By , Elk Grove, CA

The way he practiced raising his hands in dramatic gesture, you felt as though something big was going to happen. Big and dramatic. Also involving a lot of flies needing to be swatted. Neil quietly observed his bandmate, theatrically 'practicing for court', as he had said. It looked ridiculous. This brought joy to Neil, with a smile like the Grinch when he hatched his plan to destroy Christmas. His buzz cut was growing back to the old flyaway boy band style. He looked presentable. Clean cut enough to get away with crime. It wasn't a crime he had committed, he had someone else do all the dirty work. That filthy ManBeast from the bar would take care of Emily, and he would get off scot free. Loren would be none the wiser. How many things did the pretty boy standing in front of the mirror not know? His leg was healed by now, along with his heart. "I don't know." He said. Neil thought he missed something. "You don't know what?" He inquired cautiously, scooting up to the space next to his former friend. "I don't know," he repeated, "If this is the right thing to do." "This?" Was Loren not as oblivious as he appeared? Maybe, behind the dumb musician act, was a hidden depth. "Should I part my hair the other way?" He asked dubiously. Neil heaved a sigh of surprise that turned into laughter. It was a rejoice of relief. Everyone around him was completely, utterly stupid. "You look fine." He managed to breathe out. It was moment like this, behind walls and hidden away from press, from fans, when he felt the pangs of nostalgia and of regret. They grew up together. Brothers. When they went to school Loren was the funny one, but Neil was the introvert. He drew criticism. Stares. The weird band nerd. Who else but Loren to stand up for him, have a witty word for anyone who tried to tear down Neil.  Look at them now. In the mirror he saw a confident, funny guy, and himself.  It was hard for him to complement himself without feeling like a narcissist. It didn't matter what way Loren parted his hair, he was still Loren. He looked great no matter what. In that same vein of thinking, it didn't matter what Neil did to sabotage Loren, he was still Neil. Loren backed away from the mirror and went back down the stairs to his girlfriend. Neil shut the bathroom door. He continued to stare at his reflection. He got close enough that his breath fogged up the surface, and he gazed deeply into his eyes. Searching for himself. He saw his own reflection in his eyes, and nothing else. I should be happy where I am. He thought. His eyes looked blank. No emotion. Why am I not happy? He thought he had all the answers, and he knew he didn't have any. He hurt Loren out of jealousy, and for creative control, and because he wanted to see him taken down a notch. It didn't make him feel any better. He could build a bridge over this whole situation, though. He had a chance at redemption. Neil forced a smile on his face. It brought up his spirits a little. His teeth were very white. He walked downstairs to see Loren and Jean curled on the couch, watching the Shining. The anxiety over court was absent in both pairs of eyes, instead glued and glazing as they absorbed the film. Jack Torrance made a deal with the bartender, a drink for his soul. It made his throat tighten up. He felt scared and helpless. Neil hurried out of the room. That's not you. You didn't sell your soul for a drink. No, you did it for fame. Envy. And it did even work. He couldn't have another breakdown. He saw the future, and it looked like his eyes. Blank and empty. He had to blink the worries from his mind, distance himself from them. He closed them tightly. It's like you're in a play. He said, calming himself down. His mood continually fluctuated, and he was left to comfort himself. Play your part. It's okay. It's easy to believe your own lies, but Neil couldn't feel sympathetic for himself. He put a hit on his friend and then a hit on a girl. They both get what's coming for them.

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