This is it folks. The end of All That Jazz, and the last Nicole and Laurel story. Maybe <g>
Thanks for keeping with it. I hope you enjoyed it.
"Whooohoooo." Laurel heard the yell right before she felt the weight hit her back and arms cross themselves around her waist. "Welcome home, Lakky."
"Thanks, Sheryl." She turned around and smiled at the critic. "Whats up?"
"Thats just what I was going to ask you. What are you doing here? Wheres the band? How long are you here for? Are you two back together? Wheres Nicole?" The critic barely took a breath as she rattled off questions.
"Eating, West Virginia, forever, I think so, and shes on assignment." Laurel winked at the chuckling housekeeper. "Any more questions?"
"Tons." Sheryl grinned. "Well? How did you end up here?"
"I flew to Gulfport and then drove here from Hattiesburg." She set her plate down on the table. "Lunch?"
"Sure." The word was barely out of the critics mouth before a plate was placed in her hands. "Thanks Melba."
"You are most welcome. Mind if I join you?"
"Come on." Laurel waved her over. "Now what was it you wanted to ask me?" She turned to Sheryl.
"When did you get here? And why wasnt I told? I feel so out of the loop."
"I got here four days ago. I dont know why Nicole didnt call you. She did say you were coming down this weekend so she may have wanted to tell you in person." She reasoned.
"Thats understandable. Im sure youve done lots of talking since then." Sheryl took a bite of her catfish. "This is great."
"Thank you. I made it for lunch instead of dinner because Nicky hates catfish. Stan caught a whole bunch and I wanted it out of my freezer." The housekeeper laughed. "He should be over later to get some of it."
"So I guess youve talked about everything?" Sheryl returned to the previous subject.
"Yeah pretty much. It seems like all weve done is talk." Laurel chuckled ruefully. They had done nothing more than talk and cuddle. She understood why, but it was testing her patience.
"So are you moving in here?" The critic asked around a mouthful of hushpuppy.
"Oddly enough, we havent talked about that yet." She fingered the ring hanging around her neck. She wanted to clear the air completely before she presented it to Nicole.
"What have you talked about?" She could tell Sheryl was hinting around something.
"The baby, what happened to each of us while we were apart, past history and other stuff like that."
"Ok. Good, you know then. Youre sticking around for that?"
"Im here for the duration if shell keep me." They had talked of the past, both recent and ancient, but not the future.
"More catfish?" Melba asked.
"No thank you. If I keep eating everything you offer, Ill be fat." The bassist pushed her plate away. Melba had warmed up over the past few days, and seemed determined to have Laurel regain the weight she lost plus padding.
"Not the way you jog. This girl is out every morning before I start breakfast, running around the neighborhood." The housekeeper gathered the plates together.
"Really? I thought you hated exercise." Sheryl swiped the last hushpuppy from the plate in the middle of the table.
"Not really. I was always into sports and stuff. Jogging is a great way to keep my head clear. Besides, I get to explore the neighborhood while doing it." She shrugged. "Wanna come meet Muggster?"
"Muggster? Im almost afraid to ask." The critic laughed but stood up from the table.
"Shes a mutt, but shes lovable." Laurel led the way outside. "I dont wanna smoke in the house, so I come out here." She sat down on the patio steps.
"I dont blame you. Its not healthy for Nicole, and I know she was having a hard time quitting." Sheryl leaned against the railing and lit a cigarette.
"She seems to be doing pretty well with it." One other concession Laurel made was she now ate a mint after each cigarette. "Doesnt she girl?" She asked as the puppy made her way onto the patio. She had been chasing Mozart in a rough and tumble game until the humans made their way outside.
"Shes adorable. Whats Muggster mean?" Sheryl asked as she scratched the puppys ears. Mozart made sure Laurel gave him his share of attention too.
"BJ named her. He said when he first saw her that she had the ugliest mug of any dog hes ever seen. Muggster seemed to fit."
"Well, now that were alone. Why did you come back? What prompted it?"
"Ever the reporter." She laughed. "I had been thinking of leaving the band anyway. I was going to do so at Christmas. We were scheduled to play Biloxi and then here. I was going to drive up from Biloxi to talk to Nicole, but Sam showed up during our vacation. Sam can play bass, so we all thought shed be a great replacement. Jenna and I had a huge fight a few days before the vacation, and it was starting to affect our performances. One of us needed to leave, so since I wanted to anyway." She shrugged. She had explained the decision in great detail to Nicole already, but it still felt nice to talk about it to someone else. "It was getting too rough out there. Mandy was in on the little conspiracy yall had going, and she told me about what happened with Nicole. I knew it was time to go. I couldnt stay on the road knowing what had happened."
"Have you told Hotshot all this?"
"Yes I have. Im not going to keep anything from her again. Over the past few days, weve talked about every little thing that seemed important. She knows all about my past history now, and I know all about hers."
"Have you done anything else?" Sheryl grinned when Laurel looked at her. "Hey, Im just curious. Im surprised she got over Brian as quick as she did, but it still took her at least a week before she told me about it."
"We havent done more than talk and share the occasional kiss." Laurel admitted. "I dont want to push her, and she doesnt seem to want to do anything else at the moment. Weve talked a little about that. I think she wants to make sure Im not going anywhere before we resume that side of our relationship."
"That sounds like Nicole. Shes changed a lot, but she still has some of the same doubts and insecurities." Sheryl agreed.
"Yes she has. I was surprised a little. I honestly didnt think I could love her more than I did, but I do. Ive kinda fallen in love with her all over again."
"Thats funny. I have with you too." Nicoles voice made them both turn. She was leaning in the doorway with a large smile on her face. There were tears in her eyes, but the smile told them more.
"I guess thats my cue to go pester Melba." Sheryl made a quick retreat into the kitchen as soon as Nicole walked out onto the patio.
"How long were you standing there?" Laurel threw her cigarette into the small trashcan delegated for that purpose.
"For most of the conversation." Nicole admitted.
"Want one?" The bassist offered the package of mints after claiming one for herself.
"Yeah, but not one of those." She was surprised at the sudden move. Nicole pulled her in close and watched her eyes. "I never thought I could love anyone as much as I love you."
"Thats more than mutual." Laurel grinned. She used the back of her hand to stroke the photographers cheek. "You said you wanted a mint?" She offered the one on her tongue.
"Yeah. I do." Nicoles eyes were drawn to the bassists lips. Laurel was in heaven. She could feel the rebuilding of the attraction between them. It was the last step, and it would complete their healed relationship.
"Then come and get it." Nicole did not wait to be asked twice. Laurels chuckle quickly became a moan as the photographer searched for the proffered mint. "Wow."
"Wow is right. These are good." Nicole smiled in victory. Laurel let her.
"Yeah they are. Um, I think we might need to go back inside. Stans supposed to be over later, and Sheryls here." Laurel was struggling to reclaim her breath and her balance. She wanted to blow off the entire afternoon and spend it in bed with her lover, but knew it could not happen yet. It would be rude and she wanted to wait until Nicole was ready.
"I guess we have to be polite?" Nicole seemed to have the same problem with standing.
"I guess so. Maybe we need to start locking the door."
"Melba would still let them in. Does this mean you want to move in here?"
"I am willing to do whatever you want." Laurel surrendered the option to choose and the power it implied.
"If I asked would you say yes?"
"Are you asking?"
"Yeah." Nicoles grin was slightly lopsided.
"Then yes." She laughed as the photographer pulled her into a fierce hug. "I told you that you werent going to be rid of me that easily."
"I know. I dont want to be rid of you."
"Good. Now lets go see what Sheryl wanted." As much as she hated to do it, she knew they had to wait.
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Nicole opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling. For a moment, the after images of her dream clouded her vision. She could not tell what woke her until she became aware of quiet singing. The singing was coming from the middle of the bed. That confused her for a moment until she felt the hand on her stomach move. She raised her head to see a sight that brought tears to her eyes. Laurel was lying on her stomach, one hand resting just below Nicoles naval, and was softly singing to the baby.
"I thought you were asleep." Laurel looked up when Nicole placed her hand on the bassists cheek.
"I was. What are you doing?" She whispered the question.
"Making sure he knows me." The bassist grinned sheepishly. "I didnt mean to wake you."
"Thats ok. Come here." She attempted to pull Laurel up farther on the bed. "Thats sweet you know."
"I just kinda wanna be involved in this. As much as I can be anyway."
"You are involved in this, you know." Nicole wondered at the sad tone in her lovers voice. "Whats wrong?"
"I just. Well, today when we saw the ultrasound, it just kinda made me wish I had something to do with it. I guess I kinda wish it was my fault youre pregnant." Laurel took a deep breath. Her hair fell into her eyes. She left it there. "I mean Dannys the father. Youre the mother. What does that make me?"
"What do you want to be?" She reached over and pushed the hair back from her lovers eyes. The purple dye had almost completely faded.
"A parent." The answer was barely audible.
"You are. Laurel, sweetheart, Ive always wanted children, but never on my own. I couldnt think of raising a child without you as the other mother, father figure, whatever you want to call it."
"You mean that?"
"Yes I do. I want you to be involved in the childs life. I want you to be just as much a parent to him or her as I am." She paused for a moment. "Does it bother you that you know who the real father is?"
"Danny is the real father as far as Im concerned. I guess I just wish."
"You wish what?" She prompted when the silence went on too long.
"I wish I could give you children. I cant. Theres never going to be a time when we dont need a guy to provide that extra something Im lacking."
"Honey, you are not lacking anything. You are more than I ever wanted in a lover. I dont like that we would need Danny or Aarons services if we wanted more children, but look at it this way. Were the only way they can have children. Its the price we pay for following our hearts. Its such a small price when you think about it." She pulled Laurel into an embrace. "Im glad were having a child, but this can be our only one if you want it to be. I just want you."
"Do you want more kids?" She could hear curiosity instead of sadness.
"Maybe. We have to get through having this one first." Nicole laughed. "What about you?"
"I can easily see us having several. Im sorry about a minute ago. I dont know where that came from."
"Its ok. At least we talked it out. I want you involved ok?"
"Thats more than ok." Laurels grin was infectious. "I guess we should start thinking of names."
"Lets wait and see what its going to be first." Laurels enthusiasm for the baby pleased the photographer. "Hey, lean over for a second."
"I havent had a chance to see your tattoo yet." Nicole reached behind her and turned on the lamp. "You know, we could actually move into the master bedroom."
"That means a nice, large bed, right?" The bassist laughed. "I dont know. Ive kinda gotten used to snuggling with you on a double." She rolled her sleeve up so Nicole could see the tattoo. "Although a king would mean more room to move."
"You are incorrigible." Nicole laughed. "So, whats it say?" She traced the intricate Celtic knot.
"This says lovers destiny entwined." Laurel guided Nicoles hand over the runes. "This is your name."
"You have my name on your arm?" Nicole had trouble breathing for a moment. She believed it, but it still surprised her.
"And across my heart and on the label of my soul."
"Are you sure you want to quit writing music? That was poetry." She could feel the tears start again. These were tears of a soul filled with the peace only love can bring.
"You are poetry. Ill still write songs. I know a band that might buy them." Laurel grinned.
"I think they will. Wheres the other one?" She remembered hearing the bassist speak of tattoos. There was only one on her arm.
"On my thigh." Laurel raised an eyebrow. "Are you ready to see it?"
"Yeah." She licked her lips with a dry tongue. All the moisture in her body seemed to have headed south. Smiling, Laurel rolled off the bed and then lifted the leg of her boxers. Nicole extended a shaking hand to trace the cartoon gecko playing a bass.
"You know I love you and I would never hurt you or push you, right?" Laurel clasped the photographers hand.
"Good." She dropped to one knee. "Nicole Elizabeth Herbert, would you be mine to have and to hold from this day until the end of eternity?" She carefully took a chain from around her neck and offered the pendant to the photographer.
"Are you proposing?" Nicole was almost struck dumb by the gesture. She gingerly took the ring from Laurels palm. Her hands were shaking so bad she almost dropped it. "This is the same as your tattoo isnt it?"
"It is. I am. Will you?"
"I do. I will." With Laurels help, Nicole was able to put the ring on her finger. It was a perfect fit. "Does this mean you get one of your own?"
"If you want me too." The bassist stood from her crouch.
"I want you." Her breath caught in her throat. "All I want is you."
"You have me." Laurel grinned. "I love you." She leaned in and claimed the photographers lips with her own.
"I love you too. I think its about time for my bed to lose its innocence." Nicole smiled. "Make love to me?"
"With pleasure." Laurel let out a sigh of relief. Nicole knew the enforced abstinence was driving her lover crazy, but she had needed to wait. She had wanted to be sure of herself, Laurel and their bond before resuming the sexual part of their relationship. She was more than sure now. She knew nothing would ever part them again, not even death.
Laurel joined her on the bed and pulled her close. They were lying side by side. Nicole knew the bassist was intentionally taking things slow. She appreciated it. It had been so long since they last made love. Nicole wanted this time to be special, and she knew it would be.
"I have missed you. Ive missed your touch, your face, your taste, the way you look when I make love to you." Laurel whispered as she ran her hand along Nicoles side and placed kisses along the line of her jaw. "I never want to miss you again." She murmured into the photographers ear as she nibbled on the earlobe.
"You wont. Ive got you back. I wont let you go again." The words were hard to get out around the sensations the bassist was causing. Nicole used their proximity to do a little exploring of her own.
"Baby, if you dont stop, things are going to speed up." Laurel warned.
"So?" Nicole reclaimed her lips. The kiss fueled the fire within them. "We dont like slow, remember?"
"That was a completely different matter." Laurel pointed out as she rolled them over. Nicole was soon on her back with a welcomed weight above her. "However, if you insist."
Before long, the dogs were kicked off the bed. Nicoles pajama top joined them on the floor. Laurels mouth and tongue on her breast almost stole the breath from her lungs. The bassist was thorough in her attentions. However, it was not enough. Nicole wanted more. She wanted all of it.
"Cmere." She pulled the bassist up for a kiss. She felt warm hands around the waist of her pajama bottoms. Without warning, those too were soon on the floor.
"Open your eyes." Laurel commanded softly. "Look at me."
Nicole did as asked, but it was not easy. With sure movements, her lovers hand filled her. The pleasure made her eyelids heavy. She had to fight to keep them open. She concentrated on the grey eyes looking down at her. The love and devotion she saw there was plain to see. It almost made her climax. Laurel sensed it and slowed the pace.
"I love you." Nicole panted the words. She placed her hand on the bassists cheek. Laurel leaned into and kissed her palm.
"And I, you. Keep watching. Dont close your eyes, ok?" Nicole could only nod. The pace increased. Still she watched Laurels eyes. When she was close, the bassist leaned down and kissed her. It vanquished all the shadows left between them. "You ok?" Laurel kept her hand where it was and kissed the photographers forehead.
"More ok than Ive ever been in my life." She smiled. She knew the reasoning behind Laurels soft commands. The bassist was making sure she did not suffer flashbacks. It was indicative of the gentle soul Laurel possessed but rarely showed. It was one of the many reasons Nicole loved her.
"Good, because Im not done yet." Laurels smile was seductively wicked. "I have dreamed of doing this to you for months." She kissed her way down the photographers body, stopping just short of her goal. "Go back to sleep, kiddo. You dont need to be awake for this."
"Youre goofy." Nicole laughed. Her laughter was stopped short by a soft kiss to her inner thigh.
"Ill show you goofy." Laurel commented. She eased her tongue around the juncture of Nicoles thighs, before relenting and beginning her assault on the spot the photographer needed it most.
This time, Nicole allowed her eyes to close. She revealed in the sensations Laurel was causing with her tongue and hand. It did not take long before she climaxed again. Her lovers name was torn from her throat in ecstasy.
"God, you are good. Now its my turn." Nicole pushed the bassist onto the bed. "Youre not going to fight me?"
"Nope. Im just going to lay back and enjoy." Laurel grinned.
"Good." Nicole smirked. She was glad that part of her lovers soul had finally been healed. She enjoyed making love to her almost as much as she enjoyed her lovers attentions.
She took her time, reveling in the ability to reacquaint herself with Laurels body. In the past, it was a fight to keep the bassist from taking over. This time, Laurel gave her no trouble. Nicole used it to her advantage by pushing the bassist over the edge twice.
"Now are you alright?" She asked as she held the panting bassist in her arms.
"Very. This definitely has its advantages. Of course, I still enjoy it the other way, but I like this." Laurel admitted.
"Me too." Nicole yawned. "I guess its time for bed."
"Yeah. Its been a long day." They had visited the doctor and finished their Christmas shopping. "Goodnight, sweetheart."
"Goodnight." Nicole was dreaming seconds after she closed her eyes.
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"Shit." Laurel cursed as she hit the wall instead of the light.
"Are you ok?" Nicoles voice was still flavored by sleep.
"Yeah." She finally reached the lamp. The soft glow illuminated the room. "The babys up."
"Great." Nicole threw off the covers.
"Oh no you dont. Ill get this one." Laurel pushed her lover back onto the bed.
"Are you sure? Dont you have a test tomorrow?"
"Yeah, but its ok. I think I can handle it. Go back to sleep." She crawled out of bed and made her way down the hall to the babys room. "Shh. Its ok. I got you." She picked the infant up and sat down on the rocking chair by the crib, softly singing to him. Jackson was not wet and he did not want to be feed, he only wanted to be held. She could handle that. It gave her time to think, and she loved these times with him. Nicole had him all day. Laurel got him at night.
At least Jack was waking them up less now. At first neither of them got much sleep. Of course a lot of that had to do with relatives. Everyone, including Laurels own parents showed up for the christening. Nicole had finally talked her into contacting them. The relationship was not quite what it should be, but they were working on it. It helped that her mother and father apologized. She even had a new baby brother. She thought it was extremely weird. Her brother was almost twenty-two years younger than her and barely a year older than her son.
As he drifted back to sleep, Laurel thought about the past year. So much had happened. Mandy married Larry of all people. BJ and Sam welcomed their first child together into the world two months ago. Mandy toured with them and ran the nursery. Larry replaced Jenna as the guitarist for blue gecko. Jenna was now in rehab. Only Steve was still single, but he was happy. The entire band was happy. They still recorded Laurels songs. She was getting rich writing for them. She made more money writing songs than she did performing them. She was the bassist for a jazz quartet. Her favorite part of it was they only played on weekends.
Jessie was out in Hollywood designing costumes for movies. Stan had taken over the antique store. Denney retired and moved to south Florida after Nicole chose to stay and run the family. Danny and Aaron were joined in a civil ceremony. They still lived in Hattiesburg, but visited every time they could. Sheryl managed to find the perfect mate, and was now working for the New Orleans paper. She fell in love with the nurse who helped deliver Jackson. They were about to celebrate their four-month anniversary. Nicole wanted to throw them a party. Apparently it was a record for Sheryl.
Jackson Daniel Kendrick Herbert was about to celebrate his five-month anniversary. A year ago, Laurel would not have believed she could love a child so much. She watched as he struggled to keep his eyes open. They were the same shape and color as Nicoles. What hair he has was a light brown. They could not tell if he was going to be blonde like Danny or somewhere between blonde and dark brown. Regardless, she held a future heart breaker in her arms. She would not trade it for anything in the world. However, Nicole had been correct. She did have a test in her morning class.
Carefully, she laid him back down in the crib. He sighed as she let go, but did not wake. As silently as she could, she crept back to her room. Nicole was awake and waiting for her. The dogs were too. They stared at her from their places on the floor. They were no longer allowed on the bed. They took up too much room even though it was a king sized mattress.
"Yep. He just had a baby nightmare or something." Laurel answered around a yawn.
"Are you that tired?" Nicole laughed.
"Why? What do you have in mind?" She asked as she crawled back beneath the covers.
"Well, we seem to be alone. I thought maybe you might want to take advantage of that."
"Ah. You want early, early morning sex?" Laurel laughed. Everyone seemed to think it was all right to drop by in the evenings to see the baby. Nicoles Aunt Louise was still staying at the house. She had not left after the christening. They moved her upstairs into Phils old room, since they occupied the master bedroom.
"Well, everyone else is asleep." Nicoles tone was suggestive. "And we havent really had a chance to do anything since Jack was born."
"Good point. How can we scare Louise away?"
"By being very, very loud."
"Ok, but if you wake Jack, you get to deal with him." Laurel promised. "So, you want loud huh?"
"Mmmm." Nicole sighed as Laurel began kissing her throat. "Oh yeah."
"I think youre going to have to get louder, sweetheart. They cant hear that."
"Just keep doing that, and itll be loud."
"You know what?" Laurel asked as she pulled her lover to a sitting position.
"What?" Nicole asked. Together, they removed her nightgown.
"I love you."
"I love you too." Soon all words were lost. Only the frequency of moans and low murmurs changed from soft to ear splitting.
"I dont believe it." Laurel picked up the baby monitor. "It didnt wake him."
"Hes a smart kid." Nicole stated proudly.
"He takes after his mommy. Think that was enough to scare off Louise?"
"It should be. If not, well keep trying."
"Ok. Now I really do need sleep. Good night, sweetheart."
"Goodnight, hon." Nicole said around a yawn. "Shit."
"Your turn." Laurel snickered into her pillow.
"Sadist." The photographer mumbled as she fumbled for her robe.
"But you love me anyway." She managed to say.
"That I do. Always will. Night, hon." Nicole leaned in and kissed her forehead.
"Love you. Night." She barely heard Nicole leave the room. She was snoring before long. She dreamt of her life, school and jazz. For the moment, life was perfect. It was all she would ask for.