Laurel was grateful for this two-week break in the tour. Unlike most of the people on tour with them, she had chosen to remain in a city outside their previous stop. She was looking forward to two weeks of sleep, rest, and relaxation. Two weeks without Jenna sweetened the pot. The guitarist was on her way to France with Terry. The only other people staying who she talked to were BJ, Steve and Larry. Larrys girlfriend was at sea, and he did not want to spend two weeks alone in an empty apartment.
Mandy and Sam convinced BJ to remain. They were both taking a vacation at the same time and neither of them wanted to stay in Hattiesburg. The two were scheduled to arrive sometime that evening. Laurel was glad Sam and BJ had worked out their problems. He was a lot happier as a result, which made him easier to live with.
Their last concert before the break had been the previous evening. The label arranged for those remaining to spend the time at a rent-by-the-week hotel, at their own expense of course. It was not the nicest place she had stayed at, but it was not the worst either. At least it was clean. The beds were comfortable, the bathroom was adequate, but the small kitchen made up for any lack. As soon as Larry noticed the little kitchens, he arranged for cooking lessons. Laurel agreed to the idea enthusiastically. She could not live with Mandy forever and there was no guarantee that Nicole would take her back. She was ready to learn how to stand on her own.
Her first day of freedom led her to the local Wal-Mart. Unlike most of the other bands, blue gecko did not hire assistants. Laurel passed along the information Ms. Baker had given her before they left New York. Everything the label paid for, from the hotels to the food, came from the bands gross profits. The label did not use its own money for anything once the band was signed. Only Jenna protested, but she was outvoted every time she brought up the subject. She was still sulking over it. Laurel thought she could sulk all she wanted, especially in France. They would not make money if she continued to spend it. As it was, the guitarist was not speaking to her anyway. Their little fight finished any friendship they may have had.
The trip to Wal-Mart was a relief as well as a necessity. It was nice doing something as normal as buying dog food, a new computer game and deodorant. Of course she bought more than her list dictated. Monetary freedom and boredom contributed to a few rather strange purchases. What she would do with a personal data assistant she did not know, but it had been too tempting to leave at the store.
Laurel took two of her stranger purchases into the little bathroom. Already she was bored with the routine of touring. The only relief in the repetition was her running sessions with Larry and the others. Even those were getting old. Temptation was getting harder and harder to resist. Drugs, alcohol and groupies were everywhere. Her conversation with Sharon a few days ago had brought all of that back. She lay awake now, remembering her past life. It was becoming harder to concentrate on the future with echoes of the past tormenting her.
Shaking off her thoughts, Laurel took the box from the bag and read the instructions carefully. She had been unable to buy the item at Wal-Mart, but fortunately the little strip mall boasted several unique stores. The taxi driver had patiently waited for her to search them all. He appreciated the tip she gave him as a result.
The other item she did purchase at Wal-Mart with the rest of her stuff. She was badly in need of a haircut. It was one thing she felt she could do herself. She did not often trust strangers with sharp objects around her head. It was hard enough getting the tip of one ear and the side of the other pierced that afternoon. It did not hurt, but it still made her nervous to have someone point a gun type object at her head.
Fortunately the bathroom light had an electrical outlet. She plugged in the chord for electric clippers and faced her reflection. She could not decide if she wanted a trim or if she wanted to just shave of the lot of it. It was the scar on the edge of her forehead that kept her from shaving her head. It ran from an inch above her ear to her forehead where it curved down toward her left eyebrow. The only visible part was an inch and a half in length. She hated it. It was a reminder she did not want or need. She decided to keep it covered. She did not want to field questions about it.
"Ok, something short but cute. That should work. I hope." She turned to the rooms only other occupant. BJ was in the room next door. "What do you think Muggster?" The dog looked up, snorted, and went back to sleep. "Youre a lot of help."
"Yo, Lakky, you in there?" A pounding came from the door in the wall that led into the drummers room.
"Yeah." She opened the door. "Whats up?"
"What are you doing?" He asked. She still had the clippers in her hand. "Ah, Ill cut yours if you cut mine."
"Ok. Just dont shave it, alright?"
"If you promise not to do the same." He pushed his long locks from his forehead. His dark hair was beginning to curl.
"Sure. How do you want it?" She took a chair from the little kitchen table. "Here take a seat." She went back into the bathroom to claim a towel. She unplugged the electric cord and took it to the table. There was an outlet near the table. "Ok, how do you want it?" She asked as she draped the towel around his shoulders.
"I dont care." She plugged the cord into the wall and then into the clippers. "Surprise me." He told her.
"No problem." She brushed his hair back and thought about how to begin. "You want it short?"
"Thatll work. I just hate pulling it back into a ponytail, and it gets everywhere if I dont." He complained.
"Yeah, Im having the same problem. The little things they dont tell you when you sign up for gigs like this." She parted his hair and adjusted the settings on the clippers. "Alright. Keep your head still."
"Yes, maam. I have no desire to go through life with only one ear." He sat up straight and held his head up high.
It was relaxing. It was not the first time Laurel had ever cut someone elses hair, but it was the first time she was asked not to shave it. The dark brown locks fell to the floor; each bunch was at least seven inches long. BJ usually wore his hair long. She thought he must need a change as well. It was one of the subtler ways touring the country changed them.
"Here you go." She pulled the towel from his shoulders and shook it out. "What do you think?" She asked as he went into the bathroom to look.
"I like it." His hair was now at most two inches long. It was almost what some termed a Caesar cut. "You did this pretty well. Where did you learn to cut hair?"
"I didnt. I shaved someones head once, but that was about the extent of it. This has a setting see." She showed him the clippers instructions. "All I had to do was set the length."
"Ok. That makes sense. Anyway, take a seat. Its my turn." He grinned in a way that made her nervous.
"Wait a minute big man, have you ever done this before?"
"Yep. My grandmother was a hairdresser. Whenever I would visit her over the summer as a child, or later whenever my mother would just drop me off there, she would teach me about it. It was an attempt to keep me out of trouble. I was very popular in rehab since I knew how to dye, wash and cut hair." He pushed her down into the chair. "Now, trust me. How short do you want it?"
"I have no idea. Just keep the scar covered."
"I can do that." She relaxed into the chair, closed her eyes, and willed herself not to kill him if it turned out badly. She felt him pause a few times to adjust the settings on the clippers. She refused to look up each time he paused.
"Alright, there we go." He pulled the towel from her shoulders. "Go take a look. If you dont like it, we can go shorter."
"Ok." She wandered into the bathroom and looked into the mirror. She was surprised, but liked it. Her hair was shagged. It fell to the base of her skull, the way she normally had it cut, but the sides were a bit shorter. She brushed them behind her ears. She liked the effect. The bangs were not even two inches long and fell easily down her forehead. The scar was covered.
"What do you think?" He called from the other room.
"I like it. I really do." She walked back into the room. "How long has it been since youve dyed someones hair?"
"Why would you want to dye yours? Most women would kill to be a natural blonde."
"Because Im bored. Now, do you want to do it or shall I?" She rarely saw being blonde a plus.
"Ill do it, but you have to promise not to tell anyone I did it." He took the box from her. "Damn girl, are you trying to drive away your groupies?"
"Nope. Im actually growing kinda fond of them. So where do you want to do this?"
"In the bathroom." He opened the box. "I dont know who is going to kill me more. Mandy or Harold."
"Its not their hair, so its not their concern."
"True. Alright lets get this started." He followed her into the bathroom. "What time are we supposed to meet Larry?"
"We have two hours. Is that enough time?"
"Yep. Thatll do it. Ready?"
"Yep. Lets do it."
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"You know, its always nicer to see them go." Stan commented as the large car pulled out of the driveway.
"Yes it is. Now we need to air out the house." Nicole stretched. Gertrude and Louise finally took the hint and decided to leave. Nicole thought it had more to do with her role-playing with Sheryl than anything else.
"Ive already started that. Im so glad you quit that evil habit." Melba commented as she opened the windows in the living room.
"Yeah, me too. Do you need some help?" Nicole asked.
"No, I can get it. Im not that old." Melba laughed.
"Yeah, neither are we." Sheryl did not ask, but went to assist the housekeeper. Before long, every window in the house was open except those in Adias room.
"Now what?" Stan asked. "By the way, did I compliment you two on your performances last night and this morning?"
"No you didnt. Did you like them?" Sheryl struck a pose. "Were thinking about taking it on the road. Scare your relatives with the infamous lesbian couple."
"That would pull in a lot of money. Ill be your manager." He volunteered. "We could rent out Danny and Aaron too."
"Oh god, that would be interesting. Those two playing acting when theyre already head over heels." Nicole laughed.
"Yeah, but wed make a ton of money." Stan informed her. "Speaking of which, what are yall planning on doing this evening?"
"Danny said he had something to do this evening, but would meet us at the Warehouse after dinner." Nicole shrugged. "He wouldnt tell me more than that. They should be there now. Aaron and him are staying in my apartment this evening."
"I guess they wanted to do dinner with his parents." Sheryl shrugged. "I cant think of anything else they have to do."
"Well, Brians rehearsal dinner is tonight." Stan told them.
"I dont think hed be there. That side of his family disowned him." Nicole shook her head. "Now his fathers family thinks he walks on water."
"Doesnt he?" Sheryl asked. "Top of his class in high school and college, the most popular deejay in the county, and an overall great guy. I dont know why his family did what they did to him."
"Laurels disowned her." Nicole shrugged. "Of course, it was about more than her being gay."
"Why did they? I cant imagine my parents ever disowning me." Stan commented.
"Thats because you have great parents." Sheryl told him. "My parents are great, but there are so many of us its easy to let some things slide into the background."
"I guess thats why Im glad its just me and Jessie. Though Nicole has always been more a sister than a cousin."
"And youve been more of a brother." Nicole was touched by his words.
"Yeah, yeah, we are family." Sheryl commented. "Can we go to dinner now? Its getting too mushy in here."
"You were doing fine with mush earlier." Nicole pointed out.
"That was acting." The critic protested.
"You deserve an award for that." Melba commented as she reentered the room. "You both do."
"Thank you." Sheryl bowed. "I couldnt have done it without the loving support of my best friend and partner, my family, and the inspiration I received from the muse of evilness."
"Alright, ham, lets get out of here. Were going to dinner and then the Warehouse, in case something comes up." Nicole steered Sheryl to the door. "Kay will be here shortly wont she?"
"Go and have fun. Nothing will happen. The nurse, Kay and I will be here." Melba waved off the photographers concern.
"Ok." She took a deep breath. She was suddenly nervous about leaving her grandmother alone. She knew though that Kay and Melba would be of more help than she would.
"Come on, Hotshot, everything will be ok." Sheryl led her to the door. "Ill drive."
"Thatll work. I dont want to put more miles on my car before I sell it."
"You did decide to sell it?" Stan asked.
"Yeah, it doesnt make sense to keep two. I have the convertible. I dont need the other." Nicole opened the passenger door. "Shotgun."
"Shit. Alright, Ill be nice." Stan grumbled as he climbed into the back seat.
"Need me to pull the seat up?" She asked as she sat down.
"Nope. Ill just sit sideways with my feet behind shorty. Your legs are as long as mine anyway."
"Watch that shorty business." Sheryl warned as she started the car. "The Warehouse first?"
"Unless you want to pay to park." Nicole told her.
"The Warehouse then."
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"Good lord, what happened to the two of you?" Larry asked as he opened his door.
"Nothing, why?" Laurel asked.
"Lets see, BJs hair is short and an Elvis blue black instead of brown, and yours is purple. Did you meet a mad barber or something?"
"Nope. We were just bored with the norm." BJ answered. "Well, are you going to invite us in?" They used the rest of the dye on BJs hair. It did not turn purple as planned, but black with purple and blue highlights. He liked it.
"You didnt join a vampish cult or anything did you?" Larry teased as he held the door open for them.
"We regressed a bit." Laurel explained. "Its been a long time since either of us dyed our hair weird colors. Feels kinda nice to be immature again." She looked in the mirror over his dresser. She still liked the effect. It was odd, but she liked it. She liked it more when she thought about the heart attack Jenna would have.
"Regression is not good. It can be fun, but its not good." Larry warned.
"Dont worry. Its not like were gonna smoke crack and knock over a video store." The bassist took a seat at his little table. "Now, what all did you want to do today?"
"First thing we need to do is go shopping for food. I managed to find some cooking utensils, and I had a few on the bus, so were set in that area." He seemed excited. "I thought wed invite Steve to join us. Were gonna eat what we cook tonight, then we can go explore the city."
"Sounds fine to me." BJ stood. "Ill go fetch Stevie."
"So, you feel like youre regressing?" Larry took a seat across from the bassist.
"A little. I met up with an old friend a little while ago. Things have kinda felt different since then."
"Why would that make you feel different?"
"She was the other person in the car when I had my accident. Im sure you read that in the article Jenna gave the interview for."
"Yeah, it was hard to avoid, but didnt I see you talking to a reporter?" He offered her a cigarette before lighting one.
"Thanks. Yeah you did. I gave an interview to a small, gay magazine." Laurel laughed. "I know a certain deejay who gets that magazine."
"And having him read the article is a good thing then?"
"Yep. It should be at least." She grinned. "His best friend is my current ex-girlfriend."
"Ah, it all makes sense now."
"I thought it would. So what are we making tonight?"
"Stir-fry. If you master one thing, make it this. I guarantee itll get you laid." He winked.
"Ill make sure to pay close attention then."
"Did I hear a guarantee to get laid?" Steve asked from the doorway. "Im all for that."
"Me too. When do we learn?" BJ asked.
"First thing is the trip to the store. You must learn how to buy the ingredients." He seemed thrilled with each little part of the lesson. "My mother would be so proud of this."
"Why is that?" Laurel asked as he directed them to a car. "And why do you have a car here?"
"I rented it. My mom was a chef. She would be pleased to know I paid attention to her cooking lessons." Larry explained. "The manager said there was a grocery store near here." He pulled the car into traffic.
"Yeah, I can see the sign." Steve pointed to the left. "Two blocks up it looks like."
"Not a problem." Larry maneuvered the car into the other lane. "That wasnt so bad."
"You dont normally drive do you?" Laurel asked as the car protested his shifting attempts.
"No, I cant say I do. I grew up in a large city with public transport. I have a drivers license, but thats more for identification purposes."
"Then Ill drive back." The bassist commented as Larry pulled into the parking lot. He jumped the curb.
"Curb check." BJ announced.
"Its still there." Steve answered.
"Alright, no picking on the cook." Larry parked the car between two spaces. "Lets go buy some food."
The grocery store was not new, nor was it a superstore. It was small and so old it looked dirty. The green and white tile looked as if it had never been mopped. They knew the looks were deceiving when they were forced to detour around a yellow caution sign. At least that section of the floor was clean.
"Ok, first were going to get the stuff to make dinner. Then we can get whatever you want to keep in your rooms." Larry grabbed a shopping cart. "To the veggies."
"Veggies?" Steve asked. He was not a fan of green food.
"Yep." The guitarist made sure they were following. "Here we go. Snap beans." He pulled a plastic bag from the stand. "You want to make sure there are no bad spots on them." He shoved handfuls of the beans into the bag. "Next, asparagus. Make sure they arent soft and wilting." He looked through the stores offerings until he found a grouping of asparagus that met his approval.
"Now what?" Laurel asked. She was actually paying close attention. It kept her from noticing the strange looks the other customers were throwing her and BJ.
"Chicken breast." Larry led the way to the poultry department. "Here we go." He chose a package of chicken tenders. "These are easier to cut up." He told them as he set them into the cart.
"Now for snack food?" Steve seemed eager.
"Yep. We have to have something to eat for the rest of the time we arent cooking." BJ grinned. He was facing the cookie aisle. "Split up?"
"Yeah, we can do more damage that way." Laurel grinned. "Meet near the cashiers in five?"
"Sounds good. Lets go." Steve headed for the candy aisle.
The bassist went for ice cream. She chose a few pints of her favorite flavors before heading to the yogurt section. Laurel hated yogurt, but that was where the pudding was kept. She chose a package of pudding and turned to where she last saw BJ. The drummer was gathering packages of cookies into his arms.
"You know, it looks like weve got a major case of the munchies." Laurel told him.
"Yeah I know. Oh well, people will get over it." He grinned. "Im just trying to load up. You know we never get to really eat properly now anyway. It makes sense to keep something in our rooms."
"True. Very true." The bassist grabbed a package of chocolate chip cookies. "Ok, I dont think I can hold anymore."
"Well come back before we start the tour again." BJs arms were full of snack food. "I didnt see those."
"Well share." Laurel was eyeing some of his selections. "Lets get out of here before they call the cookie patrol on us."
"Good idea." The drummer laughed.
Larry was already in line when they got to the cashier. He did not buy any junk food, but he did get spices for stir-fry. One by one they made it through the line. Laurel was surprised she spent so much on junk food. She never bought much of it before this tour. BJ was right. They never seemed to have time to eat decent food.
"Well that was educational." Steve hefted his bags and placed them into the trunk of the car.
"Yeah really. I had no idea you could spend so much on ice cream and cookies." Laurel added her bags to the growing pile. She added a carton of cigarettes to the pile as well. She hated finding a gas station to buy more.
"Guess well know better next time." BJ commented.
"I did the same thing when we started touring. The only reason I didnt buy anything else was I have plenty in my room still." Larry laughed. "I went a few days ago and stocked up."
"Makes sense." Laurel took the keys from him. "Are we doing this as soon as we get back?"
"Yep. All that shopping has made me hungry." BJs stomach growled to underline his point.
"Cool." The bassist turned on the radio. She had the desire to hear something new. She was tired of the same songs she heard and played every night. "Damn. I think that song is following us."
"Turn it please." Steve begged. Goddess of Desire was on the rock station.
"Doesnt look like we have much of a choice." The bassist told him after performing a search for radio stations. "We have rap, country, oldies and us."
"Silence is golden." The drummer cast his vote. They rode in silence back to the hotel. It was easier that way, as they could not agree on a radio station.
A Brief Interlude
Danny adjusted his tie and looked in the full-length mirror behind Nicoles bathroom door. He was pleased with the black suit though he knew none of his family would be. However, he felt the situation warranted the dark attire. He had planned this moment since Nicole told him the news. He was willing to cover for his cousin for her sake, in fact he volunteered to be the childs father before she asked, but he refused to let his cousin off the hook. Brian typically got away with everything he did. Danny did not want him to get away with this. This was too personal.
"Are you done primping hon?" Aaron called from the living area.
"Yeah, what do you think?" He pirouetted, making sure that the pants showed off his wingtips.
"I think you look incredible, but that is my rather humble opinion." Aaron made a great show of checking his lovers appearance.
"You look outstandingly nice, as always. Are we ready?"
"Are you sure this is a good idea? I mean we arent invited or anything."
"No, but we need to be there." Danny could feel the evilness in the grin and accepted it. He was not going on a social visit.
"I agree, but Im more prone to the indirect approach. You know, a little judicious kidnapping with the victim waking up in Sri Lanka."
"Nah, hed enjoy it too much. Lets get out of here."
Danny led the way from the Warehouse to the Cathedral. It was not a long walk, and the two men took their time making their way down the cobble-stoned sidewalks. Out of years of habit, the deejay made the sign of the cross before entering the old cathedral. His family, including his mother and father, were already there.
"Danny." The diminutive woman pulled her son into a bone-shattering hug.
"Mom, you remember Aaron?" Manners took over as he reintroduced his mother and his lover.
"Of course, knock off that gentleman crap." His mother gave a good-natured motherly swat to his arm and a welcoming smile to Aaron. "Aaron, its nice to see you again, though I dont know how you put up with my boy."
"Must take loads of patience." A tall blonde man walked up to the group. "Danny." He pulled his son into a hug. "And Aaron of course. We dont get to see enough of either you."
"We will try to be here more often." Danny promised. "Now, whats going on here?"
"Well, Brian and Brenda are going through the whole thing tonight and then he is having his bachelor party right after. We managed to tell everyone that you were going to be here, so your aunt knows. Shes not happy about it, but she knows and so does Brian. Now, what are you going to do?" His mother looked stern, but Danny was glad he had talked her into the plan.
"I just want to talk to him, thats all."
"Yeah right." His father did not look convinced. "Anyway, theyre almost finished with the last minute changes. Take a seat and watch for a bit before you run off and bust heads."
"Thanks Dad." Danny clapped his father on the shoulder as the older man returned to his station by the door. He was an usher for his nephews wedding, though he had confided to his son that he was unwilling.
Danny and Aaron attempted to make themselves as comfortable and as inconspicuous as possible. However, it was not all that easy. The wooden pews had cushions, but the parishioners had worn those down over time and no one had replaced the faded material yet. Also, two young men, obviously close friends and both wearing dark suits, stuck out in the vaulted ceiling sanctuary of the old cathedral.
"Thats neat." Aaron pointed to the ceiling.
"Yeah I used to lose myself in the paintings as a child. That statue has always been my favorite though." He pointed to the one behind the last pew and between the doorways. It was a statue of Joan of Arc, patron saint of New Orleans.
"That is really cool." Aaron twisted around to look at it.
"Oh, looks like theyre finished. Wanna shadow him?" He was eager to accomplish his mission. No one had spoken to them during the rehearsal. Dannys parents accepted his lifestyle and his relationship with Aaron, but this side of his family did not. That is why he had not been invited to his cousins wedding.
"Its your plan. Whatever you wish to do."
"Good, lets go." Danny stood and waved his lover to his feet.
The two men walked casually back into the wings where the choir waited before entering the sanctuary during Mass. Brian was there alone, refolding a sheet of paper and placing it in his pocket. He looked up as Aaron closed the door behind him.
"Danny? What the hell are you doing here?"
"Thats not nice language, especially in a church." The deejay told his cousin. "Course you have been a naughty boy lately havent you?"
"What the hell are you talking about? And what are you doing here? I dont want you at my wedding."
"Im not going to be at your wedding, Brian. Im only here tonight because I wanted to talk to you." He began to take off his jacket. "So, lets chat, cousin."
"Why would I want to talk to you?" Brians disgust was plainly written on his face.
"Because you did a very bad thing to my dearest friend not too long ago. I dont like it when bad things happen to my friends."
"And I dont like it either." Aaron removed his jacket and carefully laid it across a low table by the door. "So, we are here to do something about it."
"What are two fags going to do to me?"
"Oh, just this." Danny swung with all his might and landed a neat right hook to his cousins stubborn jaw. Brian fell back against the wall and stood there dazed. "Now, I am not asking for an apology. In fact all I am asking for you to do is leave Nicole alone. Dont go near her, dont look at her, dont call her and dont even think about her."
"Or else what?" Brian regained his footing and glared defiantly at his cousin.
"This." Aaron did not hide the smile on his face as he threw a well-balanced roundhouse to Brians midsection.
"Now, you go near her again, and if you ever even THINK about raping her again, Im going to kill you." Danny added a solid left jab to the injured mans nose. "So, thats all I had to say to you." He wiped his bruised and bloody knuckles on his cousins shirt. "Well, congratulations. She does seem like a nice girl, and Im sure youll be happy together."
Before Brian could register what just happened to him, Danny and Aaron had donned their jackets.
"It was nice meeting you." Aaron called over his shoulder as he followed his lover out the door. Both men were unable to stop themselves from giggling like school children. It had all gone as planned.
"I think he got our point, Mom." Danny told her. "Well see you tomorrow?"
"Yeah, well call after the wedding and take you two out to dinner. Take care." She stretched on her toes and kissed each of them on the cheek.
"Until then, we have to go find Nicole and Sheryl." Aaron reminded the deejay.
"Ok, theyll love it when we tell them what happened." Danny smiled. He could not find it in himself to be guilty. "At least Sheryl will."
"That she will." Aaron held the door open for his lover and followed him out into the growing darkness of New Orleans.