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Author's Chapter Notes:

"Is she honestly trying to piss me off? I have barely seen her, and she is still making me mad." Coll told Leighanne as the two of them ran on side by side treadmills in the hotel gym the next morning. Leighanne was kind enough to bring a plate of food from breakfast for Coll, as she requested, so she could avoid Mandy. After watching Coll pick through the food she brought, and hearing Coll's complaints about Mandy all morning, Leighanne finally decided it was time to work in an inquiry for the question of the week. She saw her shot, and she took it.

"Look, you know I don't love her either. And you also know I love you so much." Leighanne breathed heavily, arms pumping at her sides, "But, I also know you well enough to know a few backhanded compliments wouldn't tie you up like this. Are you sure there is nothing else going on?"

Coll turned her head briefly to look at her. "Well, SHE, in general, is pissing me off ... doing all of these things cumulatively ... the juice!"

"I think that was truly an accident."

"Ugh. No, I swear, she has been needling me this whole time. Like she's trying to get something out of me."

Leighanne didn't say anything as she continued her jog, wanting to get whatever else she said right and wanting to crack the code on Coll... without her knowing that's what she was trying to do. She didn't know enough yet and decided to drill further into Mandy's possible motives instead.

"Maybe you are just the lightning rod."

"What do you mean?"

"She's probably seeing all that's going on, with all the fans, all the attention Nick is getting..."


"But you're here. You're the one who is close enough to take her anger out on. Even though she's mostly just… weird to you…"

The hum of the treadmill, their feet hitting the rubber, and their labored breathing filled the space between their commentary. Both of them were thinking that what Leighanne said made sense, but both knew this was just the surface of the reason.

"If it were me, and I didn't know you, I would feel threatened by you, too."

"What?? Leigh! I swear on a hundred bibles I'm not interested in Brian!"

"No, I know!" Leighanne smiled, "I mean, I kind of get it - It's easy because you're gorgeous, and you have a close relationship with her boyfriend, and you're here...."

"Okay," Coll replied, processing all the pieces.

"There's also the very likely possibility that she thinks you're into him."

Coll laughed it off and rolled her eyes, her stomach doing flips inside.

Coll reached in and lowered the speed on her machine to a walking pace, Leighanne followed suit, and the two of them walked for another fifteen minutes.

"You're still coming out tonight, right?"

"Yes, I'm not going to be the only one to stay here!" She replied angrily.

No further words about Mandy were exchanged that morning. Coll was in her thoughts about it but uttered not another word.

As she finished her walk, she speculated on what might happen that evening. Mandy was set to leave them the following night, so everyone planned to go out in the city as there was no show scheduled. According to Leighanne, it would be simple enough with a VIP set up, to avoid massive crowds. Coll wasn't so sure about that but knew she couldn't be the only one not to join them.

"Just stick near me and Brian," Leighanne interjected.

Coll shook her head. "I'm getting so good at being your third wheel," Coll replied.

"We love you!"

Three vodka tonics and an hour on the dance floor later, Coll excused herself and made her way over to one of the booths in their VIP area to sit and chill for a minute. She was warm, thanks to the near cardio workout of dancing and the alcohol. She reached for a glass of water that was sitting in front of her, figuring it had to belong to someone in their group, she drank it without thinking twice. She slumped back into the soft cushion of the booth and watched as everyone continued their good time. A.J. was making out with a woman he had invited in from the other part of the club earlier, Brian and Leighanne were having their good time without their third wheel, the dancers were at the bar doing shots, Howie and Kevin were flirting with some random women… and Nick and Mandy were making out in the middle of the dance floor. Coll lowered her head, subconsciously narrowing her eyes at them.

She watched them for a while, for longer than she should have.

Nothing is happening. She assured herself. NOT jealous of Mandy

She just felt like Nick deserved better, she rationalized.

It is upsetting to see a friend caught up in something that's bad for them.

She rationalized.

This is bad for him. Her brain was working overtime to put a fence around the emotions.

He's confused. He's got too much going on right now to know what's really happening here. She's taking advantage of him. That makes sense, right?

"Coll." Angela's loud voice jolted Coll out of her reverie.

Silently, Coll looked up as Angela slid into the booth next to her.

"Girl, you alright?!" Angela had to practically yell over the music for Coll to hear her, for her to hear herself.

Coll nodded.

"Damn girl, how much did you have to drink?"

"Not enough." Coll sighed as she looked back to Nick and Mandy, still making out. Still obnoxious. Her stomach hurt. The reality of her situation was settling in, the walls were getting harder to build.

The night went on, Coll hung with Angela, and a few of the other dancers at the bar for a while had a couple shots with them and stayed mostly quiet. Stealing glances of Nick and Mandy when she got a chance. She was lost in her own thoughts, made worse by the head-pounding music, the alcohol, and the discomfort of the situation at large. Why hadn't he come to hang with her at all? What was he thinking about the big reveal of this morning?

An hour after figuring out Coll's plight, Angela pulled her aside. "Come with me to the bathroom." She yelled as she took Coll's hand and led her away from the crowd. Coll brought her drink with her.

The dimly lit bathroom was quiet, but the deep hum of the music persisted.

"What's your deal with Carter? Are you catching feelings?"

"Am I what?" Coll asked, never having heard that expression before.

Angela leaned against the sink counter and sighed. "Do you have feelings for him?"

"No." Coll laughed.

"Then why do you keep watching them?"

"I'm not."

The two women looked at each other, each trying to figure the other out.

"Look, just know it's obvious," Angela warned as she spun around to check her hair in the mirror. Coll watched her, unsure how her hair could move at all with all the products she knew Angela used. Shifting her gaze over to the stalls across from them, Coll sighed and dropped her shoulders.

"I'm not jealous of her." Coll asserted.

Through the mirror, Angela looked at her and smiled.

"Are you telling yourself or me? Because I didn't ask."

"He doesn't even want to be with her."

"Yet, he is." Angela mentioned, "And also, you care about it."

Coll was quiet, she had no defense. Her senses were out of whack, her mind was tired. She couldn't think of a good rebuttal, so she just didn't respond.

Coll pepped herself back up and returned to the dance floor with Angela, who silently dedicated herself to making sure Coll didn't do anything stupid the rest of the night.

"I know how you college girls get," Angela spoke directly into Coll's ear as she swung her arms around Coll's neck while a Britney Spears remix played.

"Angelllla. I swear, I am fine." Coll smiled weakly.

"Coll, you have to do you!! You're too beautiful."

The two of them were tipsy, and there was frequent giggling.

"Ang, I've got this," Coll assured her as they swayed together. "You don't have to worry about me."

"Listen, you're not some naive little girl, don't play that role. You are better than this. You are better than her, his loss if he doesn't know it."

"I'm not trying to have him know it!"

"Don't be that person."

Coll didn't really know what she meant but shook her head. "I'm not jealous."

"Don't talk yourself to it. Don't wait for him."


"Don't talk yourself to where you want to be!" Angela reiterated in a louder voice.

Strobe lights glinted above them, the room was pounding with energy, someone bumped into them, and the drink in Coll's hand spilled a little. She looked up and saw Nick across the room in a beam of brief light, he was alone, she felt a wave of relief. She blinked her eyes hard, adjusting to the changing light and the sway of the alcohol. What did it mean to be relieved? Her eyes found him again as the lights spun around, but this time she was with him. A small fire started in the pit of her stomach.

"She's no good for him!" Coll yelled as Angela continued to sway to the music with her arms around Coll's neck like they were slow dancing at prom.

"I know!"

Coll smirked and took another sip of her drink, looping her arm around Angela's.

"He told me it was over with her, why is she still here?" Coll asked, sincerely.

Angela shook her head and rolled her eyes.

"You are not going to be his rebound. Over my dead body."


"You aren't rebound material. You deserve more - you deserve everything."

Coll looked at her curiously.

"Someone told you about the virginity thing."

Angela nodded. "Wish it would have been you!"

"It never came up," Coll said. "Also, that's not 'special' I'm just a regular person. I'm not special." She said sadly.

"Oh, please."

"I swear, Angela, I'm so normal."

Angela shrugged, "Around here, normal is special. Also, you're surprising. I like surprises."

Things were winding down as the clock ticked past 2 am. Coll, Angela, and a few of the other dancers were sitting in a large booth, finishing off their last drinks. Angela was leaning on Coll's shoulder as Coll sat stoically watching as Mandy hung from Nick's neck. He seemed tired or annoyed. But then again, who wasn't? Mandy had her face close to his, nuzzling his neck, kissing his mouth.

Suddenly Coll's eyes met Nick's. Her skin crawled, and her reaction to look away was delayed. He smiled at her before Mandy had her mouth on his again.

Coll leaned further into the booth, slipping down in her seat, covered her face with one of her hands, and quietly told herself nothing was happening.

The threads that were holding her together were thinning, Coll felt herself losing the control of her emotions, she felt herself beginning to spin slowly off the course she had set herself on.

"I'm drunk, and I want to go back now." She said as she swallowed back some tears. Angela nodded in agreement into Coll's shoulder.