“What about this Anna chick?” Allison pointed to the name on the list Nicole had in her hands. “Who is she again?”
That was the fifth time they were going over the guest list for their wedding. They decided to start planning right after Allison proposed. With the singer’s hectic schedule, they would probably need a little more time to get every detail in order – and Allison was against the idea of leaving every decision in the hands of a wedding planner, she wanted to be as involved in the wedding as she could possibly be. And that meant going over their guest list as many times as needed to get the initial number of 600 to drop to something around 200.
Every time they sat to do that, Allison would question every single female name on Nicole’s side of the list.
“Al, if you’re gonna do that every time we go over this thing, I’m just gonna do my part by myself.”
“I’m sorry. I’m just making sure there’s no one else we can cut.”
“Well, I work with Anna and I’m inviting all of my friends from work, so I hardly think I can cut her from my list.”
There was no bite to Nicole’s retort. She actually found it funny that in their relationship, Allison was the jealous one. Nicole had to see her fiancée on the covers of every magazine in the country and had to watch her take pictures with different people every time they went out, but it was Allison that was jealous of a random name on Nicole’s list. If she had been looking for a fight, Nicole would have laughed at her childish petulance. Since she wasn’t, she simply pulled her fiancée until she was sitting on her lap. The singer placed her arms around the other woman’s neck to balance herself, looking into her eyes, searching for the safe haven she used to find there.
“Why don’t you think about it like this: all of these people on my list will watch me get married to the sexiest, most beautiful woman in the world?” The jealousy bubbling in Allison’s veins weakened a little and Nicole took that moment to kiss her briefly on the lips. “Besides, the moment I see you in your wedding dress, I won’t be able to look at anyone else.”
“Because now you can?”
Nicole pulled Allison even closer to her body and kissed her again. She left the soft, little pecks aside and kissed her with hunger. It was wanton and deep and sexy. It was the kiss of someone who had something to prove and didn’t want to waste any time on useless conversations. Nicole’s hands wandered through Allison’s skin as if she owned that territory.
At last, they both pulled back, panting and out of breath. Allison lazily blinked her eyes open and found a determined expression on Nicole’s face.
“I’m marrying you, Allison. You’re the one I have chosen to spend the rest of my life with. It’s you I wanna build a family with. It’s you I have changed my whole life for. So, could you please stop with the silly jealousy and start believing in what we have?”
“I just like to hear you making these speeches.”
“Oh yeah? Let’s see what you think about this one.”
She had barely finished answering her and Nicole was already taking Allison’s lips between hers again, pulling a moan from the singer’s throat. She placed her hand beneath the shirt Allison was wearing and was moving up to remove it, when they heard a cell phone ring on the kitchen table. Nicole pulled back from the kiss and placed her hands on the singer’s thighs.
“Just let it go to voice mail, Nic. It’s only Mike. I can call him back.”
Allison almost convinced Nicole, but before the journalist could give in to the flames she could feel slowly igniting her body, another buzzing sound could be heard. Nicole recognized it as the building’s intercom. With a sigh, Nicole removed Allison from where she was sitting on her legs and stood up.
“You go deal with your cell and I pick up the intercom. We can finish this later.”
They picked up both calls almost at the same time. Nicole was standing on the kitchen’s corner and Allison observed her every move as she tried to concentrate on what Mike was saying to her. As much as she loved the man, she was in the middle of an important conversation with her fiancée.
Nicole placed the intercom back in its holder, but didn’t make a move. She remained standing where she was and flinched when she felt slim arms circle her waist. She hadn’t heard Allison wrap up her conversation and now she could feel the singer leaving little kisses along her shoulder and up her neck.
“If I’m not mistaken, you were in the middle of a very important speech.”
Allison tried being cheeky, but it went completely over Nicole’s head. She removed herself from the arms that held her by the waist and walked back to the living room, dropping her body heavily on the couch. Allison turned on her heels and stared at her fiancée.
“Hey, Nic? What happened? What did they want?”
“Jess happened, Allison. She was downstairs, wanting to talk to you.”
“Jess? What do you mean she was here? What did you say?”
In and out. In and out. In and out.
Nicole took a few deep breaths before she answered. She was just so tired from that subject and from the arguments that always came along. Ever since Allison announced she was dating Nicole, Jess decided just calling the singer wasn’t enough anymore. Now she didn’t have Simone on the inside and she tried talking to them in restaurants and going over to their place. Nicole wanted Allison to do something about it, anything. But the singer never seemed to take the actions of her ex-girlfriend very seriously.
“I said to not let her in and that if she tried anything, they could call the police.”
“The police? Why call the police, Nic?”
“Do you even have to ask, Al? This woman is insane. Can’t you see that? First she had Simone scaring any girl that got too close to you.” She was too worked up to remain sited and Nicole started pacing the living room. “And now, she shows up practically at our door, completely out of the blue, like you two are buddies or something.” She stopped in the middle of the room and stared at Allison dead in the eyes. “I think you should file for a restraining order.”
“A restraining order?” Allison chuckled around the question. “Nicole, don’t you think you’re going a little too far?”
“And how far are you willing to let her go before you realize she’s gone too far?” The ice in Nicole’s voice wasn’t lost in Allison’s ear. “Why can’t you see it, Al? Or have you forgotten about how someone tried to break into our other apartment last month? Or that someone wrote bitch, with a key, on our car the other week?”
“You don’t know if that was really her.”
“No. I’m sure of that, Allison. You’re the only one that doesn’t want to see it.” Nicole let her shoulders sag and the anger ooze out of her. She was exhausted. “The only thing I don’t know is what you’re waiting for to do something.”
The idea of a restraining order seemed too rash to Allison, too impersonal. She liked dealing with her problems herself, especially her private ones. But she couldn’t think just about herself anymore. She had Nicole in her life now and she knew the journalist had a point. Jess had gone too far and something had to be done.
Once again, Nicole felt arms circling her waist. She had turned her back to Allison, but she still heard her approaching footsteps. As it usually happened, her muscles loosened and she relaxed the moment the singer’s body was touching hers.
“This isn’t what I signed up for, honey.” Her voice was low and full of an emotion Allison had never heard before. “I can deal with the media and the paparazzi and the fans, I don’t care about that. But I can’t deal with this. I don’t feel safe.”
“It’s alright. I’m sorry.” Allison kissed her exposed skin. “I’ll call my lawyer in the morning and schedule and appointment.”
Allison buried her face between Nicole’s shoulder blades and inhaled the scent of her fiancée’s skin. She hated fighting with her; it always felt like such a waste of time. She still wasn’t convinced about the restraining order and she was hoping her lawyer would come up with a less drastic possibility, but she had heard once that a marriage is about compromise and she was willing to compromise her position in that matter to make sure Nicole felt safe. That was the most important thing for her.
It felt like Nicole’s body had been conditioned to react to Allison’s touch and proximity. When she felt the singer breathe her in and tighten the arms around her waist, Nicole couldn’t help the shiver that ran along her spine. It was a physical response beyond her control, but Allison seemed to interpret that as them getting back to what they were doing before Jess’s interruption. She resumed kissing Nicole’s neck and pulled the lobe of her ear between her lips. The shot of electricity that shook her body awakened Nicole to what was happening.
“Not now, Allison. I’m not in the mood anymore.”
She couldn’t sleep. After tossing and turning in bed for far longer than she wanted, Nicole sat up, watching over Allison’s slumber. She looked so peaceful, so relaxed, as the worries in the journalist’s mind were bubbling and boiling over. She couldn’t describe it. There was something primal and ancient telling her that Jess was a threat and that she had to protect her family in any way possible. But she wouldn’t be able to do that if Allison didn’t see the same threat.
Sometime that week she had called her old college roommate, Beth, looking for some legal advice. But the woman said that, since all of the things they could prove had been done by Jess were done to Allison or her properties, she was the one that should file the restraining order. She could include Nicole because they lived together, but she had to be the one to file it. The impossibility to do something was driving Nicole insane. She felt like she had her hands tied behind her back as she watched her house burn down around her.
With a sigh, Nicole decided to get up from the bed and find something useful to do with her insomnia. She tip-toed out of the room, went down the stairs and into her office. There were a few emails in her inbox that needed answering and work would be a good distraction at the moment.
It wasn’t. She couldn’t concentrate for long enough to form one single coherent sentence. All of her thoughts were jumbled inside her head and her brain just wasn’t cooperating. For the first time in months, Nicole hated the fact that she was in a different time zone from her best friend. Had she been feeling like that in San Francisco, she would have already picked up the phone and called Jake. He had always been able to make her laugh and calm her down. Looking at the little clock on her screen, she made a little math and decided to take a chance. He probably wouldn’t be in bed by then. And if he were, he would just call her a few names, hang up and call her the next morning. It was worth the risk.
“What are you doing up, my friend?” Were the first words he said to her after picking up the phone on the second ring.
“Nothing much. I just couldn’t fall asleep.”
“Right. And I’m the Queen of England.” Nicole muffled a laugh. The last thing she wanted was to wake Allison up. “Let me guess. You and the radio diva had a fight.”
The nickname made her smile. “How did--”
“It’s all over your voice, darling.”
“I really can’t hide anything from you, can I? Not even from the other side of the country.”
“And I don’t know why you even try. Now tell Jake here, what happened?”
Jake’s voice reached her filled with the care and concern of years of friendship, making her feel protected. That’s exactly what she needed when she felt so scared and vulnerable. She also needed to tell someone what had been happening, she needed someone to tell her that she wasn’t being paranoid. Because even if Allison didn’t use that exact word, Nicole knew that was what her fiancée had been thinking, at some level.
So, she told her friend everything. She told him what she knew Jess had done and what she thought she had done. She told him how it made her feel and how Allison reacted to every single thing. When Nicole was done, there was a lightness in her shoulders that hadn’t been there for a few weeks.
“Nic, I think you’re absolutely right.” He had waited in silence until Nicole finished telling her story. He knew she needed to get some things off her chest. “I would have run to the police already if I were in your shoes.”
“That’s what I wish I had done, but Allison refuses to get the cops or lawyers involved. I even called Beth for counsel.”
“Why her and not me?”
The mock resentful tone to his voice made Nicole chuckle. “Because she’s a lawyer and you’re a photographer.”
“Okay, fine. And what did Miss Lawyer have to say?”
“That I don’t have grounds for a restraining order. Allison does.”
“Damn.” The line went silent for a second and Nicole knew whatever he said next, she wasn’t going to like. “Can I say something?”
“That’s why I called.”
“In a way, I kinda understand Allison. I think she probably feels guilty for this Jess--”
“Guilty? Jake, that woman is mad.”
“I said I can understand, not that I agree with her.” Nicole exhaled and leaned back on the armchair. Her body was starting to suffer because her mind wouldn’t shut down. “I think things have gone on for long enough.”
“They have. Far too long.”
“And what are you gonna do?”
“She said she would call her lawyer in the morning. I’ll give her another week to, at least, start dealing with things. If she doesn’t, I’ll do something myself.”
“I think that’s fair. You guys are about to get married, she can’t simply disregard what you’re feeling.” And there it was, the validation Nicole had been craving for the entire night. “On a different note. What are you doing this weekend?”
“The weekend as in tomorrow? You do realize it’s Thursday already, right?”
“Why don’t you come to California?” He disregarded her question and pushed on. “You haven’t been back here since you moved and I think it would do you some good.”
“I don’t know, Jake.”
“Isn’t it why you still have an apartment here?”
“I’ll think about it, okay?”
There were faint rays of sun invading the living room by the time she hung up the phone. It was still early enough that some of the darkness of the night still lingered, mixed with the light blues and lilacs of the new day.
Most people loved the sunsets and its spectacle of bright reds and striking oranges. Nicole was different; she loved that hour of the morning, when there was a promise in the air, in the subtle colors that blended together, in the life that returned to the Earth like a well-choreographed ballet.
She was lost in her admiration when she felt a body molding to hers and an arm holding her by the shoulders. She leaned back on Allison and when the singer searched her hand, she let her lace their fingers together. The last thing Nicole wanted was to allow Jess to get in between them by pushing Allison away.
They remained in silence for a long time, simply breathing in and out in sync.
“I missed you in bed.” Allison spoke softly, as to not disturb the world too much.
“I couldn’t sleep and I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Are you still mad at me?”
Nicole turned around to face Allison. She lost herself in those hazel eyes she loved so much. She could see the conflict behind them, the fatigue. With one of her hands, she cupped Allison’s cheek and stroked her skin.
“I’m not mad at you. I’m scared.” She smiled the saddest smile Allison had ever seen. “I know you don’t want to involve anyone else in this, honey, and I respect that. But I’m scared she might do something more serious against you. So far, everything has been quite harmless, but she’s escalating and no one knows what she’s capable of.” Nicole placed her hands on the neck of Allison’s shirt and toyed with a loose thread. “I mean, I understood why you didn’t want to do anything when Simone invaded your hotel room and trashed it, but Jess is way over the line.”
“Look at me, love.” She waited until Nicole raised her eyes to continue. “I’m calling my lawyer today, Nic. I promise you.” Allison sealed the promise with a kiss, serene and slow. “If that’s what I have to do to make you feel safe, then I don’t see any other alternative.”
Tears burned the backs of her eyes. Nicole’s smile was tentative as she threw her arms around Allison’s neck. She held on to her fiancée and felt most of the tension leave her body. She felt validated and loved and protected. The sun was warming her back and she pressed a sweet kiss to the skin so close to her lips.
“Thank you, Al.”
Allison would be content to hold Nicole for as long as she needed. As much as she didn’t want to escalate things and file for a restraining order, Allison knew it was something she had to do to give her fiancée some peace of mind.
There had been something else that Nicole said during their argument during the night, which kept playing in Allison’s head. How the journalist could deal with the media interest and the fans following her, she didn’t care about that. For the first time, Allison actually thought about what it meant for Nicole to be in a relationship with her. How she had also lost some of her privacy, how she was put in the spotlight simply because of the person she loved, how she was critiqued and judged and watched. And not once had Allison heard her complain about it.
It gave her a new sense of respect for the woman in her arms.
“Can you call in sick today? You look like you didn’t sleep at all tonight.” Allison asked when she felt Nicole’s body sagging against hers.
“I didn’t, but I can’t.” Nicole sighed heavily and leaned back. “I’m interviewing that CEO today, remember?”
“Oh, right.” She kissed Nicole on the forehead. “Then, why don’t you go take a shower while I cook us breakfast?”
“God, I knew there had to be a reason why I agreed to marry you.”
Allison stuck her tongue at Nicole, but kissed her anyway, glad that she seemed to be in a slightly better mood.
When she made her way into the kitchen, about half an hour later, Nicole looked less dead on her feet. There were still dark circles beneath her eyes, discreet under the make-up, but she was more alert and they talked through most of their meal.
“Hey, I was thinking.” Allison started as they cleared the table. “Do you wanna go to London with me? I can probably push some of my appointments and we can have some time to ourselves.”
“London for the weekend? That’s highly unpractical, don’t you think?” Allison made a face, pulling a chuckle from Nicole’s lips. “Besides, I’ve actually been thinking about going to San Francisco for the weekend.”
“San Francisco?” That got Allison off guard.
“Yeah. Jake’s been bugging me about it and, since you were going to be travelling anyway, I thought I could go there, spend some time with him, go through the rest of my stuff.”
“Is that okay?”
“Of course it is.” She rearranged her face into a smile. “You don’t have to ask for my permission to travel.”
“You just looked disappointed.”
“I was just thinking about taking you to this awesome restaurant I love in London. But you’re right, it is unpractical. And you should go see your friend. We can always go to London when we both have some free time.”
“Thanks. But, since we’ll be away from each other all weekend and your flight is tomorrow afternoon, why don’t we have a quiet night in together? Maybe order some food, have some wine, watch a movie.”
“Do you think you’ll be awake long enough?”
“I just want to be in your arms. I don’t really care about the movie.”
“You got yourself a date.” They kissed over the kitchen island. “I’ll get everything we need. You just worry about leaving work on time.”