He tracked back in his memory to the week before the tour started, the emails he exchanged with Coll about the suitcase and her arrival… and the nights he spent at home drinking and smoking and hooking up with a random girl he met at a bar in Marathon. What was her name?
He moved forward to that first night in Germany and the sense of relaxation that washed over him when he saw her there in the doorway. She was the reason for it then, and she was the reason for it since.
He recounted the moments after that when he felt that sense of serenity again: having coffee with her that early morning last month, napping next to her after that… hanging out in her room, listening to her talk about Melanie and Becka... seeing her in the lounge after the show, and her hugging him… that night they went out with Mandy to the club when he barely drank anything even though the stress of the situation with Mandy was real …
… waking up with her the past several mornings.
She was the reason.
She was the reason he hadn’t felt the urge to drink himself into a stupor over Mandy, she was the reason he felt relaxed instead of anxious the entire tour so far, she was the reason he didn’t want to sleep around anymore.
She was the reason he felt guilty that morning she caught him mid affair in London.
He was feeling, thinking, and acting differently now than he was before the tour started … and she was the difference between that older version of himself and this current one. And he had to admit he was enjoying it greatly. It wasn’t a raucous good time, it was a constant, subtle feeling of ease. How could something that unfamiliar feel so good?
and how do I keep a hold of it?
Solid relationships had eluded him this far, stability was not a quality any of his romantic relationships had ever had before. Could she be the difference there, too? And how would that even happen? You can’t just tell your best friend you’re in love with them. Right? But maybe she isn’t totally turned off to the idea.
Whenever he thought of her as more than a friend, it was a prolonged thought. Not just one night, not just a fleeting attraction he wanted to get his hands on. He wanted more than that. She was the reason.
He thought about her the previous night at the fountain and the way she was looking at him. It had to mean something. She looked calm and steady and intense… confident. But confident in what? And did it have anything to do with him? He wondered...
She lingered at the door in London, too…
He thought about her that night in the corridor backstage with Billy after she fell asleep outside. Who did she have to call? And what did she have to say that she couldn’t say it inside? Or in front of Billy?
His mind wandered to her body in the pool, floating carelessly around as the sun warmed her skin and water beaded up on the parts of her body that didn’t go fully under. She was gorgeous in a way he rarely experienced, unaltered, unencumbered. His thoughts slipped under her shirt, around her curves... In his mind, he was kissing her deeply, and she was happy with that. In his imagination, she was open to the idea of letting him get close to her that way. Maybe that could be the reality.
He was staring at her pondering how he might tread into that territory when a phone started ringing in the room and startled her awake.
She opened her eyes to see him looking at her, which was another startling reality. She didn’t have much time to think about what waking up to him watching her meant as he recognized the ring as his own and moved into action receiving the call.
She laid there as he slipped out of bed. He quickly grabbed his phone and flipped it open to answer as he looked back at her, wondering if she had caught him staring at her.
She was stretching herself awake and working her way up into a sitting position when she became more aware of his side of the conversation.
“Oh, she’s actually right here let me get her for you.”
Coll looked at him curiously, still sleepy and groggy.
“It’s your dad...?” Nick whispered as he held his phone out to her. Her eyes widened at him as she reached out to take the phone.
“He said he’s been trying to get a hold of you for days.”
Coll’s stomach turned over nervously, “Hello?” She said as she pushed the phone to her ear.
“Dad… what’s up?”
“I’m sorry to bother you, but-“ he paused, wondering why Coll was with Nick and not in her room, which he had tried previously that morning, “we haven’t heard from you. Your mother is worried. Are you okay?”
“Oh, ugh…” she was relieved there was no problem at home, now she had to sort through her own stuff and figure out what was worth sharing, “Yeah, I’m fine, sorry..” she became self-conscious of how tired she sounded, her eyes darted over to Nick quickly.
“Well, we haven’t heard your voice in a while, and I called the hotel. They connected me to your room, but there was no answer.”
Her mind tangled up a hundred thoughts. “Oh…” she began. shit shit shit
“Did you … just wake up?” Eric asked before Coll could answer his first question.
“Ummm,” She had to be cautious. She sat there, thinking quickly about what to say next, looking at Nick, who was eagerly watching from a sitting position on the bed now. This is Nick’s cell- not the room, he doesn’t have to know anything… “Well, I’m not sure why they connected you to my room because we already checked out.” She lied.
“Oh…” Eric replied, “ you sound like you just woke up.”
“Just haven’t talked too much yet today.” She said quietly, pressing her fingertips into her forehead. “maybe our checkouts hadn’t processed fully in the system yet.” She lied.
“I see, early start, then I guess?”
Coll looked at the clock on the nightstand, 6:06. Not unreasonable for touring.
“Ugh,” She began, “Yeah… well, you know… tour life.” and why was Nick awake and staring at me before 6am?? She looked at Nick closer now, he did seem like he’d been awake longer than she had been.
“Colleen,” Eric sighed, “I’m sure you’re having a great time, and we really are so happy for you, but we really need you to be in more regular contact with us. I know you speak to Rebecka but, we would like to hear your voice every once in a while, too. I only called Nick because I was starting to worry something was wrong.”
“Sure, I’m sorry. I understand. I promise everything is fine, just busy.” She agreed, wanting to speed the conversation up. She could tell Eric was not pleased as he was using not only her full name was also Becka’s. “I’ll do better.”
“Thank you. I’ll let you go. I’ve got to go to a meeting on campus now anyway, but I’m glad I was able to catch you.”
“Have a great rest of your day.”
“Thanks, you too, talk soon.”
Coll hung up and closed the phone gently and sat quietly for a moment, looking at it in her hands.
“Is everything okay?” Nick asked.
She lifted her head and looked at him again, he looked concerned. He looked beautiful and jostled from sleep. He looked like something she wanted to see every morning.
“Yeah.” She smiled and handed the phone back to him, “I have been awful about letting them know I’m still alive.”
Nick took the phone from her and nodded.
“At least they actually care.” He snorted, thinking about his own parents.
“I’m sorry. I gave them your number in case of an emergency.”
She was quiet. “Have you been up a while?”
He blushed, “Yeah, like an hour...” he trailed off, not sure what to say, knowing she caught him watching her sleep.
She smiled at him and shook her head, “Aren’t you exhausted?”
There was a silence before he started talking again, “Coll, I-“
She sat there, feeling hopeful about whatever he was going to say next, feeling stupid and vulnerable over whatever it might be.
He wanted to say something more critical but couldn’t. “I noticed you left out the part where all your stuff got stolen...” he smirked.
She hung her shoulders with a twisted smile, “That’s the last thing they need to know.” She explained, “Someday, that will be a funny story I tell randomly at Christmas dinner. Until then, they are better off not knowing, and the rest of us are better off that way too.”
“Why did you tell him we already checked out?”
“He said he called the hotel and they connected him to me in my room, but no answer, obviously. Thank god he called your cell and not your room…”
It took him a minute before he understood what she was saying. If Eric had called Nick’s room and nick answered at six am and told him he was with Coll, more explanation would be needed. Her parents would hate us together…. wouldn’t they?
They were both quiet for a couple seconds of solitude, each of them thinking of what to do next.
“Wanna get breakfast?” He asked.
“Sure.” She smiled even as a small bit of disappointment bumped around in her torso. For a moment, she had thought they might broach a more profound subject, but maybe it was better they didn’t. At least for now.
“Don’t forget we have to put your stuff in my bag.”
“Oh, right.” She said as she stretched her arms out in front of her. “Should be fun.”
Ten minutes later, they were both dressed and staring at Nick’s overflowing suitcase.
“Hmmm…” Coll hummed as she thought about how to proceed, arms crossed over her chest.
They had already refolded everything and put some stuff in Coll’s remaining tote bag and unzipped the extension on his suitcase.
“I just want to take a second to recognize that at this particular moment in time, you are traveling with more clothing than I am.” She smiled.
“Very funny.” He said, tilting his head at her, making her giggle. “Okay, you sit, I’ll zip,” Nick said, pointing to the suitcase on the ground.
“Okay.” Coll moved into action to sit on his suitcase. Her body weight pushed it closed while he worked around her to zip it. It was still a bit of a struggle, but he eventually got it.
“Okay. The first order of business is to get another bag.” She said as she stood up again.
He nodded, “Well, first first is food because I’m starving.”
“Right. I meant first thing on the list of things that still need replacing. I would never stand between you and your food.” She said sweetly, teasing him.
“Ahh, you know me so well.”
They made their way to breakfast to see A.J. and Howie already there and slipped into seats next to them.
“Hey, yo.” Nick said happily as he plopped into his seat next to Howie.
“Good morning,” Coll said with a smile as she took her seat next to A.J.
“Coll, I’m so sorry about what happened yesterday,” Howie said, looking at her with his big puppy dog eyes.
“Oh,” she shook her head, “It’s fine. It sucks but at the end of the day … it’s just stuff. It was my own fault, should have been more careful. We fixed it enough for now.”
“That sucks.” A.J. nodded in agreement. “But hey, at least you have a great excuse to do a lot of shopping now.”
“I guess...” She sighed.
“By the way,” A.J. turned to face her more, “I’m really sorry if what I said the other night offended you.”
“What you said?” She looked at him and took a sip from the glass of water a waiter had just placed in front of her.
“Yeah, about you missing out… and…”
“Oh,” she shook her head. “No, I was not offended.”
“Well, if I made you uncomfortable…”
“Trust me, you didn’t. I’m not that delicate, A.J.” She said, “You were honest, and so was I. Trust me, I’ve heard so much worse.” She added as she rolled her eyes, thinking about the many sordid and strange conversations she’s had with people about sex. “But, thanks for thinking of me. I’m fine. No worries.”
“For the record, you’re probably right in the long run.”
She shrugged, “Right is a moving target.”
He pondered the thought for a moment before nodding slowly. “So we’re cool?”
“Great.” He smiled, “You’re gonna enjoy it. Someday.”
“I have no doubt.” She replied as her eyes met Nick’s briefly before she took another sip of her water. Catching his glance in the middle of a conversation about sex created another unknown feeling inside of her. Something that felt like fiery anticipation and also, something serene. She took a deep breath and sat deeper into her seat.
“What happened?” Howie asked, looking between the three of them.
“Nothing, D.” Nick said.
“So, how was shopping?” A.J. asked, changing the subject.
“Really good.” Coll nodded. “Considering.”
“Is this a new ensemble?”
“Indeed…. pretty much everything you’ll see me wear from now on is a new ensemble.” She giggled. “I have no idea what this is made of, but it’s so soft.” She gushed and rubbed the shoulders of her tee-shirt with her hands.
“I’m glad you’re handling this so well.”
She pursed her lips, “well… today.”
“Yesterday, she was threatening to go home.” Nick pouted.
“I was overwhelmed.”
“I don’t blame you,” Howie added.
“But I’m feeling much better now.”
“It was the gelato.” Nick laughed.
Coll smiled at him shyly, leaning on her elbow at the table’s edge. It was you.