Neon Red – Chapter 43

(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.)


On the sheet I see your horizon

All of me pressed onto you,

But in this light, you look like Poseidon

I’m just a ghost you walk right through

Sufjan Stevens | All Of Me Wants All Of You

Tucked away in a cab, headed home from the studio on my last day before joining the team in Colombia, I rode through West London at dusk. I was too high to even look at my phone and entertain myself on the ride. My thoughts were too preoccupied with other things anyway. Plus, the battery was dying, so it was best that I preserved it until I go home to a charger. For now, I had no choice but to trust the driver with my life, as the brain fog overtaking me was absurd. Had he asked, I couldn’t even tell him my own last name. Shahid smoked potent shit.

The crowds were thinning out around this way. London still got pretty cool at night, so similar to my thinking, most pedestrians had opted to wear jackets. As we swept along, I noticed the outdoor cafes were all closed. Traces of rain still lingered about from an earlier shower, and I spotted people sidestepping the puddles in the pavement. As we trudged along, I tossed my head back to relax, still with forty minutes to go on the ride home. It was then that I spotted a familiar peacoat, a fraction of a second before I shit my eyes. Crisp. Vintage. Navy blue. I followed the golden buttons up the torso to examine the face of the owner as we passed. My jaw dropped.

Haz had emerged from a shop and was now walking swiftly against the direction of the traffic, headed down the road from which I’d come. If I kept going as I was and didn’t stop to see where he turned next, I’d lose sight of him for good and it would haunt me the rest of the night. Without thought, I yelled at the driver to stop. He took his sweet fucking time about it too, reluctant to lose the fare from the full ride back to North London. For that, I estimated the amount of the full fare and tossed it onto the front seat and dipped. It was more than enough to cover my ride. Probably twice over.

I sprinted across a few lanes of traffic, as he had literally let me off in the middle of a main road, then landed within a few yards of where I last saw Haz. Like a deranged bloodhound, I sniffed the air, stupidly of the mind that I could follow traces of his cologne to gauge his location. All I smelled was a nearby pizzeria. Becoming desperate, I shouldered a few people out of my way before they could recognize me. I also tossed up my hood and kept it drawn low to avoid being identified.

Peering ahead, my heart leapt into my throat when he emerged from another little boutique, having apparently been chatting with the owners. It was obvious that he frequented this neighborhood, something I hadn’t known about before. By force of habit, his name leapt to my lips. I wanted call out and get his attention, but the other pedestrians deterred me, as did the fact that I hadn’t spoken with him properly in about two weeks. Nothing more than monosyllabic utterances at rehearsals and a few shared laughs at things the other boys did or said. Nothing personal between us. I’d have no clue what to say to him right now if he turned back. We were as good as strangers, and worse yet, he was disenchanted with me and everything we’d shared. He’d found something new with someone he deemed spectacular in his mind, and as a result, I was a forgotten thing he seemed embarrassed to have known. Therefore, if I had no intentions of speaking to him, what the fuck was I doing? Did I intend to follow him all the way to his next destination in a disturbing stalkery silence? Like some sort of mangy stray dog? But why did the thought of trailing him feel so comforting? So right? I had no idea where I was or where I was going, but as long as his lean, self-assured figure was strutting in front of me, gently greeting passersby and coughing into the side of his fist occasionally, I felt more at peace than I had in months.

Wait…was I stalking him?? Holy fuck, I was! I was actually stalking my ex. Had it really come to this? Zayn fucking Malik, reduced to a stalker?? What on earth was wrong with me?? And no matter how undignified or humiliating or ludicrous I knew I looked, I couldn’t bring myself to stop. Some force beyond my control compelled me forward, step by step, until I was nearly sprinting after him. His long, athletic stride always meant that he moved faster than me, and this time was no exception. Finally, we bent a corner and he stopped to speak with a street artist who offered to draw his caricature. He declined, but donated more than the cost of the painting to his cause. I had nearly been caught then, as my instinct was to follow him around the corner, not knowing he had paused just out of sight. Luckily, I saw his reflection in the side of a red van, and it let me know to ease up and linger until he took off again. I ducked behind a newsstand and pretended to read a magazine. Shit I was too good at this. I even pinched a pair of cheap biker shades at the same stand before heading on again. They were ugly, but dark enough to do the trick and disguise my eyes.

Tripping down a steep decline after I bent the corner, since I was still high as shit, I straightened up in time to see him dip off into yet another building. This time it was a restaurant. I crossed the street in haste, hoping not to be seen in case he reemerged again, but several minutes passed and there were no signs of him. That could only mean he had chosen this place for dinner and wouldn’t be out for a while. Great. Fucking great.

So what now? I couldn’t exactly wait around without a car or bike or purpose for being here while he ate. It was a nice place too, so he’d probably be there for a while and likely wasn’t eating alone. Just my shitty luck that he was headed to dinner the one time I decided to stalk him around town. This street was quiet, thankfully, and not too many people passed by or glanced in my direction. After a while of kicking around outside a closed coffee shop, I got up the nerve to cross back over and enter the restaurant. Ballsy, but necessary.

It was a shadowy, low-key little Italian joint called Twelve Tables. As I entered the foyer, which was heavily sequestered from the main dining room by large plants and strung vines and a beaded portiere, a gorgeous Italian bird with a short haircut and purple dye-job asked me how many needed to be seated. I said one. She offered to let me sit at the bar, but I declined, stating I’d like a booth instead. Now she grabbed a couple of menus and lead the way behind the noisy curtain, and I did a rapid scan of the room to ensure I wouldn’t be seen by my stalkee. He was seated at a round table off at the left flank of the room, engrossed in his phone. I was delivered to a booth for two a good distance behind him, closer to the kitchen and the hall that housed the restroom. It was perfect. He couldn’t see me, thanks to the high latticework walls of the booth, but I could see him since he was out in the open and facing away from me. Perhaps luck was on my side after all?

I refused to remove my glasses to avoid being recognized. I also refused to try the night’s featured wine, but drank the ice water offered and ordered a plate of alfredo so the staff wouldn’t get suspicious. As I waited for my food to arrive, they brought over warm bread and salad, which I tore into, not realizing how hungry I’d been. He ate the exact same starters as I did, but midway though, a tall blonde dude stepped into the place and Haz waved him over. Almost immediately, I was suspicious of their relationship. I hadn’t seen him before, so I knew this couldn’t be pertaining to work since we shared the same assignment. I tried to work out if he might’ve been from the label, since I knew Haz was fond of networking with big wigs, like he’d done with Rob Stringer, but I couldn’t place him from any of our meetings with either Syco or Columbia Records.

They chopped it up after ordering their food, and laughed loads. Evidently, they were quite chummy, as they were the liveliest two in the room, their voices filling the place and at times drowning out the old Italian opera that played. At last, my food arrived, but before I could dig into it, Haz shot up, walking backwards for a minute as he finished a thought he was sharing with the other guy, then turned around and headed in my direction. Reflexively, I took the shades off to avoid appearing conspicuous, and bent my head over the bowl of alfredo, eating like there was no tomorrow. Hoping he’d be disinterested in some random bloke pigging out in the back of the room like a creep.

Oh thank fuck, I sighed in relief when he chose instead to flirt with a server that landed in his way on his path to the bathroom. And just like that, he was out of sight, and I could relax. Good lord, this whole thing fucked. What was I thinking?? I needed to leave now before my cover was blown and he lost all respect for me. I had absolutely no purpose for being here, and things were getting more dicey the longer I stuck around. Plus, the alfredo was giving me a stomachache. Far too much dairy.

In case he looked over at me on his way back to his table, I pulled the jacket up around the back of my neck to hide the tip of the fantail bird tattoo. Then I waited, since it was the only choice I had left, apart from running from the building in an inexplicable panic, which would have been ideal because remaining where I sat was beyond fucking reckless. I wasn’t sure if it was the weed I’d smoke earlier or my own raging emotions and the general boredom I experienced whenever I left Shahid’s place, but the danger of what I was doing and the risk of being caught thrilled me to death.

When he came out, he slipped past me without incident, and I didn’t know if I was disappointed or relieved. Perhaps a small part of me wanted to be caught by him so that he would curse me out or show any emotion towards me in the least, unlike the cold indifference I’d been served since November. Once enough time had passed, I peered out around the booth like I had all night, and my soul nearly left my body. How had I lost sight of him and miscalculated things that fast? He hadn’t gone back to his table at all. Instead, he was stood a few feet away from my booth chatting with another server, now facing in my direct. The minute I poked my head out, he spotted me. The expression that crossed his face upon recognizing me was at first total bafflement, ranging towards utter disbelief, then looping back again to the realization that I was a sick and depraved motherfucker. That he’d actually been followed here.

When he finished speaking with the server about the best in-house flavors of gelato they offered, he excused himself from his dinner partner one last time and came over to join me. Heat shot up the back of my neck and stung at the tips of my ears like an allergic reaction. I counted the seconds until came and sat across from me, like an inmate on death row being led towards the kill chamber in the wee hours. The alfredo was my final meal and had lost all its flavor in a heartbeat. My last words wouldn’t formulate coherently enough to share them with the executioner. I now realized the mortification of the reality of being caught trumped all thrill the fantasy may have offered. In defeat, I rested my face in my hands and shut my eyes.

“Are you absolutely out of your mind…?” he said under his breath as he sat down. There was nothing humorous about his tone. I sensed pity instead. Repulsion even. “Zayn, look at me.”

“Noh…I can’t. I’ll fuckin’ disintegrate. I’m soh fuckin’ embarrassed right now.”

“Then why’d you do it? How did you even do it? How did you know where I was?” He deserved answers, and it was selfish to think about my own humiliation right now. I needed to assure him he was safe and that I hadn’t planned this. With an exaggerated sigh of surrender, I dragged my hands away from my face and met his eyes. They were flinty and determined. Potentially a little freaked out, but he was trying to hide how scared he was right now. It had really come to that. Me scaring the daylights out of him with how insane I could be.

“It’s not like that, Haz,” I started carefully, toying with my fork and forgotten alfredo. “I didn’t actually plan this. Any of it. It just happened.”

Just happened??” he scoffed, reminding himself to keep quiet mid-sentence. He lowered his voice and leaned across the table, forcing me to break eye contact. It hurt too much to see him so disgusted by me. “It just fucking happened, Zayn? Shit like this doesn’t just happen. You don’t just accidentally stalk someone. What the fuck are you doing here??”

“I don’t know!” I shouted, in such an overpowering frustration that I accidentally bit my tongue. With that, my shame only intensified.

“Keep your fucking voice down or I swear to god—” he hissed, never completing the thought.

“I’m sorry, Haz…”

“Not good enough. I want answers.”

“I was just in the neighborhood at a studio…headed home, and I saw youh. And for some reason, sumthin made me leap out of the car and follow. I just couldn’t help myself, broh. I swear to youh that’s all that happened.” After years of studying his body language and his every micro-expression, I could detect the instant he relaxed a little. Only a little. It would seem he was comforted by the notion that I’d just been in the neighborhood. Coincidence was better than me stalking his calls or emails and following him to all his meetings.

“Fuck’s sake…this is insane,” he breathed, looking off to the side in indecision. Jaw clenching. He was holding back so much.

“M’sorry, broh. I wans’t tryin’ to weird youh out or anyhin'” I rubbed my temple. “I think maybe I just wanted to say somethin’ to ya…that’s all. It’s been soh long since we just had a conversation…like, face-to-face. Everythin’ with us just seemed to stop soh abruptly last yearh. It’s been an adjustment for me…to say the least.”

“I know….” he conceded quietly. “And I’m, uh, sorry about how rapidly things changed. But…sometimes it’s just better that way…” he met my eyes and furrowed his brow a little.

A hopeful man might’ve detected a hint of regret in his tone and manner, but I was smart enough not to be optimistic where we were concerned. I’ve given up all hope two months into our separation when I finally realized this wasn’t a passing phase and he really meant business. He was truly over me and had been enraptured by someone else and there was no changing that, no matter how many song links I texted him. Together he and Kendall were the talk of the town and had been for months. The media was having a field day spinning stories about them and their countless dates. What he’d become with her was something he and I had never been: sensational. If this kid liked anything more than music, it was being talked about and adored. His setup with Kendall was a win-win. He got to be with one of the hottest most relevant about females in Hollywood, and he’d also gotten rid of the burden that was me. His painful little secret. His sicko. His unrelenting captor, and apparently the Stockholm syndrome had finally worn off.

(Thanks for reading!❤️)

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