Another nightmare woke Allison up. She hadn’t had a good night’s rest in almost a week, ever since her conversation with Nicole about her security. It was always the same thing; she would bolt up in bed, panting and sweating and she wouldn’t be able to remember a single thing about what she had seen in her dream. The only thing that lasted from the images she saw was the feeling of helplessness like she hadn’t been able to complete the most important task of her life.
It was clear to her that she was at war with herself. She wanted to give in to Nicole’s requested, she wanted to do anything that would make her fiancée feel safe again, but it felt like she was giving into something else. She wasn’t about to give up on her independence just because Jess couldn’t deal with the end of their relationship. But, was she willing to give up on her relationship with Nicole to keep that same independence?
The journalist hadn’t used those words, she had never given out an ultimatum, but Allison knew that their relationship was on the line if Nicole still saw Jess as a threat. It was the argument she used to justify – more to herself than anybody else – asking Mike to not tell Nicole about the letters she had been receiving for the past month. None of them had been signed, but Allison knew that handwriting well enough to know that Jess had been the one behind them.
In the half-light that bathed the room, Allison looked to the side and found Nicole sleeping soundly. An invisible hand seemed to be trying to crush her heart and Allison buried herself in Nicole’s body to ward it off. They still fitted like jigsaw pieces and the singer breathed in the smell of her skin. It was the only moment she seemed to have permission to do so. When it was light out and they were both awake, she could feel Nicole slipping away from her.
“I’ll always protect you, love.”
Nothing changed come morning. Allison still felt guilty and Nicole was still silent and distant. They hadn’t mentioned Jess’s name again, but they could feel her presence between them, growing like a shadow and taking over every space and crevice. It was there in their short kisses, it was there in their awkward conversations, it was there in the lack of physical contact.
Allison felt like she was watching Nicole from a distance, just observing a life she was supposed to be living.
On Wednesday, their breakfast was particularly silent. Nicole answered every question she was asked with one-word answers, blaming it on work and exhaustion. Had it been any other time and Allison would have believed her. Nicole was getting home later and later by the day and she was making no effort to hide the dark bags under her eyes. But Allison knew better. The hurt Nicole was feeling was written in her posture and in the lack of spark in her eyes.
“Are you sure you don’t want to meet me in Boston, this weekend?” Allison tried asking again the same question she had asked twice before. “I’ve got Sunday free and I thought--”
“I can’t this weekend, Al. You know that. It’s Anna’s birthday, from work, and I promised her I would come. I hardly ever do anything with them.”
“I forgot about that.” She sighed, defeated. “It’s alright. We can travel together some other time.”
“When will you be back?”
“My flight is scheduled for Sunday, but I’ll ask Mike to change it to Saturday night.”
“Won’t it be too rushed?” Allison almost smiled at the concern she heard in Nicole’s voice.
“I wanna come back to you as soon as I can.”
A feeble smile made an appearance on Nicole’s face and Allison seized the moment to try and get closer to her. She walked around the table and took a seat on the journalist’s lap, throwing her arms around Nicole’s neck. She seemed surprised with the closeness, but didn’t try pushing Allison away. ‘That must be a good sign’, Allison thought to herself before placing a quick and sweet kiss to Nicole’s lips.
“I love you, Nic.” Allison’s eyes never strayed from Nicole’s. There was a seriousness to them that wasn’t usually there, but she needed to put all of her truth in her words, she needed Nicole to understand. “I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Allison.”
A few days might not seem like a long time, but when you have grown used to hearing something every day, even just a few can feel like an eternity.
As she heard those words, Allison could feel some of the tension in Nicole’s shoulders leaving her body. It wasn’t all of it, but it was enough to get the reporter to land her hands on the singer’s waist and drop her walls for a fraction of a second. In that moment of connection, Allison kissed her again, tentative as someone who dips a toe before diving in. And when Nicole didn’t recoil, didn’t push her away, Allison let all of her feelings pour into the kiss.
There wasn’t anything sweet or soft about the way Allison grabbed Nicole by the neck or how she used her tongue to invade her mouth. It wasn’t just a kiss. It was a plea and an apology and a reunion all rolled into one breathless act.
And Nicole wanted to give into how her body reacted every time she had Allison pressed against her. She was throbbing and dizzy, but she still couldn’t forget about what was happening in their lives. There was still a dark cloud looming over their heads and it made Allison’s lips taste sour and acidic.
She pushed Allison by the shoulders and they both stared at each other, eyes wide and chests moving out of pace. Nicole had never rejected Allison so blatantly and the sting hurt more than any of them were ready to acknowledge.
Allison tried moving in again – she wanted to believe that Nicole just needed a little breather – but Nicole shook her head and dropped her eyes. Whatever distance they had just closed, was back between them.
“I have to go, Al. I’m gonna be late.”
It wasn’t the words, exactly, that made Allison get up from Nicole’s lap. It was the voice, vacant and detached. It sounded like Nicole wasn’t even there anymore. And she watched as the reporter took her plate to the kitchen sink, grabbed her purse and walked out of view.
Allison just stood there, watching the hallway as if Nicole would suddenly come back running into her arms, kissing her and telling her that they could forget about everything. But her coffee went cold and Nicole didn’t come back.
Her ringtone woke her up. Nicole looked around for a moment, trying to get her bearings. She had fallen asleep in front of the TV in the living room before the show she tried watching went on its first commercial break. She normally didn’t do that, but she hadn’t slept well the past few nights with Allison gone on yet another trip. Despite their problems, she always had trouble sleeping all by herself in their too big of a bed.
The cell phone vibrating on the coffee table demanded her attention and she picked it up only to find a picture of herself and Allison staring back at her. They were making faces and it was taken a few weeks before. They looked happy in the picture and Nicole answered the call just so she wouldn’t have to stare at it anymore.
“Hey, Nic. How are things at home?”
“Same old. What about in Boston?”
“I feel like I haven’t had time to breathe, but that’s alright. Last night’s concert was amazing. Completely packed.”
Allison had a way of talking about her work and her career that always put a smile on Nicole’s face, no matter what. It was like she was more herself when she was singing and Nicole admired that about her.
“That’s good, Al. I’m glad.” A yawn escaped her lips faster than she could trap it with her hand.
“What’s wrong with your voice, Nic? Are you coming down with something, love?”
“I’m alright. I was just napping.”
“You? Napping? In the middle of the afternoon?”
“You know I can never sleep well when you’re not here.” One sentence and most of Allison’s worries had been eased. “And since I’ll probably get to bed late because of Anna’s birthday, I thought a nap would do me good.”
“You’re probably right.” There were some muffled sounds on Allison’s end of the call. “Look, Nic, Mike is here and I need to get going. But, do you have any idea when you should leave Anna’s party?”
“I’m not sure. The guys were talking about hitting a club after, so I don’t know when they’ll leave. Why?”
“Because I’ve managed to change my flight to tonight. So, if you’re still there, I thought I could stop by.”
“Won’t you be too tired?” Allison frowned and was about to protest when Nicole continued. “Not that I don’t want you to come. I just don’t want you to exhaust yourself.”
“My concert won’t finish that late. I’ll leave for the airport straight after and it’s a short flight. Besides, I’ll never be too tired to meet my beautiful fiancée.”
There was no one there to see the way Nicole’s face lit up with Allison’s words. With everything that was going on, she had almost forgotten how sweet she could be.
“I’ll tell you what. Call me when you land and we’ll see what we do.”
“Deal. Talk to you later, then. Love you.”
“I love you too.”
As a general rule, Nicole hated crowded places. She tolerated them for work, but when it came to her personal life, she absolutely dreaded them – the only exception was to watch Allison live, but that always involved a VIP area and lots of kisses from her fiancée. So, when she got to the bar Anna was having her birthday at, Nicole felt like going back home from the door.
The place was packed. The noise around her was so dense it felt like a wall closing in on her. The smell of too many people in one room mixed with alcohol and perfume hung heavily in the air, but Nicole powered through. She had already promised Anna she would come to her birthday and she was there already. There would be no point in turning around and going back to an empty apartment.
Nicole navigated around tables until she found her group of friends gathered around a huge one at the back. She hung her best smile on her face and waved at the group when they noticed her presence. She was still feeling tired, from lack of sleep, and in a funk, from her silent fight with Allison, but she would try her hardest to have fun with them. They seemed like a fun group and always invited her to go out with them, she just usually turned them down.
The birthday girl got up to greet Nicole and a few of the guys teased her, saying they hadn’t believed her when she said she would meet them there. She took their words with a smile and said there was a first for everything.
There was an empty chair at both ends of the table and Nicole chose to sit with the guys from style. They were funny and loved the sound of their own voices, so she thought she could just sit there with her beer, laugh a little and not have to talk much the entire night. Besides, they reminded her of Jake and the man had always been able to make her smile, no matter her mood.
By her fourth beer bottle, Nicole noticed she had managed to have fun. The group around the table was lively and the men sitting close to her were funny enough that she hadn’t thought about Jess once since she joined them. She had thought of Allison, but it wasn’t related to their argument. There were just a few things she heard that she wanted to tell her when Allison came back.
Nicholas, the man sitting catty-corner from Nicole, was telling them a story about some supermodel’s meltdown he had witnessed when she reached for her beer and found only thin air. Looking around, Nicole noticed the bottle was perched a little too close to the edge of the table and frowned. She didn’t remember putting it so out of reach but ignored the feeling. That was already her sixth bottle and she decided she probably had had enough alcohol for one night. The last thing she wanted was to be drunk when Allison got home.
As Nicole announced she was leaving for the night, the rest of the group decided to leave too. But, instead of going home, they said they would hit a club a few streets down. Nicholas and Anna tried convincing Nicole to join them, but she could already feel the effects of alcohol on her body. Her head was a little heavy and she was starting to have a hard time keeping her eyes open.
The bar was almost empty when they left, compared to how Nicole had found it when she got there. There were fewer tables standing in her way to the door and most of the large groups had been replaced by smaller parties. She smiled when she noticed she hadn’t noticed any of that until that moment. Not even that the four guys on the table right next to her had already left and a woman sat there alone. Maybe it really had been a good idea to go out that night, even if she was having a hard time walking in a straight line.
The cold wind outside sobered her up a little, enough to convince her friends that Nicole was well enough to get home safe. She waved when they rounded the corner and she turned around to flag down a cab. The movement made Nicole lose her balance and she had to lean against a lamppost to keep herself from falling.
Nicole had never felt that way. She had gotten drunk before, but now it was like she had lost control of her own body. Her limbs didn’t obey her anymore and her eyelids decided to close up out of their own accord.
The last thing she saw was a yellow cab approaching before her body won the mutiny and everything went black.