"Do I look alright?" BJ asked for the eighth time.
"You look fine." Larry answered for the others. "You did say that dye washes out didnt you?"
"Yes it does. Twenty-five washes according to the box." Laurel checked her look in the mirror. "They should be here by now."
"Calm down. Theyll be here when they get here. Mandy doesnt drive as fast as you do." Steve commented.
"They did call and say they were at the airport almost half an hour ago. Are you sure we gave them the right directions?" BJ paced the floor again.
"Yes. I gave them the correct directions." Laurel stood, opened the door and lit a cigarette.
"Will you two quit worrying?" Larry asked. He joined Laurel at the door with a cigarette. "Youd think theyd never gone anywhere without you."
"Im not worried. Im just a bit anxious. I havent seen Mandy since we left. It feels like its been years." She inhaled deeply. "At least Jennas not here."
"Now thats a story we all want to hear." Steve said. He had not been present at the altercation.
"Ill only tell it once, so wait until Mandy and Sam get here." She was sick of thinking about it. She had thought of nothing else for the two days since it happened.
"Hey, that has to be them." BJ bounced on his toes. A car pulled into the parking lot. "It is." He ran to meet them. Laurel and the others followed a little slower.
"Arent you going to give me a hug?" Mandy was out of the car almost before it stopped. "What on earth did you do to your hair?"
"Its good to see you too, Mandy." Laurel laughed as she embraced her friend. She was not prepared for the tears that wanted to show themselves. "It washes out."
"I hope so." Mandy let go and held her at arms length. "Youve not been eating either. Youve lost weight."
"Not so much. Its been the lack of your excellent cooking."
"Suck up." Mandy laughed. "Whos your friend?"
"Mandy, this is Larry. Larry, my roommate, savior, and best friend, Mandy." Laurel stepped back so the two could shake hands. "Larry has been my mentor on the tour."
"So you told me. Its nice to finally meet you, Larry. BJ and Laurel have been singing your praises for a while now."
"And they have yours as well." He blushed in the dim light.
"Shall we go inside?" Laurel asked.
"I didnt get my hug." Steve protested. Mandy obliged. "It is good to see you again. Its pity Jennas not here, since Im sure you would have loved to see her with a black eye."
"Who gave her a black eye?" The redhead asked.
"I did." Laurel answered shortly. "Yo, BJ. Quit making out and give everyone else a turn to say hello."
"Just dont say it the way I did." He warned as he released his girlfriend.
"Now would I do that?" Laurel teased. "Its nice to see you again, Sam."
"You too. I like the hair color." Sam pulled her into a hug. "Have you been keeping this bear on his best behavior?"
"Of course." Laurel lied. "We havent once set a hotel on fire."
"Im glad to hear it." Sam laughed. "Now, whats this about black eyes?"
"Ill explain inside." She wanted their full attention. She did want to repeat the story.
"Alright, everyone inside, move it." Mandy ushered the group into Laurels room. "Now, whats the deal?"
"Do you want anything to drink?" Laurel asked to prolong the moment.
"No." The shout was almost in unison.
"Alright, dont scare the puppy." She picked the over excited dog up and held her. "Well, Jenna let something slip the other night. She came to my room while BJ was out with Larry. A bass string had snapped on stage and cut a pretty decent whelp on my arm. She used that as an excuse. She asked if I were ready to admit Nicole was right in letting me go since I was getting more accustomed to being on tour."
"You never told us that was why she dumped you." Steve commented. "She did it to make you come with us?"
"Yes. At least that was the major reason. There were a few others, I think, but that was the main one. Anyway, since I hadnt told the band why Nicole and I broke up, it made me a little suspicious."
"Dont blame you." Mandy commented. "Would have made me suspicious too."
"So I asked her how she knew." Laurel pictured the scene in her head. She was no stranger to violence, but she almost regretted her reactions. "She refused to answer at first. We got into a huge verbal argument. Finally, she told me that shes the one who told Nicole why I turned the offer to make the CD down. She told her that I chose my girlfriend over my responsibilities to the band. She made Nicole feel like she would be keeping me in Hattiesburg."
"She did that at the party didnt she?" BJ asked. He did not look happy.
"Yes she did." Laurel took a deep breath. "Thats not the worst of it. The day Nicole dumped me; she called the house to apologize. Jenna answered the phone. According to Jenna, Nicole only got off the phone after the bitch told her I wanted nothing to do with her. She told her that I decided to make the CD and basically that Nicole was right."
"And then you went ballistic, didnt you?" Mandy asked.
"Not quite. I was starting to see red, but then it got really bad. I remember yelling at her, but I dont remember what I said. Im surprised no one heard us. The door was open the entire time. Something I said pissed Jenna off. She made a smartass comment about Nicole being a slut and how our relationship was based on pity because of Jon. Then, she admitted to telling the paper about my history. I lost it." Laurel leaned back against the headboard. "I attacked. We wrestled around for a bit before I got a good shot. I blackened her eye, she bloodied my lip, and Harold broke us up."
"What happened then?" Sam asked. She seemed caught up in the tale. She did not like Jenna either.
"Harold called us all in for a meeting. He suggested we go to group therapy or something. He said the band was on the verge of self destructing, and we had to stop it before it happened." BJ answered.
"Yeah, and Im supposed to take anger management classes." Laurel sighed. "Its a huge fucking mess. She started it, but I get into trouble for it."
"What are you going to do?" Mandy crossed the room and sat down on the bed. She patted the bassists hand.
"I dont know. I have until the end of the week to think about it. Harold is back in New York visiting his kids. When he gets back, were supposed to have another meeting." She leaned into her friends welcoming shoulder. "I have no idea what Im going to do."
"Thats an easy one." Larry spoke up for the first time since they entered the room. "Go home."
"Why?" She asked.
"You know you want to. Whats keeping you here now?" He countered. "Ill admit well all miss you, but if its such a hassle, one of you should quit. Jenna wants this, you dont."
"Thats true. Who would take my place?" Laurel looked around. "Sam?"
"I could. I would have to fly home and arrange it so my kid would be taken care of." She shrugged. "It would let me keep an eye on this guy."
"I dont see why you cant bring the kid along." BJ commented.
"Ok, well, if youre willing to do it, youre more than welcome to be me. We need to wait until Harold returns though. I dont wanna just leave this time. I should tie all the loose ends up first." Laurel felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from her chest.
"That gives us one week to teach Sam the songs." Steve commented. "I guess we should start early tomorrow. We can use the arena for practice."
"Ill help. I think I still know how to run sound." Larry stood. "So, since that is settled, I suggest we let our guests and my new friends unpack and get some sleep."
"I think thats a good idea." Laurel agreed. "Mandys in here, and Sams in BJs room."
"Ok. Give us the keys and well get the luggage. Cmon, BJ, tear yourself away long enough for some manual labor." Steve took the car keys from Mandy. "Be right back."
"I guess this is yours?" BJ asked as he reentered the hotel room.
"Yep. Lets go hit the sack" Sam hurried from the bed into the adjoining room.
"Night guys." Steve called as he sat Mandys suitcase on the spare bed.
"Good night all." Laurel watched both doors close. It made her happy to see her friends happy. It also made her happy to have a plan of action. She did not like letting life decide her course. The party was over. It was time to go home.
<HR WIDTH="50%" COLOR="BLUE">
"Can you please stop pacing?" Sheryl asked.
"I cant help it." Nicole shrugged. It was learned behavior. Laurel paced. "I wish theyd tell us whats going on."
"They will when they know something." Danny reassured her. He was still in his suit from the wedding rehearsal.
The four of them had only been at the Warehouse for a few minutes before Kay called. Adia had taken a turn for the worse and was being rushed to the hospital. Nicole had commandeered Sheryls car and had actually beaten the ambulance to the emergency room. Now she was back in another waiting room, pacing the floor while waiting on news. The entire family, at least the ones who lived in New Orleans, was there as well. It did not look as if they would celebrate Thanksgiving this year.
"I know. Its just that." She stopped. Words failed her. She did not want to admit that it would almost be a relief. She had accepted her grandmothers approaching death, but she did not like seeing her in pain. A long talk with Father Jason had helped Nicole put her life in perspective. She knew when Adia drew her last breath; the matriarch would no longer be bothered by anything. However, she felt guilty in a way for wishing the pain would stop, for if the pain stopped, so would Adias life.
"I know." Danny wrapped his arms around her. "You want it over, but you dont. My mother was the same when my grandmother died. She wanted the pain to end, but she didnt want to speed up the end. She felt guilty for wishing, and helpless to do anything about it. Youre doing the same thing arent you?"
"You know me too well." She commented as she leaned into his embrace. It felt nice to be understood and supported.
"Any word?" Stan asked as he approached. "Jessies on her way."
"Good. She was able to get a ticket?"
"Two tickets." Stan corrected. "Shes bringing a friend home with her. Shell be here in the morning."
"Speaking of, you need to rest and quit worrying. This isnt healthy for you or the baby." Danny scolded in a soft tone.
"I agree. Theres nothing we can do here, we should at least go back to the Warehouse and wait." Stan suggested. "No one will think bad of us if we do."
"Yes they will. You know that." Nicole protested. "Like it or not, we need to stay here just like everyone else does."
"It was worth a shot." He said as he turned to survey the room. "Wheres Jay and Phil?"
"They were in Baton Rouge. I paged Phil after we got the news. Theyll be here in a few minutes now."
"Cmon, Nicole, sit down for a few." Danny steered her to the uncomfortable seats lining the wall.
For two hours, they sat in silence. The only sounds came from Denneys youngest sons game machine or the occasional cough. Even Phil and Jay were quiet. The doctor did appear to tell them Adia was being rushed into surgery. She had a blockage they needed to remove. Nicole did not listen to the details. It was all over her head anyway. Jay paid the greatest attention and watered it down for the rest of the family.
"Lets go stand outside. I could use a drink and a smoke." Sheryl whispered.
"Ok. Danny, lets go outside." Nicole nudged him in the ribs. He woke from his daze and nudged Aaron. Sheryl nudged Stan.
No one looked up as they made their way outside the waiting area. They were on the first floor and had easy access to the nurses smoking station. No one was outside. The four of them were content with that. Danny took the opportunity to tell Nicole about the rehearsal.
"I cant believe you did that." She was slightly shocked, but immensely gratified.
"Im glad someone did. Wish I could have been there though." Stan grumbled.
"I just love the image of Brian getting married tomorrow with a broken nose." Sheryl laughed. Her comment made them all laugh.
"I cannot believe you guys did that. Thank you." Nicole pulled each man into a hug. "I really hope you dont get into trouble for it."
"We shouldnt. Whats he going to do? Tell the cops?" Aaron asked. "It would hurt him more than it would us."
"I still wish I could have been there." Stan grumbled. "A member of the family should have been there. Its how we do things, you know."
"We know. Stan, to us Nicole is family. Thats why we decided to take care of it." Danny told him. "Not only am I from a large Southern family, Im also a military brat. My dad retired when I was in junior high, but I still remember the code. We handle things on our own, we take care of our own too."
"Hey, cuz. You were there when I needed you. I couldnt have gotten through all this with out you. There was no need to go whack asshole upside the head, ok?" Nicole put her arm around her cousins shoulder. She leaned in and kissed his temple. "Better?"
"Ok. Yeah." Stan mumbled.
"Geez, what is it with you people and mush lately?" Sheryl asked.
"Are you feeling left out Sheryl?" Aaron asked. He snuck behind the critic and wrapped her in a bear hug. "There, does that make it all better?"
"Put me down you goof." The critic hollered. "Honestly."
"Like you didnt enjoy that." Danny scolded. "We heard you almost laugh."
"Yeah, yeah. Whatever." Sheryl grumbled.
"Youre pissy today. Whats the matter?" Nicole asked.
"PMS. Dont worry, you wont have to deal with that for a while." The critic grinned.
"True, but can you picture what Nicole will be craving?" Aaron laughed. "My sister had a craving for spinach and artichoke dip one night at 3 in the morning. Then she wanted stuffed grape leaves, sushi and Mandarin pork all for lunch one day."
"When my mother was pregnant with my baby brother, she craved flour and corn starch. She would eat it from the bag." Sheryl grimaced. "We ate fried food at every meal for at least six months."
"Im glad I was too young to remember anything my mom might have craved." Stan commented.
"Lets not talk about cravings." Nicole wanted to end the conversation. Thoughts of food were starting to make her nauseous.
"Alright, back to the matter at hand. Should we call Cassie?" Stan redirected the topic of conversation.
"Maybe we should wait until we know anything. Id hate to have her fly down here for nothing." Nicole shrugged. "Speaking of, lets go back inside and see if theyll tell us anything yet."
"Yeah, that sounds like a good idea." Sheryl snubbed out her cigarette and tossed it into the trashcan by the door.
No one looked up as they entered. Several of the smaller children were draped across chairs. One or two of the older relatives were sleeping as well. Most were reading magazines or staring blankly at the wall. More Herberts were present for this than for Margies sudden reappearance at the hospital. Nicole remembered that scene all too well. Then she had been the black sheep of the family instead of her sister. Now, she was accepted without question. No one was left to be the outcast. There was not enough time left to create one.
"Any word?" Nicole whispered as she sat next to Jay. Phil was idly tearing a newspaper into strips.
"Not yet. The nurse came over and told us the doctor would be out shortly. That was right after you all went outside. We havent seen anyone since then." He spoke softly.
"Guess were back to waiting." Nicole always wondered why people spoke in lower tones at hospitals than they did in libraries. She felt it was a mystery she did not need solved.
"Are you all here for Ms. Herbert?" A tired looking doctor appeared before them.
"Yes, we are." Nicole stood. She did not know who elected her spokeswoman, but fell easily into the role.
"Mrs. Herbert is resting. Its still really touchy. There were some minor complications as well as one major one. She should regain consciousness in a few hours, if she does at all. I must warn you all now, the odds do not look good. Im too tired to be nice, so please excuse my bluntness. Weve made her as comfortable as possible. We dont think shes in pain, but until she wakes we wont know for sure. I suggest you all go home and rest. One person can stay here if you wish, but the rest of you should be at home in bed."
"Ill stay." Kay volunteered. "You go home, eat and get some rest ok?" She looked at Stan and Nicole. "I wont take no for an answer either. Stan, when your sister gets here, bring her by in the morning. Your father will bring my clothes."
"Are you sure?" Nicole asked. "I can stay."
"No, thats quite alright. Ill stay. I dont mind. You go relax with your friends. Tell Melba what happened. Im sure she wants to know."
"Ill call the house if anything comes up, ok?" Kay did not wait for an answer. She turned to her husband and seemed to ignore the rest of those waiting in the room.
"I guess were going back to the house. Danny, you and Aaron can drop us off then go get your stuff. You can stay at the house tonight." Nicole dug through her pocket to find her keys. "Stan?"
"Ill camp out at the house." He answered. "Ill take them back to get their stuff so I can grab a bag. Ill drive."
"Thanks." She handed him the keys. "Lets go home."
<HR WIDTH="50%" COLOR="BLUE">
"I guess you think I shouldnt have hit her." Laurel watched her old friend change clothes. She could appreciate Mandys beauty, but that was it. To her, it was almost as ingrained as looking at a painting. She could appreciate it, but she would never touch it. She felt that way about many of her female friends. Sheryl was the only real exception. Even with the critic, she could look, but she would never touch. She saved the more intimate appreciation of a womans art for strangers. However, there would only be one masterpiece for her. Nicole.
"I cant really answer that question." Mandy shrugged. "I wasnt there. From what you told me, I cant blame you for hitting her. It is in your nature to respond with force when you lose sense of words. Its never been in my nature to do more than yell."
"Thats because you have a very rare and gentle soul." She was glad Mandy did not seem upset. The redhead had been friend and mother for so long, Laurel did not want to disappoint her.
"I wouldnt go that far. I do get mad, pissed and frustrated. There are people I would love to slap, but I fight those feelings." Mandy admitted.
"Who would you love to slap?" It was news to her. She often wondered if Mandy ever got upset.
"The guy who shot Jon. That goes without saying, of course. Jody for what she did to you before her death. Id love to smack some sense into your parents, or at least watch as someone else did. Theres one more." Finished changing, Mandy sat down on the bed and faced her friend.
"Whos the one more?"
"Sharon Jenkins." The answer came easily.
"Ah. I can see that. There was a time I wanted to gut her on sight like a lemon fish." Laurel stretched out on her bed.
"What happened to change that?"
"I ran into her about a week or so ago."
"That explains the hair color." Mandy laughed. "What happened? Was it terrible?"
"Not really. I mean it was, but it wasnt at the same time. It was weird. She apologized though. Her father rigged it so Id get into trouble and no one would know Sharon had been there. She was sent off to rehab. She found out what happened a year or so after."
"Well at least you have closure now. Has it helped?"
"It has a little. Ok, it has a lot. Ive done a lot of thinking while Ive been out here." Laurel pulled herself into a sitting position. "I guess this has been a good experience on the whole, but I cant stay."
"I know. Im surprised you lasted this long. Youve matured out here, you know."
"You think so?"
"I know so. Purple hair aside, you would never have said what you did in that magazine, let Nicole go so willingly, or kept from hitting Jenna as long as you did a year ago. You would have taken everything out on the world just to prove it wouldnt get you down."
"Ive seen a lot out here so far. Larry says that people either grow up real quick or revert while on tour. Im glad I didnt revert too much. It would have been so easy too." She was glad she had a friendly ear to listen as she confessed her thoughts and feelings. "Girls, drugs, booze, its everywhere. And its all for the taking. Did I tell you what Terry and Jenna got me for my birthday?"
"No, what?" Mandy seemed interested.
"A stripper in a cake. I blew out the candles and she popped out of it. She was hired to do more, but I said no after the lap dance."
"How did you manage to sit still long enough for someone to give you one?" Mandy laughed.
"Terry held me down on the chair."
"So, have you picked anyone up?"
"Yes. I did. After that article came out, I wanted to escape and kinda think things over. I went to this bar and had a one-night stand. I was careful. We used protection."
"I know you did. You always have."
"I didnt with Nicole. I didnt have to. We both were committed and were healthy."
"Are you going to talk to her when you get home?"
"Yes." Laurel was grateful Mandy knew what questions to ask. It was almost an interview, but there were few times the bassist could volunteer information without prompting. "I need to. If she says no, then at least I gave it that one last shot. I hope she doesnt, but I dont know for sure. I do know that I cant love anyone else. I thought maybe Id get over it, but all I did was get more determined."
"Im glad you had the chance to get to know yourself better." Mandy smiled.
"Hey, I shared a room with BJ. Getting to know myself was a problem."
"Funny. You know what I meant."
"Yeah, I know. I feel like Ive changed a lot. Its kinda nice in a way. Its strange though, thats for sure." She pulled a drink from the small refrigerator. "I plan on telling Harold, flying back with you and then driving over to Nicoles."
"Laurel, shes not in Hattiesburg anymore. She moved." Mandy did not look happy as she imparted the news. "I should have told you sooner, but since you were with the band I didnt."
"Where is she?"
"I talked to Danny. He came over and borrowed a few pictures of you from New York for proof he said. He told me Nicole was back in New Orleans."
"I need a cigarette." Laurel rose and opened the door. She leaned against the doorway and lit a cigarette.
"Thats a crutch you know."
"So, youve told me. Man its cold up here." The wind was cold. "Wait a minute." She looked out farther into the darkness. "Get dressed."
"Youll see." Laurel banged on BJs door. "Take a break already. Its snowing."
"Its what?" BJ peeked around the door.
"It is snowing."
"No shit. Sam, get dressed. Theres some white stuff on the ground." He closed the door quickly.
"Mandy, Im going to go get Steve." She rushed off after pulling the door closed.
Steve was asleep when she began knocking on his door. She managed to get him coherent. He was as excited as the rest. Before long, the three band members, their two friends, and the puppy were outside playing in the snow.
"Damn this stuff is slippery." BJ complained as he rubbed his hip.
"Thats one thing they dont tell you about snow." Larry commented as he approached. "Theres ice under there sometimes. You guys look like youre having fun."
"This is the first time Ive ever really seen snow." Laurel told him.
"So, have you second guessed yourself yet?" Larry asked as they watched the others make angels in the snow.
"No. Im leaving. Im going home to collect my truck then Im going to New Orleans." She did not have to think about it. It was something she had to do. "I should have done it months ago."
"No. You were out here for a reason. That reason no longer exists. Now you can go home with a clear conscious. You did what you were supposed to." He commented.
"Whered you get that from? Its the first time Ive ever really done what Im supposed to do." She laughed.
"I dont know where that came from. I just know its true. Ive known since we started jogging. It was only a matter of time before what need to click did so and youd leave." He reached down and grabbed a handful of snow. "Now if you know where that information came from, please tell me. Im not into mysticism and stuff like that. It kinda freaks me out."
"Me too. Mandy would be the one to tell you where it came from." She lit another cigarette.
"Good. I may do so. Now, which one shall I aim for?" He tossed the snowball in his hand.
"BJ." She answered. She watched the ball arch against the dark sky and land right on the back of the drummers head. BJ whirled around in shock. Laurel laughed so hard her sides hurt. Unfortunately, she did not see Larry point to her. The next thing she knew, she was staring at the sky with a drummer on top of her. "What?"
"You hit me with a snowball. This means war." BJ poured snow down her shirt.
"Fuck thats cold." She squirmed from under him. The half finished cigarette ended up on the ground. "Larry, you bastard." She tossed a handful of snow at him. He laughed and ducked.
"Hows that feel, laughing boy?" Steve asked. He was sitting on Larrys back.
"Absolutely great. Free for all." Larry bellowed.
They took him at his word. The six of them spent several satisfying minutes slinging snow at one another. Muggster even entered the action. The small dog would choose a person to chase until she got bored or someone attacked Laurel. Muggster was very protective of her human. Anyone who attacked the bassist soon found a small heavy object nipping at his or her ankles.
"Alright, lets go warm up." Mandy called a halt to the games.
"Good idea. I could use some hot chocolate. My hands are frozen." BJ announced.
"Mine too. We have a vehicle. Lets go find some coffee or something." Laurel suggested. She felt too good to sleep now.
"Great. Anyone ever driven in snow before?" Steve asked. Only Larry nodded his head. "Right. We walk."
"Good idea." Laurel laughed. "I think theres a donut shop near here." She turned around to get her bearings. "Yeah, its half a block that way." She pointed to the barely visible sign.
"Half a block in cold weather?" Sam asked.
"Dont worry, Ill keep you warm." BJ wrapped his arms around her.
"Ugh. Lets go before they get all disgusting." Laurel led the way.
"This was fun." Mandy said as she caught up to the bassist.
"Yes it was. Thanks for coming up here."
"Thanks for asking us."
"Cant I get the last word in with you?" She laughed.
"Nope." Mandy grinned.
"I will one day, you know." Laurel promised.