(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.)
And I will go on shining
Shining like brand new
I’ll never look behind me
My troubles will be few
Supertramp – Goodbye Stranger
Melancholia. It had seized him too during our time apart, if “Meet Me In The Hallway” was anything to judge by. There was no easing into the album. No meandering around light-heartedly tuned sentiments while things gradually became more grave. He opened with the most daunting of the entire collection, as it reflected the condition I’d left him in when I dipped. This record was an indictment of everything I’d used to justify my leaving, and I don’t think he’d ever let me forget that.
I was a monster. I understood that he didn’t intend for me to feel that way, but he had sorely miscalculated the effect this level of honesty would have on me. It was beyond depressing. Apparently I’d really done a number on him. From his perspective, I’d left abruptly and promised to come back, but ultimately didn’t. How hadn’t I realized this was how it all played out in his eyes? To tell the truth, I’d never thought deeply about the effect the broken promise of my return would have on him. Of course he knew it was best for me to go, and that it wasn’t my intention to deceive or forsake him, but whether that had been the intention or not, it was certainly now the reality.
‘Gotta get better. Gotta get better. Gotta get better.’ What a haunting refrain. I’d rather fall in a dark pit and die than listen to it again. Was this the state I’d left him in? Had he been in this condition all along? All those grueling months when I’d obsessively watched the remainder of the OTRA Tour, subconsciously hoping they’d suck without me, was this what he kept pinned up inside? Had this inspired the perpetual scowl he wore morning noon and night in those days? Was it all because of me?
‘Just let me know and I’ll be at the door…just let me know I’ll be on the floor…and maybe we’ll work it out. ‘ The sheer naivety of an optimist. What a hair-raising memory. I could see him now, sitting on the floor in front of the door and blocking my exit. Holy fuck this hurt. A twisting of the knife was an understatement. I’d simply never been confronted with anything this unrelentingly honest before. Something that would demand the same degree of honesty in return, and I feared I wasn’t capable of that yet.
It would kill me. That is, if the frail, whiny tone hadn’t murdered me first. He was my baby and he knew it and he was exploiting that fact. I was the one who was supposed to take care of him no matter what. It was an unspoken agreement. Yet I’d utterly deserted him. The themes and aesthetics of this album had all been crafted to make me feel the severity of his grief, by any means necessary. Even down to the pitiful cover art which featured him sitting nude in a pool of pink water, adopting my lotus rebirth symbolism from 2015. Almost satirizing it. Depicting himself small and drained and in need of saving.
The vocals reflected that diminutive aspect too. Only I knew that feeble little voice. It only emerged when he was super emotional, or super tired, or super drunk. Sometimes all three. He sounded half his age. It brought out the caretaker in me, and although he was miles away and this had been recorded months ago, it still made me anxious to get him well again.
Yes, this had all been precisely calculated, and although I was aware of it, I’d still fallen into his delicately set trap, unable to resist him in the least. He sought to intimidate me with this vulnerability. Taunt me with the fact that I couldn’t be this vulnerable even if I tried. Had I reduced him to this? Harry Fucking Styles? In shambles because of me? It wasn’t a flex by any stretch of the imagination. I did not bask in the fact that I had the power to break him. Had the power to dissolve his composure like no other.
This level of honesty was incisive. Brutalizing. I could still feel his hands clinging to mine as he sat on the floor, begging me not to leave. Back then, I’d felt nothing. Not even his tears had moved me to consider staying. My own personal shit had made me as cold as an assassin that day, willing to cut down anything in my path on the way out. But now, thinking back on everything in the correct frame of mind, no longer dissociated from my own emotions or trapped inside my own head, I broke.
I could finally feel what he had been feeling that day. The empathy that escaped me in those final moments now hit like an axe slicing between my ribs, ripping my breast apart. I couldn’t fight the tears. They flowed freely down my cheeks as I sat cross-legged in the center of my bed. A cigarette burned in the ashtray nearby, the smoke curling up in a continuous stream. A big ass bottle of Jameson was close at hand, as well as and a matching whiskey tumbler. I poured a glass and held it atop my knee, listening to the opening track for the fifth time. Utter masochism.
Beyond the thinly veiled agony in his voice, the title and the hook gave our relationship away completely. Illustrating in no uncertain terms how we linked up in the evenings after shows and spent the night together. He simply didn’t care anymore. He was on the brink of spilling it all, and I had no doubt driven him to this point. If the right person listened to the track in the right frame of mind, they might easily link it to me. Most assuredly if they noticed the lyrical allusion to “I Won’t Mind” which I’d written and recorded for him a few years ago, and which was leaked by a moronic ex-colleague in 2015. His outro mirrored my sentiments without fault, exposing our tacit agreement to never speak on what we had discovered, nor the things it had led us to do in the dark. Things we could never live without. And life had proven that notion to be true time and time again. I legitimately could not live without him.
It was all quite unforgiving. What had I done to make him so brash and reckless with our story? As I progressed through the album, it felt like I was being held at gunpoint. Forced to reconcile with what we were, and held accountable for the way I had mismanaged his heart. Whether he realized it or not, he wanted me to suffer. This wasn’t Haz, this was a man at his wit’s end and pouring his heart into a mic. Hoping it would somehow alleviate what he was feeling or magically bring me back to him. Hoping I might hear it someday and come running.
I recognized “Sweet Creature” as the mysterious tune he played in the bar last month with me and Taryn. A dewy and lovesick memento of our coming of age, as if it had been commissioned for a biopic depicting our nosedive into a tainted love. The guitar was super folky, putting me in mind of the Van Morrison tunes we used to jam to whenever we took a drive around his neighborhood in the dead of night.
I suppose it was refreshing to see things from his perspective. Get a sense of what was meaningful to him and what had impacted him the most through the years. What stuck with him when he closed his eyes at night; good, bad, and ugly. Gosh this was a good one. I’d fallen in love with it the instant he played the first few cords last month. So tender and illustrative of us. Starting out together clumsily, not knowing how to navigate the things that would later become all-encompassing.
We fought and fucked a lot. That ought to be our tagline. He had perfectly embodied the unending the teenage angst and the woes of our early twenties. The struggles and the estrangement. Then there was the reassurance that I’d always be waiting for him at the end of the road. I was thankful that he acknowledged that. He even spoke cleverly of our reconciliation. All in all this track helped to heal the wounds inflicted so ruthlessly by the opening track.
By the time the quiet fragility of “From The Dining Table” had finished, in much the same depleted and sing-songy voice as “Meet Me In The Hallway,” I was a wreck. Totally inconsolable. Half the whiskey was gone. I’d cried harder than I had in a while, shivering in my t-shirt and briefs and feeling like a massive piece of shit. A cold-hearted bastard undeserving of having him back in my life. Fuck I hated me.
Right away I got up and moved into the kitchen, cleaning my face and grabbing a notepad. There I sat, motionless and unable to lift the pen. Lonesome in the vast silence of the loft. Unable to get the first line of the final song out of my head. ‘Where were you?’
The question was so plain and unsophisticated that I hyperventilated. How could I answer to him when I hadn’t truly answered to myself? Likewise, these were all the things he wouldn’t say to my face. All the things he’d prefer I hear without further discussion. That meant the only way to respond was in song. So I set pen to paper and the only thing that spilled out of me repeatedly was, “Baby, I’m right here.”
“Z! Wait! Calm down!” T yelled, running after me as I darted up the steps into my bedroom, collapsing on the floor at the far side of my bed; trembling all over. Kehlani’s “Do U Dirty” was drifting around the room. I envisioned myself back on the rooftop, this time taking action without hesitation. Now I pictured my mom’s face when she saw the new photo. Then my dad’s. Came short of spontaneously combusting at the thought of them seeing the uncropped version. I got up and barely made it to the toilet before projectile vomiting.
“Z, sweetie…oh my gosh,” T cried, rubbing my back and brushing my hair away from my face. When I stopped heaving, I moved to the sink to brush my teeth. There, my entire body grew numb. I couldn’t feel my tongue as I scrubbed it vigorously with loads of toothpaste. When I spat, my mouth bled. I rinsed it all out and it throbbed unremittingly.
“Come sit down,” T coaxed me, taking the towel from my hand and guiding me back over to the bed.
“…what’s gonna happen?” I croaked, plopping down onto the edge of the mattress.
“I dunno, sweetie. I’m so fucking sorry. This is getting out of control…” she sat and hugged me sideways, and I absently patted her arm. “We may need help.”
We’d received another package this morning, this time with a demand for a million dollars and more precise instructions of how to wire it to them to avoid the IRS. And in case I made the mistake of forgetting how grave a threat this was to my life, they leaked a photo of me from the hotel with Haz cropped out. The fan accounts were already sharing it at the speed of light; squealing about how good I looked. I couldn’t be mad, realistically. They were utterly clueless that this photo was an explicit threat to my life, and that their sharing it was integral to making the extortion effective.
“It’s not so bad,” she wagered, scrolling aggressively through Twitter and asking anyone who posted it to delete it right away. She also hit up all the major update accounts to spread the word that this was a leaked photo and an appalling violation of my privacy. The girls then became Nazis, brutally going after any individual who dared to reshare it to their accounts or even mention it offhandedly.
“I think it’s the only one…from what I can see,” she continued. “It must’ve just been a reminder of what they’re willing to do if you didn’t comply. I think they cropped him out on purpose.” She got up and dug through my nightstand until she found the first envelope. She sifted through the photos and found one of me sitting at the table. It was uncropped, so it depicted a naked Haz tied to the bed and blindfolded. Holy fucking shit I was screwed.
“I can’t do it, T…” I wept, falling onto her shoulder. She crushed me and rubbed my hair, and I could read in her trembling hands that she was equally as petrified. This was the one situation she couldn’t save me from. The one time she didn’t have everything all figured out.
“We’ll have to pay it…” she whispered. Regretful that we had no choice but to surrender. “They own us. I know it’s a lot of money and I can’t even begin to fathom what it must feel like to part with that much against your will…but at the same time, Z, your sanity is so worth it.”
“And what next, huh? Next time it’s gonna be two million…probably five. And what happens after that? Ten? Twenty? Am I supposed to goh completely broke payin’ these sick fucks?!” I sprang up from the mattress and ran my hands down my face, cursing and growling. I was done being scared. Now I was enraged. Kill-mode activated. Willing to do any and everything it would take to protect me and the person I loved most in this world. Fuck them. Fuck everybody.
I started breaking everything in sight, hollering unintelligibly, using all my strength to upheave the room. Shattering the lamps against the wall. Kicking a hole through my closet door. Punching another one into the wall. Breaking my phone against the headboard. Ripping the bedframe apart. Flipping the mattress and box spring like a complete lunatic. Taryn stood in the corner of the room crying and hollering for me to stop. Adrenaline was thrumming through my veins, forcing them to bulge out of my neck and forehead. I picked up the chest of drawers in an inexplicable burst of strength, lunging it into the wall. The blow shattered the window. Now the roar of traffic bled inside. Her voice only broke through the humming in my head once she screamed at the top of her lungs for half a minute straight. Now I paused and glared over at her; chest heaving, knuckles bloodied.
“Babe?” G panicked, running across the living room to me as I entered her flat. “Oh my God, Z?? What happened to your hands??” She took ahold of them and examined the swollen knuckles, picking at the bandages wrapped around a few of my juddering fingers.
“Holy shit, Z…”
“It’s nothin’, babe…it’s okay. I’m okay. I’m gud.”
“No the fuck you aren’t! What happened?!”
“I gotta talk to youh about sumthin.”
“Yeah…it’s not gud. Youh may wanna sit for this one.”
We sat on her sofa and she shut the TV off. It was after midnight and I’d come over unexpectedly. I’d left T behind. She was attempting to clean up the warzone in my room after patching me up.
“Are you ok?!” G demanded, grabbing the back of the neck. I couldn’t look her in the eyes, so I faced forward, head bent. In time, her hand slipped away.
“First, G…I need to ask youh this.” I was more than prepared for her to blow a head gasket. “Did youh at all have me followed while I was in Paris? During the times we were apart?”
“Z, what are you talking about? You’re scaring me! Like, how could you even ask me something like that?? Would you look at me!”
“I can’t. Let me just get this out, okay?”
“Well if it’s not youh who had me followed…that means we’re in some really deep shit. We’re in trouble, babe…”
“Please tell me you’re joking…”
“I’m not, and I’m sorry. I’m only tellin’ youh all this because it’ll affect youh and your family in a really fucked up away. When I’m done here, I have someone else to speak with as well…”
“Tell me what happened…stop meandering and being so vague.” I looked over at her and finally said fuck it.
“I met up with Haz in Paris a few times—”
“—one of the times we met, we were filmed…”
She dropped to her knees, clasping her head, a heart-wrenching display of grief. Much the same way I had the first time I saw the photos.
“G—” I touched her shoulder and she flung my hand away.
“Don’t! Do NOT fucking touch me!” she shouted. “You sick fucking bastard! I hate you! I hate you! I hate you!” She slapped me in the head repeatedly, then rocked me in the jaw. I grabbed her arms and held her down as best I could. Then she broke down into to bloodcurdling sobs, completely at a loss for what to do next. I had broken her. “Z….why?? Why?? Why do you hate me so much?! What have I ever done to you?!” she wept unintelligibly.
“I don’t hate you!” I cried, hugging her from behind. She allowed me to hold her for a moment, as she was so shaken up she had become insensible. “You don’t fucking deserve this. I’m a piece of shit, I know. I don’t deserve youh, G—” her screams were renewed and they made my ears ring. She begged me to say I was joking. Once she realized I couldn’t, she broke free of me and I darted across the room to avoid being hit.
Later when she calmed a bit, I ventured back over and sat on the couch. She was still crouched on the floor in front of it, staring ahead in a daze. Her face gleaming with tears. Her hair a wreck.
“G…” I began, tentatively, careful not to touch her. “I know you’re upset—”
“You have no idea what I am…” It was a disturbingly quiet statement. I felt that at any moment she was turn around and lunge at me.
“I’m sorry to make assumptions…but it’s just that….I seriously think…maybe we need to stick together—”
“Stick together?!” she laughed heartlessly and looked over at me. “Are you out of your fucking mind? Are you that big of an idiot? Now? Now you wanna stick together? Really Z? Not when you were supposed to be my fucking boyfriend, but now?! God you fucking disgust me!”
“G…I know you’re super fuckin’ angry right now, and youh have every right to be. I’m not denyin’ that for a second. Youh have every right to hate me. I want youh to hate me, yeah? I hate me, too. I’ll always hate what I’ve done to youh. But that doesn’t change the fact that we’re screwed.” I ran a hand through my horribly disheveled hair, averting my gaze from her teary eyes. The running mascara was horrifying me. It looked like she was possessed, and the room was filled with eerie shadows and unmoving silence.
“We really need to keep our heads on straight and figure a way out of this, babe. Because whether youh asked for it or not…you’re a part of this now. If we’re not careful, it’ll destroy youh and everythin’ you’ve worked your entire life to build. Same as me.”
“This is…” she tossed her hands up defeatedly, then began to quietly weep. “I cannot believe this is happening again. And you…you dragged me into this shit all over again. Instead of having the balls to be upfront or just leave—”
“Please don’t ever forgive me,” was all I whispered.
“You’re so fucking selfish, Z. Mommy always said that, and now I finally see it. I’m so tired of defending you. All you think about is yourself, at all times. Seriously—”
“G, I’m sor—”
“You’re a monster…”she whispered, getting up and heading down the hall into her bedroom. Sheslammed the door shut and I knew not to follow. Instead, I sat there rehashing everythingthat had happened since Paris, then realized it was completely unfair that Tarynknew and G knew, but Haz still didn’t.
I checked my phone and was aware he was in London, completely out of my reach in the hypothetical case he had a nervous breakdown upon learning of this. There would be no one around he could tell who’d be able to console him in any way. It would be stupid of me to alert him tonight, plus this was something I needed to break down to him in person. It had gone on too long. Rather suddenly, I jumped up and left the apartment, dialing Taryn and asking her to book me the first available flight to the UK.
(Thanks for reading! ❤️)