“I need to come up with some equally obnoxious nickname for you.” She replied, not looking up from her plate where she was pushing a scrambled egg around with her fork. It was 5:45, she had barely slept all night and he was definitely too perky.
“Awh, you like it.”
She sighed and put the fork down, flipped her hair over her shoulder and looked up at him, smiling and rolling her eyes.
“Need to talk to you.”
“What else!?” He stuck his hand out.
She really wasn’t quite sure, “You want to know what happened last night after you left…?” She asked nervously.
He raised his eyebrows at her, “Well, yes, but that’s not what I was referring to.”
“Oh.” She sighed with relief. “So… you have boyband drama?”
“No! Leighanne's birthday!”
“I can’t hang with her at all that day, so that’s where you come in!”
“You don’t have to ask me to hang out with her I do that, happily.”
“No I know, but I wanna plan something for the two of you to do. She would probably love the spa.”
Coll nodded, “Most likely, yes.”
“You wanna do that?”
“Brian, there are very few women who do not want to go to the spa.”
“Alright girls day at the spa it is!”
“What do you need from me to make it happen?”
“Nothing, you just sit back and get pampered.” He said in his girly voice.
“Alright now, I also need your help later. I have an appointment with a jeweler this afternoon.”
“I need your help with that.”
She smiled and laughed lightly, “Alright. I will go with you.”
“You’re welcome.” She said as she crossed her arms over each other and leaned into the table.
“Now, about last night...”
Coll shook her head, blushing and looking away from him and they both smiled softly to themselves..
The yellow hue of the lights in the elevator was beginning to give Coll a headache, but she was glad the lights were still on at least. A good sign. The thing can’t be entirely broken if the lights are still on..
“I swear shit like this doesn’t happen to me at home.” Coll stated firmly as she looked up at Brian sitting across from her on the floor of the elevator. It had been thirty minutes since they left the jeweler’s studio with a fabulous gift for Leighanne, twenty one minutes since they boarded the elevator, twenty minutes since their elevator stopped moving, fifteen minutes since they gave up trying the buttons and attempting to get a signal on Brian’s phone, and five minutes since Brian’s last mention of Tom and how he would definitely be in the process of rescuing them, unless of course he, too, was stuck in the elevator he took down four minutes before they did to scope the route, and two minutes since Brian checked the time.
“What doesn’t?” He asked.
“Getting locked out of buildings, losing important documentation, getting robbed, getting trapped in elevators...”
A smile spread across his face, “...falling in love with your best friend...”
Immediately she hung her head, shaking it and bringing her hands to her forehead.
“I knew you were already on to me but, did Leighanne tell you?” She asked, peeking up at him briefly.
He shook his head, “She wouldn’t tell me anything you told her in confidence… But you’re right, I had a feeling. So it’s true?”
Coll tilted her head back up, still holding her hand to her forehead, a small smile unable to hide in her expression.
“It’s okay.” Brian laughed. “You can tell me.”
Coll’s eyes wandered around the small space before she took a deep breath and made eye contact with him again.
“It’s true.” She admitted, “But ... It’s more than that.”
Brian nodded slowly, understanding.
“It’s... bigger.” He offered.
“Yes… bigger. It’s like... The way I feel right now ... It’s scary, I mean ... look at the kind of luck I have ...”
“I know I don’t know you that well yet but Leighanne loves you and that means something. Plus, what I do know about you is mostly good...”
“Just teasing you.” Brian laughed, “but seriously, I don’t know you that well yet but I know him and … I know it’s scary. So I know that it’s especially scary with him... I get it. .”
“You mean because he’s my friend or something else?” She asked nervously.
“Just everything. Love is scary, I think you know that, conceptually. It’s different when you’re living it.. Nick is young.... so are you. You’ve got your thing, he’s got his... but no matter who it was or when, it would be scary. I know there are special considerations with him, this situation, I get that. But don’t be scared.”
“What should I do?” She asked.
“I’m not really one to give relationship advice, but in the long corridor of life some doors will be closed, some you have to kick down, some will be locked... some will be wide open. And some you have to knock and wait patiently.”
She locked her eyes on his, thinking about what he had said. “That’s deep.”
He smiled and shrugged.
“What kind of door do you suppose I’m at right now?”
“Well, I know it’s not locked.” He said thoughtfully.
Coll smiled, her heart fluttered. Especially after last night, she knew this particular door was not locked but, he would know better than anyone.
“So I should knock and wait patiently?”
“I think ultimately it’s best to do what you feel drawn to. When I met Leighanne everyone was suspicious, they didn’t think it could be as intense as I was saying it was.” Brian began, “But I knew it. It was the surest I’ve ever been... about anything. And I didn’t have a logical reason to know that, it just was like ...”
“I get it.” She said quietly. “Like... unmistakable.”
Brian smiled, “Completely.”
Coll shook her head, unsure how she got to where she was, unsure exactly how to move forward, “how come I feel both things- so sure and so scared?”
“I think that’s part of it.”
“It feels crazy.”
“It is - but that’s okay.” Brian reassured her, “It’s okay if it’s a little crazy. Unavoidable, really.”
“I don’t want to screw anything up for him.”
Brian looked at his hands in his lap, “He couldn’t be negatively impacted by something like that.”
“Like someone feeling the way you do about him.”
“But what-“ Coll was interrupted by the elevator creaking into motion again as the lights flickered briefly.
“Oh thank you Jesus.” Coll sighed with relief, “I didn’t want to scare you but I really have to pee.”
Brian laughed as he got to his feet and helped Coll up onto hers. “Well I appreciate that.”
Coll smiled and tucked some hair behind her ear.
“You’re good for him.” Brian said honestly.
It made her happy and nervous at the same time, just another dichotomy for her to grapple with. She smiled anyway, “What makes you think so?”
“It’s my job to know!”
She bit her lip, “Thanks for talking.”
“You’re welcome, little.”
The driver took Coll, Brian and Tom directly to the venue, calculating there was not enough time to stop at the hotel since the incident with the elevator had delayed them and Brian had to get to soundcheck.
“Tom?” Coll asked sweetly, leaning over herself to get closer to him in the front passenger seat.
“Colleen.” He smiled.
“Could you please do me the world’s biggest favor and save me from being the highlight of another meeting?”
“You need a pass?”
“Yes please.” She batted her eyelashes at him as Brian laughed lightly. “Silly me, i thought I could make it three days in a row without any issues… really thought we’d be stopping back to the hotel before going to the venue.”
“Of course, stick with me when we get there I’ll hook you up.”
“And no one has to know?”
“Our little secret.” He nodded, “Just don’t let anyone get a good look at it.”
Coll relaxed back into her seat for the remainder of the trip to the venue.
Upon arrival there, Brian hurried off to soundcheck, leaving his purchase from the jeweler with Tom for safekeeping and Tom took Coll to get a pass for the night.
“Thank you, I appreciate it.” Coll said as she slipped the pass Tom had given her over her head before quickly checking the closure by tugging on it from three different angles
He laughed lightly at her.
“Trust me I know how absurd this is.”
“Stay out of trouble tonight?”
“Tom, I swear, I actually have always been trying to just that.” She held her hands up at her sides, “I swear. Not particularly good at it apparently but, yeah.”
He smiled and waved her off down a long corridor as she set off in search Leighanne.
After searching all the usual places backstage with no luck, Coll walked into hair and makeup to see Leighanne, Angela and Andrea sitting in three separate stations, chatting happily about something.
“Oh, thank god you’re back,” Angela exclaimed as she noticed Coll arrive.
“No seriously... thank god.” Coll sighed. “I swear, I really do go from one day to next without incident at home.”
“What? What happened now?” Andrea asked looking back at her.
“We got trapped in an elevator.” She explained as she stood there with the three of them looking at her.
Angela looked at her blankly for several seconds before she burst out laughing, “How does his shit keep happening to you?”
“No idea. Also, I feel so naked. I don’t even currently own a handbag, and we didn’t have time to stop at the hotel for me to get anything before we came here and I didn’t bring anything with me when I went with Brian so now I’m just…” she held her hands out to her sides, “here.”
Leighanne stood up out of her seat and motioned for Coll to come over, “Can I do your hair?”
“Is it really that bad?”
Leighanne laughed, “Not at all I just really wanna do someone’s hair.”
“Oh.” Coll smiled softly as she headed over, “Sure.” She said as she plopped into the seat Leighanne was in. Any excuse to sit here and do nothing for a while... “Wait, I don’t know if it’s such a good idea to put a burning hot tool near my face… my luck is so bad right now.”
“You’ll be fine.” Leighanne giggled.
Andrea smiled at her, “You need a bag. We should go shopping.”
“Shopping for sure but first, Angela was waiting for you to get here to tell us something!” Leighanne explained as she started running her hands through Coll’s hair, smiling at her in the mirror.
“Ohh...What’s up? Oh, is this what you mentioned in the plane yesterday?”
“Yes!” Angela’s face lit up, bright and happy, and she was so excited. She couldn’t put her finger on it but Coll recognized something in Angela’s expression.
“Well?! Tell us!!”
Coll focused on the sounds of water lapping around her body as she floated aimlessly on her back in a large inner tube in the hotel pool. She was thinking about him again, and trying to stir the courage up inside of herself to get the message to him somehow. He was watching her and she knew that, and she loved it.
With her eyes closed, and her fingertips caressing the surface of the water beneath her, she let her mind explore the thoughts it wanted to...
He had done so much for her in the past month. He had given her this incredible opportunity, introduced her to friends she knew she’d have for life and took care of her when she needed it. But he had also given her space and time and tools to do what she loved, even if she wasn’t actively doing it, he set her up for it.
He didn’t understand her entirely yet but he was trying and he wanted to, she could tell.
He gave her feelings she had never had before some of which she didn’t even have words for.
He made her feel safe enough to say things that spoke intimidating volumes.
He was absolutely it and he had to know. She needed him to know.
She saw it in him at the fountain: caring, optimistic, playful, funny, dedicated, supportive, comforting, selfless … the best of him. And she saw what he could be - the things she wanted to witness him become. There was more greatness inside of him. She wanted to see it come out. She wanted to be part of it.
She wanted him. She wanted what she knew he could be and she wanted what he already was. She realized that she had been willing to tolerate whatever mess being in a relationship with him might create, but now she actually wanted it. If it was going to be a mess - a difficult, complicated and emotional mess, that’s what she wanted. He was worth the complication. She stirred restlessly now, her imagination taking over, pushing beautiful and wonderful prospects to the front of her mind.
She slipped herself out of the tube and down into the water. Her body felt heavy with the things she wanted to say but hadn’t let out yet.
Nick was sitting on a lounge chair on the patio watching as Coll re-emerged from the water in the shallow part of the pool, pushing her hair out of her face in the process. The water slipped effortlessly over her skin, her curves were emphasized by the illumination of the pool, catching everything above her waist in the perfect combination of light and shadow. He was torn between keeping a safe distance and being in there with her.
She had the pool to herself and no one else was on the patio. He wasn’t even sure if the pool was technically open right now. It was past midnight, a crescent moon was hanging behind some wispy clouds in the sky and everything was dark and oddly quiet. His mind was a tangle of thoughts as he watched her.
She wanted to go swimming, that's what she told him. Everyone else had gone out after the show - but as they were deciding, she went to him and made the request.
”You never go night swimming in Florida?" She had asked him, positive it was part of his daily life. Her face was bright and happy and he knew deep down he had something to do with it, and that made him happier than he had felt in recent memory outside of last night.
Her innocent fascination with night swimming, the invitation to join her and the alluring nature of her soaking wet body was pushing him to a place he wasn't sure he should go yet but nothing was going to keep him from having another night alone with her.
A.J. had caught on, and the fact that Nick was staying at the hotel tonight with Coll instead of going out with them was the final piece of evidence he needed.
“You’re into her.” He said, looking at Nick in the loading dock earlier that night. It wasn’t a question, he wasn’t looking for confirmation. Nick nodded with a smile. “Careful with that.” A.J. advised as he placed his hand on Nick’s shoulder briefly before walking away. ”I’ll miss my wingman.”
That statement was the reason why he was sitting on the lounge chair while she was in the water. He couldn’t deny that he had several concerns about himself in this situation with her. He had never experienced anything like this before. It would actually matter - he would feel the impact if he screwed it up, which was an entirely new reality for him. And for those reasons and for several others, he wanted to take his time. He didn’t want to get too close too soon, he didn’t trust himself with her yet. He felt like an entirely different person recently.
If he had to wait, that was fine. She was worth the wait. But there could be small steps forward. If the opportunity arises…
Their conversation the night before had propelled them into a space where it was obvious they were talking around something significant. He was terrified of it and she was intimidated it, but when they were in that space together, it felt less daunting.
He could have taken the opportunity the night before, she was right there in front of him, with her hand in his, looking at him again like he was the only person on the planet, her face so close to his. He could have kissed her then. He could have reached up and put his hand on her cheek, leaned in and kissed her. He could have told her, “Colleen, I’m in love with you.” But he didn't. What she had said to him had felt so good, he wanted to enjoy that for a moment - and he wanted to enjoy kissing her - he wanted to know both of those things uniquely.
She wasn't sure why, but she could sense he wanted more than he was going for and was approaching it all very slowly. She thought about what Angela had said, about him treating her differently because she wasn't like anyone he was usually with, and she thought maybe that was real.
Angela had said a lot of things in the past twenty-four hours that stuck with Coll, and she was recounting them in her mind as she swam back in the direction of the tube which had floated further away from her. While Leighanne curled Coll’s hair for fun during soundcheck, Angela had revealed that she was experiencing her own little love affair with A.J.'s bodyguard, Q. A total bombshell to everyone. She spent twenty-five minutes gushing about him and her feelings toward him to Coll, Andrea and Leighanne. Angela had revealed that she and Q had been taking long walks around the hotel parking lots some nights while he waited on A.J. and that they had kissed each other on several occasions behind the buses. Coll was fascinated and admitted she had no clue any of this was going on. “I didn't want to tell you until there was something to say, really." Angela explained herself with a smile.. “I’m glad you know about it now, but mostly I wanted to say…” Coll slipped back into the tube and closed her eyes as she conjured the memory up,
Colleen.” She remembered that Angela’s voice was so serious, more serious than she had ever heard it before. “I know you didn’t ask… and I know, I have an overbearing sister thing going on here. But you’ll never get what you want this way. Not with him, not with anything.” She had said it directly to Coll, leaning into the armrest of the chair Coll was sitting in, “Especially with him. If there is someone who makes you feel things you’ve never felt before… someone who looks at you and turns your insides into a gloopy mess… someone who you feel so good with…”
Coll opened her eyes again and glanced back to where Nick was sitting, now reclining in the lounger looking up at the sky. “If you find someone who makes you … you …then you have to tell them. You have to do whatever it takes to keep that. If they make you happy, relaxed, secure, safe, inspired, optimistic … If you find that, you gotta be… brave. You gotta be brave and tell them. It’s for you. No one ever got what they wanted by staying shy and playing it safe and pretending they didn’t want what they know for sure they want.”
The knot in her stomach tightened as her hand dipped into the water, sending a new ripple across the surface.
The fact that Angela had used the same phrase to describe what Coll might be doing as Coll had used to describe John was a sticking point for her. Playing it safe… it was something she thought made John boring, and she didn’t want that for herself. But keeping her relationship with Nick safe was important to her, and keeping herself safe was a concern too. But playing it safe was something she knew she didn’t want. ”you have to tell them. the memory persisted as Coll drifted across the calm water in the tube, her eyes settling as often as possible and more often than was reasonable on Nick.
He was gorgeous and too far away. “Come in already!” She called out to him.
He felt a weakness in his back and looked around without purpose. Feeling less and less in control of his own body, he slowly stood up. He pulled his tee shirt off and flung it over the back of the chair. She watched as he went to the steps and began to make his way into the pool slowly.
“It’s so warm.” He commented as he reached a part of the depth where it was more appropriate to swim. He made his way over to her tube and dipped under the water completely for a moment.
He slicked his wet hair straight back as he returned to the surface and it sent a vibration up her spine. He smiled at her, his heart caught in his throat, as he reached out for her tube and hung gently on the edge of it.
“Hey.” He said as he flicked some water off his nose.
“when you find someone who makes you you.”
“Do you have anything going on tomorrow morning?”
“We have a couple radio things.”
She nodded, “Are they going to ask you what your favorite color is again?”
He laughed, “Probably.”
“Maybe you should change it up.” She suggested, “Imagine the impact…” the part of her brain that hadn’t generated anything in a month moved into action concocting an imaginary headline for TigerBeat. “Nick Carter reveals his true feelings...” She smiled, “Subtext: about orange… I’m getting rusty.”
“It’s like riding a bike, it’ll come back once I’m back at school.”
The reality of that situation sent a pang of something that felt like regret through this chest as she adjusted herself in the tube so her body was in the water and her arms were wrapped around the edge.
It was a better position for looking at him which was all she wanted to do for the rest of the night, and the night felt like it held a lot of potential. Her stomach filled with butterflies and her feet paddled in the water a little quicker for a moment as a surge of excitement pulsed through her.
It was 12:50 by the time they re-entered the hotel. Nick was holding all of the stuff they had with them when they arrived at the pool and Coll was clutching a towel around her body. They boarded the elevator in relative silence, relying only on body language to communicate for those few minutes it took to travel upstairs.
It was less than ten minutes ago that she had asked him a question he delighted in being asked. “Can I stay with you tonight?” She asked it quietly as her face passed closely by his as she floated in the tube. It gave him a rush of exhilaration, and a conservative smile had spread across his face. Since the night before, he had desperately wanted to find some excuse to lay beside her again all night, but with an express invite, he didn’t need an excuse. He loved the idea of living a life where he didn’t have to find excuses - only pursue purpose. And the thought that maybe she could give that to him was overwhelming. “Of course.” He had replied quietly as they looked at each other in a way he wasn’t sure they had before.