As the three of them arrived back to the hotel an hour later, they ran into Nick and Mandy by the elevators.
Nick looked surprised to see Coll and Brian together and inquired about it before anything else.
“We went to get breakfast.” Brian answered.
“Just the two of you?” Nick asked, looking between Brian and Coll.
“No, Tom too. I don’t have a death wish, unlike some people.” Brian joked.
Coll laughed, Nick looked uncomfortable. Mandy was busy looking at herself in a mirror, fixing her hair, but still watching the scene behind her. She had seen a lot more than she let on in the past day or so.
Coll looked at Nick curiously as Brian interjected, “Let’s go make sure Leigh’s awake.”
“See you guys later,” Coll said as she followed Brian into the elevator, she and Nick looked at each other until the door closed completely.
On the plane to Italy that afternoon, Coll sat a couple rows behind Nick and Mandy, next to Angela with Andrea across the aisle from them. Angela talked a lot about various things, and Coll did a lot of nodding and smiling, agreeing when appropriate, offering only small snippets of dialogue as she was desperately trying to sort out what the status was between Nick and Mandy. He had told her several times he wanted to end it, and that it had to end…
but, obviously he was still sleeping with her - did he still plan on ending it? What was he waiting for? Was he going to be the ultimate scumbag for sleeping with her and then turning around and breaking up with her the next day? Was she telling him things that made him change his mind?
She felt like a crazy person, it was none of her business and she had to get herself back to behaving that way.
Upon arrival at the hotel in Rome, Coll and Angela made plans to take quick naps and meet up for some sightseeing in the early evening. She wanted to be as far from the hotel, Nick and Mandy as she could be as she assumed, since it was their night off, the two of them would have plans together and she wanted to protect herself from knowing too much about them.
“I can’t stay out all night.” Coll warned as they took the elevator to their rooms.
“Me neither, but why?” Angela asked narrowing her eyes.
“I have to wake up early.” Coll began, “Extra early.”
“For what reason?”
“I want to get an early start?”
“Just tell the truth, chica.”
“I want to get to breakfast before Mandy does.”
“Wow you really dislike her more than I thought.”
“No, I really, don’t care either way about HER. She’s just …” Coll sighed, “She’s annoying.”
Angela could see there was more to it than that, but stayed quiet.
Later that night, Angela looked for clues, listened for hints, and tried to sort out why Coll was taking her avoidance of Mandy to this level but didn’t ask any questions. Just listened. And around midnight she and Coll made their way back to the hotel.
On that third morning of Mandy’s visit Coll rose early to get to breakfast before Mandy and Nick likely would. “Just in case.” Coll told herself as she slipped out of her room before 7am.
Success was hers as she settled into a seat next to Brian at a long table with her plate of eggs, ham, fruit and a tiny scoop of beans. She was actually surprised though to see almost everyone else except Nick and Mandy awake as early as they were.
“I just love the idea of eating beans for breakfast.” Coll mused as Brian and Howie both nodded.
“It is actually a pretty good option.”
Getting to know the guys individually was one of the most rewarding parts of this trip for Coll. She had found a friend and confidant in Leighanne, who also inspired Coll’s imagination in many ways, but the guys were different. She was fascinated by all of their stories, all of their accomplishments. She hadn’t realized it, but they were interested in her for the same reasons. Mutual friendships were developing and it was a nice change of pace for all parties.
“Thanks for joining us!” Howie announced sarcastically as Nick entered the room, sweatpants and teeshirt on, feet in sliders.
Nick smirked and made his way over to the breakfast spread. He nervously brushed his hand through his hair without saying anything, just tried to stop any further commentary before it started by staying quiet and began to pour himself a bowl of cereal.
“Looking like you had a good night.“ A.J. stood up with his plate as he looked Nick over and trailed off down the buffet line. He plopped a breakfast sausage next to a waffle and came back to the table.
Around the table, smirks and hollers erupted in Nick’s direction. Comments about having a wild night, banging headboards and other sexual commentary ensued.
He looked uncomfortable and continued to stay quiet. “You know how it is.” He said quietly as he took a seat with the others at the table as well, sitting diagonally across from Coll.
A bunch of heads nodded and mouths full of breakfast “mmhmmed”
Coll laughed under her breath. “Well to be perfectly honest I wouldn’t really know.”
30 days. That’s how long it took for this to come up, she had to remember to tell Becka whose original bet was 4 days. “Four days?! You think the subject of my virginity is going to come up in four days?! With near strangers?!” Coll was exasperated by all the things she and Becka had spoken about that night but she remembered this one thing in particular. It only seemed like a big deal to everyone else. She was completely comfortable with it. May as well get it out of the way now.
“Wait. What?” Nick narrowed his eyes at her as Coll but her lip. “You haven’t …?”
She shook her head, eyeing him trying to determine what he was thinking, feeling an odd mix of pride and vulnerability.
Coll had contested the issue with loads of people over the years: her sister, her friends, her boyfriends, but she realized now that it never explicitly came up with Nick. For her it was a non issue, but for some reason it was fascinating to others who had been sleeping with everyone they ever so much as glanced at for the past ten years.
He was looking at her, quiet for a moment, his mind reeling. He shook his head.
“Look, I’m not a prude. I’ve done just about everything else.” She stated as she brought her glass to her lips. She could feel the others looking at her. “I just never felt ...” she started, stopping to think what she was trying to say, noticing how quiet it had become, “I just want to ... have that with the right person.” She pondered the rest of her sentence. “I never felt enough ... to, you know... I just want to only go all in with someone I want to really go all in with.” Her eyes drifted up and landed on Nick’s hand grasped around a water bottle.
She sat there quietly, hands on her elbows leaning slightly into the table. Nick’s eyes bore into her, his mind a tangle of thoughts. Why did he care so much?
It was a maturity he didn’t have, and that he felt he was off the hook for. He should be young and reckless while he could, he should do whatever he wants while he still can... but why didn’t she want that, too? The thoughts ran around in his head silently. He tried to convince himself it was okay he didn’t have the same morals she did, but he couldn’t quite tell ... did he want to?
“I think that’s great.” Brian shrugged. “Good for you.” He eyed Nick from across the table who was still staring at Coll, and he saw it when Coll’s eyes wandered before landing on Nick’s catching his gaze as Nick quickly looked away.
The moment was brief, but something about it struck him.
“What about that guy from last winter?” Nick asked, unable to believe what she was telling him - or still trying to validate his own morals, hoping she was even just a little bit corrupt.
“What about him?”
“You used to tell me he spent the night and stuff.”
Coll smiled at him, “Yeah he did. A person can share a bed with someone and not have sex with them.” Had he forgotten the two of them had done it?
Some casual conversation took over and breakfast continued. Just as Coll was getting up to leave, Mandy pushed through the swinging doors and briefly greeted everyone before gathering her breakfast.
As she finished, she rounded the table to find the only available seat was the one next to Coll which Brian had just recently vacated. As Coll realized Mandy would bet sitting next to her, not too keen to sit through a meal with her, she began her exit.
“Where are you off to?” Mandy asked sweetly looking down at Coll as Coll reached for her room key on the table.
“I’ve got a train to catch.” Coll said quickly and stood up. As she stepped away from the table Mandy somehow managed to spill her juice all over Coll’s bottom half.
A unilateral gasp was heard around the table and Coll stood there dumbfounded.
“Oh god, I am so sorry.” Mandy stated plainly, remorse only moderately evident in her voice. She quickly looked across the table to Nick. Coll stood there looking at her feet and pants, soaked in juice as a few of the others sprung into action to get some napkins and help clean up.
“Mand. What the hell?” Nick asked, coming around to their side of the table.
Coll bit her lip so hard she thought it might bleed. She looked up to make eye contact with Mandy and smiled a frustrated but sympathetic smile at her.
She took a deep breath before opening her mouth to speak. Nothing came out.
Mandy stared at her, watching her as she moved in slow motion.
Coll took a few steps out of the juice puddling at her feet and shook her sandal off.
No one said anything for a few minutes while the mess settled.
Coll left the restaurant without a word. Mandy looked on as Nick as he watched her disappear, his face concerned and frustrated. She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t.
After a quick shower and changing her clothes, Coll went ahead with her day as planned. She set out into the city without a real idea of where she would go. She was hoping to find some streets to wander and a cafe and a bookstore or two to pop into. The day was a blank canvas, away from the stress that was Mandy, and all hers to enjoy.
Coll returned to the hotel that night around 10 pm, which she timed so she would have no chance of bumping into Mandy as she would be at the show. It worked and she made it to her room undisturbed. She spent the rest of the night doing things that were supposed to be relaxing but ultimately made no difference to her overall demeanor. She was still spun about thinking about Nick and Mandy and their status.