dear to me? Stupid crummy little box, overtaken with rust and moss, standing stalwart after the rain. Emerging day after day as a reminder of all I’d overcome, no matter the weather.

I couldn’t begin to recollect the ways he and I had communicated through that busted old box. How many times I’d driven home only to see he’d been there. Each time there was a new image I’d be forced to call him and decipher it. I couldn’t let one message go unaddressed. The pink heart had been no exception, placed there in the early autumn, shortly after the engagement was announced. Spotting that image had been like a 12-gauge fired pointblank at my chest. I’d stumbled across it one day while out for a walk with the dog and hadn’t been the same since. To double down, he went and got the massive rose tattoo inked a few days later, and tweeted a picture of the heart with lyrics to an Augustana song. “Can’t love, can’t hurt…”

Heartsore and already on my third cigarette, I took off again, wondering if it would all come to a bloody end now that G knew. Just like it had after she caught us in Bel Air in February of last year. One she got involved, she called all the shots, and if I didn’t want my life destroyed, I needed to play by her rules. God help me, I couldn’t endure the thought of losing him a fourth time. How had I jeopardized us all over again? How exactly when I’d been so fucking careful with every breath I took and every move I made? Probably because I didn’t have the balls to speak with her when I promised him I would on New Year’s. Had I come clean with her early on and set things straight, there would’ve been no need to sneak around Paris and end up in that sleazy motel, entrapped by extortionists—

The tires screeched to a halt as I slammed both feet on the breaks, nearly standing the truck on its nose to keep from hitting a deer. It stopped in the dead center of the road as the truck slid within inches of ending its life. Now it trotted off as if nothing had happened, leaving me wide-eyed and mouth agape. I threw the car in park while I gathered myself, hair standing on the back of my neck, heart raging.

FuckkkkkFuckkkkk!” I hollered, repeatedly punching the steering wheel, not giving a fuck how many times the horn blared or how much more I was damaging my injured hand.

Breathing ragged, I set my head against the wheel and clung to it for dear life, so exhausted that I didn’t know whether I was going or coming. My hand was on fire, the knuckles throbbing so intensely I could taste it. Paralyzing pains shot through to the tips of my fingers and up into my arm. I thought an amputation would be nice right about now, liberating me from the severe and persistent agony. I teared up, forgetting about my food altogether. There was no way I could eat anything now without vomiting it back up. I hoped they enjoyed it among themselves, as it was already paid for.

Now I drove through Hertfordshire in an emotional stupor, vision blurred, unable to use my dominant hand. My left hand did a piss poor job of steering, and also had to shift gears whenever necessary. I had no idea where I was going, but my memory seemed to lead me to familiar grounds. Colorful doors and shutters and lovely townhomes appeared out of the darkness, looking more familiar the longer I drove. Deeper into North London I ventured, popping a new smoke in my mouth, keeping my crippled arm held closely at my side. 

(Thanks for reading! ❤️)

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