Laurel wished that they could have taken the trolley.  The ride to the Hebert house was too cramped, as all six of them had ridden in Nicole's car.  The first glimpse that Laurel got of the house was impressive.  It was a huge white, gabled mansion located off St. Charles Street.  Nicole pulled the car into the old driveway and put it in park.


"Its to late to back out now," She told the assembly in the car.


"Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" Sheryl quoted softly.  She hated visiting this house.  Though it was seeing Adia that bothered her more than anything.


"I'll second that," Jessie added as she looked around at the cars gathered near the house.  It seemed as every family member and friend that could or would try to attend had already arrived.


The six of them followed the walkway around to the front of the house.  The front door was at the top of the steps on the porch.  The green paint on the boards was fresh, as was the white paint of the house.  They followed the steps to the inlaid wooden front door.  They could see people in the hallway through the etched glazed glass set inside the dark wood of the door.  A giant "h" was etched into the glass in old English script.


Taking a deep breath that was echoed by everyone but her lover, Nicole opened the front door and stepped inside the massive house.  The dark wooden floors had been freshly waxed and the rugs had been recently cleaned.  Nicole had not seen the old house look so well in years.  She had not seen it so full in years either.


"Nicky," Jay caught her attention and waved for the tightly huddled group to follow him into the parlor.  Phil was already there, sitting on a Queen Anne sofa.  The entire room was furnished to give it an early 20th century look.


"What's up?" Nicole asked her uncles.


"Margie is upstairs in all the splendor due an exiled queen," Phil actually took a shot at his niece. 


"Great, so what do we do now?" Nicole asked as she took a seat on an old fainting couch.


"Wait and see what happens," Jay advised as he took a seat by his partner.


They followed his suggestion and took seats around the room.  Sheryl and Jessie shared the other couch while Danny and Stan took the uncomfortable looking wing-backed chairs. Laurel sat beside Nicole on the fainting couch. 


They did not have to wait long before they heard Adia's politely commanding tones echoing from the hallway.  Someone must have informed her where her grandchildren were, because she strode into the room shortly after they had heard her voice.  She paused her stride and took in the scene in one glance.  Her aged face became dark for a moment as she noticed the pairings on the sofas and on the fainting couch.


"Nicole, may I see you in the dining room for a moment?" Adia went straight past the greetings and moved right into the confrontation.


"Yes, ma'am," Nicole resigned herself to the situation.  After all, it would not be the first time she had been requested to talk to her grandmother alone in the dining room.


Adia turned and left the room without saying anything to anyone else there.  The gathering of the photographer's closest friends and family looked at her with concern and sympathy in their eyes.


"Do you want me to come with you?" Laurel asked at the same time Jessie volunteered her presence.


"No, I'll be fine alone.  But if you hear screaming, you should come running.  One of us might be killing the other," Nicole's grim statement did not ease anyone's tension.


The photographer made her way slowly through the home of her childhood.  Not much had changed since she had lived there.  Her grandmother was very much a creature of habit.  The house reflected the matriarch's ideas of a true showplace, and often housed some of the finer pieces from her husband's gallery.


No one spoke to Nicole as she walked down the long hallway.  She stopped at the oil painting of her family for a brief instance.  The painting showed the entire Hebert clan at a very young age.  Her father had been a toddler at the time it was painted, and her uncle Phil had yet to be conceived.  She kissed the tip of her finger and then, as was her habit, placed it on her father's nose.  It was the only gesture of affection she really remembered seeing him do to her and her siblings.


"You wanted to see me?" She asked her grandmother as she entered the large dining room.


"Nicolette, what is going on out there?" Adia asked without any preliminaries.  The matron was sitting at the head of the oaken table.  The table alone was large enough to set twelve, and twelve chairs were placed at intervals around it.


"We're meeting here to welcome Margot home," Nicole's upbringing came to the fore.  "You requested us to be here."


"I said you and your two cousins had to be here.  I don't mind Danny, but I do not want perverts in my house.  It is bad enough that your uncle brings that…that man with him everywhere, but for you to keep company with two…" She shook her head in disgust, unable to finish her description.


"Laurel and Sheryl are my friends.  They are also friends with Jessica and Stan, why shouldn't they be here?" Nicole refused to tell her grandmother just how good of friends Sheryl and Jessica were.


"They are not the type of people I want you associating with.  What if they try to pull you back into that lifestyle?" Adia pulled out what she thought was her trump card.


"Do you think they are out of convert me?" Nicole fought back logically.   Like I needed to be converted.


"And probably Jessica too.  Those people will do anything to increase their membership.  I thought you had learned your lesson after the last time." Adia did not notice that her reasoning was infuriating her granddaughter.


"Grandmother, they are not out to convert me.  I cannot be converted," Nicole did not pause for long after seeing the look of relief on her grandmother's face.  She was tired of the whole situation and decided to lay it all on the table. "I am gay and nothing is going to change that."


"Nicolette Elizabeth Hebert, you cannot disgrace this family in that manner.  What would your poor father, the man you are named after say to that?"


"I have no idea.  I would hope that he'd be happy as long as I was happy."


"He is spinning in his grave," Adia got up from her seat and began pacing. "And I assume that woman with you is your "lover"?"   Never had such a pleasing word been said with such distaste.  "Can't you tell she is just using you?"


"For what? I have no money.  She makes more than I do.  The only thing you have let me have is the house and the car.  That is nothing to base even a gold digging scheme on.  She loves me.  And I love her more than I have ever loved anyone or anything in my life."  Nicole was letting her voice rise with each word.  She knew her grandmother would be against it, but she was no longer in the mindset to bow to the older woman's wishes.  She had done that for entirely too long.  She felt it was time to grow up and stand on her own.


"Your inheritance.  Which I will do my best to make sure you never get if you continue to live in this perversion." Adia threatened.


"You mean because I have sex with a woman, I won't get what is rightfully mine, but my sister will get hers?  Even after all the shit she has pulled, all the crap she injects into her veins?" Nicole was practically shaking with the injustice of the situation.


"Margot does not have a problem.  And your grandfather would not want his money to go to support such a deviant lifestyle as the one you live."


"Deviant? Tell me, Grandmother, have you looked at Margie lately?  She is killing herself with drugs.  She is going to use you until she gets her money and then you'll see the last of her.  That is until she kills herself with her perverted lifestyle." Nicole tried one last time to force her grandmother to see the truth of the situation.  She knew that the family gathered in the hallway and rooms beyond could hear her, but she was beyond caring over trifles such as that.


"Get out of my house.  I will not stand that type of language or your lifestyle.  You have been cut off Nicolette.  And I will not change my mind unless you change your lifestyle."


"That's an empty threat Grandmother.  Granddaddy's will does not go into effect until you die, so you can take nothing from me.  I have nothing for you to take away.  You can not even forbid me from the Warehouse, that is my father's apartment and grandfather gave it to me.  I have it in writing," Nicole's heart was sore.  She really did love her grandmother and this display of favoritism and discrimination hurt.  She was used to being overshadowed by her sister, but it seemed worse this time.  She had learned what love was, and she was being told to chose between that and family.  The choice was easy.


"Get out," Adia pointed to the door.


"I do love you Grandmother.  I hope you're happy in your delusions, but I will not give up the love of my life to please you," She wiped the tears from her eyes.  "Goodbye."


Nicole turned and walked out of the room.  She ran right into her friends without seeing any of them.  They all wrapped her in an embrace, too concerned with her emotional state to be embarrassed at being caught eavesdropping.


"Nicky, Jay and Phil are going to take me and Stan home, so why don't the rest of you get out of here?" Jessie told her cousin.


"Thanks, Jessie," Laurel wrapped her arms around the photographer and led her outside.  She did a double take when Jessie leaned over and planted a kiss on Sheryl's lips before telling her bye.


Danny drove the four of them back to the Warehouse.  Nicole was content to lie across the backseat and lean her head in Laurel's lap.  No one knew what to say to the photographer.


After they got back to the Warehouse and parked the car, Nicole headed upstairs. Laurel stayed downstairs to bring the dog inside.  Danny and Sheryl followed her onto the patio and requested a conference.


"So, what do we do now?" Danny asked as he took a seat at the table.


"Get her home," Laurel was quick to advocate leaving New Orleans.  "The sooner she can get her mind off what happened the less she'll hurt."


"What makes you think that?" Sheryl was not aware of all of the bassist's past.


"It worked for me," Laurel lit a cigarette.  "My parents threw me out of the house after my brother died.  I rarely talk to them anymore.  I bring shame on the family." She rolled her eyes.


"You're from Bayview aren't you?" Danny asked.  He had a feeling that Laurel was not talking about just her family when she said that.


"Yep, born and bred," Laurel saw the recognition in his eyes.  "I think I am going to go see how my girlfriend is holding up.  I'll be back down in a few minutes to tell you what's going on."  She made a quick exit.


"What was all that about?" Sheryl asked Danny after Laurel closed the door to the patio.


"I think Laurel's parents may be in the ‘business'," It was all he would say on the matter.  Danny liked breathing too much to do more than hint at his suspicions.


Nicole was lying in the middle of the bed when Laurel returned to the apartment.  Mozart ran ahead of the bassist and jumped on the bed.  He managed to get his head under Nicole's arm and began licking her face.  The photographer pushed him away, and the big dog began to whine.


"He just wants to help you know," Laurel lay down on the other side of Nicole and rubbed the photographer's back.  "You won't send me away if I start licking you will you?" She whispered into her lover's ear.


"Not now, I'm having a crisis," Nicole laughed in spite of herself.  She rolled over into Laurel's willing embrace.  "Why does it hurt so much?"


"Cause you care so much.  It leaves you vulnerable to pain," Laurel said from her own experience.  "I shut down for a while after my parents kicked me out.  You helped me to get over that, and I am going to be here to help you through this."


"Thanks.  Have I told you today I love you?" Nicole kissed her lover's chin.


"No, but I heard through the door what you told your grandmother.  I am sorry I was listening, but we were worried about the show down." 


"It's ok.  I was going to tell you what all happened anyway.  I am glad that you heard though.  Its not a conversation I'd like to repeat."  Her eyes started tearing again.


"Its ok sweetheart.  We'll get through this," Laurel held her closer.


"Promise?" Nicole started crying in earnest.


"I promise," Laurel hoped that she would be able to keep that promise. "I love you."


"Love you too."


Laurel held her lover as the photographer cried herself to sleep.  Easing herself out of bed, the bassist went to find Danny and Sheryl.  She was hoping the two of them could help her decide to what to do.  She found them downstairs in the patio sitting with Stan and Jessica.


"How is she?" Jessica asked when Laurel took a seat at the table.


"She's taking a nap," The bassist told them.  "How'd it go after we left?"


"Well, the official story is that Nicole left the house as a result of a misunderstanding and that she told our grandmother that she could not live with the rules of the household.  So, grandmother played the victim and turned Nicky into the villain.  She warned the two of us, well mostly Jessie, of the dangers of perversion," Stan told them.


"She's added Nicole to the unwanted list right next to Cassie," Jessie still sounded upset.


"Who's Cassie?" Laurel asked when it was apparent no explanation was going to follow Jessie's comment.


"Uncle Frank's daughter.  He got his girlfriend pregnant before he was shipped out, and the woman left Cassie with Grandma.  Cassie got a scholarship to Duke and took off.  We haven't seen her since Granddad died.  Nicole and her were pretty close, closer than Margie and Nicole anyway." Stan explained for Laurel's benefit.


"So why did she take off, or do I need to ask?" Laurel was curious.  Nicole's family kept getting weirder.


"She did not like conforming to Grandmother's standards.  From what we hear, she's got a good job and a great boyfriend.  She actually left because of the Catholic thing.  She, like her father, did not believe as much as Grandmother wanted." Jessie told her.


"So what do we do now?" Danny wanted to know.


"Get her through this.  All we can do is add support," Sheryl said.  "We just have to let her know that we are her family and she's not going to lose us," She looked straight at Laurel when she said that.


"Where's Jay and Phil?" The bassist wanted to know.


"I don't know.  They did stay, but I have no idea where they went," Jessica looked around the patio. 


"Maybe we should go check on Nicole," Laurel had an idea where the two men had gone.


The five of them climbed up the stairs and found Phil and Jay sitting in Nicole's apartment.  The photographer was still sleeping with Mozart beside her.  He had his head resting on her back and was staring at Jay and Phil.


"He won't let us near the bed," Phil informed the group.


Laurel just nodded and approached the bed cautiously.  Mozart wagged his tail as she got nearer.  She took that as a good sign.  She could feel the eyes on her from her friends in the living area, but she ignored them.  She kept her eyes on Mozart's tail in case the dog suddenly stopped wagging it.  However, he let her approach Nicole.  He even let her on the bed.


"Nicole,"Laurel sat beside her lover and pushed the dark hair away from Nicole's face. "Sweetheart, wake up.  We have company."


"Who?" Nicole was still groggy.  She was emotionally exhausted and wanted to do nothing more than cuddle with Laurel.


"Your friends and family.  Jay, Phil, Stan, Jessie, Sheryl and Danny are sitting in the living area."


"Ok, tell them I'll be right there," Nicole crawled out of bed and headed to the bathroom.


Laurel went back to the group.  She pulled two chairs over from the table so they could all have a place to sit.  Jay and Phil vacated the couch and took over the chairs.  It was a chivalrous gesture that shamed Stan and Danny who were sharing the loveseat.  Sheryl and Jessie were sharing the recliner. Laurel took one of the vacated seats on the couch, and Mozart took another.  When Nicole came back into the room, she took the middle cushion of the couch by default.


No one in the group knew what to say. Laurel was reminded of an intervention the band did for BJ right after she joined.  The mood was almost the same, supportive, nurturing and nervous.


"Nicole, you know we all heard what happened right?" Jay asked.  He and Phil had also hidden in the hallway with the rest of them during the argument.


"Yeah,Laurel told me.  So?" Even Nicole did not know what she was asking.


"So, we know what happened.  Honey, we are on your side," Phil told her.


"How can you be? You're still here.  All the shit you went through to be with Jay and you're still here.  Why?"


"Nicole, I only stuck around for the three of you.  I could not in all good conscious walk away knowing that you, Stan and Jessie were still here.  Jay and I talked it over for a long time before we came to that conclusion.  You three are like children to us.  Its our duty to watch over you."  Phil's speech had them all in tears, himself included.  He tried to pull Nicole into his arms, but Mozart growled at him.


Laurel grabbed the dog and held him.  Phil sat beside the photographer and pulled her into his arms.  They sat like that for several minutes as the rest of the group wiped the tears from their eyes.


"Thanks, Uncle Phil," Nicole said as she pulled away from him.  He kissed her cheek then reclaimed his chair. Laurel was thankful she could finally let the dog go.


"Well, what are we going to do now?" Stan asked.  He was getting hungry.


"We could go to dinner, en masse, or we could take the night off and let Nicole rest," Jay gave two possible suggestions.


"Dinner sounds good, then I think I'd like to go home," Nicole said the last in a quiet tone.  They could all tell that she was emotionally spent.


"Alright.  Any place in particular to eat?" Phil asked the group.  When no one gave a suggestion, he turned to his partner.


"Well, we can make it a nice place or fast food, but it should be somewhere close so they won't have to leave so late since they have far to drive," Jay was worried about Nicole and the rest driving back at night, but understood their point.


"Nice but fast sounds good," Phil thought it made a nice compromise.


They ended up at a small café not too far from the Warehouse.  It was past lunch and too early for dinner so they were able to get a nice table and quick service.  They placed their orders easily; the menu was rather limited.


Phil and Jay entertained the others with stories of their collegiate experiences and with the unusual people they both came across at work.  Jay worked for a Biotech company across the river, and Phil was a lab technician.  Between the two of them, they were able to keep the group laughing.


After the meal, which was mainly hamburgers, the group returned to the Warehouse.  Phil and Jay left them there after making Nicole, Laurel, Sheryl and Danny promise to drive safely and keep in contact.  Sheryl and Danny however, decided to stay another night.  Sheryl wanted to spend more time with Jessie before the youngest cousin had to fly back to New York.


Nicole and Laurel said their goodbyes in the courtyard before going up to pack.  Mozart never left Nicole's side after they returned.  He was also anxious to go home and kept running in circles while the two women gathered their belongings.


"Nicole, I have to ask one thing before we get out of here.  Does someone come in here and make the bed or does it do it by itself?"


"We have a maid that works here, though I've never seen this one.  I guess she checks each room before she does anything to it though, cause like I said, I've never seen her."  The photographer hefted her bags.


"Weird.  This keeps getting weirder." Laurel shoved everything into her pack and the bags she had saved from her shopping trip.


"Are you upset that you came with me?" Nicole had a little girl lost on her face.


"Not in the least," Laurel walked over to her lover and wrapped her arms around her waist. "Hon, I would not have missed this for the world, even without the sex I would not have missed this trip.  But fortunately, the sex was part of the package," She grinned causing the photographer to do so as well. "Sides, my family is just as weird.  Its all part of being Southern.  Now lets get home."


They left the top of the car down for most of the ride home.  The weather was clear and crisp and caused them no discomfort, though they did have to belt Mozart into the backseat.  Nicole let Laurel drive them back, and slept for most of the ride.  She woke up when they pulled into her driveway.


"Wanna order pizza and watch a movie?" Nicole suggested when she woke fully.


"I really should get to band rehearsal.  Want to go? We can swing by my place and I can get some clothes to stay over if you'd like?" Laurel was hesitant about pushing the relationship but did not feel that Nicole should be alone.


"I'd like that," Nicole smiled softly.  "What time is rehearsal?"


"In two hours.  We have enough time to catch Mandy up on the situation and get me some clothes," Laurel was glad that Nicole wanted to attend rehearsal.


"Ok, let me get the baby settled and change into some clean clothes," Nicole unlocked the house and took her bags inside while Laurel transferred her bags to her truck.


Laurel walked back inside the house to find Nicole in her underwear searching for a clean pair of jeans.  She was tempted to skip rehearsal, but music was almost as important to her as the photographer.  She decided that they had all night to make love, so she resisted the impulse.


"Ready?" She asked her lover.


"When you are."


BJ was not there when they arrived at the trailer, but the presence of Mandy's car lead them to believe the redhead was at home. Laurel parked the truck, mindful of the cats, and grabbed her bags.  She used her key to open the door and let Nicole precede her into the living room.


"Lackey, is that you?" Mandy called from her bedroom.


"Yeah, Nicole is with me, so come out clothed," The bassist warned her friend.


"I'm clothed.  What's up?" She asked as she came into the living room.


"We were just going to band rehearsal.  Thought I'd come by and get the bass, some clothes and drop off the laundry.  Oh, and let you know what happened this week," Laurel told her friend.  She started to head back to her room.  "I'll leave you two alone so you can play twenty questions."


"Well, that was subtle," Mandy told the photographer as her friend disappeared down the hallway.


"That was Laurel," Nicole grinned.


"So, I guess I'm supposed to ask you all the best friend things.  First however, I want you to know something. Jon was the love of my life, and Laurel was his best friend as well as sister.  After he died, I felt it was my duty to look after her.  He would have wanted that, and in all honesty, Laurel needed some help.  I guess she told you about her legal problems?"


"Yes she did," Nicole sat down on the chair opposite the couch where Mandy was sitting.  "We talked about it all in New Orleans.  Its not anything I could or would hold against her."


"I'm glad to hear you say that.  I told her you might feel that way a few weeks ago, but she's too hard headed to listen sometimes.  Anyway, now I get to ask you what your intentions are and to threaten you like any good older sister would." She grinned in a self-depreciating way.


"My intentions are honorable.  I love her very much, and I plan on loving her for the rest of this life and into the next.  I want to spend the rest of my life with her.  And I believe you'll hurt me if I hurt her, which is also what my best friend threatened to do to Laurel.  But I will try my hardest to not ever hurt her." Nicole spoke from her heart in a way Mandy knew and respected.


"That is the way I felt, and still feel, about Jon," Mandy's regard for the photographer had grown exponentially.  She pulled the photographer out of the chair and gave her a bear hug.  "Welcome to the family."


"Thank you," Nicole hugged the smaller woman back.


"Hey, no edging in on my girlfriend," Laurel joked from the kitchen.  She grabbed two bottles of water from the refrigerator and handed one to the photographer.


"I was doing nothing of the sort," Mandy laughed and returned to the couch. "So, tell me what all happened this weekend."


They took turns outlining the events of the weekend from the first hospital trip to the point where they acknowledged their relationship. Laurel took over the tale from there, skipping over the shopping trip and giving only the basic details of their date.  Nicole joined back in at the arrival of her two oldest friends.


"Sheryl is the critic BJ went out with isn't she?" Mandy interrupted the story to clarify the characters.  "And this Danny is the deejay the Cowboy?" 


"Right on both accounts.  Anyway, all five of us went out last night, though Nicole and I called it quits when she got a little too intoxicated.  They ended up staying out later, we found Danny passed out on the stairs this morning, and Sheryl and Jessie in the guest apartment." Laurel decided not to out the critic even to her friend.


"So then we go to my grandmother's to see my sister," Nicole did not want to out Sheryl either, but she did not want to continue this part of the story.


"Yeah, they call that place a house.  Mansion is really what the place is.  Its huge,"Laurel told her roommate.  "Anyway, Adia objected to mine and Sheryl's presence, she had never liked Sheryl, and called Nicole in for a private chat.  Which of course meant that the rest of us followed and eavesdropped.  Basically, Margie is back in full glory and Nicole has effectively been disowned pending a change in her lifestyle."


"What's the change?"


"She has to get rid of me," Laurel still wanted to slap Adia upside the head.  Phil actually had to hold the bassist to keep her from entering the room while they were eavesdropping.  She hoped the bite she had given the man when he put his hand over her mouth did not bruise too badly.


"That's not going to happen, hon."


"I know, I just wish I could whack Adia with a heavy board and knock some sense into her," Laurel knew she had to calm down.  She lit a cigarette and tried to think of something more pleasant.  Fortunately, the 5 foot 8 dark headed woman was a distracting thought.


"Oh, I am sorry Nicole.  I know how you must feel, but it'll get better.  Especially since you have a family in your friends," Mandy was sympathetic but knew that Laurel would give everything she had to keep Nicole from worrying about the situation.  "Anyway, its about time for you to get to rehearsal, Lackey." She hated to interrupt the moment, but knew that rehearsal would be a good diversion for them both.


"You're right.  We'll see you later, then," Laurel helped Nicole out of the chair.    "Ready?"


"Yep, need some help with that?" Nicole asked as Laurel hefted the bag and the bass.


"Nope, all you need to get is the door," Laurel told her.  "See ya tomorrow, Mandy."


"Why don't you bring Nicole to lunch tomorrow?"  Mandy asked as she went to close the door behind the couple.


"That sounds good," Nicole answered.  "I'll look forward to it." 


"Bye," Mandy waved as the two pulled out of the driveway.  She was feeling a lot better about the relationship her younger friend had entered.


"Hey, Lackey's back," BJ ran out of the garage to meet his other roommate.  He picked her up and swung her around before setting her back on her feet.  "And you brought a friend.  Hello Nicole."


"Hi, BJ.  How's it going?"


"Pretty good.  How was the trip?" BJ asked as Laurel pulled her bass from the back of the truck.


"It was a learning experience," Laurel told him.  "Let's go practice."


"Wait a minute there Lackey, I have a question I need to ask your friend," BJ forestalled Laurel's entrance to the garage.  "Nicole, did you now that Doug closed the store down completely Thursday?"


"No, when I called in Wednesday, they didn't say anything about it." Nicole was not expecting the question, or the sudden unemployment.


"Yep, talked to that other girl you had working there yesterday and she said that he came in Thursday, gave them all their last paychecks and boarded up the door."


"Shit," It was all Nicole could think to say.   She wondered if she would be able to find her ex-boss and get her last paycheck.


"Worry about that later," Laurel advised her. "Let's go jam."


The band and the self-styled groupies met them in various degrees of enthusiasm.  Most of them had seen the photographer at the store, and met her at the Labor Day barbeque. Laurel's sudden disappearance had been explained to them by Mandy, and they all wondered what the depth of the emotions binding the two women together truly was.


They were polite to the photographer as Laurel unpacked her bass and got ready for rehearsal.  Several of them had questions about the sudden closure of Doug's store.  Unfortunately Nicole did not have many answers for them.


Finally they were ready to begin.  At last Nicole was able to hear what blue gecko sounded like.  She was very impressed.  She tried to be fair and watch all the band members, but like the first time, her attention was solely on the bassist.  Laurel more than played a song, she performed it completely.


They played for an hour to get ready for their next public performance.  Then they practiced a few new songs that one of their "groupies" had written.  The young man showed great talent as a songwriter.  Nicole was sure that blue gecko had the talent to land a recording contract.  She wondered what would happen if they ever did.


The band played for another hour before calling it quits.  The last half hour had been spent with various members of the band challenging one another in an impromptu contest of name that tune.  Nicole noted with pride that Laurel was able to keep up with the majority of the challenges.


Nicole exchanged pleasantries with others as Laurel packed up her bass.  Seeing her lover perform had more than taken Nicole's mind off her family troubles.  She was more than ready to be alone with the bassist.


"So, Lackey, who's the new selection?" Jody tried to corner the bassist.


"Nicole,"Laurel called the photographer over. "Nicole meet Jody.  Jody, this is my lover, Nicole."


"It's nice to meet you," Nicole extended her hand.


"Wish I could say the same.  You'll never know what you missed, Lackey." Jody pouted.


"Thank the gods for that," Laurel shot back.  "Now, if you don't mind, I'm going to take my girlfriend home."


Laurel led Nicole out of the garage and to the truck.  She called her goodbyes over her shoulder, as her friends and band mates exchanged knowing looks.  They were all aware of how Jody had chased Laurel, and more aware of Laurel's reticence.  Most of them knew first hand the reasons why the bassist had always turned Jody down and did not blame her for it.


"So what was all of that about?" Nicole asked after Laurel had pulled out of her parking space.


"Jody is the type of person you hear horror stories about," Laurel tried to explain.  "I guess you could say she's Sheryl's antithesis."


"Ah, so while Sheryl has sex for the joy of sex, Jody does it for…"


"The temporary ownership of someone else from what I was told," Laurel could think of no other way to say it.  "I never wanted to find out."


"I don't blame you.  I wouldn't have either," Nicole was sure that Laurel had been with more people than she had, but the photographer had no desire to know about any of them.  All she needed to know was that the bassist loved her, was true to her, and was not harboring any vicious little surprises.  From all their conversations, Nicole knew she had nothing to worry about.


"Coffee or straight home?" Laurel asked as she turned onto the main roadway.


"Home, please."


"Yes ma'am," Laurel laughed.  "Second road to the right and straight on ‘til morning."


"Isn't that supposed to be star?" Nicole laughed.


"Whatever works."


"Want to call for pizza, they should still be delivering this late on a Saturday," Nicole was starting to get hungry.


"Sure.  I'll call if you find a movie." Laurel grabbed the phone and dialed the familiar number.


Nicole went in search of a movie while Laurel ordered the food.  She settled on an older comedy.  It was in black and white and not a good copy, but the plot was still good and the dialogue was worth the watching. Laurel was off the phone by the time Nicole had found the movie.


"What did you chose?"


"His Girl Friday.  Have you ever seen it?" Nicole put the tape in the VCR.


"Yeah, once.  I liked it though.  I used to want to be Cary Grant, he always got the best looking women and the best lines in any movie."


"Yeah, that is true." Nicole laughed.


"But I have no desire to be male, and I got the best looking woman on the planet," Laurel told her lover when Nicole sat down on the couch beside her.


"I'm glad to hear that," Nicole ignored the second part.  "I would love you if you were a guy, but I'm glad you aren't."  She got a kiss for that.


The movie was half over before Mozart announced the presence of the pizza delivery person.  Nicole paid for food while Laurel held the dog back. Laurel paused the movie after letting the dog go while Nicole went for paper plates.


They finished the movie at the same time they finished the pizza.  Giving up the pretense of trying to entertain themselves, they got ready for bed.  Nicole changed into her pajamas while Laurel stripped down to her boxers and t-shirt.  They chose sides of the bed with ease, taking the same sides they had gotten used to in New Orleans.


"So, how tired are you?" Laurel asked when Nicole laid down.


"I am emotionally spent.  It still hurts, but I'm glad you were with me, that you're still with me." Nicole whispered.


"I am too," Laurel leaned over and kissed her lips.  "Goodnight sweetheart."  She lay on her back and let Nicole use her shoulder as a pillow.




Laurel woke suddenly when something hit her upside the head.  She opened her eyes and could not find what hit her.  She did notice that she blinked out her contact however, so she crawled out of bed and headed to the bathroom.


She left the bathroom light on after she threw her contacts away.  The world was now dark and hazy.  The light from the bathroom kept the bassist from serious injury in the unfamiliar room.  She crawled back into bed and noticed that Nicole was thrashing about on the bed. The photographer seemed into be caught in a nightmare.


"Nicole,"Laurel spooned up beside her lover.  "Nicole, wake up," The photographer only moaned in her sleep.


Laurel was starting to worry that the photographer would injure them both as her motions became more erratic. Laurel climbed on top of Nicole, holding her hands above her head.  She leaned down and put her lips close to the photographer's ear.


"Hey, Hotshot, wake up," That elicited no response.


Knowing that she had to break the loop her lover had become trapped in with outside pressure, Laurel leaned down and kissed the photographer.  Nicole tried to throw her off, but the bassist held firm.  Finally, she got the desired effect as Nicole opened her eyes and took in her surroundings. 


"What?"  Nicole looked up into the concerned grey eyes looking down at her.


"You had a nightmare," Laurel did not move from her position.  "Wanna talk about it?"


"I don't really remember much of it," Nicole was being honest.  The dark images that held her attention a few minutes before had fled before the face of the bassist.  "You know, this is an interesting position," She grinned.


"Well, you were thrashing about and I didn't want you to injure either of us," Laurel explained her reasoning.  "But, since you mentioned it," She grinned wickedly and rolled her hips against Nicole's.  That got a moan of passion.


Laurel leaned back down and captured Nicole's lips in a blistering kiss.  She released the photographer's arms and stretched herself out on top of Nicole.  The photographer used her new freedom to run her hands under Laurel's shirt.


"Off, clothes, off now," Laurel was rapidly loosing her control.


They sat up and stripped, too caught up in the erotic emotions to care where the clothes landed.  They barely heard Mozart excuse himself from the bed and curl up in front of the door.  The big dog did not return to the bed until both women were sated.


Nicole rolled over and opened her eyes into blaring sunlight.  Mozart was lying across her ankles and Laurel was curled up at her side.  She was sore in body and in spirit, but the outlook for the day seemed as bright as the sun shining through her window.


The growling in her stomach caused her to think of breakfast.  She quietly slipped out of bed, pulled on her robe, let Mozart out of the back door, and began looking for something to make for the morning meal.  Growing up Cajun meant learning creative cooking, so she was able to piece something together with relative ease.


"Something smells good," Laurel leaned against the doorjamb.  "What are we having?"


"I'm not quite sure.  Its something like scrambled eggs, peppers, cheese and bacon," The photographer told her before turning around.  "It's all I had.  I'm not normally a breakfast person."  She turned to see a very welcome sight.  "Um, you always walk around naked?"


"Nope, not usually.  I just wanted to ask you where you keep your towels," Laurel gave a disarming grin.  "I feel the need for a shower."


"There's shelving behind that black and white sheet hanging in the bathroom.  The towels and things are behind that."  Nicole started searching in the cabinets for additional food.  "I should have all of this put together in some edible fashion."


"I'll be out in a few," Laurel leaned up for a morning kiss.  "Your bacon is burning," She laughed.  "Be right back."


Nicole returned to her cooking after Laurel had left the room.  She managed to find a pack of hash browns in the freezer, but the state they were in made her believe she could not use them.  They were too badly freezer burnt. Laurel's distraction had caused the bacon to burn, and Nicole was tempted to seek breakfast somewhere else.


She fed Mozart the scrambled eggs.  She had not added the peppers yet, so she put those back on the windowsill.  She went outside for a cigarette while she waited on Laurel to finish her shower.  It was earlier than she had imagined, and the street was peaceful.


She leaned back on the swing and thought about the way her life had changed since August.  If she had not met Laurel, she would never have stood up to her grandmother.  She went over that confrontation in her head and was surprised at herself.  She knew that Sheryl had wanted her to stand up to her grandmother for years, but the critic was not enough.  She could not have done that alone.  It was only the knowledge that Laurel was there that allowed Nicole to defy her guardian.  That defiance and the rejection it caused still burned the edges of her soul, but Nicole knew now that she was strong enough to face it and move on.


"Wow, it's a nice day," The object of her thoughts sat beside her on the swing.  "You ok?"


"Yeah I was just thinking.  I ruined breakfast so why don't we go out to eat?" 


"Sounds good to me.  I could use some coffee too.  I didn't seem to get much sleep last night," Laurel grinned.


"Wow," Nicole looked at her lover fully. "I've never seen you in glasses before.  What happened to your contacts?"


"I wore them too long so I had to throw them away." Laurel did not mention that one of them was actually knocked out when Nicole had her nightmare.  "So, where do you want to go eat?"


"Mabel's I guess if you want decent food and good coffee.  Let me go take a shower first," Nicole went to get up but found herself pulled back into Laurel's lap.


"Least let me say a proper good morning first," Laurel pulled her in for a nice long kiss, forgetting for the moment that they were in full view of Nicole's nearest neighbor. 


"Good morning," Nicole was almost breathless after Laurel released her.


"Morning,"Laurel grinned.  "Go take a shower and I'll wait right here," She promised to behave.


"It won't take me long since you aren't joining me.  I'll be through in a few."


"Well, are you guys following us?" Sheryl waved the couple over as Nicole and Laurel entered Mabel's.


"No, when did you two get back?" Nicole took the seat Danny vacated.  He moved over to sit by Sheryl.


"A few minutes ago.  Jessie flew out at 8:30 this morning, so we left about the same time.  We got hungry and came here," Sheryl looked a little melancholy. 


"So, what did ya'll do last night?" Laurel asked as she looked over her menu.


"We went to the clubs for a while, but basically called it an early night and hung around the Warehouse.  Nothing major happened, though your aunt did call to check on you." Danny told Nicole.


"Which aunt?"


"Aunt Kay, Jessie's mom," Sheryl told her then clarified for Laurel's benefit.  Jessie and Stan had it rough in the family because their mother was an Herbert, not their father.


"That's nice.  Kay is usually more sympathetic than the others.  Course so is uncle Dan.  Then again, he's a Yankee," Nicole laughed at the difference.  She thought it ironic that the unmannered Northerner her aunt married was more tolerant than his in-laws.  They knew their daughter was gay, and accepted it.  Although they both tried to hide the fact from the family matriarch, to protect Jessie.


"So, what did you two do last night?" Danny asked then laughed at Nicole's blush. "Maybe I should not ask."


"We went and caught Mandy up on the situation, then went to band rehearsal.  After that we just watched a movie and chilled," Laurel did not feel the need to tell them anymore than that.


"Sure you did.  Probably chilled as much as Sheryl and Jessie did," Danny pointed out.  The critic actually blushed.


"It was the last time we'll see one another until Thanksgiving," She pointed out.


"So does this mean that you two are an item?" Nicole asked.


"Yeah I guess.  We are going to see how it goes.  Weekly calls and daily email, I guess that will be the drill," Sheryl shrugged.


"Good, I'm glad for you both," Laurel grinned.  She could see no fault with the pairing, but did not know what her lover made of the relationship.  Of course, she did not know either woman as well as Nicole did either.


"Me too," Nicole added her approval.  "Now we just need to find someone for Danny and even Shakespeare would be happy with the ending."


"That's assuming our lives are comedies, Hotshot," Danny pointed out. "I've always thought they were histories myself."


"Are you ready to order?" Amber, the waitress with personal problems, asked as she handed both Nicole and Laurel a cup of coffee.


"Sure, I want the big breakfast," Laurel handed back her menu.


"Make that four of those," Danny knew what his friends would order and took the liberty of ordering for them.


"I'll go tell the kitchen," Amber left them alone.


"So, this has been an interesting weekend.  When do you go back to work, Hotshot?" Sheryl took a sip of her coffee.


"Well, we found out last night from BJ that Doug closed the store down completely Thursday."


"Oh yeah? Interesting.  I wonder what he did that for?" Danny had not heard anything about it.


"I have no idea, but I need to track the little bastard down and get my last paycheck," Nicole was not happy that no one had informed her of the sudden closing.


"So what are you going to do about a job?" The deejay asked.


"Sheryl got me an interview at the paper on Tuesday."


"Really, need some help going over your portfolio?"


"Sure, we can order pizza and make it a party," Nicole was teasing.


"Great, sounds like a plan.  Wanna make it tomorrow night?" Sheryl ran with the idea.  "It can be just the four of us, no need to ask Greg for his opinion and David is out of town on a new case."


"Really? Where is he?" Nicole was wondering what else might have happened during her time in New Orleans.  It's not like I was gone that long.


"The Delta working on a murder trial.  He can't give us any details so we know no more than that," Danny shrugged.


"Wanna do a steak dinner instead of pizza?" Laurel returned to the portfolio party idea.


"Sounds even better," Sheryl approved.


"It'll work," Nicole was glad for the support even though she had never actually consented to the idea.


They talked of other stuff after that.  Everyone was still a bit raw after the trip so they kept the topics to movies and music.  The food was delivered within a decent amount of time and was still hot when they got it.  They continued their conversation about the best movies of all time while they ate.


"These new blockbuster movies are nothing more than a clamor for the almighty dollar," Sheryl waved her fork for emphasis.


"True, but every once in a while, Hollywood does come out with a movie that is worth the price of admission," Laurel maintained her position.  "Not all the best movies were made at least ten years ago."


"She's got you there," Danny agreed with Laurel.  Nicole was siding with Sheryl so the table was split.


"Tell you what, you bring an example tomorrow night and we'll vote on it." Nicole went for the compromise. 


"That works for me." 


"Me too," Laurel thought about which movie she would provide.


"Guess the discussion is tabled until tomorrow night then," Sheryl banged the end of her knife on the table like she was ending a meeting with a gavel.  "And on that note, I believe it is time for me to get home.  Danny?"


"Right behind you," They both stood up.  "See you ladies tomorrow,"


"Yep, call me to let me know if I need to bring anything.  Later Hotshot, Laurel."




"Later guys," Laurel slipped over to the other side of the booth so she could sit opposite Nicole.  "I guess they've really taken to me." She was glad.


"Yeah they both really like you," Nicole was thankful as well.  She remembered all too well how it was with Annie.  Sheryl hated her still.  "Course, not as much as I do."


"And I am extremely thankful for that," Laurel put her hand on the photographer's.  "What say we go back to your place?"


"Sounds like a plan to me,"


"I'll get the check if you get the tip," Laurel reached for the check and pulled the appropriate bill from her wallet.  "That should do it," She said when Nicole added three dollars to the ten Laurel sat on the table.


"You know, I should do some laundry," Nicole said as she pulled the car out of the parking lot.


"Do you have a washer and dryer at the house?" Laurel did not remember seeing either one.


"No, I have to go to the Laundromat," Normally it was not a nuisance, but it felt like one today.


"Were you planning on going today?"


"Yeah I need to go ahead and get something washed to wear to the interview so everyone can veto it tomorrow,"


"Just don't wear that red dress ok?" Laurel grinned.




"I don't think you want to give the interviewer a heart attack," She teased.  "One look at you in that dress will send his blood pressure rocketing."


"I think I could find something a little more appropriate," Nicole was slightly embarrassed.  It was not a dress she would wear often, much less to an interview anyway.


"So I guess this means that I get to go help Mandy with dinner.  What time do you want to come over?"


"About seven I guess?" Nicole suggested as she pulled into her driveway.


"That'll work," Laurel got out of the car.  "Guess I'll go ahead and hit the road," She gave the photographer a kiss on the cheek. "Oh, Nicole?"




"Bring some clothes with you," She grinned and got in the truck.


Laughing, Nicole unlocked her house and let the dog out.  Mozart did his business then lay on the porch, content to be at home.


"You are so spoiled," Nicole told him as she scratched his ears.  "Wanna go help me do some laundry?"  She hated doing laundry at the Laundromat, and almost asked Laurel to join her.  Mozart was well trained enough to go with her though, and he was protective enough to keep anyone from bothering her.


She went inside and collected her dirty clothing.  Putting it all in a hamper, she added the clothes Laurel had left there as well.  She added her laundry detergent, a roll of quarters and a book before hefting the hamper to the car.  Before too long, they were on their way to do laundry.



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