"Cant these people give you a full cup of coffee?" Laurel grumbled. The trucks had needed to refuel, so the entire caravan pulled over at the nearest truck stop. Everyone who had not been sleeping had gotten out of the buses and headed into the welcoming light of the little café. Miles from nowhere, the bassist reminded herself. She had no idea what state she was in at the moment.
"Maybe they dont think youre old enough for a full cup." Jenna teased.
"Easy girl." BJ laid a restraining hand on the bassists shoulder. "Its just in case you want to put cream in there, you know that."
"I dont use cream." Laurel mumbled. "Only wimps use cream in their coffee." She grimaced at her old joke. Like most of her life lately, she no longer found the humor in it. In truth, she longed for Mabels and the conversations she used to have there. At least the coffee had been drinkable and the company had been outstanding. However she was miles away from Hattiesburg and the person she wanted to have coffee and conversation with did not return her calls. The bassist had finally given up trying to regain contact with Nicole six weeks ago. It had been a long month and a half.
"They dont know that do they?" Steves voice brought her back to the present.
"Know what?" The present was more confusing than the past.
"That you dont use cream." He gently reminded her of the topic of their conversation. He was also unhappy about the changes Harold had implemented in the band. They all missed Charles and Beth. Nothing had seemed the same with out the other two "extraneous" members of blue gecko.
"Its just a truck stop. Did you honestly expect Starbucks?" Jenna was the only one content with the state of the band, but she was losing patience with the others.
"So, where are we playing tomorrow, err tonight?" BJ corrected himself as he glanced at his watch. He was attempting to diffuse the situation. Laurels temper had been increasingly on edge and he was genuinely concerned that his friend would kill Jenna. He once told her that he had no trouble imagining a spoon the bassist used to add sugar to her coffee imbedded in Jennas right eye.
"Outside Tulsa, I think." Jenna checked the schedule. She was the only one that kept a copy with her at all times.
"You are correct." Harold walked over to their table, pulled a chair from another and joined them. "Wheres the mutt?"
"Shes under my seat asleep." Laurel was fighting the urge to sic Muggster on the manager. Even though they had come to an understanding of sorts, she was still in a foul temper. She was irrationally mad at the world and everyone in it.
"Ok, Im sure that violates some law around here." Jenna had not noticed the bassist sneaking the small dog into the café under her jacket.
"Im blind, shes here to help me see." The sarcasm was audible.
"Enough of that, I have some good news." Harold regained their attention. "As of tomorrow morning, err well, later today, blue gecko has the number three single in the county. Goddess of Desire has skyrocketed enough that weve decided to do two things. The first is that were leaving this tour next week and joining the Fall Fun Fest the label is pushing. The second is that were releasing Come to me as a single on Tuesday. Congratulations."
"Wow." All of them were speechless.
"Guess you write awesome songs, Lakky." BJ gave her a stiff one-arm hug.
"And Steve sings them well." Jenna butted in to the conversation.
She had to reiterate her point. Laurel almost made BJs nightmares come true. The song was originally written for a female voice, in fact, the bassist had sung it herself, but the label thought it carried too much of a "lesbian overtone". Steve had to stretch to sing it, but even Laurel had to admit that he sounded decent. Of course, she and BJ commandeered the studio before they left New York and recorded an acoustic version of that song and a few others. Twenty CDs existed of it and they had split them down the center. One each had been sent to Mandy, Sam, Nicole and Jessie. Laurel doubted the photographer had even opened the envelope much less listened to the song.
"So, were releasing Come to me?" The drummer asked. "Were a hard rock group, why are we releasing ballads?"
"Its whats called for at the moment." Harold waved aside the question. "As it is, anyone who has been to a concert or has bought the CD knows that. The ballads just give us a wider target audience."
"Yeah, were catering to a bunch of candy-assed fourteen year olds." Laurel was still disgusted and if possible growing more so.
"Anyway, heres the new schedule." As always, he ignored the bassists complaints as he handed out the copies. "Ill meet you back on the bus." His job done, he left them with their coffee.
"Wow, Merry Christmas to us." BJ was happy. "Were going home for the holidays."
"Where do you see that?" Laurel looked over his shoulder to the part of the sheet he was pointing to. "Two days in New Orleans right before Christmas. Cool."
"Oh, were also going to Biloxi the day before we go to New Orleans." Steve pointed out the other dates. "Looks like were doing the North and then the South in time to avoid snow."
"Well, least we wont completely freeze." Laurel was not really paying attention anymore. She was lost in the formation of a plan. For the first time in weeks, her face was graced with a real smile. "Are we ready to head back to the bus?" She finished her coffee.
"Yeah I guess." BJ answered while the others shrugged.
"Then lets move." She pulled Muggster from underneath her seat. The dog was still asleep, wrapped in the bassists jacket.
It was not long before they were on the road again. Harold promised that they had a vacation time scheduled soon, but Laurel did not know if the new tour would allow for it. The news of a larger tour was a little daunting. She would miss a few of the people in the other bands, Larry in particular. He was genuinely a nice guy, and she enjoyed talking to him. He was full of advice on how to handle the tour and the stresses it caused.
Stress was inevitable. Sleep was scant. The noise of the crowd and the resounding echoes of the music caused thoughts to disappear until the mind cleared. Fans were polite or abusive. There did not seem to be any who fell in between the extremes. It was sad. Those were the ones Laurel would like to meet. As it was, she was running out of things to write when people asked for her autograph or when the band was required to do publicity appearances. It would only get worse with a larger tour. She knew that as well as she knew her own name.
Slowly, and without really realizing it, Laurel had begun taking over the band. Jenna of course did not bow easily to someone elses directions. To avoid fights, Laurel called for a vote with most issues. BJ and Steve generally backed whatever position she took. They seemed to trust her judgment more than they did Jennas. After the first few concerts, Laurel called a meeting. They set guidelines for behavior during it. No member of the band was allowed to give interviews without informing the rest of them, or without the rest of them present. They were also to curtail their spending. Jenna enjoyed room service and other amenities on the road. They soon vetoed that. Now the band had most of their meals together. If one were to eat well, they were all going to eat well.
The real problems on the road were evident at night. When they were not driving to the next destination, they stayed in hotels that were just a mere step above roach motels. Though BJ was a great roommate, the nights were still lonely. Laurel was not fond of people invading her personal space, but she missed her human pillow. Muggster liked to cuddle, but only on her own terms. The puppy enjoyed sleeping across her ankles. It was not the same.
The schedule required about five hours of her time a day. Laurel was glad she discovered jogging. It at least took up another hour or so. The rest of the time was spent trying to sleep, trying to write songs, finding decent meals, surfing the Internet, reading, or thinking. She did a lot of thinking, especially at night as she was trying to sleep.
The time allowed her to reexamine every inch of her life. She was not pleased with most of her memories. The distance physically, mentally and emotionally allowed her to see things she had not seen before. It was a painful realization, but she had become conscious her relationship with Nicole would not have lasted anyway. The record contract had nothing to do with their break up; it just caused it to happen sooner. As much as she loved the photographer, she learned love did not really conquer all. She had as many holes in her soul as Nicole did, if not more. Those needed to be healed before she could return to claim her lover or her life.
Laurel lived in the present. She was not fond of revisiting the past. She had too many skeletons in her closet to spend much time redecorating it. She now suffered from nightmares. Her songs were cheerfully depressing. She was losing weight more than the rest of the band members were. Her appetite, while never massive, was suffering. Fortunately, she was able to resist the temptation to return to old habits. She did not like the person she used to be, but she no longer knew who she was outside of the band. She could feel herself slipping sometimes, but she was able to stop the decent so far. She was scared of losing her grip completely. It was that fear that kept her clean, though not always sober.
She watched the lights reflect from the cars passing them. For a brief moment, she wanted to be in one. It would be nice to return to a more normal life, but she had a responsibility to the band. She could not leave without a replacement. The question she faced was who could replace her? She wrote most of their songs, lyrics and music. She had a vague plan in mind though. The new tour would take them home. She liked that idea. It generated another that was percolating in the back of her mind. Perhaps she knew a way out of this life. With luck, it would be before she was able to inflict too much damage on herself. She did not want to revert; she wanted to move forward.
With a plan forming she finally felt as if she could sleep. They would roll into the new town early that morning. She would only get a few hours, but it was more than the previous nights sleep. At this point, any amount was helpful.
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Nicole gently took the placid hand in hers. It was disconcerting to see such a vibrant woman brought down by such a vicious disease. Cancer did not discriminate, and Adia had finally met her match.
"Yes, maam, Im here." Nicole reassured her. Despite the problems they had faced and the turmoil her life was in at the moment, this was still her grandmother. It was still the woman who had raised her.
"Can you get me a glass of water?" She knew Adia hated relying on others for assistance, but was finally coming to terms with her illness.
Nicole poured the water and helped the older woman drink it. The aged hands did not have enough strength in them to hold the plastic cup without spilling half the contents. Nicole helped her grandmother drain half the glass before setting it back on the tray.
"Thank you, honey." Adia leaned back into the pillows surrounding her.
"Do you want me to get the doctor, Phil or Uncle Denney?"
"No, Ill be fine. I need to tell you something Nicole." The old woman took a deep breath and then coughed. Nicole quickly pulled her grandmother into a sitting position until the coughing fit subsided.
"You need to rest, grandmother."
"No, I need to apologize. Nicole, I am sorry for everything. All that has happened has been my fault."
"No it wasnt." Nicole protested.
"Yes it was. Margie, the death of your father, it was all my fault." The older woman grasped Nicoles hand and held on as tight as she could. "When I was engaged to your grandfather, I met a Greek sailor. I fell madly in love, but it was no use. He wasnt in port for long, and I had already been promised to your grandfather. My father was anxious for the match. The Herberts were old plantation, and my papa thought it would be advantageous to unite our families."
"So, you fell in love." Nicole said softly. "Theres nothing wrong with that."
"No, there is nothing wrong with love, as long as you dont do anything about it." The older woman protested. "After we were married, and Denney and Julian had been born, your grandfather went out of town for three weeks on business. Everything would have been fine, but the Greek ship returned."
"Grandma, you dont have to tell me this." Nicole knew this conversation would reveal things she did not want to know.
"Yes I do. You see I was still in love with Nicholas. He was tall, dark and had the most wonderful blue eyes. His hands were long and graceful, and he played the violin so beautifully that youd have cried to have heard it." She paused to let the revelation sink into Nicoles mind. At least now Nicole had an idea about the former owner of the violin she found in the attic.
"Oh my god." Nicole whispered. She looked down at her own hands and then into the mirror. She understood then why her cousins had always picked on her and her siblings. The Herbert children looked of French Cajun descent. Margie, Nicole and Michael had always looked more Mediterranean.
"I never meant to be unfaithful to your grandfather, but when Nick was born late, his conception was never questioned. My grandfather had been dark, so no one questioned the dark hair and blue eyes your father inherited. It was a sin, and it has been redeemed. When your parents were killed, I thought it was Gods retribution for my unfaithfulness, and when Margot became involved in drugs I knew it to be true."
"Grandmother, that is not true. Accidents happen, we have no control over them." Nicole was astounded by the story her grandmother related. She almost felt as if the breath had been knocked from her lungs.
"You inherited his skill with the violin." Adia continued oblivious to Nicoles interruption. "I always dreamed of seeing you on stage as a great violinist. I was disappointed when you chose the camera, but you are just as talented with that. I am proud of you Nicolette, and I want you to remember that. Forgive an old woman her sins. I tried to do what I thought was best and to protect you. I wanted to do the same for Michael, but your grandfather let them take him from us." She wiped tears from her eyes. "I have lived a full life, your grandfather loved me and in time I grew to love him, but listen to me, Nicolette, grab your chance. I should have, and that is one regret I will be glad to lay down when I pass. I dont want you to have that same regret. If you love her, go to her."
"Grandmother, I." Nicole was at a loss for words. She wiped the tears from her own cheeks. "I think it may be too late for that." She did not even know where Laurel was.
"It is never too late, Nicolette. Trust me, if you want her go get her." The older woman yawned. "I hate this medication. It makes me sleepy."
"Do you want me to wait outside?"
"No, stay here and talk to me. Weve never really talked. I regret that too. Now, where is that blonde bombshell of yours?"
"I dont know where she is." Nicole could not help it. She smiled at her grandmothers description.
"Dont let that stop you." The old woman advised. "I know the two of you broke up. Why?"
"Ive come to understand that we were doomed, pretty much." She answered. "Ive given it a lot of thought. Not that Ive had much else to do, really. I only work occasionally, Melba takes care of the house, and the other relatives just do what ever I advise."
"I cant believe your relationship was doomed." Adia seemed to ignore the rest of her granddaughters statement, except the last part was met with a small smile. Nicole did not know the reason for it, but she was not going to ask. "Obviously you loved her or you never would have walked out."
"Love can move mountains, grandmother, but it cant repair damage we refused to talk about." Nicole felt wise beyond her years.
"You know, for one so young, you have wisdom. Youre actually excelling past our expectations for you." Adia smiled gently. "Your grandfather and I had high hopes for you. It does not look as if we hoped high enough."
"Grandmother." Nicole blushed at the praise. She was not accustomed to receiving it from her grandmother.
"It is true, Nicolette, but that does not explain the doomed relationship."
"No, I guess it doesnt. Its a case of if I knew then." She thought about how to answer her grandmothers questions. "Weve both had bad relationships, and we never really talked about any of it. I think had our schedules not conflicted so much, we wouldnt have made it as long as we did. Thats not to say that I dont still love her. I do, very much in fact. So much that it hurts sometimes. I know Ill never love anyone else that way."
"Ah, youre more like me than you want to admit." Adia struggled to sit up higher. Nicole helped. "Im going to tell you something else Ive never told anyone. If I were given the chance to do it all again, I think I would have run off with my sailor when I had the opportunity. As it is, all I have of him are memories, a wonderful grandchild, and an old violin."
"So that was his violin I found in the attic." She was glad to have that mystery solved. "I couldnt think of anyone else in the family that ever played one."
"Youre the only one, Nicolette. Im glad you found it. I have been meaning to give it to you for years, but I never wanted to venture up there and find it."
"I dont think anyone wants to go up there but me." Nicole smiled. "Theres dust and junk everywhere."
"Well, keep the violin. He would want you to have it." Adias resolve to stay awake seemed to be fleeing. "Now I think I need my rest. Go home and get some too."
"Yes maam. Ill be back tomorrow and well see if I cant get you out of here, ok?" Nicole rose from her seat on the old womans bed. "Have a good rest."
"Ill try. See you tomorrow." She was asleep before Nicole closed the door.
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"Hey, you available for a quick chat?" Harold stood at the open door.
"Sure. Wasnt doing much but reading." Laurel set her book down on the bed. "Muggster, get down." She commanded as the little dog performed what was fast becoming known as the scratch my butt dance in front of Harold.
"Shes alright." The manager easily ended the puppys plea for attention by scooping her up in his arms. The two of them sat down on the empty bed. "Wheres BJ?"
"He got bored and decided to go for a swim." This was the first hotel they had stayed in that boasted a pool. "Its not often you come to my room to talk to me. Whats up?"
"You know, I like most of the songs youve written lately, but I must confess I have a problem with one or two of them."
"Oh, and what would those be?"
"Well, they seem a little dark. The music is loud and hard and good, but the lyrics are a little sad." He pulled out a sheet of paper from his pocket. "I mean Im starting to worry about you."
"Theres no need to worry. Theyre just break up songs. Well, songs about the aftermath of breakups." Laurel waved away the concern. She wrote what she felt, and that was all there was to it.
"Yeah, but lines like." He read from the page. "The kiss of true loves death, you left without a backward glance, tore my heart, stole my breath, why couldnt you give us a chance?" He looked up to see her reaction. "Well, then theres this one: Lost and lonely, I wait for your call, I put you on a pedestal and watched you fall. Those are the milder of them too."
"Whats wrong with them?"
"Theyre not bad lyrics, they just sound like you have a razor blade to your wrist." He looked concerned.
"Dont worry, H. Suicide is the cowards way out. Im not a coward." She reassured him. "The lyrics just depend on the mood Im in when I write them. Ive been feeling a little angsty. Im told thats normal after a breakup."
"Yeah, depression is normal. I just wanted to make sure you didnt need to talk to anyone."
"Ive had my fill of shrinks, thanks." She laughed. "Trust me, writing those songs helps better than anyone would know."
"Its nice that you have that outlet then. I wish I had something similar when I was going through my divorce. Oh well, Ill let you get back to whatever it is you were doing." He stood to leave. "I havent read them all yet, but there arent any blood and gore songs are there?"
"No." She laughed. "I think those two songs are what youd call the worst. Does this mean we can start performing them now?"
"Thats up to you. If you want to add them to the set, go for it. Were doing a CD with songs from the tour and a DVD, so that might come in handy since itll be out before we go back into the studio and record the next CD." He put the piece of paper back in his pocket. She was glad to see he quit carrying his attaché everywhere. He was starting to relax into his role and was almost becoming friends with them. "Oh, and youre friends, Growed Upstarts will be joining us with in the next two weeks."
"Now that is great news." Laurel was happy. She missed Larry. He was her running buddy.
"See you at dinner." He backed out of the room.
"Later." She called after him. "Cool. Hey, Muggster, wanna go swimming?"
It sounded like a good idea, but there was one slight problem. Laurel had not owned a bathing suit since she was a junior in high school. She searched through her duffle bags; thanking the goddess that Mandy had forwarded more clothing to the hotel in New York. She was also grateful that Harold had someone do the laundry not too long ago. He told them the first time was free, after that they were responsible for their own clothing. It made sense, but she did not have an idea how to do it herself.
"Aha, I thought I bought a pair of those." As much as she hated wearing shorts, she had purchased several pairs of running shorts on one of their previous stops. "Now all I need is a dark t-shirt." That was easier to find. She owned more t-shirts than anything else.
Laurel closed the door and changed into the shorts and t-shirt. The outfit would do for swimwear in her opinion. Her opinion was the only one she listened to anyway. She just hated the thought of ruining the shirt with chlorine. It was a concert t-shirt from a band that no longer existed. It was her favorite band. Thankfully, she had another shirt from a different tour.
"Alright, Mug, ready to go?" The puppy was patient as Laurel clipped the leash to her collar. Laurel took the time to train Muggster to obey commands. She did not want to lose the dog to an accident, or have her bite someone. They also did not need a dog running amok backstage, onstage or in the hotel.
BJ and Steve were splashing one another in the pool when she walked out there. She carefully looped Muggsters leash through the rungs of a chair near the pool, but left enough slack so the puppy could sit under the table for shade. She did not want to lose the dog to the heat either.
"Ahoy there, you joining us, matey?" Steve did his best pirate imitation. It was surprisingly good, and it gave her an idea.
"You know Steve, I think we should use that voice for something." She told him. "Hang on and Ill explain in a moment." She took two running steps and cannon balled into the pool.
"You know, its a good thing youre smaller than we are, or all the water would be on the deck after that." BJ commented.
"Yeah well, its the smaller bone structure." Laurel responded as she stretched out in the water. She felt her muscles relax in the waters warmth. She arched a little, keeping one hand on the concrete and felt her back pop. It felt wonderful.
"So whats this about the pirate thing?" Steve asked. He seemed to want to comment on BJs remark, but evidently chose not to. He weighed less than the drummer.
"Well, I thought we could add a few newer songs to the set. I thought it would be cool if you could do the pirate thing during one of them."
"Oh I could see that. Ar ya wee harlot, come to me, come to me now or Ill make ya walk the plank." He demonstrated.
"Well, not quite like that." Laurel laughed. BJ guffawed. "But something along those lines."
"By the way, thank you for deciding to sing Goddess of Desire again. My vocal chords were killing me every time I had to sing it." Steve seemed relived.
"Why did you decide to sing it again?" BJ asked once he calmed down.
"I figured two things. The first was fuck the label. Im a lesbian, I wrote the song, and they can get over it. The second was Im already out, why hide it?" She followed her own brand of logic. "What are they going to do, fire me?"
"Nope, not with the way were progressing. Whod have thought it?" Steve asked. "Were a long way from playing in Beths garage."
"Yeah really. Its weird. I didnt really want to do this, I still dont really, but its kinda cool to sit back and think about how many people would kill to be us." BJ commented.
"I thought you were getting used to life on the road?" Laurel asked. "You certainly have gotten used to the groupies." It was one bad thing about sharing a room. Whenever he had company, she was forced to wait in the lobby or in Steves room. Jenna had protested enough that they finally gave in and let her have her own room. It seemed a small price to pay for their sanity.
"Thats your problem I think." BJ looked as if he had been inspired. "You need to find a groupie and get a little."
"Thanks, but no thanks."
"You know, I think hes on to something. Youd relax a lot easier if the toxins were allowed a chance to leave the building." Steve advised. Laurel had the ability to be seen as one of the guys and they often treated her as such.
"Ill think about it." In truth, she had thought about it. She thought about it a lot, but she did not know how guilty she would feel the next day. "Wanna race?" She asked, more to take her mind off their suggestion than a desire to prove herself in competition.
"No thanks. Ill referee." BJ declined.
"Alright then." Laurel made her way to the end of the pool. "There and back again?"
"Thatll work." Steve took his position beside her.
"On your mark, get set, go." BJ yelled. It was not a large pool, so the race only lasted a few minutes.
"Now that was almost fun." Laurel commented as she slicked her hair back.
"Only because you won." Steve grumbled.
"Yeah, yeah, whatever." Even though she did not care about swimming as a sport, she could not let herself lose. She was too competitive a person. "Come on, lets go find something to eat." The exercise made her hungry.
"After a shower." Steve suggested. "I hate going around smelling like a pool."
"Meet ya in the lobby in twenty?" BJ asked.
"Make it thirty." Laurel corrected. "Weve got to take showers too."
"Good point. See ya in a few." The drummer used the ladder to exit the pool.
"Damn. I forgot a towel." Laurel pulled herself from the pool without the benefit of the ladder. "Oh well. Guess its drip-dry back to the room. Come on, Muggster." She freed the puppy of her confinement. While Laurel was in the pool, Muggster wrapped her leash around the chair and table several times.
"See you later." Steve headed off toward his room.
"Yep." She pulled her shorts back up. The weight of the water caused them to hang low on her hips. "Come on, girl. Lets go get a bath."
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