“Can I ask you a question?”
The autograph session had already finished and the entire team was back at the hotel, getting ready for the night’s performance. Allison was supposed to be at the venue in an hour to do sound check. Normally, at that point, her room would be buzzing with people. It normally became their operations HQ, with Simone and Allison’s manager, Mike, dealing with last minute decisions and going over wardrobe and the singer’s schedule for the following days.
That night, only Nicole was allowed in the master suite.
“I believe I agreed to that when I said yes to this interview, Nic.”
“No. This one is a little more personal. It’s not for the story.”
“Now I’m curious. Ask away.”
“Why does Simone hate me so much? I mean, I’ve dealt with PRs that weren’t very fond of the press before, but they normally tried to disguise it. And with Simone…” Nicole looked to the ceiling, looking for the right words that would describe the situation without offending Allison. “She doesn’t give me a break. It’s like she’s always behind me, always watching me with those hard eyes…”
Nicole still had a few more things she would like to say, but Allison’s laugh shut her up.
“Look, I’m sorry, Nic. Simone can be a little over protective at times.”
“A little?” Nicole laughed mirthlessly at that. “She practically tried to shoot me with her eyes during today’s event, Al. But, why so much protection? Have you guys…?”
“What? No! Never! God, no!” Allison twisted her face as if she had swallowed something sour. “But, why so curious, Ms. Black? Jealous?”
“Of course not, Allison.” Nicole noticed that Allison seemed to find the situation amusing and it put her on the defensive. “You can call it professional interest.”
“Oh. So, that’s what they’re calling it, now. Nice.” Allison took a seat on the couch beside Nicole. “Well, Simone has been working with me for a very long time. And in that time, I have been the target of a lot of mean gossip and rumors. So I think it’s normal that that makes her a little weary. Particularly of ex-girlfriends that call out of the blue asking for an interview and show up to a performance wearing that dress.”
Nicole wasn’t comfortable with the path the conversation was progressing in. She hadn’t been the one to suggest that interview. Damn!, she didn’t even want to have accepted it. And now Allison seemed to think it was all a joke, some sort of plot to get her back.
She was there to do her job and she couldn’t give herself the luxury of forgetting that.
“Look, Allison, about this interview… I think I have to clear a few things before we move any further.”
“There’s no need, Nic.” The singer answered Nicole holding one of her hands between both of hers. “I’m really happy that you called.”
Nicole slowly pulled her hand from Allison’s hold.
“The idea for this interview wasn’t mine. Another reporter suggested it and my editor wanted me to do it. She didn’t know about our past and she wanted to pull me out of it when I told her. I promised her that nothing would jeopardize my professionalism and I intend to keep my promise.” Nicole looked at the floor and then up, before adding. “Besides, I have a girlfriend.”
She finished her speech and took a deep breath, looking for air. She almost didn’t breathe as she said those words, afraid that she would never say them if she stopped. There was a war raging inside Nicole. It was getting harder by the minute to remind herself that she was there to do her work. That Allison was just another subject that she was supposed to interview and forget about it. That that girl, in front of her, wasn’t the same she had fallen for all those years ago.
But she needed to remember that that was work and that she needed to remain professional.
Allison’s expression was unreadable after hearing what Nicole had to say. After a few moments of silence, she smiled her cover girl smile and got up.
“Very well. Let’s get to work, then.”
The place was packed.
That was the first thought that entered Nicole’s mind as she left Allison’s dressing room and went to find Jake and check out the mood of the waiting fans. In fact, she just wanted a few minutes away from Allison and alone with her thoughts. Ever since their conversation in the singer’s hotel room, things between them were tense. Allison wasn’t exactly hostile, but she was going out of her way to remain professional.
And now Nicole was trying to understand why that frustrated her so much.
“Jake!” Nicole screamed and waved her arms so her friend could find her. “I don’t think I have ever been so happy to see you in my life.”
The photographer looked Nicole up and down, stopping on the glass she had in her hand. Without a word, he took it from her and took a sip. He grimaced when he tasted how much alcohol there was in Nicole’s drink.
“Me and our little friend Johnny, apparently.” Nicole took her glass back and frowned at the contents. “Are you sure you should be drinking that? I mean, technically you’re still on the clock.”
“Since when have you gotten so damn responsible?”
“Since somewhere between our last team meeting and your call today.” He smiled at her, but Nicole averted her eyes. “Seriously, darling. I just don’t want you to do something foolish, okay?”
“When you have to be stuck to that one 24/7, we’ll talk again about foolishness, okay?”
“Okay, okay. I can see that you’re in a horrible mood. Let’s get to work, huh? It’ll probably be safer.” When he thought she was distant enough, Jake mumbled: “For me.”
Jake and Nicole went separate ways. As he made images of the performance and the audience, Nicole went to talk to a few people that worked for Allison. They had already been told about the interview she would be conducting and were instructed to help the journalist in any way she might require. It didn’t mean that actually talking about their boss was any easier.
The general consensus was that Allison had a heart of gold, but she chose to hide it beneath a tough exterior. She valued things like family and loyalty and truth and she would go to the ends of the earth to help and protect those she loved. One roadie told Nicole that Allison had paid for his daughter’s surgery, but she made him promise her that he would never talk about it to anyone. Another techie remembered an episode where a colleague was fired after leaking the set list for a concert.
Nicole was already backstage when the concert ended. She waited for Jake in front of Allison’s dressing room. The fans were already crowding the available spaces, trying to get a glimpse of the artist.
“Listen, Jake, I’m sorry about earlier.” She said before they joined Allison in her dressing room. “I think this whole interview is getting to me.”
“It’s alright. I can’t even begin to imagine how this must be for you. Believe me, I did not want to be in your shoes, right now.”
“I didn’t want to be in them either, my friend. But this torture has a time to be over; I just have to stick it out.”
“If you say so.” Jake looked like he wanted to say something more, but he decided to change the subject a bit. “How’s Lauren dealing with this situation?”
“I have no idea.” Nicole exhaled heavily and pinched the bridge of her nose. “She hasn’t been answering her phone since our fight, last night.”
“You never told me about a fight! What happened?”
“What do you think happened, J? I got home late, she was pissed and I had to tell her that I would be spending the next few days trailing my super famous ex-girlfriend. Oh! And that I would be sleeping in the room next to hers.”
Jake had never seen Nicole react like that. She was usually the mild-mannered and rational one in their friendship. He had witnessed what she considered fights with Lauren before and none of those had this much passion.
“Are you sure this is the best decision, Nic? Spending the next few days in the same hotel as Allison, I mean. Isn’t it too risky?”
“I’m not sure, Jake. But I’ve done this before, for other interviews. And considering her crazy schedule, that’s what makes the most sense. Professionally speaking.”
“Oh, right. Because you can be a hundred percent professional when it comes to Ally Strong.”
“Oh, fuck off, Jake.”
Nicole tried walking away from him, but Jake held her by the arm and pulled her back. It wasn’t usual for him to be serious about things, but he was truly worried about her. It was evident how much this story was affecting Nicole. And she was trying her hardest to deny it.
“Look, Nic, I know you have done this before, with other stories. But none of those were Ally and she frazzles you. That’s as clear as day. I have never seen anyone get you off balance like that before. Not even Lauren.”
“That’s different, Jake.”
“No, it’s not. Did you forget I was there when you two met?” He waited a few seconds for her answer. When it never came, he continued. “She never did this to you, Nic. You and Ally have a lot to deal with about your past, sure. I know you didn’t tell everything that happened and that’s alright. But it’s obvious that there’s a lot of unresolved things between you two and I just don’t want to see you getting hurt.”
Nicole’s eyes were rimmed with tears. It was easy to forget, sometimes, that Jake was capable of seeing what was happening behind her eyes without any words being spoken. She hugged Jake to try and hide her tears. A lot was said in that embrace and before he let her go, Jake kissed her hair.
“Just promise something, Nic?” Her voice was lost beneath the lump in her throat, so she nodded. “If there’s anything you need, anything at all, you’ll call me. I don’t care at what time.”“Thank you, Jake. I really appreciate it.”