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 (public or private, it doesn't matter) 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>

Why must I feel this way? Just make this go away. Just one more peaceful day.

Nicole woke with a start and a pain in her inner thighs the next morning. The events of the night were hazy, but she remembered getting drunk at dinner with Brian. She also remembered stumbling back to the Warehouse and calling Kay to tell her aunt that she would be staying there that night.

Looking around, Nicole did not see Brian. She knew however how the night ended. She could feel it even though she had not felt as sore or as grungy in a long time. Suddenly she felt lost and wanted nothing more than to cuddle with a teddy bear or a bassist in bed all day. However, her teddy bear was in her bed at the house and she had ruined all her chances with the bassist. Even Mozart was missing. The large dog was still at her grandmother’s house.

Nicole did not bother with her robe but headed partially clothed for the shower. True to form, Brian had not even undressed her properly. By the time she undressed and crawled into the tub, she was fighting back tears. She suddenly did not have the strength to stand and knelt in the large, claw footed tub under the hot water. She only managed to wash as the water became tepid, and even that she did on autopilot. She felt as if someone had sucked her brain from her while she slept. It was an eerie feeling, and Nicole did not like it in the least.

"Nicole? Nicky are you in here?" Stan’s voice was like a godsend and pulled her consciousness back from its hiding place.

"Yeah, I’ll be out in a minute." Nicole turned off the water and haphazardly dried off before pulling on whatever clothes were close to hand. She ended up in jogging pants and Laurel’s old football jersey. Fortunately the bassist always bought clothing several sizes larger than she needed so the jersey fit the photographer well. Just the thought of seeing her former lover in that shirt almost brought the tears back.

"Were you trying to drown yourself in there?" Stan looked concerned. He hastily shoved one hand behind his back as Nicole exited the bathroom.

"I had a rough night." She looked over at her cousin. "What are you hiding?"

"You don’t want to see it." Against his better judgment, he folded at the look on her face and handed her the note he found on the table.

It was a note from Brian. To say that it was heartless would have been kind.


It was truly nice to see you again. I would invite you to the wedding, but I doubt Rachel would like having my ex finance there. Course she knows all about you. You haven’t changed a bit, pity you’re still frigid, but maybe you’ll fine a guy who can change that. Lord knows I tried. Best of luck. Don’t worry I’m disease free.


"Oh my god." Unbidden, the tears started again.

"Hey, Nicole, what’s wrong." Stan caught her as she fell and helped her to the couch. "After all this time." He shook his head as he pulled her close. "Brian?"

"I don’t wanna talk about it." She begged with him and with herself.

"Ok." He held her for several long minutes until the racking sobs became quiet sniffles. "Are you going to be ok?" She did not answer but nodded into his shoulder. "Did you at least use protection?"

"I don’t know." She doubted it from the tone of Brian’s letter.

"Wanna talk about it now?"


"You need to talk to someone. Nicole, you can’t let this eat at you or you’ll become as bitter as grandma ever was. Go talk to her."


"You know full good and well who." He did not want to further isolate her so he relented and did not give the speech he so painstakingly prepared after a long talk with his sister. "If you don’t want to, fine it’s your life, but at least move on."

"I can’t. She took my heart when she left." Nicole buried her head in his shoulder and started crying again.

"Why did she leave?" Stan had never heard the entire story. If Jessica had been told, she never told him.

"I made her go. I didn’t…. I don’t…. I wasn’t…. It’s all my fault." She could barely complete a sentence.

"Shh, its ok." Stan wrapped her into a tighter embrace. "Everything will be ok." He promised though he seriously doubted it. He had never seen his cousin more vulnerable. Regardless, he held her until she cried her heartache out and then continued to hold her until she pulled away from him. "Better?"

"No, but I’ll survive. Thanks, but I must ask one more favor."

"Anything." He already knew what she would ask.

"You won’t say a word of this?" She pleaded with him.

"Not to a soul. On my word."

"You are a good man, a good friend, and a good cousin, Stan." She brushed his hair back. "Thanks."

"Anytime. Just do me a favor?"

"What?" Nicole was willing to pay any price for his silence. She did not need her family knowing about her grave misjudgment in Brian’s character. They had already dealt with the aftermath of the first time he had used her.

"Go see a doctor soon and make sure he was being honest, ok?" Stan sounded concerned. "I don’t wanna bury another cousin."

"Ok, I will." She hoped that Brian was honest, but there was another concern if they had not used protection. Shit, what would I do with a child?


"Hey, there’s something I want you to take a look at." Danny waved her over to the table.

Sheryl knew they were treading dangerous waters. Nicole would not like their meeting like this. It was private, just the two of them, to discuss the photographer. They wondered if it were almost time for an emotional intervention.  For a while, it seemed as if Nicole had become the person they all knew she was meant to be, but something had happened that caused the photographer to retreat back behind her walls. They were meeting to discuss how to retrieve their friend before they lost her completely.

"Whatcha got there, Cowboy?" Sheryl looked around to find a waitress. The only reason they agreed to meet at Mabel’s was Nicole’s extended stay in New Orleans. Sheryl refused to believe her friend had moved back for good. "You know, Hotshot’s going to kill us if she finds out about this."

"Yeah, yeah. We’ll die for love and duty. There’s no higher honor." Danny flipped open the file folder on the table. "We were there when she finally admitted to being in love with Laurel, with some subtle pressure of course. We should see to it that she admits it again."

"I suppose so."

"What’s the matter? Jealous are you?" His teasing remark hit too close to home for her comfort. "You are, aren’t you?"

"A little, I suppose." She finally admitted it.

"How much of this has to do with Jessie?"

"None of it. Honestly." He did not appear to believe her.

"But I thought…"

"Everyone thought that. I’m not in love with Jessie. We’re friends who happened to sleep together every time she came home. I was never in love with her, just as she was never in love with me."

"Long distance fuck buddies? That can’t be all there is to it." He played with the spoon in his coffee mug.

"At first I’ll admit I thought it could be more than that. I guess everyone does at the start. I was wrong. She was wrong. I was shocked mainly because she was the one that terminated the relationship. It hurt the pride, you know?"

"Yeah, I know, and that’s understandable. But it doesn’t explain what you’re jealous of; their love?"

"Yeah." She shrugged. Time for a subject change. Some things did not need to be revealed. "Now what is it you wanted to show me?"

"I think our friend, the world renown bassist, will help make our job a bit easier." He smiled.

"Of course she will. But how did you figure that?"

"Look at this." He pulled a magazine clipping from the pile of papers in the folder. "This is an interview with Laurel. Granted, Nicole will never read it because she doesn’t read gay press. Read it."

"Ok." Her eyes were drawn to a few highlighted sections. Laurel had answered the questions honestly. In it, although she had to have known Nicole would never read it, the bassist clearly stated her continued love for the photographer. The answers were simple and from the heart. It was surprising, but there for the critic to read. She wondered who else took those words at face value. "Wow."

"Yeah really. Now the second piece of evidence is in two parts." He produced two pictures of the bassist. "Take a good close look at this one."

It was a black and white magazine shot. Laurel was sitting in a chair, her bass on her lap like a concert guitar. She was wearing a dark sleeveless t-shirt and a pair of faded jeans. One arm was wrapped around the bass, the hand gripping the instrument’s stings. The other hand was immersed in her hair. Those blonde locks were longer than normal. It was down almost to her shoulders. The bassist rarely wore it past the base of her skull. It looked appealingly shaggy. It was the face that showed the most change. Laurel’s eyes were flat and colorless in the grayness of the picture’s tinting. However, they still conveyed certain sadness, almost a melancholy state. The smile though had barely changed. It was indicative of Laurel’s personality. A smug confidence, a cocky demeanor and the shyness of a small child warred for dominance in that smile. Sheryl was compelled to return the grin.

"Ah, the mystery is solved. Here I thought that you were harboring a hidden flame for our friend."

"What are you talking about?"

"That soft smile. You’re taken with her aren’t you?" He pointed at the picture.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about." She protested. It was her secret and she wanted to keep it that way.

"Uh huh. So when did you get over your crush on Nicole?" He was relentless.

"In tenth grade I think. Until then I always wanted to be her first. Unfortunately that was your dick headed cousin. But, I grew out of that fall in love with your best friend phase a long time ago." She smiled in memory. She may not have been Nicole’s first lover, but she was the first person the photographer kissed.

"Something you want to share?"

"I was just remembering something."

"What? With a smirk like that it has to be good. You didn’t sleep with her did you?" He looked eager.

"No. Well, we did, but not that way. It was always more sisterly. Just sharing the bed really."

"Uh huh. Then what was it? A kiss?"

"Shouldn’t we be talking about the matter at hand?"

"Not until you tell me everything."

"Yes, I was her first kiss. There, you happy?"

"Nope. I want details. Neither of you ever told me this story before. You know I love stories. Now spill it. What type of kiss was it? It wasn’t one of those we’re-just-friends-so-please-excuse-the-fact-I-just-licked-your-bottom—lip type of kisses was it?"

"Not really." She decided to tell him the entire story. "One day after a party, Nicole and I were talking. You know how as kids everyone was obsessed with that silly game, truth or dare? Anyway, someone had been dared to kiss someone else. After the party Nicole and I were talking about it. She wanted to know what the big deal was. So, I leaned over and pressed my lips to hers. I leaned back and she goes: ‘Is that it?’ I thought I was going to die. There was my big moment and she wanted to know what the big deal was. So, imagine it. We’re sitting there on the couch in her living room and she wants to know what the attraction is with kissing."

"What did you do?" Danny laughed.

"What any good best friend would do. I explained the birds and the bees and then ran all the way home. That was the last time I ever thought about Nicole that way."

"And now you’re crushing on her lover. Smooth there Sheryl."

"I know. Now what is it I’m supposed to see in this picture? Aside from the general air of melancholy surrounding her and the fact that she needs a haircut?"

"This." He took out a magnifying glass. "I tried to make it larger on the computer, but I couldn’t get the resolution right. This isn’t exactly something we need Nicole to see yet, and she’s the only person I know who could do that." He handed her the magnifying glass. "Look right here." Danny indicated the area with the tip of his pen.

"It’s a chain." She leaned closer. "With a ring on it. So?"

"So." He pulled out the second picture. It was a closer shot. This one was in color. "I got this one from Mandy. Apparently BJ took a picture of them on the Empire State Building. This one I was able to use one of those picture machines at Wal-Mart and enlarge. Of course I had to cut out the others."

"Of course. Now what is it?" She looked through the magnifying glass again. "It’s a diamond ring. Gold, so?"

"Needless to say, that’s an engagement ring. It can’t be hers or she would be wearing it. Of course she would never chose something that ornate for herself."

"So that means it’s for Nicole. Why is she wearing on a chain?"

"My guess is that it doesn’t fit her finger, she doesn’t want to get rid of it, and that keeps it close without drawing attention to it. It’s the perfect way to wear something that means a lot without showing it off or losing it."

"That makes sense." Sheryl felt a little relieved and a little disappointed at the same time. Not that she would have tried anything. She was a firm believer and follower of the best friend rules. Once dated means always beyond reach. One did not date a friend’s ex. "Several people in high school did that with their boyfriend’s class rings."

"Yeah I remember that. Well, that’s our hope then. Obviously Laurel is not giving up. We need to make sure that Nicole doesn’t." He put the pictures back into the file folder. Danny was very organized. Sheryl often wondered how he did it. Organization was not her greatest skill. It was the last of the lesser ones.

"It is going to be harder than it seems. Nicole is a very emotionally fucked up individual." Sheryl flagged the waitress down for another cup of coffee. She could not remember finishing the first one. "She was doing so well, but when I talked to her the other night, it was like she reverted again."

"She’s lost a lot, and Adia wasn’t that great a person to grow up with as a guardian. Nicole was indulged materialistically, but not emotionally. Cassie and Phil were too young, too close in age to do much." Danny’s smile turned to a frown. Discussing their friend’s life always brought them down. "You say she’s reverted again?

"Yeah. And there are gaps in her emotional development all right. It could be worse. She could have turned out like Margie." Finally the waitress appeared with the coffee. Each cup was filled. "She could turn out like that anyway. I’m really starting to get worried again. I thought she was on the road to recovery. Something must have happened to set her back."

"What could have? Adia’s not dead. We’d have heard about that."

"I don’t know, but I’m going down there as soon as I get off work tomorrow and find out. There’s something rotten going on." She could feel it.

"It’s funny. Nicole really is smack dab in the middle. Michael is well adjusted. Margie was definitely not, and Nicole is right there between them as always." He returned to their previous topic. She could tell he did not want to worry, but did so anyway.

"It’s our job right now to make sure she gravitates toward the good side of the Force. It would be Laurel’s job, but she isn’t available at the moment. Jessie saw to that." Sheryl was slightly upset with her over it. Their fight over Jessie’s advice was one reason the young woman terminated the relationship.

"Yeah, you told me that. Did you at least get Laurel’s email addy?"

"Yes I did. Apparently we need to give Nicole more time to realize what happened, what caused it and all that before we give it to her. If we really want to be honest, we’ll admit they kind of need this. They had too much they glossed over. This would have happened regardless of that record contract. They only patched over the wounds and the holes in their relationship. Neither one is more at fault than the other. Neither of them was 100% honest with the other." She had actually given the matter a lot of thought.

"That’s true. I just want them to work it out. They love one another so much." Danny sighed. "And I want to know what happened to set Nicole back. Have you used Laurel’s email address yet?

"Yes I did. I wanted to make sure she was ok. She called me about the article, well I told you about that. I wanted to talk to her when she wasn’t drunk. She’s happy, but not overly so."

"I don’t think either of them are. They won’t be apart."

"Must be talking about my second favorite couple." Aaron observed as he took a seat next to his lover.

"Let me guess. Your favorite is you and Danny?" Sheryl smiled.

"That would be the correct answer. Congratulations. You won absolutely nothing."

"Thanks." She laughed. Aaron had a great sense of humor and balanced her friend well. She was almost jealous of them. "Anyway, it’s time for me to leave. I need to get home before I turn into a gourd."

"Alright. See you later." As it should be, Danny’s attention was mostly on the young man sitting next to him.

"Later, Sheryl."

"Bye guys." She smiled all the way to her car, but not all the way home.


The moon hung above the church steeple as if it were tied to the sacred building by some invisible string. She could not have planned a better shot. The moon was full with a faint orange glow covering it. The lights in front of the cathedral made the normally grey stone appear blue. Even the shadows were perfectly placed.

From her vantage point across the street, Nicole did not think she would ever see a lovelier shot. She raised her father’s old medium format camera. It was harder to get the cathedral in focus with it, but she did not mind the time. She could not wait to see how it would look developed on the black and white film. The film had been as hard to find as the camera. Not many places carried medium format anymore, much less black and white. Everything was made for 35 mm or the newer APS styles. She could see the day when even those would be replaced by digital. She missed the digital camera the paper owned. She rarely had been able to use it, everyone fought over it, but the times she did impressed her.

As she held the camera steady for the iris to gather enough light and imprint the image onto the negative, she realized being alone in the French Quarter at night probably was not the sanest idea she ever had. However, she did not care. There was no other way to get the shot. Everyone else was too busy to accompany her. Not that she wanted one of then along. She wanted to be alone. It was hard to be alone at the house. Everyone would stop in to say a few words to Adia and then grill Nicole for updates. She was tired of questions she could not answer. She was tired of people. She was tired.

She had not seen or heard from Brian since that fateful evening. She wanted to keep it that way. She did not know what she would do if she encountered him again. Thoughts of killing him almost made her smile when nothing else seemed to at the moment. She allowed herself to wonder how to contact a hired assassin before reason took hold. She could not afford to pay one and she did not have it in her to do it herself. If she admitted it to herself, she knew she really did not want to see him dead. She just wanted him to suffer for a long time.

The thoughts were out of character, but she did not blame herself for them. She did not question her bitterness either. Though she partially blamed herself for what happened, she was too smart to take all the blame. She knew what he was capable of from her past experience with him. She did not think in her wildest thoughts he was capable of rape. She finally admitted that to herself as she set her father’s camera on the concrete railing. There was no other way around it. According to the law, she had not consented, she had not been asked, and she had been drunk. For someone who normally took the blame for any real or imagined shortcomings, this was a large step.

"Mandy would say may I get what I desire instead of what I deserve. I say that he gets what he deserves." She pulled her camera out of its bag and readied it. This shot was to be in color. She wanted more black and white shots, but wanted at least one color one before the moon rose too far.

It took seconds to focus the camera, but minutes to open the iris enough for the picture. She did not want the added light from the flash to interfere with the overall image. She noticed with a certain amount of bemusement her hands shook this time. She knew it was from thinking about Brian. It happened every time. It was worse at night when she was alone in bed. Mozart did not cuddle well. However, she found a large stuffed sea otter at the Warehouse. She knew it was Laurel’s. It now rested on her bed at the house next to a comically large monkey. The monkey smelled faintly of vanilla. It was her favorite sleeping companion. Laurel did not wear perfume of any type, but she did use scented body wash in the shower.

The package containing the monkey did not have a return address, but it was postmarked from New York. She knew Laurel sent it. She wondered if the bassist had taken a shower and then slept with the monkey before sending it. She could not think of a reason why it would smell like her otherwise. It touched her heart in a way nothing else had been able to since June. She wished she had received it sooner. The post office did not deliver it to the house, but had left a note asking her to pick it up from them. She had been in New Orleans before the note was placed in her mailbox. Sheryl had managed to pick up the note and the box but left them at the house. The critic forgot to bring it every time she came down for the weekend.

Thoughts of Laurel sped through her mind. The little interlude with Brian made Nicole put off the thoughts of contacting the bassist. She wanted to do it on her terms, not because she needed a shoulder. She would not do anything about finding her until after she visited the doctor and got her test results back. She did not want to add to the burden they already shared. She wanted to clear the air completely, but she needed more time to heal now.

Those thoughts caused her hand to shake more. She set her elbows on the railing and braced the camera by bracing herself. The added movement caused the iris to take more time than normal. She looked through the viewfinder at the cathedral and wondered when she lost her faith. She never lost it. She never had any to lose.

"That’s not true, is it?" She asked herself. No one was around to hear her mutterings. She indulged. She tried to convince herself she did not care if anyone did hear her. "I believed as a child. I guess that’s the difference."

She attempted to summon the faith she once possessed. It was not there. That depressed her even more. Looking at the moon over the cathedral she questioned her belief in fate, karma, gods and destiny. This was not something she could talk to about with most people. Most of her friends either believed in some deity or did not. They did not question their chosen beliefs. Sheryl was an atheist, Danny still went to mass, Mandy was Wicca, Laurel was something, but neither of them knew what, and David was Baptist. Her family was Catholic. In a sense, so was she. It was a question she needed to ask Father Jason. He was trustworthy and open-minded for a priest.

Finally, the iris opened. Nicole took several pictures before pulling the medium format camera out again. She had left it sitting on the railing with the iris open. It still took longer than her camera did to process the image, but not as long as it had the first time. She looked around for other things to take pictures of and did not see any that held her interest. It might be dangerous, but she wanted a picture of the riverboat as well. Thankfully it was not far away.

She did not question her turn to photography as a way to cope. It was one of the few things in life that always made her happy. It had since the day she was presented with her first camera. Phil gave her one for her seventh birthday. She had been taking pictures ever since. She still had her first attempts at photography. Every picture she had ever taken was in a box and kept safe. Most of them were in the closet in her bedroom at the house. The rest and more recent ones were in a box at the Warehouse. She made a mental note to ask Stan to bring them over. She could not enter her apartment yet. Things were too fresh to go back.

The riverboat was tied to the dock. The canopy on the dock had yet to be taken down. She judged the evening cruise had recently returned. She chose a bench not far from the action. The crew unloaded the boat and dismantled everything with an efficiency she envied. They were well organized and well practiced. They were finished before she would have thought. Soon the boat remained alone with only a few lights on for warning.

She chose a spot not too far away from it. The recent repairs in the walkway by the River made the best spots out of reach. She settled for what was available and angled the shot to remove the fence from the construction area. It was difficult work, but she knew it would enhance the picture. She repeated the process from the cathedral shot. Watching the crew unload the boat had given her plenty of time to adjust the irises on the cameras. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the camera to process the image.

After five shots with each camera, Nicole was ready to call it an evening. She packed up her equipment and carried it back to the Warehouse. She might not go upstairs, but she did not turn down the opportunity to park her car for free. She could ring the buzzer and make Stan venture downstairs. If worse came to worse, she could beat her own high score on pinball. However, she wanted to talk to her cousin. Her photo adventure had helped heal her enough that his presence would comfort instead of irritate. Besides, he was good company. She felt as if she could use that now.


Laurel spied her quarry in the distance. He had a good head start, but she thought she could catch him. She had not spent the last three months jogging at least two miles a day without developing some endurance. It kept her out of trouble and out of the hotel. The bassist added some speed to her steps and waited until she could see the logo on his t-shirt before shouting to catch his attention.

"Yo, Larry. Wait up a minute." She watched as he slowed his pace enough to let her jog up beside him.

"Hey, Lakky. What’s up?"

"Nothing really. Just out for a run. You?"

"About the same. You know, the others think I’m a bad influence on you."

"And why is that?" Laurel matched her stride to his. It helped that he was not overly tall. She would have been hard pressed to match paces with BJ.

"Well, you haven’t set the hotel on fire, you don’t have a steady train of groupies leaving your room and we’re always together." He had not even broken a sweat so far. "Or if you are getting any, you don’t brag about it."

"Is that so?" She laughed but avoided the subtle hint about the groupies. Even BJ did not know about her tryst. She started to feel the strain in her legs. Usually she kept a slower pace than the one he set.

"Yep? Terry thinks you’re playing hard to get now." He laughed. "Or is what I’ve heard about you true?"

"I guess that depends on what you’ve heard about me."

"Well, you haven’t really said anything, and you don’t exactly scream it, but you are gay aren’t you?" He slowed the pace. "Here, let’s find a place for a soda or coffee or ice cream and chat. You look as if you need a rest."

"Yes." She said it simply. There was no reason to deny it. "I’m not used to this pace. I’ve been trying to work up to it, but mostly jogging just keeps me out of the hotel." Laurel was almost panting.

Larry did not seem as if he wanted to continue jogging and talking, so Laurel concentrated on pulling air into her aching lungs. They did not find a coffee shop nor did they find an ice cream parlor. They did find a restaurant though. There were few cars in the parking lot, but it was open for business. They had missed the lunch crowd and were early for dinner.

The hostess was entirely too perky, but Laurel let her live. After all, the young woman did lead them to nice seats in the smoking section. Of course, since they were the only customers, any seat would have been good. They ignored the menu and waited for the waiter.

"So, I heard you were heading back into the studio." Laurel leaned back in her chair. She lit a cigarette despite still being slightly winded. She grinned as Larry did the same.

"Yeah, we have a few problems though. Ice tea and an order of cheese fries please." He told the waiter.

"Same here." Laurel watched as the waiter wrote their choices down on a small pad.

"That’ll be right out, since you’re the only ones here. Did you run all the way?"

"Yep, couldn’t stay away once we heard ya’ll had a restaurant here." Laurel told him. She hated chatty waiters.

"Well, let me go tell the kitchen they have to work. I’ll be right back with your teas."

"Thank you. So, you were saying?" Laurel asked when the waiter disappeared.

"Well, we want to record another CD, but we can’t yet. No one has written any songs."

"That’s not too hard to deal with. I’ve written loads. Wanna make a deal for a few?" It was a spontaneous question. She did not regret it.

"I’ll have to talk it over with the others. Would you really sell them to us?" Larry looked surprised.

"Yes I would. Not all of them are right for our band anyway."

"That’s very kind of you."

"Here’s your tea. The cheese fries will be out in a few moments." The waiter returned. "I’ll let you get back to your discussion."

"Thank you." Larry nodded at him.

"Man I am looking forward to going home for the winter." Laurel took a sip of her tea and found it bitter. She hated places that did not serve sweetened tea. Sugar never dissolved correctly in cold beverages. She took three of the white packets and added them to her glass. "How can you drink that without sugar?"

"You get used to it. I actually prefer it that way now. Where is home?"

"Hattiesburg. It isn’t far from Biloxi and I thought about driving up there that evening and then meeting the band in New Orleans the next day."

"Going to get your girl?"

"How’d you guess?"

"Why do you think I don’t go out wenching?" He laughed. "I have a girl back home I haven’t seen in five months."

"Wow. How does your relationship survive?" Laurel was impressed and amazed. Of all the things they discussed, relationships never entered the conversations.

"I don’t really know. I call or email her every night from the road. She’s pretty loyal. Better than I deserve anyway."

"Yeah, Nicole is that way too."

"Was she with you during your rough, street rat period?"

"I never had a street rat period." Laurel answered. Some people still believed the original article. It had embellished her past history a little too much. "Granted my parents kicked me out of the house, I never lived on the street. My brother’s fiancé gave me a place to stay. I got a job and paid part of the rent and still graduated college."

"I can understand that. I got involved in the whole club thing. Touring different bars, sleeping with different women, getting drinks for free. It was the epitome of the rock star life at twenty-six. I went a little overboard, lost my wife, went through rehab and took up jogging. You knew about the rehab part. I pretty much tell everyone that now when I first meet them on tour. It helps avoid the questions about why I don’t have a beer in my hand. The current is actually in the Navy, so the distance and separation thing is easier than it would be otherwise."

"How long are you going to keep this up?" Laurel asked. She was getting tired of it already. Part of her loved it while the rest hated it. She no longer knew which voice to listen to about it.

"I want to go out with at least one hit single. Were you serious about selling us a few of your songs? We might have a hit with one of those. It worked for you guys. They really are well written."

"Thanks." The compliment, coming from another musician, meant a lot.

"And here’s your cheese fries." The waiter placed two orders of the cheese laden potato strips on the table. "I just have one question. The wimps over there would like to know if you are Lakky?"

"Yeah I am. Why?" Laurel was not accustomed to being approached. She had been with BJ when the drummer had been surrounded by a group of adoring female fans, but they had not paid her the slightest bit of attention. Of course, during her few ventures into the local gay scenes, she was mobbed, hit on and almost molested, but even that was rare. Mostly people left her alone, and her groupies generally waited for her to make the first move. She guessed they all read the same article.

"Well, that guy over there." He pointed to a young man behind the bar. "Plays the bass in a band and wanted your autograph, but he’s too chicken to come over here himself."

"Tell him to come over here and I’ll sign something." Laurel was bemused. "Oh shut up." She scowled at Larry. The lead guitarist for Growed Upstarts was laughing so hard he had tears coming from his eyes.

"Oh the price of fame and glory." He managed to get the words out around his guffaws.

The young bartender quickly ran around the bar and out the front door. Laurel was puzzled until he reappeared with a bass. He brought it over. Laurel could read the pride and trepidation in his face.

"This looks like my favorite bass." Laurel looked at the heavy wooden instrument. Like hers, his was an antique and weighed approximately twenty pounds. "My brother bought it for me."

"I got this one at a pawn shop. The other guys laughed because it’s not all plastic and wires. Can you sign it for me?" He looked hopeful.

"Sure. Do you have a marker?" Laurel usually carried a pen with her, but never a marker. "I wouldn’t worry about them making fun of it. I still use mine for all of our recording and at least half of our concerts." She took the marker the waiter handed her and wrote a short note and her name across the body of the bass. "There you go."

"Thank you very much." He took the bass reverently.

"Oh, here take this as well." Laurel pulled an all access pass from her back pocket.

"And this one." Larry pulled the one he had been given from his pocket. "These will get you backstage access to the concert tonight. Each one is good for two people."

"That does it." The waiter yelled. "Your meal is on the house. Anything else we can get you?"

"No." Laurel laughed. "This is fine. Thank you."

"We’ll leave you alone now. Enjoy the rest of your dinner." The waiter dispersed the rest of the crowd.

"We will. Thank you." Larry grinned.


part 22

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