Neon Red – Chapter 41

(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.)

**********

Crazy

I plead insanity

Crazy for you, baby

Crazy, na, na

Frank Ocean | Lovecrimes

January 2014

It took him a long time to get over that shove and let me back in, even as just a standoffish friend. I’d handwritten him a letter to let him know how sincere I was, and apologized for my behavior, but also expressed support for his new relationship. It was the only way he’d stop treating me like a criminal. Still, things weren’t fully back to normal and likely wouldn’t be again. That letter had only gotten me back in his good graces enough to be addressed directly and not through third parties or management. Occasionally he said Hi and Bye when we were at work functions. I got lucky when I sat beside him in France at the award show, but still, he’d booked it back to London that night to spend the rest of it with her, and I’d gone back to my hotel room to vomit.

It really sunk in that we were over when he began demanding a separate private jet. I had gotten used to the separate busses ordeal and understood his position on that because I smoked too much and Louis left the place looking like an absolute tip most days, and his feet smelled really badly. However, none of that applied to the plane, so that meant his sudden demand for a separate PJ could only be his way of getting rid of me. What a soul-killing thought.

Self-esteem was a foreign notion. Mine had plummeted into non-existence and even my appearance and eating habits had begun to suffer. When I lost loads of weight, Perrie questioned me but I assured her it was fine. That I was just a little depressed and would be back to normal once we got on the road again. Somehow I’d convinced her that I missed the stage and wouldn’t be right until I returned to it, although in reality I was still quite exhausted and would’ve preferred to be off for another six months to recharge.

He must’ve felt bad for me after my birthday, as he seemed to soften a little. Weeks later, we both still exchanged birthday gifts since we’d planned them out long before the sudden breakup. I got him a first edition signed copy of Bukowski’s Love Is A Dog From Hell, and he got me an engraved Rolex and told me it’d be my best year yet. Boy would he turn out to be dead wrong, but I still appreciated the affirmation at the time. He meant well. 

At the end of January, he put the watch on my wrist as I sat on the edge of my bed in my hotel room. It was a belated gift as we’d spent New Years’ with our respective girlfriends and families and hadn’t heard from each other at all. The award show in France was the last time I’d been anywhere near him, and we’d even fist bumped once we won. Still, in just the short span of time since that night, I’d come to miss him so dreadfully my stomach knotted violently as I sat with him now, blessed with his undivided attention. Plus, he hadn’t seen the tattoo of his eye on my inner arm yet, and it was a life-giving secret I’d try to keep to myself, as long as it made me feel so full. Like I’d stolen a piece of him to give me strength through my darkest days in this mental wilderness.

He was squatting before me and I was daring myself to meet his eyes. After adjusting the gorgeous leather-strapped timepiece with the blue steel embellishments, he dragged his hand down mine and absently played with my fingers. Old habits died hard. Or at least that’s the excuse I’d use after I did what I was planning to do. Before he could get up, I grabbed ahold of his jaw and planted my lips to his, exhaling through my nose in such relief that I nearly passed out. The connection was the sweetest jolt of my life. Birds twittered around in my head. I was transported to flowery meadow in the dead of summer. I could feel the sunlight on my face. The wind whispering through my hair. The timing had been impeccable. He didn’t push me away as quickly as I thought he would. Instead, he let me have my moment, and even let me get in a few desperate pecks afterwards, telling him how much I needed him. 

With that, he set his head to mine in a contemplative gesture. I didn’t know what he was thinking, but I knew he was trying to temper the urges that were compelling me to jump him like a mad man.

“Baby…” I whispered, clawing at his shoulders, burying my face in the crook of his neck. I think he understood how difficult it was for me to let go, because he allowed me to hold him as long as I pleased, even though he was careful to not lead me on further. When we parted, he kissed my nose, and it was a surprising and almost paternal gesture. One of pity that unleashed a bleakness in my soul I’d feel for days on end. I’d officially been friend-zoned. Even worse, he’d treated me like a dorky little brother who was only a fraction of my age. He had all but patted my head and told me to be a good boy while he ventured off to be with his other adult friends.

“Youh feel soh gud babe,” I breathed, pressing my face into his stomach as he stood. I hugged him around the waist, clingy as fuck. “Youh make me feel soh gud.”

“I’m glad you’re doing ok. I was worried about you for a minute there. You’ve been losing weight again.”

“Yeah, well…” I sat up, allowing my hands to drop away from him. “Getting’ dumped by Thee Harry Styles’ll do that to youh…”

“Z…”

“It’s okay. We don’t have to talk about it.”

“Y’sure?”

“Yeah….” I bit my lip. “I love me watch, though. It’s badass, broh.”

“I thought you’d like it,” he laughed, ruffling my hair.

“How’s things with…”

“She’s good, y’know. We have fun together. I’m telling you she’s not like how people think she is. She surprises me every time we hang out. You’d have a blast with her too.”

“Glad someone’s havin’ fun between the two of us then.”

“How’s Pez?”

“Great,” I shrugged with a dry chuckle. “Doing well, maan. I’ll tell her youh asked about her, how’s that?”

“Please do.” He started to move away, but I gently grabbed ahold of his hand.

“Hey…”

“Hey,” he uttered, letting his fingers go limp in my grasp. I pulled him back down to me and he allowed it. Now he was hovering in my face, waiting on me to say something. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the sheen of his honeyed lips. The mole like a stubborn drip of ink planted beside them. The candy green eyes and their loveless stare. Why didn’t he love me? Why were we over? I wasn’t finished yet. I kissed him again and this time he pulled away. 

“Youh ever think we could’ve made it?” I asked, growing red with embarrassment for being snubbed. “Like…if things had been different?”

“Maybe…” he sat down beside me. “But things’d have to be super different. I mean like, we’d need different personalities entirely, mate.”

“True,” I laughed. “We’re just not cut out for this sort of thing.”

” At least not with each other anyway. I think we’d do alright on our own…with other people.”

“It hurts soh much to agree with that…”

“If it’s any consolation…” he began, toying with the stretch of sheet between us; not meeting my eyes. “I still love you. I’ll always love you, Z.”

“Noh, babe,” I said slowly, eyes welling with tears that I didn’t want him to see. “That’s really noh consolation at all. It only makes me want youh more.”

“Yeah…”

“Yeah.”

“You never know…maybe one day we could be together again? Like way, way, way, down the line. Uh…no bullshit. No girls, no games. Just us.”

“Oh yeah?”

“For real. It’d take a lot of time though. The band would have to be long gone. We’d have to be pretty old too, to make it work. We’re too relevant now. Between the fans and the press and our exes, we’d be eaten alive day in and day out. Never granted a moment’s peace.”

“Then it’d have to be love on the run…or at least…that’s what we had before.” I gave him a crooked smile, grabbing the back of his neck and pulling him over to me. Kissing his temple and then his hair.

**********

“You’ve ruined it, haven’t you?!” Louis cried when Lou Teasdale gasped and said ‘Oh shit!’ He went to reach for the large handheld mirror but she wouldn’t allow him to have it.

“Zayn! Help me out, here!” she cried, lunging across the hotel room and stuffing the thing in my hands. Then she tried to get him to sit back down in the stylist chair.

“You’re all gud, broh. It’ looks gud, I promise!” That was a lie. His hair looked a train wreck. Somehow she’d managed to trim a bit too much off the front and it wouldn’t flip up the way he wanted it too. She knew he’d have a proper strop about it if she let him lay eyes on it before the mistake was righted.

“Think we’ll win anythin’ tonight?” I asked, hoping to distract him.

“Of course, mate. Our fans are so badass. There’s no way they’re letting us walk out of their emptyhanded. Not a chance! Even if they have to hack the voting system, they’ll make sure we win.”

“True, true.”

“I heard Beyonce’s performing—”

“Soh sick right?! I’m stoked to see that. She’s a mindblowin’ performer.” I broke out singing “XO” and Lou joined me briefly as she used a circular brush on his flattened bangs.

“Niallar oughtta be glad Ellie’s performing too.”

“Yeah,” I chuckled, clapping. “That oughtta to be fun to watch.”

“Nothing beats Imagine Dragons from the AMAs though—”

“Oh broh, what’s the one song they did—”

Radioactive—”

“Fuck yes. I can’t stop singin’ that. The minute I hear the hook it gets stuck in me head.”

“That’s a proper tune, my friend. Haven’t heard anything like it in years.”

“It’s super, like…atmospheric. Wouldn’t it be amazin’ if we could write somethin’ like that?”

“I think we could, to be honest. But the question is if the label would allow us to actually use it. Chances are they wouldn’t.”

“Forgot about dat,” I chuckled. “They do have a particular sound they like, don’t they?”

“Nothing wrong with a little evolution every now and then, but they act like they’re allergic to change.”

“That’s why I don’t even bother most of the time, broh. I know anythin’ I come up with will be vetoed in a heartbeat.”

“Aw, mate, you should still give it a go sometime. I’d love to hear something you come up with. Still got time before the next album is underway. Think about it, Zayn, mate. I’m down to write whenever you want to—”

“What’s this now? Gone and made plans to collab with Zayn without me?!” Liam cried, entering the room and being the only one fully dress and ready to go.

“Pipe down, Payno,” Louis said in his nasally way. “M’just invintin Zayn here to join us sometimes. Imagine what’d happen if we all put our heads together?”

“Zayn’d write about sex and get us fired straight away. That’s what’d happen, mate. You know it as well as I do!”

“Broh, m’sittin’ right here??” I punched him in the rib and he doubled over. “I’m deep maan. I don’t only write about sex, y’know?”

“Well what else do you write about then?” Lou interjected, swishing her fingers around Louis’ bangs.

“I write about anal sex too. I like the butt stuff, maan. See, I’m hella versatile, broh.” They all collectively laughed, then Louis tossed a comb over at me.

“I thought you were going somewhere wholesome for a minute there!”

“Zayn can never be wholesome,” Payno laughed, headed back out of the room.

“Wait!” Lou shrieked, yanking Louis’ head back by a brush full of hair.

“You might as well just let me see it! I’m not going anywhere if it looks horrible. Zayn, mate, you can tell me the truth. How’s it look?”

“You’ll be alright, broh. Let her take her time with it. Stop cryin, yeah? You’ll be done in noh time.”

“Thanks, Zayn…” she muttered, shears in her mouth, still trying to use product to hide the bits that were too short.

“You’re the only one I trust to cut my hair, Lou, now you’ve gone and destroyed that bond,” he went on. “How dare you? You’re fired!”

“How many times have youh been fired by now?” I laughed. We all fired her anytime she screwed up or our looks were left wanting.

“Too many too count. It’s abuse at this point!” she slung a can of hairspray around his head with a dramatic flare, creating a dense cloud of product, to which Louis began coughing dramatically and fanning it away. Eventually he flatlined, allowing his head to slam onto the table.

Heyyyyy! Watch it!” she cried, picked up makeup pallets and brushes that when flying upon impact. “Get outta me chair! You’re done here!”

“Thank fuck!” he got up and ran to me and snatched the mirror from my hands. The second he laid eyes on himself, he screamed, threw the mirror onto the bed and stumbled out of the room.

“Great,” I sighed. “Now he’s gonna spend another 1 and 45 minutes in the mirror trying to fix it.”

“Let him. I’ve done with it.” I understood her frustration all too well, as Louis had always been the boy the who acted the most particular about his hair. People always assumed it was me because I was thought to be the vain one, but in reality I fussed much less often about my hair and was usually satisfied with whatever creation Lou had come up with for the occasion. As I moved over towards Caroline’s side of the suite, Haz arrived with Niall who was on crutches after knee surgery. The latter was fully dressed and threatening to rip the towel off the former who was completely naked under it. He nearly lost a crutch a time or two, but quit while he was ahead and walked away laughing hysterically. Not before I pretended to kick the crutch out from under him first.

Haz had come straight out of the shower next door and walked over to get his hair dressed. I was finishing up getting clothed as Caroline worked on my jacket which had lost a button, so I had a front row seat to watching him get his hair styled just like I had with Louis. Only this time the show was far more enjoyable. His shoulder blades looked amazing, flexing anytime he moved. His arms were lovely, all muscular and inked and still a bit tanned from summer. I texted him how gorgeous he looked, but that was probably a mistake. He looked down at the phone, read my message, but didn’t respond. Neither did he turn around and look at me at any point we were in the room together. Eventually I left and decided to swing back around for my jacket after he’d gone.

The car ride was nearly silent, as I’d been paired off with he and Niall. Niall spoke up occasionally, but I could tell because I was there Haz was withholding a lot. It’s like he didn’t want me to see him being at ease or normal. Always putting on an act of somberness around me and I couldn’t understand why. Why wasn’t he elated that I’d let him go? Wasn’t that the point of all this? For us to be happy without each other? Wasn’t that the only path forward at this point? I had accepted that, but why couldn’t he? Did he not want me to accept it so easily? Did he want me to fight for him? To chase him? I was so fucking confused I could scream. 

The show was amazing, even better than last year. He and I sat as far away from each other as possible at our table and joked with Corden a few times when he came over to sit for a few on-camera bits. Of course, he brought up the Biebs and roasted him for getting arrested last month, which was kind of hilarious. The prison rape joke was low hanging fruit in my opinion and a bit uncouth, but it still cracked everyone up so it was a good time. There was loads of booze on the table so it was difficult not to indulge, but I bided my time and thought I’d go for a nightcap later. I wanted to be as lucid as possible to read everything that went on between Haz and I, both spoken and implicit.

He looked at me onstage for a brief moment while giving his speech and my world stopped. We were the only two people in the room. He’d been in the toilet and had to run to catch up with us onstage. Now he made a little joke about the toilets being ages away and looked me dead in the eye. As if he felt I was the only person in that room who’d understand his plight. It was insanely good to have him acknowledge me of his own volition and not because I’d done something desperate to gain his attention.

During a post-show interview when we had gathered backstage in the press room, I’d been itching to get close to him all day. He hardly came near me for the most part, opting to keep Liam between us, but I looked over at him anytime I could do so without being conspicuous. It was pathetic, truth be told, but these little moments with him were all I had left. All ties had been leveled and I was no better than Louis in his eyes at this point. Quite far below Niall, and even stationed somewhere below Liam.

When I saw him coming forward to return his mic to one of the showrunners off to the side of the little platform, my hand was drawn to his thigh. There was nothing sexual about it, just a need to feel him again. And his thigh was the most inconspicuous place I could get to in that particular instance. It required a fluid motion. As he swept past me, my hand landed on his leg and lingered until he was out of reach again. I became physically pained by the separation, but also triumphed that my strategy had worked. Still, it didn’t move him to become more tender. Stoic Haz was here to stay, and it was best I got used to him. From the looks of it, this was gonna be a long fucking year, and I had no choice but to get over any hopes we could ever be anything more.

On my way out of the press room, a beautiful woman in a black dress dress pulled me aside. Haz glanced back briefly but eventually kept going. I was sure she was one of the showrunners looking to redirect me to another interview, but she surprised me when she urged me in front of a pudgy faced British-Pakistani dude. Apparently, he was a well-known producer and DJ who’d been dying to meet me once he found out there was another Pakistani was in the room. He was puffing on a big ass cigar, only withdrawing it and holding it aside as I approached. To tell the truth, I was dumbfounded, but impressed by his swag. Now the woman lifted a hand, bracelets glinting in the low backstage lighting, and introduced us.

“Shahid, this is Zayn Malik of One Direction. Zayn, I’d like you to meet Shahid Khan, best known by everyone around here as Naughty Boy.”

(Thanks for reading! ❤️)

I’ll be back after the holidays with new chapters. So hopefully January 2nd, and then we’ll be wrapping up the book shortly after that! 🙂

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