"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 didn’t 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. They’ll be here when they get here. Mandy doesn’t 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. "You’d think they’d never gone anywhere without you."

"I’m not worried. I’m just a bit anxious. I haven’t seen Mandy since we left. It feels like its been years." She inhaled deeply. "At least Jenna’s not here."

"Now that’s a story we all want to hear." Steve said. He had not been present at the altercation.

"I’ll 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.

"Aren’t 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?"

"It’s 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 arm’s length. "You’ve not been eating either. You’ve lost weight."

"Not so much. It’s been the lack of your excellent cooking."

"Suck up." Mandy laughed. "Who’s 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. It’s 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 didn’t get my hug." Steve protested. Mandy obliged. "It is good to see you again. It’s pity Jenna’s not here, since I’m 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 don’t say it the way I did." He warned as he released his girlfriend.

"Now would I do that?" Laurel teased. "It’s 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 haven’t once set a hotel on fire."

"I’m glad to hear it." Sam laughed. "Now, what’s this about black eyes?"

"I’ll explain inside." She wanted their full attention. She did want to repeat the story.

"Alright, everyone inside, move it." Mandy ushered the group into Laurel’s room. "Now, what’s the deal?"

"Do you want anything to drink?" Laurel asked to prolong the moment.

"No." The shout was almost in unison.

"Alright, don’t 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 hadn’t told the band why Nicole and I broke up, it made me a little suspicious."

"Don’t 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 she’s 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 didn’t she?" BJ asked. He did not look happy.

"Yes she did." Laurel took a deep breath. "That’s 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, didn’t you?" Mandy asked.

"Not quite. I was starting to see red, but then it got really bad. I remember yelling at her, but I don’t remember what I said. I’m 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 I’m supposed to take anger management classes." Laurel sighed. "It’s 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 bassist’s hand.

"I don’t 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, we’re supposed to have another meeting." She leaned into her friend’s welcoming shoulder. "I have no idea what I’m going to do."

"That’s 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. What’s keeping you here now?" He countered. "I’ll admit we’ll all miss you, but if it’s such a hassle, one of you should quit. Jenna wants this, you don’t."

"That’s 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 don’t see why you can’t bring the kid along." BJ commented.

"Ok, well, if you’re willing to do it, you’re more than welcome to be me. We need to wait until Harold returns though. I don’t 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."

"I’ll 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 that’s a good idea." Laurel agreed. "Mandy’s in here, and Sam’s in BJ’s room."

"Ok. Give us the keys and we’ll get the luggage. C’mon, 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. Let’s go hit the sack" Sam hurried from the bed into the adjoining room.

"Night guys." Steve called as he sat Mandy’s 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.


"Can you please stop pacing?" Sheryl asked.

"I can’t help it." Nicole shrugged. It was learned behavior. Laurel paced. "I wish they’d tell us what’s 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 Sheryl’s 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. It’s just that." She stopped. Words failed her. She did not want to admit that it would almost be a relief. She had accepted her grandmother’s 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 Adia’s life.

"I know." Danny wrapped his arms around her. "You want it over, but you don’t. My mother was the same when my grandmother died. She wanted the pain to end, but she didn’t want to speed up the end. She felt guilty for wishing, and helpless to do anything about it. You’re doing the same thing aren’t 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. "Jessie’s on her way."

"Good. She was able to get a ticket?"

"Two tickets." Stan corrected. "She’s bringing a friend home with her. She’ll be here in the morning."

"Speaking of, you need to rest and quit worrying. This isn’t healthy for you or the baby." Danny scolded in a soft tone.

"I agree. There’s 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. "Where’s Jay and Phil?"

"They were in Baton Rouge. I paged Phil after we got the news. They’ll be here in a few minutes now."

"C’mon, 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 Denney’s youngest son’s 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.

"Let’s go stand outside. I could use a drink and a smoke." Sheryl whispered.

"Ok. Danny, let’s 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 nurse’s 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 can’t believe you did that." She was slightly shocked, but immensely gratified.

"I’m 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 don’t get into trouble for it."

"We shouldn’t. What’s 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. It’s how we do things, you know."

"We know. Stan, to us Nicole is family. That’s why we decided to take care of it." Danny told him. "Not only am I from a large Southern family, I’m 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 couldn’t 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 cousin’s 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 didn’t enjoy that." Danny scolded. "We heard you almost laugh."

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever." Sheryl grumbled.

"You’re pissy today. What’s the matter?" Nicole asked.

"PMS. Don’t worry, you won’t 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."

"I’m glad I was too young to remember anything my mom might have craved." Stan commented.

"Let’s 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. I’d hate to have her fly down here for nothing." Nicole shrugged. "Speaking of, let’s go back inside and see if they’ll 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 Margie’s 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 haven’t seen anyone since then." He spoke softly.

"Guess we’re 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. It’s 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. I’m too tired to be nice, so please excuse my bluntness. We’ve made her as comfortable as possible. We don’t think she’s in pain, but until she wakes we won’t 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."

"I’ll stay." Kay volunteered. "You go home, eat and get some rest ok?" She looked at Stan and Nicole. "I won’t 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, that’s quite alright. I’ll stay. I don’t mind. You go relax with your friends. Tell Melba what happened. I’m sure she wants to know."

"Yes ma’am."

"I’ll 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 we’re 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?"

"I’ll camp out at the house." He answered. "I’ll take them back to get their stuff so I can grab a bag. I’ll drive."

"Thanks." She handed him the keys. "Let’s go home."


"I guess you think I shouldn’t have hit her." Laurel watched her old friend change clothes. She could appreciate Mandy’s 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 woman’s art for strangers. However, there would only be one masterpiece for her. Nicole.

"I can’t really answer that question." Mandy shrugged. "I wasn’t there. From what you told me, I can’t blame you for hitting her. It is in your nature to respond with force when you lose sense of words. It’s never been in my nature to do more than yell."

"That’s 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 wouldn’t 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. I’d love to smack some sense into your parents, or at least watch as someone else did. There’s one more." Finished changing, Mandy sat down on the bed and faced her friend.

"Who’s 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 wasn’t at the same time. It was weird. She apologized though. Her father rigged it so I’d 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. I’ve done a lot of thinking while I’ve been out here." Laurel pulled herself into a sitting position. "I guess this has been a good experience on the whole, but I can’t stay."

"I know. I’m surprised you lasted this long. You’ve 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 wouldn’t get you down."

"I’ve seen a lot out here so far. Larry says that people either grow up real quick or revert while on tour. I’m glad I didn’t 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, it’s everywhere. And it’s 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 didn’t with Nicole. I didn’t 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 doesn’t, but I don’t know for sure. I do know that I can’t love anyone else. I thought maybe I’d get over it, but all I did was get more determined."

"I’m 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 I’ve changed a lot. It’s kinda nice in a way. It’s strange though, that’s for sure." She pulled a drink from the small refrigerator. "I plan on telling Harold, flying back with you and then driving over to Nicole’s."

"Laurel, she’s 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 didn’t."

"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.

"That’s a crutch you know."

"So, you’ve told me. Man it’s cold up here." The wind was cold. "Wait a minute." She looked out farther into the darkness. "Get dressed."


"You’ll see." Laurel banged on BJ’s door. "Take a break already. It’s snowing."

"It’s what?" BJ peeked around the door.

"It is snowing."

"No shit. Sam, get dressed. There’s some white stuff on the ground." He closed the door quickly.

"Mandy, I’m 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.

"That’s one thing they don’t tell you about snow." Larry commented as he approached. "There’s ice under there sometimes. You guys look like you’re having fun."

"This is the first time I’ve 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. I’m leaving. I’m going home to collect my truck then I’m 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.

"Where’d you get that from? It’s the first time I’ve ever really done what I’m supposed to do." She laughed.

"I don’t know where that came from. I just know it’s true. I’ve known since we started jogging. It was only a matter of time before what need to click did so and you’d leave." He reached down and grabbed a handful of snow. "Now if you know where that information came from, please tell me. I’m 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 drummer’s 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 that’s 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.

"How’s that feel, laughing boy?" Steve asked. He was sitting on Larry’s 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, let’s 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. Let’s 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 there’s a donut shop near here." She turned around to get her bearings. "Yeah, it’s half a block that way." She pointed to the barely visible sign.

"Half a block in cold weather?" Sam asked.

"Don’t worry, I’ll keep you warm." BJ wrapped his arms around her.

"Ugh. Let’s 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."

"Can’t I get the last word in with you?" She laughed.

"Nope." Mandy grinned.

"I will one day, you know." Laurel promised.

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