Neon Red – Chapter 62

(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.)

**********

We’re after the same rainbow’s end.

Frank Sinatra | Moon River

After the show, he had somehow convinced me to come down to his green room and meet his immediate crew, which consisted of his manager, his photographer, and the band. No one else would be there, he promised. All of his other friends had left for the evening, and he’d made plans to meet up with a few later. Xander and his brother and even Camille were among them. He assured me he had broken up with her months ago, though, shortly after I’d showed up to his place drunk. Apparently they were only good friends now. He invited me along to hang with them at a bar after the show, but I declined, not wanting to tempt fate since we had made it this far unscathed. Still, I accepted the offer to meet his band, and he assured me none of them would mention they’d ever met me that night. They were all in his strictest confidence and I had no reason to worry. Trying to be more trusting because he had done so much for me tonight, I let him guide me by a hand on the small of my back to meet his people.

“Guys, guys…listen up,” he called out to the room “I’d like you to meet a very good friend of mine, with perhaps some of the most exquisite God-given cheekbones you’ve ever seen—” I elbowed him in the ribs because he was embarrassing me. “Ladies and gentlemen, meet the one, the only…Mr. Zaynnnn Malikkkkk.

“Hi…hi everyone, youh alright?” I said, waving awkwardly. Adam was the first to approach me with a firm handshake and a massive grin.

“We’ve met before a longgg time ago, but I don’t expect you to remember. It’s great to see you again, man.”

“Noh, noh, I do remember! London, right? His place? 2013?”

“Yes, exactly!”

“Gud to see youh again, broh.”

“Hi.” A brunette bird approached me next, and I recognized her as the drummer, Sarah.

“He’s a huge fan of you,” Haz interjected.

“This is true,” I smiled, shaking her hand. “You’re pretty badass.” She thanked me shyly and we talked briefly about how the world needed more female drummers since it was typically viewed as such a masculine role, and I let her know I was specifically looking for a female drummer for my band as well. Haz told me I couldn’t have her and snatched her away. Helene was next, and she was a tiny adorable blonde with a vague accent. She said she’d heard so much about me she could write a book. She offered to take my photo but I thought it wouldn’t be such a good idea. Harry assured me it would never get out and grabbed me from behind, locking my arms at my side. He got her to snap it while I was trapped and looking worse for wear. Laughing and shoving him away, I turned to meet Mitch and he was just as quiet and awkward as Sarah had been, and I thought they made an adorable couple.

They all called him “H” and had tons of inside jokes and funny anecdotes from their few years together, mainly regarding drunken exploits in different countries and how he talked about me nonstop. He of course denied this in my presence and threatened to fire them all if they didn’t ‘can it’. They reminded me a lot of he and I and the boys, always ribbing each other and taking the piss. Always safe in our little bubble, wreaking havoc backstage before and after a show. Lou especially.

I observed Haz as he moved among them, a faint, bemused smile crossing my face. Noticing he seemed like a different person in front of his crew. So unlike the calm, unassuming, alienated guy of the 1D days, or even the bubbly, sexy dork I got most of the time back home. Amongst them he was naturally in control, quite confident, quite fun-loving and creative, super fair and magnanimous, and of course universally adored. What I noticed above all was that he was king. This was his dominion he had built from the ground up, and now he got to reap the spoils of his well-fortified multi-million dollar operation. This mans wasn’t taking the backseat to anybody, including me. He wasn’t being interrupted or talked over anytime he spoke, neither was he being teased about the pace at which he articulated himself, and he was no longer trying to conform to a certain look or accept someone else’s narrative for his life. He was well and truly reaching his final form, and I felt weirdly like a proud dad.

Just as Mitch and I were warming up to one another and moved to a quieter section of the room to chat about Haz’s progression as a guitarist thanks to his instruction, Jeff Azoff burst into the room buzzing from the success of the performance, and chirping about how the venues would be so much bigger next year. They could probably sell out several more nights at MSG based on the demand from this year alone, and I quietly agreed. When he laid eyes on me across the room, he stopped and blinked several times, astonished that I was standing there in the open.

“Holy shit?? Well, well, well…what do we have here?” he grinned, approaching. Haz came and clapped me on the shoulder, excited to continue the introductions. 

“Jeffery! I’m so glad you can finally meet him, mate,” he beamed. “This is Zayn. Z, mate, this is my incredible, marvelous, super smart—”

“Yeah, keep ’em coming if you want me to buy dinner tonight,” Jeff interjected. I chuckled.

Wonderfully fashionable and handsome manager Jeff, who has singlehandedly made all of this possible.” Jeff and I spoke up at the same time, saying we’d heard a lot about each other. Then out of nowhere, he pulled me in for a bear hug and squeezed the life out of me. I certainly couldn’t say they didn’t all make me feel welcome. I was giddy as hell with how warm and bizarre the night had become. 

I was at home among these people, and that concerned me greatly. It all felt too right. Nearly like déjà vu, yet not quite. It’s as though they’d all known me for years despite us never having spoken a word to one another until tonight—well everyone except Adam. I got a strange and perturbing sense they’d all been waiting on me for so long and I’d finally come home. How could that be possible? Was I meant to be here all along? Should I have met them ages ago? Should I have always been by his side? Did it feel so familiar because they’d been hearing about me for years and waiting make my acquaintance?

Haz was buzzing all over the place, so ecstatic to have done well onstage tonight, but also trying to show off because I was there. I loved to watch him in action, captivating a room whether his audience was comprised of half a dozen close friends or a sea of strangers. He was just as magnetic no matter the circumstance. Now he took a break from charming and stuffing his face and gathered me a warm slice of pizza onto a paper plate. He then grabbed a coke and brought it all over with a little shimmy. 

We sat and ate together, him in nothing but the white tank top and blue trousers again. I told him he smelled ripe. He told me to shut up and that he needed to get home and shower. He then said I could have a smoke if I wanted, knowing my hankerings were kicking in, but I told him I’d what till we were outside. He asked me to come out with them again, but I once more declined, wiping pizza sauce from the corner of his lip, then catching myself because of how intimate the gesture was. He pouted and said he didn’t want me to come out with them anyway and that he was just being nice and that I sucked, to which I laughed and told him I was beat. I hadn’t slept much the night before, and with how emotionally wired I felt at the minute, I probably wouldn’t catch any kip tonight either.

**********

As he left New York, I wracked my brain wondering how I could do something to show my appreciation of all he’d done for me that day. I of course wasn’t on tour, so couldn’t exactly repay the favor, but still only music presented itself as an adequate response. I settled for the next best thing, serenading him like he had serenaded me. First things first, which song? I went back over a few of our shared mixtapes and playlists, and like clockwork, one track appeared repeatedly without fail. Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love.” It had been his favorite tune since we met, and we must’ve listened to it a million times together just chilling around the house, or in those endless days where we’d been tangled in the duvets and couldn’t find our way out of bed.

I keyed it up now in my New York penthouse, allowing it to echo around me like a vault, grateful for the crazy acoustics provided by the high ceilings, and grateful to be free of G and her people for a while. All I had was peace and quiet and an occasional pop-up from T to see if I needed anything. I sat on the sofa, legs crossed beneath me, listening closely to the track on the stereo to find areas where I could possibly innovate or tweak a few things. Anything really. Ideally I wanted to reengineer it from the ground up and make it uniquely mine. The composition, the mood, the delivery, simply everything needed to be modified from the inside out, that way when Haz listened to this track, I could ensure Elvis would be the farthest thing from his mind.

By early July, the cover was completed with the help of a few expert producers known for reengineering established songs, and I was ready to premiere it. Since it was a new take on an old classic, I anticipated tons of mixed and polarizing reviews, and was in no way disproven when the upload hit the internet. Regardless of all the noise, the one person’s opinion that mattered the most called me up choking down tears of joy and telling me how dope he thought it was. I knew he would understand it at the end of the day, and that was all that mattered. The rest of the world and their jeering,  ignorant opinions, and expectations for the song to be covered the same way every time, and to stay true to the same old played-out sound of the original track could suck my nuts.

The label had also begun giving me trouble about the album release date, worried that I'd botched the marketing beyond repair and that I desperately needed to do real promo and a few performances to give it a chance at charting well

The label had also begun giving me trouble about the album release date, worried that I’d botched the marketing beyond repair and that I desperately needed to do real promo and a few performances to give it a chance at charting well. I told them I wasn’t concerned with charts, which wasn’t particularly something one should say to a company that had basically invested money in them upfront in hopes the endeavor do well enough to pay them back, but that’s just where I was at with this whole music thing. I wanted to do it my way or not at all. I told them they could either take it or leave it, and that I’d promote the music in my own way at my own pace. In response, they essentially told me to go fuck myself and severed communication for a while. 

Taryn poked her head into the room now and told me Converse was on the line and that they wanted to go over a few numbers. The brand deal was paying off dividends, so they hoped to lock me down for a second campaign. After I ended the call, T gave me a verbal run-down of the rest of the month as well as the month of August. Next up was my promotional single “Sour Diesel” dropping towards the end of the month, an experimental funk-rock tune I’d been holding on to despite recording it during the Mind of Mind days. It would be accompanied by a sick video concept I’d worked on with filmmaker Sing Lee, and which turned out exactly as I’d imagined it play-for-play in my head. It was to be released exclusively on Apple Music this time, instead of YouTube. And finally there were a few more singles to be released with Nicki Minaj and Timberland, as well as a few major editorials, such as American GQ this month and British Vogue for December.

The project I was looking forward to the most, however, was a huge Kooples campaign I’d been working on, which I found particularly stimulating in a creative sense, because I’d gotten to help design the bags myself and knew the fans would love them. I’d go for a photoshoot around the city in a few weeks, and it was supposed to drop sometime in September. I couldn’t wait for my supporters to see everything I’d been working on in secret the past few months, including the t-shirt I helped hand-design for the campaign. The theme was vampires, but the kicker was: I’d used Haz’s face as inspiration for the victim, and thought he ought to get a real laugh out of it. I wondered if any of the fans would notice too, though.

Once his tour ended towards the middle of the month, the first thing he wanted to do was have me over for dinner in The Hills, so he invited me to the final show, but I declined and told him I'd just meet him the following day

Once his tour ended towards the middle of the month, the first thing he wanted to do was have me over for dinner in The Hills, so he invited me to the final show, but I declined and told him I’d just meet him the following day. There would be far too much press surrounding this show as it was his last one of the year and way too many celebrities would be in attendance, which would only increase the number of eyeballs on the arena and across social media. Instead, I cleaned up around the Bel Air house since I hadn’t been there properly in a while, and began to consider selling it. Towards the end of the evening, I caught the livestream of his show and watched him perform “Girl Crush” for the first time since last year, which came as a shock to me. I couldn’t understand what had motivated him, and hoped he and I were ok.

The next night I got my invitation and was called over to his place for dinner around 8pm. It was still a bit light out and the sunset drive was mesmerizing, lending me the perfect opportunity to contemplate where the hell this year was going for me. Pulling up to his gate, I hit the intercom and he buzzed me in, no words spoken. Inside the yard, he didn’t come out to greet me like he normally did, and similar to what I had sensed in his demeanor over the phone ever since I declined coming to the final tour stop, I knew something was wrong. Him singing “Girl Crush” had been a hint and a half, and I needed to get inside and make things right. I grabbed the white wine I knew he liked and approached the door, only to find it unlocked. There were candles lit around the living room and all the lights were out, and I instantly breathed a sigh of relief. He had been aloof because he was trying to surprise me, which he truly had.

“Baby…?” I called, setting the wine on a table and moving through to the kitchen. There he was grabbing a dish of lobster and heading towards the formal dining area, which was decked in all white and had a long glass table that overlooked the stunning view of the cityscape that his bedroom also mirrored. The sunset was glorious at this angle, spilling into the room like heavenly threshold. 

Heyyy, mate, you made it! I’m so glad,” he said over his shoulder, smiling back at me as he set the dish on the table. He had set our place mats up at the opposite ends of the table in a very formal way, but I moved mine directly to the right of his so we could talk with ease.

“Hi, baby…I missed youh,” I said, after he planted a passing kiss to my lips and slapped my ass. I followed his rapid footsteps back through the living room where he grabbed the bottle of wine to chill it. Finally I caught up to him in the kitchen and held him around the hips, surveying the food sorted not-so-neatly into glass dishes.

“Babe…?” I began, breaking into a grin.

“Mm?”

“Youh didn’t cook this, did youh?”

Heyyyy, what d’you mean? Of course I did! I’ve been at it all afternoon—”

“Noh, youh didn’t, broh, and it’s okay. I won’t hold it against youh or anythin’.”

“That’s offensive! Why would I lie?”

“Because…I know youh, and I know youh have noh clue how to cook lobster, babe. Give it a rest, yeah?”

Fuck’s sake. Alright was it that obvious?”

“Yeah…” I burying my face into his hair, laughing to myself. “You’re a terrible liar…thank God.”

“I wanted to cook for you so badly and I had the recipe and everything, but I just ran out of time, mate. So, I, uh, called in a favor with a friend who owns this really nice, upscale place nearby and, uh, he brought the catering right over. I owe him one.”

“Hah! Well, be sure to thank him for the both of us, then. It smells amazin’!”

“It honestly does. Let’s eat!”

As we chowed down, we got onto the subject of my album again. I still wouldn’t tell him the concept behind it, but something told me he had already pieced together the clues from what I’d told him in PA. Still, he wouldn’t let me know that he knew because he wanted to be surprised for me. He was thoughtful in that way. 

“Got a release date in mind?”

“Not yet…the label’s givin’ me shit about the rollout. They keep puttin’ it off until I’ll agree to a few performances on a few late night shows at least. Like Kimmel or Fallon or sumthin.”

“Just say the word… I could have Corden’s team call you. At least you could be there with a familiar face. And if you can’t do the onstage bits, what about some of the pre-recorded skits without the audience? A little Carpool Karaoke? The fans’d go nuts for that. I think it’d be good for you to change things up a bit.”

“Yeah…true,” I considered the offer, toying with a lobster tail with my fork. The sauce was supreme. I could drink it with a straw. “I don’t really know if I’m ready for all that though. Not this time.”

“Alright…well, the offer’s always on the table. Ben and Corden would love to have you over. They’ve mentioned it before.”

“I appreciate the offer…”

“What else you got in mind?”

“Um…well, I’ve got a few magazine shoots comin’ up. Then maybe I’ll release a collab or two? I dunno, babe, we’ll see.”

“I, for one, am looking forward to it. Massively. What I’ve heard so far has been unbelievable. Your best work yet: “Let Me,” “Entertainer,” and now “Sour Diesel”? I’m loving the unrestrained creativity here, Z,” he said, before taking a big sip of wine.

I try, I try. It was super fun in the beginnin’ and all, but I’m not gonna lie, broh, it just seems to be draggin’ on a bit, yeah? The timin’s all off on everythin’. This isn’t really how I planned the original rollout.”

“Hey, it happens. Sometimes you just have to, uh, roll with the punches on a project this big. You know that. It’s difficult as hell, mate, to keep everything and everyone in order. The good news is, it’ll be great no matter what happens, because you’ve mastered what you do. That’s the sort of security that comes with investing yourself into a project like this. It’s a safety net. Trust me,  Z, you got this. But if worse comes to worst, have you, uh, talked to the label about letting you out of the contract? Or is that something you’d even want.”

“Woah…y’know honestly I hadn’t even thought of that really. I know they won’t do it, though, but I never even thought to ask. What…youh think I should just give up or sumthin’?” My heart pounded, waiting for his answer.

“No, of course not. That’s not what I meant at all,” he looked me in the eye, offended that I’d even drawn that conclusion. “Music is your life. You live and breathe music. You can’t go for more than two minutes without singing beneath your breath,” he smiled. “I just meant, like…if things are souring with the label, why stick around? Maybe you all should go your separate ways since your ideas are so different and they’re no longer looking to accommodate you on any of this.”

“You’re right,” I shrugged. “But it’ll never work. My contract is pretty strict, babe. They’ll probably have a lawsuit drawn up by the time I get off the phone after telling them I’m done. I can’t just walk away from this like I did the band, no matter how much I want to. I’ve come too far. Just one more record after this one and then I’m completely done with them. No more legal obligations. I can start over however I want with whatever label I chose. Might even go independent.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.” Now he grabbed me by the back of my neck and forced me to meet his eyes. “You know I’m here for you right? Anything you need…just let me know.” I nodded and he pressed his lips to mine, and I savored the traces of wine on his tongue when he slipped it inside.

“Can I stay over?” I rasped, watching his mouth when we parted.

“Of course, you’re not going anywhere.”

By the end of dinner it had grown quite dark and now the only light in the house was that of the candles. Their aroma lit the air, and the sweet, musky vanilla massaged my senses. We cleared the table of our plates and headed up to the bedroom to watch a movie. Frank Ocean’s rendition of “Moon River” crooned softly over the intercom speakers, reminding me of him singing Sinatra’s version as we wandered the streets of Paris in the dead of night. I couldn’t stop thinking about Paris and all it signified for us. 

I headed up the steps first, but at the foot of the staircase he called out to me, his voice thick with emotion. His was expression pained and uncertain when I turned to him. He was standing in the center of the living room floor now, barefoot, trembling, and afraid to step any farther. I rushed over to him in the flickering candlelight, which shone resplendently in the glass wall bordering the front of the room, overlooking a sleepy city.

“Babe, youh okay?” I fretted, halting before him.

Without speaking, he dropped to one knee and gazed up at me, his breathing slightly panicked. My stomach dropped about two floors. I gulped, already overwhelmed before one word left his mouth.

“Haz…” I instantly teared up, and so did he. He could barely speak for crying and kissing my hands, which he had captured and refused to release.

“Babe…” I croaked, eyes leaking.

“Just let me get this out ok?”

“I…I….okay…” I yielded, barely able to catch my breath. The room was nothing but a blur now. “Okay, okay….”

“We…uh…talked about this before, right?” he laughed nervously. “I hope you remember. Because you promised you’d consider it. Well…uh…believe it or not, Z, but that was a whole year ago—”

“Babe, I—”

Wait, wait…just please let me get this out, ok? Look, we’ve come such a long way, mate. We grew up together, we started our careers together…and no matter what happened between us or what we’ve been through, we always found our way back to one another. That takes a whole lot of guts and willpower and loyalty, no matter how crazy it gets sometimes. I don’t know much, Z, alright? I’m still learning and growing and, uh, trying to become a better man day by day. But the one thing I am certain of, is that you make me a better man in every way conceivable. You are apart of everything I am and all I’ve ever known.”

I gasped noiselessly, my confusion and tears totally blinding me. He cleared his throat and continued,

“You make me happy, baby. You make me happier than anyone and anything in this world, even music. You make me feel like anything is possible, and I am so so so tired of letting you go after only a few days. You’re all I want. You’re all I dream of. So will you please, please put me out of my misery. Let me take care of you, Z. Let me make you happy…I’ll work at it everyday, and I promise it’s the only thing I’ll ever do. All my money and possessions and accomplishments are yours. Just disappear with me, please. Zayn…Zayn…will you please fucking marry me?”

I shut my eyes gruffly wiping my tears away. When I gazed back down to him, he was still mostly a blur. Both of us were emotional wrecks. Getting so fucking soft as we got older. He let his tears flow freely and did not hide them from me. All of his walls were gone. He stared up at me with such unclothed optimism, knowing there was no way I could resist him or this illustration of paradise at his side. Away in our own little corner of the world, hidden from millions.

“Haz…Harry…” I croaked, unable to form coherent words.

He began to look slightly surprised that I hadn’t instantly said yes. Or: ‘A thousand times yes,’ like in the movies. There had been no overt glee in my reaction, and that was beginning to set in for him. In a final ditch effort to persuade me, he removed a red Cartier ring box and presented a custom-made silver band. At the sight of it, and at the mere thought of him secretly ring shopping for me, my heart exploded. The residue dripped down the walls of my chest into my guts.

“Z…I know you’re scared, baby…but I’ll always protect you. I’ll always put you first. Please just trust me for once, Z. Please just marry me. Please just say yes…”

“Babe…”

To watch his blissfully expectant expression recede when it dawned on him the answer was no, hit me like a mule kick to the chest. There was a further transformation in which I saw humiliation sweep across his face, before it was usurped by total despair. Now gut-wrenching sobs overtook him. He got up in a flash, dropping the ring and its case onto the floor, and ran into the nearest bathroom. Before I could stop him, he had locked the door and began to weep uncontrollably. Every sound echoed horrendously.

“Babe, wait, wait, wait, open the door!”

“I’m so fucking stupid,” he cried hoarsely. “You hate me. You don’t love me. You don’t love me,” he wept.

“Open the door, Haz, please!”

“I’m so fucking stupid for doing this. I’m so fucking stupid. I can’t believe I let this happen. I’m mortified. You actually hate me. You hate me. Of course you don’t want me. You don’t need me. I’m so fucking stupid for ignoring everyth—”

“Ignoring what?! Harry, that’s not fuckin’ true! You’re not stupid, babe! I do love youh. Soh much! I love youh soh fuckin’ much babe sometimes I can’t even breathe. But I just can’t. I can’t do this. Not right now…”

“Just leave me alone….get out of my house….” he begged.

“Noh! Noh fuckin’ way I’m leavin’ like this—”

Gooo! Now, Z! I don’t wanna see you anymore!”

“Harry, babe I’m soh sorry. Can we please just talk—”

Nooo! Get out!”

“Why?!”

“I don’t want to fucking see you anymore! What don’t you get?! Get the fuck out or I’ll call the police!”

My chest constricted, a sob escaping involuntarily. I couldn’t believe he’d gone there. The police? Really? He was enraged. He wouldn’t stop crying. His disjointed muttering was so frightening. I couldn’t understand any of it anymore. I ran back into the living room and picked up the ring and case from the floor before leaving. I drove home blindly, sobbing the entire way. 

(Thanks for reading!❤️)

This is officially the end of 2018. Make of it what you will, and I left it where everyone is free to form their own ending in their hearts. If you want, they can make up, or they can break up and move into 2019 and Fine Line etc. It’s up to you. Chronologically I’m done with this story for now and won’t venture past 2018 because I can’t handle the stress of their story beyond this point. 2015 will be the final chapters next week, hopefully there will be a total of three, ending the book at Chapter 65 next weekend. Thank you so much for all your kindness and continued support on this story. Wish me luck! I love you and thank you so much for reading. 

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