On the other hand, she still made every effort to sneak time in with Nick, talk with him, or even just watch him. It was a constant battle of wills - her will to go back to seeing him as nothing other than her friend and her uncontrollable will to want to feel the warm, fuzzy sensation she felt when she was with him.
As time passed, Coll decided that Nick must not have felt anything between them that night in London, as there was no indication that he had or that he wanted to clarify it. Still, she couldn't shake the way he looked at her, the way he lingered at the door, and even some of their interactions since then…
… it has to mean something.
It made her uneasy knowing her own feelings but being in the dark about his. Did she even have a right to know? She tried her best to just be okay with whatever it was or would or wouldn't be, and just for good measure, she tried to talk herself out of her feelings, though, for the most part, she enjoyed the feelings, even if they were unrequited.
Mandy was able to come out for four days between her already scheduled activities. Based on what she overheard or happened to acquire through various means, Coll came to understand that Mandy was NOT willing to change her plans to extend her time with Nick. This was likely fine since Nick had made it clear he was interested in ending things with her anyway.
For as much as Nick knew for sure that breaking up with Mandy was the best thing he could do for both of them, something else kept tugging at him, telling him he should hang on a little longer.
Avoidance is a powerful force, especially when it's not even clear what exactly you are avoiding.
To keep himself from having to face any of the realities he was thus still in the dark about, Nick's subconscious mind offered the solution of keeping things up with Mandy through her scheduled visit, putting the breakup off as long as possible. As long as he was tied to her still, he could continue to hide behind his boyfriend facade. And while that was comfortable, he knew he had to end it before she left again. Reckless behaviors thought themselves up as a means to that end.
Letting Mandy on all week was an unkind thing to do, but, he rationalized, he'd never done a single thing right by her - what could a few more days of being a horrible boyfriend hurt?
Plus, it wouldn't be right to break up with her as soon as she got there anyway.
And if they weren't breaking up, he had to act normal until they did.
And acting normal wasn't terrible - they'd both get what they wanted and be on their separate ways by the end of the week.
He also knew though that he didn't want Coll to know to what extent he was getting his, even if she could conceptualize it was just for appearances.
Could she? Why would she think of it at all?
That was the story he convinced himself of. It was decided - keep up the facade as long as possible.
Mandy wasn't as much of an airhead as Coll had initially come to think she was. Based on what Nick told her, Leighanne's insight, and other clues she picked up along the way, she had figured Mandy to be a tragic case of girl-loses-herself-for-boy. Upon meeting her, though, she realized maybe she had it wrong. While she certainly was a bit of a Barbie girl, Coll got the sense a lot of that was also a put on. Nick and Mandy were in one big charade with each other. And Mandy knew exactly what she was doing.
It was apparent that Mandy was sticking it out with Nick, hoping he'd eventually want more with her so that she could get more out of him. At the same time, Nick was using her for his out sordid goals, too.
Watching them interact was strange, and Coll knew some of that could be jealousy, at the same time, though, she would never want what the two of them had, even if it meant having the opportunity to explore her feelings with Nick.
For all the reasons Mandy made Coll uncomfortable, she decided to keep her distance but mustered up as much kindness as she could for Mandy. It was unsettling watching Nick do things she didn't think he should do with other people, but it was even worse now that she also had developed feelings for him.
While Coll tried to keep her distance from Mandy, Mandy seemed to seek Coll out whenever possible. Unable to tell if she had an ulterior motive or not, Coll kept her interactions with her as limited as possible. Was Mandy trying to get on her good side? If so, why? Was she just faking it? Or was she being genuine?
"You gals ready?" Mandy asked with a peppy enthusiasm as she approached Leighanne and Coll, who were finishing up their dinner in catering that night before the show. "First time I'm seeing this show live, don't wanna miss the opening!"
Leighanne looked between Coll and Mandy as Coll opened her mouth to speak.
"We can meet you out there if you wanna go ahead."
"No, no, I'd rather we go together."
"Alright, just two more minutes. They don't start on time ever anyway." Coll explained.
"Ahh, typical." Mandy sighed as she adjusted her freshly minted pass around her neck.
"Did you eat?" Leighanne asked.
"Not much, but yes," Mandy responded as she hovered near the table.
Leighanne and Coll finished their meals quickly and moved into action, settling Mandy's anxieties.
"Coll, I love the way you've dealt with your hair," Mandy commented as she reached out and touched Coll's ponytail as the three of them walked the hallway to the stadium door.
"Oh, thanks," Coll replied awkwardly, not sure what Mandy meant by her comment.
"It's so hard to have stringy, mousey hair like that, my sister's is like that. Lifelong struggle."
Leighanne's eye widened, and she and Coll looked at each other, stunned.
Coll smiled at Mandy, unsure what else to do. "Yes, it's so hard." She agreed sarcastically. "I've really had to work to overcome it."
"You've really managed it well, what color are you using?"
"This isn't a color, it's natural."
"Stop!" Mandy gasped.
Coll laughed as they continued down the hall, totally thrown off by Mandy's comments and motives. Totally annoyed positive that she had to avoid her at all costs after this. As the three of them watched the show that night, Coll analyzed what she knew about the situation with Mandy and began to identify her pattern. It had only been a full day, but Mandy had given her enough information. If other people were around, Mandy went to extremes to interact with Coll, to be super nice to her- when no one else was around, her interactions were less frequent and also not as kind.
Throughout the show, Mandy was also analyzing, and she frequently looked at Coll to see how she was reacting to the show, specifically to Nick. When Nick spoke, she watched Coll. When Nick sang, she watched Coll. When Nick came around their side of the stage, she watched Coll. The information she was gathering should have upset her, but it didn't.
The three of them headed backstage before the encore to hang around the lounge for the remainder. Mandy wandered off, Leighanne scouted for a soda, and Coll reclined into a sofa. It was freakishly quiet for a few minutes.
As the guys were coming back off stage, Mandy was returning from the bathroom but delayed her entrance as she observed.
Everyone was sweaty and energized, there was hollering, and the momentum hadn't burned off yet. Brian embraced Leighanne when he saw her, Kevin, A.J., and Howie were all removing some part of their costume or headset and taking seats around the lounge, chatting amongst themselves. Nick made a beeline to Coll and sat next to her, she smiled at him and reached her arms out, Mandy could see his body relax as he fell easily into her for a hug, Coll made a comment about how great the show was, he responded, they laughed about something together… Mandy waited for him to notice she wasn't there, but it didn't happen. She smirked to herself and made her way over to them.
"Hey, there you are!" Nick smiled up at her.
"Thanks!" Nick nodded as Coll stood and walked away from them, Mandy watched Nick as he watched her go, before sitting next to him in the seat Coll had left.
"So, you liked it?" Nick asked her.
Mandy sighed, "I did, there was so much more to it than I expected." She nodded thoughtfully.
First thing the next morning, Coll took a quick shower, got dressed, and settled into a seat on the edge of her bed while she dialed Becka at home. Feeling the awkwardness and wanting to avoid it with Nick, she took her frustrations with Mandy to Becka, who, as a future therapist in training, was reasonably decent at navigating these types of things. She made quick work filling Becka in on everything that she had observed and experienced with Mandy in the past day.
"Now, please try to make your analysis brief as I am calling you from Switzerland."
"She's trying to make you jealous."
"Of what? I'm not trying to have what she's got."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes." Coll breathed heavily. "She's not making me jealous."
"Are you sure?"
Becka was the only person Coll couldn't really hide from, but she relied on the buffer of distance and auditory loss to cover up most of her signals. "Yes, I'm sure." She lied. "She also said she was surprised at how well I dress considering I'm on a college kid budget," Coll added, bringing the conversation back to a safer spot.
"What the hell?"
"I know, really bold statements…." Coll bit her nail.
"So she's all nice and such in front of Nick, but when he's not around, she's a bitch?"
"Basically. I mean, she's not 'a bitch,' she acts bitchy. So many backhanded compliments… so far, anyway. It feels like she's trying to dig something out of me."
Becka sighed. "A reaction, probably. They are both using each other. You should try to just stay out of it. Let him deal with her. She probably wants to play little miss victim."
Coll could hear it in Becka's voice that she was loving analyzing these two.
"It's about her manipulating the situation to put you in a position where you're victimizing her - she's going to push you to the point where you are outwardly avoiding her, making it look like you don't like her. Then she's going to go to Nick and whine about it. She is hoping Nick will step in and defend her to you - so she can see: look, he's on my side, look he's defending me, he must love me."
"You know I don't have feelings for him." Coll reiterated randomly, mostly glazing over everything Becka had said, distracted by her own desire to make sure Becka left this conversation convinced that Coll's feelings for Nick were unchanged.
"I hear you telling me that you don't. But no, I don't KNOW anything." Becka smiled.
Coll rolled her eyes and tapped her foot on the floor in front of her.
"Trust me, she is smart enough for this, too," Becka said. "She sounds like a master manipulator. These things come easily to them. You might have to play into her hand a little."
As Coll opened her mouth to speak again, there was a knock at her door.
"Becka, I've gotta go. Thanks… I guess… for the insight."
"Keep me posted."
"Bye." Coll hung up the phone and moved in the direction of the door. Relieved, in a way, to be off the hook with Becka for the time being.
"Good morning, sunshine!" Brian's wide smile greeted her.
"Leighanne is sleeping late, but I'm dying for a crepe, she said you'd be awake and also that you love crepes…?" Brian asked.
Coll smiled, "She's right."
"She always is.."
"You know we are in Switzerland, right?" Coll asked.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. But last time we were around here, we went to this place, and it was amazing. And if I wait for Leighanne, I'll miss it." Brian explained, cheerfully with a laugh. They had to head out to Rome around two o'clock that afternoon, so she was sympathetic to both Brian's desire for crepes and Leighanne's desire to sleep.
"Alright, I'm down."
"Great! Let's go. Tom is waiting downstairs."
"Alright, give me three minutes," Coll said, holding the door open for Brian. He watched as she quickly brushed her hair out, slipped her feet into sandals, and grabbed her bag.
"Why are you actually awake this early?" Brian asked.
Coll thought about which answer would be most acceptable. She didn't want to tell him she planned on eating breakfast so early there was no chance of running into Mandy or Nick, or that she had to call Becka for emergency therapy as soon as she could this morning. "I didn't close the blinds last night, I was up with the sun."
"You weren't interested in having crepes just you and Tom?" Coll smiled as she and Brian left her room, pulling the door closed behind her.
"I'm not sure Tom eats sugar." Brian began, "He's so buff." He said in his best girly voice.
"We will find out!"