Suddenly, she felt Angela’s arms wrap around her seemingly out of nowhere.
“Thank you so much.” Angela said quietly with a huge smile, hugging Coll in tighter. She was careful not to brush her face against coll’s shirt as she was already dressed and had her hair and make-up done.
“Oh. Hi.” Coll laughed, caught off guard by Angela’s hug.
Three nights ago, Coll had left her room key with Angela for the first time. Last night, she did it again. Angela was so appreciative but they hadn’t seen each other all day for Angela to tell her so. Leighanne had convinced Coll to go out shopping with her that afternoon and they didn’t arrive at the venue until about an hour ago.
“How was your night, Little?”
She could feel her cheeks blushing, “it was good.” She had spent the first part of the night with Nick, Leighanne and Brian in Brian’s suite, chatting over room service and watching a horror movie, and the second part of it with Nick in his suite, talking and making out. They talked more than they made out for the first time in weeks but that was still just as blissful. “Yours?”
She blushed harder, “I’m glad.”
“Baby girl, you are the real MVP.” Angela said as she pulled back to look at Coll.
“You’re welcome. I wasn’t using it. I hope you’ll use it again tonight.”
“We are planning on it. You are the best.” Angela smiled before walking away casually.
Coll stood there distracted, thinking about what Angela had said.
So much more than snuggling. Incredible.
A rambling list of things from the recent past came to mind as she wandered slowly out to the corridor following the path Angela took ...
Angela’s night of ecstasy
Nick’s laugh, her hands in his hair, his warm breath on her neck...
She knew she wanted to go all in with him. She knew she wanted more. She even knew it was inevitable. But she also knew that she didn’t want or need to rush, and that her morality, though strange to others, had gotten her this far, to exactly where she wanted to be. But hearing about Angela and Q, knowing that all around her people with same or lesser feelings were doing what she wanted to do made her question herself briefly.
“Little!” Brian’s voice cut into her stream of consciousness and she was startled by it, and she looked up quickly to see him jogging towards her in his blue stage suit. “Come with!” He looped his arm through hers and she started jogging with him to keep up
Brian didn’t say anything as they turned the corner to see the entire crew gathered up.
“Nick was looking for you. You belong here.” He explained as they came to a stop. He let go of her arm and walked happily over to where Leighanne was standing.
Nick approached her with a casual smile that made her heart rate increase.
“We wanted to do a big circle tonight.” He said, “You should be here.”
She felt a surge of happiness rise inside of her. Traditionally the guys, dancers and band would circle up for a prayer before the show. Occasionally Leighanne would pop in, sometimes Jen … but Coll never had. It felt like something sacred. More sacred than Leighanne thought their nightly toast was. This was a new level of inclusion.
They held hands through the circle and he kissed her before he hurried off with everyone else to get prepped for the start of the show.
Once the bulk of everyone had left the scene, Coll and Leighanne made their way back to the lounge to get the champagne Leighanne had on ice.
“It’s actually rose champagne. I figured we should do something extra special tonight.”
“Oh very fancy. Never had it.” Coll replied happily. “I-”
“Colleen!” Jen’s voice interrupted her sentence and stopped her in her tracks.
Leighanne slowed to a stop alongside her as well, “I’ll meet you in there.” She said sympathetically before leaving Coll alone to wait on Jen.
“How are you feeling?”
Coll tucked her hair behind her ear and shrugged slightly, “I’m good.”
Jen looked at her suspiciously. “You sure?”
Yesterday, before they left the hotel to get on the buses, Jen found Nick and Coll over breakfast and slid a magazine into Coll’s hands.
“No idea how she got this done so fast but,” Jen began, “Leila and I think your mom might have leaked this.” Looking at Nick, she handed the magazine to Coll.
“Leila?” Coll asked, “Who is Leila?”
“The publicist.” Nick stated stoically, keeping his eyes on Jen.
Her eyes widened as the headline caught her attention. “Nick’s new chick…. Wow, terrible headline.”
Jen looked at her, confused by the reaction.
“But also, holy shit.” Coll said calmly as she slid her hand across the glossy cover. The image was taken from a distance but she could see clearly it was of the two of them looking rather cozy in the corridor of some venue or is that a dressing room?
“Ah, you are real.” Jen smirked.
“Wait. What happened?” Nick asked, snapping to attention, craning his head to see the cover.
“Look, it’s still… not major. I would say you have until TRL tomorrow at the absolute max.” Jen explained as Nick took in the cover.
“For what?” Coll asked.
“For whatever you two want to do. Once this pops, it’s going to explode.”
Cautiously, Coll handed the magazine to Nick.
“Can someone just explain to me in plain english what the motive is exactly?” Coll asked, feeling a sense of urgency to understand, while simultaneously feeling dumb for having to ask. “I am not convinced she-”
“Jane wants Nick to be as … exposed as possible. Because she knows that stories like this drive interest and interest drives conversation and more media coverage and ultimately that makes more money. And she wants a piece of that. So she feeds the system what it needs” Jen explained, “to keep producing the outcome she wants. Even if it’s not the best thing for Nick or you personally.”
“If she wants media drama for you why was she seeding the idea that I shouldn’t be with you?” She asked, looking at Nick.
He scoffed, “to create more drama.”
Coll nodded, “Think so…”
“Thanks for checking.”
“Of course.” Jen sighed, pursing her lips and looking at Coll thoughtfully, “Colleen…I know that living in this bubble sometimes makes it hard to know what’s real. But, I can tell this is … something. And on a personal level, I actually really like you so I’m a little more concerned than normal.”
Coll laughed, “You mean more concerned than you were about Mandy?”
“Maybe a little bit.”
Leila had suggested having Nick call into TRL to “address it.” She thought that staging a conversation with Carson would give Nick the opportunity to take back the dialogue however he wanted. At first, he was entirely unconvinced, and Coll stayed quiet, unsure about the pros and cons of any of the options.
“Take the power back. Especially because it’s your mother… Before you can’t. It can still come from you. This is one little headline. But there will be more. The longer you wait the further it gets from you - from the truth - from what you want people to hear.”
Coll looked between Jen and Nick nervously as Jen spoke.
“You want to be with her right? And you don’t want to have to hide it. You will hide it until you’re open about it. You’ll always keep it private but you won’t have to hide it if people freely know.”
He looked at her for a moment in quiet contemplation. In that moment he saw it again: the life he could have with her. He saw her in the future, he saw her on the beach in Florida and at a bar in Boston, and in his bed in a hotel in any city. He saw everything.
Leila had no problem getting Nick some airtime on TRL and no more than seven hours after the magazine first appeared in their lives, Nick had confirmed there was in fact a ‘new chick’, breaking a million or so hearts - according to Carson - in the process.
“I was pretty shocked you let us go shopping this afternoon.” Coll smirked.
Jen’s heart dropped and Coll could see it on her face. “What?”
“You went where??”
Shit. “Oh. Uh-”
“Oh my god.”
“Leighanne said you knew!!”
Jen stood up straighter and Coll could see her mind spinning. “Please don’t be mad! We are both completely fine and nothing happened and it’s the last show and Leighanne has fancy champagne that’s pink and please don’t make it a thing… she’s so excited.” Coll pleaded, placing her hands on Jen’s arms. “Please. Don’t make it a thing.”
“My stress level, Colleen!”
Coll pouted, trying not to laugh.
“Listen, can we just be stressed out together, then?”
“You do not seem stressed at all!”
Coll rolled her eyes. “We both know that half the people in this building hate me right now. And I’m trying to be chill about it but it’s definitely not just ‘no big deal’ to me. None of this is no big deal to me. It’s actually a very big deal to me.”
She hadn’t let on much, but she was preoccupied by it since yesterday morning.
Nick had asked her last night if she was okay with everything, she could tell he was nervous to know the answer. Even still, she was honest.
“I feel like I don't know enough to know. I feel completely clueless,” she paused, thinking about him that night at the fountain and all the things she did know for absolutely sure … “but only about some of this.” He looked at her, wondering what she meant but she continued before he could ask. “If someone has to put up with weirdness and chaos, let it be me.” Pressing her hand into her chest, she went on, “I’m on your side and I’m not so fragile. It doesn’t need to be easy or perfect. It’s okay if it’s a little messy. Nothing that’s easy is worth it anyway,” she concluded.
He shook his head, unsure what to say. He hadn’t expected her to be so cool with it, he hadn’t expected her to ask for it… “How do you do this?”
He remembered what Becka had told him - you can’t hand Coll a problem she won’t be willing to sort through.
“You just like… make sense of stuff.”
She laughed lightly as she rubbed her eyes with the sleeves of her shirt. “Don’t get me wrong this does intimidate me. I don’t want to create any problems for you, your career… whatever. And honestly, some of the concerns about the fans do reach me. I’m not that dense. Like, yeah, I am naive about some of this. But I'm also just like … okay with it. Okay with what I do know and okay with being naive.” She explained, “Because I also know that you are worth it. And absolutely no risk to my potential.” She grinned as he wrapped his arms around her.