Before she knew it, Coll was standing in the airport, Billy a foot or so behind her, on high alert as usual, though she had no idea why. She was swaying ever so slightly on her feet nervously, twisting her silver ring around her finger mindlessly as passengers from Becka’s flight began to pour out into the terminal.
Finally, Coll spotted Becka’s blonde bob in the crowd.
“Yayyyy!!” Coll sang happily, smiling and skipping in Becka’s direction.
“Ohhhhh damn.” Becka smiled as she approached Coll who was holding her arms open ready to hug her.
“Whaaat?! Ahhhh so happy you’re here!!”
Becka let go of her bag and they embraced each other tightly.
“You are so glowy!!!” Becka exclaimed.
“What?” Coll laughed as she pulled back to look at Becka. “What does that mean?”
“You are … literally glowing. And I know it’s not because I’m here.” Becka’s face was bright with excitement.
Coll rolled her eyes, “Of course it is.”
“No. No, it’s definitely Nick.” Becka said she adjusted her bag on her shoulder, “you really look so happy.”
“I really actually am.” Coll said.
Becka smiled, “I’m so glad for you.”
“Thanks.” Coll blushed, “How was your trip?!” She asked as Billy neared.
“Ohh it was fine, fine. I slept the whole time.”
“Really? That’s great. Oh! Becka, this is Billy. He’s my shadow.” Coll giggled looking at Billy who smiled and held his hand out to Becka.
“Nice to meet you.” Becka smiled at him, shaking his hand.
“Welcome aboard.” Billy said with a smile and a nod.
“Technically he is Nick’s shadow. But, today, honorarily mine.”
“Whatever she needs.” Billy added.
Coll rolled her eyes and looped her arm through Becka’s. “Let’s get out of here.”
“I’ll take this for you.” Billy said as he reached for Becka’s suitcase.
“Oh, sure. Thank you.”
“Thanks, Billy.” Coll said, “He’s great.”
“So what’s the deal? He literally just follows you around?” Becka asked quietly.
“It’s silly but yeah.” Coll said, “Their manager is slightly paranoid, doesn’t like anyone going anywhere alone. Even me for some reason.”
“Is he listening?” Becka asked as she looked over her shoulder at Billy following them.
“No, he’s too busy watching and being stoic.” Coll said, “but don’t reveal the secrets of the universe just in case.”
“I love that you think I know everything. But in reality I do not know nearly enough about what’s been going on here.”
“Just relax, all will be revealed.”
“Did you really have sex and not want to tell me?” Becka asked quietly.
“Becka. Seriously. My whole life cannot boil down to this one thing.”
“I know I’m sorry.” She sighed, “just jealous.”
“Jealous of me not having sex?”
“No, of course not. You have prospects though.”
“Oh, please. And if you could refrain from sleeping with any Backstreet Boys that would be great.”
“Jesus, Colleen.” Becka rolled her eyes. “Oh and by the way, i’ve been thinking about this John stuff and I think I figured it out.”
“Figured what out? It’s not that complex… he’s desperate.” Coll said, “Also, i know that analyzing people is a hobby of yours but-”
“It’s not a hobby, it’s a job.”
“It’s only a job when they are your clients!”
“Well, practice.” Becka shrugged.
Coll sighed, “Forget it, we have so many more important things to discuss than him.”
“I am so ready for this.” Becka laughed.
They kept their conversation casual and light until they were safely in Coll’s suite back at the hotel. Becka began digging all the juicier details out of Coll about the past few weeks with Nick. Coll was just as eager to get Becka’s perspective on things and the two of them them chatted happily for several hours until they had to leave for the show. It became clear to Coll as they were changing and getting ready to leave that becka was withholding advice and providing only encouragement or reminders. “I don’t want to influence you any more than I may have already. I can tell this is … something. Something significant for you. I want you to trust yourself and you are - you decided what you want to do and you’re doing it. That’s what matters. You know more than you think. Brian is right… some doors you need to kick them down, some you don’t… but you’ll know when.” It was the thought that kept Coll silent company throughout the rest of the night.
At around 5:30 Leighanne showed up at Coll’s door with Tom. “Is she here?! Also, hi!”
Coll smiled as Becka came to the door behind her.
“Ahhh!!” Leighanne shrieked as Coll moved out of the way and Becka embraced her happily.
“I’m so glad to finally meet you!” Becka said.
“Same! Oh my goodness I was dying so come down but I wanted to give you two your time.”
“Ladies.” Tom said solemnly from the hall.
“Yeah, we gotta go.” Leighanne explained.
“Tom, to what do we owe the pleasure of your company this evening?” Coll asked curiously with a laugh looking at Tom who she assumed should have been with Brian.
“Special orders.” He said casually.
“Mysterious. Come in while I grab my stuff.”
Tom waited while they gathered everything and then escorted them to the van in the loading dock.
Becka and Leighanne spent the ride to the venue chatting and getting to know each other while Coll stayed mostly quiet lost in her own thoughts until her curiosity couldn’t stand any longer.
“Something is going on... I can tell.” Coll said quietly looking at Tom who was sitting in the front passenger seat. He turned to look at her. He shrugged and smiled a little.
“Probably some random threat Jen is worried about.” Leighanne interjected from the second-row seat behind Coll. “Don’t even worry about it.”
Leighanne and Becka were looking at Coll who was still intently looking at Tom.
“But Billy came with me this morning… it’s not a Leighanne thing. I know people recognize Leighanne...” But no one knows who I am…? I don’t even know who i am in this equation right now. And certainly, no one else cares.
Tom’s eyes darted away briefly, “I am not sure what the issue is today. Just a precaution. Everything is fine.” He assured her. “Jen just wanted one of us with everyone.”
“But what caused the need for a precaution?”
Tom was quiet, “Just another day in the life.” He said simply.
Coll relented silently and sat back in her seat, looking out the window as they rode along. She could accept ‘just another day in the life’ but … that wasn’t her life. Becka gave Leighanne a look, Leighanne shook her head and changed the subject by asking Becka a question about her summer so far.
“This must be Becka!” A.J. said happily as he approached Coll and Becka in the lounge that night as the guys arrived back from their day of press and an afternoon photoshoot. He wrapped his arms around her and she looked only mildly terrified.
“I told you, very friendly!” Coll laughed as the rest of the guys gathered around to greet Becka.
“Holy crap, the last time i saw you in real life you were like, sixteen.” Becka smiled as Nick reached her. He laughed and she assured him that he never looked better.
“Yes, little Nicky is all grown up now.” Howie teased. “Becka, nice to meet you. I’m Howie.”
“So great to meet you, all of you, wow, thanks for having me.” She said sweetly.
“Little’s big sister!” Brian squealed with delight.
“He’s picked up calling her that now, too.” Kevin explained.
“She’s everyone’s little sister.” Becka smiled, “just like Nick is everyone’s little brother.”
“We have to initiate her.” A.J. mentioned.
“Please don’t haze her.”
“Not hazing, silly.”
“Just tequila.” Nick added.
“These lightweights think tequila is so horrible.” Angela added as she joined the group.
“Beck, this is Angela,” Coll introduced her, “And yes, you have both heard so much about each other.”
“Have for sure!” Angela exclaimed as she gave Becka a hug.
“Ahhh yes, Angela, my stand in!”
“Oh i just adore this one.” Angela clapped her hands together, looking lovingly at Coll.
“Alright alright,” Coll blushed.
“Coll is definitely my second favorite person on this tour.” Brian added.
“It’s a close tie for first for me.” Leighanne shrugged.
“What?!” Brian gasped.
“Basically we all really love her.” Nick laughed, looking at Becka. Coll’s stomach flipped knowing it wasn’t the admission of love she wanted from him, but hearing the words still made her dizzy. She spent the next hour in a bit of a distracted state as she explained things backstage to Becka, introduced her to anyone she missed the first time, and went through the motions of a typical night.
Becka enjoyed the camaraderie backstage, everyone did a shot of tequila to celebrate her arrival and Howie and A.J. both immediately began talking up a plan for a night out while Becka was with them. Coll smiled as she watched them all interact with her, she fell in easily, and that felt like a good thing.
“Hey.” Nick said as he crept up behind her poking her sides with his fingers.
“God, you scared me a little.” She laughed as she almost dropped the plate of food she was holding.
“Sorry.” He smiled, moving to stand in front of her, “Meet me in the hallway in five.” He said quietly and walked off casually, leaving her standing there watching him go.
She took her food to the table, and settled in next to Kevin, made small talk for exactly three minutes, took exactly 4 bites of her food and then excused herself saying she would be right back. “Don’t let them take this.” She said to Kevin with a laugh, pointing to her plate.
“I’m on it.” he assured her.
“Thanks.” She left the lounge as casually as possible and found Nick standing at the end of the corridor.
“What took you so long?” He asked as she approached.
“Long?! It was four minutes… but you said we didn’t have to hide.”
“We don’t, it’s still exciting to sneak around though.” He reached out and pulled her into him.
“how was your day?” He asked
“It was great. How was your’s?
“Fine. I’m glad Becka is here.”
“Me too.” Coll smiled. “You can probably tell, but she is very excited about the show.”
Nick laughed, “Yeah, it seemed that way.” He took her hands in his and looked at her closely, “was everything okay at the airport?”
“Yeah, but what’s going on? I feel like something is going on.”
He took a deep breath, “Jen knows about Spain.”
Her eyes got wide, her brain started spinning up stories, “She does? She hasn’t even scolded me.”
“No, she’s not going to. She didn’t even get that mad at me. Not like it matters.” He smiled, thinking back to the conversation he had with Jen about it. “I don’t know how but, she’s very … chill. I don’t think all of it is naivety either, I think she really is just … chill.” Jen said, “So while I’m pretty sure she won’t be alarmed, I don’t want to scare her. I think she wants to know what’s going on and that keeps her chill. I don’t know her that well, obviously, but, I pay attention.” She smiled, “And I also don’t want to misstep with her if she’s going to be around a while… if she is as big of a deal to you as I think she is… I want her to feel supported not guilty. I think we all know it wasn’t her idea to sneak off without security...”
“Okay… well,” Coll began again in his silence. “That’s good. How did she find out?”
“There is a picture of us.” He watched for a reaction but she seemed especially calm. “basically she is … worried about you. She doesn’t want you to get hassled.” She was quiet, thinking. Nervously, he went on. “So that’s why I wanted Billy to go with you. In case someone recognized you… I know it seems far fetched.”
She smiled widely at him. “I mean, only because you’re okay with going out without security and the chances of someone recognizing you are a lot better than the chances of anyone recognizing me.”
“I know.” He hung his head briefly, “I know.”
It means something. “It’s because of my ‘above average rise of assault’ right?”
He nodded and placed his hand on her cheek. “It did make me think twice… but we can have fun without going out.”
It made her legs feel weak and she had to look away from him for a second. He took both her hands in his.
“What is it a picture of?” She asked.
“Of us at the bar.”
“... with the old people?!”
He nodded, laughing a little. “I didn’t see it, she said someone behind the bar took it.”
“Maybe that’s why the bartender kept giving us food.”
“How did we not notice someone with a camera? Or taking a picture?” She asked. Thinking back to that night though, she knew it was entirely possible. They were so involved in each other, she was so sure the old people were a safe space…
“Am I being really super naive?” She asked.
“Maybe.” he smiled and wrapped his arms around her again, “But that’s fine.” He held her close to his body and she rested her head on his shoulder.
They were both quiet for a minute.
“I think I should probably sleep in my own room tonight.” She said sadly with a pout as he held her.
“I know. You probably should.” He agreed, “I’ll miss you.”
“It’s been so long since I've slept alone. Well, I’ll be with Becka but… obviously not the same.”
He laughed, “I’ll try not to be jealous.”
She smiled and leaned back to look at him. “It’s okay if you’re a little jealous.”
He laughed and put his arm around her shoulders and turned them both around to start walking back to the lounge.
“We should arrive back there separately to fully experience sneaking around.” She mentioned.
“You’re into that… sneaking around.”
“I might be, yeah.” She nodded.
“Okay, you go.”
“I’ll see you later.” She said, kissing him on the cheek before she turned to leave.
“Coll.” He said quickly without thinking what his next sentence would be, just knowing he wasn’t ready to see her go just yet - feeling like there was something else to say.
She turned back to face him, “Yeah.”
Not the time. “Make sure Becka sways.” He said happily.
She laughed, tilting her head back, “Let me see you swaaaay.” She danced a little, “She will not need any encouragement.” She assured him, “See you later.”
She followed the corridor back to the lounge while Nick stood back and watched her go. Each of them knew another opportunity had just passed.