I get by with a little help from my friends
Nicole finally decided to let her answering machine pick up every time someone called. It was too hard for her to resist Laurels pleadings. As soon as she heard the familiar voice, she hit delete button and the message was lost forever. Well, that is after she listened to it long enough to memorize it. She could not be that hard hearted after all. In fact it took all her willpower not to pick up the phone and beg the bassist to come home, but the bassist had not wanted to talk to her until she was on her way to New York. Nicole was confused and did not know what to do about it.
"It is for the best." She verbally reminded herself. Almost crumbling with guilt and longing, the photographer picked up the phone and pressed the second button on her speed dial.
"I need help."
"Ill be right there." Sheryl promised.
"Not a problem. Give me ten."
Nicole held the phone to her ear until the off the hook tone started. She was tempted to leave it off the hook, but she could not stand the noise for long. Sighing, she pressed the end button, placed the receiver back on the charger and walked outside. Mozart followed slowly. Even the dog seemed upset with the changes that had been made recently.
For several long moments, the only lights were from the dim streetlight and the passing cars, which were few and far between. It suited the photographer. She was not in the mood for light. Light was equated with joy, and she did not feel joyful in the least. She felt miserable.
Finally Sheryls white car appeared in the driveway. The music was audible from where Nicole was sitting and the lights made her eyes water. She was grateful when her friend cut them off, turned the car off and exited the vehicle.
"Alone in the dark?"
"It seemed easier."
"Its not though is it?" Sheryl took a seat on one of the old wrought iron chairs.
"No. She called again today. She left three messages and I answered the fourth time."
"I asked her not to call again." Nicole felt her throat close. That had been the hardest conversation of her life.
"Are you going to tell me what is going on now?"
"I dont know." It was true; she had no real idea.
"Did Laurel cheat on you?" Nicole shook her head in negation. "Did she hit you?" Again the photographer wordless answered in the negative. "Hurt you in anyway?"
"No, she didnt do any of that." Her voice was quiet.
"Then why did you break up with her?" Sheryl really wanted to understand, the photographer could tell that from her friends tone.
"I guess I was scared. She was offered a recording contract, but turned it down. How could I let her do that?" Nicole fumbled for a way to verbalize her vague reasoning.
"Did you at least ask her whether or not she wanted to turn it down?" The tone was not accusatory and Nicole took heart from it.
"Not really. She said she didnt want to be a rock star. To her, music was just fun. Jenna talked to me at the party and said something else. I didnt know what to believe. I mean what if I held her back from something she really wanted to do? What if she regretted that and then resented me for making her turn it down?" Nicole could not manage to even say the bassists name. Her heart was still too wounded, and she did not wish to add salt to the flavor of her pain.
"Sweetheart, that was Laurels choice to make."
"She made it didnt she? Shes in New York. She even called me from her hotel room. She had Jenna tell me that she did not want to talk to me when I called last night, but oh no, soon as she gets on the plane she decides to call."
"Maybe." Sheryl leaned back and lit a cigarette. "Maybe she left because you didnt give her a choice."
"What?" Nicole was astounded. She had wanted her oldest friend to tell her it had been the right thing to do. She had not expected the critic to take Laurels side. Had she wanted a devils advocate, she would have called Danny.
"Nicole, Ive known you since we were both in footy pajamas and Ive never understood how your mind works. You are upset with yourself for making her leave because you believed it was the right thing to do and now you are upset with Laurel for doing exactly what you told her to do."
"I didnt "
"You didnt want her to do it did you?"
"I dont know what I wanted. She just graduated college. What if she decided I was too boring or that she wanted to go off to graduate school in a different state or something?"
"You know, its not often that I get to play shrink, but I have a good idea as to why you dumped her. And it has very little to do with Laurels thwarted desires for fame and glory."
"So what is it?" Nicole pulled her feet under her and placed her head in her hands. She was starting to develop a massive headache to match the enormous ache in her heart.
"First, lets go inside. Its more comfortable and less populated with insects."
"Ok." Nicole stood as if she were moving in slow motion and followed her friend into the house. They both took seats on the couch.
"You are living like a bat." Sheryl observed. The house was almost completely dark. The only light in the living room was reflected from the streetlight outside.
"Too much light hurts my eyes." Nicole admitted. "I quit the paper."
"I know. Wanna tell me why?"
"Jeff wanted me to do a story on "She paused and leaned back into the couchs embrace.
"He wanted the dirt on Laurel?" Sheryl supplied.
"Yeah. He thought that we should run a story on how the fucked up Kendrick managed to graduate with honors and then got offered the chance to record a CD. He knew we were friends, but he didnt know anything else and he thought I wouldnt mind using my influence to find out the truth about her arrest and all that. I almost wanted to tell him that I knew all of it anyway, but I was not about to print a word of it."
"I thought Laurel only told you part of it?"
"She ended up telling me all of it after I asked. I was almost mad at you for showing me that you know." That had been a year ago. Nicole remembered it vividly. The article had not said much, but it told her more than her lover ever did. It was no wonder that Laurel was not in the closet; she had too many skeletons there.
"Well, I didnt mean to find it. It was in with another story we needed for research." Sheryl explained. "How else would we have gotten the reputation for being Woodward and Bernstein?"
"Well, putting one of the lead attorneys in prison for tax fraud is one way." Nicole almost let herself smile as she remembered the exultation she had felt when she vindicated her old boss. Mary still called her to keep in touch. The settlement the old woman received more than paid for Dougs losses, though she did not reopen the store.
"That it is. So are you going to find another job as a photographer?"
"I dont know. Im using my vacation time as my two weeks even though Im not supposed to. Jeff didnt want to take it the publisher, so he agreed to it. Thats up two weeks from tomorrow. I really dont want to think about it until I have to."
"Ok. Wanna talk about Laurel now?"
"No. I just want the pain to go away." Nicole hid her head in her hands.
"Shh, itll go away, but it takes time." Sheryl wrapped her arms around her friend and pulled her into an embrace. "Just cry and let it all out. Well get through this."
"I promise. You know, youre going to have to talk about it some time."
"I know. I just cant now. It hurts too much."
"So, this is my dorm room." Jessie turned around in the small, cluttered space. "This is the kitchen." She pointed to the refrigerator complete with a small microwave perched carefully on top. "This is the bedroom." Two small twin beds. "The living area." A beanbag covered in dog-eared books. "And the guest bedroom." There was an almost clear space of floor beside her bed.
"Very nicely decorated." Laurel commented as she attempted to take in all the clutter.
"Why thank you. I did it all myself." She grinned. "So, how was the recording session this morning?"
"It was horrible. That stupid prick got rid of Charles and Beth. BJ and I wanted to walk, but were contracted to record at least this first CD."
"That sucks. Wanna beer?"
"You are allowed to have beer here?" Laurel was astounded. She had never heard of a college that let students keep alcohol on the premises.
"Nope, but what they dont know wont hurt me." Jessie opened the small refrigerator and pulled out two beers. "Long as we throw them away shortly after its not a problem."
"Cool." Laurel took the beer and looked for a place to sit. Finding none, she quickly emptied the beanbag of its school-related cover.
"You can sit on Joyces bed. Shes gone for the weekend." Jessie took a seat on her own bed.
"This is fine for now. So how was the party last night?"
"Oh, the same old situations that always arise. Someone got mad at someone else, there was a fight, everyone got drunk and there was puking all over the place."
"Sounds like several parties I barely remember." Laurel laughed in memory. "Too bad I couldnt stay for it."
"Really. They all want to meet you. Ive been playing your demo CD for everyone who will sit still long enough to listen to it. Joyce is a huge fan already and is madder than hell that she had to miss meeting you."
"Really?" Laurel found it highly amusing.
"I tried to get Nicole today." Jessie brought the conversation back to the serious topic they had discussed the evening prior.
"And?" Laurel sighed. She was barely keeping herself from taking the next flight to New Orleans.
"I dont know what short circuited her brain." Jessie finished her beer in one swallow and reached for two more. "She wouldnt answer the phone when I called so I managed to get her online. She was just idly surfing the net trying to think about anything but you."
"Why though? I mean did she say anything else?" The bassist was almost desperate for news. She finished her beer and then opened the other. She could tell it was going to be a short night. She was in the mood to drink until she passed out. "Got anything stronger?"
"Somewhere around here." Defying gravity, Jessie leaned across her bed and searched through the refrigerator until she found what she had been looking for and managed to bring it back with her. "Yep, Jagermeister. Wanna cup?"
"Nah, shots from the bottle will work, unless youre scared youll catch something." Laurel grinned to let her know she was teasing.
"Ive had my cootie shots." Jessie opened the cold, green bottle and took a long drink. "Ugh, the first is always the worst. Now where were we?"
"You were going to answer my questions." Laurel claimed the bottle and took a shot. The thick liquid burned a welcomed trail from her throat to her chest.
"Right. Ok, she didnt say much more. She asked if you were here, and I answered honestly by telling her you were in a recording session. Pity I couldnt see her reaction, but from her tone I inferred that she was not pleased. She just kept saying it was for the best and then plead some excuse and left me alone in a chat room." Jessie reclaimed her bottle. "Yep, second time is the charm."
"Long as you chase it with the beer." Laurel took it back. "So, anything else? I mean she had to say something, let something slip." She knew the photographer well enough to know that Nicole would hint without meaning to do so.
"Well, she no longer works at the paper. I got that from Sheryl." Jessie watched as Laurel choked on a swallow of beer. "Are you ok?"
"Yeah, Im fine. Well, almost. Why isnt she working at the paper?"
"Sheryl didnt go into details, but apparently Nicole quit when her boss asked her to do a story and she refused. From what I got she told him no, and he said either do it or leave. So, she left."
"Incredible." Laurel pulled herself easily to her feet. "Wheres the bathroom around here?"
"Out that door and to your right."
"Thanks, Ill be right back." The bassist set her two empty beer cans in the trashcan beside the door and left the room.
The bathroom was where Jessie said it was. It was cut from the same cloth as all the dorm bathrooms the bassist had ever seen. There was a row of fifteen stalls, ten showers on the other side, and fifteen sinks with mirrors on the wall that kept the rest from sight. Unlike the others, this bathroom was painted pale yellow. Laurel thought it was a horrible choice, but could not complain. It was not her college.
She managed to do what she had to and wash her hands before the effects of two beers and three shots caught up to her. She stumbled a little as she retraced her steps to Jessies room. The younger woman had left the door open, and was still sitting on her bed waiting to resume the conversation.
"Wow, its been a while since I did shots." Laurel did not want to attempt to sit on the beanbag again and opted instead to sit on one of the beds.
"I dont think Ill ever get used to them." Jessie shrugged as she hefted the bottle for another. "But, they do the job faster."
"That is true." Laurel knew that she should stop drinking, but she did not want to listen to herself. "Man this sucks."
"No, this whole situation. I only came up here cause she made me and now Im being punished for that. I dont understand women."
"So, what are you going to do now?" Jessie handed the bassist another beer. "Well, thats one six pack gone."
"We get to wait here while the CD is mixed and finished and all that. Speaking of, here." Laurel reached into her back pocket and pulled out a CD. "BJ and I made these after the session today. We have three more tracks to lie down on the CD, but the studio is closed tomorrow. We get to do that on Friday, and then I dont know what well do."
"Are you going on tour?"
"I guess so, if we go. I have to, really. Which is ok I guess. I mean I really have nothing else to do. I wanted to take a year off and earn money for law school anyway. Guess this is as good an opportunity as any. Id rather go home and work at Mandys store or something than tour, but I cant be back in Hattiesburg without being with Nicole." The alcohol was really starting to hit her.
"What are you going to do about her?"
"I dont know. I tried calling again today, but she didnt answer. She made it clear last night that she doesnt want to talk to me again. Its bullshit, but it is what she wants. I guess I have to respect that, but Im not going to. I love her too much to let go so easily." The alcohol had done nothing to ease the ache in her chest. Laurel set the unfinished beer down and refused to touch it again. She no longer saw the purpose of it. All it did was make her more prone to depression, and she was depressed enough already.
"Then why are you going on tour?"
"I signed a contract. I really need to find a lawyer."
"Want my advice?" Jessie slurred her words a little.
"Go on tour. Shell wake up and want you back. I know my cousin. Ill see what I can do, but set up an email account and Ill keep you posted every time I get updates."
"Ok, but I wont have easy access on the road." Laurel thought about it. The idea made sense at the moment. It was the best and only plan she had.
"Thats the easiest part. Just find the local library and use the public computers."
"I can do that. But what if she decides she was right and never wants to see me again? I dont know if I could handle that." Laurel resolved never to drink again. She had been holding her fears at bay until the combination of a willing ear; a strong liquor and beer thinned the walls around them. Wanting to know the answer, but scared of it, Laurel hid her face in her hands and braced herself for it.
"She wont do that. Shell come to terms with everything and call you home. The question is: Will you still want her?" Jessie moved over, pried her hands away and took the bassists chin in her hands.
"Ill never want anyone else the way that I want her." Laurels tone was full of conviction. "But, what if "
"Then move on if that happens. However, it is not here yet. So, in the meantime, have fun, take a break, make some music and keep up the faith in her." Jessie pulled the bassist into a hug. "Keep up the faith in yourself too. You are a wonderful person, Laurel. And you deserve my cousin as much as she deserves you."
"Thanks, Jessie." It was the second time in three days that someone comforted her. It was a strange experience, but it was holding her soul together. She was not able to piece it back together herself yet.
"Anytime. Listen, its late, and we both need sleep. Why dont you camp out on Joyces bed and just stay here tonight?"
"Id protest, but Im too drunk to argue. Thanks." Laurel did not even remove her shoes. She fell back onto the bed as soon as the younger woman vacated it.
"Good night, Laurel." Jessie yawned.
Nicole pulled into the driveway and faced the house. She had not returned to this address since that day she was required to view her late bosss remains. Jeff had teamed her with Sheryl and sent them both to cover the ex-music storeowners suicide. It had been a baptism by fire of sorts. It also led to an award and a reputation for the photographer. Nothing about Dougs suicide had made sense. She teamed with the critic again, and the two of them managed to uncover a large tax scam. As a result, Dougs attorney was in prison for life. Several families stepped forward to testify. The civil trial resulted in the largest settlement from a private individual in a generation. It was something Nicole was proud of as a human being and a photojournalist.
Marys car was under the carport. Nicole walked slowly to the door. She had not called first. It was her first day of freedom, and something had prompted her to pay a visit to Dougs widow. Maybe it was because she knew they were both lonely. Loneliness can do that. It draws hearts together to form friendships when least expected. She wondered if this was one of those times.
"Nicole?" Mary straightened up from where she had been kneeling by the little flower garden.
"Yes, maam." The photographer walked over to where her late bosss wife stood. "Sorry to bother you, I just had some free time and thought Id see if you needed anything."
"That is awfully nice of you, honey, but I have everything I need. The church ladies see to that. Theyve been a really big help."
"These look beautiful." Nicole changed the subject. She pointed to the pansies surrounding one of the smaller rose bushes.
"Thank you. Ive always loved the purple of those. Doug preferred tulips, but I can never get those to grow here well." Mary pointed to a small clearing in the dirt. It had a marker labeled tulips, but none were visible.
"Well, you definitely do better than I do. I cant keep any plant alive." Nicole smiled ruefully. "I actually killed a cactus once. It was for a school project, boy did I do badly on that one."
"Let me tell you a little secret." Mary dusted off her hands. "Wait a minute, you want something to drink? Ice tea?"
"Sure." She shrugged. She had no plans for the day.
"Well, come on, its a hot day, I have a porch, lets be stereotypical, ok?" Mary laughed. Nicole knew that even though she was originally from Indiana, Mary loved all things Southern.
"Sounds good to me." Nicole followed the older woman to the porch.
"Hang on a moment. I just brewed some sun tea. Let me get a couple of glasses of ice ok?"
"Ok." Nicole took a seat on the porch steps. It was a nice day. The sky was clear and it was almost cool compared to last summer.
"Ok, here we go." Mary hefted the gallon jar and poured fresh brewed tea into both glasses. Nicole watched the ice melt as the liquid touched it. It always fascinated her.
"Thank you." Nicole took the glass and held it up into the sunlight. It was dark, which meant it was strong. She liked it that way.
"So what really brings you here today?"
"I was just driving around and thought Id stop by and say hello."
"Well, it was nice of you. Hows the paper treating you?" Mary took a seat on an old wooden chair.
"I quit." Nicole turned to face her. She placed her back against the railing and stretched her legs out. "Jeff and I had a disagreement over ethics."
"Ethics are vague things you know. Not everyone has them." The older woman swished the ice around in her glass to make it melt faster.
"So what was this secret you wanted to tell me about plants?" Nicole changed the subject.
"As with anything else, plants need care or they wont grow. They need sunlight, water and love. Its kinda like a relationship, and thats what you have to do, build a relationship with your plants." Mary took a sip of her tea. "Now this is nice."
"Yeah it is." Nicole agreed. "You know, I do water plants and keep them in the sun, but they still die."
"That happens sometimes. Maybe youre not watering them enough or too much. It could also be that they have too much sunlight. Do you talk to them?"
"Talk to them?" It seemed a bit absurd.
"Yeah, you have to talk to them too. Water and sunlight isnt enough. You have to talk to them, let them know you care and that you want them to live."
"You talk to your plants?" She doubted Marys sincerity and sanity.
"Yes I talk to my plants. Its not a sign of insanity, you know. A lot of people do it, and it does help the plants grow."
"Would I do it otherwise?"
"Um No?" It was one of those moments where the world seemed to shift planes. She felt for an instant that the conversation was filled with double meanings. Then again, every love song she heard lately seemed to fit her life. It was simply an after effect of a break up.
"No, I wouldnt if it didnt work. Do you talk to your dog?" Mary set her glass down and looked at her.
"Thats different. Mozart is a thinking entity. He understands something of what I say and he talks back. In his own way of course, but he does talk." She felt the need to clarify.
"Plants have their own intelligence. Its just a bit different than ours. Understand that, and youll understand people a bit better too."
"Ok." She was still not certain about Marys sanity, but deep down, she knew the older woman had wisdom.
"Thats what I like about you, Nicole. At least you think about things outside your little realm of comfort." She looked at her watch. "Oh dang it, I hate to do this, but Im going shopping with a few of the ladies this afternoon. I better get cleaned up or Im going to be late."
"Thats ok, I need to run some errands anyway." Nicole stood. "Ill see ya around, Mary. If you need anything, give me a call."
"I was about to say the same to you. Be careful, Nicole. Ill see you later." Mary took both glasses and disappeared inside. She did seem to be in a hurry.
"Now what?" The photographer asked herself. She was not accustomed to freedom. "Books and coffee." It seemed a decent plan. There was a new photography book at the store she wanted. Coffee goes well with literature.
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