"Hey, look, I'm really sorry about this morning and what you-"
Coll shook her head. "No need to be sorry. You're a grown-up." She giggled and slipped her key into the door, unlocking it. He followed her in.
"No, I know, but I…" For all the time he spent sitting there waiting for her, he hadn't been able to bring his thoughts into words.
"It's really just none of my business," Coll assured him as she took her jacket off and threw it over a chair. "I don't really understand the dynamics of you and Mandy and whatever agreement you have. It's none of my business. You know what you're doing." She smiled weakly.
He absolutely did not know what he was doing but let her believe it anyway. Also, he realized he hadn't even meant to apologize for anything he made her think regarding Mandy; he just felt he had to apologize to her … for everything.
"Also I pass no judgment, Becka slept around a ton a few years ago. I get it. People have … things." She shrugged, though she actually had no idea exactly how much sleeping around he was doing; she imagined it could be however much he wanted as there was no shortage of willing participants. "But you should probably just let Mandy go. I mean, you're here apologizing to me ..."
The twinge of guilt settled into him, he had no idea what was happening. Was it just because he felt like she was a better person than he was? How come he could talk to Mandy after screwing around with other girls and feel okay about it, but talking to Coll made him feel like a heaping pile of trash? The possibilities made him uncomfortable, he ignored them.
"What did you buy?" He asked with a sigh, motioning to the shopping bag she had brought in. She smiled and tried not to blush as she hid her face behind her hand, casually pretending she had an itch.
"Oh, nothing. Just a dress." She stated simply, leaving out mention of the perfume she also bought that cost about the same as two textbooks.
Nick nodded as he watched her run a hand through her hair and reach for a water bottle on the desk. He had a hollow feeling in his back as he watched her sip from the bottle, and as she returned it to the surface of the desk. She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned against the desktop. He caught her eye and noticed his mouth felt dry. He became aware then that she smelled absolutely divine.
"Do you want to hang out tonight? Howie and I were going to up to place his friend owns over near Notting Hill."
"Yeah, I'd love to! Is it okay if I tell Leighanne? And I guess Brian? We sort of spoke about doing something."
"Sure, yeah. I think Howie mentioned it to Brian already."
"So. We're good?" He asked, sadly.
"All good - not to worry." She nodded, swallowing back some anxiety, hoping the awful feeling she had would pass, but also knowing she was totally wearing that dress tonight. She calculated that she should have time for a quick nap. She was exhausted, her brain was on overdrive, but it had no clue in what direction it was meant to be heading.
As Coll approached Nick and Howie in the hotel lobby that evening, she immediately questioned the dress.
"Oh god, am I overdressed??" She asked, self-conscious due to the blank look on their faces.
"Huh?" Howie asked.
"No! No, you look… great." Nick smiled as he shoved his hand further into his pocket.
"Oh, yeah, no Coll… you're great, you look great. Awesome dress." Howie stammered.
Coll looked at Nick, who was grinning at Howie's reaction.
Coll's dress was a floral, primarily red and black silk - it was clinging to all the right spots, but it wasn't revealing or overdone. It was a great summer evening dress. It landed above her knee in a whimsical, thin rolled hem that moved effortlessly ever so slightly even when she stood still. The spaghetti straps followed the curve of her slender shoulder to her mid-back before the fabric spread out down into a deeply curved and lightly cowled back. She had to admit it fit her like a glove, and she felt confident in it until she thought she might be overdressed.
Awkwardly she adjusted the small crossbody bag she had across her chest, banging it against her hip gently.
"You look awesome," Nick assured her as Coll's eyes caught his. She found herself savoring the small window of opportunity to swim around in that deep abyss of light blue while she had it. She smiled weakly at him and began telling herself some lies in an attempt to hold it together. Nothing is happening.
She took a deep breath, "Are we waiting for anyone else?" She asked casually, even though she knew full well that Brian and Leighanne had decided on a romantic evening dining along the Thames.
Howie's bodyguard, Jay, accompanied the three of them to the restaurant that night. Dinner was delicious, and the cocktails were spectacular.
"I'm so full." Howie groaned.
"This was beyond amazing," Coll said as Howie's friend, Camino, swung by their table again to check on them. They all spoke for a few minutes, and before long, Howie was following Camino back into the kitchen to check something out. Jay watched from his spot at the bar as Howie left the table, but Nick and Coll remained seated, he got up and followed Howie, only after checking on Nick.
Jay looked between Nick and Coll and slowly backed away from the table.
"I know you, Carter." He smiled and pointed at him.
Coll watched as Nick flashed a wide smile and shrugged. Jay disappeared into the kitchen behind Howie and Camino, and Coll resumed her indulgence.
"Alright, this is our chance," Nick said mischievously.
"For what?" Coll asked as she took the final long sip of her drink, fittingly called The Hill, which was basically a cosmo.
"To get out of here."
Coll narrowed her eyes at him. "Why would we leave this magical haven of delicious libations?!"
"So, we can have some unsupervised fun."
After the day she had, that sounded so much dirtier than it was probably meant to.
"Okay." She agreed without much thought as she slid out of the booth to follow him.
"Do you really feel like you're being supervised when you're with one of the guys - the guards?" Coll asked as they exited the restaurant.
"Not always, but today."
"So, what do you wanna do?" She asked as she walked alongside him slowly.
"Just … whatever." He smiled.
The evening had brought drier weather, and the sky was much clearer now, the fresh air felt nice.
"Are you gonna get in trouble for this?"
He shrugged. "What are they gonna do? Fire me? As long as we don't let on that, I'm… me … we'll be fine. Most of our fans are in bed by now." He joked.
She crossed her arms casually over her chest as they walked.
Coll felt comfortable enough admitting to herself, finally, that she was attracted to Nick.
Okay, that's not so terrible, that's normal, he's good-looking, this is okay.
She worked herself into a loop of inner dialogue where there was an attraction, and that was it, she assured herself. It's natural, inevitable even! But there are no feelings that mean anything. She willed herself to believe it, no matter how many times she had to tell herself - it had to be true: There is an attraction. There are no feelings. The end. Great. It's settled.
"How's your work been going?" Nick asked as they crossed a street into a more residential neighborhood.
"Work?" It was a distant concept, she had to admit.
He smiled and laughed a little, "the writing!"
"Oh," She blushed. "I haven't really gotten into anything yet."
He nodded, "I know it's been a little nuts."
"Yeah," She laughed lightly, "I guess inspiration hasn't struck yet." The truth was that even if inspiration had struck, she wouldn't have known it. Her mind was too busy processing everything else, there was no space for inspiration to take up residence at this time.
"Are you having fun, though?"
"God, yes. I am loving it all, it's crazy, but … yeah. Thank you again, this has been awesome." She said. "I do have one question, though."
"Am I sexxxuaaal?" She teased as she did a toned down, mocked up version of his signature dance move.
"Very funny..." he laughed, "very nice job."
She giggled and pushed some hair behind her ear.
"We know what Howie's answer is to that," he said with a grin.
Coll rolled her eyes.
"You look hot, just accept it." He said.
She blushed so hard her face felt like it was on fire. She hoped he couldn't tell through the darkness and the distance between them as he was several steps ahead of her now.
Before she could respond, he was on the curb, flagging down an approaching cab.
"What are you doing?" She asked as a black taxi came to a slow stop in the road where Nick had shuffled over to meet it. He opened the back door and gestured for her to get in. Still unsure what was happening, she obeyed anyway. He closed the door behind her as he ran around to the other side and hopped in as well.
"Bunny Jackson's, please." Nick said to the driver, who nodded and began to accelerate again, "Best dive bar in London. Jay told me about it." He explained with a grin.
Her mouth dropped open. "He knew your little plan? To sneak off?"
"No, of course not. But at least now he might put it together that's where I went."
She smiled at him and raised an eyebrow. "You would be fun in Boston." She stated simply as another floodgate opened in her imagination.
They spent the next four hours singing along to live music, toasting cocktails to various things, and having long, intoxicated talks at the bar or in deep, plush booths between two levels at Bunny's. The alcohol tempered any anxieties either of them had, and the unfamiliar feelings felt less unfamiliar for a while.
Just two people having fun together.
"Okay, first Paris, then Boston." Coll negotiated as she lifted a small glass to her lips.
"Fine, Paris. Boston. New York." He counted off the places they decided they would need to spend more time in than this tour would allow, "Then Marathon. Because you still haven't been to my house."
She nodded. "Marathon. Right. Florida. God's country." She teased as she lifted her glass to toast to that.
"Okay, now you especially need to come because why do you hate Florida so much?"
"So much?!" She exclaimed, "No. just an above-normal amount."
"But I wanna know why! Florida is gorgeous." He laughed, running his hand through his hair as he adjusted himself on the barstool. "Why do you not like Florida an above-normal amount?"
"Okay, first, there are no seasons."
"Well, we mostly have the one greatest season. I mean, is there some season that is better than summer?"
She rolled her eyes. "Yes. Fall."
"Okay, now I know you're crazy." He reached over and put his hand on her thigh, leaning into her a bit. Her body instantly ignited. "I thought you might be crazy when you said that we should add Kentucky to the list, but now I know for sure."
"I mean, Brian loves it there." She retorted as casually as possible. "But anyway, yeah, Florida might be pretty, but you've never been to my Boston in the fall."
"I've been to Boston a lot." He reminded her, taking his hand back off her thigh, leaving her body fully lit.
"Not my Boston." She corrected as they both took long sips of their drinks.
He wondered what her life was really like in Boston. He knew she was busy with school a lot, but she often mentioned Melanie, soccer games, concerts on the common and a couple of bars she and her friends went to regularly. He wondered what they'd do there together and if he would fit into her life there at all, even if it was just a short visit.
What did she mean when she said I would be fun in Boston?
"That's why we are putting it on the list."
"Fine. Paris, Boston, New York, Marathon." She repeated.
"Then we can go to Kentucky if you really want."
She shrugged, "We'll see." She looked at him and blinked away the trance he set on her, "To unknown destinations." She lifted her glass for the 90th time that night.
"To seeing where we'll end up."
She looked at him curiously but asked no questions. His eyes scanned her face, taking particular notice of the line that swooped from the back of her ear and around her jaw before wandering over her lips and back to her eyes.
She was so pretty he almost didn't recognize it. Her hair was falling in loose, waves around her back and shoulders - they were the perfect kind of messy. He had noticed her hair was not even fully dry when she came down to the lobby earlier.
Did it just dry that way? Shit, has she always been this pretty?
She pushed her glass into his gently, breaking their eye contact again. She could feel him looking at her still, though, as she sipped. She didn't hate it. She swallowed hard.
"Let's play the game again," Nick said excitedly as he put his glass on the bar top.
"Sure." She smiled. About an hour ago, they had a rousing game of 'would you rather,' and Nick had been thinking up new ones since they finished.
"Okay. Would you rather have twenty toes or twenty fingers?" He asked an air of innocence played in his voice, thinking for sure this one the best one of the night.
She thought about it, tilting her head, "are the toes all on my feet? Or are they where fingers should be? Do I still have fingers?" She asked, seriously.
He hadn't really thought that much into it. "I don't know... toes where fingers should be, I guess?"
"In that case, I'd rather have twenty fingers."
"Interesting.." he nodded.
"I'm thinking like, you could wear big shoes to cover up the fingers as toes thing. But you would still have functioning hands...you could also probably get plastic surgery..."
"True. Good point." He nodded. "To twenty fingers!" He lifted his glass and they toasted. "Your turn."
"Okay. Would you rather ... give up sex or money?"
His eyes widened. "Do I get more sex if I give up money?"
She narrowed her eyes at him. "No."
"The same amount I have now?"
"Is it the same quality?"
She rolled her eyes "I don't know.... yes. Same as now."
"I'd rather give up sex."
"Really?" She was surprised, also a little sweaty.
"Do you think I'm some sex-crazed weirdo?"
"No, I'm just surprised. Why?"
He shrugged. "Sex is fun, but you know ... it's not like amazing." He explained. She did not know, but hearing him talk about it was dangerous. "Sometimes, I do better on my own." He laughed. She nearly spat her drink out but managed to swallow it before giggling.
"Jesus, okay. Well then. Your turn..."
"Would YOU rather give up money or sex?"
"Money. I don't have that much of it anyway." She answered quickly.
"Oh, I see, that was only an interesting question for me because I have a lot of both??"
She shrugged. She had no idea why she asked, but all the pent-up tension from the day had to escape somehow, though this did barely anything to satisfy it. It was just an excuse to get some insight, which she received...
So he is having a lot of sex? Best to wrap it up now.
"I feel like this game needs more context." She speculated, in an effort to move the subject to a safer place.
"Probably true." He agreed.
She sipped her drink quietly, wondering what sort of mess she was simultaneously creating and sidestepping and how much longer she'd be able to stay out of the mud of it. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed Nick was looking at her, and she turned to face him again.
"Do you want to take a walk?" He asked. It was already one-forty in the morning, but he wasn't asking if she wanted to go back to the hotel, he was asking her to go on a walk. To spend more time together.
She nodded. He threw some money on the bar and slid off his stool, she followed behind.
They walked through some quiet residential streets, making small talk as they went about the colorful row houses and anything else that came up.
He found himself wishing Coll was someone else, or that she - as she was- was someone he had just randomly met tonight, no history at stake, because he desperately wanted to do something, even if it was just holding her hand. He checked himself - did he want to take her back to his room? Did he want to kiss her? It wasn't any of those. At the moment though, he just wanted more of what they had been doing all night. He couldn't remember the last time he had real fun with a girl, actual dialogue, something that felt comfortable and good enough to keep wanting to do it.
He thought about how he had said he'd rather give up sex than money, and even though it was just a random conversational question, he wondered why the sex he was having was not worth holding on to.
He watched as she walked alongside him, her body moved easily, she wasn't trying to do anything for his sake. He was well accustomed to knowing when someone was acting in a way that was not natural to them; he had seen countless women walk, stand, talk or act in a way that they thought made them more attractive to him. He had forgotten what natural beauty looked like and how it handled itself - it was such a distant memory that watching her that night gave him that feeling of elusive newness.
Coll knew they had both been drinking a lot that night, and that was probably a factor. However, she felt at ease, her belly still got that little nervous feeling when she thought of him in any state of undress, but her thoughts were a bit more linear now than they had been earlier and spending time with him felt good instead of convoluted - it was relaxed between them. The unidentified malaise was tolerable, even enjoyable at times. The happiness had outweighed the bad parts of it. For a brief moment, she felt a sense of peace, she felt completely blissful. The air was perfect, the night was quiet, there was nowhere to rush off to, no one was screaming or taking pictures. The things she had thought would make this summer memorable had their place, but it was this perfect moment that she would remember for years to come.
Realizing that he might be getting himself into something he shouldn't, he tried to look away as she walked a few paces in front of him and held her arms out to her sides as she began to twirl around on the sidewalk, but he couldn't.
Her feet were light on the pavement, bending so that only her toes touched the ground. Her dress swung away from her legs as the air lifted it easily.
"It's such a beautiful night." She said quietly, tilting her head back, wrapping the night air around her in an invisible blanket as she moved.
Her hair flew back gently, and a relaxed, wide smile played across her face. His peripheral vision narrowed, he couldn't see anything else.
She enjoyed two full spins, the carefree feeling was a good one, and it had been so long since she had it.
She looked over her shoulder and saw him smiling at her. Full sobriety took over, and suddenly, she saw something new about him, something in his demeanor, something about the way he looked at her. And in the space of one second, she knew she was done for. She knew her work just got a lot harder.