Neon Red – Chapter 37

(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.)


Numb on a roof, set it on fire

Just to give me proof, I’m livin’ on a wire

Zayn | BeFoUr

We fought on the flight home from Paris, almost continually. T yelled at me, so Haz yelled at her in my defense, then I yelled at him for yelling at her, then I felt guilty and yelled at her too for making me yell at him. Then I slept and left them to tear each other apart, knocked out until they told us to leave the plane. I slept like I’d been placed in a medically induced coma, awakening more regenerated than I’d been in a while. Something wanted to remind me that I was alive, and it was time to start acting like it. I’d been in a state of defeat for far too long, and it was a notion my dad would have found reprehensible. We are not a defeated people, he’d always say. No matter how often society sought to collar us up, denigrate us, write us off, we weren’t allowed to curl up and just take it. Brown men weren’t the defeating kind. We were warriors, mentally foremost. Made of sterner stuff, or so he had asserted. My dejection would’ve been a disgrace to him as well as my grandfather. 

Time to saddle up and find a way to get back at these motherfuckers. All of them. Thankfully, despite my nightmares becoming more vividly violent by the day, there was no true blood on my hands yet. It had all been a dream. But perhaps it was the universe’s way of telling me this is what it would take to regain my Zen? My peace of mind? Maybe I had to take radical measures to be rid of it once and for all? Leave no loose ends, right? I refused live out the remainder of my life in paralyzing, bottomless fear. What it had come to was: fear or be feared. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit the latter had a better ring to it.

After T dropped us at Haz’s place in Hampstead, she took off to my place to finish up work and set about realigning my life. Apparently she’d be working closely with my new publicist, as well as my manager Sarah, who’d been recently filled in on the ordeal sans the Harry factor, as well as working with the intelligence firm to draw up solutions and trace the money I’d paid back to a person of interest. Haz had paid his ransoms in Bitcoin, which was the currency demanded for my second much larger payment, as it was far more difficult for the feds to track. Although I was hopeful we wouldn’t have to venture that far, and that I wouldn’t have to part with another dime, Tobias suggested that I send half the fee for anyway and pacify them as best I could. T then assured him she’d be reaching out to my accountant to make that happen in the coming days.

She would then plan out the month of June for me. The Versace drop was imminent. They’d sent over a video mockup of the photoshoot I’d done with G and Bella and Adwoah Aboah and were preparing to drop everything around mid-June. Hopefully I’d be mentally available by then. I also had a massive song I needed to record sometime soon, and hoped to get a feature with SIA locked down in the near future to propel it into the stratosphere. That’s where it deserved to be, as its message was of the utmost importance to me. I knew that if it went big, it would help convey to Haz just how much he meant to me after everything we’d overcome, in a way my words and actions had failed to do so far. The tune was still untitled, but I’d sit down once I got home and work through that alone. I didn’t want to rush and title it only to regret it later.

With all that had gone down, the gut-wrenching themes in his debut record had fallen to the backburner, but no less continued to plague me each time I shut my eyes or had a moment of undisturbed quiet. Add it to the list. Another point of failure for me, that being: the manner in which I’d let him down. Having to face it after years of dodging and denying and litigating the notion away like a morally bankrupt fool seemed to be biting me in the ass now. It was right up there with the failed tour for my debut album and my inability to perform live for the fans who had supported me unquestioningly from the word go. Although I’d given them much pause to question my actions since I abandoned the world stage in 2015, only to return to it and abandon it again in mid-2016, they still hadn’t forsaken me. Suffice it to say, I had a lot to prove on all fronts, and my affection for him remained at the forefront of those obligations.

In the aftermath of his debut, I could no longer pretend I didn’t know how much he cared for me. In the midst of it all, that fact had only became starker. I was his world. How had I become that, exactly? I don’t remember singing up for it. Wait, no, I was more than that. I was his universe, it seemed. All else in his life fell second. What a scary thought…that anyone would put that much stock in me. Me? Zayn? Why me? He was Harry Fucking Styles. Did he not know there were millions of other people on the planet waiting with bated breath for the opportunity to make him happy? Why had he chosen to build his life around the one person who quite possibly could never give him what he wanted? Fuckkk me. Not now, not ever. How could I make him understand I was unfit?

Being cognizant of my inability to please him freaked me out. Facing one’s own inadequacy, having to let go of the false notion that I’d done my best by him was super fooking difficult. I hadn’t done my best. There was so much room for improvement, but I didn’t know where to start, and truthfully wasn’t willing to attempt it. Perhaps by first acknowledging what he and I had done to each other, I could move forward. Perhaps first by realizing how real our bond was, there would be hope for a future together. No longer tiptoeing around it. Egg-shelling it. Circumventing it when it became unrelenting or inconvenient.

Before his debut it had been easy to convince myself he was an unfeeling jackass. A purveyor of fake love and superficial concepts of romance. That he could forget about me the second he met another model-type desperate to have her career bolstered by attaching herself to his name. He seemed to love that set up. A little quid pro quo here and there. All consensual, no harm done. So I liked to think what we’d discovered together had amounted to nothing in his eyes. That he was an unfeeling machine who’d used me just as much as I’d used him, and that when I left in 2015 he was able to cast my memory aside and get on with his life.

Sure, that required ignoring how mental he looked onstage most days after I left. It required ignoring that he had asked for the hiatus immediately after my departure, effectively disbanding 1D forever. It required ignoring the glaring references to me in the songs he’d written for the band’s final offering to the fans. It meant pretending he had grown closer to strange men like Xander and Matt and whoever else, because he was in search of a new fuck.

But that had all been a delusion. My way of making excuses for my own numbness and my own apathy. Excuses for the fact that I’d left him with empty promises of a return, knowing full-well nothing could’ve convinced me to come back. I would have told him anything to get me out of that door, and had. Afterwards, it had been alleviating for me to blame him. Pretending he’d dropped the ball. That he hadn’t been there for me. That he hadn’t listened to what I needed. In that case it was ok for me to move on, and I did. With lots of random blondes until I landed the ultimate pin-up girl in G. 

Regardless of the lies I’d fed myself, turns out he’d been dying inside. After his debut, I now had no choice but to face the fact that I’d nearly killed him in 2015, and if I wasn’t careful this time around, things could turn out far more detrimental than the last time. It was his blood that I feared the most. Waking up pooled in it. Pouring down the sheets. Seeing it smeared across my fingers. Staining me no matter how much I tried to wash it clean. 


Stretching in the pale morning light where I sat on the edge of the bed, rubbing my bare foot along the carpet, I knew I had to will myself not to reach for my nonexistent phone. It was time to replace it. Being a few days without it might prove detrimental to several professional relationships. Plus, I couldn’t keep tabs on social media and I was too embarrassed to ask Haz to use his accounts. In the meantime, Taryn would be my eyes and ears to the outer world. Still, it was difficult to shake the habit of picking up my mobile every hour on the hour, sometimes even far more frequently than that. There was nothing to grab today, and it left me itching.

I pulled on my pants with no briefs and walked across his bedroom to crack a window. It was warm out and the room reeked of cigarettes and sex. He was still sprawled out on his belly, snoring like he weighed 500lbs. God he sounded like a morbidly obese lawn mower sometimes. Rubbing my wood, I headed into the bathroom for a bit of relief. The white light was lobotomizing. The bulbs hummed in the uncolored silence. After taking an achy leak, I washed my face and brushed my teeth, listening to the water roar in the pipes behind the walls. Then I cupped some in my hands and drank until my throat no longer stuck together. The tequila had left me parched.

It was nearing time for him to head over to LA for the show with Stevie, as well as a week-long residency on Corden’s Late Late Show. I dreaded the thought of us parting so soon. We were on borrowed time. Brothers-in-arms at this point. I fancied we were at war, and he was my second in command. How could we strategize or prevail if we were stuck on separate continents? This sort of predicament required a lot of maneuvering and covert communication. I couldn’t manage any of it if he parted now. Plus, I couldn’t see myself returning to the States anytime soon. I needed to keep a degree of separation between me and my old world, considering all the details of my private life had ended up in the hands of people who wished me serious ill. G and her family had been moved to the top of the list of people I couldn’t trust, and I feared if I were driven to a certain point, it might just become a kill-list.

It took a while for me to stop cringing whenever I thought of her getting her hands on those photos of Haz from my phone, as well as all the dick pics and videos we’d stupidly been sending each other since New Year’s. Yet, all notions that left me ill-at-ease wore off with a curious swiftness. A numbness had long since overtaken my system and I couldn’t panic even if I wanted to. It tempered the effect of her impending blackmail, because by the time she got up the nerve to issue a direct threat, I’d already be expecting it. Instead of the fear she wanted me to feel, a heartless resignation existed in its place. A bone-weary forfeiture that would undercut the impact of her sextortion by a mile. I was over it.

I woke Haz up with breakfast in bed, kissing him until he snickered. I’d thrown together a few eggs, a bit of nearly expired sausage, and a few pieces of toast I’d made out of the last slices of wheat bread. I said I thought he was off gluten and he told me to shut up. I keyed up the Drifter’s “This Magic Moment” and let it croon over the stereo system as we ate. I couldn’t stop blushing whenever he met my eyes, recalling details of the night before. Him sucking me off upside down, then right-side up. Me fucking him over the footboard, then again as he lay on his back, half asleep.

Still high on fumes from our stakeout and break-in of the motel manager’s flat, I had topped for the first time in what felt like forever. Needing to take back control. Needing to shed the fragility that had taken over my life and plummeted my self-esteem.

After setting the dishes in the dishwasher and exploring the house while he showered, I had a smoke on the roof-top terrace, letting the balmy spring wind baptize my flesh and purge my mind. I noticed I was down to my last smoke, but wouldn’t trip as I’d be headed home soon where I’d stashed another pack. There was no telling when he’d make it back to the UK to see me in the coming weeks, so I’d be stuck at my place for the time being and needed all the comfort I could get. 

I headed back inside now, stubbing my toe on the door to the roof. As I approached the master suite, I noted he was out of the shower, softly singing “BeFoUr.” My chest swelled with pride. I walked in all puffed up and sang the course along with him.

“So what you wanna say, what you wanna. So say what you wanna say, what you gotta say, now. So say what you wanna say, what you wanna…shame is you won’t say that to my face.” He laughed before yelling the last part: “I’ve done this beforeeeee! Not like thissss, not like thissss!”

“Hands down the sickest song on the album,” he concluded, rolling on deodorant.

“Hah! Think soh?”

“Mate, of course. Just listen to the lyrics. You were saying fuck everyone basically. Right?”

“Forh sure….”

“Even me,” he shrugged, fully content with that fact.

Especially, youh, broh. Youh were number one on that list.”

“Well tell me how you really feel!”

“I couldn’t fuckin’ stand youh for a while. I suppose I convinced myself that I hated youh.” At that he popped the cap back onto the deodorant and set it atop the dresser.

“Yeah, well…you’re not the only one. I hated you too.”

“Oh really?” I shoved him as he walked away from me. “Shuddup…”

You shuddup! You’re the one who went house hunting, then jetted off to, uh, the south of fucking France to pretend your stupid engagement was still intact.” He pulled on a clean pair of briefs and then plopped onto the edge of the bed. “You have any idea how much that fucked me up? Knowing I couldn’t get in contact with you, but seeing you papped all over the place with her?”

“Don’t start…”

“Well don’t get me started.”

“Haz…” I sobered a bit, hugging myself and moving aimlessly about the room. How did the conversation end up here exactly? Always here. Always the same old arguments. “Well…youh wouldn’t answer my calls. What’d youh expect me to do?”

“Give me time to cool off after you didn’t come back to the tour like you promised. By the time I did call, you’d changed your number and wouldn’t answer my emails.” His shoulders had begun to hunch. In a flash, I jumped onto the bed behind him and hugged him until it hurt. He laughed, pulling my legs and arms around him so that I surrounded him on all sides. He called me an octopus. I pressed my lips to the flesh of his shoulder, meditating on how good it felt to squeeze him.

“To tell the truth, Haz…I was proper convinced youh were sleepin’ with everyone in a 100 mile radius—”

“Oh gee, thanks. Is that what you really think of me?”

“‘Course not. But grief doesn’t know logic, yeah? I was outta my head. Delirious, maan. Every time I saw youh photographed near anyone, they could even be 100 years old, I assumed they were my replacement and that youh wanted me to see it. It drove me absolutely fuckin’ insane. I couldn’t get to youh because youh were tourin’ soh much. I couldn’t make it right. Soh I lashed out instead. Almost fucked as many people as I accused youh of in my head. Every time I saw youh with someone new, it made me goh out huntin’ for a distraction. I think I even plotted your murder.”

“Mate, wait…that’s kinda romantic…” he shoved his head back into mine, resting there with a deep-chested chuckle. I could sense the smile on his face. His damp hair smelled scrumptious. So did his freshly showered skin. Outright edible.

“What do youh think Tobias’ll do with the laptop?” I wondered sometime later, nearly falling asleep against him.

“Save us from ourselves. He seems like the saving type.”

“He does…” I cleared my throat. “He’s pretty fuckin’ hot, too, if I’m honest.”

“Mate, fuck you—” He tried to get up but I wouldn’t unlatch.

“Broh, I dreamt of him last night. In fact, I was thinkin’ of him the whole time we were fuckin’—”

“Oh for fucks sakkkeee!

Tobiasssss!” I moaned. 

“I fucking hate you!” he laughed uncontrollably. I locked my arms around his neck and my legs around his waist. When he stood up, I clung for dear life, hanging onto him like a backpack.

(Thanks for reading! ❤️)

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