Extra Added Note: Please do not shoot the bard <g> All will be understood by the time the ride comes to a complete stop. Please keep hands and arms inside the story at all times. The bard is not liable for accidents that result from dizzy spells due to the somewhat highly paced nature of the next sections. Thank you and have a nice day ):->
Nicole decided working freelance had drawbacks and advantages. The drawbacks were that she did not make a decent salary and she only got assignments maybe twice a week. Had she not been living back in the house, she would have been in trouble. However, the only things she was required to pay for now were food when she ate somewhere other than the house, clothing, and entertainment. Melba added dog food to the list of necessities she purchased every week, so Nicole did not have to worry about that either. What she did worry about was boredom. Since she only worked at most two days a week, she was left with a lot of time on her hands. She was not concerned about getting into trouble, rather she was concerned with the amount of time she spent thinking. The free time was as much a disadvantage as it was an advantage. The advantage was that she had been able to mentally clarify a lot and the work, when it came, broke up the monotony of thought.
When she was not at her grandmothers side, Nicole could usually be found rummaging around in the attic. When not in the attic, she was practicing the violin or reacquainting herself with the piano. When that would fail to keep her interest, she would explore her grandfathers library. She was starting to do anything to keep her mind quiet.
It was not as bad as it was during her first two months in New Orleans. She understood more now about herself and her relationships with most other people. Still, she had her own share of demons to vanquish, and that was a lot more tiring than most people would imagine. What amazed her was how much better, much stronger she felt after triumphing over a childhood fear or an anxiety formed in early adulthood.
The one thing she had the most problems with at the moment was the truth about her heredity. Adias little secret was something Nicole could have died quite happily without knowing. It set everything she ever thought about her family and herself on its side. Nicole was caught dead center in a private environment versus genes debate. It was more turmoil than perhaps it should have been, but the one thing she had always been able to count on no longer existed. If her father really had been the result of a liaison between Adia and a Greek sailor, than Nicole was not truly an Herbert. At least she no longer considered herself one. It was one more element she had to account for in redefining herself.
"Hey, are you the photographer from the paper?" A tall blonde made her way over to where Nicole was standing.
"Yeah. Nicole Herbert." It was automatic.
"Jenny Phelps. Its nice to meet you." She offered her hand. "Im a photographer for one of the magazines. Well, freelance anyway."
"Actually, Im freelance too." It was the first time Nicole had met another freelance photographer. "You dont sound like youre from around here."
"Im not. My home base is outside of Boston. I just came down here to find some work and a different locale."
"Thats gotta be fun." She wondered if she would ever find herself doing the same thing. It actually appealed to a small part of her that craved instability.
"It is, actually. This thing doesnt start for a few more minutes. Where were you going to set up?"
"Somewhere close to the stage." Ironically, a Greek ship had requested permission to dock at the old port. It was no longer used much, but the City officials had agreed. Nicole had been asked to cover the docking ceremony. She really did not expect much brouhaha, but knew that the Mayor wanted good press. He was scheduled to greet the ships captain and officially welcome the crew to New Orleans.
"No tripod then?" Jenny asked.
"Nope. I dont like them unless Im shooting portraits or something." One thing Nicole had always been complimented on was her steady hand. She rarely needed to use a tripod.
"Cool. I dont use one either. Let me tell you, if you scorn the tripod, you get a lot of weird looks." The blonde laughed. "There was this one time in France when I was taking pictures of Notre Dame amidst a crowd of street rats and tourists. It was hard keeping the shot steady with all the shuffling, but I managed to do it. The other guys there were all pissed because they had these large tripods and people kept tripping over them."
"Now that would be something to see." Paris was one place Nicole always wanted to visit. "Did you get pick pocketed?"
"No. I kept everything in a pouch under my clothes. One of the other guys did though." Jenny turned to look at her. "How new are you to all this?"
"Brand new. I worked for a paper for a while, but got into a conflict with my boss. I quit and struck out on my own." It was not quite true, but it sounded more impressive than the real story. For some odd reason, Nicole wanted to impress this woman. Jenny seemed older, and Nicole guessed the blonde was maybe in her mid thirties.
"Thats basically how I started." Jenny elbowed her way to the front of the stage area. Nicole followed. "Youre local though arent you?"
"Yeah. I grew up here. How can you tell?" She asked as she readied her camera. The City officials and the higher ranked officers from the ship were milling about on the stage.
"Youve got that soft, well bred Cajun accent. Bet you didnt even know you had one, did you?"
"Not really, no I didnt." Nicole paid a little more attention to Jennys words. "Youre local to Boston?"
"Born and raised. Ive worked hard to lose the accent though."
"That explains the West Coast accent you have then. My brothers got one." She noticed movement toward the center of the stage. She was glad all she was required to do was snap a couple of shots. Someone else was there to write it, but she did not know whom.
"Interesting. Oh well. Here we go."
The ceremony was rather dull. The mayor droned on about anything and everything he could think of for at least an hour. Nicole thought his speechwriter should be fired. By the time he called the Captain to the dais, everyone in the audience was covered in sweat and bored almost to tears. After snapping off a few pictures, Nicole thought it pointless to wait any longer. She turned to see Jenny dismantling her camera. Apparently the blonde had similar thoughts.
"Im so glad Im not a journalist." Jenny whispered. "Wanna get out of here and go for a drink?"
"Sure." Nicole readily accepted. She wanted to know more about what it was like to be a real freelance photographer. She was shocked to discover that she also wanted to know more about the intriguing blonde beside her.
"Well, since youre local, why dont you choose a place?" Jenny suggested as they made their way through the crowd.
"Ok." Nicole thought about what was close to their location. "Did you drive here?"
"No, I took a taxi. You?"
"Nope. Public transport." As annoying as they could sometimes be, Nicole still loved the trolleys and streetcars. It was walking from Canal Street to the docks that made her wish she had driven. "Theres not much around here. We have to walk back to the French Quarter."
"Well since we have to do that, we might as well go back to the lounge at my hotel. Does that suit you?"
"That can work." Nicole did not question the suggestion.
As they walked, Jenny related more stories of her time abroad. Several of the stories were amusing, and all of them made Nicole jealous. She wanted to travel the world and take pictures of her adventures. It was one fantasy she replayed often in her dreams. In her dreams, she was a famous photographer who traveled the world taking pictures of various indigenous cultures. The crowning moment in her dreams was when a book of her best photos was published and she made the rounds, toasted by academia for her skills.
Since Jenny was staying at the hotel by the Riverwalk, they caught the trolley instead of a taxi. It was cheaper, and it gave the blonde freelance photographer a thrill. She compared the New Orleans system to the one in San Francisco. Having never been to San Francisco but hearing about it, Nicole was eager to point out the benefits of her hometowns system. She described the streetcar system that traveled daily from Canal Street to the Garden District in great detail. Jenny seemed very interested and asked questions about every little thing. Nicole was embarrassed to admit that she could not answer all of them. However, the information she was able to relate quelled her companions curiosity.
"So, what plans do you have for your career?" Jenny asked once they were seated at a table in one of the hotels bars.
"I havent given it much thought yet. Ive not been doing this for long. Well, working as a freelance photographer I mean. I thought Id stay local and work up a better portfolio before trying to catch on somewhere else." Nicole nursed her glass of wine. She had the distinct impression that crossing her limit in this womans presence could be as bad as it would be interesting.
"Well, youre still young. Youre what? Twenty-five?"
"Twenty-seven." Nicole corrected.
"Thats still young. You have plenty of time to make a reputation before you try to put it to use." Jennys brown eyes were warm. "I almost wish I would have taken my career a bit slower. I worked for a magazine right after college, but I got in a tight spot and had to bail. I went freelance after that. I blame the influences of travel magazines."
"I can relate to that. Mine was more public educational television and all those programs they showed us in school about Egypt and all those other places of international historical importance." Maybe it was Jennys influence, but Nicole attempted to put her education and vocabulary to use in their conversation. She did not want to sound as if she were a country bumpkin. She was far from being one, but she wanted to impress the other woman.
"Its not easy you know." Jenny cautioned.
"Nothing worthwhile ever is, or so Ive been told."
"So is everyone from here as well spoken as you are?"
"I wasnt aware I was that well spoken." She felt the blush creep up her neck.
"Oh, you are as well spoken as you are attractive." Jenny sipped her brandy. "I didnt make you uncomfortable did I?"
"Im just not used to hearing compliments from people I barely know." Nicole stared at the table covering. She suddenly wondered if drinks with this woman were such a good idea.
"Thats a pity." Jenny seemed to sense that Nicole was uncomfortable with the conversation. She leaned back in her chair. "So what keeps you here in New Orleans?"
"I just moved back actually." Nicole was glad for the change in subjects. "My grandmother is ill, and since I had left my job, I moved back to help out."
"Thats admirable. Its not the whole story, though is it? Let me guess. Youve just gone through a nasty break up, had some sort of legal trouble or you were sleeping with your boss."
"No, I never slept with my boss." Nicole laughed at the very thought. "And Ive never been in trouble with the law. Unless you count the occasional speeding ticket."
"I dont think that counts. Now parking tickets will get you into lots of trouble." Jenny laughed. "So that leaves the break up story. Its universal, I think."
"Especially in country songs." She agreed.
"So what did she do?"
"How did you know it was a she?" Nicole was amazed. She did not think she came off as being gay.
"You ping." Jenny answered simply. "I thought I read you right, and you just confirmed it."
"Ping?" It was a term she had never heard before.
"Yes ping. Its a term my friends and I use. You know the concept of gaydar right?" When Nicole nodded she continued. "Well, one night we took the concept a bit farther. If the gaydar concept were set on a clock, then people would ping one way or the other. Straights beep on this side of twelve." She illustrated with a knife and her glass. "Bisexuals bleep on the middle between eleven and one, and gays ping on this side of twelve." She put her hand where two oclock would be. "You ping, though quietly. I couldnt tell at first."
"And you?" Nicole had never been good at classifying people in that manner. It was one reason why it took so long for Laurel to make her intentions clear.
"I ping." Jenny laughed. "You cant tell can you?"
"No, I really cant. I just assume everyone is straight unless they tell me otherwise, or theyre flaming."
"Then this break up, was she your first?"
"Oh, that would have explained it otherwise. Most new to this life cant tell until theyve been around the block a few times."
"Ive only been around this one twice." She admitted with reluctance. Somewhere in her brain, an alarm was going off, but she ignored it for the moment. She knew that if she stayed things could get very interesting. She also sensed it was up to her if things were going to progress. She could not decide if she wanted to continue or not. "My ex-girlfriend was the one with all the experience."
"And that bothered you didnt it?" Jenny asked. "Want another drink?"
"Yes, but just the one more. I do need to think about getting home soon." She left an easy way out of the situation. "And yes it did bother me, I guess."
"Been there." Jenny stood. "Ill get this round. Ill be right back."
Nicole watched her leave. She had to admit that she was attracted to the freelance photographer. It was a relatively new experience. There were not many people Nicole really felt attracted to. For her it was always more than physical. There was something about Jenny that tugged at the edges of her brain. There was an instant connection there that bothered her. It had been the same with Annie. However, the connection with Laurel tugged at her soul as well as her heart and mind. The bassist had a way of looking at her that made Nicole feel ready to melt. There was no comparison. As fun as it would be to spend a few hours in sated bliss with Jenny, Nicole was not ready for it, or was she? Would she regret throwing caution to the wind for the first time in her life and having casual sex?
"You seem to be lost in thought. Was it an interesting trip inside?" Jenny teased as she handed Nicole another glass of wine.
"Yes it was. I seem to be making a lot trips inside lately, but not all of them have been this interesting." Nicole answered honestly.
"Ah, youre wondering if you should join me upstairs or not?"
"Were you going to ask me?"
"I think Id be incredibly stupid if I did not." Jenny smiled. "You still love her dont you?"
"Ill never love anyone else." Nicole took a large drink of her wine. "And yes, I was wondering."
"Well, I can make you this promise. Love will not enter into it, unless you count the love of another woman in your bed." Jenny sat her drink down on the table and covered Nicoles hand with hers. "Nicole, you are a very attractive woman. I would be a classic idiot for not telling you I find you very desirable, intelligent, and well spoken. Im leaving tomorrow. I dont normally pick up women when I travel, but something about you intrigues me. I think you feel it too, or you wouldnt have accepted my invitation for drinks."
"I do." Nicole admitted quietly. "I just dont know if Im ready for this."
"How long ago did you break up?"
"The end of May." It was now the first of August.
"Fresh enough that the emotions are still there, but far enough away that the body misses the attention. Come upstairs with me." Jenny stood and offered her hand.
"I." Nicole hesitated. If she were to accept the invitation, she would be stepping so far out of character she would not recognize herself. In a single instant, a hundred thoughts ran through her head. She thought of what Laurel could be doing on tour, and the women the bassist might add to her considerable sexual history. She thought about the rejection she recently suffered as she tried to locate the bassist to apologize. She thought about how much she yearned for human contact, and she thought about how lonely it was at night. "Alright." Her hand shook a little, but she placed it in the one offered.
"You wont regret this, I promise."
The comparison was inevitable. Nicole had to work to make Laurel display any aggression. The bassist preferred to take their love making slow and easy. She would often draw things out so far that Nicole would be begging for release. Jenny was not like that. While the other photographer was gentle, there was urgency behind her movements. Nicole was surprised to find herself just as aggressive and hurried. Her body missed the attention of a warm mouth and a gentle hand. The release, when it came, was nice, but not earth shattering. Nicole understood then just how lucky she had been to find Laurel, and how stupid she had been to let her go. Still, Jenny had been right. Nicole did not regret the interlude. It helped clarify things more than all the thinking she had done recently. The sex was nice, but it was not great. Her heart was not in it. That made all the difference.
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They had pulled into town that morning and checked into their hotel. They would be leaving again in the morning. Laurel barely knew where she was half the time now. Every day they were someplace new. The concert was not until that evening, and most of the people on tour were using their free time to catch up on sleep. Only a handful of them wanted to stay awake. Harold and one of the other managers rented a van and suggested a trip to the mall. Having nothing else to do, Laurel decided to go along.
The mall was large and boasted two music stores. She appreciated that. She was in the mood for something different. She was tired of the music she heard or sung night after night. Her laptop played CDs as well as DVDs, but she had not brought any with her. She left her portable CD player and her travel case of CDs at home. It was one of the few things she forgot to pack. That would soon be remedied though. She had the money to buy more CDs; she just did not know what she wanted.
She was also in need of clothing. Her favorite pair of jeans now had a large rip down the butt. That happened a few days prior during a concert. It was embarrassing, but she managed to keep the audience from learning about it, mainly by not turning her back on them. BJ and Steve still picked on her about it. She could not wait until something like it happened to one of them.
Most of the stores had their summer clothes on sale since it was the first August and most people were buying winter clothes. Laurel managed to find some good deals on shirts, but was forced to pay full price for jeans. They were not considered summer clothes. That irritated the bassist. She wore jeans during the summer. It was the true test of toughness. People may pick on Southerners for getting cold easily, but Laurel felt the real challenge was to wear jeans during the high summer heat and humidity. The first one to pass out was the loser.
She returned her bags to the van before finding one of the music stores. True to her promise in New York, she checked the directory and map before going anywhere in the mall. The stores were in easy reach of one another. She thought that odd, but she did not know enough about commercial planning to know for certain if it were strange or not. They looked of equal size, so she chose the first one she encountered.
The store was typical for its kind. The CDs were in racks and separated by style and the tapes hung in racks along one wall. T-shirts and other accessories lined the walls opposite the cassettes. She took a moment to look through the t-shirts. She laughed when she encountered one for blue gecko. It was just like the prototypes Harold had given them at the start of the new tour. They only wore them when forced. Laurel had sent a few to Mandy. She knew they would amuse her friend.
She took her time looking through the racks of CDs. She skipped over the country, rap and dance sections. She skipped over most of the rock as well. She wanted something different. This store did not have a large selection of new age, jazz, blues or classical, but she looked through what they carried.
Laurel had never been a fan of classical music. Nicole loved it. As a result, Laurel gradually became accustomed to it. She even grew to like certain composers. The musician in her could appreciate the origins of all modern music. She knew how difficult it was to make anything original, and how great a debt musicians everywhere owed the ancient composers. She knew that without them, modern rock would not be the same. In fact, it would not exist. It was also true of jazz and blues. They too were the forerunners of modern music. Too often many forgot that.
"Is there something I can help you find?" A voice interrupted her musings.
"No thanks. Im just kinda browsing." Laurel turned her attention back to the CDs in front of her.
"Well if you need anything, let us know." The saleslady reluctantly left. Laurel barely looked up, but did notice that she did not return to the counter.
She searched through several CDs until she found a few she was tempted to purchase. Nicoles favorite composer was Chopin, and the photographer listened to it a lot. As a result, it was the composer Laurel was most familiar with out of all them. She was surprised at how cheap the classical CDs were. It allowed her to choose more without ruining her budget. Though she did not need to stay on a budget, it was a habit too deeply ingrained to break easily.
After selecting one of classical guitar tunes, two Chopin CDs and one of Prokofiev, Laurel ventured over to the jazz/new age section. She was surprised that those two styles were combined, but thought that this region did not sell enough of either to warrant separate and larger sections. Though small, she was able to find several decent selections. After not finding a CD she really wanted, she turned to find the saleslady. She was not there. Laurel finally spotted her talking on the phone near the counter.
Laurel took her selections to the counter so she could check out and ask her question. She was expecting a hurried encounter perhaps, but she was not expecting what she got.
"I was looking back in the jazz section, but I couldnt find "
"Can you wait right there for a moment please?" The saleslady interrupted her. Laurel did as asked after setting her CDs on the counter. Another salesperson soon joined them. So did one of the malls security guards.
"Can you empty your pockets, please?" The security guard demanded in a rough tone.
"Why?" She did not like his tone, nor did she like what he was insinuating.
"We found this back in the section you were looking in." The saleslady produced an empty CD case. Laurel almost laughed. It was a CD case for her CD.
"Now that is amusing." She commented.
"This is not an amusing situation. Empty your pockets or Ill call the police." The security guard threatened.
"Call the cops. See if I care. I didnt take it. I dont need to."
"Theres a shirt missing from the racks too." The younger salesperson informed them. Laurel cursed her cargo pants. All three of her accusers were eyeing them.
"Where would I stick a shirt?"
"Thats what we would like to know. Call the cops." The security guard told the saleslady. Laurel was close enough now to see she was the store manager.
"Oh please. Why would I want to steal that CD? These are the ones I wanted." She showed them the ones on the counter. "Three jazz, one blues, two new age, and four classical CDs were what I picked out. Why would I want to steal a rock one if I came in here for these?"
"Because all of these add up to the cost of the one you have on you somewhere." The manager replied. "We know you took it. Itll be easier for you if you just hand it over now."
"I didnt take anything." Laurel was seriously getting upset.
"Then prove it." The guard challenged.
"Fine." Laurel emptied her pockets. She threw her wallet, a small pocketknife, a set of keys, a pack of cigarettes and a lighter onto the counter. "There. Theres nothing more in my pockets." She opened both side pockets and showed that they were in fact empty.
"Then theyre somewhere else." The guard shoved her against the counter and held her there. "Hey, Bob, we got a shop lifter here, care to do the honors?"
"What the hell?" Not so gentle hands began searching her. She managed to catch a glimpse of a police uniform over her shoulder.
"Stand still." The officer commanded. He kicked her legs apart with his foot and forced her arms apart on the counter. That was strange. Most states required female subjects to be searched only be female officers. It was one more thing that upset Laurel.
"Im really getting pissed. I can promise you that you are all making a huge mistake, and if you dont let me go this instant, youll all lose your jobs." It was not the first time she had been frisked, but it was the most humiliating. This time she had not done anything to warrant such treatment.
"I didnt find anything." The officer let her go. "What did you do with it?"
"Do with what? I think you know more about me at this point than I do." Laurel was furious. She picked up her wallet and pulled out her drivers license. "My name is Laurel Anne Kendrick" She showed them the picture. Then she picked up the CD case still lying on the counter. "This is me." She pointed to the picture inside the jacket cover. "Why the fuck would I want to steal a CD I made?" She showed them the credits for the songs as well. "I wrote over half of the songs on here."
"Well." The manager seemed to be at a loss for words.
"It seems as if we made a mistake, Ms. Kendrick. Please accept our apologies." The officer seemed upset. He turned on the security guard. "Next time, make sure you have proof, idiot."
"I dont accept your apologies." Laurel smiled sweetly. "I want your badge number, his job, and her ass." She saw the crowd standing outside. "And I want a full apology made in front of them." She pointed at the crowd. Then she saw something that really made her smile. "Harold. Come in here for a moment please." She yelled.
"Whats going on?" He took one look at the scene and immediate took her side. "What did they do to you? Are you ok?"
"Im fine now. These assholes thought I was stealing a CD. A blue gecko CD."
"A what?" Harold laughed. "Do you know who she is? This is Lakky, the head of blue gecko."
"We know that now." The manager was still not sure. "That does not explain what the empty hanger and the empty CD case was doing near where she was."
"Obviously you failed at your job and decided to blame her for it." Harolds voice was like ice. "I think you owe my client an apology. And I will be calling to speak to someone at your home office." He grabbed a card from the counter. "And your boss as well." The security guard did not look happy with the threat. "Matter of fact, I will do that before we leave here."
"I was just doing my job." The guard protested. The police officer was trying to disappear into the background.
"Your job requires throwing innocent people against a wooden counter and holding them there?" Laurel asked.
"You did what?" Harold sounded more upset.
"Would this be cash or charge?" The manager asked. Apparently she had decided to salvage the situation.
"Itll be you can charge them up your ass." Laurel told her. "I will never buy anything at this store again. And you wonder why MP3s are kicking your ass."
"Come on, Lakky, lets get out of here. We have a concert to get ready for." Harold put his notebook back into his pocket. "Ive got all their names and will lodge complaints everywhere."
"Thanks, H." She was glad he was on her side.
"Now are you ok? They didnt hurt you or anything did they?"
"No, Im fine. A little sore, and still pissed as hell, but Im fine." She rubbed her arms. Getting thrown into the counter had hurt.
"Here, lets get a cookie and a drink. You can relax while I rant." He pulled his cellular phone from his pocket.
By the time Laurel was finished with her Coca-cola and both her cookies, Harold was off the phone. The police officer would be reprimanded when he reported back to the station. The security guard was demoted. He would now be in charge of watching the parking lot. What pleased her most of all was that the manager of the store would soon be looking for another job. Harold refused to get off the phone until he had talked with the CEO of the company that owned the music store. The CEO was highly embarrassed, his daughter was a fan of blue gecko, and vowed that he would personally make sure the manager was fired. Laurel was not normally a vindictive person, but she took great pleasure in the managers downfall. She did not like to be humiliated or falsely accused.
"Thanks, Harold." She was sincere in her gratitude.
"Hey, it was actually my pleasure. Theres this nasty little part of me that loves yelling at people. Besides, they were clearly in the wrong. This was justice." He stood. "Lets go round up the others. Did you still want to get some CDs?"
"Yeah, but I think Ill go to the other store." She laughed.
"I dont blame you. This time Ill go in with you. I could use some new music too."
"Sounds like a plan to me." She stood. "Lets go."
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