If the ceremony didn’t kill you, the congratulations will.

"So, did she tell you our good news?" Jenna tapped Nicole on the shoulder to get her attention.

"What good news?" Nicole was too busy loading her plate with food to pay much attention to the guitarist behind her.

"Blue gecko has been offered a recording contract. However, your girlfriend has declined the offer. We’re supposed to leave next week for New York, but Lakky doesn’t want to go with us."

"She didn’t say anything to me. Why did she turn it down?" Nicole was curious. She was upset that the bassist had not discussed it with her, but she figured that Laurel must have her reasons. She would discuss it with her lover later.

"Well, you know Lakky. She probably didn’t want to make you feel like you were holding her here. She’s still a private person, and probably didn’t want you to feel guilty." Jenna loaded her plate with ribs.

"Why would I feel guilty? She can go if she wants to, but it sounds like she doesn’t want to."

"Guess that’s true. Course you are the reason she doesn’t want to, not that I blame her of course. If I had a relationship like the two of you have, I wouldn’t want to leave either."

"Guess she thinks I’m more important than fame and fortune." Nicole was getting upset. Jenna’s tone was more sarcastic than the guitarist must have intended, and the photographer easily registered that. "Of course, she does want to go to law school."

"And where are you going to be if she does?"

"We’ll work that out when it happens." The photographer did not want to admit she had been wondering the same thing. "I’m going to go find my girlfriend. Enjoy your food."

Nicole noticed the bassist standing in a group with Mandy, Danny, Sheryl and one of the other band members, Steve. Laurel looked as if she were enjoying herself. The photographer attempted to push Jenna’s words from her mind. It was not easy to do, but Nicole was adept at thinking over problems long after they had been brought to her attention.

"Hey." Laurel wrapped her arm around the photographer. "Thought for a moment that you were ignoring us."

"Nah, I just wanted to get some food before it all disappeared. Have you eaten?"

"Food you mean?" The bassist laughed. "Not yet, I thought I’d let the crowd ease some first. I can’t believe so many people showed up."

"Well, everyone invited brought a friend or two it seems." Mandy answered in a bemused way. "Guess the term party enticed them."

"Or it could have been your food. These slow roasted ribs are excellent." Danny was already on his second plate.

"Just seems kinda strange. All these people are here and I don’t want to be." Laurel whispered into Nicole’s ear.

"And where would you like to be?" The photographer asked.

"Alone with you. That’s how I envisioned this afternoon anyway."

"No private conversations, now." Danny told them. "Something you want to share with the class?"

"I was just saying that I almost wish this was a more private party." Laurel told him. "I’m really not a crowd person and my large party days are long gone."

"I know what you mean. I don’t know who most of these people are." Mandy commented. "I guess we should have bought more food."

"I think some of them look familiar, but I couldn’t tell you where I’ve seen them." Steve commented. "The band and our little circle is here for Laurel, but I couldn’t tell you what the others are here for."

"Ladies, gentlemen, children of all ages and stages, may I have your attention please?" Jenna’s voice pulled their attention to the picnic table in the center of the yard. The guitarist had cleared away a few of the plates and was standing on top of it.

"What’s she up to?" Laurel asked.

"Beats the hell out of me, but you know Jenna. It always has to be about her." Steve told them.

"I have an announcement that should please everyone here as much as it has pleased me. We, the members of blue gecko, have been offered a recording contract. We fly out next week to New York to discuss it. If all goes well, we should have a CD out on a major label before the year is out." The round of applause that met that statement clued in the others as to why most of the people there had shown up.

"Shit." Laurel’s mumble was audible to those that surrounded her.

"You didn’t tell us that. Congratulations." Danny hugged the bassist.

"Are you going to do it?" Sheryl asked after she shared a look with Nicole. The photographer shrugged her shoulders.

"Nope. I have no desire to do that. I’m going to take a year off to earn some money and then go to law school. That hasn’t changed." Laurel made sure she looked into the photographer’s eyes when she said that.

"Are you sure?" Nicole asked. Laurel’s denial eased the lump around her heart Jenna’s announcement caused to suddenly appear.

"Yeah. Course I’m sure. You don’t honestly think that I’d leave you do you?" Laurel smiled and pulled her close.

"If you don’t wanna go, then don’t worry about it." Those words caused the lump to grow again. "We’ll talk about it later."

"Ok." Laurel looked puzzled. "Wanna get out of here?"

"Yeah, why not. Wanna go?" Nicole asked her friends.

"Sure. Why not?" Sheryl shrugged. "Coffee?"

"Sounds good to me. You?" Nicole wanted to prolong the moment before she would be alone with the bassist. She wanted to sort out her feelings on the matter first.

"Yeah sure." Laurel shrugged. "Whatever ya’ll wanna do."

"Well, if we go to my house first, then we can drop your truck off and you can stay the night if you want."

"Now that is a plan. Let me go get some clothes together." Laurel practically ran back to the trailer.

"So?" Sheryl arched an eyebrow.

"So what?" Nicole asked.

"C’mere." Sheryl grabbed the photographer’s arm and pulled her away from the group. "Now, how much of this did you know about?"

"None of it. Jenna told me while I was getting food." Nicole set her untouched plate on the ground and took a seat. "Laurel never said a word about it."

"Well, she said she didn’t want to go. That’s not a problem is it?"

"I guess it isn’t. I just don’t want to hold her back from something." Nicole picked at the grass beneath her hands.

"Well, look at it this way. If you were to get a job offer from a larger paper, would you accept it?"

"I have no idea. I guess it would depend on where and when." The photographer had not actually viewed the situation from that point of view.

"Suppose it was from somewhere Laurel didn’t want to move, but it would further your career. Would you do it?"

"I would like to say I would. But I have no desire to be a world famous photojournalist. There’s still so much I have to learn and all before that happens."

"You would turn it down for her wouldn’t you?" As usual, Sheryl saw through her.

"Yes I would. But that’s different."

"No it isn’t. Not really. Just keep that in mind." Sheryl advised. "Now, here she comes. Put it out of your head, put a smile on your face, and let’s go for coffee."

"Alright." Nicole laughed. She felt well enough to give the bassist a full kilowatt smile. "Ready to go?"

"If you are." Laurel extended her hand and helped Nicole to her feet. "Shall we?"

"Yep. Let’s go claim Danny and get out of here." Sheryl was already scanning the area for the deejay. "Where’s Aaron anyway?"

"He had to work the evening ceremony." Nicole explained. Aaron had gotten a job at the county paper after he graduated. It did not pay as well, but it kept him in town near his lover. "Danny has only us for company this afternoon."

"Well, let’s go save him from the band before Jenna tries to talk him into promoting us on the radio." Laurel took her lover’s hand and led the way across the yard.

"Yeah, we couldn’t have that." Sheryl laughed. "Ok, wait up. What’s the hurry?"

"I wanna get out of here before someone else I don’t know bumbles up and mutters something resembling congratulations." Laurel told them.

"Ok, ok. I’ll get Danny and the two of us will meet you both at Mabel’s. Does that suit you?"

"Fine with me." Nicole told her. "Meet you there."


Even though Laurel had not made a big deal about graduating from college, she still felt like something should change. Mabel’s had not. It was still the same as it was long before she entered college. Only the waitresses had changed, and even then only a few of those. It was a nice point of stability in a life on the brink of transformation. Danny and Sheryl were even waiting for them in the same booth they always sat in when they met for coffee. The bassist was glad.

"Wow, we weren’t expecting you back so quick." Danny moved over and sat beside the critic.

"What? You think all we think about is sex?" Laurel asked in a mock self-righteous tone. "We’ve already done that today, thank you very much." She stuck her tongue out at him.

"Watch that. Nicole would not be happy if I were forced to stick a fork into it." He picked up his fork and waved it in a parody of a threatening manner.

"Yeah, I’d be forced to do something drastic that would have Aaron mad at me." Nicole laughed at the look on his face. "Actually, neither of you would like that too much."

"I think that’s a given." Sheryl joined the conversation.

"When’s Jessie coming home for the summer?" Laurel asked. She was looking forward to their infamous double dates. Over the prior holidays, the four of them had been kicked out of the movie theatre, closed down Bourbon Street, and made complete goofballs of themselves during Mardi Gras.

"She’s not. She’s decided to take classes through the summer semesters so she can graduate in December. Seems since you graduated she feels the crunch." Sheryl did not sound happy about the situation.

"She’s not coming home at all?" Nicole asked. "There should be at least a two week break between semesters."

"Nope, she’s staying up there. She got a job to pay for the extra semester, and feels that hurrying up to graduate would be more practical than flying back for two months." The critic methodically tore a napkin into strips.

"I guess that makes sense." Nicole tried to find the bright side of the situation. "I mean she sacrifices two months and a week or two and saves herself almost four months before she graduates."

"Yeah, I guess. Anyway, what do we have to do to get coffee around here?" Sheryl changed the subject.

"You have to ask." Danny waved his napkin in the air. The waitress laughed and brought over the coffee pot and two extra mugs. Wordlessly she filled all four mugs and went to check on the other customers. "See?"

"I bow to the master." Sheryl laughed. "So what are ya’ll planning for this evening?" She asked Nicole and Laurel.

"Sex." Laurel’s answer was short and to the point. "Are you alright?" She asked as she pounded her lover on the back.

"Yeah, I just learned that it’s not easy to breath and drink coffee at the same time." Nicole fanned her face. She was turning a bit red.

"Didn’t you learn that at an early age? Or did you never make milk come out your nose?" Danny asked.

"Oh, she did that once. It was quiet amusing." Sheryl told him. "It was in second grade during milk break. I don’t remember why, but I do remember Kay having to come get her because Hotshot got chocolate milk all over her new white shirt."

"Thanks Sheryl, remind me to kill you later." Nicole turned redder. "It wasn’t that funny."

"Sorry, hon, just the mental picture I got of that." Laurel stared at her coffee mug until the urge to laugh left her. "Anyway, I don’t know what all we’re going to do this evening. Aside from the obvious of course."

"Of course." Sheryl nodded solemnly. "Well, now that you’re free from school, have you decided whether or not you are going to take a break or something?"

"Well, I was going to take a week off or two and just lay in bed all day before I find a job. We’ve paid off the place and the land, so we don’t have to pay rent anymore, which has taken a big portion of my earnings and put them straight in the bank. Thought I’d try to talk Nicole into a weekend in New Orleans." She grinned at her lover. "Thought we could do nothing that we didn’t want to."

"I think that is a very good idea." Nicole smiled at the thought.

"I thought so." Laurel smirked. They never really got a chance to relax alone in New Orleans.

"Remind me to reward you later for such a great idea."

"Oh I will."

"Ok, you two are making us sick." Danny told them. "Over a year together and you’re still sickening sweet."

"Like you and Aaron aren’t disgusting when you’re together." Nicole told him. "Has it really been that long though?"

"Um." Laurel did the math. "It has been one year and seven months since we made it 100% official."

"Wow, that’s a long time." Sheryl commented. "Beats my record hands down."

"Sheryl, two weeks beats your record." Nicole teased her friend.

"True. Forgot about that." The critic laughed. "Course Danny is not far behind you two. I would be, but since Jessie and I are not officially dating, I don’t know if that counts."

"Hmm, I’m not sure. I’ll have to check the rule book later." Danny teased.

"Anyway, I think it’s time to get out of here. I have a rather large dinner planned for this evening." Nicole told them.

"Oh yeah? What’s that?" Laurel asked.

"It’s a surprise. You’ll like it. Trust me."

"Oh, I do."

"Good. Wanna get out of here?" Nicole stood and tossed two dollars on the table. "Guess that means yes." She said as Laurel did the same.

"Yep. That was a yes."

"See you both later." Sheryl waved.

"Yeah, have a good night." Danny winked at the bassist.

"You too." Laurel smirked again. "Later."

Part 3

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