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Glitterland (Glitterland #1)
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The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.
Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.
Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.
But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?
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My heart is beating so fast it’s going to trip over itself and stop. Everything is hot and dark. I’ve been buried alive. I’m already dead.
I have just enough grip on reality to discard these notions, but it doesn’t quell my horror. My mouth is dry, strange and sour, my tongue thick as carpet. Alcohol-heavy breath drags itself out of my throat, the scent of it churning my stomach. I’m pickled in sweat. And there’s an arm across my chest, a leg across my legs. I am manacled in flesh.
god, god, fuck, god, fuck
My body is far too loud. Blood roaring, heart thundering, breath screaming, stomach raging, head pounding.
I’m going to have a ful -blown panic attack.
The first in a long time. Not much consolation.
Where am I? What have I . . .
out, fuck, have to get out
I twist away from the arm and the leg, rol ing off a bare mattress onto the bare floorboards. Maybe my first instinct was right. I am dead and this is hell. The darkness scrapes against my eyes. Where are the rest of my clothes?
And breathe, I need to breathe more. Or breathe less. Stop the light show in my head. My vision sheets red and black, like a roulette wheel spinning too fast, never stopping.
god, fuck, clothes
Scattered somewhere in the void. Trousers, shirt, waistcoat, jacket, a single sock. My fingers close over my phone. A cool, calming talisman.
Half-dressed, everything else bundled in my arms, I ease open the door, dark spilling into dark and, like Orpheus, I’m looking back. The shadows move across his face, but he doesn’t stir. He sleeps the perfect, heedless sleep of children, drunkards, and fools.
My footsteps creak along a narrow hal way of peeling paintwork and I let myself out onto a wholly unfamiliar street.
Breathe, just keep breathing. Keep breathing, and get away.
I stumbled down the pavement, the awfulness of this— this and everything—hanging off my shoulders like a rucksack full of rocks.
Still no idea where I was. Suburbia spiral ing away in all directions. And, at the horizon, a haze of pale light where the distant sea met the distant sky. I fumbled for my phone. 3:41.
god, fuck, god
There was a single blip of battery left. I called Nial . He didn’t answer. So I called again. And this time he did. I didn’t wait for him to speak.
“I don’t know where I am.” My voice rang too high even
in my own ears.
“Ash?” Niall sounded strange. “What do you mean? Where are you?”
“I just said. I don’t know. I . . . I’ve been stupid. I need to get home.”
My breathing was going wrong again.
“Can’t you call a cab?”
“Yes . . . no . . . I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know the number. What if it doesn’t come? I don’t know.” Anxieties were swimming around inside me like jellyfish, but I was usually better at not confessing them aloud.
It hadn’t occurred to me to get a taxi, but even the idea of it seemed overwhelming in its magnitude. A quagmire of potential disaster that was utterly terrifying.
“Can you come and get me?” I asked.
Later I would see how pathetic it was, my desperate pleading, the weasel thread of manipulative weakness running through my words. Later, I would remember that calLing for a taxi was an everyday event, not an ordeal beyond reckoning. Later, yes, later I would drown in shame and hate myself.
A hollow sigh gusted over the line. “Oh God, Ash, can’t you—”
“No, no, I can’t. Please, I need to go home.”
“Okay, okay, I’m coming. Can you at least find a street sign? Give me some idea where you are?”
Phone clutched in my sweat-slick hand, I ran haphazard along the houses. The curtains were shut as tight as eyes.
“Marlborough Street,” I said. “Marlborough Street.”
“All right. I’ll be there. Just . . . I’ll be there.”
I sat down on a wall to wait, irrational panic eventually giving way to a dull pounding weariness. There was a packet of cigarettes in my jacket pocket. I wasn’t supposed to have cigarettes, but I was already so fucked that I lit one, grey smoke curling lazily into the grey night.
Don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t forget to take your medication, don’t break your routine. Nobody had ever explicitly said, “Don’t have casual sex with strange men in unfamiliar cities,” but it was probably covered in the “Don’t have any fun ever” clause. The truth was, casual sex was about the only sex I could stand these days. On my own terms, whenI could control everything. And myself.
But tonight I’d broken all the rules and I was going topay the price. I could feel it, the slow beat of water against the crumbling cliffs of my sanity. I was going to crash. I was going to crash so hard and deep it would feel as though there was nothing inside me but despair. The cigarette, at least, might hold it off until I got home.