Nicole was effectively pinned to the bed. Laurel was spooned up behind her with one arm draped over her waist. Mozart seemed comfortable using her calf as a pillow. She felt trapped. Gently she eased the bassists arm from around her. Laurel let out a sigh and rolled over, allowing Nicole to move on to the other breathing bind that tied her to the bed. Mozart moved with great reluctance as she slowly stretched her legs.
Finally free of physical encumbrances, the photographer was able to roll out of bed. She searched through the darkened room for her lovers jeans. Finding those, she felt around until she encountered the hard pack of cigarettes. She knew her lovers habit was to tuck the lighter into the pack when room became available, so she did not waste time searching for it. Based on prior experience, she knew that she only had a limited amount of time. Somehow, Laurel always knew when she was left alone in bed.
The lights of the City played across the panes of glass as the photographer raised the window. She took a seat on the ledge and leaned back, unconcerned for the moment with her nudity. The glass was tinted and reflective. No one would be able to see in, if there were a building close enough to add voyeurism to its advertisements.
Surprisingly, she was not as sore as she was when she woke up that morning. She chuckled softly as she thought about the activities the two had engaged in so far. This was her three-day weekend. She did not have to work again until Tuesday. That was the day she planned to make it official, but it was getting harder to keep that in mind. Laurel seemed aware that something was off kilter. While the bassist agreed to discuss the future after they returned to Hattiesburg, Nicole knew that her lover had been hurt by the delay. In fact, Laurel sulked throughout the afternoon until their pinball game.
The thought of that game caused heat to flow freely from her stomach to her toes. It was almost overpowering. She had to fight herself for several long moments. Her body wanted to return to bed and wake the sleeping woman. Her mind wanted to think things through once more. She obeyed her head.
She decided to take stock of herself, of her life. She was twenty-seven years old. There were days when that felt like forty, but Laurel made it feel like seventeen. At least how she imagined most seventeen year olds felt. Nicole was an adult at four. Coincidently, that was the age she had been when her parents had died. Adia Herbert did not encourage her grandchildren to waste their time with games. As soon as she had been taken into her grandparents home, Nicole had been enrolled in dance lessons, music lessons, and gymnastics. She was also taught to read and write, a year before she was enrolled in kindergarten.
She envied her brother. At least he had a more normal childhood. Linda and Martin, her mothers sister and brother-in-law, raised Michael with their own children. After a disagreement between his foster parents and his grandparents, Michaels visits to New Orleans stopped. He had only been eight. As a result, she saw him rarely, and missed him terribly. She was glad that he wanted to transfer from California to New Orleans. Though they were as close as they could be with the physical distance between them, she knew they would be able to cultivate an actual brother/sister relationship as soon as he moved near.
Adia ruled her family with an iron hand. The formidable woman also raised Cassandra, another of Nicoles cousins. She had been like a sister to the photographer, but Cassie escaped by going up north to college. She accepted a full scholarship and left without looking back. The photographers own sister, Margot, ran away from home after getting kicked out of college. She had only lasted one semester. Margie had been buried next to their parents almost two years ago after overdosing on heroin.
Only Nicole was left and she had been disowned after an argument with Adia. The argument had taken place after the doctors released Margie from the hospital. Nicole made Laurel accompany her to the family house. Adia took exception to their relationship and forced the photographer to make a choice. It took more courage than she was aware of possessing, but Nicole left with her lover. She had not spoken to her grandmother since. As a result, the funeral had been tense, but with the support of her lover, family and friends, she made it through.
She missed her parents, though she did not remember them well. She missed her grandmother despite the older womans attitudes. She even missed her sister. Twenty-seven years, and Nicole had lost a lot. What she wanted to know was: could she stand losing her lover?
The Citys lights barely illuminated the room. Now that her eyes had adjusted to the darkness, she could see the slim form curled under the sheets on the bed. She felt the tears start. She was not looking forward to Tuesday. However, she knew what she was planning was important. She would miss the bassist, but she had recovered from losses before.
Maybe that was why she felt so insatiable. She was two days from returning to her solitary existence. No one would ever be able to replace the bassist. She knew that intuitively. She knew that as well as she knew her own name. She wanted all the memories she could gather to keep her company on those cold, lonely nights. There would be no one else for her. Ever. That was a given. She could not stand letting someone else into her life just to watch her leave. It was a sobering thought when she realized that Mozart was her only constant.
"Something wrong?" Suddenly Laurel was there, wiping the tears away.
"No, I was just thinking."
"About?" The bassist claimed a cigarette from the pack on the photographers knee. She leaned in and lit hers off of Nicoles.
"I had a bad dream. Thats all."
"Anything you want to talk about?" The bassists voice was soft.
"No, theres nothing to talk about, really. I dont remember much of it." After all her deep thinking, Nicole just wanted to be held. She leaned her head on the bassists shoulder. Laurel took the hint and wrapped her arm around her.
"Come back to bed?" Laurel put her cigarette out in the ashtray she acquired during Mardi Gras.
"Yeah, thats a good idea." Nicole allowed herself to be pulled to the bed. The bassist lay down, allowing the photographer to take her time. She curled against her lover, allowing Laurel to hold her. She fell asleep with her head pillowed on a very comfortable shoulder.
"You know, we have an entire city full of choices, but we always end up back here." Laurel indicated the building in front of them with a nod of her head.
"Did you want to go somewhere else?" Nicole asked.
"No, I love this place. I just thought it was funny that we seem to have a routine. Four for the courtyard please." She told the hostess. "Whered the other two go?"
"They were right behind us." Nicole turned to look. Stan and Michael were just entering The Napoleon House. "Took you long enough."
"Had to stop at the ATM." Michael told them. "We knew where you were going."
"Follow me please." The hostess grabbed four menus and headed for the courtyard. They obeyed.
"Ingenious." Michael was staring at the fans placed throughout the courtyard. They were all aimed high enough to keep from blowing items off the table, but low enough to actually provide relief from the heat.
"You should see what they do in winter." Stan told him as they sat down at a round table. "They replace the fans with heaters. Most of the places around here do."
"Theres a bar in the Burg that does the same thing." Laurel remembered. It was not a place she went often. It was usually overpriced.
"Ive been there a few times." Nicole joined the conversation. The bassist was really starting to become concerned. The photographer seemed very withdrawn.
"Maybe we can eat there tonight?" It was a desperate offer. Laurel hated the food there, but was willing to stomach it for one night.
"I dont think well want to eat out tonight. Weve done that more than usual already."
"True. Theres something about being down here that makes us eat." She glared at Stan. He was overtaken by the giggles.
"Ill be right back." The photographer stood. They all watched as she made her way to the restroom.
"Ok, whats up?" Laurel demanded. She knew Nicole would have at least said something to Michael.
"What do you mean?" Michael did not meet her gaze.
"Something is up with Nicole, and you have two minutes to tell me before she comes back."
"You know, I was wondering the same thing." Stan also turned to gaze at the photographers brother.
"I think the honeymoon is over and thats about it." He seemed reluctant to reveal even that much.
"Whats that supposed to mean?" She grinned as Stan asked the same thing.
"What I mean is that first bloom is gone and now it needs to be reawakened. Maybe you should just ride it out. See what happens as it goes." He trailed off as Nicole returned to the table.
"What are we talking about?" The photographer asked. "Have we ordered yet?"
"Nope. We havent even seen a waiter yet." Stan answered.
"We were discussing surfing." Laurel improvised a subject. "Michael was telling us what to do when a wave goes bad."
"Yeah. When youre up there sometimes all you can do it let it take you back to shore before going back out and trying again." He directed his words to the bassist. She had no clue as to what he meant.
"Interesting. Thinking of trying it are you?" The photographer turned to her lover.
"If Im ever out in sunny California." It was on her list of things to do, but not so high up that she would go out of her way to try it.
"Maybe youll get your chance soon." Nicoles tone was offhand.
"Really?" She was intrigued.
"We could always go out and visit Michael." The photographer shrugged.
"Have you decided what you want?" The surfer asked. He placed his menu on the table.
"Same thing as always." Stan commented. "I know. Im predictable."
"Thats ok. I was actually thinking of going with what I had here last time." Laurel grinned. "You?"
"The jambalaya sounds good. I havent had that in a while." For the first time that day, Nicole smiled.
"Wonder why." The bassist laughed.
"Do I wanna know?" Stan looked as if he were about to be embarrassed again.
"Someone we know kept pestering me while I was trying to make it about a week ago. I ended up burning it and we had pizza instead."
"If you wouldnt have been so secretive, maybe I wouldnt have pestered you." Laurel teased and stuck her tongue out at her lover.
"Can I take your order?" The waiter finally arrived. He saved the photographer from having to make a retort.
They placed their drink and their food order at the same time. They did not know when they would see the waiter again. All four of them were too hungry to wait. After he disappeared to wherever it is waiters go, Stan took over the conversation. Laurel was grateful for that. He showed a remarkable sense of humor and great philosophical depth. She privately felt that his talents were wasted selling antiques, but he seemed happy. He should be. He had helped her find a nice surprise for the photographer during Mardi Gras.
"Ah, now this looks great." Nicole seemed pleased with her plate. The jambalaya did indeed look excellent.
"Smells good too," Michael looked greedily at his sisters plate.
"Back off bro, enjoy your po-boy and leave my food alone."
"Alright. Can I at least try some gumbo, Laurel?"
"If I have any left." She grinned at him. Stan seemed content with his grilled shrimp Caesar salad. "Hows the salad?" She asked to make sure.
"Perfect." He carefully swallowed before answering.
"Are you on a diet or something?" Nicole asked.
"Why do you ask that?" He seemed confused.
"Because youve ordered a salad here, a veggie burger Friday night, and boiled fish last night." The photographer itemized his recent choices.
"Not really. Im just bored with most food. I really should learn how to cook." He used his knife to cut a large piece of lettuce.
"Ive learned how to make spaghetti." Laurel was proud of that.
"Opening the can?" Michael asked.
"Yep. Is there another way?" She grinned.
"Well, you could make it from scratch." Nicole suggested.
"Sorry, Nicky, but not everyone had Melba teach them how to cook." Stan laughed.
"So thats how you learned to cook so well." Laurel solved one mystery. Melba was the Herberts housekeeper.
"It was a way to escape sometimes." The photographer shrugged. The bassist knew her lover looked for ways to escape her sometimes-confining upbringing.
"Understandable." Stan nodded gravely.
"So, when are you guys heading back?" Michael asked as he tossed his napkin on the table.
"As soon as we pack." Nicole told him.
"Yeah I have rehearsal tonight." Laurel did not know why she was going. It was just habit.
"Well, I need to prepare for my meetings tomorrow. I fly out on Tuesday, so Ill have to catch you both on the next trip." Michael pulled his wallet from his back pocket. "Lunch is on me."
"Thats not necessary." Laurel protested.
"Let me indulge. Ill let you make it up to me next time." He compromised.
"Alright." She gave in to his reasoning. She did notice that neither Stan nor Nicole joined her protest. "Are we ready?"
"Yep. It shouldnt take us too long to pack." Nicole commented as she stood.
"Well, I need to go check at things at the store." Stan stretched. "Let me say goodbye here." He pulled first one and then the other into a hug. "Have a safe trip and Ill see you both soon."
"Take it easy, Stan."
"Guess its up to me to escort you back to the Warehouse." Michael offered his arm to his sister as they left the building. Laurel followed slightly behind them.
"You didnt bring back your football jersey." Nicole commented as she sorted their clothes. She planned on visiting the Laundromat while the bassist went to band practice.
"I left it there for next time." Laurel stretched out on the couch. "I didnt see the point in bringing it home."
"Thought you liked sleeping in it?"
"I do, but we dont seem to wear pajamas much, so I figured why bother." The bassist opened a new packet of strings. "Speaking of why bother, it doesnt look as if I need to change these strings."
"Then why were you going to do so?" Nicole never changed the stings on her violin. She took it to the store and made them do it.
"Something to do I guess. Its one of those lazy Sunday afternoons." The bassist shrugged. "I dont have a time to play a game, and Im really a bit too sore for anything else at the moment."
"At least you arent itching." The photographer was suffering from extreme discomfort.
"Poor baby. Ill kiss it and make it better later. Just dont scratch too much. Itll make it worse."
"And you know this how?"
"Not from personal experience really. Thats one good thing about being blonde." The bassist laughed. "Anyway, Im going to head out. I think they wanted to call a meeting."
"Are you still going to tell them no?"
"Yep. I dont want to go to New York. I have no desire to cross the Mason-Dixon line."
"When did you get the offer?" Nicole finally asked one of the questions that had been pestering her for a week.
"About a month ago. I turned it down then, and Ill turn it down now."
"You could have at least discussed it with me." She added a load of clothes from the bathroom hamper to the load she was preparing to take to the Laundromat.
"I guess, but since I turned it down, I didnt really think about discussing it." Surprisingly, Laurel was not defensive.
"Why exactly did you turn it down? The truth." She could not stop the questions.
"I want to go to law school. That would be a little hard to do if I were touring the country or something." The bassist shrugged. "Do you want me to go?"
"I want you to do whatever you want to do." Nicole paused before answering. She decided to keep her answer noncommittal.
"Im going to be late. Ill be back later and we can discuss this ok?" Laurel placed her bass into its case.
"Yeah. I want to get these loads done before it gets too dark." She added her detergent to the pile.
"Let me take that outside for you." The bassist hefted the basket and took it out to the car. "You know I could not go to rehearsal. Theres no point in it really since the rest of the band is going to New York. Well, BJ isnt."
"Thats up to you. You should at least go talk to them though." Nicole advised as she locked the door.
"Yeah I guess. I should at least tell them I quit." The bassist looked around. "And ask BJ about your car." The red car was not in the driveway.
"That would be nice." Nicole smiled. "No go off to rehearsal. Ill see you when you get back."
"Ok. Be careful." Laurel leaned in and kissed the photographers cheek. "Love you."
"And I, you." Nicole pushed her lover to the truck. "Go."
"Yes, maam." The bassist laughed as she hefted her bass.
The photographer watched as her lover pulled out of the driveway. As soon as the old truck was out of sight, Nicole started her car. She eased the convertible out of the driveway. Using her cellular phone, she called Sheryl. Nicole hated doing laundry alone. Unfortunately, the critic was not home. Resigning herself to the situation, the photographer disconnected the call as she pulled into the gravel parking lot.
The Laundromat was deserted. Nicole unwrapped her roll of quarters and claimed three machines. Lately, she always washed any clothes the bassist left at the house. Laurel had accompanied her once on a laundry trip, but the bassist had absolutely no talent when it came to washing clothes. Nicole thought it was because no one had ever taken the time to teach the bassist. She felt the same thing about her lovers lack of cooking skills. Laurel had never been required to cook, so she never learned.
Nicole grew up in a home with a housekeeper. She learned how to cook and how to wash clothes out of a desire to escape. Melba knew that and encouraged the young girl to learn. Laurel never had that opportunity. As much as Mandy did for the bassist, she never took the time to teach Laurel how to live on her own. No one had.
Some kind soul had left a magazine sitting on a chair near the washing machines. Nicole decided to use that to distract herself. She was tired of thinking things over. The magazine was an entertainment one. She found the movie and music reviews interesting, but not as good as Sheryls. Sheryl could easily work for a larger paper but chose to remain in Hattiesburg, writing the entertainment reviews and covering a few stories on weekends. The papers publisher, Max Pinket, had been so impressed with the way Nicole and her friend covered the recent tax related suicides, the two were made a permanent weekend team. As a result, they had the same schedules on weekends. Nicole counted Sheryl in with Mozart as a constant in her life. She knew that she would never lose her friendship with the critic.
One by one, the washing machines slowed to a stop. Nicole took the wet bundles and placed them in the dryers. She returned to her magazine after starting the machines. She still had quarters since it was cheaper to dry clothes than wash them. She used three of the remaining coins to purchase a cola. She suddenly felt the need for caffeine. She had not slept well the night prior.
By the time the clothes were dry, Nicole was finished with both the cola and the magazine. She left the magazine for someone else to read. One good turn deserved another. She folded the clothes neatly before setting them into the basket. It was a heavy load, but she made it to the car. She was tempted to leave it in the car and let Laurel bring it inside. At times like this, the photographer was grateful that her lover was the stronger one. The bassist had to be; her bass weighed at least twenty pounds. The standup bass weighed more than the electric one. Laurel could handle them both with ease.
She was surprised that the truck was in its normal parking space. The red car was back as well. Nicoles curiosity was aroused. The lights in the house were dark except for a faint glow barely visible through the windows. Soft sounds of a piano were audible as she approached the door.
Candles were lit and placed throughout the house. The kitchen table was set with more candles. A bottle of wine was opened in the center of the table. A tray of lasagna was placed prominently near a large bowl of salad.
"Thought you went to rehearsal?" Nicole called out. She was in awe over the trouble her lover went through while she was gone.
"I did." Strong arms wrapped around her waist from behind. "May I have this dance?" The remote in her lovers hand turned the music up as a waltz began to play.
Laurel did not wait for an answer. She swung the photographer around so they were facing one another. As if by magic, their bodies drew together. The bassist led them slowly around the living room. It was not the best waltz ever seen, but Nicole was not going to complain. The circuit of the room ended where it began near the passageway between the living room and kitchen.
"Wine?" The bassist released her embrace. She poured the red liquid into a crystal glass, smiling as she offered it.
"Thank you." Nicoles knees felt weak. This was no ordinary dinner. This was a romantic encounter designed for seduction or proposition. She sincerely hoped it was the former. She did not know if she had the strength to decline the latter.
"Here, sit. Mandy made this specially for us." Laurel seemed proud of herself. She held out a chair until Nicole took a seat. "Anything else I can get for you?"
"No, I think everythings here." It was. The lasagna, salad, plates, bread, wine, water and silverware were already placed carefully on the table.
"Good." The bassist handed her a plate laden with lasagna. She filled a bowl with salad, handing that to the photographer as well.
"This is excellent." Nicole waited until Laurel took her seat before tasting the food.
"I remembered how much you liked Mandys lasagna, so I had her make some."
"Thank you." It was sincere gratitude. Mandy used herbs, spinach, and several types of cheese in her dish. Unlike her roommate, she was a vegetarian. Mandy would cook meat, but she would not eat it.
"It honestly was my pleasure." That smile almost brought tears to the photographers eyes.
They ate in companionable silence. Only the soft strains of Chopin filled the room. Mozart dined on his own serving of lasagna, thereby leaving the two of them alone to enjoy their meal. Laurel even provided dessert. Somehow she had located freshly made tiramisu. It was heavenly.
"I am stuffed." Nicole pushed her chair away from the table and began to clean up the mess.
"Not so fast hotshot. This is my duty. Go watch TV or something. Ill join you in a minute." Laurel was quick to stop her.
"Ok." The photographer was too astonished to protest. Whenever the bassist stayed over, they separated the chores. Nicole would cook; Laurel would clean. This change in the division of labor was nice, but slightly discomforting. Nicole was no longer accustomed to being waited on at home. Giving in, she wandered into the living room to await her lover.
Laurel had requested lasagna for one basic reason. Mandy could make it hours before it was to be consumed. All the bassist was required to do after she brought it back was heat it in the oven. It was not difficult. She was pleased with the look on her lovers face. She really managed to surprise Nicole this time.
Rehearsal had been a bore. She left after only a few minutes. Once again, she declined the offer to travel with the band to New York. She knew though that Jenna would not give up on her so easily. They claimed that they needed her on bass even though Charles was an above average player. She felt he was more than adequate to take her place. She had more important things to do in life than play music.
That thought led her to the reason behind this surprise dinner. She smiled as she added soap to the sink. The real surprise of the evening was resting in the pocket of her cargo pants. She felt the box through the material. It was a reassuring gesture. Silently she blessed Stan. She had him on the look out for such a present for months. He finally located the exact thing she wanted over Mardi Gras. She actually bought it before it was officially in the inventory. That was their little secret. He had spotted it at an estate sale and bought it specifically for this purpose. His uncle never knew it existed.
Finally, the dishes were washed and the leftovers were put into the refrigerator. It was hard to make lasagna for two people. They would be eating it for several more meals. Laurel knew that was fine. Mandy was an excellent cook.
"More wine?" The bassist knew her lovers limits when it came to alcohol. She would not offer more than two glasses. Nicole was drunk by three.
"Thank you." Nicole accepted her glass with a smile.
"Come here." She pulled her lover from the couch. "Lets go utilize that swing of yours."
"Ok." The photographer followed willingly.
Laurel did not bother turning on the porch light. She did not want anyone to see them clearly. She did not plan on doing anything within view of casual onlookers, but she felt it was better to be safe. Nicoles neighborhood was not crowded, but the occasional car did pass.
"So how did you manage to plan all of this?" Nicole asked as they cuddled on the swing. Her head was lying on its favorite pillow.
"I made some calls while you were in the shower this morning." She could not keep the pride from her voice. She felt that she had done very well.
"Yep. I can be when I need to be."
"So what did you tell the band?"
"I told them no." She gathered her courage. "Nicole, theres something Ive been meaning to ask you."
"Shh. Lets not talk right now. Youve got me in the mood for something quite different." A gentle hand covered her lips.
"Whats that?" She asked after kissing the hand. It moved to her cheek.
"This." Nicoles lips tasted of wine.
"I think youre addicted." Laurel murmured.
"To you? Yes I am." The photographer smiled. "Lets go inside." She rose and offered her hand.
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