It was way past nine o’clock when Nicole finally shut down her work computer. She stretched her neck, feeling the bones pop back into place and the day’s tension accumulated in her muscles. She had stayed late researching Ally’s career, in preparation for an interview that hadn’t even bet set up, yet.
But with this particular interview, Nicole knew she would need to be even more professional, for everybody’s sake. So, if she was known among her colleagues for her thorough preparations and her piles of notes, then she would get herself even more prepared this time – even if meant reading and checking things she already knew.
Nicole wouldn’t call herself a groupie and she tried her hardest to maintain this part of her life hidden, but she had never been able to remain indifferent to Ally’s fame and stardom. The first time she heard her voice on the radio, Nicole cried alone for the rest of the day. The following times hurt a little less and by the time Ally was a national pop star, Nicole was able to be a little happy for the girl she once knew. She tried not to read all the gossip, but she followed her achievements. She didn’t own any of her CDs, but she knew every word by heart.
None of that meant she felt confident enough to meet and interview Ally. She didn’t think she would ever feel like that. The research, this time, was a means to not getting lost inside her thoughts and memories. Because, every time she stopped, even if for just a little while, she got sucked back into them.
With a huff, Nicole gathered her things, threw everything inside her purse and retrieved her cell. The screen flashed with five missed calls. All from Lauren. A wave of guilt flooded her chest. She knew she was just doing her job, but how could she not feel guilty when she had just spent the better part of her day thinking about an ex-girlfriend she was about to meet again?
The worst part? Lauren didn’t even know about Nicole and Ally’s relationship and she would just get excited about the opportunity.
She rode the elevator alone, playing scenarios in her mind about how to get in contact with Allison and what would happen. Should she simply call the number she still remembered? Or should she reach out to her label? With any other artist, Nicole wouldn’t even be having these thoughts, but everything about Allison was different. While she knew the most professional thing would be to call her label or her manager, the last thing Nicole wanted was for the singer to feel ambushed before she had the opportunity to ask the very first question.
Eleven floors weren’t long enough for her to reach an answer and by the time Nicole got out of the building, she had even more questions than before. On the way to her car, she dialed Lauren’s number. If she wasn’t able to handle her professional life, she hoped to at least be able to deal with her personal one.
“Hey, babe. I’m so sorry I didn’t answer. I was just doing some research and you know how I get.”
“It’s okay, I was just worried.” Lauren’s words were muffled by some noise on the background and Nicole had to strain a bit to understand her girlfriend.
“Where are you?”
“Oh, I few friends from college are in town and we’re having a small get together at my place. It’s nothing big, about fifteen people, and I was hoping you could come over.”
“Are you gonna be upset if a say I can’t?” Nicole pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath. The last thing she needed to finish that day was a fight with Lauren. “It’s just…I’m exhausted. I barely slept this night and I just left work. I just really wanna get home, take a shower and sleep.”
“It’s okay. I kinda figured you would say that. See you tomorrow?”
“Of course. Love you.”
“Love you too.”
The guilt Nicole felt didn’t subside on the way home. It killed her to be thinking so much about someone that shouldn’t be a part of her life anymore. But she also felt relieved that Lauren would be entertained for the evening. It would be easier to deal with everything that was going through her mind without her girlfriend there, reminding her why meeting with Allison again wasn’t a good idea.
She got inside her apartment and retrieved her cell phone from her purse. She thought she had heard her text alert go off, but she would never be caught driving and texting. Not anymore.
The screen lit the room and a message from Jake popped up: ‘Stop stalling and call Ally already. I know you and I know you still have her number somewhere’. A fond smile made its way to her lips as she read her friend’s words. That’s the problem with intimacy – you can’t escape from it.
The worst thing was knowing Jake was right. Even after a decade, even after the fight, Nicole couldn’t really get rid of everything that reminded her of Allison. She threw away most of the stuff that reminded her of their relationship, but the digits that could have easily connected the two kept embedded, somehow, in her brain.
She ditched the device and her purse on top of the dining table and went straight to the bathroom. Whatever she was about to do could wait until after she had taken a bath. She poured herself some wine, chose a lavender bath salt and turned the radio on. Maybe by changing the room’s mood she could change hers.
Nicole let herself soak in the warm water and, for the first time that day, she stopped to think about how she felt. She didn’t want to meet with Allison, that was a given. What was bothering her was not knowing why she felt so strongly about it. Sure, their relationship didn’t end well, but she was over it. She had to be over. It had happened ten years before; she had had a number of other girlfriends since. Hell, she had a girlfriend right at that moment!
But not one of those girls were Allison.
For the first time since her lunch with Jake, Nicole allowed herself to think about Allison as the struggling singer she had had a fling with all those years ago before she ever became Ally Strong. Her minded drifted to a time when the girl with the dark hair and sharp, hazel eyes still lived in a tiny apartment in a run-down neighborhood. She closed her eyes and could see her perfectly, removing her coat and exposing more of that smooth skin.
Allison turned around and met the stare of the girl who had followed her home. She liked her from the instant she saw her, walking into the bar with a group of friends. All through her songs, she kept her eyes on her. It wasn’t hard to follow her every move from the elevated stage and she saw the moment she walked away from the group and started watching her perform, all by herself. Allison knew, then, that she had to talk to her.
With a half-smile, Nicole saw Allison walking towards her. She had her back to the door and she felt like a prey under those eyes. Her breathing got labored when the other woman invaded her personal space and she met her in the middle for a hungry kiss. It was all teeth and tongue and lust and Nicole couldn’t decide if she should focus on the mouth attached to hers or the hands that roamed her body.
Before her memories could get out of her control, Nicole drank the rest of her wine and submerged in the water, only breaking the surface when her lungs were screaming for oxygen.
“Damn it! Why did Dianna have to choose me to do this interview?”
Nicole sank down once more before stepping out of the tub completely. There would be no answers to be found in the lukewarm water or on the ceiling. She would just have to face the music.
The bathrobe around her body was warm and she decided not to change into pajamas as she rummaged her kitchen after whatever junk food she could find. Most days, Lauren would be the one to fill her cabinets and refrigerator and she mostly bought healthy food, but at that moment, Nicole needed chips and ice cream. That was her thinking food.
She was trying to decide what should be her next step. As far as she could see, she had three options. Number one, she walked into Dianna’s office in the morning and requested she gave the interview to another reporter. Undoubtedly, there would be a line of people wanting the opportunity to land the cover and talk to one of the biggest stars of their time. But, if she did that, she not only would have to explain her motivations to her boss, it was most likely to make her career suffer. And she wasn’t willing to do that. Especially not for Allison.
Which left her with two choices, both involving getting in touch with her ex. She could either wait until the next day and contact her through her team and postpone talking to the woman as much as possible; or she could suck it up and dial the numbers she still remembered so well. Normally, Nicole would go through the manager or the PR, but it was like she owed it to Allison to call her first and give her the opportunity to say no to her face. Or, at least, prepare herself before they met once again.
The clock on her cell phone screen told her it was almost eleven in the night, but she dialed anyway. She remembered enough about Allison’s routine to know that she would not be sleeping by then. Besides, she wasn’t sure she would have the guts to call her again later.
Once. Twice. Three times. The ringing in her ear seemed louder with every repetition and Nicole started considering the possibility that she had changed her number. It wouldn’t be such an absurd notion. Or, maybe, she just didn’t want to talk to Nicole. Also possible.
She was already pulling the device from her ear when the fifth ringing was cut in half and her stomach did a complete summersault inside her body. Anxiousness bubbled up her throat and she wished she had drunk another glass of wine.
And all it took were two words in Allison’s melodic voice to make Nicole go back to that young college girl discovering the world beyond her sheltered walls.