Chapter 5 – The Ex-Girlfriend Factor

Nick leaned his head back against the hotel room door once he was inside. He hadn’t even thought about the other guys’ reactions when he’d decided to bring Brittany with him.

“You okay?” Brittany asked him, backing away a little bit and going back to sorting through her suitcase.

“Yeah, fine,” Nick said offhandedly. Not like he could really tell her “Oh, well, the others are really weary that I brought you with me because they think I’m trying to bang you.” He watched her as she sat down on one of the two double beds a little awkwardly.

“So… ready for Cameo?” he asked, running a hand through his hair and glancing at her.

She shrugged. “I guess. I don’t really have club clothing with me.”

Nick shrugged. “That’s fine.”

The two of them shared an uncomfortable silence for a moment, and Nick worried he might have made a mistake in bringing her. He hadn’t the faintest idea how to talk to her, or what he could say. He wasn’t even sure they were really friends – they’d gone out drinking together a couple of times, but that had been right after they were in the studio and they had work stuff to talk about.

Now, sitting with her in Florida getting ready to board a ship that would be filled with his fans and his world, he just felt awkward.

Luckily, there was a knock at the door to save him from making any further conversation. He turned around and rolled his eyes as he looked through the peephole. “Hi, Rochelle,” he said shortly when he opened the door.

Rochelle and Nick had been on the outs for the past few months, ever since Lauren had broken up with him. It caused strain on his friendship with AJ – and made him feel awkward since he was well aware that Rochelle and Lauren were still close and still talked to each other.

Nick knew that Rochelle had the right to do all of that, but it still bothered him that her loyalty wasn’t with him. Especially since she was married to one of his bandmates.

“Hey,” she said. “Uh, can I talk to Brittany for a second?”

Nick eyed her. No, she couldn’t talk to Brittany! He wasn’t even sure why she would want to, unless… Nick followed the trail of information in his head. Brian must have told AJ that Brittany was with him, AJ of course had told Rochelle, and Rochelle probably needed to get the dirt on her so she could report back to Lauren and the two of them could laugh about it.

“What’s going on?” Brittany asked, coming up behind Nick before he had the chance to slam the door in Rochelle’s face.

“Nothing,” Rochelle said sweetly. “I just wanted to talk to you. You know, girl stuff. Since you’re here with this one… I thought you could use a comrade on the cruise. I’m Rochelle, AJ’s wife.”

Brittany looked relieved, but Nick wasn’t buying it.

Still, Rochelle pushed past Nick and let herself into the room. “Are you all set for the theme nights?” she asked.

“Uh…” Brittany said, glancing over at her suitcase. She hadn’t known there were theme nights. She’d only brought what she’d intended to use in Europe. Which had been a bunch of casual clothes and a nicer dress for going out.

That she hadn’t got to use at all, she thought bitterly.

Rochelle looked up at Nick. “You didn’t tell her there were theme nights, did you?”

“I forgot,” Nick said sheepishly.

Rochelle sighed and turned back to Brittany. “Yeah, there’s three theme nights. Carnival, 90’s Night and Red Carpet. You don’t have to dress up for them, but it’s more fun if you do.”

Brittany bit her lip. For the thousandth time that day, she wondered what she was getting herself into. “I think I have something I could wear for a Red Carpet night… and what would you wear to a carnival anyway?” she laughed.

Rochelle sighed. “You want to go shopping? There’s a mall not far from here, and it’s open pretty late.”

“Don’t we have to go to the club?” Brittany asked, glancing over at Nick.

“No, no,” Rochelle said, shaking her head. “You don’t want to go to that. It’ll just be the boys doing a meet and greet. It’s not going to be fun at all. I’m not going. Come on, let’s go shopping instead. You’ll probably be spending a lot of time with us girls anyway this weekend when the boys are off doing their events, so we might as well get to know each other.”

Brittany couldn’t quite argue with that. She hadn’t really thought about what she was going to do when Nick was busy doing work stuff. She figured may as well take the time to go shopping and do something fun. “Okay,” she said, grabbing her purse off the bed. “Let’s go.”

Brittany and Rochelle exited the hotel with ease. Even though there were some fans in the lobby that waved to them, they didn’t bother them much, and for that, Brittany was grateful. She loved her career, and she loved her fans, but for once it was nice to not be the centre of attention.

“So, what’s going on with you and Nick?” Rochelle asked once the two of them began walking down the street to the mall.

Brittany glanced over at her. That had been quite a forward question that she hadn’t expected at all. “Um, nothing,” she said, giving her a look. “I had a boyfriend up until about two days ago.”

“Okay,” Rochelle said, taking a tube of lipstick out of her purse and applying some before speaking again. “Not like that’s ever stopped Nick before,” she laughed.

“Well it stopped me,” Brittany replied with slight annoyance, before realizing what she’d implied. Rochelle didn’t know that Brittany’s annoyance wasn’t directed at her, and that her comment about how she didn’t cheat had nothing to do with Nick at all.

“Oh,” Rochelle said, raising her eyebrows a little. “But now that you don’t…” she trailed off, leaving Brittany to fill in the rest.

But this conversation was weirding her out. She’d hardly thought of Nick as anything more than a friend. Hell, she’d hardly thought of Nick as a friend. He’d been a mentor and a co-worker. But friend? Even that was pushing it. “He’s just a friend,” she said simply, shrugging her shoulders.

“Come on,” Rochelle pressed. “You’ve never thought about him like that?”

“No,” Brittany said honestly. She never, ever had.

Rochelle laughed a little. “Even I’ve thought about him like that.”

“Are you not married to his AJ?” Brittany asked, unable to contain herself. She didn’t like Rochelle’s attitude, and she really didn’t understand it. She hadn’t done anything!

Rochelle rolled her eyes. “Well, yeah, but when you’re part of this group long enough, and you hear about Nick, and how he fucks everything, you can’t help but think about it. He talks about it enough.”

Brittany furrowed her eyebrows. She didn’t know Nick past what he was like in the studio, or the fact that he got a bit louder after he’d had a few drinks in him. But she wasn’t about to let this girl and her attitude get the better of her. “Do you not like Nick or something?”

Rochelle sort of gave Brittany a look. “Well when you find out a guy was cheating on your best friend for a little over a year, it causes you to sort of not like him.”

Brittany, of course, had no idea what Rochelle was talking about.

“Let’s just say, it’s no surprise to anyone that you’re here,” Rochelle continued, glancing at Brittany.

It began to dawn on Brittany that perhaps not everyone in Nick’s camp was cool with her being there. And maybe, it seemed like they thought that she was Nick’s girlfriend – or worse, just someone he was trying to hook up with. Or maybe someone he had been hooking up with… while he was seeing someone else.

Brittany thought for a moment. When she’d started working with Nick, she’d known he’d had a girlfriend. He’d mentioned her a few times while they’d been working on her album. Then she’d gone off, toured, done her own thing. Now that she was back working with him, she hadn’t heard about her at all.

It wasn’t hard to put two and two together.

“I didn’t break up Nick and his girlfriend,” Brittany said shortly.

Rochelle just shrugged. “I didn’t say that you did. Lauren had her suspicions about you two, though.”

“Well she was wrong,” Brittany confirmed. “So, so, wrong. I had a boyfriend, and Nick wouldn’t do that.”

Rochelle looked at the ground and shook her head in disbelief. “Don’t act like you know him. You don’t. Especially if you say something like that.”

“Well I’m not going to stand here and talk shit about him, especially after he was nice enough to bring me here.”

“Nice enough?” Rochelle laughed. “Sorry, but he’s probably just seeing this as an opportunity to get into your pants.”

Brittany refused to believe that. Nick had never tried anything with her before, why start now? Besides the obvious reason, Brittany wondered why Nick would even want to go after her anyway. He was about to get on a boat filled with girls who would be more than willing. There was no reason for him to play little games with her.

“Whatever,” Brittany said sharply. She still didn’t appreciate the attitude she was getting from Rochelle. “Look, I get that you’re pissed that your friend isn’t here anymore because she and Nick broke up, but really, I didn’t do anything. So can we please just go shopping and not talk about him anymore?”

Rochelle sighed. “Yeah, sorry, just all the stuff he did to her really gets on my nerves. Sorry I took it out on you, this is the first cruise she’s not here.”

“It’s fine,” Brittany said, still sounding somewhat irritated. But she really did need to go shopping, and she didn’t want to spend the rest of the cruise feeling awkward around the other girls. “Let’s just go find something that counts as carnival clothing, because really, what does that even mean?”

Rochelle laughed. “I don’t know.”

Brittany breathed a little sigh of relief as they stepped into the outdoor mall. It seemed that for the time being, the crisis had been averted.

***

Significantly later that night, Brittany was sitting in the hotel room, waiting for Nick to come back from the club. She was only half watching TV, but her mind was elsewhere.

First, she thought about her shopping trip with Rochelle. Despite the awkward beginning, the two of them had actually managed to have fun and pick out a few good things for Brittany to wear on the cruise – and not just on the theme nights.

She smiled as she looked over at the shopping bags. A little retail therapy was never a bad thing.

Of course, then her mind drifted to a much more unhappy place. She looked over at her suitcase and instantly she was reminded of Europe, and all she’d left behind there. She wondered if Niall missed her, and if he was miserable without her.

She rolled her eyes a little. Of course he was miserable without her. But, he was also somewhat pathetic, and always had been. He’d never tried to fight for her, he’d just moped around miserably until she came on to him. She was always the one doing the work in their relationship – he never had.

At least, that was how she saw it now, with her skewed perception of him. But she knew him well – he was probably moping around the tour, causing everyone to feel bad for him. She was sure someone would eventually tell him off, and she grinned a little to herself, knowing that someone would probably be Liam.

Then she frowned, knowing she wouldn’t be around to witness it. She wasn’t even sure she’d hear about it – she didn’t know if she could contact Danielle and talk to her still. It didn’t seem right. She wasn’t a part of that group anymore, no matter how strange and foreign that still seemed.

The hotel room door opened, pulling Brittany out of her thoughts. She looked up as Nick strolled into the room, wearing a huge grin on his face. He walked past Brittany and flopped down on the other bed.

“How was Cameo?” she asked, flicking off the TV.

“Cameo?” Nick asked, looking up at her, holding his hand to his chin and appearing to be deep in thought. He was obviously drunk. “Oh right, the name of the club. It was good! How was your shopping trip? Did you actually have fun with Rochelle? I hope she didn’t say anything to you, she’s such a bitch.”

Brittany widened her eyes, and Nick clasped a hand over his mouth, clearly realizing that he’d said too much.

“Oops, sorry,” he laughed, putting his hands over his eyes. He pulled his shirt off, and crawled under the covers. Brittany watched him – she couldn’t help it exactly. She’d never thought of Nick in that way before, but now, sitting here, looking at him, it was difficult not to. He wasn’t overly toned, but he wasn’t fat either.

It was a nice sight, but nothing more than that.

“It’s okay. We had fun,” Brittany said, not bothering to go into the fact that Rochelle actually had said something to her. There would have been no point. Nick was drunk – and she wasn’t sure she wanted to start a bunch of drama right before getting on the boat anyway.

When Nick didn’t respond, she looked at him a little more intently.

He was already asleep, with his arms crossed over his chest and his mouth hanging open slightly.

She shook her head. The entire day had been strange. She reached over and turned off the lamp, crawling under the covers of her own bed.

When she closed her eyes, she couldn’t help but think about how uncomfortable she felt. Here she was, laying in a hotel room with Nick in the bed opposite to her, about to go on a cruise with his group and all of their fans. Not just two days ago, she’d been in Europe, getting ready to spend a few days with Niall celebrating their anniversary.

The change was all a little much for her, and she swallowed quickly, trying to force the lump in her throat back down. Crying wasn’t going to do her any good, and she’d just end up feeling awkward around Nick if he woke up to find her doing so. Not that there was any danger of that; he seemed pretty dead to the world.

She sighed to herself, trying to fall asleep. She somewhat hoped that when she woke up she’d be back in Europe, with Niall, telling him about this crazy dream she’d had where he’d cheated on her, they’d broken up and then she’d flown to Miami on a whim with Nick. They’d laugh about it – because it was something that would never, ever happen.

It seemed so inconceivable that she even reached over and pinched herself. She sighed sadly. It hurt, and this was no dream.

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