Across town, another woman had trouble sleeping. She had her forehead to the window glass as she observed the few cars that traveled along the road below her hotel room. Ally Strong’s insomnia had nothing to do with the bed that wasn’t hers – she was used to those – nor with the performance she had in less than twenty-four hours – she was more than used to those.
No. Her insomnia had everything to do with a conversation that had ended more than a couple hours before and sill kept replaying in her head in a loop.
“Hello, Allison. How are you?”
“Wow. Allison?” The small chuckle sent chills up Nicole’s spine. “No one, besides my mom, has called me that in a very long time.”
“About ten years?”
“Something like that.” The line went silent for a second. “But, to answer your question, I’m great. You know…concerts, fans, music on the radio, TV shows. The usual.”
“Funny. Still the same annoying girl, I see.”
“With just a little less time and a lot more tired.” Nicole thought a million questions in her head, but she decided to keep those unsaid. “But, tell me, what happened to bring you back to the world of the living?”
“I felt like talking to you. Is it a crime?”
“It’s definitely not a crime, but it is strange. I mean I haven’t heard from you in what? Ten years? And, out of the blue, you decide to call because you felt like talking to me? No…there’s something more to this story.”
“Don’t forget that you haven’t called me in just as long, alright?” Talking to Allison was starting to feel a lot like old times, so Nicole decided to get back to business. “But, yes, you’re right. There is something. But I don’t wanna talk about it over the phone. Can we meet tomorrow morning?”
“Is this some kind of trick, Nic?”
“There’s no trick, Al. I just need to ask you something and I’d like to use that opportunity to see you. You know, catch up. I know you got to San Francisco today and I decided to give you a call.”
“So, you’re living in San Francisco now.” There was a question in that sentence that Nicole didn’t want to acknowledge.
“Yeah. I moved here after college.” She answered it at face value. “So, tomorrow?”
“How come you always get me to do anything you want?” Allison groaned on her end and Nicole smiled on hers. “Alright. We can have coffee tomorrow. I’ll check my schedule and text you a time and place.”
The nickname echoed in Allison’s mind long after the call had been disconnected.
And now there was nothing more Allison could do. She had already texted Nicole as promised and all that was left for her was to go back to bed and try and get a few hours of sleep. Because, no matter how many times she went over that conversation in her head, she wouldn’t be able to do it over. She wouldn’t be able to change any of her answers or be less defensive or more open. Maybe Nicole really had just called to talk. Maybe she had an ulterior motive for calling. But staying awake wouldn’t give her any of the answers she was looking for.
Her first cup of coffee of the morning was nearly finished and still no sign of Allison.
Nicole liked to get to her meetings with her interviewees about twenty minutes early. It gave her the time to scope out the place, get ready and observe them as they walked in. Ten minutes before Allison was supposed to get there, Nicole called into work and left a message to Dianna. Scheduling a meeting with Ally Strong was like scoring a point, no matter how she did it.
A half hour after their arranged time and Nicole was starting to believe Allison wouldn’t show up. That would be very characteristic of her, she thought, to promise her something and leave her hanging. Nicole was about to gather her things and leave when she noticed the singer walking through the doors. She was wearing these glasses the covered up half her face, a hat buried in her head and her coat’s collar was pulled up. She looked absolutely ridiculous and was probably getting more attention than she was trying to.
But Nicole would recognize those lips anywhere.
Before they had the opportunity to say anything to each other, a waitress approached their table and Nicole ordered for the both of them.
“I hope you don’t mind me ordering. I just…still remember how you like your coffee.”
“It’s alright. The less I talk to anyone else, the better. Wouldn’t want to cause a commotion, you know? By being recognized.”
“Speaking of which, what’s up with the outfit? Hiding from someone?” Nicole failed to hide her amusement. Allison wasn’t sure if she even tried.
“Something like that. Every once in a while it’s nice to grab a cup of coffee without having my face printed on every magazine cover.”
Their drinks arrived and they drank in silence for a while, just observing the person at the other side of the table. They weren’t the same girls of ten years before and they had no idea if they could trust the people they had become.
Allison’s phone went off, startling both women. Nicole watched as she searched for it inside her purse. The singer didn’t even take the device out. She merely took a look at the screen – Nicole couldn’t read the name on it from where she was siting – silenced the thing and went back to her coffee with a scowl on her face. Her lips were twisted to the side and Nicole knew that that usually meant she was trying not to be pissed.
“How’s your coffee?” The journalist tried to smooth out the way to her request.
“Look, Nic, you’re the one that called me, saying you wanted to ask me something and that you didn’t want to do it over the phone. So, can we skip the small talk and just cut to the chase? I’m here on borrowed time, already.”
“Wow. Subtlety has never been your strong point, has it?”
When her only answer was a despondent shrug, Nicole decided to do as Allison asked and go straight to the point. They had never been able to keep things from each other anyway, so it was best if she just ended that small torture.
“Here’s the deal, Al. I’m a reporter for Variety magazine and we would like to interview you for our next cover. It would be a profile kind of thing. Something to show our readers a little more about the woman behind the voice.”
“And you would be the one to do this interview?”
“And here I was, thinking you missed me.”
After all those years, Nicole was having a hard time to differentiate Allison’s sarcasm from everything else.
“I did, but last night’s call was more professional than personal.”
“Then you should have known better than to call me directly. My PR team deals with all of my interviews.”
“I figured that. But, given our…” Nicole lowered her voice and looked around, making sure no one was eavesdropping in on their conversation. “-history, I thought I should call you first.”
“Well, I appreciate it.” After rummaging her purse for a pen, Allison wrote something down on a paper napkin and extended it to Nicole. “Here. I’m doing a private concert tonight, at this address. Meet me there and we can talk about this interview with my team.”
She had barely finished saying that when she shouldered her purse, stood up and left the café. Nicole didn’t even have time to answer her. Typical.
She looked down and noticed that Allison’s handwriting hadn’t changed a bit in all those years. It was still sharp and hurried as if she was afraid her hand couldn’t keep up with her brain’s speed. She could remember the days when Ally would practice her autographs and she would assure her that, one day, they would be worth a lot.
Two notes were stuck to Nicole’s computer by the time she got back to the office. One of them was from Jake and the other, from Dianna. She decided that her friend’s curiosity wasn’t as important as updating her boss about where she was on the next cover.
The door to Dianna’s office was open and she signaled Nicole in as soon as she saw her approaching.
“So, how did it go with Ally Strong? Did she agree with the interview?”
“Not yet. I told her what our intentions were, what kind of article we’re looking to write and she has invited me to a closed performance, later tonight, to discuss it with her PR team. I hope we’ll have our answer by then.”
“Okay. That actually brings us to my next question. How did you schedule a meeting with her without going through her team first?”
“We met a while ago.”
“And is there anything I should know about that?” Dianna pushed her chair away from the table and crossed her hands on top of her knees.
“Not exactly. We met when we were young and lost touch when she started recording. I just called her first out of courtesy. That’s all.”
“So, you’re saying that I have nothing to be concerned about.”
“Exactly. I’ve got everything under control.”