There were five people gathered in Nicole’s room: herself, Allison, Mike and the hotel’s manager and head of security. While the three men discussed what could have happened, faults and responsibilities, Nicole’s concern fell on the singer. The wound on her hand was just superficial and it had already been cleaned and bandaged, but Allison remained disconnected from the world. The cut from Simone’s betrayal ran deeper than any of them could see.
No one noticed when Nicole got up from her place by Allison’s side and used their connecting door to enter the singer’s suite. She felt her stomach churn when she, once again, took in the destroyed room. There was no comprehending why Simone had done that to someone she had worked with for so long. Someone she, apparently, had considered family.
But Nicole wasn’t in that room to try and understand why Simone had destroyed it. She was only there to retrieve Allison’s purse.
The item was lying on the couch and Nicole had to take careful steps towards it. There were shards of glass all around the floor and she didn’t want to step on them, even if she had shoes on her feet. Nicole didn’t want to carry any of that wreckage with her when she went back to her room.
It was like Nicole had never left the room. The men were still arguing and Allison was still staring out the window with soulless eyes. Nicole walked straight to the singer and, wordlessly, reached out her hand. Allison looked up and in the silence between them, they found an understanding. Nicole couldn’t leave Allison in that place.
Allison took the offered hand and got up. Her body was stiff from being in the same position for so long, but the moment Nicole put an arm around her shoulders and pulled her into her own body, Allison could feel herself melt into the journalist. Nicole had both their bags with her and they were almost to the door when Mike finally noticed their movements.
“Where are you going?” He stood up at that and Nicole pulled Allison tighter to her.
“Allison needs to get some sleep and there’s no way she’s doing that here. We’ll call you in the morning.”
Something about Nicole’s tone of voice silenced any protest Mike could make. She would give a lot to not be a part of any confrontation, but she would give even more to protect anyone she cared about. And Allison was one of the people she cared about the most.
They remained in that embrace all the way down to the lobby and into Nicole’s car, which was already waiting for them by the front door. Allison wasn’t sure if she’d be able to stand if she wasn’t holding on to the other woman.
“Where are we going?” She asked in a hoarse, unused voice a few minutes after they left the hotel.
“My place. I live in the city, remember?”
Allison’s answering smile was feeble at best and they continued the drive in a silence broken only by the radio playing softly. Nicole knew the singer needed to be left alone with her own thoughts, but she also knew Allison hated the silence when she was overcome with strong emotions. She would always find refuge in music, letting the beat take her mind away until she was able to deal with what was bothering her. She had always been like that and Nicole could see the way Allison would tighten her jaw every time Mike asked her another question about what had happened with Simone and why she was so sure it had been her former PR that had destroyed her room. He was drowning the singer in questions from the moment he joined them in Nicole’s room and eventually it drove the journalist to get up and take Allison to her place. She wouldn’t be able to answer anything that night.
She parked the car in front of her building and turned to the right side. Allison was watching the street outside as if they were still moving. Nicole squeezed Allison’s hand to bring her back to Earth and exited the car, waiting for the singer before making her way up the stairs. The building was an old one and there was no doorman. It was something she had always hated about it, but now, walking into it with an international pop star in tow, it worked to her advantage. She just hoped it was late enough that they wouldn’t run into any of her neighbors. She didn’t want Allison to have to become Ally when she was feeling so fragile.
All the way up, Nicole could see Allison coming a little into herself. There was no more frown marring her face and she was looking at her surroundings with a hint of curiosity in her hazel eyes. She took in the gilded details in the elevator, the carpet on the hallway, the little numbers on the doors they passed by. She couldn’t be indifferent to the fact that she was about the enter Nicole’s home. It wasn’t how she thought it would happen (and she had thought about it), but there would be no complaints on her part.
Nicole turned the key in the lock and opened the door in one single movement. She was trying not to think about the fact the she had Allison in her apartment. She tried remembering if there were any clothes lying on the floor and if she had remembered to put away the dishes, but it was too late for that. The singer had already stepped into the living room and, with a single glance, she saw most of the space; the small living room with the space that Nicole had turned into an office, the kitchen and the hallway the led to two closed doors. It wasn’t much, but it was homey. It reminded Allison of the house she grew up in.
“Come on. Do you want anything? Take a shower, lie down, eat something?” Nicole rattled options away, suddenly unsure of what to do with Allison in her house.
“I could use a shower.”
“Perfect. I’ll grab you a towel and something for you to sleep in.”
Allison trailed after Nicole, still studying the pieces of decoration and the pictures on the walls. She was trying to match those tidbits of the journalist’s life to the woman she had reconnected with and to the woman she had met a decade before. It was like trying to put together a life-sized puzzle.
In her closet, Nicole found her fluffiest towel and an old college t-shirt, worn and soft. She could still remember seeing Allison sleeping in that exact piece of clothing when she was still a student spending some of her summer vacation in New York, with her girlfriend. By the wistful smile she saw on Allison’s face when she entered the bathroom carrying everything, Nicole was sure the singer had the same memories.
“Nic?” The door was almost closed when Nicole heard her name and poked her head back in. “Thank you. A lot.”
“You would have done the same for me.”
The apartment only had two sleeping possibilities: Nicole’s bed and the couch. From experience, the journalist knew her couch was not the most comfortable place to sleep in and she wouldn’t subject Allison to it, which meant the singer would be taking the bed. That first decision was an easy one, the following proved to be a little more difficult. Nicole wasn’t thrilled at the idea of spending the rest of night at the couch, but the last thing she wanted was to take advantage of Allison. Whatever was supposed to happen between them – and she was done denying the fact that they both wanted something to happen – would have to happen when they were both in a good headspace.
She left some linens and her pillow separated to make her make-shift bed later and went to work on making her bed for Allison. Nicole was just finishing when the singer entered the bedroom. She had tied her long hair in a loose ponytail, Nicole’s shirt covered her torso and she had nothing on her feet. It was another glimpse at the Allison that was there before the fame and the glamour. Nicole liked her better.
They shared a small smile and Nicole pointed at her own bed, a silent invitation for the other woman to lie down and get some rest. Allison didn’t hesitate as she crossed the room and let Nicole cover her body with the comforter. It felt good to be cared for and when the journalist placed a tender kiss on her temple, Allison sighed contently. In such a bad day, it was good to have her there.
“Where are you going?” Allison asked when she noticed Nicole was crossing the room with a pile of pillow and linen in her arms.
“I thought it’d be best if I slept on the couch.”
“Don’t. Please. I really don’t wanna be alone tonight. Can you stay with me?”
Nicole wasn’t used to hearing so much vulnerability in Allison’s voice and it made it impossible to leave her. She dumped the linen on a chair, put her pillow back and lay on the bed beside Allison. She kept a respectful distance between their bodies and was prepared to remain motionless all night. What she wasn’t prepared for was Allison searching her hand under the covers and pulling on Nicole’s arm until it was wrapped around her own waist. Allison relaxed against Nicole, her muscles slowly unwinding as she felt more at home than she had felt in a very long time.
The hand that was resting on Allison’s stomach rose with her every breath and Nicole counted them, the steadiness easing her own anxiety. Soon, Allison’s breathing slowed down and Nicole knew she was asleep, but she remained awake for a long time, watching over the sleep of that woman that was so dear, so fragile, so strong, so hers.
The smell of fresh coffee reached Nicole in the middle of a dream and brought her back to Earth. She stretched slowly, enjoying the feel of her mattress beneath her body, when the memories of the previous night stopped her mid-movement. The kisses she shared with Allison, the wrecked room, the decision to take the singer to her apartment and sharing the bed with her.
She looked to the side, only to find an empty bed. But the smell that wafted from outside the room denounced Allison’s presence. She got up from the bed and tip-toed her way to the kitchen. Allison walked around the room as if she lived there, grabbing mugs and stretching up to search for something in the higher cabinets. She was still only wearing the shirt Nicole had given her the night before and, when she tried reaching for something, the journalist had a full vision of her long, toned legs.
Before Nicole could make any comment or announce her presence, Allison caught her staring. The journalist blushed and tried to hide her face, but Allison only smiled tenderly. She had grown used to being observed, but when Nicole did it…she felt all tingly inside.
If Allison wasn’t about to feel embarrassed, then Nicole was about to enjoy the idea of a beautiful woman, in her kitchen, preparing her breakfast wearing nothing but a t-shirt.
“I made coffee. Hope you don’t mind.” She turned around to face Nicole, handing her a mug. “If I remember correctly, you simply cannot start a day until you’ve had some.”
“You can blame that on Beth. She’s the one who got me hooked.”
“God, do you remember when you two went to New York for a visit? I think she entered every coffee shop we passed by.”
“One day in college, I woke up and found her pacing our dorm room at four in the morning. I thought she was worried about a test, but she told me she couldn’t lie down because she had drunk too much coffee.”
“She really was a nutty one.” There was a fond smile on Allison’s face. “How’s she doing, by the way? Did she go to Law school like she’d planned?”
“Yeah. Beth is kinda bonkers, but she was always the top of her class. She’s living in Washington, now. She’s just made partner.” Nicole took a sip of her coffee. “Damn! This is delicious.”
“Thank you.” Allison stretched her arm across the kitchen island held Nicole’s hand. “For everything.”
“I’ve already said it’s alright. You would have done the same for me. How did you sleep?”
“Very well, considering.” The atmosphere turned serious with Allison’s frown. “I still can’t believe she did that. Not just the room thing, but everything.”
“Hey, let it go. Don’t let that crazy bitch get to you.”
Allison snorted at Nicole’s choice of words. “It’s just hard, you know? We worked together for so long, I really trusted her. She was like an older sister to me.” Allison sighed and let her body sag forward. “And now it feels like I don’t even know who she is anymore.”
“I get that.” What could she say to ease what Allison was feeling? Nicole came up empty and decided to change the subject. “Have you talked to Mike this morning?”
“Not yet. Did you tell him where we were going?”
“No. I practically kidnaped you.”
For the first time since the night before, Allison smiled a genuine smile. There was still a hint of sadness behind her hazel eyes, but she was letting herself be lighter. They continued talking about the most important unimportant things, laughing how they used to laugh when they were younger. Allison was saying something about one of her obnoxious neighbors when the doorbell interrupted her.
Nicole frowned at the sound. She didn’t really know any of her neighbors and everyone that would visit her thought she was working at that moment. Still chuckling at Allison’s story, Nicole forewent the peephole and opened the door, hoping to dismiss whoever it was that was ringing that early. What she found on the other side of the door was not what she was expecting.