Neon Red – Chapter 59

(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.)

**********

I love you in a place, where there’s no space or time

Donny Hathaway | A Song For You

All three of us had passed out. I stirred awake, only barely able to open my eyes. The air no longer reeked of sweat and sex, thank God, but it was pitch black, as all the candles had burned out and the screens were down in place, shrouding us from all sides. I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, but took note that she was lying between us, her hair was falling over my shoulder. Without thought, I crawled over her, fumbling for him in the dark out of habit. When I found his warmth, I stretched out atop him like he was my own personal body pillow. He awakened of course, and fell with me over onto his side, facing away from her. Without speaking, we drifted and slept face-to-face.

By morning she was gone, having been dismissed while I was out. There was no need for me to meet her. This had all been strictly business, and I had no interest in looking her in the eye anyway. Things were beginning to feel normal again, and for that I was grateful. The sacrosanct intimacy he and I normally shared was restored in our aloneness. Although it had been exhilarating to defy that bond for a while, I was elated once we got the opportunity to spend the rest of the morning accounting for those stolen moments with strangers. One of his favorite playlists crooned across the room, and I blinked at the ceiling, absorbing Donny Hathaway’s “A Song For You.”

He eventually stirred and I turned to him, placing tons of tender, feather-soft kisses on his face and body, coaxing him back to life. His whimpers gave me butterflies. They were weak and sleepy. He was softening for me again. No longer the stoic, merciless beast who’d had his way with me only hours before, devouring me among a horde of drooling strangers. Madness. Pure madness.

“Wake up, baby,” I whispered. He was squinty-eyed and barely there. Hair tousled. Lips swollen. “Hey…? Hey gorgeous…look at me. You’re soh, soh beautiful. Look at youh…”

He sighed.

“Hey, sweetheart…I’ve been waitin’ on youh. I want youh soh bad. Please make love to me again…”

“Hey…” he finally offered a weary smile, barely opening his eyes. “I’m too jetlagged, Malik…”

“Lazy sex is fine by me…”

He chuckled, shoving me over so he could lay atop my belly, kissing and tracing the welts left behind by the flogger.

“I can’t believe he hit you,” he grumbled. “I wanted to kill him…”

“It’s okay…I kinda liked it, not gonna lie. I also liked youh protectin’ me like that. It all sort of added to…the beautiful craze of the moment.”

“How y’feeling?”

Amazing. Weak in the knees. Super rested. Super horny. Super cared for. Waiting for youh to touch me all over…”

“I’m glad. That’s all I wanted…to take care of you.”

“I’ll never forget last night…”

“That was the idea.”

I rubbed my nipples, reminiscing on the saccharine bliss of it all. Recalling a faceless female who had sucked and nibbled on them without end. Thanks to her they were a bit tender now, but that was perfectly fine. I welcomed battle scars. And I couldn’t stop touching myself. I would’ve pulled at my dick too if he weren’t lying atop it.

“I can’t get enough…”

“Neither can I,” he murmured, blowing into my navel. “It can’t be healthy for us…”

“Maybe not. Or perhaps we’re built for it, yeah? We’re pretty fuckin’ nasty, babe.” We laughed. I swirled my fingers around his hair as he dozed again.

“Hey, uh, I was thinkin’…y’sure we’ll be okay after this?” Truth be told, I hadn’t realized how traumatized I was from the aftermath of Paris last year. It emerged at the worst possible times, like right now when I was trying to chill with him and ease my mind. “What if, like, this becomes Paris Part 2? With loads of unforeseeable shit ahead…”

It won’t, trust me. The beauty of this arrangement is that only people who have a lot to lose can afford a membership to this place. I only got mine for you. I wanted to experience it with you, and, uh, I doubt I’ll ever come back. But, uh, the people who joined us where regulars. The bloke who sucked your toes? Yeah, can you believe he’s like a minor prince or something? Got a thing for feet, I guess. Remember Kateřina? Well, she an heiress, mate. The daughter of the head of some, uh, global media conglomerate. If any of her after-hour escapades ever got out to the press, it would ruin her entire family. Generations and generations of wealth and prestige and power. She would never risk it to hold something so petty over our heads. Many of them have a lot more to lose than the two of us combined. We’re just musicians, mate. They’re all, like, politicians and clergy and business owners and so on. So don’t worry, we’re safe. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have brought you here.”

“Holy shit, that’s mental. Look at youh…you’re a bad maan. Where’d youh even get the balls, huh? Big up yourself! I can’t believe youh did all this for me.”

“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you…”

“Oh yeah? Then come shower with me.”

In the shower, I washed his hair and he washed mine. He slowly drug his fingers down my face, making my lips pop open. He did it again and again, eyes half-lidded, battling a leftover high. I traced his eyebrows and lips, becoming reacquainted with his features after they’d been masked or hidden in shadows the night before. Before I knew it, he’d caught a bit of water in his mouth and squirted it onto my face with a lazy chuckle. Now he grabbed me up all of a sudden, slinging me upside down and forcing me to beg for mercy. I laughed uncontrollably, bracing my hands against the floor while he tickled my ass cheeks. As I slinked down onto the granite, he helped me to my feet, and I wrapped my arms around his waist, resting against his chest for a while. Letting the warm water flow over us in this immaculate calm.

Clean of the residue of other people, I started in on him, unable to resist this beast of a man who’d awakened me to a whole new realm of inconceivable pleasure and delicious torment. Before going down on him, I pressed my lips to his ear and whispered, “I love youh…” He took my face between his hands and kissed me dizzy.

At an empty diner in a nearby village, we entered with sunglasses securely in place. We were both in tuxes, opting to leave the jackets in the car with the driver to avoid unneeded attention. We sat in a booth at the back of the room and an old, busty woman arrived to take our orders, barely speaking any English. She only understood the menu. As she left to prepare our breakfast, I watched him gaze out the window at nothing in particular. The only car out front was our driver, and he had been instructed to chill while we scarfed down a few pancakes.

“Bein’ out in the open like this… I can’t even look at youh anymore,” I grinned. “It’ll be weird for a while.”

“But why?”

“Because…” Damn, I really hoped I wasn’t blushing or some shit. “Everythin’ that happened was soh wild…”

“Wait, somethin’ happened? When?”

“Haz…c’mon, maan.”

“What happened?? I thought we just went for dinner and slept together?”

“Noh…we did things…”

“What kind of things?”

“Broh, look, I’m not playin these mind games with youh, alright? You’re sick.”

“What games?!” he hissed, trying to keep his voice low.

“Wait…what the fuck?? Are youh actually bein’ serious right now? Do youh seriously not remember any of it??”

“Remember what, Z?! What the fuck happened?!”

“Oh my fuckin’ god…what did youh take??” I panicked, snatching my glasses off. “I knew sumthin’ was off. I thought youh were actin’ super weird last night—” He burst out laughing.

“Mate, I’m just fucking with you! You should see your face! Hahahaha!”

“Lousey bastard! I was soh sacred. I thought someone roofied youh!”

“Fuck’s sake, how could I be roofied?? We were just at talking about everything when we woke up!” I liked the sound of that: When we woke up. Together, together, together. 

“I don’t fuckin’ know, I was just super confused!”

“Look, I’m just breaking the ice so you won’t be too nervous to look me in the eye anymore.”

“Well, mission accomplished, because now all I see when I look at youh is an idiot.”

“An adorable idiot?”

“After last night? Hell noh. More like a depraved idiot.”

“Ouch.”

“Youh deserve it,” I laughed. “Seriously though, babe. It was lit. Best. Valentine’s. Day. Ever.” He smiled sleepily, rubbing a hand down his face, then muttered something about it being a gift for both our birthdays and V-day combined.

“Despite all those people,” he began, sometime later. “Last night only made it clear to me how much I love you. Seriously, Z. There’s nothing like this feeling in the world. I really, really love you mate. So much. I don’t think I can take it anymore.”

My heart skipped a beat, unsure of how to respond to such an earnest declaration. I reached across the table and stroked his fingers, stunned by his frankness and fumbling for an adequate reply. Still, there was something worryingly odd about him today. Like there was a lot more he wasn’t saying. I’d make it my business to spend the rest of the day trying to find out what.

“I love youh, too, okay?” I said at last, twisting his fingers around in mine. He nodded, then continued his daydream out of the window, lids drooping. When we got back to the hotel, we packed hurriedly before catching a private jet to London.

**********

June 2018

New Hope, Pennsylvania

Spring came and went, becoming the highlight of the year for me. I got out of New York for a while and did some soul-searching in Florida. During my time in downtown Miami leading up to the release of my new single, the fans kept track of my progress and vibed to the little impromptu offerings I gave each day, which typically consisted of selections from my collection of poetry, as well as a few covers and improvisations with the guitar. I later filmed my first two music videos around town and at a beachside rental, then took care of my publicity in the most unconventional way I could think of at the time. G and I staged a temporary breakup for the press, with official Twitter statements and all, succeeding in getting the internet buzzing about us for a few weeks.

What I hadn’t anticipated was the outpouring of love, which left me guiltier than hell. The public sincerely lamented what she and I had lost, clueless as to the bane our relationship had become behind the scenes. I was a literal prisoner where her and her mum were concerned, and she was off sleeping with some African dude who could probably snap me in half if I stepped to him wrong. I wasn’t in the mood to defend her honor anyway. The ship accounts also knew nothing of the extortion or how much my being with her tormented one of the biggest popstars on the planet, who was patiently waiting on me to make a definitive move in his direction. Since they didn’t know any of this, they blindly rooted for us to get back together and mourned every second of the separation. After the split was announced, we must’ve trended on Twitter for a month straight. The tweets and tags and mentions were non-stop. So were the gut-wrenching breakup videos. Collages and compilations of all our best moments; mostly corny, staged photo-ups from 2016 when we were at our best and having a mutual love affair with the LA paparazzi. 

In the midst of the hype, I released my lead single for my debut album called “Let Me”, announcing it on the anniversary of “Sign Of The Times.” Everyone assumed it was about G as planned, despite the song having been penned in 2014 long before I met her. Haz expressed disgust when I informed him the breakup had been staged and that she and I would be linking back up again in April for appearances’ sake. He told me I needed to fire my PR team because I was only paying someone to help me make a fool of myself while cheapening my career. He also scolded me for not finding a more creative way to promote my work this year, and said he was done caring. 

He later apologized, but it stung to know he was mostly right. My team was corroding from the inside out between both the label and the new management. They couldn’t wrap their heads around my refusal to promote the music through traditional means or perform live, despite how badly I wanted to. I’d also been hyping the fans up about live shows on IG around that time, yet eventually backed down from those sorts of promises when I saw they weren’t coming to fruition. At this point I was just making a liar of myself anytime I addressed my audience. Eventually my team sat me down and informed me I was squandering the opportunity of a lifetime and burning many professional bridges in the process. I told them there was nothing I could do about the situation now, so why cry over spilled milk? Ultimately, I believe we just had different visions for my career path, everyone else essentially wanting far more for me than I seemed to want for myself. So sometime after the new single dropped in April, my manager Sarah Stennett and all of First Access Entertainment immediately dropped me.

Nothing could’ve made her stay apart from me signing a contract for a major arena tour, which she’d already drawn up with the approval of RCA. I refused to sign, knowing it would lead to a lawsuit later when I started dropping out of shows, and that’s when she told me good luck, but that she was done. She wouldn’t stick around to see my star fading, not when it was inflicted prematurely by my own hands. She expressed that it was heartbreaking for her to leave me behind and take on new, more willing artists, but said she could no longer take responsibility for me sabotaging my own career. 

That shit cut deep because I had no rebuttal. Me doing things my way in this industry seemed to be falling apart more and more by the day. There were obligations I had with the label that I simply couldn’t meet for the sake of my mental health, and neither were they willing to let me out of my contract without a lawsuit for breaching it. They’d bankrupt me if I weren’t careful with how I navigated this. And all because I couldn’t get my ass on stage and promote my own shit. What was wrong with me? I was sick of asking myself that question over and over again. I told myself somedays I would perform live and truly believed it in the threads of my heart. Gassing myself up in the mirror. Leaving myself encouraging voicenotes to encourage me when I was unconfident in the future. I’d even gotten up the nerve to hire a badass band with two chicks who played the drums and guitar better than any man I’d known. And although our chemistry had been electric in rehearsals, I couldn’t quite bring myself to book any real gigs. With Sarah gone, I was adrift. Entirely lost and on my own, but grateful T was still around to handle the things in her purview, as well as G at times. Haz was off making his own dreams come true and I didn’t want to put my shit on his plate while the world was his oyster. I needed to swallow this one for now.

I kept looking up stadiums shows of major artists like Bieber and Kanye and The Weeknd, and while at times it indeed looked enviable, I also kept cringing at the thought of that being me up there, struggling to sing on key and forced to make the occasional corny joke. I just couldn’t do it. Not now, not yet. Not even something small, because it seemed that the fewer the eyes present, the more laser-focused and closeup the attention would be on me. Somehow I felt a small, intimate gig would make me more nervous because of the proximity. Things like the Today Show and Good Morning America were totally out of the question as well, as the crowds would become earth-quakingly large and chaotic. They were only ever tolerable when I had the other boys with me and our chemistry became the security blanket we needed to get through those performances together.

I’d leave those sorts of gigs to the natural-born soul stirrers. The bona fide entertainers, like Haz. He was quite literally born for this shit, and had jumped out of the womb knowing how to serenade a crowd without training. He could facedown 20K people easily and have them all under his spell within minutes. It also helped that a majority of the media adored him, and that he had curated solid relationships with loads of important people in the industry over the years. Everyone was looking to do him a favor these days. Everyone only had good things to say about their encounters with him. So even if he was shit at his job, which he wasn’t because he was bloody brilliant on all fronts, the world was still willing to give him a pass and encourage him to do better the next time.

I, however, had pissed a ton of people off when I dipped from the band in 2015, both fans and media talking-heads alike. The only break I ever got from their vicious hit pieces brought on by my countless cheating scandals with Pez, was linking up with G and gifting them lucrative new stories every time she and I made a move in public. For that, many big wigs in the media had switched their opinions of me and become my biggest advocates. When I was with her, they mostly only pushed a positive perception of my character as one-half of arguably the most electric couple Hollywood in 2016. Our star had faded a bit by now since we’d been at this thing off and on for a few years, but I dreaded to think how they’d all treat me once she and I were done for good.

As far as I could see, Haz was a case study in overcoming social anxiety. A medical miracle. Sometimes he struck me as being an introvert who had somehow forced himself to become an extrovert in order to succeed. Like me, he had also vomited before shows and recoiled at the idea of being left onstage alone. Always fretting over getting it wrong. He also wasn’t as talkative as people assumed he would be just because he was charming. In fact, his ideal day was to chill at home in bed and catch up on sleep, like me, only visiting with friends on the rare occasion when we could convince ourselves to go be social. But he was a chameleon who bore the uncanny ability to become whatever was necessary to win over people and industries.

I was a victim of his wiles myself, but contentedly so. Wouldn’t change it for all the world. And I couldn’t help but think he held all the answers to me overcoming my stage fright and captivating a crowd no matter the size. Sometimes I watched the way he beguiled a crowd with so little effort and for the life of me couldn’t figure out where he’d gotten that sort of confidence and allure. He’d come so far from the dimply cheeked cherub of the early days who had trembled through his solos and needed me to poke him in the cheek to set him back on track. Somehow he had just gotten over it, and I envied him for that because he had left me behind. I’d been too embarrassed to mention my performance anxiety following the band, thinking he might hold it against me since I was so determined to go solo, only to wind up hiding and being unable to perform on my own. Some plan. 

Thankfully the American leg of his tour had finally begun, and he was headed my way for a three-day stop in PA. I’d been anticipating it for weeks now, ecstatic that for his first day here there was no show scheduled. That meant we would get to spend it together in a paradise of our own making. No appointments, no teams, no rules. Just us. As he had globe-trotted from one sold-out show to another, having the time of his life with his new band and his incredibly loyal and ever-growing fanbase, I’d been mostly on my own on at the farm, recording music for the upcoming record and enjoying the serenity of being away from New York for a while. Longing for him like crazy, as always. Tired of watching his shows night after night just to feel close to him. Nothing more than a glorified fan boy and a creep; not a long-term romantic partner. Surviving on photos and videos he sent me when he was fresh off stage, or if I was lucky, fresh out of the shower. To be honest, this long-distance shit was for the birds. I couldn’t wait till his tour ended so we could spend some serious alone time together; tucked away and OD’ing on one another.

**********

Once he left the main road at the sign I’d instructed him to, he’d be on my property from then on. I gave him the gate code to allow him access to the private dirt road for the rest of the drive. He was to take it as far as it ran, and would see nothing but acres and acres of rolling farmland for a while. I told him not to worry; that the main house would surface eventually. He was to keep driving until he saw an old rundown barn and a few giant metal silos, and then he’d know he was halfway to me. Finally, whenever things became more wooded and another more well-kept barn appeared, he had arrived. My place was at the end of the road, with no further access beyond that point since it was a dead end. Along it would sit a large, two-story timber and frame cottage, and I’d be out front waiting for him with cold beer.

It was afternoon when he arrived; the sky stark blue and cloudless. Perfect PA whether for an important visit. He parked the rented black Porsche Cayenne in the driveway near the four-car garage, before running over to me. We crashed mid-lawn and I squeezed him so hard his feet left the ground.

“Mate, fuck! It’s been ages!” he laughed, pressing his lips to mine.

“Centuries!”

Decades! Wait…centuries are longer than decades aren’t they?” We laughed, then he kissed me again. “Oh sorry, wait, wait wait—are we alone?”

“Totally.”

“Good…” he kissed me again and again, unable to stop grinning. “You have purple hair…”

“I do.”

“And loads of new tattoos…”

“Yup.”

“Holy shit I’ve missed you…”

“I’ve missed youh more, babe. I’ve been dyin’ for youh to get here. Up all night, just waitin’.” I squinted up at him through the sun once he stopped assailing my lips. “C’mon, let’s get inside! I’ve got sohhh much to show youh!”

I slapped his ass then grabbed his bag from the truck. I had cleaned the place up shortly before for his visit, as well cut the lawn with the rider mower, that way he’d get the best possible first impression. I gave him the grand tour of the place, which consisted of a huge living room with cathedral ceilings of timber, a rarely used formal dining room with marble floors and a long walnut table that T had found, the newly renovated kitchen with its state-of-the-art appliances and flatscreen TV, a few guest rooms, a game room, and a makeshift recording studio I’d made out of an office space that would’ve otherwise gone to waste.

“Mate, it’s sick! I love it! Super cozy. And it’s so you, but also kind of not you in a way? If that makes sense? No spraypainted walls?”

“Hah! Not this time. Not inside. I’ve got me barn for that.”

“It, uh…kind of reminds me a bit of the Lake District. Remember that one time we went…a few years ago?”

“Oh forh sure…how could I forget? That trip was pretty, um…shall we say: transformative forh me.”

“Yeah…but it’s not surprising you settled someplace like this, honestly,” he ruffled my flat hair, gazing up at the living room ceiling with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. “I guess, uh, you’re becoming a little hermit or something?”

“Yeah,” I toyed with the hem of my t-shirt. I was already eyeing his as one I wanted to steal and add to my stash. It was a dope Grateful Dead tee with a graphic of dancing bears like the ones on his ring. “G’s mum thought it’d be a good investment. The broker did too. It is, innit? I’m happy with it too. Got loads of plans for this place, broh. I’m thinkin’ of gettin’ some cows. Pretty sick, innit?”

“Good luck with that. I heard they shit a lot.”

“Yeah, like youh! At least we can use it for fertilizer,” I snickered.

“So, uh, was it also her mum’s idea for you to get that demonic looking cat—”

Dobby? Broh fuck all the way off! He’s cute as fuck!”

“Yeah, maybe in hell. But here he just looks like a fucking alien vampire soul-eater—”

“He’s a bloody Sphynx!” I shoved him. “Wanna see a few new photos? We’ve been puttin’ him in tiny little clothes—”

“Hell no I don’t wanna see that thing. Might give me nightmares—”

I jumped on his back and bit him on the neck, forcing him to carry me out back to the new barn for the end of the tour. We passed a huge trampoline in the yard, which he said he’d be back for once he was good and wasted. When we got to the other building, he gasped. This place was my own creation, renovated completely from ground to roof by my design. I’d opted for whitewashing it after the restoration, as opposed to returning to the traditional red paint so quintessential of rural America. Here, my word reigned, and I had made this hideaway exactly what I wanted it to be. What I needed it to be.

“There used to be a horse stable back here too, but I had it torn down for now. I’m thinking about having a new one built.”

“Horse stables…wow. You’re actually becoming a legit farmer.”

“I try. It’s a new journey anyweh.”

“Horses would be a nice investment, y’know.”

“I think soh too.”

I hopped down and opened one of the giant doors, allowing him entry to my most treasured lair. Unlike the original fixtures, the floors were now all polished concrete, no longer fit to house animals. He marveled at how high the ceilings were, and how almost every inch of the wall space had been covered in vibrant graffiti. It was a vast, all-encompassing mural I’d been working on since I bought the place, full of all my favorite people and things, including a few hidden H’s to make the place feel like home. My own little urban Sistine Chapel, and there was only a small stretch of ceiling left to go. Apart from that, the space was divided into to two rooms by a large partition that sat midway. The space towards the front entrance housed my dirt bikes and ATVS and golf carts, and rider mowers, and the space towards the rear of the building housed a makeshift art studio where I painted on canvas and had taken up pottery lately.

“This is simply unbelievable,” he gaped, taking his phone out to snap several pics. “Mate…fuck’s sake…you really made it your own here. I can’t imagine how fun it must’ve been completing all this…”

“It was. Remember I told youh I’d been workin’ on somethin’ for months but wouldn’t let you see…well, this is it. Took forever for the renovations to finish, but once they did, I started on the mural right away. It was totally worth it, babe.”

“I bet…”

“There are pieces of youh in here too…” I confessed. He instantly perked up and began looking for them.

“I found an H!” He yelled sometime later, towards the back of the building. “And my painted guitar!” At that I chuckled to myself, following his voice as he moved behind the partition. “And a butterfly…and a mermaid…and the sparrows…and…is that the…the heart…

I joined him now in my art studio and he was hunched over, fingering the anatomical heart I’d stenciled on. It was identical to his. I rubbed my hand up and down his back, a golden ray of sunshine streaming in from the window overhead as he stood. He looked gutted, like he was on the brink of tears.

“This is unreal…I can’t believe you even included me…”

“Of course I did…” I frowned up at him. “There’s soh much more of youh in here too…but we don’t have to find it all right now. Let’s get youh fed.”

Back inside, I let him feed the lizards, introducing him to the new one named Chappie, short for Charmander, and showing him how big the bearded dragon Arnie had grown. Well, Arnie #2 as the first one had run away in London a few years ago and I hadn’t seen him since. He hadn’t bothered to write either. Now I told him I’d thought about capturing one of the wild Iguanas when I was in Florida a few months ago, but Taryn wouldn’t let me. She was a real killjoy. Following a quick bite to eat, during which we ate barbecue ribs I’d cooked for him in advance, we took a drive around the remote neighborhoods of my county, people-watching and basking in the sunshine and summertime madness. Later I even took him over to one of my favorite scenic places in the entire state: River Road.

(Thanks for reading!❤️)

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