“What time is your flight?” Howie asked quietly.
The bus had been parked for an hour and they were trying to extend the time they had but it was rapidly running out.
“I know we are just going to see what happens but… when will I see you next? Do i have anything to look forward to?” She asked cautiously.
“I know for sure that we will be around in September…”
“Boston and Long Island…. can I get you to either of those?”
She smiled, “I’m always up for a trip to Boston.”
“We can send a driver for you…”
“It’s up to you.”
“I’ll think about it. In the meantime, if you wanna talk … you can call.” She said sweetly.
“I will absolutely call you.” He said definitively, “and also probably text you because of the time zone thing.”
She wrinkled her nose at him, “don’t be offended if I don’t write back. It costs so much to send texts.”
“Yes! It’s like thirty cents a message. And it takes forever to type everything out… three clicks to get a freaking E... It’s hard.” She giggled.
“I’ll give you a hundred dollars before you leave and you can let me know when I have to re-up my balance so you can send me messages and not worry about how much it costs.”
She rolled her eyes. “Just call me after eight eastern and it’ll be free.”
“But with the time difference-“
“You’re only in Europe another week. There’s also email.”
“Fine. I’ll still give you a hundred dollars though.” He said before leaning in to kiss her neck.
“Do you have three hundred and thirty three point three three text messages worth of things to say to me?”
He pulled back to look at her. His face was serious but also smiling and she knew that whatever he said next might destroy her.
She lifted her eyebrow at him, “I guess I could learn to love it...” she said and he moved in to kiss her again.
“Okay. Call. Or text.” She conceded.
He nodded but inside his heart felt hollow. “I will.”
“You better.” she mumbled against his lips.
Becka insisted on taking a taxi to the airport so that no one else would have to “suffer or wear a silly hat” and even though Coll tried to convince her otherwise, Becka won in the end.
In the hotel lobby, Leighanne along with Andrea and Angela said their goodbyes to Becka, made her promise to keep in touch and and sent her off to the taxi queue with Coll.
“I cannot believe you are really going to leave and not tell me every detail.” Coll mused, realizing that time was basically up and that Becka’s silence on the night before was more intentional than a result of being busy.
“Call me when you’re in Florida and I’ll tell you everything.”
“Is there really nothing I should know urgently?” Coll asked, shielding her eyes from the bright sun and looking in Becka’s direction.
Probably. “Well.” Becka took a deep breath before falling into a contemplative silence for several long seconds.
“So, just let it play out, no strings attached.” She reiterated.
“If that’s what you want.”
“I’m fine with that, but I want you to know, nothing is going to happen… me with other people, it’s not going to happen… you’re a tough act to follow, Becka. I’m not interested.”
“I like you a lot and i want to explore that. If that means letting it play out… then i’ll do that. If that’s what feels comfortable to you.”
She inhaled deeply and nodded, “I think that’s best. It sounds sort of exciting actually…”
He nodded as his hand moved along her arm to the back of her neck.
“What time is your flight?”
“No.” She finally said simply. “It’s something…” her eyes were wide but a little sad, “but I have no idea what. We are just letting it be what it is. Call, email… and see what happens.”
“Are you going to tell mom?”
“Probably should. Not sure.” Becka shrugged with a small smile as she wrapped her arms around Coll, “I love you and I’m so glad I came.”
“I love you, too.”
“Don’t worry about anything. I gotta go.” Becka smiled sweetly as she stepped off the curb to hand the driver her suitcase before turning back to coll quickly, “thanks, Little.”
Coll watched her leave and stood silently on the curb for several minutes before another traveler bumped into her, jostling her out of the reverie she had fallen into. She took a deep breath and turned to go back to the hotel lobby where Angela, Andrea and Leighanne were waiting on her.
Across the city, Nick and the guys were waiting for their cue to be live on TV and when he noticed Jen was not actively working, he took the opportunity.
“I heard about the hat.” Nick said casually as he approached Jen in the green room.
Jen pouted, “She’s very cooperative. That was definitely the most ridiculous yet realistic hat I could find.”
“I think you’re scaring her.”
“That was not my intention. But - you know as well as I do that when it’s YOU and there’s a HER… it’s going to get attention. I can’t even swing this as a publicity thing, she’s not trying to be famous.” Her eyes wandered to the side thinking about Mandy and how she hadn’t seen much action over her departure.
“I hate it, too. Trust me I don’t get my jollies on making people wear hats they definitely don’t want to wear… but I would hate it a lot more if something happened to her. And i KNOW you would hate that even more than I do. Of course it’s more likely something happens to her at a venue or something but, still. I had to see if she would trust me.”
“Well, now that you know, can we lay off the hats?”
“No more hats. But I was right: she’s not naive - she asked me if there was anything she should know. And I wanted to test it… to see if keeping her informed keeps her chill. So now I know.” Jen nodded, appreciating her own approach. “But if you’re going to reveal she’s your girlfriend or whatever we need to discuss it.”
“I can’t tell people I have a girlfriend?”
“Do you?” Jen asked casually as she flipped through some pages on her clipboard.
His heart rate increased and he suddenly felt the pang of worry again.
The lounge was quiet most of that evening as the guys were hosting a meet and greet after sound check and the dancers were doing a stretching session with a local yoga teacher. Having known all of that beforehand, Coll floated the idea of skipping the show that night but Leighanne convinced her to come along.
Despite her efforts to get Coll there, Leighanne ended up on a long phone call with her mom, leaving Coll without much to do. After a brief conversation with Tami, Coll used the time to check her emails.
Even though an hour had passed since doing so, the annoyance it left her with still lingered. Now she was sitting quietly on a couch with her arms crossed over her chest, tapping her pass against her arm mindlessly, her eyes fixed on a coffee table in front of her while Leighanne carried on with her mom across the lounge.
Melanie had gushed about how happy Coll looked in the photos she had sent and had caught the implication of them all.
Her mom had sent her an email just inquiring about her wellbeing, asking her to please call in the next forty-eight hours.
And then there was the email from John.
In a silent rage, she drafted an angry message back to him on impulse but deleted it before she could send. She stood up and walked around trying to calm down over it, returned to the screen to draft another email but deleted that one as well before turning the whole thing off and retreating to the couch.
She was deep in thought about it and Nick and defining things and telling people and a million other things when Leighanne plopped down next to her and inquired about her melancholy, but Coll didn’t want to chat.
“I’ll be here if you want to talk.” Leighanne said sweetly.
“Thanks,” Coll said absently as she got to her feet and left the room.
She wandered down the corridor aimlessly looking for any kind of distraction that wouldn’t inquire about her down mood.
There were signs in the corridor, she read them to waste time.
There was a water fountain so she stopped for a sip.
Her neck felt warm so she adjusted her hair into a ponytail.
And she spent some time studying the options in a vending machine but kept finding herself distracted thinking about the email.
Sent you some emails and texts …
thinking a lot about you...
I just thought you should know…
i was stupid …
when you get back to boston…
Coll snapped back to attention upon hearing Angela’s voice.
“You don’t want any of this. I know it looks exotic, I’ve tried them all, trust me.”
“The chips.” Angela motioned to the vending machine.
“Oh.” Coll shook her head, “Aren’t you supposed to be stretching?”
“We’re all done.” Angela smiled, “Come with.” she looped her arm through Coll’s and began walking back down the corridor with several other dancers trailing behind them. “You okay? You looked a bit distracted, and I know you don’t like chips that much.”
“What? No, I’m good.”
“I’m fine. I was just … bored? Because Leighanne was on the phone.”
“Why don’t you ever want to tell me the truth?” Angela giggled. “Something happened? With Nick?”
“No.” She said, “Not Nick. Nick’s great.”
“He better be, I’ll beat his ass if he-”
“Well, it’s true.”
“Nick is great.” Coll reiterated with a small smile.
“Okay, Nick’s fine so … what? You’re sad about Becka leaving?”
a reasonable out. “... yeah…?”
“You know you’re the worst liar.”
She hung her head. “yeah I know. I’m fine about Becka. It’s john.” She admitted.
Coll gave Angela the brief version of the story and Angela asked if she could read his email. Coll agreed and they went back to the lounge.
Angela made herself comfortable in a seat at the table with Coll’s laptop opened to the email. While she read, Coll stood by, annoyed, biting her nail.
“Who is Regina?” Angela asked as she arrived at the end of the email.
“It’s a pizza place.”
Angela looked up with her eyes narrowed, “Pizza? He wants to take you to a pizza place?”
“Yeah.” Coll rolled her eyes, “I guess.”
“He’s trying to win you back with… pizza?”
Coll shrugged, surprised that was the part Angela plucked out to comment on. “I mean, it is really good pizza.”
“It’s pizza! You’re with Nick Carter and he thinks pizza is going to give him an edge?”
“Pizza isn’t even good enough to begin with for what he’s talking about feeling for you, but now on top of that, he’s got legitimate competition, not to mention you’re in love with Nick and-”
Angela slumped her shoulders. “You have to just tell him. It’s over, i’ve moved on. I’m dating America’s most desirable dude.” Angela said sweetly, “Why don’t you want to do that?” She asked as Coll pushed her hands through her hair, sighing and shifting on her feet.
“Talk to Nick about it. He will know.” Angela said quietly. “I can’t believe i just said that but, yeah.”
Angela stood up and shifted the computer back in Coll’s direction. “I have to go get ready. I love you and he sucks for not taking a hint. But don’t let this take away from your happy time. Eventually you’re going to have to go back to real life, deal with him then.”
“And i don’t mean that Nick isn’t going with you back into real life, because obviously he is… i just mean, like… you know.”
Coll nodded as she sat back down with the computer, “Thanks.”
“I'll see you later.”
Returning her attention to the screen, Coll closed out of John’s email and began mindlessly browsing the AOL homepage. She was lost in a story about Lance Armstrong when Jen took a seat across the table from her.
“Can we talk?” She asked as Coll looked up.
Still annoyed from the previous events of the night, Coll took a deep breath before responding, attempting to conjure up some zen for this new situation.
“Have my pass, see? Nice and secure.” Coll waved it at her. “My passport is all locked up in Nick’s room and my wallet is in my bag which is …” she pointed to the couch across the room, “Right there where i can see it.” She finished it off with a big smile. “Oh and I don’t have any desire to leave the hotel tonight, so, you don’t have to worry about that either.”
Coll relaxed her smile and crossed her arms over her chest, leaving her sentence unfinished on the laptop. “What’s up?”
“So… You didn’t actually have to wear a hat yesterday.” Jen began, “And i’m sorry.”
“I figured.” She nodded, “Also, Nick told me it was a hazing.”
“Well, hazing is a little harsh… I just needed to know that you’d trust me.”
“I get it. It’s your job… They are like your puppies…”
“Exactly. And I have to be very protective. Especially of my baby puppy.”
“I really do understand.”
“The Spain thing … you guys got lucky. Leighanne has had several incidents with fans. Nothing crazy but… we adjust.”
“I’ll do whatever you need me to do. I just want to know if anything changes. I want to know what’s going on. Even if you think I won’t like it.”
“You will know. I promise.”
“It’s up to the two of you.”
“What people know and when they know it. At least that’s what I want. That’s part of my job- keeping the ball in your court as long as possible.” She explained,
“Well, I appreciate that.”
“Eventually something happens but at least if it’s you two sneaking out without security then I’m sort of off the hook.”
“Personally, I have no issue following rules.” She began, “But I’m also not a nineteen-year-old guy. And in general, there are a lot less rules for me to follow, so I get the rebellion.”
Jen smiled, “I know.”
“And he would have me believe it’s all you, and mostly I do believe that…” she smiled, “but he also wanted Billy to go with me to the airport when Becka got here… so, while maybe he’s loosened up on it, I know he got freaked out a little bit, too.”
Jen was quiet, leaning in on her elbows. “Colleen,” She began, “It’s not my nature to butt in on other people’s love lives, unfortunately, it’s part of the job right now. Especially with Nick, it gets a little heated with the fans. Is it wildly unlikely someone would recognize you from a single photo? Yes. Is it unlikely that even if someone recognized you anything bad would happen as a result? Also, basically, yes. But it’s not going to stay that way. The more together you are, the more visible this is, the more intense it gets. That’s not to scare you, that’s just to be honest. And if something happened to you because of this - because of your association with him - he couldn’t live with himself. And that makes my job harder.”
Coll nodded slowly, “I appreciate all the concern. I just always want to be informed. That’s all.”
“I know that keeping you in the loop is key to you being chill about it and the more chill I can get the better,” Jen explained easily as she stood up and walked away from the table and out of the lounge.