A Second Chance

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Chapter 26

The police station was buzzing with excitement. The news that Ally Strong and her fiancée would be going in that morning to give their statements about the attack that had taken place Saturday spread like a wild fire and even the police officers kept looking over their shoulders to the entrance, trying to spot the moment the pop star would walk through those doors. The press had set up their cameras and microphones on the sidewalk and it was possible to see more people milling about, hoping to get a glimpse of the singer.

What none of them knew was that Allison was already inside, finishing her statement, and that Nicole was waiting for her in the car. The detectives had agreed to see the couple a lot earlier then what was usual to save them from having to face the circus that had become the station’s front entrance. They had used a side door that was rarely used and had decided to wait for their moment in the car that was parked in front of it.

It had all been thought out to make sure no one saw them there. Or so they thought.

Allison had just finished with her statement. She wasn’t sure how long she had spent inside the small room with the two detectives, but she could’ve sworn it had been weeks. Her heavy eyes were already hidden behind huge, dark glasses when she stepped out of the room with her lawyer and found Mike and two body guards waiting for her.

The walk to the side door was silent. Mike had one of his hands on the small of her back, supporting and guiding. One of the body guards stepped outside to make sure it was safe for them to leave when Allison heard someone calling out her name in a voice she didn’t think she would ever hear again. It was a voice she would recognize anywhere, but she refused to turn around. Somehow, she blamed her a little for what had happened.

Her name was called out again, a little more urgently, and Allison took a deep breath to keep herself from turning around a slapping Simone across the face. She was sure hitting someone inside a police station wouldn’t end well, but she couldn’t believe that woman’s nerve to be in there, trying to talk to her after everything that had happened.

“How’s Nicole?”

The dark lenses on Allison’s face hid the flames that danced behind her eyes. She couldn’t believe that woman’s nerve.

“What do you want, Simone?” Allison hissed as she rounded on her former employee. “Do you want me to go back there and get your little friend off the hook?”

“That’s not what I want Ally and you know it. When I found out about what happened I got worried.”

Even though the glasses she had on hid almost half of her face, Simone could guess the expression on her features; the raised eyebrow, the squinted eyes. She knew that expression all too well and she knew Allison probably didn’t believe a word she was saying, but she had to try anyway. Whenever the singer took on that protective irrationality, it was hard to make her see anything beyond the worst scenarios she had already painted in her mind.

“Five minutes, Ally. That’s all I’m asking.” Simone pleaded, fully aware that that would most likely be the only opportunity she would ever have to make things right with Allison.

Allison didn’t have much fight left in her. She had resentment, fear, hatred, hurt, pain, but she didn’t have much fight left. So she agreed. She did so because turning around and walking out on Simone would have taken much more effort.

“You didn’t answer me before, Ally.” Simone was the first to break the silence that settled between them after her last words. With her glasses still in place, it was hard for her to know what the singer might be thinking. “How’s Nicole doing?”

“How do you think she can be after she was drugged, kidnapped and threatened by Jess?” She wasn’t ready to let go of her defenses just yet just because Simone looked genuinely worried. “She isn’t well at all. The drugs are out of her system and thank god she doesn’t remember much, but knowing it happened is more than enough.”

“What about you? How are holding up?”

“Me? Take a guess.”

“Like you want to strangle the first person to cross your way.”

“Bingo.” Allison smiled for the first time since she got to the precinct, but there was no mirth in it. “But it’s not the first one. It’s a very specific someone, that you and I both know.”

“I can imagine that.”

“No, you can’t.” She breathed in deeply when she felt the word vomit approaching. Allison had held those feelings and those words inside her for far too long and they needed to get out. “You have never been threatened by an ex. You have never gotten to your home and found an intruder showering in your bathroom. You have never had to choose between protecting yourself and the person you love the most in the world. You have never felt helpless seeing your fiancée on a hospital bed, knowing she was there because of you.” With every word Allison spoke, the power of her voice raised and she was almost barking at Simone’s face when she finished. “You have never lived any of that, so don’t tell me you can imagine it. Or that you understand. Or that I need to forgive Jess, that she didn’t know what she was doing. What she did, I can never forgive.”

“You’re right. I have never been through any of that and I agree that Jess has to be punished for what she’s done. That’s why I’m here, actually.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll be giving my statement in a few minutes. After I saw what had happened, I called the police and said I could maybe have some useful information. I was there during your relationship, I kept being her friend after it. I thought I could help.”

“Like you helped her by getting rid of any girl that got any close to me?”

“That was a mistake and I can see it, now.” Simone leaned back against the bench and sighed. “Look, I know you and I know you won’t forgive me any time soon, but I probably deserve that. There’s no explanation to what I did to you, but I never meant for this to happen. I honestly didn’t know how messed up Jess really was and when I found out, I tried warning you and Nicole.”

The memory of the day she got home and found Nicole crying in the balcony sent a shiver through Allison’s system. That was the day that had determined everything to happen. If only she hadn’t been so stubborn, if only she had agreed with Nicole to increase their security, then she wouldn’t be standing in a police station.

“That doesn’t change what happened.”

“I know it doesn’t, but I hope it helps you see that hurting you was never my intention.”

“What about my hotel room in San Francisco?” Nicole asked, grasping at straws to keep her walls strong. “That wasn’t your intention either?”

“That was all me, I’ll admit it. I was angry and I may have channeled a certain explosive singer I used to work with.” Simone shot Allison a half smile and noticed her features had softened a bit. “Know anyone like that?”

“Not anymore.”

“Nicole’s good for you. I can see it, now.”

As always, thinking about her fiancée put a smile on Allison’s lips. It was an involuntary reaction, really, and just another proof of how much she had changed since the reporter walked back into her life. Allison had already gotten used to the person she was now, but she still found it odd when someone else noticed it.

“Yeah, she’s the best part of me.”

Silence hung around them, warm and thick like a wool blanket. Where should they go from there? Where could they go? They weren’t friends anymore, but they weren’t enemies either. They knew a lot about the other and yet, when they faced the woman sitting on the other side of the bench, they were met with a stranger.

“Ms. Marino?” The detective responsible for the case interrupted their awkward silence. “We’re ready for you.”

“Of course. I’ll be right in.” When the man disappeared inside the interview room, Simone turned back to Allison. “I meant every word I said to you. I hope you believe me.” She got up from the bench, but didn’t walk away from where she had been sitting. “I wish you and Nicole all the happiness in the world. You two deserve it.”

Allison’s mind was spinning so fast that she almost didn’t react to Simone’s leaving. The woman was almost at the door the detective had left open when Allison turned in her seat. “Simone?” She called out to her and waited until Simone looked over her shoulder to continue. “Thank you. I really appreciate it.”

Allison closed the door with a sigh. She loved her mom, but the woman’s intensity could be tiring at times. Particularly when she was in the same room as Erica and they seemed to be on some kind of mother of the year contest with the amount of attention and worry they showered upon their daughters. The biggest difference between them was that Vanessa seemed worried about both Allison and Nicole, whereas Erica still tried ignoring the singer. It wasn’t as blatant as the day she arrived, and much of the tension in the air between them had been cleared, but it was still there.

The laughter in the living room put a smile on Allison’s face. After seeing her fiancée look so somber since she woke up in the hospital, it was amazing to hear her laugh, like cool water on a hot, summer’s night. And Allison hated to break that happiness, but there was something that needed to be done. In her mind it was the right thing to do, for both of them, but she didn’t want to burden Nicole with serious conversations. So, she just decided to make the call and talk to Nicole after it was done.

Before she could hear the first ringing sound, Allison felt arms wrap around her waist. Nicole had heard the front door closing and had waited for Allison to return to the living room and resume her place as a human-pillow. When that didn’t happen, she set out to find her.

“Who are you calling this late, Al?” The singer lowered the phone and ended the call before it could connect. “Let’s go back to the couch.”

Nicole’s question settled heavy on Allison’s chest. She had hoped to be able to talk to her fiancée after it had been taken care of, not before. But now, Nicole was there, holding her like she was the most precious thing on Earth and inhaling the scent of her hair as if she needed it for her lungs to function. Allison turned around inside that embrace and lost herself in Nicole’s dark eyes. It felt like she was anchor and helm, at the same time, for the singer’s soul.

“I was calling the wedding planner.” Allison lowered her eyes before she started speaking. She knew she wouldn’t have the guts to finish saying what needed to be said if she was looking into her eyes. “I think we should postpone the wedding a bit.”

The arms that had wound themselves around Allison’s waist loosened their hold. Nicole took a step back, shaking her head from side to side, her eyes scrunched shut. She couldn’t believe she was hearing that. Even after everything that had happened to them, after everything they had gone through, not once had she considered not marrying Allison the day they had chosen. Nicole couldn’t understand how Allison could even entertain that idea.

“You don’t wanna marry me anymore, Al?” Nicole’s voice cracked from the effort she was making to keep her tears at bay.

“No, no, no. It’s not that, honey.” That was exactly the reaction Allison had feared. “That’s what I want most in my life, Nic. I can’t wait to be your wife. I just thought it would be best if we pushed it back a little, just until we’re fully recovered from this scare. That’s all.”

“I don’t want to postpone anything, Al. I can’t postpone it.” Nicole exhaled heavily and took Allison by the hand, dragging the singer fully into the kitchen. That wasn’t a conversation meant to have an audience. “I’ll only get better, I’ll only be well and complete when I’m married to you. That’s what’s been giving me strength, love. That’s all I can think about.”

Allison couldn’t form any words. She needed Nicole with the same strength and she didn’t want to postpone their wedding, she was just doing what she thought was best for Nicole.

“If we do this, Al, she wins.” Nicole took Allison’s hand in hers and waited until the singer raised her head to look her in the eyes. Tears clouded her vision, but they didn’t stray. “If we let Jess stand in our way, even if for just one day, she wins.”

The silence between them was only broken by Allison’s sniffles. Silent tears also leaked from Nicole’s eyes, but she remained steady, waiting. A second later, Allison threw her arms around Nicole’s shoulder and sobbed into her neck. Her chest rattled and her whole body shook. Since she watched Nicole lying motionless in that ambulance, Allison feared the moment her fiancée would tell her that she didn’t want to marry her anymore, that the madness of Allison’s life was too much for her to take.

“I belong by your side, Al.” Nicole tightened her arms around Allison, who sobbed loudly. “And this is where I wanna stay. Forever.”

“And a day.”

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