Author’s Note: This section requires a very special disclaimer. Please read this before you read the story. This section contains allusions to felony sexual assault. While this is not something I have personally experienced, I do know several people who have. If it has happened to you, please get help. The scene is not detailed in nature, but still may disturb some.

Please DO NOT shoot the bard. This scene is essential to the plot's development. It has gone through several rewrites with the help of two betas. One of which wanted to throttle me, the other understood. If you have questions concerning the reason this scene exists, please either ask nicely in your posts or wait until the story comes to an end. Everything will be made clear by the time the words The End appear at the end of this.

This also contains references to body art. If you are thinking of getting a tattoo, please make sure that your state’s health department certifies the tat artist. I always do <g>

And now…..All That Jazz Part 20


"Good lord almighty." Laurel quickly tossed the bag she was searching through to the floor. Muggster yelped and jumped on the bed. The poor dog put her head on her paws.

"What’s the matter?" BJ asked as he unzipped his. "Never mind. I think whatever it is, it’s spreading." His bag soon joined hers by the door. "That was some funky smell." 

"You know, I hate to say this, but I think it is time for a trip to a Laundromat." The bassist shook her head. Every piece of clothing she owned smelled of cigarettes and sweat. It was not a pleasant combination. 

"We could just toss all this shit and buy new clothes." The drummer looked hopeful. 

"No way, man. My favorite shirt is in there. Aren’t we supposed to have roadies or someone else to do all this for us?" 

"I don’t know. I think Steve uses housekeeping to do his. I don’t know what Jenna does with hers." He looked over the hotel’s service menu. "Says here that they do have a laundry service, but it’s too late to get them done today. They wouldn’t be ready by the time we leave tomorrow." 

"Great." Laurel threw herself back on her bed. "Just great. So, I guess that means you and I get to have a contest." 

"What type of contest?" 

"To see who can turn more shirts pink or blue or whatever." With one hand, she opened the drawer beneath the phone. "Might as well see if there’s a place to do laundry near here." She pulled out the hotel phone list.  

"Who are you calling?" 

"The front desk. Hopefully someone there will be able to tell us. We’re gonna sound like hicks." It was inevitable. The concierge did know of a place only a few minutes walk from the hotel. Laurel regretted having to call to ask. She knew she sounded stupid. 

"Well?" BJ asked as she hung up the phone. 

"Three minutes from the parking lot. Take a left right out the side doors." She threw the rest of her clothing into the bag. "Might as well wash all of it." 

"Yeah. Hopefully they’ll have detergent or something. Do you have any change?" He searched through his pockets. 

"Not a lot. Maybe they’ll have a change machine too." She grabbed her room key and hefted her bag. "Come on Muggster. Let’s go." The small dog waggled her rear end in the universal happy dance of small dogs everywhere. Laurel grabbed the leash before the dog had a chance to escape down the hallway. For a puppy, Muggster was quick.  "Ready to go?"

"I guess so." 

"Running away?" Larry asked from the hallway. He looked as if he just finished his evening run.  

"Worse. Laundry." BJ told him. 

"Cool. Wait a moment and I’ll grab my stuff too." He disappeared into his room. 

"Weird. Was it just me or did he sound happy to do laundry?" Laurel asked in wonder. 

"He seemed happy. Then again, he is kinda strange." 

"Hate to break this to ya, BJ, but so are we." 


"Ok, I’m all set." Larry bounced out of his room. He had a large duffle bag slung over his shoulder.

Larry was the hyper sort. He talked incessantly on the way to the Laundromat. Fortunately for Laurel and BJ, there was a small convenience store attached to the place. They were able to buy detergent, drinks and snack food. They were even able to buy a roll of quarters apiece. That clued them into the reason the store was there. It made money off people doing laundry next door. The clerk did not even blink when she walked in with Muggster.

"You’re really not going to do it like that are you?" Larry came over as Laurel attempted to toss clothes into a washing machine. She did not even sort them first.

"What’s wrong with this? They’ll all get clean."

"Wrong? Didn’t anyone ever teach you how to sort things?" He seemed shocked.

"No. What’s the difference?"

"Look, there’s a logic behind laundry. It’s not that hard to understand. Here I’ll show you." He took her duffle and unceremoniously dumped the contents onto a table near the machines. BJ came over to watch. "You have to sort everything by color and blend."

"And that matters why?" She asked.

"I bet every time you wash clothes something comes out a different color?" He managed to keep from laughing.

"Yeah." BJ nodded along with her answer. He had the same problem.

"This is how you solve that problem." He showed no shame as he sorted her clothing into piles. He did not even wince at the smell emanating from them. "Some how I figured you for a boxer type, but want to explain these?" He asked as he held up a pair of red lace panties.

"They were in the bag." Laurel did not even blink as she answered the question. "They’re not mine." True. Somehow, Nicole managed to leave them in there after the last trip to New Orleans.

"Toss or wash?" He asked.

"Wash please." She kept track of what pile they landed in for future reference.

"Getting the idea?" He asked.

"I think so. All the under thingies are in one load, shirts and jeans in another. That’s it?" The big mystery was almost solved.

"Well, I’d suggest nice shirts and slacks in load separate from the jeans and t-shirts, but since you don’t have any of those don’t worry about it now. I would separate the jeans from the t-shirts though. You have tons of those."

"Yeah I guess I do." She laughed. It was all she wore except for the occasional pair of khakis or cargo pants.

"Now, this is how you operate the machine. Is everyone paying attention?" He asked as BJ and Laurel turned to watch a jogger pass outside the window.

"Yes. Go ahead." BJ was the first to answer.

"Yeah, I’m here. The machines."

"Ok, first you put in the quarters, set the temperature and load setting, and then start the water. Jeans, t-shirts, and such are put on this setting." He illustrated by example. "Now the detergent." He carefully measured the recommended amount of the liquid before adding it to the churning water in the machine. "Finally, we add the clothing." He waited until the water reached a certain point before adding those. "Now you’re on your own."

"Thanks, Larry." Laurel was relieved to find out that there was not a great mystery behind laundry.

She was able to get the other two loads into machines without a great deal of trouble. She looked over as BJ started sorting his clothing. He benefited from the lesson as well. Laughing a little about the entire situation, she took a seat on a handy bench. She could not resist the lure of the cupcakes sitting by her drink any longer. She savored every bite. It was the first time she was able to partake of snack food since she graduated from college. Muggster waited beneath the bench with bated breath. She was waiting on scraps. She never got any. Laurel knew better than to give her dog chocolate.

"I bet you can’t cook either can you?" Larry asked as he joined her on the bench.

"What makes you think that?"

"Well, no one ever taught you how to do laundry. It follows that you never learned to cook." He reached down and scratched the small dog’s ears.

"You’re right. She can’t cook. Well, she can make macaroni and cheese, but she has to read the instructions carefully." BJ commented as he joined them.

"He’s right. I can’t cook. Never learned how." She answered.

"Well that I can’t teach you here. Maybe one day if we ever have the opportunity." He shrugged. "I can’t think of how, but who knows."

"That’s great and I think you for this, but why?" Kindness from strangers was not a concept she was accustomed to experiencing.

"What else are we going to do?" He laughed. "You both are in the same ship I’m in, neither of you really party. BJ, you really ought to start running with us. I was going to ask your guitarist, Steve as well. He seems pretty tense and bored."

"Yeah, we’ll become a running cult." Laurel could not help it. She laughed as her mind formed the image of the four of them in matching shorts and tennis shoes.

"It’s either that or sit in our rooms and get so bored we get into trouble." He responded.

"Bored is bad. Trouble is even worse." The bassist knew that from her own experiences.

"It might be fun. I sure could stand to lose a few pounds too." BJ patted his stomach. He was correct, but Laurel did not want to agree with him. He was sensitive about it.

"Great. We’ll ask Steve as soon as we get back to the hotel. Now do either of you have fabric softener?"

"Nope." Laurel was not aware they needed any.

"I’ll share, but you’ll owe me next time. Now, come on and learn all there is to know about drying clothes." He stood as the washers finished their duty.

For the first time ever, Laurel managed not to mess up any clothing. Larry taught her more about laundry than she ever needed to know. He did confide that his father was a dry cleaner. That was why he knew so much. He worked in his father’s store after school and during his summer breaks. Regardless, she was grateful he was willing to share his knowledge. He even showed them both how to fold things to minimize wrinkles. It was better than just arbitrarily throwing the clothes back into the bags. She knew no one would believe that she and BJ had washed, dried, and folded their own laundry. Nothing was wrinkled, faded or a different color than it was before it was washed. It was a small thing, but she was proud of it.

"See you in the morning then?" Larry asked as he unlocked his room.

"Yep. Knock on the door when you’re ready." She told him as BJ unlocked their room. They made plans for a morning run before they left the Laundromat.

"Will do. Have a good evening."

"You too. Goodnight, Larry."


And consequences that are rendered, I’m gonna fuck things up again

Nicole was becoming irritated. It seemed as if that damn song followed her everywhere. The photographer escaped from her grandmother’s only to get in the car and hear Steve crooning her song on the radio. Then she entered the CD store to pick up a little meditation music and they were playing the entire album. It was not helping her mood at all.

Nicole managed her escape by volunteering to do a little early Christmas shopping. Her Aunt Kay had seen through the excuse as it was not even Halloween, but submitted readily. The photographer had spent the last month closeted in the miasma of her grandmother’s illness and the entire family was growing concerned. The only times she left the house were when Sheryl visited and forced her to leave or she was on assignment. She wanted to be there in case her grandmother needed her. Each day, Adia was fading a bit more. Nicole did not want to miss a minute. She did not want any more regrets. However, things had finally gotten too confining. It was the whole reason behind this excursion.

Someone in the store turned the volume up when the infamous track started. ‘Goddess of Desire’ reverberated through the store with ease. Nicole soon found her thoughts pulled back to the first time Laurel played the song for her. The memory was as sharp as broken glass and as clear as if it had occurred the day before.

After Laurel pledged her devotion on bended knee that Halloween night two years ago, the two made love until dawn. Exhausted, Nicole fell into a light sleep that was broken by the soft sounds of an acoustic guitar and the rich tones of a smoky alto. Curious, the photographer had pulled on her robe and followed the sounds to the porch where she found her lover singing softly as the bassist played a deceptively simple melody. Laurel had noticed the photographer’s presence and started the song over without missing a beat.

Nicole still remembered it vividly. She could easily envision the way the early morning light had highlighted her lover’s already blonde hair, reflected off the warm mahogany of the battered guitar and outlined that body Nicole had known so well beneath the simple white t-shirt. It was an image that had burned itself in her mind. It haunted her dreams along with many other such deliciously painful memories.

"Nicole? Is that you?" A voice broke through the spell the song had woven on her and pulled her back to the reality of her life two years later. "Wow, I wouldn’t think you’d like this song too."

"Brian?" Surprised, Nicole turned to face the last person she ever expected or wanted to see again. She was not aware she had been singing along.

"Yeah, man it’s great to see you." The tall blond man pulled her into a loose hug. "So when did you start listening to rock?"

"A couple of years ago." She responded. Throughout high school she had been content to listen to old jazz and classical.

"This is an awesome song. Matter of fact the entire CD is good." He could not seem to think of a different topic.

"Yeah I have it too. I know or well used to know a few of the band members." Nicole decided it was not wise to tell him one of those band members was her ex-lover. There were some things certain people should not know. She also declined to tell him that the song had been written for and dedicated to her.

"When did you start hanging out with bands?" He looked at her with a little more respect in his gaze.

"I didn’t. I took pictures of them for publicity. They’re from Hattiesburg." She stretched the truth a little. She had taken pictures of them, but she also went to all of their local concerts, parties and other related functions. "What are you doing back in New Orleans? Did Denver get too cold?"

"No, I finally found a girl who said yes instead of wait." His expression turned serious again. "I am sorry to hear about your grandmother. Is that why you’re here?"

"Yes, and thanks." She did not want to tell him the other reasons. Hattiesburg was not the same without Laurel.

"Say, it’s late, what say I buy you dinner and we can catch up on old times?"

"I don’t know if that’s a good idea." Her instincts were screaming no, but her upbringing was screaming at her to be polite.

"Nicole, how often is it that an ex fiancé wants to take you to dinner?" He affected a pleading tone much as he had done while they were dating.

"All right, just dinner." She, as always, capitulated.

"Great, where do you wanna go?" He offered his arm but she declined.

"I don’t care really." She put the CD she had been clutching during her trip down memory lane back on the shelf. "I’ll leave it up to you." She mentally cursed whoever first required people to be polite.

"Ok, then follow me." He grinned and mocked a bow.

Brian led her to the one place in the French Quarter that she had been avoiding more than the bed in her apartment in the Warehouse. She was forced to take a very deep breath before entering the doors to the Napoleon House. Unlike her life, the place had not changed in the least. The last time she had been there had been shortly after Laurel graduated college. That had been their last weekend together. While the memories of the meal with Laurel, Michael and Stan were nice; Nicole did not want to make new ones there. She wanted to remember that day and no other.

"So what do you want?" Brian asked as they took their seats inside the establishment. Nicole declined the courtyard seating when asked.

"A glass of wine and a po-boy." She answered. They were silent as he placed the order with the waiter.

"So, I heard through the normal channels that you’ve been working as a photographer for a paper?" He finally remembered why they had agreed to dinner.

"Yeah, I was. I quit the one in Hattiesburg when Grandmother became ill, but I’ve been asked to do some freelance for the City paper." Once again she did not tell him the entire story. "Where are you working?"

"I’m a loan manager for a bank back in Denver. I decided to stay there after school. I like it, it’s a lot different than here, that’s for sure."

"I can imagine."

They made small talk and caught one another up on the more innocent details of their lives during dinner. Nicole, still fighting memories, ordered three more glasses of wine while Brian showed off his knowledge of beer. He could almost rival Sheryl at being a beer snob. The critic had recently become enamored with microbreweries and tried to instill the love of lesser-known beers on her friends, but Nicole stayed with what she was comfortable with as always.

"So, what’s Ms. Right like?" Nicole asked as she drained her fourth glass of wine. She was well over her limit and knew it. Laurel had often teased that she could not hold her alcohol. Thoughts of the bassist made Nicole want another glass of wine.

"She’s smart, funny, but nothing like you were, Nicole." His face was flushed from the five beers he consumed during dinner. His eyes were a bright blue, and had Nicole been sober, she might have remembered that look. As it was, she was anything but sober. "Wanna get out of here?"

"Yeah. I’m ready to call it a night." Wine always made her sleepy. All she wanted at the moment was her nice, big bed back at the Warehouse. There was no way she would make it back to the house in her condition.

Brian offered to walk her back and they made it to the Warehouse without an incident. Out of politeness, she invited him upstairs when he asked to see her apartment. He claimed he wanted to catch up a bit more. She agreed with reluctance. While she did not want to be alone, she also did not want to play word games. Brian was famous for his games. Really, she did not want him there, but could not think of a way to say so without being too rude. She concluded that manners, in a matter of speaking, sucked.

Nicole called her aunt and reported the change in plans while Brian raided the refrigerator and claimed two not quite fresh beers. She could hear the question in his voice and her mind barely registered the desire in his eyes. Wanting to end the night quickly, Nicole turned to ask him a question. Had she not tripped, things might have turned out differently. As it was, she was not sober enough to watch her own footing. Had she remained sober, she would have asked him to leave. She was not sober, and he never asked. He never needed to.


"I am so fucking bored." BJ stopped throwing a tennis ball against the wall. She knew he only did it to annoy Muggster. The puppy crouched on her paws and looked at him expectantly. Absently, he threw it against the door. The poor dog was not fast enough to catch it before it bounced and was forced to rebound off the door too.

"That’s enough. Here." Laurel caught the ball and handed it to the puppy. Muggster claimed her prize and disappeared under the bed. "If you’re so bored, then find something to do." She returned to her book.

"Aren’t you bored?" He asked in a very whining tone.

"I’m getting irritated, that’s what I’m getting." She tossed the book in the general direction of the dresser. She missed, but only because it bounced off the mirror and onto the floor. She reached down and returned it. Muggster would think it a great new toy if it stayed on the floor for long.

"C’mon Laurel, let’s go find something to do. Please?" He looked at her. "Don’t make me do the puppy face."

"Oh, not that." She sighed. "Alright. What do you want to do?"

"I don’t know. Let’s go find Steve and Larry and see what they’re up to." He literally shot off the bed. "Come on."

"Alright. I’m right behind you." Laurel knew Muggster would be fine. The little dog was finally completely housebroken, but she left a section of newspaper out in case an emergency arose.

Three weeks had passed since the Hattiesburg paper repealed their original story on her. It had been a quiet three weeks, and she was extremely grateful for it. Even Jenna seemed to be behaving. Laurel did not know if that should make her nervous or not. She had managed to talk to Mandy that evening. Her old friend was upset that for some reason no one would let her calls go through, and felt as if Laurel were neglecting her. It made the bassist wonder what other calls she might be missing, but she thought everyone interested in finding her had her email address. Regardless, she made a mental note to speak to Harold about the missing phone calls. She never knew when one could be important.

"Guess he’s not here." BJ stopped pounding on Steve’s door. Laurel had been so lost in thought that she had not realized they were already at his room.

"Maybe he’s with Larry." She suggested. Larry’s room was not far. The managers and managing assistants would request blocks of rooms for those on tour. The musician’s stayed in the same hotel as everyone else, something that made the headliners grumble. The only consolation was they received the better rooms when available. Laurel and her band did not care. Jenna did, but they ignored her grumbling. She could sleep in an ordinary room the same as they did. She would not be able to tell the difference with her eyes closed.

"Well, well, if it isn’t two lost and weary travelers. What brings you to my door this mournful evening?" Larry waved them into his room with a smile.

"You’re in a stranger than normal mood. What’s up?" Laurel asked. "Hey Steve, we were looking for you."

"I came down here to borrow a book." Steve held up a fantasy novel. He was a self-proclaimed geek. It was a bond he shared with Larry.

"I just finished it. I love a good mythic adventure. What managed to pry you two from your room?" Larry asked. "Here, sit down." He pushed all of his clothes and other things from one of the beds.

"Thanks. BJ’s bored and wants to do something." She told them as she took the offered seat.

"Well, it’s not often we play afternoon gigs, and I’m not used to getting to sleep this early. I thought we could actually do something daring like leave the hotel and go get something to eat that wasn’t bought at a greasy spoon." BJ remained standing.

"Now that sounds like a good idea. We can even take the van." Larry pulled a set of keys from his dresser. Growed Upstarts and most of the other bands used separate vehicles for their equipment. Harold had vetoed the idea at the start of the tour. The bus they used had plenty of room for everything blue gecko needed since they did not use fancy equipment for effects such as pyrotechnics.

"Cool. I’ll drive." Laurel had not driven since the night before the band left for New York. She missed it.

"Good. I’m not that great with large vehicles." Larry tossed her the keys.

"Gee Larry, I was starting to think you could do anything." BJ teased.

"’Fraid not. Now let’s go before someone decides to wuss out on us." Larry steered them to the door.

For once, it was not raining. They were all grateful. It was the little things they were realizing that tripped them up on tour. For years Laurel and the rest had heard stories of bands on the road. Never once in those stories did anyone describe the rain, the cold weather, the endless nights on an old bus, the boredom or the sheer exhaustion. It was simpler when blue gecko was merely a garage band. Back then they did not have to play if they did not want to, they did their own sound checks, took care of their own equipment and did not travel unless it was somewhere within an hour’s drive. Now they were on the fast track to stardom, and did not feel prepared for it. However, Laurel was painfully aware there was no way to prepare for it. Instant fame came and went at will. They could only handle it as well as they were able.

"Ok, two in the back and two upfront." Larry commanded. "It may be a little cramped back there, but we should be fine."

"Now where are we going?" Laurel asked as she started the van. It started smoother than her truck ever did.

"Just drive around and see what looks interesting." Steve suggested. He was perched precariously between an amplifier and a snare drum. BJ was on the other side of the van stretched out on top of a wooden crate.

Laurel did as suggested. The city was more of a town, really. She turned onto the main road and followed the signs pointing them downtown. The town did have a university, so they knew the downtown area would at least have clubs. Every college town seemed to have a place for the students to drink or dance within easy reach of the campus. It was good for the local economy.

The downtown area was based on a grid. The one-way streets were annoying, and they soon found themselves driving around the same block twice. Finally Laurel parked the van in a parking lot not far from the center of the area. It was a pay to park lot, so they each donated a few dollars to the cause. It beat having the van towed. While that would have made for an interesting story, none of them wanted to explain it to Growed Upstart’s managing assistant.

"Ok. Looks like we’ve got a pool bar, an oldster’s bar, a Goth bar, a freaky looking strip club, a gay bar, a sports pup, an Irish pup, two preppy bars and three generic looking places." BJ used his height to his advantage. He was the tallest of the four, and crowds of other people looking for a place to relax were beginning to walk the streets too.

"Irish?" Laurel suggested. It sounded good to her. She liked dark beer better when it was draft.

"We can start there and then see what else is decent." Steve suggested.

"I have an idea. Let’s start there then invade one of the preppy dance clubs." BJ’s smile was wicked.

"Now that sounds like fun." Laurel agreed. Straight clubs always fascinated her for about half an hour.

It was open-mic night at the Irish pup. They sat through two performers and one round. Neither of the performers was Irish, but they did perform the more typical ballads one expects at a pub. The group soon left. Not one of the four was in the mood to hear amateurs slaughter otherwise decent music. They moved on to one of the dance clubs. There were three within two small blocks. The first required costumes and cover charges. The bouncer refused to admit them. Laurel tried to tell him they were dressed as a rock band, but he did not believe her. They did not look the part.

The second one let them in with no problem, but only after demanding a high cover charge. They were concerned about the metal detectors they were required to walk through before entering. The bouncer assured them it was a recent safety precaution, but a needless one. Their keys, pocketknives, guitar keys, and other metal objects were held at the door. Even their lighters were confiscated. The club rules called for matches only.

It was not until they exited the lobby that Laurel understood the reason for caution. This club was the most unusual she had ever seen. She knew it was not one that would survive in Mississippi. She doubted it would be able to stay in business anywhere in Louisiana either.

Scantily clad girls stood in cages suspended from the ceiling. A large stage with a fashion show runway was along the back wall. There were few chairs and even fewer tables. The patrons were mostly middle class, well dressed and seemed to range in age from their late twenties to mid-fifties. The air was thick with cigar and cigarette smoke. The smell of sweat, smoke and sweet drink filled their nostrils. The pulsating animal rhythms coming from the speakers reminded Laurel of a tribal CD she once listened to while stoned. It was not a pleasant reminder.

The waitresses, she did not see any waiters, were as under dressed as the girls in the cages. She was surprised at the amount of female patrons. It seemed to her that men would dominate a club such as this. The mix was pretty close to even. The farther they walked into the main area of the club, the more it seemed as if they were on a movie set, or were cast back through time. Now she understood the reason behind the high cover charge. This was an exclusive club and the password for it was decadent.

"Dear goddess, what have we gotten ourselves into?" BJ yelled into her ear.

"I have no idea." Laurel went back to staring at the sights. Everywhere she looked, people were gyrating to the beat or were physically flirting with one another.

"As much as I hate to waste twenty bucks, I think we should get out of here." He yelled again.

"I agree." She did. One of the men next to her took out a bag of white powder and handed it to another. This did not look like a good scene to be around.

"Well, if it ain’t the quiet ones." The lead singer for the headlining act approached them. "Come join us." He pointed to a group sitting on pillows around a low table in the corner.

"Um, well." Laurel was at a loss for words. Terry was not known for his social skills.

"Ok." Steve accepted. That left them no choice but to follow.

"Guys, here’s more. More, here’s the guys." Terry collapsed back onto a group of pillows. "Pull up a throw and get comfy."

With trepidation, Laurel sat down on a large pillow. She could not tell the color, but she found it comfortable. BJ, Steve and Larry followed her lead. Only Steve looked interested instead of nervous. Some of that nervousness must have shown on her face, for Terry turned to her again.

"Well, I thought you were too good for the rest of us. Shame, you’re not badly put together. A little like a tomboy, but that’s kinda sexy." He reached onto the table and pulled something from a bag. He lit it and offered it to her. "Here. Take a puff and relax."

"Um." For a moment, Laurel was trapped in temptation. The thought, the very smell of it appealed to her still. It was one thing she did not miss while with Nicole. She had smoked her last the night they met, and never missed it. Now it was staring her in the face for the first time in two years. Her body cried out for it. Her mind cried for the temporary freedom it would offer. Her heart declined the offer. For once, she listened. "No. We really need to be going. We’re supposed to meet Harold in a few, and if we aren’t there he’ll call the cops or something else drastically idiotic." She said it all in a rush and was gone before the words sunk into Terry’s brain.

"What’s the rush?" Larry asked as he caught up to her outside. BJ and Steve were right behind him.

"That was too close, that’s what’s up." She leaned against the wall of the club and lit a cigarette. "I was this close to blowing two years." She held her fingers together to illustrate. "Yeah, I went through rehab, but it was forced so it didn’t work. I gave that up when I met, when I wanted to. I don’t need to be around it now." The nicotine eased into her system and gave her a slight taste of what she was missing from the other. It helped, but only a little.

"Understandable. Been there, done that as they say." Larry laughed.

"Yeah. We’ve all been there." BJ reassured her. She knew his story only too well. She came close to living one like it.

"I haven’t, but I understand." Steve commented. He was the only member of blue gecko who managed to go through life completely drug free. He drank, but he did not do any illegal substances. "Hey, there’s a tattoo parlor. Wanna go check it out?"

"Yeah." For some reason it sounded like a good idea. At least it would take her mind off other things. "I’ve always wanted one."

"We could get matching ones." BJ suggested. "I’ve been craving another one since the last one healed."

"You know, as much as I don’t generally like body art, the thought is kind of appealing." Larry laughed. "Oh what the hell, it’s only permanent."

"Great. So what are we going to get?" Laurel asked as they crossed the street.

"Steve can design it for us since he can draw." BJ answered. "We should make it original."

"In that case, can we get another beer first? We weren’t in the club long enough to get our free drinks, and I could use one before allowing someone to draw on me with needles." Steve pointed to one of the generic looking bars. "That seems safe."

"Ok. Drinks first then body art." Laurel nodded. "Sounds like a night to remember." As they walked to the bar, she spared a thought for Nicole. She hoped the photographer thought of her. She wondered for a brief minute what she was doing at that moment. Suddenly, she was hit with a wave of longing and depression. It felt as if something were wrong, but she did not know what. The moment passed quickly. As they entered the generic bar, everything returned to normal. Laurel gave a brief prayer to the goddess for Nicole’s protection. She hoped it was unnecessary, but it made her feel better to do it.


part 21

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