(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.)
A seeker of silences am I
and what treasure have I found in silences
that I may dispense with confidence?
Kahlil Gibran – The Prophet
Jay and I separated the next morning when we touched down at Heathrow, and I booked him a ride home back to Bradford. Time to be on my own for a while to sort my thoughts without the paranoia of someone observing my every move and asking if I was alright every couple of hours. Bridget, a member of Modest, met me at the airport to ensure I’d arrived safely, and that I got directly into a luxury SUV hired to take me home. She made me sign a few release forms in the backseat, acknowledging that I was voluntarily leaving tour for a few shows, before sending me on my way; paparazzi hot on my tail.
A few fans had swarmed in the airport terminal, like I’d kicked over a fallen beehive, but I sidestepped them with apologies, knowing that if I stopped for one with the level of heat on me just now, I’d be mobbed and wouldn’t make it out alive. The one thing they asked me over and over was if I was coming back to the band. As if that was anything I was willing to discuss while on the run. Still, the question kept coming. It was like a knife to the heart each time, because with each passing hour, I resigned to the idea that it was over. I feared that if I attempted to insert myself back into that extraordinarily anxious state I’d been in back in Hong Kong, my body would slip into a catatonic state and never recover.
Home didn’t feel like home when I arrived. Just an echoey shell waiting to receive me. It greeted me with all the terseness of a mom picking up an expelled student, for which she had to leave work early. Whatever, I muttered beneath my breath. I didn’t need a home anyway. Just a building. Any building would do really, just to hide me from the noise. As expected, the paps had followed me from the airport, and if it weren’t for the privacy fence surrounding my yard, they’d have followed me up to the doorstep and clambered into the shower behind me. Inside, the lights were off, almost like no one was home, but I knew she was waiting. I’d spoken to her early in the morning the day before, and she’d been expecting me hours ago. I hadn’t found the opportunity to let her know the flight was rescheduled. Peeling the brown leather jacket off, which I’d dug out of my carryon mid-flight, I headed upstairs.
“Pez?” I approached the master suite, clearing my throat. The door was ajar and the lights were off, so I pushed it open tentatively and headed inside. She was asleep, I realized, after flicking the lights on. Was I ready to wake her and deal with this? Not really. Would it be stupid of me to leave and pretend I hadn’t come home? Probably. Even so, it’s what I wanted to do. As soon as I flicked the light back off, she woke.
“Heyyy?” was her sleepy exclamation. Here we go. Fuckkk me.
“Hey…” I smiled, flicking the light back on to see her wiping her eyes. “Youh alright?”
“Yeah…flight got rescheduled.”
“Uh…just some extra red tape. Noh biggie.”
“You didn’t call? I was waiting for you.”
“I know…m’sorry. I meant to, but me phone went dead and I was away from a charger until I boarded. Sorry, babes.”
“We need to talk…”
And there it was. I knew I wasn’t getting off the hook that easy. Not with just with a frantic, apologetic phone call the night the photos dropped of me in Thailand holding hands with the blonde, nor with my pathetic tweet reaffirming my love for my so-called fiancé. This was huge. It was worldwide, and I’d been caught red-handed in every language known to man. No engaged bloke ought to be caught holding the hand of another woman under any circumstances. There was just no plausible excuse. The proof was right there staring everyone in the face, and there was no weaseling my way out of it this time. This was way bigger than the other times I’d been caught.
“Uh…okay. Let’s talk.”
“Go ahead and get settled. I’ll be down in a bit.”
“Okay…” I nodded, backing out of the room and heading downstairs like a chided schoolboy.
In the kitchen I rummaged through the cabinets until I found my carton of smokes and opened a fresh pack. Shivering, I stepped onto the balcony in nothing but my t-shirt and stared sleepily at the garden. Nothing but sky and ground, and my confounded contraptions. A mad-man’s haven. Massive teepee. Life-size Tekken action figures. My make-believe bar, The Bradford Arms. Was this it for me now? Would this be my day-to-day? No more screams and adulation and globe-trotting. Just the staleness of home and the stagnation of mediocrity. Visiting with family and laughing at unfunny anecdotes. Searching Netflix for something new to watch despite having exhausting the database. Washing up the dishes, bare feet on linoleum floors. Taking out the garbage, waving robotically at the neighbors. Mowing the lawn on a strict schedule, making sure the sprinklers were precisely timed.
I dug my phone out my pocket, having silenced it on the ride over. I had about fifty missed calls. The news must’ve broken that I’d left tour due to stress. I thought instantly about changing my number. That was the only way I’d find relief from this shit. It rang in my hand and I simply stared at my aunt’s name on the caller ID. She was lithium-addled and a real killjoy. Why on earth would I want to talk to her right now? Why wouldn’t they stop calling? What was there to say? All they would ask was: ‘are you alright?’ And did it look like I felt like answering that stupid fucking meaningless question a thousand times today?? Hell no! Leave me the fuck alone, all of you!
“Zayn…” Pez called from the balcony door, hugging a jumper around her body. Apart from that she was pantless and barefoot. “It’s cold out.”
“Yeah, it is. Here I come.”
Inside, we sat across from one another at the island. She’d made coffee and offered me a cup, which I accepted. Now she sat and sighed.
“You smoking inside?”
“Yeah…” I stared at my hand, having forgotten the cigarette was burning. “Why not?”
“We talked about it. The walls are all white, y’know? They won’t be for long if you insist on doing that.”
“It’s just one time, babe. It was a long flight,” I looked across at her, brow furrowed. There was a wall between us. This was the most sober and grave we had ever been. I hadn’t heard one ‘bubs’ since I got there.
“Why was the flight delayed again?”
“I told youh…just some extra run around. I jumped the gun when I called earlier and told youh I was on my way. I still had to finish a few things first. We were supposed to be filmin’ for another commercial while there, but I ruined that.”
“Well, mental health comes first, right?”
“So…what happened? Why’d you leave?”
“I wanted to talk to youh.”
“We could’ve talked over the phone…” she puzzled.
“Yeah, but it just felt like I needed to see youh in person. And I was just tired, maan, y’know? All those rumors were exhaustin’.”
“I guess,” she shrugged, taking a sip of her drink; tucking her frayed hair behind her ears. Her face was red because she was wearing no makeup. I nearly counted her spots until she cleared her throat and spoke up again. “How can I be sure they were just rumors then?”
“Because I’m tellin’ youh they were.”
“Would you have told me you held her hand if you weren’t photographed?”
“Of course…I tell youh everythin’.”
“Bloody hell, Zen, did you really fly all this way to lie?!”
“Who was she?”
“I told youh…”
“That’s not what I asked,” she spat, grip tightening around her cup.
“Nobody, Pez, seriously. She’s completely irrelevant. I met her—”
“At a club…”
“Why her what?”
“Why’d you leave with her?! Why were you holding her fucking hand?!” I saw traces of her freaking out in the way her brow knitted and the way she anxiously fiddled with the cup.
“Because I was lonely and bored and anxious…and I missed youh, believe it or not.”
“It’s true! Why do youh think she was blonde??”
“I dunno, Pez, I dunno. I’m tryin’ alright?! It’s just—” I cut myself off, so she glanced at me and raised her eyebrows.
“I’m just exhausted, maan. I don’t know how else to describe it. And I don’t know what else to do with myself latelyh. It’s all become too much.”
“What, the band? Us?”
“Both, I guess.”
“You should’ve said something,” she let out a panicked chuckle. “Before it got this bad, y’know? Me mum’s worried too.”
“Maybe…” I shrugged, staring into my cup. “But I’m not too gud at that, remember? We both know that.”
“Maybe you just need a break from everything then?”
“I know…that’s kinda why I’m here, babe.”
“I mean us too.”
“Yeah…” she fretted, taking another sip. “If it’s all gotten to be too much…maybe I’ll give you a bit of space for a few days—”
“Pez, that’s not what this is about, I promise youh. I’m gud…we’re gud. I want youh here with me.”
“It just seems to me you’re not all there, Zen. I just feel like…something’s missing that was there before. You and I…we just aren’t clicking anymore—”
“That’s not true at all—” I got up and moved around the island to kiss her. “I need youh, babe. I need youh…” I rasped, staring down into her eyes. She looked jaded. Even more so than I was. My speeches weren’t working anymore.
Despite my pleading, she decided it was best for her to go stay with her mom until things cooled off. She said she needed some time to think about whether we should keep working at this or not. The Thailand blonde was kind of her last straw, and she’d really given up on us. She was so used to it by now that she no longer felt mortified, even when her family sent her the images and questioned my loyalty. I begged her to stay and promised to be faithful from here on out, but my usual lines just weren’t as convincing anymore. And I wasn’t really in the mood for being convincing. If I’m honest, I could use the space too. I was crumbling, and my mind was not in London with me. It was still in Hong Kong, still in that hotel room, still in his arms. Every time I even remotely approached the thought of him waking alone to that cold little note, my chest caved in. Pez took off later that afternoon with a Louis Vuitton duffel bag and the dogs, and we made plans to meet up in about a week to see where we were at. After that, I was alone with nothing but my thoughts. That sort of introspection invited a bone crushing solitude that made me feel trapped someplace in the crust of the earth, vaporizing into thin air. Speaking of air, there was none. I staggered upstairs to the bedroom, collapsing across the bed and passing out.
I awoke after midnight, having slept for 12 hours straight. It was pitch black because the drapes were closed and the TV was off. With what little strength I had, I kicked my boots off and dragged my t-shirt over my head, finally stripping down to my briefs. Then I climbed beneath the covers and breathed in her perfume. The house shifted around me, animated with a life of its own. I thought I heard the door creak open, but when I frantically switched the bedside lamp on, no one was there. Fucking hell, it was spooky to be alone. For a while I just felt seated in darkness. Like I was at a table trying to negotiate my life out of the hands of some fucked up thing that had crept in and confiscated it.
Hopping up, I peered out the window and saw a few media vans parked outside my house, camping out to catch a single glimpse of me. A few paps were parked a little further down, smoking and drinking outside the car. I’d make it my business not to step foot outside until they were all gone, hoping to make them lose money. Heading downstairs, I flicked on every light along the way, chasing away the shadows that seemed to hiss at me. Loneliness could we deafening sometimes, and this was no exception. With three opened beers and a bit of Ramen, I headed back upstairs and ate in bed, watching Interstellar.
At last I scrolled through a few messages and saw Lou checking in on me. Then Liam. Finally Preston and a few of the crew. I hit them all back to let them know I was okay, but didn’t invite any further conversation. I scrolled through nearly a hundred missed calls, texts, and voicemails, but failed to find the one I sought the most. That was a bit of a stab. Twitter scared me. There was just such an intense panic around my leaving that I couldn’t keep up or read anyone else’s perspective on why I was gone. Some thought it was because of the cheating. Some thought I was sick. Some thought I’d had a fight with the boys. Other theorized that I’d been fired. Holy shit.
I dozed and found myself seated in a parked car with Pez. She’d come back early and we were still trying to work through our shit. Trying to decide if it was worth continuing or not. When at last I said that we should call it quits, she sobbed hysterically. She then turned the engine on, tossed the car in gear, and floored it until we were sailing straight off a cliff, floating mid-air. I screamed, trying to put the car in reverse, banging on the windows, but then the car plummeted.
Stomach dropping, I awakened to Lou Rawls “Love Is A Hurtin Thing” playing on my stereo, I found a beer tipped over and spilling onto the mattress. After cleaning it up, I lay towards the foot of the bed and finished the movie. Still no text or call from him. Did he honestly not give a fuck about me? Did the note upset him that much? I knew it would, but didn’t think he’d go radio silent on me this soon. I wasn’t about to call him first either. That was a bitch move. But wait, why did I always expect him to be the bitch? To call first? To break first? Fuck it. I dialed him up.
“You’re not even worried about me,” was the first thing I said as soon as he answered.
“Youh haven’t even called to check on me.”
“I was out.”
“We were on a flight.”
“Youh worried about me?”
“No. I heard you made it alright. That’s all I needed to know.”
“Soh youh didn’t want to talk to me?”
“Not particularly, no.”
“Well fuck it then.”
I hung up. He didn’t call back despite me waiting a long while for him to do so. Why didn’t he care? Wasn’t he freaked out? I thought he was supposed to be falling apart without me? Where was all that, ‘I’d die if you left’ talk now? Then suddenly it dawned on me…he actually believed the note. Shit, he actually thought I’d just be gone for a few shows. That’s the only reason he wasn’t freaking out. Shit, shit, shit.
Later the TV timed out and shut off. Tracy Chapman’s “At This Point In My Life” cooed softly over the room. I lay there towards the foot of the bed in the darkness with him. His cold toes brushing my legs. His slightly asthmatic breathing in my ear. I whispered how much I missed him already. He turned me over and pressed his lips to my neck, stroking my belly. It was 2011 all over again. I remembered him sneaking to my flat a thousand times at Princess Park, and all we’d do is make out for hours, unable to keep our hand to ourselves. Stifling. His sugary lips and deep, deep sighs. His heartbeat. His nastiness. His need, always matching mine. But he wasn’t actually there. Only Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides, Now” accompanied me in the quiet. My brain was playing tricks on me. The withdrawals were kicking in early, because I knew I would never see him again. Within the gates of my soul, I knew. We would never make things right. In 50 years, we’d be two bitter old men, not speaking or sorting through our shit.
I spent the next few days on a complete bender, drinking every drop of alcohol in the house, running through my weed stash, pigging out in bed with what little food I had left, watching porn back-to-back at night, refusing to shower or answer the phone. All I wanted to do was fuck. I just needed to stick my dick in something. My hand started to bore me. I thought of calling up an escort, but knew they’d be spotted by the paps and would only cause yet another scandal. Plus, I looked disgusting right now. My beard grown quickly, as had my beer gut from the state of inactivity I’d slipped into. I kept all the blinds and drapes drawn closed, worried the paps might climb the trees and get a few unflattering shots of me in my birthday suit. Most of the time I slept, but whenever I woke, I played video games until my fingers grew numb, and when I couldn’t find anything interesting on the telly, I’d stare at the wall and ruminate incessantly. Castoff and maniacal. A Daniel Plainview in the making.
My thoughts became a dark, imprisoning mass. Churning like a vacuum. A prelude to catastrophe. Its magnitude increasing by the minute. Bigger than myself. Expanding far beyond my depth and leaving me to question every fucking thing. Down to the number of fingers on my hand. My height. My race. My gait. My laughter. The sound of my own voice, ever present inside my head. My purpose going forward. I’d let the world down, so now what? Was it worth it? Had it make me feel as big as I thought it would? Had I really given it all up for this? Total seclusion?
I kept thinking how bizarre it felt to be on my own for once, no one to answer to. Knowing there were no obligations down the road to keep me disciplined. No reason to shave or wash my hair. What the fuck was there to get me out of bed in the morning? Oh my god I’d made huge fucking mistake! Massive! How had I not anticipated this? The fast and inevitable drop into oblivion?? No one gave a fuck about me anymore. There was literally no reason for anyone to care for anything I did anymore. Alone, alone, alone. Fuck, I was actually gonna die alone. Why should anyone bother? I’d shown my true colors now. I was the quitter. The loser. The one who caved.
I had it all
Rivers of gold and forest so tall
But I ran my canoe down a waterfall
Started a wildfire
Mountains of the Moon | Caterpillar
The next afternoon I woke and grew sick off the reek of my own ripe pits. I raised my arm and sniffed one, then gagged. After showering, I dried my hair and tossed on one of Haz’s abandoned Green Bay Packers jumpers and a pair of sweats. As I made my way to the ground floor for a bite to eat, someone began beating on the front door like the police. Narcotics unit. Mid-staircase, all I could think was that the paparazzi and media had lost their minds. How the fuck had they gotten inside the gate? Rushing down the remainder of the way, becoming more livid with each lunging step, I slung the front door open, only to find my mum standing with her fist air.
“Mum?? What the hell?!”
“It’s about damn time!” she huffed, looker madder than I’d seen her in a while. “Why the hell didn’t youh call, Zen? It’s been days! I’ve been calling you since the moment you left Hong Kong! I’ve been losing me mind worried about youh!” She hit me with her purse.
“I’m soh, soh, sorry, mum. I’ve just been…tryin’ to sort out me thoughts. I’m losin’ it!” I hugged her, but she shoved her way inside, the door slamming shut as we moved into the living room.
“Everyone’s worried sick back home. Your sisters all wanted to come too, but I didn’t want to overwhelm youh since I was comin’ unannounced already.”
“That’s alright, mum, I woudn’t’ve minded it. I’m happy youh came,” I smiled cheerily. “I appreciate youh a lot. Always lookin’ out for me. I was bein’ an idiot, yeah? I should’ve at least texted before, but there were just soh many bloody messages and calls—”
“Ah! Idiots!” I heard my dad say, sauntering inside the house. “I’ve gotten them down the street as far as I can. They’re nothing but vultures!”
I had no clue he’d come too. Oh shit, they must’ve been super worried to both show up here like this; and especially for him to brave the media attention just to check up on me. Even though I was much closer to my mum of late as far as socializing was concerned, something about him standing there in the flesh cemented the idea that I’d really left the band. All of a sudden, the notion seemed devastating. Like someone had died. I’d done a major fucking thing. I was in crisis mode and they’d driven all the way from Bradford because of it. This wasn’t an average day off work, my life was falling apart on the world stage and I was too thick to notice it.
I broke down crying and before I could collapse, he hurried and hugged me for the first time in nearly two years. We hadn’t been this close since before the fallout in 2013, when he told me how much my behavior on tour with Haz had embarrassed him and shamed the family. I’d been under the impression that I disgusted him ever since, so I’d kept my distance, even when we were in the same room. The thought of him holding me the way he was lent me a profound sense of peace. I clung to him, burying my face in his burly shoulder and crinkling the back of his collar where I gripped it. The deep, meningeal pain that had accosted me the past several days at last abated. After some time, my mum hugged me from behind and I swear to God hadn’t felt so protected or cared for in my entire life.
Once I filled them in on what had taken place before I left tour, my mum left to go grocery shopping since Pez and I were pretty shit at it, which she reminded me of anytime she visited. Apparently, she planned to cook me a few hearty meals before they took off, so I’d have them in the coming days. They were both fearful I might stop eating again. As my dad escorted her out to the car to make sure the paps didn’t descend, I glanced at my missed calls and still nothing from Haz. He was really holding it all in until I got back on tour, yet little did he know, I wasn’t coming back at all. At some point I’d have to man up and tell him, but today certainly wasn’t that day.
“Where’s Perrie gone?” my dad asked, sauntering back inside and joining me at the kitchen table. He plopped down in the chair across from me with an old man grunt. I smiled.
“She’s out for a few days actually.”
“Does she know what’s goin’ on?”
“Yeah, of course. She’s just…”
“You didn’t tell her to leave did youh?”
“Noh…noh, actually, it was her choice. She said she needed a breather. Basically, after the, uh…headlines.”
“What was that about, anyweh?”
“Nothin, nothin…just some bullshit as always.”
“Was there any truth to it?” he cocked an eyebrow at me and reminded me so much of myself that I chuckled.
“A little bit I guess. If I’m being straight with youh.”
“Son…” he ran a hand down his face, fighting his exasperation before meeting my eyes again. “What’s going on? You’re falling apart, aren’t youh? Cheating? Leaving tour? Smoking like a chimney in this damned house. Tell me…does this have anything to do with those boys…?”
“Noh, dad, I swear. They didn’t do anythin’. It’s just all my shit, alright?”
“What about Harry? I’ve got a strange feeling about him.” I had no idea why he needed to make a distinction between Haz and the others, but I simply shook my head to avoid further inquiry in that direction. “Soh, none of youh were fighting then?”
“Noh, old maan. I was just exhausted,” I muttered tiredly. “The headlines took a lot out of me, and they sort of put Pez and I in a bad place…”
“Well, whose fault is that?”
“My own. I know. I’m not blamin’ anyone…I’m just tryin’ to get my shit sorted.”
“Will youh ever goh back?” It felt like I’d been asked that a hundred times now.
“Noh…I’ve made my mind up about that already, I think. That’s really the only thing I’m settled on.”
“Soh, just like that, you’re giving up?”
“Not givin’ up…just movin’ on.”
“Where to from here? Since youh seem to have everythin’ figured out.”
“I dunno, dad, I dunno…” I ran a hand down my face, swallowing the lump in my throat. It was clear he was disappointed that it had been the brown boy who brought the band all the negative press over the years. Multiple cheating scandals, the candy thong, the weed video, and now the first member to quit. Mid tour, no doubt. I was a trainwreck and it was so clear he was ashamed of that fact.
“Dad…?” I began, blinking back tears.
“I didn’t mean it, okay? I didn’t mean to do any of it. It just sort of…happened.” I rested my head against my hand and tears plopped onto the table. “The weed shit, the cheating shit, the stuff with Haz, now the quittin’. I didn’t mean to let anyone down. It just all got out of my hands.”
“That’s an easier way to look at it, isn’t it? To believe it was all done by a force beyond your control. I remembered saying soh much of the same things when I was your age…except, between youh and I…my sins were much, much worse.” He grinned and it finally set me at ease. All I could recall were those nights he and I stayed up late watching boxing when I was a kid. Then he’d carry be upstairs to bed because I was too lazy to walk.
“Soh, uh…youh were worse off than me at my age?”
“To be truthful, Z, I’m not even sure how I might’ve handled half of the things youh boys have had to put up with soh early on in life. With the whole fame and traveling from home and the relentless schedule and media attention. I can’t hold it against youh for slipping up here and there. It’s only natural. I’ll tell youh this…under far less extraordinary circumstances, many men have done much worse. It’s all soh unprecedented with youh five. But what I can do today is tell youh a little of what I needed to learn very quickly along the way. Once I got older and things started to make a bit more sense. They’re still not totally clear, even at my age, but they’re certainly a little clearer.”
“Oh yeah? What’s that?”
“The best thing one can do in any situation, is learn to take responsibility for the parts that are in our control. It’s soh much easier than trying to place the blame onto other people, or forces beyond our own hands. It also helps to become more mindful of the decisions we are making ahead of time. Exercise forethought. Youh and I, we are thinkers, not speakers. Soh it stands to reason that we should be the ones making the most rational decisions.” He tossed his hands up and sighed. “Because at the end of the day, these choices will stick with you and noh one else. Youh are the only one who will be forced to deal with the consequences of those decisions firsthand. And anyone else harmed along the way is just a part of the collateral damage.”
When he said collateral damage, all I could think of is how I’d hurt the boys by not saying goodbye at the very least. No one could’ve stopped me from leaving, of course, but saying goodbye could’ve taken the edge off for a lot of people. And I had hurt Haz with promises of a false return, and had hurt Perrie with yet another cheating scandal. The biggest one yet. For the first time in forever, the fog was clearing and I could at last distinguish between the person I currently was and the man I longed to be. And it would take a great deal of work to attain him, but I was willing to put that work in, because this was my life at stake here. It was the only one I had, and when I reached the end of the line, I didn’t want my story to be riddled with regrets, or all the poor decisions I’d made in my youth. My legacy was massively important to me, and it was time for me to be more mindful of it.
At dinner we tried to let things be as normal as possible. We talked about my sisters since they were always a source of levity. None of them were dealing with shit as heavy as I was. A few beers down, my dad spoke animatedly, shouting and waving his arms like a televangelist. I watched my mom laugh over her plate, discreetly hiding a mouthful of salad behind the napkin. She was so angelic. My lifesaver. God, I could recall the long summers of my youth. The sound of the ice cubes hitting the side of the glass when she picked her drink up off the coaster. The cups would drip in the heat and she hated to see rings on the furniture. Once she set the glass down again, there was always the imprint of her lipstick on the rim. The memory was so vivid I could even hear the music softly crooning in the background. The tail end of “Chaudhvin Ka Chand.”
My parents took the guest room on the first floor, and I headed upstairs after watching a movie alone on the big screen in the theatre. I’d fallen asleep and when I woke of it was after 10pm. My body was stiff and achy; rigor mortis setting in. The second I reached my room, I heard the shower running. That was odd. Had someone come up to use the shower this late? My parents had already called it quits because they wanted to drive back early tomorrow, so there’s no way it could’ve been one of them. Stomach knotting, I pushed the bedroom door open but saw no sign of anyone. Just my crumpled sheets and a half smoked blunt in an ashtray on the nightstand. Even the TV was off. Gulping, I crept towards the bathroom. The shower was indeed running, but the light was off. Flicking the switch on, the room lit up, and he was there standing in the shower, facing away from me. Long hair dripping down his bare back. Shoulders and calves flexing as he scrubbed himself.
“H-haz?” I called out, blinking to clear my eyes. Shit, I was out of it. This couldn’t be real. It simply couldn’t be. Edging forward, I knocked on the glass and he turned around and smiled like he’d been expecting me. Now he opened the door and puckered his dripping lips for a kiss. Without speaking, I reflexively pressed my mouth to his.
Gasping awake, I saw that I was still sat in the backrow of the home theatre. A space-themed screen saver expanded across the screen. This wasn’t going to work out. It had to end here. I couldn’t let it go on another day. To keep the truth from him was the weakest thing I could’ve done. It was petty and manipulative to leave him with false hope for days on end, knowing I’d ultimately crush him. To withhold that final truth seemed to be my way of clinging to my last bit of control over him. Over his body, his mind. I knew he’d never touch another person as long as he was waiting on me, and I knew he’d never fall in love again as long as I was in the picture. Maybe I thought if I could just remain that person for him a little longer, it’d make my nights easier, but in truth it was only driving me insane. I couldn’t stop seeing him all day every day. On the plane. At the breakfast table whenever I stepped into the kitchen. Fidgeting around under the sheets with me at night. And now in the shower. It was almost like he was dead. Even worse, it felt like I’d killed him.
Determined to lay his ghost to rest, I dialed him up. Time to get it over with. It rang through to voicemail, and I realized he was still asleep. It was the middle of the night where he was, Jakarta Indonesia. According to Twitter they’d arrived earlier today. I dialed again and the line clicked through, but no words were spoken.
“Heyyy, babe. How are youh, beautiful?”
“It’s late,” he sighed.
“I know…m’sorry. I just…I just needed to hear your voice, gorgeous.”
“Yeah, m’alright. Better than ever,” I grinned.
“Then how are you really feeling?” I could hear him turning over and sitting up against the pillows. I wished so badly I was under the covers with him, and that he was speaking directly into my ear. Hearing his voice was having the same effect on me that my dad did. It made it all feel too real. I was really doing this. Better ease into it.
“I dunno, babe. I miss youh loads. And I also just…I just feel super disconnected…from everythin’. Nothin’ feels familiar anymore.”
“I bet. It must be super jarring for you. We’ve, uh, been doing this thing since we were sixteen and seventeen, remember? Mate, it’s literally all we know.”
“Yup. But…what if I can’t do it anymore? What then?”
“Z…listen…if you can’t do it, then you can’t do it. It’s as simple as that. No one can make you, right? With this sort of work, uh, your heart really has to be in it, otherwise, what’s the point? People can tell too, mate. Like…they can sense when you’re not there 100%. So it’s understandable if you want to, uh, take a break. We just need to go about it carefully.”
At that I just unloaded, venting about everything I was feeling that night and all I’d been feeling for the past few months. I hadn’t told anyone the shit I was telling him just now. About how dissociated I was from the people and places around me. Almost like I couldn’t get out of my own head. Nothing felt safe anymore. I wept my way through a vivid description of my mental state, and I could tell he was beginning to panic over me being alone. He kept saying he just needed to see me. That I needed to come home to him so he could see that I was ok. He threatened to leave tour to come after me, but I begged him not to because it’d make things too obvious.
“Just come home Z. Just get back to me. Please. We can sort it all out when we’re together and see each other face-to-face, alright? I care about you so deeply, mate. So deeply. I need you to understand that. You’re not alone. I’m going through this thing with you the whole time, even though sometimes it doesn’t seem like it. I’m always thinking about you…and worrying about you.”
“Yeah,” I smiled tearfully.
“And I know you better than anyone, so I know that you don’t sound ok right now. I don’t want you to do anything stupid. You need me. No one’s looking after you. Perrie is useless as fuck. Fuck’s sake, mate, she left you at the worst possible time. And you need closure. That’s all it is. You won’t be ok if you go like this, Z. You need balance. You need things to feel familiar again.”
“I think I just need rest, babe.”
“So take a few more days off, but still come back to me. You’re always welcome back. Don’t burn all those bridges yet. You can hold off until the end of the tour in October, I know you can. It’s just six more months, Z, and we get a few breaks in between. If you go now, it’s gonna…it’s gonna fuck with your head for a long time.”
“I know you are. I love you so much. I want you to look after yourself until you get here, alright?Just come have a meeting with me in about a week, and I’ll help you work through it. I promise I will. I love you so much. Cape Town, Z. Cape Town. That’s all I want to hear from you. I can’t wait to see you again.”
He must’ve said ‘Cape Town’ a dozen times. He was apparently giving me another week off before I came back to tour, since my one-week break was about to be up in a day or so.
“Just say Cape Town, mate. Just say it…”
“Baby…” He got really quiet and started sniffling. That was all it took for me to tear up again.
“Please, say it. Please just say it. Cape Town. I waiting on you…”
“I can’t, babe…” I croaked. “I can’t say it because it wouldn’t be true.”
A whimper escaped his throat. I pressed the back of my fist to my mouth and tried to listen to his hysterical muttering. He told me he hated me like fifty times.
“Youh know this has nothin’ to do with the way I feel about youh, babe. I’m not leavin’ youh, Haz, I’m leavin’ them. Youh know that right?? Haz? Please tell me youh know that?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said hoarsely. “It still all feels the same. You’re abandoning me in the middle of abandoning them. Don’t leave me. Please don’t leave me…”
My heart dislocated, snapping away from the arteries and falling down my intestines. We both must’ve went through every stage of grief on that call. Denial, anger, bargaining, and at last moment, some confused form of acceptance. We were not on the same page at all. It blurted out of my mouth before I even realized what I was saying. A simple ‘Cape Town’ was all it took to make him stop crying. To hear the relief in his voice only made me sick with dread. Of course, I wouldn’t show up to Cape Town. He would wake in the morning and hear the news from management because he was simply unable to accept it from me. And that would be the end of it. Cold-hearted, but necessary.
Once he lightened up on the other line, content that he would see me in a week in South Africa, I listened to him sniffle and laugh softly as he filled me in on what I’d missed while I was away. I reclined back in the theatre seat and relished the warmth of his old sweater and the rumble of his heavy voice for another hour. Neither of us realized after that night we would go on to lose contact…or that we wouldn’t speak again for a very, very long time.
(Thanks for reading! ❤️)