She brought her knuckles to the surface and pounded three times.
She noticed her breathing was shallow and shook her shoulders back and took a deep breath. A few seconds later, the door opened, and Coll appeared.
Mandy looked at Coll and smiled before she began speaking. She could see right away Coll was confused to see her standing there. “I just wanted to say goodbye. And I’m sorry.”
She couldn’t blame Coll for being confused. The whole situation had surprised her, too.
“What?” Coll asked plainly.
“I’m leaving a little earlier than I planned. So I’m heading to the airport now. I’m sorry if what I did made you uncomfortable.” Mandy explained as she adjusted a bag on her shoulder.
Coll looked absently to either side of Mandy, not sure what she was talking about but figured she meant the backhanded compliments. But Mandy looked totally genuine, which was a different experience.
“I, umm… sure. No worries.”
Mandy considered how much would be appropriate to say. She took a deep breath and decided to keep it short.
“It was great to meet you. I hope things work out.” She smiled and began to back away.
“It was nice to meet you, too,” Coll said, not really sure if she meant it. “See you soon?”
“Probably not, but if things turn out…” She began, “Well, I guess I’ll know.” She smiled widely.
“Alright,” Coll looked at her curiously, gave her a small wave, and Mandy was off.
She closed the door, replaying the conversation in her mind. She had absolutely no clue what Mandy was talking about. She continued on with getting ready for her day as planned but did so a little slower than she had been in case any new information about the situation would present itself before she left.
The curiosity was killing her most of the day, and she decided to head back in time for dinner with the guys before the show so she could ask Nick what was going on. She took a cab to the venue and called Billy to let him know and asked him to meet her outside because she didn’t have her pass with her. He met her outside the venue with a temporary pass, and she slipped it over her head.
“Thank you.” She smiled as they walked by a large crowd of fans waiting outside. They looked with only moderate curiosity.
“I don’t really love the idea of you going out by yourself.” It was a sentiment he expressed every other day.
“I know you don’t. I appreciate that. But no one knows me.”
“Not yet.” He said as he swung a door open for her.
She shook her head. “You don’t have to worry,” she assured him as they walked to the lounge. “No one will ever know or care who I am.” She laughed.
“Hey, Coll!” Kevin said as Coll walked in behind Billy.
“Hey!” She smiled sweetly. Kevin watched as she barely slowed down for him, lifted her bag off her shoulder, and quickly walked further into the lounge, dropping it on a couch before making her way across the room to Nick. He shook his head, smiling to himself.
Nick was sitting at a table playing a video game on some handheld device she had never seen before.
She plopped into the seat next to him. “Hey.” She said.
“Hey.” He said, looking up quickly and turning the device off. She looked at him surprised as she looked between him and the device but decided to ignore the possibility he had just canceled his game mid-play.
“Look, I hate to be … nosey.”
“But…” He smiled.
“But what happened with Mandy?” She asked quietly, trying to appear more concerned than eager.
“We broke up.” He shrugged with very little emotion.
“You broke up with her? You two seemed pretty cozy at the club.”
“It was mutual.”
Coll narrowed her eyes at him. “So it’s over?”
“Yeah.” He nodded casually. The details of the situation were too revealing, so he left them out.
“And she just.. took it?”
Nick shrugged. “She was okay, yeah. She practically did it for me.” Understatement of the year.
“How do you feel? Relieved?” She asked, concerned. “Now you can … do whatever you want. Guilt-free.” As the words came out, she felt a deep sadness in her belly. That was the last thing she wanted for him, but it felt like the best conduit for getting back to neutral with him; and presented a deflection from her own feelings, which was of the utmost importance at this time, even if it was a betrayal to her own desires.
Nick swallowed hard, pushing his heart back as it crept into his throat. “I’m good. It was better for both of us.”
As she sat there, she thought about the night before, watching him with her, and knowing that what she felt was, in fact, jealousy. She was jealous of the physical closeness Mandy had with him and the fact that she got to feel his hands on her skin, and she considered how the fact she was jealous factored in now that Mandy was out of the equation. Spending the past week avoiding Mandy and, therefore, also Nick did nothing to redirect her feelings. She was nearly positive it actually made her even more interested in him. As she sat there looking at him, hearing him tell her it was over with Mandy, she knew the happy feeling that gave her was wrong but didn’t care. The breakup was good for him, and it was good for her ... and it sounded like it was good for Mandy too, so in the end, what did it really matter if it delighted her that Nick was genuinely single?
At the same time, she figured he would go on living his life, sleeping around, doing whatever he wanted ... because he could, and why shouldn’t he? Coupled with the fact that she also knew, in reality, a relationship with him would be hard - she had to finish school, he had to finish this tour... he had this life, and she had that life. They only existed in this same space- this same life - for a brief flash of time.
Getting over him before anything happened would be her best bet, but it would be impossible.
“She seemed oddly calm when I saw her,” Coll explained after a moment of silence between them as she tapped her finger on the tabletop.
“Wait, you saw her?” He asked as he sat up a little straighter.
“Yeah, she came to my room to say goodbye this morning. I asked her if I would be seeing her soon, and she said, probably not.” Coll explained.
“…What else did she say?” He asked, nervously.
“Honestly, don’t remember, I was thrown off by the fact she came to say goodbye to me at all. She was saying something like, if it works out, or … if it turns out…? I don’t know, I didn’t really get it. She was kind of a bitch to me all week.” She shook her head, “Whatever, honestly… you can do better.” She turned in her seat away from the table and stood up. Nick sat there quietly. “Like, a lot better,” Coll added as she returned to where she dropped her bag and rummaged around in it for a minute. “God, I am starving.” She said randomly.
Nick watched as she moved across the lounge to get something to eat, his heart was beating loudly in his ears, and he wasn’t sure what he was supposed to do. He felt different, lighter in some ways, and heavier in others. Without his boyfriend facade, and having zero interest in sleeping around after that disappointment he felt getting caught in the act, he had very few hiding places left.
It wasn’t her original plan, but once she was at the venue, it didn’t make sense not to watch the show that night. Leighanne was excited Coll decided to come back after her day out, and the emotional fatigue was enough that Coll didn’t have the stamina to venture back into the city that night. Leighanne was also excited to get back to their tradition of toasting to “infinite possibilities,” which she had adamantly avoided doing with Mandy because it was, as she told Coll, “something sacred.”
“This is my favorite song right now,” Leigh commented as the opening chords to Back to your heart filled the arena alongside the incessant roar of the crowd.
“I love that you have favorites from week to week.” Coll giggled. Last week Leighanne was all about Larger Than Life, commenting on the dance sequences often.
Leighanne shrugged, “These tours get long, I try to keep it interesting for myself.”
Coll bit her lip as the two of them turned their attention back to the stage.
In the second bridge where Nick took the lead from Brian, Coll felt a tingle in her spine. She wondered how this would play out - would she eventually break down, crying at his feet, unable to go on pretending? Would anyone catch on to her? Angela was already on to her… was anyone else? Was Leighanne?
The sound of Nick’s voice was too much at the moment. She felt dizzy with overwhelm.
“Enjoy the rest of the show, I have to call Becka,” Coll said quickly as she leaned in to touch Leighanne’s shoulder.
“Right now?” She asked, confusion in her voice.
“I know, terrible timing.” The only thing I seem to be good at these days.
“So, you’re not coming back?” She asked, sadly.
“I’ll see you in the lounge after!”
Coll managed to get past Billy and out to the parking lot behind the venue where their trucks were without him noticing. The night air was still, and the sky was perfectly deep blue. She found a spot to sit on a low curb under a light on the side of the building and brushed a tear off her cheek as she dialed Becka’s number.
“Hey, Little!” Becka’s sweet voice came across the line, and it was a massive comfort.
“Hey.” Coll sighed heavily, slumping her shoulders.
“What’s up? You sound funny.”
Coll shook her head and blinked back some tears. “Something happened.”
“Okay…” Becka said calmly. “Are you hurt?”
“No.” That didn’t feel right. Lots of things hurt. “I’m still in one piece.”
“Okay. Good start…Tell me?”
“You called me for some reason.”
“I can’t tell you what happened.” She cried.
“Well, I promise I’ll still love you even if you ask me to help you hide a body.”
Coll rolled her eyes. “It’s nothing like that.”
“I mean, I figured.”
“It’s worse.” Coll choked.
Becka smiled, “Okay… well, you’re gonna have to tell me because now I’m panicking.”
Coll pressed her sleeve into her eye, absorbing the tears.
“I - I made a mess.”
“Did you have sex??” Becka asked excitedly.
“Oh, okay.” Becka replied, “Did you want to?”
“Sorry. I’m listening.”
Coll was quiet. Just say it.
“Is this something I need to worry about? Just tell me that.” She asked, sincerely.
“Okay.” Becka took a deep breath, “I know you are scared. But you can tell me. It’s just the two of us.” Coll could hear Becka turning on her clinical mode, she appreciated it in some ways.
Coll wiped her nose and sniffled. “Okay.” She sighed. “You can never utter a single word of this to another living being.”
“I’m very good at client confidentiality.”
“You better be.”
“We can fix it whatever it is.”
“I …” Coll began, looking up and out at the trucks in front of her, knowing that after she spoke these words out loud, there was no turning back. Things would be different. She braced herself. “I am in love with Nick.”
Becka was stunned into silence, a broad smile spread quietly across her face. “Oh my god.”
Coll began to sob.
“I just cannot believe this.” Becka giggled.
“It’s not funny, Becka. I swear I’m suffering.” She began. “But it feels so good.” She cried.
“Suffering? Wha- I just-“ Becka couldn’t even find the right words. “What’s happening? I need details… Also, just to be clear, this is not ‘worse’ than having a body to hide.”
“No…I’m not sure.”
“It’s going to be alright. Just tell me what’s going on. What are you going to do?”
“Act awkward til my body just spontaneously combusts, I guess.” Unless that is what is happening right now already…?
“You should tell himmmm.” Becka sang.
“No. Becka, that’s literally the last possible option.”
“I don’t even know where to begin with that. SO so many reasons.”
“It might help you feel better… you are obviously not feeling fabulous about it.”
“What even would I say?”
“Exactly what you told me, ‘i’m in love with you.’” She made it sound so simple.
“No. Some words are best unsaid, Becka.”
“Yes, some words are. Not those words, though.” Said honestly. “It’s NEVER best to not tell someone you love them. Or are IN love with them.” She said honestly.
“I can’t, Becka, I swear, I would ruin everything.”
“Coll, just relax.” Becka spoke softly, “To be fair, I am a bit upset. I didn’t put actual money on this because I’d be rich right now.”
“Stop, please, this is really not funny.”
“What’s NOT funny about love?”
“It’s serious Becka, I’m going to ruin everything and… I don’t know.” Coll held her hand to her forehead.
“Tell me more. What happened? When did this happen?”
“This will cost eight hundred dollars if I tell you everything now.”
“Call me on Nick’s phone then.” Becka laughed lightly.
“He’s at the show.”
“Can you email me?”
“No, it’s too permanent.”
“Coll, once you delete an email, it’s gone forever.”
“No, I don’t believe that.” She shook her head.
“Alright, well, I need to know!! Don’t mom and dad still pay for your phone?”
“Yes, but this is international.”
“Then who cares, just tell me!”
With a deep breath, Coll began the story, tracking it back to the first time she felt that then-unidentified malaise she felt watching Nick on stage. “Leighanne told me. It was a warning, I know that now…”
“She said this is how she fell so hard for Brian… watching someone you like do something they love.”
She continued through the incident in London and their night at Bunny’s, making a note of the thigh touch and the lingering at the door.
Becka was enthralled.
Coll’s conversation with Becka was cut short due to a low battery on her phone. She got back on her feet and approached the door she had exited through and pulled it to no avail. Suddenly she realized that she was locked out.
“Shit.” She said to herself as she tried the door once more and then began moving forward along the building to see if there were any other doors.
She walked until she got to the main entrance and was able to enter the building but couldn’t go any further without a ticket. She reached to her neck to grab her pass from under her shirt, but it wasn’t there. Her stomach dropped, and she panicked.
“What the hell?” She said, touching her neck again to be sure. It wasn’t there.