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Walking off the plane, through the breezeway, Coll felt a pang of nervousness in her stomach. The change from artificial, stale plane air, into the humid heat of German summer sent an unseasonal shiver up her spine as she rolled her bag over several consecutive breaches in the corridor. Each tiny bump was reminding her she was really there.

After months of planning, it was happening. What had started as a casual offer had turned into a full-blown production. Nick's invite was stunning: come to Europe for this leg of the tour, travel, write, enjoy- a real summer experience. Coll's reaction was a mix of 'don't tease me' and 'please let this be real.' The offer firmed up after a few emails.



-

… seriously, consider it. I would love to see you. It would be amazing for you. We are going to some really awesome places. I don't know what to expect exactly- once the album drops, I might have a better idea. Either way, YOU will love Europe and be able to enjoy it more than I will. Everything would be taken care of expenses wise, so you really can't even say no.

-



He was right. She couldn't say no to an offer like that.

In May, the axis had turned. No one was expecting the album to blow up as much as it did, tickets sold out in under a day to the tour, things were heating up to a level no one had experienced before.



-

-- Umm, so … i saw TRL today on a TV in the common room. Holy shit, Nick.

-



Even still, Nick assured her it would be a good time; she should absolutely still come and promised they could make at least a couple of day trips together. Coll wasn't sure what to expect other than a lot of moving around and being on the go. The idea of it thrilled her, though. She had never done anything even remotely like this before.


Spotting "Colleen Parker" scribbled in fat black marker across a small whiteboard held by a man in a button-up shirt, was the relief Coll was looking for. People rushed around in her all directions as she made her way over to the man with her sign.

"Ms. Parker?" He asked with a slight accent. She nodded, and he reached out to shake her hand. "Miles, nice to meet you. I'll be taking you to the Ghent International!"

"Sounds great, thank you."

He reached for her bag, and she allowed him to take it.

"How was your flight?" He asked as they begin their way to the car.

"Wonderful." She smiled and followed in his trail.


Coll dipped her key into the lock and waited for a small green light to flash, letting her know the lock had disengaged. She pushed the door open and was delighted by what she saw.

Leaving her bag and backpack in the entryway, she moved into the spacious suite. Luxurious king-sized bed, sleek fixtures, a bathroom the size of her room back home, plush carpet, floor to ceiling windows; she took it all in as she approached a large bouquet and a basket full of snacks.


_ You made it! I'll see you after rehearsal. Just chill and enjoy. - N


She slipped the note back on to the table and smiled as she pulled a banana from the basket, suddenly realizing she was a little hungry. She stepped over to the window and looked out at a beautiful German cityscape - the first time she really saw Europe at a standstill. Germany stood still, but her head was spinning.


Four knocks on the door jostled Coll from the reverie she had fallen into while settling into the room that evening. She had taken a long bath, blow-dried her hair, changed into some comfy clothes, and ate more of her snacks. She was flipping through the TV options when the knocks broke the relative quiet.

She hopped off the bed and rushed to the door.



Nick could hear movement beyond the weight of the door, his hands pressed against either side of the jam, waiting.

The door opened, and Coll's wide smile, big brown eyes, and Boston College sweatpants were within touching distance. He said nothing as he wrapped his arms around her.

"I'm so glad to see you!" She exclaimed.

"It's amazing to see you." He sighed happily, with a lot more relief than he was expecting, into her shoulder, still holding her close. A sense of calm ran through his body - she was here; she was normal; she was different. She was simple ” a breath of fresh air.

Their friendship was 19 years old ” the same age as Nick. "Lifelong friends" was not even an exaggeration in their case. But they had not physically been together in person in over a year.

It was a relationship that surprised nearly everyone. As college friends, Coll's mom, Jill, and Nick's mom, Jane, had been close for many years when Colleen was born in 1977. When Nick arrived three years later, the women had found an even deeper means of connection and friendship as mothers. Living in the same city for the first 12 years of Nick's life made meetups and playdates very regular. They had quite literally grown up together. As time moved on, the families found themselves in different geographical places but made an effort to take a vacation to the Jersey Shore together every year until Nick turned 15. With Nick's budding career, Coll's academic interests, and the rush of regular life persisting in the background, the familial relationship struggled to sustain itself, and a new normal evolved. What was once inseparable friendship and constant communication had devolved into occasional phone calls and annual Christmas cards. But as young people in modern society, Nick and Coll were blessed with the convenience of email, and most recently - although sporadic - text messaging.


Nick was the friend Coll spoke about that none of her other friends had ever met. He was the allusion. He was a fantasy to everyone else. But he was the friend she had the most consistent contact with - as words were the way she felt most comfortable expressing herself, email was an excellent medium for her. She enjoyed telling him the stories of her day, even though generally they were quite bland, especially compared to his. For Nick, Coll was a steady, regular point of contact in an otherwise changing landscape of his life and lifestyle. She was unchanging in any way that was meaningful in respect to him. She was a real person in his celebrity world- what she thought was dull and ordinary was different and exciting to him. She had gone off to college in Boston, a massive lifestyle shift for her, but save for the first week of September the past two years; their communications were unchanged. Daily or even multiple times per day, emails were exchanged, links were passed, pictures were shared. AOL had made things even easier with AIM. Their friendship maintained; they were both up to speed on each other's lives: exams, roommates, summer jobs, and term papers for her - rehearsals, recordings, funny fan stories, meetings, and travel plans for him. They had almost nothing in common except their friendship. And they both cherished it. That regularity and familiarity were hard to come by elsewhere, especially for Nick.


Despite their slight age difference, Coll never came about as an older sister figure. With so many of his own younger siblings and four bandmates who were all older than him, there was no need for that role. Colleen was plainly and simply a close friend. The craziness of a tour schedule did not seem like the best avenue for reconnecting with an old friend in person, or so Coll had thought. Still, for Nick, tour life was, traditionally anyway, the most regular type of life he had the opportunity to experience most years. Having Coll along for it made all the sense in the world to him.


"Thank you for the flowers and snacks," Coll said as she closed the door behind them. He stepped into her room and glanced around, making sure everything was as he requested it to be for her.

"You're welcome. How was the flight?"

"It was great. First Class is no joke." She giggled and tucked a piece of hair behind her ear as he took a seat on the edge of the bed.

"Man, it's just so good to see you!" He smiled.


The last time he saw her was last April, just over a year ago. The guys were in Boston for an event, and they were able to meet up for dinner one night. It was a total of eight hours they had together, but it was an excellent opportunity for them that didn't come up often.


He was 18 at the time; she had just turned 21, and she teased him about it. "This is pretty much the ONLY thing I've got that you don't." He remembered it well, recalled thinking that it made no sense for it to be true. She was a brilliant, hard-working, scholarship student. He had just gotten lucky. "I wish I had an interesting life like you. So many stories, so much happening all the time. So exciting. You're so lucky to have all those experiences. I wanna have experiences." He remembered she was pretty bent on the idea of stepping outside of her perceived boring normalcy to attain the qualities she felt all writers should have: well-traveled, correspondence and interaction with interesting and notable people and love beyond friendship. "Ugh, I'm just so ... basic." He distinctly remembered she followed it up with a hard stab into a piece of chicken on her plate. He recalled that was the first time he considered inviting her out for the tour - she wanted experiences, and that would certainly be one, and he knew it would be awesome to have her around.

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