She paced the floor.
She organized her purse.
She turned on the TV.
Nicole tried everything she could think of to distract herself from what was probably going on a few rooms from hers. In a way, she felt responsible for what might happen. She had been the one to tell Allison what she had heard without proof. But, then again, Simone had been the one to say all those things and if she had no hidden agenda behind them, then she should be able to solve things with Allison.
Almost an hour later, Nicole heard knocking on her door. She barely avoided tripping on her own feet as she rushed to get it open and was faced with a version of Allison she had never seen before. The singer was destroyed. Her eyes were floating in unshed tears, head hanging low, curved back and one of her hands was against the wall, visibly supporting all of her weight.
The sound of Nicole opening the door made Allison look up and when their eyes met, words weren’t needed. Nicole opened the door wider and took a step back, allowing Allison in her room and closed the door behind her. Before Nicole could think to do anything, Allison collapsed in her arms.
There, back to that embrace she knew so well, Allison let herself cry.
The violent sobs echoed in Nicole’s chest and she held Allison tighter every time she felt the body against hers shudder. She had one hand lost in dark tresses and the other ran the length of Allison’s back, in the only movement in the room. They stayed like that until the singer’s breathing started to return to normal.
Just as fast as she fell in Nicole’s arms, Allison extricated herself from her and wordlessly walked to the bathroom. She left the door opened and Nicole could hear the sound of the running water and of her deep breaths.
“Do you wanna talk?” Those were the first words spoken between them. Nicole was sitting at the edge of her bed, looking up with a deep affection in her eyes.
“I do. But not about what happened.”
“Okay. Then, what do you wanna talk about?”
“I don’t know…” Allison sat beside Nicole a looked at her fingers. “How are your parents? You asked me about mine earlier, but I didn’t get a chance to ask you about yours. Do they still hate me?”
“They didn’t hate you, they--” Allison’s raised eyebrow stopped Nicole in the middle of her sentence. Her shoulders sagged and she shot the other woman a small smile. “They strongly disliked you.”
“That’s a nice way to put it.”
“Yeah, well…they never got the whole story, so it’s not like I can blame them.”
It wasn’t one of Nicole’s favorite subjects to be talking about, but she understood Allison’s need to talk about anything that wasn’t even remotely related to what had happened earlier. With that in mind, Nicole smiled at Allison and allowed herself to think back on those days.
“Well, when you left my house--”
“You mean, when I ran from it?”
“I thought last night meant we were done with this discussion?” Allison put her hands up in mock surrender. “As I was saying, when you left my house, they were pissed at you. But, I didn’t tell them that I was the one to ask you to leave, so they were definitely not happy with you.”
“Why didn’t you tell them?”
“Because if they hated you, maybe it would be easier to let you go.” Nicole turned to look to the side and tried smiling. She was supposed to be cheering Allison up, not dampening the mood even further. “Anyway, when you left I was too angry to realize that we shared the blame. And when I was in a better place, I didn’t want to remember--”
“You didn’t want to remember that I was ever a part of your life.”
Allison said the words with finality, all the defeat from that day amassing in her voice. Nicole took one of her hands and squeezed gently, hoping that would get the other woman to look up. When she did, Allison found a sad smile.
“No. I didn’t want to remember you were no longer a part of it.” Nicole maneuvered her body and laid down, her head on the pillow and her left arm stretched to the side. “Come here.”
There was no containing the satisfied sigh that escaped Allison’s lips when her head landed on Nicole’s shoulder. Out of pure muscle memory, she curled herself around the taller frame, their legs tangled together and a kiss was placed on her forehead.
They were home. Finally.
“I fired her.” Allison whispered into the skin of Nicole’s neck. “You were right. She was going behind my back”
“I’m so sorry, Al.”
“It’s okay, Nic. I’m just glad you were here to tell me.”
The only sounds that could be heard in the room were their soft breathing. By the weight of the arm around her waist, Nicole was almost sure Allison had fallen asleep. It didn’t surprise her. As much as the other woman put up a tough front, big confrontations like that always drained her; she left all she had into the fight and was left with nothing.
Nicole would gladly let Allison sleep on her for as long as she needed, but when the phone in her room sounded loudly, she felt the body next to hers twitch. She tried to pick it up as fast as possible without disturbing the sleeping beauty, but it wasn’t possible. Allison was rubbing her face on the fabric of Nicole’s t-shirt and the journalist answered the phone with a fond smile.
“Hi, Nicole. Is Allison with you? She’s not answering her cell or the room phone.”
“Yes, Mike, she’s here. Do you wanna talk to her?” After saying that, she felt Allison shake her head no, but the offer had already been given.
“No, just tell her that we have to leave in thirty. Also, have you seen Simone? I haven’t been able to grab a hold of her, either.”
“I’ll make sure Allison gets your message, Mike. Bye.”
She turned her head to look at Allison, but the other woman was already getting up to sit on the bed. She had her back turned to Nicole and the journalist observed as she untied her hair to gather it back in a ponytail. When she finished, Allison looked behind over her shoulder.
“I guess the show must go on, huh?”
At the venue for the night, Allison asked Mike to assemble the entire team backstage. She had told her manager about Simone in the car, on their way there, and she wanted to be the one to tell the rest of the crew. She knew how these types of news traveled fast in the world she lived in and she didn’t want to give time for gossip to settle in.
“I know you guys don’t understand why this happened.” Allison said when she noticed the confused faces staring at her. Up until that morning, everything was okay amongst the ranks. “I’m not gonna discuss my reasons for firing Simone, because they’re personal. All I’ll say is that she was being disloyal and I don’t need that in my life. We don’t need that in here. And now, let’s get this show on the road, because those people out there are waiting to have the time of their lives.”
The small crowd that had gathered dispersed as people went back to their jobs and Allison went back to her dressing room. Nicole followed silently behind, for the first since this job started feeling out of place. She wasn’t a part of the family, to use the same word many crew members had used when she interviewed them, and she had never been more aware of that fact. To all of them, not having Simone there was like losing a family member. To her, it meant peace of mind. And maybe a chance, as much as she didn’t want to admit it.
Nicole was still lost inside her head when they entered the dressing room and Allison seemed to be too. The pre-performance ritual was the same as the one of the night before; hair, make-up, wardrobe. And in the middle of it all, Allison seemed to isolate herself inside her shell. She wasn’t joking with her stylist, like she did the night before. She was silent, closed eyes, focused on her breathing.
There was a clear difference from the woman she had seen the night before and, for the first time since this all started, Nicole noticed how much the other woman had grown in the time they were apart. The Allison from before would still be swearing up and down, dishing Simone to whoever wanted to listen. She wouldn’t be sitting still in a chair, getting ready to perform. She wouldn’t be emanating so much confidence and serenity. A small smile bloomed on Nicole’s lips; she was starting to realize she really liked this person Allison had become.
A few minutes before the concert, Allison asked the people that still lingered to be left alone with Nicole. She had something she wanted to talk to the journalist about and she didn’t want anyone listening in.
“Nic, I’d like to ask you a favor.”
“Of course, Al. Go ahead.”
“Don’t mention this Simone debacle in your story. Please.”
“Don’t worry about it. I wasn’t planning on it. This story dies here.”
During the performance, Nicole decided to stay in the wings. The position gave her the opportunity to observe Allison on stage and how the audience reacted to her – but, mostly the first. She couldn’t keep her eyes away from the singer for very long and every time their gazes met they shared a small smile or a wink.
On the stage, Allison could feel the way Nicole’s eyes followed her movements. She had never cared if there was someone on the wings observing her – when she was up on the stage, she gave herself to the audience – but with Nicole… She couldn’t explain, but it felt good knowing she was there, so close.
Nicole’s cell phone vibrated in her pocket and she fished it out, hoping (and not wanting to) that it wasn’t Lauren finally calling.
It wasn’t. It was a text from Jake. ‘You’d better wipe that smile from you face. Your crush is showing’. Nicole raised her face from the screen and found her friend smirking at her from across the stage. She shrugged her shoulders and smiled at him.
“I know that Jake.” She whispered to herself.
For the first time since she had called Allison, Nicole admitted out loud that some of her feelings for her ex-girlfriend had resurfaced. She tried her best to maintain her head above her shoulders and keep being the objective and professional person she had always been, but it was clear that she was falling for Allison again. Not for the memory that lived in her mind, but for the woman she was getting to know.
And Jake was right all along. She owed it to herself, to them, to try one more time. What they had had was so beautiful and what was blooming between them in those days, so strong; they deserved another chance.
But she was also aware that the path towards that wasn’t clear. Nicole wasn’t even thinking about the fact that they lived in opposite coasts; she could worry about that after she had dealt with Lauren and with this story she was supposed to write and that seemed endless now that she wanted it done with.
The way back to the hotel was mostly silent. The whole crew still seemed to be reeling from the news about Simone’s lay-off, especially Allison. She said her goodnights to everyone in the garage and took the elevator back to her floor. Only Nicole accompanied her.
The silence stayed with them as the numbers on the little display above the doors kept going up. Allison had her back to one of the walls of the elevators, lost in the warm, brown eyes that stared back. She had always been able to look into Nicole’s eyes all night long and it didn’t seem to have changed. She could still find so much emotion in them, so much complicity that she didn’t want to look away.
When the doors opened up, they both left together and walked side by side, so close that their arms brushed each other with every step. Nicole could feel the little hairs on the back of her neck standing at attention at the electricity they were generating between them. But she wasn’t sure if she wanted to stop the spark from igniting.
They were so lost in the daze the other’s presence put them in that they didn’t notice that the door to Nicole’s room was left behind. When they took notice, they were already in front of Allison’s door.
“Well, goodnight, Al. I think you deserve a good night’s rest.”
“I need one that lasts about 40 hours, at least. That’s the only way to forget about this whole story.”
Their gazes crossed for a brief moment and, in that second, the entire world faded away. There was nothing else besides two women too tired of fighting the feeling that had been building inside their hearts. Allison touched Nicole’s left hand with her fingertips and let the touch travel up her arm, following the movement with her eyes. When she reached the woman’s shoulder, already covered in goose bumps, she allowed her fingers to take the way down, but she raised her eyes to meet Nicole’s.
“Allison, I don’t think we should.” Despite her hushed words, Nicole took a step forward.
“Yeah…we really shouldn’t.”
The last words came out as nothing but a wisp of sound and the two former lovers met in the middle, in a passionate kiss. But, unlike what they would have imagined, there was no urgency in that kiss. Instead, it was filled with a sense of serenity, like someone who has just found their place in the world. Nicole’s movements were slow, sensual, exploring to the most the body that was molded to hers, invading Allison’s mouth with her tongue and pushing her against the door.
One of the journalist’s knees found its way in between Allison’s legs and the jolt of pleasure she felt coursing through her spine prompted her to pull the key card out of her back pocket and open the door to her room. She didn’t want this moment with Nicole to end, but she also didn’t want it to end up on the first page of every gossip website in the nation by morning.
One of the downsides to being a celebrity was that she not always could be spontaneous.
When she felt the door give behind Allison, Nicole pulled her body even closer – one of her hands around her waist, the other on the back of her neck – and walked into the suite. They didn’t bother turning on the lights in the living room area and headed towards the bedroom.
Each kiss was met with another, just as fierce. Hands traveled up and down the span of their bodies and Allison was starting to feel too hot in her clothes. She pulled her jacket off and Nicole took the opportunity to explore even more of her skin. She was kissing along the singer’s collarbone when she felt Allison trip on something. Their bodies were so close, their hold on each other was so tight that they both ended up falling together.
“Allison! What happened? Are you okay?”
“I guess. There was something on the floor. I think I cut my hand.”
“Just hold on while I turn on the lights. Don’t move, okay?”
The blinds had been pulled shut and the room was immersed in darkness as Nicole stood up and made her way to a switch. She dragged her feet on the floor to make sure she would get there without tripping. On the way, she could feel herself kicking a few things out of the way, but she couldn’t make out what they were based on the sound they made against her shoes.
She found the light switch a few steps later and before she could turn around to make sure Allison was alright, she heard a muffled sound. It was somewhere between a scream and a whimper. Turning around, Nicole couldn’t believe what her eyes were seeing. Allison’s suite was completely destroyed. Broken furniture lying around, ripped pillows, shards of glass across the floor and offensive words written on the walls in crimson letters.
Ripping her eyes from the wreckage, Nicole searched for Allison with her eyes. She found the singer in the same spot she had left her, seemingly glued to the floor. The only movement she seemed to do were with her eyes, absorbing the whole horror of that scene. Nicole knew she couldn’t let her alone in that room.
“Come on, Al. Let’s get you to my room while I call security.”
Despite the shock, or because of it, Allison let Nicole help her to her feet and through the door that connected both rooms. She felt herself being sat on the couch and a pair of lips kissing her forehead, but she couldn’t react to it. She was too lost inside her own head.
After making sure the singer was as okay as she could be, Nicole left the room. She needed to take charge of the situation, but first she needed to take charge of her own body. She could see her hand trembling against the doorknob and she laid it flat against the wall to not see it. The journalist took a few deep breaths and straightened her shoulders and her wobbly knees.
With renewed vigor, Nicole marched down the hallway, down a flight of stairs and another hallway until she was standing in front of Mike’s room. He was the one supposed to deal with this mess.