Nicole pulled into her driveway, unsure of what she would see. Laurel had been bumming around the house for five days, and already reorganized the video library, by genre and title, mowed the yard, climbed on the roof and cleaned it of pine needles, and washed, waxed and detailed the convertible. Nicole was wondering what else her lover would get into while she was at work. Her question was answered as soon as she completely pulled into the driveway. BJ and Laurel had the hood up on the red car and were huddled beneath it.
"What's going on?" She asked as soon as she walked over to her car. A repair manual was open and sitting prominently on the carburetor.
"Well, we thought we'd see if we could get this car working properly." Laurel wiped her hands on a rag to ease some of the grease from them. "Welcome home. How was your day?"
"Apparently not as interesting as yours." Nicole leaned in for a kiss. "Are you having fun at least?"
"Well, I've done repairs to my own truck, but we can't figure out what's wrong with yours. Course my truck is a bit older."
"Yeah about twenty years older." BJ commented. "I think the problem is a clogged line, but I can't get down there to check. We should call Steve. He's the mechanic."
"Now, may I ask why you are fixing my car?"
"Because it's broke?" Laurel asked. Her tone suggested the obviousness of her reply. "If we get it running you could sell it if you want. Or drive it or whatever. Ok, I was bored and it was something to do."
"Hey, I have no problem with it. I was just curious." Nicole knew she had to tread carefully. They still had not quite gotten over the fight she unconsciously started the previous evening. For the first time in their relationship, Laurel voluntarily slept on the couch. To make matters worse, Mozart had slept with her, leaving the photographer alone in the bed until she went and apologized.
"I know. It's just hot out here. So, how was your day really?"
"It was ok. Nothing major. Had to take some pictures of cows and stuff." She shrugged.
"Cows? Why would you have to take pictures of cows?" BJ asked.
"The county rodeo and fair is next week. Apparently some local girl has raised a cow that could possibly go to national. It was filler. Anyway, what time do you want to leave?"
"Whenever you do." Laurel struggled to look noncommittal. "All I need is to get a shower. I went home this afternoon and collected more clothing so I'm packed."
"Cool, well are ya'll going to call Steve?" She asked them both.
"I can. We can pull this to the trailer if you want and see if we can get it running there." BJ offered.
"That'll work. I hate putting too many miles on Dad's car." Nicole answered honestly. She was actually glad her lover had thought of repairing the red car. The old, blue Chevy convertible was in near mint condition and she wanted to keep it that way. "I'm going to change. Let me know when you're ready to go."
"Sure." Laurel turned back to her friend. "Should we call Steve now?"
"Yeah. Might as well. Ya'll can go ahead and go and we'll take the car over tonight. If that's alright?" He turned the conversation back to the photographer.
"Yeah. That sounds like a good idea."
"Good, go change while I call him and then I'll take a shower." Laurel sounded anxious. "I wanna get down there in time to take you out to dinner."
"I like that idea." Nicole smiled gently as she entered her house.
Closing her bedroom door, she searched for something other than khakis and a golf shirt to wear. She chose a pair of shorts and a t-shirt, knowing that it would be hotter and more humid in New Orleans. She had left clothing at the Warehouse during their last trip, as had the bassist, but she still packed a light bag to take with her. She never did like planning attire in advance.
Nicole sat on her bed and waited for her lover to enter the house. She knew what she needed to do, but she did not want to think about it this weekend. She wanted a few more precious memories before she put her plan in motion. It had been on her mind since Laurel's graduation day, and the photographer had finally come to a conclusion. She could and would not be a barrier to her lover's desires. She needed to give her a choice, needed to give her a chance. In short, she felt that she had to let her go. It was tearing her apart, but she put it out of her mind. She would deal with it later. All she wanted at the moment was one nice long weekend together with her lover.
"Hey, wanna join me in the shower?" Laurel stuck her head in the doorway.
"If I were to join you, and believe me, I'm sorely tempted to, we'd get to New Orleans around midnight." Nicole laughed. She was going to miss this.
"Aright then. I'll be out in a few minutes." The bassist grabbed her bag and took it into the bathroom with her.
Laurel was true to her word. Fifteen minutes after she had entered the bathroom, a freshly scrubbed bassist exited it. Nicole woke from the half daze she had fallen into as she heard the door open.
"You wanna stay here tonight and get some sleep?" The bassist asked as she sat down beside her.
"Nah, I'll just let you drive and take a nap on the way." Nicole stood. "Shall we?"
"Yeah, BJ should have left already. They'll come back tonight to get the car." Laurel shouldered her bag and then hefted her lover's. "I'll get the dog if you lock up."
"Ok." Nicole stifled a yawn. She locked the house and unlocked the trunk and watched Laurel put the bags in there. "Wake me when we get there." She commented as she climbed into the passenger seat and settled in for the ride.
"I will." Laurel's soft promise was the last thing she heard before the car ride lulled her to sleep.
Laurel used the remote to open the garage door for the Warehouse. She easily pulled the car into the parking space reserved for Nicole's use. She was surprised to see a rental car in the space next to it. She wondered if Jessie had been completely honest with Sheryl. She hoped so, for the critic's sake.
"Baby." She leaned across the seat and shook her lover. "Nicole, honey, wake up. We're here."
"Already?" Nicole sat up and looked around. "Whose car is that?"
"I have no idea." She shrugged. "Guess we'll find out in a few." The answer did not elude them for long as the renter of the car opened the side door.
"Michael." Nicole jumped from the car and ran to hug her brother. "What are you doing here?"
"I'm in town for business. I called Stan and he thought we should surprise you." The tall surfer hugged her back. "Laurel. It's great to see you too."
"You too. How's it hanging?" The bassist grinned as she was pulled into a three-way hug.
"Not too bad. Can't really complain. Though it doesn't look like I'll get to transfer out here until Christmas. Now, can I buy you ladies dinner or do you have other plans?"
"As far as I know, we don't have anything planned." Nicole answered.
"Nope, we're completely free tonight." Laurel headed back to the car and opened the trunk. She refused to be disappointed. Nicole rarely got to see her brother, and the bassist could always reschedule the chat she wanted to have. "Mozart. Come on boy. Go get Michael." She could not believe the German Shepard had slept the entire way.
"Oh like he's so fierce." Michael laughed as he scratched the big dog's ears. "So, do you wanna go up and change before dinner?"
"Yeah we should at least take our stuff up and let Mozart out in the courtyard." Nicole released her brother and walked over to help Laurel with the bags. "Meet you in the courtyard in a few?"
"That'll work. I promised Stan he could go out with us too." Michael headed for the stairs. "I'll see ya in a few."
"Here let me get that." Nicole attempted to take her bag from the bassist.
"Nope. I got it. You just get the elevator working and we'll call it even." Laurel put her backpack over her shoulder and hefted the photographer's duffle bag.
The bassist followed her lover through the entranceway and waited as the photographer got the elevator to the first floor. Nicole opened the gate and stepped inside. Laurel let the dog in next then squeezed inside. As usual, the photographer did not encounter any problems making the old car move. They were on the fifth floor in moments.
"Hardware, lady's wear, children's lingerie. Or something like that." Laurel intoned as she opened the gate and stepped out of the elevator. It was still her least favorite way of travel.
"I don't think children have lingerie, and it's probably a good thing." The photographer said as she sat down on the couch. "It would definitely be a scary thing to see."
"That is true." Laurel set the bags on the bed. "Did you want to change?"
"Nah, we'll just have to talk Michael into someplace casual. I can't believe he's here." Laurel heard the joy in her lover's voice.
"I can't believe Stan kept it a secret."
"Stan's trustworthy." Nicole commented as she stood and stretched. "Are you ready?"
"Yeah I could use a cigarette too." Neither of them smoked in the convertible. It did not seem right, and was not all that easy to do when the top was down anyway. "But first, c'mere." Laurel pulled the photographer into a hug. She did nothing more than hold her lover close for several long moments.
"Yeah, I just felt like giving you a hug. Something told me you needed one. Was work that bad today?" She pulled back and looked into her lover's eyes. Nicole could not keep the truth from her very well. Laurel had always been able to judge the accuracy of a statement by watching someone's eyes. It was a skill she learned and honed at an early age.
"It is not work. I think I may be coming down with something. I just don't feel real well." Her eyes gave it away. The bassist knew that though true, it was not the full truth. However, she let it go, knowing that she would be able to pry the full story from her lover later.
"Ok." Laurel placed her hand on her lover's forehead. "You don't feel warm, but maybe its allergies." She decided to play along.
"It could be. Anyway, let's go wait on Michael."
"Ok. We can do that."
"Come on Mozart, let's go downstairs."
"Welcome home." Stan grinned broadly as he gave each of the women a hug. "I suppose you've heard that my sister will not be able to join us this weekend."
"Yeah, Sheryl told us that Jessie was taking courses this summer so she could graduate in December." Nicole watched as her lover took a seat at the table and lit a cigarette. She was tempted to join her, but did not feel like sitting down. She wondered if Laurel had seen through her lie. She knew she would find out that evening when they were alone. She just hoped that she could stick to the plan and act as if nothing were wrong.
"Yeah, but I'm wondering if that's all there is to it." Stan commented. "She hasn't sounded right the last few times I talked to her."
"She's probably getting burned out." Laurel offered her opinion. "It happens to all of us as the crunch time hits."
"Yeah I guess. I don't remember it being that bad though." Stan commented.
"Distance." The photographer commented. She finally gave in and took a seat at the table. "The longer we're out the less we'll remember how those last few semesters almost killed us." Her memories of that time were worse than her cousin's. That was the beginning of the end of her relationship with Annie. Graduation always changed her life in someway.
"Listen at you two oldsters." Michael's tease called their attention to the French doors where he was standing. "Tell us about the times you were forced to walk to school carrying your own desk and an apple tree because the teacher wanted more than just one apple."
"Smartass." Nicole rolled her eyes at her brother's taunts.
"It runs in the family, sis." Michael grinned at her. "Where do we want to eat?"
"Someplace decent and casual." The photographer looked down at her shorts. She had not felt like changing into a pair of pants. It was too hot for jeans.
"Well, that narrows it down." Stan commented dryly. "I guess the real question is what do you want to eat?"
"Burgers, po-boys, whatever. Just not pizza." The bassist stood and snubbed out her cigarette.
"Really, I'm a little pizza'd out." Nicole agreed. "So I guess we're up for whatever ya'll want."
"Burgers sound good." Michael shrugged. "Stan?"
"Sounds good and I know just the place." He stood as well.
"Then lead the way." Michael held the door for them.
They followed Stan through the Warehouse and out onto the street. The sun was just sinking behind the surrounding buildings and colored the cobble stone sidewalks in shades of red and gold. Nicole loved New Orleans at dusk. It seemed to bring out the best in the city and she was glad they had made it in time to witness the dying of the early summer sun.
Stan chose the café they normally frequented on their trips to the Warehouse. It was conveniently close at hand, was reasonably priced, ignored by most tourists, and served very good hamburgers. They did not have a regular booth, as they did at Mabel's, nor did they frequent the establishment for coffee. Stan led them to a table and they took seats around it. The waitress promptly provided menus and retreated.
"So what do you two have planned for this weekend?" Michael asked as they waited for someone to take their order.
"Nothing much really. We just wanted to hang out and spend some quality time together." Nicole answered him. It was true. They both wanted it but for different reasons.
"Yeah, we haven't had a lot of time together for the past month or so." Laurel set her menu down. "Well, except for this week and I think I was starting to annoy someone."
"Nah, you weren't annoying anyone. I've always wanted my video and CD collections to be alphabetized by genre." Nicole smiled to show she was teasing. She actually had sorted her library that way, but never got around to doing the same for her videos and music.
"Hey, I just followed the example you set with your books." Laurel pointed out. Nicole was grateful that the bassist had not been able to catalogue her photographs and negatives in the same manner. It was hard enough to find everything already.
"Can I take your order?" The waitress interrupted the conversation, freezing the photographer's retort on her tongue.
"Yeah, a cheese burger, a veggie burger, and two double cheeseburgers with fries, please and two regular sodas, a root beer and a diet." Michael placed their order and handed the waitress the menus. "Thank you."
"It'll be right out." She fell victim to his charm and blushed when he smiled and winked at her. The photographer was amazed. She had never seen her brother in action before.
"What happened to that girl you were dating?" She asked. They had kept in regular contact since Margie's funeral.
"Oh, she's talking marriage, and it's getting a little stuffy in the relationship." He commented. "I am so not ready to settle down."
"I hear you." Stan agreed. "I don't see how you two can deal with it."
"Its not so difficult." Laurel shrugged. "Never underestimate the power of love with a healthy dose of lust thrown in."
"Well, its not like we've been completely living together." Nicole wanted to call the words back as soon as she saw the look on her lover's face. "But, we'll be able to see what that's like soon now that our schedules don't conflict as much." She went for the save.
"True. So are you going to move in to Nicole's?" Michael asked the bassist.
"We haven't discussed it yet." Laurel looked at her lover. Nicole could see the question in her gaze. Every time the bassist broached the topic, the photographer subtly changed the subject.
"How are you going to eat all of that?" Nicole asked her lover as the waitress placed the double bacon cheeseburger in front of her. She looked at her own cheeseburger and mentally compared the two. Laurel's was huge.
"I haven't really eaten all day, so I'm starving." Laurel popped a fry into her mouth. "Sides, this isn't anything. When did Stan the man go veggie?"
"I tried these here one night and liked it. I had tried everything else on the menu so I figured it was worth a shot. Its actually really good, though this is the only place I'll go meatless." He added mayonnaise to his burger. "You should try it."
"No thanks." Laurel dressed her burger and took a large bite. "Ahh. Perfect."
"These are excellent burgers." Michael commented as he finished dressing his.
"Beats typical fast food." Nicole agreed. She suddenly found herself not all that hungry, but made a pretense of eating.
Michael caught them up on what was happening in his life. He had received a promotion but was still lobbying for a transfer to New Orleans. He wanted to be closer to his family, and Nicole was glad. She could not wait to have her brother near. It had not been easy growing up without him. Surprisingly, Stan even managed to coerce their grandmother in to giving the neglected Herbert his late sister's apartment. The photographer could only marvel at her cousin's skill at negotiation. His talents were wasted selling antiques with their uncle.
"Man I am stuffed." Laurel pushed her chair away from the table. "Wasn't yours any good?" She asked her lover.
"Yeah it was fine. I just had a big lunch with Sheryl this afternoon." Nicole pushed the uneaten half of her hamburger away. "What do you guys have planned for this evening?" She asked her cousin and brother when she realized they were finished eating.
"I was going to hang out with a few buddies. Thought Michael would want to come along. We're going to catch the game at a bar and just do some guy stuff." He said with an air of mystery as if guy stuff were something more than beer, baseball and comparing women.
"Hey, I'm always up for guy stuff." Michael laughed. "I don't have another meeting until Monday morning so this weekend is free."
"Well, guess this means you two are alone for the evening. I'm sure you won't mind." Stan smiled at them.
"Oh, I think we can deal." Laurel winked at him. "It'll be tough but we'll get one another through it."
"Yeah, I think we'll manage." Nicole looked at her watch. "Speaking of, if ya'll are going to catch the game you should get out of here." Working at a paper made her more knowledgeable about sports. She thought it was a drawback. She still did not understand the attraction. She was actually glad that Laurel was not a baseball fan. Learning everything there was to know about football had been rough enough last season.
"Well, I want to change into something a little less business like." Michael indicated his suit with a wave of his hand. "Allow us to escort you back to the Warehouse and then we'll be on our way." He threw the money for the bill on the table and stood.
"Alright." She laughed at her brother's chivalrous tone.
They separated in the common room on the first floor of the Warehouse. Stan and Michael took the elevator to their floors while Laurel let Mozart back inside. Nicole waited for her lover and her dog near the stairway. Aside from her little slip up at dinner, the photographer felt that she was carrying it off well.
"Ready?" Laurel asked when she returned with the dog.
"Yeah." Nicole smiled softly.
She wanted to make it a night to remember and she did. Using her additional two inches in height and the few pounds she had over the bassist, Nicole quickly disarmed and disrobed her lover. Laurel squirmed and tried to regain the upper hand, but the photographer was relentless in her assault. Before the bassist could fully comprehend what happened, Nicole had her undressed and writhing on the bed. By the time she was finished, the bassist was so tired she fell asleep almost immediately. Nicole was pleased. She had never before been able to wear out her lover. It was a record she would enjoy only until the bassist woke from her sated slumber. Until then, Nicole was content to doze, holding her lover in her arms.
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