"So, tell me again why you didnt tell me about that contract." Nicole raised her head from its resting place. Laurel sat up on the couch and looked at her.
"Are we returning to that? I thought we resolved that yesterday before I went to rehearsal."
"I want to talk about it."
"Why? I told them no. I didnt realize that it was worthy of conversation after that."
"Dont you think I would want to know these things?" Nicole felt her voice rise. She was interrupting a perfectly nice evening watching TV for something Laurel explained Sunday. It was not a good way to accomplish her plan, but Nicole knew there really was not a right way. This would have to do.
"Im sorry, but I didnt really think about it. Had I considered it then we would have discussed it."
"So you can only discuss topics with me when you think theyre worthy? Are you censoring your life now?" It was irrational, but it worked.
"No I am not censoring my life. Why the fuck would I want to do that?" Laurel was getting upset.
"Well you havent told me everything obviously. Jenna had to tell me about the contract."
"That is what youre upset about isnt it? Do you want me to take the gig? Is that what youre trying to say?" The bassist began pacing.
"I want you to do whatever it is that you want to do."
"I dont want to go to New York. How many times do I have to say that?"
"Then dont go. Its not like youll talk to me about it anyway."
"Nicole, do you tell me everything that happens to you at work?"
"That is a bit different." She protested.
"How is that different?"
"Nothing I do at work affects our life together."
"So that job offer you got after exposing whats his name back in January wouldnt affect our life together?" Laurel referred to the offer from a paper in Memphis. When Sheryl and Nicole had exposed a prominent tax attorney for fraud, the Memphis paper picked up the story.
"How did you know about that?" That stopped her cold. Only Danny knew about the offer. She did not even tell Sheryl.
"I have my sources. You turned them down but never mentioned it to me. Whats the difference?" She could not find fault with her lovers logic.
"Memphis was a smaller paper. There was no way I was going to move. It would not have furthered my career. This will further your career as a musician." When in doubt, confuse the facts. Nicole had once been told that. She hoped it held true.
"I do not want a career as a musician." Laurel over enunciated each word.
"At least tell me how you got the offer."
"A guy came up to us after Christmas and said that we should cut a demo. We cut the demo. I told you about that. Hell you took the picture we used for the cover. Then back in March, the same guy comes up with a buddy who just happened to work for a record company. They took a copy of the demo to New York. We got word in April that they wanted to sign us. We put it off since I was still in college. At least that was the official story. I told them then that I didnt want any part of it. I still dont want any part of it."
"And you couldnt tell me that back then?"
"What really is the problem?" Laurel stopped her pacing.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that you cant be this upset about me not telling you something I turned down. What is the problem?"
"My problem is that my girlfriend does not trust me or think highly enough of me to tell me about something that could have had an enormous impact upon our lives."
"You are blowing this way out of proportion."
"Am I? Its not the first time you didnt tell me something important." Nicole knew what she was about to do was dangerous. She was about to play her only trump card.
"Yeah? And what else didnt I tell you?" The bassist turned to face her.
"Lets see. How about all the details leading to your arrest? How about the fact that you were a kleptomaniac? You didnt tell me about the details of your arrest, your continued drug use through that period, or about your reputation as a despoiler of maidens." She regretted the words as soon as they left her mouth. Laurel looked as if she had just been slapped.
"You know, Ive been expecting this since that weekend in New Orleans when I told you part of it. For once I would love to meet someone who does not hold incriminating evidence to be used against me later. My parents did that; the State of Mississippi did that, and now you. Thank you very much for finally fulfilling my expectations."
"Then why are you still here?" Though she felt as if she deserved them, Laurels words still hurt.
"Im wondering that myself. I thought you were different. You told me that it didnt matter." Laurel grabbed her keys from the entertainment center. "And just for the record, I was not a kleptomaniac. It was a conscious decision to steal, not an impulse."
"Oh fuck." The words were torn from her throat as she watched her lover leave. Laurels decision to steal may have been conscious, but Nicole knew it was not always that way. She had stolen the photographers heart. The photographer was sure that had been unconscious.
The door slammed shut, waking Mozart. The whine of an old engine and the squeal of tires let her know that Laurel was gone past recalling. Nicole sunk to the floor, curling herself into a ball. The big dog padded over. He whined to get her attention as he placed his head on her thigh. He was still there for her.
Laurel knew she was pushing her truck harder than she should. The old vehicle was held together by duct tape, sweat and faith. She could not afford another vehicle. This was all she had aside from a small street motorcycle and a dirt bike. Neither of them were adequate transportation for a musician. She could not strap her bass to the back of a motorcycle anymore than she could take her truck on an off-road adventure.
She downshifted as the grinding reached her ears. If she were not careful, she would soon be walking to her destination. Whatever that destination may be. She did not know. All she knew was that her heart was in pieces. She was futilely attempting to outrace the pain. It did not work. She really did not expect it to.
She pulled into the parking lot at Mabels without really realizing that she was there. It took several seconds for her brain to comprehend it. Finally, the electrical impulses were recognized. She did not want to go home, she could not go back to Nicoles and there was nowhere else she could go. Laurel slowly got out of her car and walked into the truck stop.
Scorning the customary booth, Laurel took a seat at one on the opposite corner. The waitress knew her and brought over a cup of coffee without asking. Had she been in a better frame of mind, she would have appreciated the gesture. She gazed around listlessly. She did not know anyone there. That was good. She was not in the mood for conversation.
The first cup of coffee helped clear her head. The second helped strengthen her resolve. There was something wrong. Nicole did not tell her everything. There was only one thing she could do. She had to go back to the house and talk this out. It was not their first fight, but it was definitely the worst. Michael had been correct. The honeymoon was over. She had to get back on the board and ride the wave again. At least, that is how she interpreted his analogy. She really did not know much about surfing.
Laurel threw two dollars on the table for her coffee plus a small tip. The waitress, Amber, waved as she left. The bassist waved back. She was feeling better than she did when she entered the establishment.
The truck groaned as she cranked it. She would have to get BJ to help her examine it later. Right now she just hoped it would get her back to Nicoles house. It was only seven miles, but she wondered if that were seven miles too far. She could only push the truck so far before something else would need to be replaced. Her luck held true. It stopped complaining. The trip back was slower, but she made it.
The lights were off when she pulled into the grass by the driveway. She parked the truck, only then seeing the photographer. Nicole was sitting on the porch swing, drinking a beer.
"I didnt expect you back." The voice came from the darkness.
"I cant stay away. We need to talk this out."
"Im sorry. I overreacted. I didnt mean what I said." Nicoles voice was full of sadness.
"Couples fight all the time. Why should we be any different? We just have to accept it, get over it and move on." A court appointed psychiatrist had once told that phrase to her. It held true for most of life.
"I really am sorry." She could not see the tears, but she knew they were there.
"Oh, sweetheart, itll be alright." Laurel took a seat on the swing. She went to pull the photographer into her arms only to find that Nicole was already there.
"Make me believe it?" The photographers voice was small in the darkness.
"How should I do that?"
"Lets talk tomorrow. I just want you to hold me tonight."
"I think I can manage that." Laurel was content to do just that. She leaned back, bringing Nicoles head to rest on her chest. She leaned down and placed a chaste kiss on her lovers head. She took a deep breath, taking in the scent of shampoo and perfume. The mix was uniquely Nicole. It was imprinted in the bassists memory. She would never forget it and would always recognize it.
The photographer leaned up as Laurel returned for another chaste kiss. This kiss was not chaste. It was far from innocent. It was fueled by passion, desire, and a need to reaffirm the righteousness of their connection. It never seemed to end, but was continued in several smaller ones. Each was followed by caresses. Somehow they made it from the porch to the bed without ever separating.
If I go, will you shoot me?
Laurel woke to find herself alone in bed. Mozart was lying beside the door and the photographer was nowhere to be seen. She thought for a moment that everything was right with the world until she noticed the note lying on the photographers pillow. She read through it twice before she comprehended it.
"Well, guess thats it then." The bassist refused to let herself cry. She attempted to redirect her despair into anger. It was the only way she could cope at the moment.
Gathering her clothes, Laurel stuffed them all into her backpack. Whatever did not fit was stuck in a pile to be carried out to her truck. She decided to shower at her house in case Nicole came back early. She did not want to be around if that happened. The note was folded carefully and placed in her wallet. She wanted to shred it into a million pieces and leave them all on the bed, but the entire situation was too surreal. She needed proof that it had happened.
The bassist made it in one trip with all her belongings. If she missed anything, she reasoned that the photographer could burn it. She would not miss it. However, it was difficult saying goodbye to the dog. She hugged Mozart and whispered a few last instructions into his ear. In turn, he licked her face and whined as she left. She forgot to leave her key.
Laurel was proud of herself. She made it back to the trailer with out running the truck off the road or breaking down into helpless tears. The sight of Mandys car in their driveway gladdened her. She knew that her friend and surrogate mother would at least console her if not offer advice.
"Lakky? What are you doing home so early?" Mandy asked from the kitchen. "What happened?"
"She dumped me." The words were hard to get out and harder to accept.
"Oh honey." Mandy raced around the counter and pulled the bassist into a large hug. "Are you alright?"
"No. I feel like Im in shock or something." Laurel let herself relax into the embrace.
"Did she even say why?" Mandy used the bassists relaxed state to steer them both to the couch.
"Not really. We argued last night. I drove around to cool off before I went back to talk about it. I thought we had made up. We had awesome make-up sex, but when I woke up this morning she left me a note asking me to leave and not come back." Laurel knew her tone was flat. She had yet to register anything more than the sharp pain piercing her chest where her heart would have been. "She told me to go to New York and make the CD."
"Ah, and do you want to?"
"No. I really dont but I cant stay here if shes here."
"Then go to New York and check things out." Mandy advised. "At least it will give you some time away. You dont have to make the CD if you dont want to. Just go let someone else pay for your trip, go pay your respects to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and spit off the top of the Empire State Building. You might even get to see a play on Broadway."
"You really think I should go?"
"Yeah, I do, but only because you should spend sometime away from here. Take a week, go play tourist and then come back and try to talk to her again. The week apart should clarify things for both of you."
"Ok. Ill go. Just to check things out though. I dont want a music career." Laurel raised her head. "Wheres BJ?"
"Sam took him shopping so he wouldnt look like such a bum in New York. She talked him into doing the same thing last night. He doesnt want to go anymore than you do." Mandy kissed the top of her friends head. "Now, go cry yourself to sleep." She helped the bassist to her feet and then swatted her behind. "Im off today, so if you need a shoulder Ill be here. If you still want to go when you wake up, we can go put your savings to use and get you some new clothes too."
"Nah, its not necessary. I dont care if I go up there and look like a bum." Laurel turned towards her room. "Thanks though, Mandy."
Laurel gave a halfhearted smile and walked to her room. She felt that the world was about to end, and she waited for the explosion. None came, so she threw herself onto her bed. She laid there for several long moments listening to the pounding in her ears. The torrent started with a few tears, but soon she was sobbing like a child denied a precious toy. She had not cried so hard and so long since the night her brother died. It did not make her feel better. It wore her out so much that she was soon asleep.
"Alright there Hotshot?" Jeff used Sheryls nickname for her as he caught up to her in the hallway.
"Yeah, Jeff. Whats up?" Nicole turned at the sound of her bosss voice.
"Its a slow news day so nothing is up really. I have two assignments for you. Once you finish those, the rest of the day is yours. Of course youll still be on call so keep your cell phone with you." He handed her two assignment sheets. "Bobby is running film tonight since his hand is still sore, so all you have to do is take the pictures."
"Thanks, Jeff." She took the assignment sheets and placed them in her camera bag. "Guess that means Im out of here." She hated getting to work then turning around and leaving immediately. There were days when she rarely got to use her desk. Today she was grateful, although she wished there were more assignments. She did not want to have a lot of time to think.
Jeff turned and began talking to someone else, so Nicole took the opportunity to leave. She walked back out to her car and pulled out the assignment sheets. She tossed her camera bag onto the passenger seat and walked over to the smoking pavilion. No one was allowed to smoke near the building.
"Boy you look like hell there Hotshot." Sheryl waved her over to a bench in the pavilion.
"Thanks. Good thing I have you around to boost my ego." The photographer dropped unceremoniously onto the wooden seat. She lit a cigarette before offering the pack to her friend.
"Are you ok? Youre not coming down with anything are you?" Sheryls voice was tinted with her concern.
"I dont know if I am or not." She put the pack back in her pocket when Sheryl waved it away.
"Maybe you should take the day off and go home to snuggle with Short but Deadly." The critics nickname for the bassist did not even get a smile as it usually did. "Ok, now I know theres something wrong. What happened?"
"How do you know theres something wrong?" Nicole did not want to talk about it.
"Because whenever I call Laurel by her nickname, you smile or laugh. This time you didnt even twitch your eyes. So, did you two have a fight or something?"
"Yeah we argued last night." Nicole made sure no one else was around to overhear their conversation. She was not out at work, and journalists were the worlds worst gossips. "I asked her to leave this morning."
"Youre going to talk about it tonight though arent you?"
"Nope. It is over."
"It cant be over. Your relationship with Laurel has given the rest of us hope that love does exist. If you two break up, youll be responsible for fucking up everyones worldview. Its like the first sign of the Armageddon. Mountains will fall, rivers will run backwards, all Star Trek shows will be cancelled, dogs will talk in human voices, and Kevin Costner will win an Oscar. You have to stop the madness before it starts."
"It is not the end of the world." Even she did not believe herself. "And Costner will never win an Oscar."
"Why did you two break up?" Sheryl returned to the serious part of their discussion.
"I cant do it anymore. It was time it was over."
"Before she hurt you, you mean?"
"Look, I have to go. I have two assignments this morning. Ill see you later." Instead of talking it out, Nicole chose to run. She was getting good at that.
"We will talk about this later." Sheryl called after her.
"Whatever." The photographer felt her throat closing. She was close to tears, but she pushed them back down. She needed to maintain a professional outlook. She was on duty, and photojournalist did not cry while taking pictures of construction sites. She reminded herself as she started her car and rechecked the sheets.
Her first assignment was to take pictures of the new addition to the local library. Fortunately it was a difficult task. The construction was only half finished. She spent several minutes searching for the perfect shot. It was what separated her from the other photographers on staff. No matter the subject, Nicole attempted to make the picture look somewhat artistic. The only times she failed since she had started working at the paper were Dougs suicide and the cow she photographed a week ago.
"Is this all you needed?" The foreman asked as she sunk to one knee and framed the new addition, the old addition and the summer sun behind the workers.
"Yeah, I think so." She waited until after she had snapped a few shots before answering. She took out her pad and wrote down the time, date and names of those that may end up in the paper. "I do need you to sign this please." She handed him a consent form. It was legal tripe, but she did not want to get sued over a picture.
"Sure, not a problem." He signed the form without reading it. "Do you need the guys to sign it too?"
"I was just told to get your signature, but if you can get those two on the girders to sign as well, I would appreciate it."
"No problem. Wait here and Ill be right back."
She watched as the foreman readjusted his hardhat and walked over to the partially constructed building. It was getting hotter and she did not see how they could work in long sleeve shirts and jeans. She was sweating just watching them and they did not seem concerned with the heat. She supposed they were accustomed to it by now. They had been working on this addition for a month already.
"Here you go." The foreman handed her the forms back. "Theyre both excited about being in the paper. Bud wants to save a copy for his little boy." He pointed at one of the two men. Both of them were watching and waved when she looked.
"Well, Ill see if I can sneak it in, but I dont know which my boss will choose." Nicole waved back. She always felt good about her job when the human subjects were enthusiastic.
"Say, do you wanna meet for drinks sometime?" The foreman asked in a rush.
"Im kinda involved with someone, but thanks for the offer." Nicole was so startled that she forgot she was now single.
"Lucky guy. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to the article." The foreman shook her hand.
"I dont write them, I just take the pictures. Thank you for letting me stop by. Good luck with the rest of the construction." The photographer turned and headed back to her car. She had one more assignment and then she was free for the afternoon.
And everything I can remember, is fucked up, as it always seemed
"Laurel? Are you still breathing?" Mandys voice brought the bassist back to reality. The redhead rarely called her by her given name. It woke her faster than anything else Mandy could have said.
"Unfortunately." She sat up and wiped the sleep from her eyes.
"The rest of the band is here. They want to know what you are planning to do."
"I guess I have no choice. Looks like Ill be going to New York." The tears started again slowly. Laurel hoped that they would not dissolve into sobs. Her head and chest still hurt from the last bout of sobbing.
"Oh, honey." Mandy pulled her into an embrace. "Maybe you should go over there tonight and talk to her."
"I cant. She doesnt want me." That did it. The racking sobs started. She had never in her life felt so lost and alone. Rejection has power to splinter the soul. Laurels was almost the size of toothpicks.
"Yes she does. You know she does. You cant give up on her. You two may be able to exist without the other, but neither of you will ever be happy alone." Mandy began rocking slightly. Laurel relaxed into it.
"I cant be without her. How do you do it?"
"Jon is dead. It was hard to accept, and there were times when I wanted to lay down and never get up again. But his being dead is different. I know Ill see him again someday. We will have lifetimes together and the pain in this life seems inconsequential when I think of that." She paused and the bassist could tell that her friend was searching for what to say next. "Theres a difference."
"Well, I will never find another person like him. I know that and I accept that. He was my one true love the way that Nicole is yours. I may move on and one day even find some else to spend part of my life with, but no one will replace him. The main reason that it is different is that Nicole is still here. She still walks this earth, and while that is so, you cannot give up hope that you two will work it out. You cant fight destiny."
"You really think that were destined to be together?"
"Yes I do. And I know that you think so as well."
"Im not so sure anymore." Laurel hated thinking of destiny and fate. She did not want to think that anything governed her life, but she once thought that her relationship with Nicole was a product of fate. There was no other way she could explain it after they met. The attraction was too intense and the love was too life affirming to have been mere coincidence.
"You want proof then?"
"Yeah." She pulled back and looked at her friend. She heard the phone ring in the background but ignored it.
"I hate to say this and you have to promise to take it all in the way it is meant ok?"
"Before you met Nicole, how many serious relationships were you a part of?"
"One." Laurel cringed in memory. That one had been her first real relationship.
"How many women had you been with?"
"Um." She paused to count. "I dont really know. Twenty maybe." The number seemed a bit low, but she could not remember everyone.
"And what did you used to do after school and lessons?"
"Nothing good." Laurel was beginning to see her friends point. Before she had met the photographer, she had done nothing more than write songs, play the bass, smoke pot and do her homework. Sometimes, she had even done it in that order.
"And since youve been with Nicole? Laurel you have been a completely different person. You are more like the person you were before Jon died. You have fun, you goof off, you dont take things so seriously, least of all yourself, and you let your wonderful sense of humor show. No one else has been able to get you to make those changes in yourself. Nicole did not even have to ask you to do so; you just did them under her influence. What does that tell you?"
"That apparently I depended on her too much."
"No you didnt. She changed too, you know. Only a true and honest love can have that power. Now do you see why you cant give up on it?" The look on Mandys face was more serious, more earnest than Laurel had seen in years.
"You cant give up. You know youll never be happy if you do. Laurel, I have seen you fight so many times against the world. Why are you giving up so easily this time?"
"Those times were different." She protested.
"How so? Explain it to me, and youll see that Im right."
"She doesnt want me anymore. Its like my parents. They didnt want me either. At least with them I know why they didnt want me. I wasnt Jon; the daughter of my mothers best friend seduced me at fifteen. I came out at sixteen, almost got expelled, was never good enough and refused to follow any of their rules and ran a car up a tree. What I dont understand is why Nicole didnt want me. Am I that bad a person?"
"No, sweetheart, you are not a bad person at all. What you did as a teenager was for attention, we both know that. Nicole is just going through something. I am willing to bet that it got a little too confining for her and she needs some space to wake up. Shell come around. She loves you; I can see that every time she talks to you or about you. You can see it in her face. She glows."
"Then why?" Laurel was not a stupid person by any means, but she was having a hard time understanding this most recent change in her life.
"From what I know, maybe it was fear. She lost her parents at a young age, her sister a year or so ago, and she was disowned when she stood up for you to her grandmother. Correct?"
"Maybe she was scared. If thats the case then what you have to do is give her some time, talk to her when you get back from New York, and then convince her that you arent going to disappear on her." Mandy brushed the bassists hair back from her eyes.
"And if thats not it?"
"Then at least youll know that you tried. Now, get cleaned up and come talk to the band. You need to pack too, cause Im not going to do that for you."
"Thanks Mandy. I wouldnt be alive today if it werent for you."
"Sure you would."
"No, I wouldnt and we both know that to be true." Laurel pulled her friend into a hug. "Thanks for everything."
"It was my pleasure. Now hurry up."
"Yes maam." Laurel managed a small smile. She was not feeling like herself yet, but she did feel better. She knew that Mandy was right. She should not give up without a fight. All she had to do now was make that clear to the band. She was going to New York to play tourist and give Nicole some time. She was not going to record the CD or go on tour.
And consequences that are rendered, Ive stretched myself beyond my means
Nicole leaned back on the hood of her car. She had driven to the park after she finished work for the day. She was in no mood to go home. While she felt that the note was mild, her hand shook so bad while writing it that she almost did not finish it. She was grateful that she only had two assignments that morning, and was able to take the afternoon off from work. The time it took her to drive from one to the other had not helped her mental state. She had been second guessing herself all day.
The park was quiet. The photographer intentionally chose the same site that the bassist had introduced her to so long ago. They picnicked there several times since that Halloween night. It held a lot of good memories, but Nicole was content to do nothing more than sit on her car and watch the lake.
She let her mind drift back over the memories she created with the bassist. What she had written was not true. She loved Laurel more than anything in the world, but some insidious little voice told her to let the bassist go to New York. She did not want to be responsible for any regrets the bassist would carry with her. She could not let that happen to their relationship.
Not that she knew what she wanted from that relationship anymore. When Laurel had done the math and told her just how long they had been dating, Nicole realized something. She had spent less time with Laurel than she had with either Brian or Annie, but the emotions were more intense. The feelings she harbored for the other two paled to a barely visible color under the power of Laurels love.
Brian was been a mistake, pure and simple. Annie was her one major regret. She had actually loved the woman, but learned the valuable lesson of what happens to people who start relationships with emotional freaks of nature. The only thing that separated the two was a single appendage. She was scared that Laurel would turn out to be the same.
That was the entire situation. They were approaching their second anniversary as a couple, a mark that had seen the photographers heart break before. She wondered if she would ever make it past that point. That was when the big realization hit her. She could have. She should have talked with her lover about the problem. She knew that Laurel did not want to pursue a musical career, they had talked about that the very first time the bassist had been to her house.
"Damn it Herbert, you are so stupid." Nicole practically shouted the words.
She slid off the hood of her car, threw down her cigarette and headed for home. She knew the bassist would not be there. Laurel was not the type to stick around if she were not wanted. The only other thing to do was to call. Nicole was grateful for her cellular phone for the first time since work assigned it to her.
"Is Laurel there?"
"No, Im sorry, shes indisposed. May I take a message?" The voice on the other end broke up a little, but she could still make out the words.
"This is important, can you please tell her that Nicole is on the phone?" The photographer was contemplating driving over, but wanted to make sure the bassist was home first. "Never mind, Ill be there in a few minutes. She is home right?"
"Yeah, shes home, but she doesnt want to talk to you."
"Jenna?" She finally recognized the voice.
"Yeah, she just said to tell you that she doesnt want to talk to you. Were flying out in the morning for New York." Jennas voice came through static free for that bit of information.
"Oh, ok. She knows Im on the phone?" Nicole could not believe what she had heard.
"Yep. If you want the truth, you blew it. Shes set on making the CD now. Sorry." The line was disconnected.
"Fuck." Nicole made a right turn instead of a left and decided to go home. She had just made a major mistake, and she knew it. She did not think there was anything she could do about it. Laurel would soon be in New York and would likely return to her despoiler of maidens persona. It was all over but the crying.
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