(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.)
Been living in an idea,
An idea from another man’s mind.
Frank Ocean’s – Seigfried
When I came out in a hoodie and sweats, she had ordered samosas and chicken wings and anything else she could think of that I’d be willing to eat at the moment. My appetite still evaded me, but it had been two days since I’d eaten anything and I knew I needed to choke something down before I passed out. The takeout arrived just as I emerged, and I knew she had timed it that way. She powerwalked past me with the bag on her way to the kitchen, her bare feet slapping the wooden floors as she went.
“Oh there you are, stinky. You smelling any better yet?”
“Gee, thanks. Youh really know how to make a girl feel special,” I uttered, headed down my bedroom steps to join her. It was an almost supernaturally sunny day. Searing light spilled from the high windows around the building, bathing the entire loft. My mood was involuntarily elevated.
“I’m working on a publicist. They’ll help us monitor the web for anything, so you can stop checking your phone every five freaking seconds. Food’s here. Eat up. And I put the photos in the office safe. We’ll transfer them into the safety deposit box once we visit the bank in the morning. I called G and your mom and let them know everything was okay. I said you were just a bit hung over. I told them you’d been on a bender with a couple of friends and lost your phone for a few days, in case they ask. You’ll probably need to call them eventually.” I sat at the island in the kitchen and huffed as she finished loading the dishwasher. Marley was playing on the stereo system.
“Damn, you’re unbelievable. Youh really do have it all figured out.”
“Remind me to give you a raise. Honestly, I feel better already. Thanks, T.”
“It’s all good. Don’t even mention it.” She got us plates and we sat across from one another at the island and ate. She tasted the samosas and chutney and made a funny face. Now she cracked open a few Coors, and after I’d consumed a couple, I was ready to talk. I think it was her plan all along.
“Start from the beginning…” she demanded, smiling smugly over at me. I couldn’t deny her. Not after she had seen the worst of the worst and barely batted an eye, and never once made me feel gross about it. So there was certainly no point in beating around the bush anymore.
“His cock is huge, by the way,” she blurted, then covered her mouth, clearly affected by the beer. I burst out laughing uncontrollably. It was the first real laugh I’d had in like a week. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry…oh my god. Don’t fire me!” she giggled, hiccupping. “It had to be said. I just had to get it out of the way. Don’t worry, I didn’t see yours…it was inside of his—…you know what? Carry on!” I facepalmed so hard and could barely look up at her afterwards.
“What the fuck, T?? Way to make it, like, super fuckin’ awkward…”
“I’m sorry! Please, forget I said anything! Oh gosh…”
“Too late…” I rubbed my face, realizing only now how exhausted I was. But I needed this. It was good for me. I never realized how relieving it could be to simply tell someone I wasn’t okay, as opposed to desperately trying to keep false pretenses or hide for the rest of my life. “Time Will Tell” started playing as we grew quiet.
“I gotta be careful with those pics. Youh weren’t supposed to see that, broh. That’s for my eyes only.”
“So let’s pretend I didn’t see it…”
“Ok….so go on.” I looked over at her and we burst out laughing again.
“No, seriously, Z, I promise I’m done. Straight faced….go ahead.”
“Um, soh what do youh wanna know, exactlyh?” I chuckled softly, peering over at her, hoping she’d spare me any further embarrassment.
“How did it all start?”
“Sohhhh long agoh it seems. We were just kids. We were curious. I really had a thing for him, y’know? Couldn’t, like, keep my eyes away from him anytime we were in the same room. There could be a hundred other people around, right? Talkin’, laughin’ whateva…but as long as he was there, my eyes were glued to him. Keepin’ up with his every move. Much hasn’t changed in that regard, I’d say.” Her phone rang and she quickly silenced it.
“Need to get that?”
“No chance. This is way too good.”
“Well, curiosity grew into fondness, and fondness grew into, like, obsession, in a way.” I shrugged. “And obsession grew into straight up lust. We were thirsty as fuck. I’d never felt that way about a dude before, obviously. And maybe eventually it all grew into love. I dunno. It was all super confusin’ and not as simple as it sounds. It feels like it’s love sumtimes…then it feels like hell the other half of the time, if I’m honest. He’d probably say the same thing.” I absently twisted the foam takeout box around the countertop. “But when things got too serious when we were in the band, it put a real strain on our work relationship. In those last years, we couldn’t keep away from each other, but also drove each other up the wall anytime we got close. Soh I eventually left everythin’ behind to spare us both.”
“So you guys broke up when you left the band?”
“Sumthin like that…but we were never really, like, officially together…”
“Right…because you were engaged right?”
“Yeah…” I chuckled, remembering Perrie and all the absurdity of that arrangement. How moronic and insincere it seemed in retrospect. It’s like we were playing house. To think of how much Haz and I had fought over something that turned out to be an utter joke really turned my stomach. I could have spared him so much.
“How did he feel about the engagement?”
“Oh God…not gud.” I rubbed my temple with my lead finger, raising my eyebrows as I gazed over at her. “He never shut up about it, really. Year after year, and I couldn’t really blame ’em. I drove him crazy with dat. Drove meself crazy too.” She finished off another beer and opened another for me.
“So how’d you guys link back up after the breakup?”
“Oh, well…we ran into each other early last year. At a party right before the Grammys, I believe. It was totally unexpected. And when I saw him, there was like this huge rush of emotion. It was like one of them pressurized doors had been flung open on an airplane mid-flight, and the force just started suckin’ huge chunks of my new, carefully arranged life out into the fuckin’ ether. I lost sight of who I had become, since the person I once was was now staring me right in the face. Forcin’ me to reconcile with my past. All the shit I’d been runnin from since March. It almost felt like I’d been pretendin’ up until that point. Then reality came through and basically bitch-slapped me.” She snorted, then did an uncontrollable spit-take; sending a mouthful of beer across the counter. I couldn’t hold back a laugh either.
“You’re crazy, broh.” I tossed her a few napkins. “Anyweh, I really thought I was, like, headed somewhere, but then here he comes stumblin’ back into my world, as lost as I was at the time, shatterin’ it all to pieces.”
“Hate when that happens.”
“Yeah,” I chuckled dryly. “Had I not seen him that day, I might’ve been able to carry on and just try to forget about him over time. Forget about our wild past. Find happiness with the new people I’d surrounded myself with. But havin’ seein him, there was no unseein‘ him, if that makes sense.”
“It reminded me almost instantly of everythin’ I’d lost, of everythin’ I’d abandoned mid-stream, and of everythin’ I’d been quietly yearnin’ for since March 2015, but was unwillin’ to voice. He fuckin’ floored me. Leveled my illusions with a single glimpse, and there was no fuckin’ way I could’ve gone on after that pretendin’ like I didn’t need him.”
“Aww…listen at you!”
“Shut up, T. Soh, we were smashin’ it at the time. Me and Sarah and the crew. “Pillowtalk” had hit number one. G and I were killin’ it in the media…
“Fuck, why did I forget about her?! Holy fucking shit, Z? So you’re cheating?!”
“I’ll get to that in a minute. Youh don’t know the fuckin’ half of it, trust me.”
“So he and I linked up in Bel Air, right? Had some of the best days of my life together. Truly eye-openin’ soul-satisfyin’ days. And I mean it, T. I’m not just spewin’ some cliché bullshit here.” I looked her dead in the eye and she squinted to discern if I was telling the truth. “Nothin’ compares to how fuckin’ marvelous it felt makin’ love to him again. Seein’ how much he had missed me and needed me and wanted me. I just couldn’t think about G in that moment. Is that wrong?”
“Wait, it’s Harry Styles. Like…youh don’t know him really. He is every-fuckin-thing to me. He consumes me. Youh don’t say noh to Harry Styles, and youh don’t just displease him either. To know that he’s upset with youh is the worst feelin’ in the world. It’s to be avoided at all costs. Soh we did it. Again and again and again, and it was soh gud I wanted t die soh I’d never experience anythin’ less than that moment ever again in my life. But of course, somehow G found out—”
“Oh shit…” she was gaping at me from across the table, face flushed, one of her blue pigtails falling out of her mouth.
“Yeah…it was pretty fucked there for a minute.”
“So when did it get unfucked? Was she eventually ok with it?”
“Noh, not at all, actually. Hell noh. She nearly killed us both. She rammed me car in the driveway. She lunged after him when he came over, it was a nightmare. After all that, he and I agreed to stop seein’ one another. It was hard as fuck, but we went our separate ways again after only being together a short time in February of 2016.”
“Yeah…” I scoffed, rubbing my forehead and remembering how surreal that month had been. Sometimes I wished I could relive it. Even the bad parts. It was something straight out of the cinema. I took a sip of beer and cleared my throat.
“But on New Years’ of this year, he hit me up, wantin’ to start again. I couldn’t say noh, as usual. How could I? That’s my baby, maan…”
“Oh my gosh…I think I get it now. So you were with him in LA in last month, weren’t you?! You fell off the radar once you got there, wouldn’t answer your phone. Wouldn’t come back home. It was all for him, wasn’t it?”
“Of course,” I shrugged.
“Oh wow…I—” she belched really loudly and we laughed. Then she sobered. “Poor, G…”
“I mean, seriously, dude. Poor, poor G. What the fuck are you even doing? You have to tell her, you know?! I mean think about it…what if all this is like, karma? Right?”
“I thought of that too…” I admitted, staring at the slimy chicken bones I’d torn through a while ago. They had grown cold and were staring to reek. “I deserve it, if I’m honest.”
“No, you definitely don’t deserve it. But she also doesn’t deserve to be lied to either. She’s good to you—”
“I know, I know…fuckkk I know!” I growled, lowering my head onto the counter.
That night I dreamed of my grandfather. He was out of the sickroom and seated in the family room in an old recliner. There was a blanket across his lap, quilted by my grandmother. I entered the room and he greeted me the same quiet fondness he always did.
“Ah, Zayn, yes. Come, sit.” His arthritic hand waved me towards the chair across from his. It was dark in here, since all the drapes were closed. His eyes had become more sensitive to light as he aged. He had to wear special sunglasses in the wintertime because of the way the light reflected off the snow.
“Pick up your feet boy,” he said when I took too long to sit.
“How are things?” he asked, inclining his head in my direction as I plopped down into the dusty old leather.
“Things are gud…for the most part.”
“Your mother says you’ve been unwell.” I looked around as the room began to shift and morph. It was then that I became aware I was dreaming. He wasn’t real, he was just a comforting projection meant to assuage my deeply rooted anxieties.
“Have you misplaced your voice? Is that apart of the sickness also?” he teased.
“Noh…” I chuckled. “M’not sick pops. You’ve got some bad information. Look at me,” I tossed my arms up. “Don’t I look well?”
“Eh,” he shrugged. “You’re a bit narrow from what I can tell—”
“Narrow?!” I laughed. “Cmon, maan, I look gud. I feel gud, too! I swear.” Now he smiled.
“You look like your father. As fool-headed as him too but that’s a conversation for another day.”
“You’re always startin’ sumthin youh can’t finish, old man.” A thousand memories came rushing back in the blink of an eye, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with an extreme despondence and a grave sense of loss. I longed so much for the days of my youth. To return to a simpler time. Back before I had any inkling of what a true problem was. Back before I had known harm, discomfort, or true fear.
“I miss youh, y’know? Like…terribly…” I said.
“I’m right here.”
“Thanks.” I vaguely heard “No Woman, No Cry” playing from someplace distant.
I looked down at my hands in my lap and nearly screamed. All of my veins were visible, surging through my skin in a horrifying dendritic pattern. Snaking up my arms. Covering my chest and neck and face. I started to call out for help, but my grandfather had transformed into my father, and he was weeping. Before I could say anything to him, I woke up.
It was a little after 1AM. The fear was still there like a knot in my gut, but I didn’t feel nearly as foggy headed as I was before. I had slept most of the day after eating, as T had given me some of her sleeping pills. She had offered me some of her aunt’s lithium too, but I had declined. I felt safe having someone around, so she planned to sleep in the guest room for the rest of the week. I thought of going to wake her now, but thought against it because she had worked hard today. Bob Marley was still playing from the living room, apparently on repeat. I’d left my door open since she was here.
Moonlight spilled in over the bed as we’d left the drapes open from earlier. Long shadows filled the room, but I felt undisturbed. The extortion had left me numb to other things that might have unnerved me normally. I picked up my phone and did my routine check of the internet to make sure the photos hadn’t dropped, hands trembling uncontrollably every time. Thankfully I wasn’t alone in this anymore. T was keeping an eye out for me, and had hired a publicist who would get to work the moment anything dropped. The PR team also provided social media and Google Trends monitoring and crisis prevention. The extreme paranoia was beginning to ebb now a team had my back, and were ready to go to war with me.
After determining things were all clear online, I flicked over to my contacts. It had been a while since I spoke with him one-on-one, and my dream had left me longing for him. It was early where he was, but he typically rose early anyway, so I don’t think I’d be disturbing him if I gave him a ring. I hoped he’d be happy to hear from me. It’s funny how the one person I needed right now was the one person I knew would hate me the most after it all came out. I had utterly betrayed him with this. Still, I couldn’t stop thinking about him. I dialed him up and he answered faster than I expected.
“Dad?” I whispered. There was the sound of interference on his line. His voice broke through the static.
“How’s everythin’?” He always sounded as though he was barely tolerating the conversation, even when it was just starting.
“Dad…” My throat grew taut. I gulped. “…I think I messed up.”
“I guess…forh now…” I despaired.
“What happened? Somethin’s upset youh?” I envisioned his face if he ever saw the pictures of me plastered online in the coming days, and it felt like my soul deflated. It was pouring out of me onto the floors.
“Dad, I messed up. It’s real bad. I don’t want you to hate me.”
“I want youh to stay offline, okay? Until I say it’s safe to goh on. Tell mum too, alright?
“I could never hate youh. Never. Youh insult me with this insinuation.”
“M’sorry. But can I be honest with youh?”
“Maybe I’m not the guy youh think youh raised.” There was a torturous pause.
“Maybe I, uh…have certain ways that…” I gritted my teeth, pulling the phone away from my mouth in anguish. “Ways that may not be soh acceptable to youh. Maybe I’m into things that are…not necessarily normal.” Why was I looking for a fight?
“Are they criminal?”
“Noh, not at all.”
“Then as long as you’re not breaking the law, son, your life is your life…and I must respect your decisions. Isn’t that the way this works?” This felt like a trick.
“Youh don’t mean that. Youh don’t even know what I’m referrin’ to.”
“Maybe I know more than youh think.”
“I think I’ve made myself clear.”
I clenched my jaw, tears springing to my eyes. Why couldn’t I just say it to clear the air? To remove all ambiguity? To make sure we were on the same page? I wanted to say it so badly, but couldn’t form the words. Doing so would make it irreparably real. Once it was out there, I could never take it back. Perhaps ambiguity wasn’t so bad after all?
Still, he clearly knew something. Why couldn’t I just get it out there between us and accept his love and promises of tolerance? I spent so much time convincing myself he was the big bad guy, that he would reject me, that he would hate me, when really I was just projecting all my own bullshit and self-loathing onto him the whole time? Was it was easier to blame him than it was to point the finger at me?
No, fuck that. He had made things this way. He had pressured me to get engaged when I was younger. He had been the one to yell at me and make me feel like shit for fooling around with Haz onstage. He was the problem.
“That’s not exactly the reaction I expected youh to have…after everythin’ youh said to me a few years agoh.”
“I understand,” he sighed, sounding more judicious than I’d ever known him to be. “Maybe I’ve been… wrong…in the past.” These were words I couldn’t have dreamed of him ever saying. “Maybe I wasn’t soh sympathetic, son. Not soh supportive of you in the past. Call it old age, call it what youh will, but I don’t want something like this to wedge it’s way between us. I don’t want to lose youh. Youh and your sisters and your mother are all I have now. You mean the world to me, Zayn, and I’m willing to understand whatever it is youh need me to understand if it will make your days easier.” I couldn’t breathe.
“I don’t think I can explain…”
“Don’t worry…we have time, son. I’m always here. Always wanting to listen. I want youh to be okay with coming to me for as long as I’m around. And I want youh to always remember, son, I am extremely, extremely proud of youh. I know I don’t say it enough, but no matter what this burden is you’re carrying, nothing will change my love for youh, or my respect.” I shut my eyes in disbelief and tears dropped from them onto my pillow.
(Thanks for reading!❤️)