I was a nervous wreck by the time we landed in Chicago the next morning. Unlike the first flight, there was no goofing off for the camera. We boarded the plane at two a.m., everyone groggy and, if I may say, a little grumpy. Unable to sleep, I worked on the footage from the previous day as everyone around me nodded off to sleep. Nick struggled to stay awake. He didn’t talk but he seemed to want to provide a presence while I worked. Even so, around three o’clock in the morning, his head fell heavily on my shoulder and I was alone with my thoughts.
We arrived in Chicago around five thirty in the morning. Everyone was moving on automatic; bags were pulled off and everyone lumbered to the van that would take us to the House of Blues Hotel in Chicago.
If it wasn’t for what waited for me later in the day, I would have been excited about the hotel. My mom and I had seen Nick perform at the House of Blues seven years ago and we stayed in the hotel. It was the coolest room I had ever stayed in. Who would have known that seven years later I’d be working for my idols? Everyone shuffled into the lobby a little before seven. Everyone was anxious to check in and grab a few more hours of sleep. I saw Andrea sitting on her suitcase, nodding off, as the clerk tried to activate everyone’s key cards as quickly as possible. I grabbed the one for our room, and nudging Andrea I motioned towards the elevator.
We rode in silence; she seemed to be half in a coma. It was only halfway through the tour and lack of sleep was starting to catch up with everyone. We walked into our room, an amazing mix match of polka dots and stripes and luxurious gold lame pillows. The whole room smelled like chocolate; it was heavenly distracting.
“Ugh,” Andrea said. I looked at her to see her fall face first into bed. We could have been in a rat infested motel for all she cared. The bed seemed to swallow her up for a moment before she reappeared, clutching a pillow to her.
“Good night,” she said contentedly. “I don’t care if I ever wake up.”
I walked into the bathroom, leaving Andrea to fall asleep in peace. I really wanted a bath, but not chancing my luck, I took a quick shower. I spent a long time choosing my outfit for the day and playing with my hair. After about two hours, I realized that no matter how nice my hair looked, the day wasn’t going to be good. I felt like I had a scarlet letter on my chest.
I left the room with my laptop and found a quiet corner in the hotel café. I sat picking at a bowl of fresh fruit, trying to drown myself in work. Around eleven, I leaned back in my chair and stretched. My eyes were killing me.
“There you are.”
I looked up and saw Nick. He had on a huge pair of sunglasses, a hooded sweatshirt that cover his hair, and baggy sweatpants that looked like they could fit two of him. He looked like a bank thief.
“Going incognito?” I asked. He nodded, sitting down. He unwrapped a BLT sandwich and took a big bite.
“Have you been here all morning?” he said, gesturing to the table.
“Couldn’t sleep,” I said. “I got dressed and got to work.”
“I like that dress.”
I smoothed a wrinkle out of the red and white sundress. “Thanks,” I said. I bit my lip. It was the first time I had ever had trouble talking to him. He reached over and took my hand.
“Hey,” he said softly. I looked up. “I’m staying out of it today, but I’m here if you need me.”
I nodded. He sat finishing off the rest of his sandwich as I powered off the laptop.
"What time’s sound check?” I asked.
We stood in tandem, heading back into the lobby.
“What’s with the clothes?” I said, gesturing to his overly sloppy attire.
“AJ already got spotted by a fan this morning,” Nick explained. “He’s sporting a shiner.”
I stopped, looking at him. “Are you kidding me?”
Nick smiled. “Nope. His eye is a lovely shade of purple. Midwest girls are crazy.”
I rolled my eyes and gave him a push. “Hey I’m from Wisconsin. That’s an insult.”
“Well, then,” Nick laughed. “Can I say I’m crazy for a Midwest girl?”
“That’s better,” I said.
During our few seconds of banter, the lobby had begun to fill with people checking out for the day. For some reason, my eyes spanned the room, watching as businessmen checked their watches impatiently and couples looked sadly around at the love nest they were leaving.
My mind was so preoccupied that at first I just smiled as I saw a couple kissing, their luggage at their feet, trying to prolong their checkout. I moved past them to a group of girls wearing Backstreet shirts, obviously enjoying the day before the concert and on sharp lookout for a Boy or two. Then with a gasp, I looked back at the couple.
“Nick,” I hissed.
I grabbed the sleeve of his sweatshirt and dragged him over to a tall potted plant. I crouched down. He remained standing, looking around.
He crouched next to me, peeking out between the leaves.
“What?” he repeated for the third time.
I peered out between the foliage, my jaw agape. I studied the couple, still embracing tightly; they were in a hell of a sloppy liplock.
“I don’t believe it,” I murmured. Nick followed my gaze.
“They look like two fish,” Nick said. “That’s disgusting. We have much better form. That guy has no technique.”
“That guy,” I said, my heart racing as I zoomed in and took a picture with my IPhone. “is Hunter. My husband.”
Nick looked at me. “Are you sure?”
I laughed scornfully. “I could spot him in my sleep. The red hair is a dead giveaway. And besides,” I paused. “the girl he’s kissing is my best, no, ex-best friend, Jess.”
We watched as they finally broke apart. Hunter turned to grab their luggage and there was no mistaking it was him. My hands clenched into fists.
“Motherfucker. I’m going over there,” Nick said, standing up. I yanked him back down.
“You’re staying out of it, remember?” I said.
“I’m going to handle this.”
We stayed crouched down behind the planter as Hunter checked them out at the desk. Jess leaned against the counter, playing with her hair. With a smile only those who are intimate could share, they headed out of the hotel, holding hands.
“I don’t believe it,” I said. I turned and sat down, my back supported by the planter. Nick did the same. “I mean I guess I can,” I said, thinking about all of the “long” hours of work. “But, not with her. I guess I deserve this”
“How do you deserve this?” he asked. “The guy’s a cheater.”
“Aren’t I?” I said. The swelling of my lips had gone down, but the memory still lingered vividly.
“They just left the hotel with luggage. That means they spent the night together.” Nick explained. “And somehow I don’t think they just kissed. Unlike us.”
I laughed. I felt like an absolute idiot.
“Isn’t cheating, cheating?” I said.
“When I get my hands on him,” Nick said, ignoring the question. I shook my head.
“You’ve got to let me handle this,” I said. I felt a weight lifted off my chest. “At least now, this isn’t going to be so hard. Not now that I know…” I trailed off.
Nick stood and gently pulled me to my feet. I took out my phone again.
“Who are you calling?” he asked. I held up a finger and punched in the speed dial for Hunter. The phone rang, on the second ring it connected.
“Hey babe,” I said. The word tasted like sandpaper in my mouth. “Are you on the road yet?”
“I’m actually just leaving home. I’m filling up for gas as we speak.”
My eyes narrowed; my jaw clenched. Taking a deep
breath, I tried to keep my voice light.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Jess is coming today. She called me for a ticket a few days ago. Is she riding up with you?” I asked sweetly.
“What?” I heard a muffled noise in the background, then silence. “I haven’t spoken to her, so she must be driving herself.” he said. “I can‘t wait to see you.”
I almost snorted, but refrained. “I can’t wait to see you, either.” I said. Nick looked at me skeptically, but the truth was I couldn’t wait to see him. I wanted, no needed, to know how long this had been going on. I just hoped that after I learned the whole truth I could get through it without anyone getting arrested or hospitalized
I guess Midwest girls are a little crazy.