Chapter 27 – The Comfort Zone

If there was one place in the world Brittany hated, it was New York City.

Of course being a celebrity, she found herself there quite a lot. It was usually okay when she was on tour – she was always around a lot of people and had too much on the go to worry about being in the city. Other times, like when she was doing promotional work, Nick opted to go with her.

This was one of the first times she was going to be there by herself. It bothered her, but she was convinced it was going to be okay. It was only for two days – and both of those days she had things to do. She had a rehearsal for the concert that afternoon, and the following evening was her performance.

Even though she had the evening to herself, she was she she’d be far too busy to concentrate on the fact that she was alone in New York so close to Christmas. She couldn’t help but feel annoyed with Nick for leaving her in such a situation, but she figured it had to have been important. He’d said as much anyway.

She checked into her usual hotel in New York and promptly went up to her room to drop off her luggage. She glanced around the room before getting changed. She glanced at the clock and decided she had just enough time to stop for a coffee before heading down for the afternoon rehearsal.

After a quick look in the mirror to make sure her make-up was okay, she grabbed her purse and headed out the door.

There was a small coffee shop in the lobby of the hotel, which was one of the things she’d always liked about that particular place. It meant she didn’t have to go through the trouble of finding a Starbucks – her caffeine fix was always right there.

She walked into the small kiosk and looked up at the menu as she waited in the line. Whatever the people in front of her were ordering must have been complicated. Brittany felt like she was standing there forever and she was beginning to get impatient.

That is until she felt a tap on her shoulder.

She spun around quickly, not having time to mentally go through the list of people she didn’t want to run into who she knew in New York. It was mostly family members, but the person standing before her definitely didn’t fit into that category.

Which was awkward, because at one point in her life he certainly had.

“Hey,” she said, trying to keep her cool in front of Niall. She wasn’t even sure why his presence bothered her or startled her any. The last time they’d seen each other they’d left things nicely enough. She just had no idea what he was doing in New York. “Kind of a weird place for you to be so close to Christmas,” she said lightly.

“Yeah,” he shrugged. “I’m here visiting my cousins.”

Brittany just nodded. She didn’t really know what to say to him, and she wished the line would get moving so she could also get moving. Although she had to admit, it was nice to have someone to talk to for however a brief moment.

“What’re you doing here?” he asked her, cocking his head to the side a little. Obviously he knew about the concert, but he saw no other way to make any sort of conversation with her.

“I’m performing in that Radio City thing tomorrow night,” she said as the line moved a little.

“Oh yeah, right,” he said, playing it off as though he hadn’t seen all of the advertisements littering the city. “That’s cool.”

She just nodded, glancing around. “So this is still your regular hotel?” she asked, smirking a little.

“Yeah,” he said. “I like it, there’s the coffee here and it’s close to everything.”

“You just like the restaurant in here,” Brittany said with a slight laugh, giving him a knowing look. There were a few times she’d stayed in that hotel with him – particularly the first time they’d gone to New York together that he’d insisted on eating there.

He shrugged a little and grinned at her. “You can’t deny that it’s a good restaurant.”

No, she couldn’t. “Yeah, it is.”

“If you’re not busy later we could eat there,” he said casually, putting his hands in his pockets. He hadn’t even intended to ask – even though Danielle had instructed him to do so. It just seemed like the thing to do, given that they were talking about it and all.

“Uh,” Brittany said just as she walked up to the till. She glanced at Niall quickly and ordered her coffee, all the while mulling it over in her head. She didn’t really want to spend time in her room alone, and she figured it’d be nice to have dinner with him, if nothing else.

She looked back over at Niall once she was done ordering her drink and softened a little. It was easy enough to talk to him while she was standing there in line, but she wasn’t sure what she’d say to him for a couple of hours over dinner.

But she really did want to keep talking to him. His presence alone was already beginning to make her feel more comfortable in this city that she despised so much.

“Sure,” she said with a nod, smiling slightly. “That’d be nice.” She picked up her coffee off the counter and looked up at him. “I’ve got to go over to my rehearsal now, but can I text you when I’m back?”

“Yeah, sure,” he said, pulling out his phone. “You probably don’t have my new number, I’ll give it to you.”

The two of them walked off to the side of the store and Brittany set her drink down as they exchanged their numbers. She couldn’t help but laugh a little to herself, thinking how awkward this all should have been and yet it wasn’t really awkward at all.

“I’ll see you later,” she said, putting her phone back into her purse and picking up her coffee.

“Yeah, see you.”

She exited the hotel and walked down the street with a smile on her face. It was strange to think that she actually had something to look forward to that evening, but she couldn’t deny that at the very least it was helping to take her mind off of things.

***

“I just need to take my mind off of it,” Nick said as he and Kevin walked down the streets of LA, looking for somewhere to eat breakfast.

“Nick, come on,” Kevin said, giving his friend a look. “If you don’t talk about it, it’ll just eat at you. I know how you are.”

“What’s there to talk about, Kev?” Nick asked with annoyance. He took a deep breath and rubbed his eyes with his thumb and forefinger. It was rare that he was awake this early, but so close to Christmas it was the only time he’d been able to get in for a doctor’s appointment. “My heart’s fucked up. It’s always been fucked up. There’s nothing we can do about it.”

“Nick,” Kevin said slowly. “I’m sorry that you’re having such a hard time -”

“Don’t,” Nick said sharply. “Just don’t. It’s not you who has all these problems and chest pains all the time. It’s not you who brought this on himself by doing too much fucking cocaine. So don’t try to act all fatherly and shit when you have no idea what it’s like.”

“Sorry,” Kevin said sincerely, knowing to back off when Nick just needed to blow off steam.

“It’s just bullshit,” Nick said, shaking his head and looking at the ground. He’d given up on finding somewhere to eat and had just kept walking. “I’m not that guy any more. I’m not a fuck up and this is still happening. Like I’m going to be paying for it forever.”

Kevin just shrugged. “It isn’t a punishment, Nick.”

Nick scoffed. “Sure feels like it.”

“It isn’t. The past is in the past, but it makes us who we are. If you hadn’t experienced those things, you wouldn’t be the man you are today.”

Nick raised his eyebrow as he looked over at Kevin. He hated how even though he had told Kevin he didn’t want to talk about it, Kevin had managed to get him to spill his guts anyway. As Kevin usually had a way of doing just by his presence. “I guess,” he muttered. “I just don’t want to deal with these health problems and shit any more.”

“It’s not a big deal, Nick,” Kevin stressed. “You’re going to be fine. You already knew you had a weakened heart, you just need to work a bit harder to stay healthy.”

“Yeah,” Nick said shaking his head. “Great, right before Christmas when I’m going to eat a bunch of pizza and Chinese food.”

“So maybe you don’t do that this year,” Kevin suggested, as though it was completely obvious.

“It’s our tradition.”

Kevin sighed. “Is it? Or is it just tradition that you guys spend Christmas at your place in Malibu? I’m sure if you just tell Brittany -”

“I’m not going to tell Brittany,” Nick cut Kevin off. He sharply turned into a restaurant, deciding that he really could go for something to eat. Even if it was just a fruit salad or something that was deemed healthy.

“What?” Kevin asked, following him into the restaurant. The two of them sat down at a table near the window and glanced at each other. Nick fiddled a little with the menu as Kevin eyed him. “Why not? I thought you guys were close?”

“We are,” Nick stressed. “But I’m not going to tell her. I don’t want to stress her out, our Christmases are usually fun and I’m not going to ruin it by telling her I’m having fucking heart problems again,” he said, passing the menu over to Kevin. “It’s not like she’d care anyway,” he muttered.

Kevin gave him a look. Nick had a tendency to fall into a spiral of self-loathing when he got news he didn’t like, and he projected it onto everyone and everything else except for the matter at hand. “I’m sure that’s not true.”

Nick shrugged. He knew that Kevin was probably right, but he didn’t feel like admitting it. Instead, he wanted to wallow in self-pity and drink black coffee and eat pancakes that were probably really bad for his health. “Whatever,” he said dismissively. “Can we just order?”

Kevin looked at Nick sympathetically. “Whatever you want, little man.”

“I’m not little,” Nick said defensively, but a slight smile appeared on his face.

It took all Kevin had to not reach over and ruffle Nick’s short blonde hair. “You might not be little, but you’ll always be the baby,” he teased him.

Nick rolled his eyes, but he had to admit that the banter made him feel a little better. If nothing else, spending time with his old bandmates always served to cheer him up.

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