Laurel got home to find Mandy setting four Cornish hens on the counter.  Once again, BJ was not home, and Laurel wondered at his absence.  He was generally a hermit.


"Hey, where's BJ?"


"Oh, he started dating some chick from that band Coin-op."  Mandy turned and hugged her friend.  "Where's that gorgeous girlfriend of yours?"


"She had to do some laundry.  She'll be over about seven," Laurel leaned over and looked at the hens.  "That's what's for dinner?  Good."


"I'm glad you approve Lackey.  By the way, I put those clothes you brought home in the washer.  They should be ready for the dryer."


"Thanks.  What would I do without you, Mandy?" Laurel headed back to the bathroom where the apartment washer/dryer stand up was kept.


"You'd starve and go naked," Mandy called after her.


"Probably,"Laurel called out as she opened the washer door.  She felt the truth of Mandy's teasing.  Without the redhead, Laurel really doubted whether or not she could have survived her brother's death, her disownment and all the subsequent legal problems.  She believed Mandy had saved her life, and she would always feel indebted to her for that.  Not that it was a debt she was not suffering under, it was one she did not regret. 


Laurel put her clothes in the dryer, added a sheet of fabric softener and closed the door.  She turned it on and then rejoined her friend in the living room.


"So, wanna tell me all the parts you left out about your weekend?" Mandy asked when Laurel sat in the recliner.


"What do you think I left out?"


"How'd you end up in bed with her?  Who made the first move? Have you told her you love her?  And last but not least, how good is she?"


"Wow, you want the whole story don't you?" Laurel laughed at Mandy's eager nod.  "Alright I'll tell you if you play me in baseball.  I'm out of practice and I don't want BJ crowing if he beats me next time we play."


"Ok," Mandy agreed as Laurel hooked up the video game machine.  "Now spill it."


"Ok,"Laurel chose her team for the game. "We were out in the courtyard of the Warehouse, which is really a converted warehouse made into apartments.  It's really neat; you should see it.  Anyway, we had gone out for dinner and had a few drinks.  We played the twenty questions game.  I found out more about her past and I told her about my probation and all that.  It didn't bother her in the least.  I thought it would have since her sister is really messed up on drugs."


"Yeah you sorta told me that yesterday," Mandy chose her starting line up for the game.  "She gets high marks from me for understanding all of it."


"Believe me, she got them from me as well.  Anyway, we went to another bar and kept talking," Laurel chuckled ruefully. "Her family is fucked up worse than mine.  They're Catholic Cajuns, and Adia rules with an iron hand.  But several of her relatives have a lot of potential.  Phil, Jay, Stan and Jessie are great. They pretty much adopted me immediately."


"I can understand that," Mandy smiled.  "You wanna be the home team?"


"Sure,"Laurel hit the appropriate buttons on her controller.  "Well, after we got back to the Warehouse, we sat outside smoking and talking.  Nicole got up and started pacing and then asked me why I agreed to teach her to play guitar." She smiled at the memory of her answer.


"And what did you say to that?  And why did he not catch that ball damn it?" Mandy was cussing at her outfield.


"Cause I think its set on advanced.  Here, I'll fix it," Laurel went to the pause menu and reset the playing level.  "There you go.  Ok, I answered her with a question and a kiss."


"Oh?  And how did she react to that?"  Mandy then cheered as her player caught Laurel's fly ball.


"Argh.  Well, she kissed me back.  We were going to go upstairs after that, but Jessica and then Stan joined us.  They started talking about growing up together.  I think I learned more about Nicole in that conversation than I did during our talk at the bar.  They have some crazy stories though," Laurel laughed in memory.  "Anyway by the time we finally went to bed we were too tired to do anything."


"Aww, poor Lackey, frustrated?" Mandy teased.  "Damn.  Did you have to hit that over the wall?"


"Its called a homerun, Mandy," Laurel pointed out.  "Anyway, We were going to consummate the relationship that morning, but we kept getting interrupted.  It was driving me crazy.  So after Nicole almost passed out after giving blood, everything crystallized for me.  I realized just how much I did love her.  It was spooky though seeing her in a hospital bed.  I understood you in that moment." Laurel took a deep breath and continued before Mandy could say anything."


"Anyway, we went shopping for nice clothes since Phil and Jay offered to take us to dinner.  They ended up not being able to, but did give us money for dinner and a promise for brunch the next day.  Nicole and I decided to go out by ourselves, to make it an official date you know?"


"Understandable," Mandy had been effected by her friend's memories of the hospital trip, but she tried not to show it.  "Hah, take that, a double."


"Damn, anyway, my gods Mandy, you should have seen her in that dress.  I think I almost forgot how to breathe.  It was red, low cut, thigh length.  Wow, that's all I can say.  We went to dinner, made out by the river and then raced the rainstorm back to the Warehouse.  She was really shy and nervous I think.  Nicole doesn't have a lot of self-confidence in her appearance.  I haven't figured out if that was from her upbringing or her last girlfriend.  We haven't talked about it really.  But, by the time we got back last night, she had dropped the shyness quite a bit."


"So, how was she?" Mandy really wanted to know the specifics.


"Incredible.  I've been with more people than I want to count, but Mandy, Nicole is the last for me.  Feeling her in my arms is enough to sustain me for a lifetime, and making love to her is the sweetest, most intense thing I have ever experienced in my life.  I would swear to you I felt our souls join, but I'm not sure what that feeling was.  It's too incredible to put into words, but all she has to do is touch me and I feel this wonderful jolt of electricity," She ran out of words to describe it.  "Damn it, who taught you to steal home?"


"BJ did Friday night," Mandy laughed at how Laurel could get riled up over a game.  "See what happens when you go out of town?"


"Yeah, remind me to take the game with me next time," She grinned.


"Oh, I will.  The hens should be half thawed by the time we're done with this game, so dinner should be ready when the love of your life gets here.  I'm happy for you by the way," Mandy informed her friend.


"Thanks.  I am glad you approve of her.  Hah, gotcha.  My turn at bat."


Nicole showed up promptly at Seven o'clock. Laurel had been watching for her, and opened the door before the photographer could get out of the car.  She grinned at the sight of the bassist leaning against the door and grabbed her backpack out of the passenger seat.


"Expecting someone?" She asked as she walked up the steps.


"Yep, this really great photographer that I'm dating, but you'll do," Laurel teased.


"Am I allowed in?" She laughed when Laurel blocked the doorway.


"This here's a toll door.  You can come in, but it'll cost ya," Laurel grinned evilly.


"Oh, and what's the toll?"


"Two bits and a kiss."


"Alright," Nicole pulled a quarter from her pocket and leaned in for a kiss.  While the bassist was distracted, Nicole slipped the quarter down her shirt.


"Shit, that's cold, Nicole." She pulled her shirt from her waistband and tried to let it fall out.  "Damn thing's caught in my under wire.  Least you could help get it out," She waggled her eyebrows.


"Not before dinner, you two," Mandy forestalled the foreplay.


"Come on in," Ignoring her roommate, Laurel backed up and let the photographer inside the house.  "I'm going to get this out."


"Ok," Nicole was still chuckling.  "Hi, Mandy."


"Hi, Nicole.  That was pure evil.  Good job," The red head laughed.


"I don't know what came over me.  I guess I'm entering my first childhood."


"Laurel has that effect on people.  She's the eternal child in many ways when she lets herself be.  Its nice to see that side of her more often," Mandy smiled fondly.  She had thought the playful side of her friend had died with Jon.  She was pleased to see that she was wrong.


"Talking about me again?" Laurel asked from the hallway.  She did not really hear what had been said, but knew the opportunity was too good for her lover and her roommate to pass.


"Nope, we were talking about Halloween," Mandy grinned at the bassist.  "Want to set the table?  The food should be done."


"Sure,"Laurel went to go get the plates from the cabinet.  "Nicole, you can put that in my room if you wish," She indicated the backpack with her eyebrow.


"Ok," Nicole did as instructed. Laurel's room was a lot cleaner than the last time she had seen it.  Obviously the bassist had taken the time to straighten it after she got home.


"So did you get all your clothes washed?" Laurel asked when Nicole appeared at her elbow.


"Yep, even washed the ones you left over there this morning.  Need some help?"


"Nope, but thanks for washing my clothes.  I forgot I left them there, but least I have clothes there," Laurel leaned in for a small kiss until Mandy cleared her throat.


"It was not a problem," Nicole was glad Laurel wanted to leave the clothes at her house.  She had conveniently forgotten to bring them with her for that reason.  "Where's the BJ?"


"Probably out with his girlfriend.  She plays for that band Coin-op," Mandy told her.


"She doesn't happen to work at Sully's One Stop does she?" Nicole thought it all sounded familiar.


"Yeah she does, why?"


"My friend Greg had a crush on her for a while.  That's actually how we ended up seeing the contest that night.  She invited him to see it so he would vote for her group."  Nicole was amused at the way all that had turned out.  "Guess it really is a small town."


"Guess so," Mandy and Laurel both agreed.


"Hey, what smell so good?" BJ asked from the doorway.


"Cornish hens, potatoes au gratin, snow peas and apple pie," Mandy detailed the menu for him.


"Guess I got home just in time then," He grinned and threw his jacket into the first bedroom.


"Yep, you did.  And you are just in time to get the hens out of the oven and put them on the table," Mandy was good at delegating.  "You two, go wash up and we can eat."


Laurel and Nicole did as asked and used the bathroom sink to wash their hands.  BJ was washing his in the kitchen sink when they returned to the dining area.  The pleasing aromas coming from the table were making their stomachs rumble.  They sat opposite one another at the table, letting Mandy and BJ take the seats at the ends of the table.


"Ok, a moment of silence before we begin," Mandy normally led the table in a prayer of thanks to the goddess, but did not want to offend Nicole.


The photographer was puzzled, but bowed her head as the others did.  She let her thoughts wander to the bassist instead of any deity.  She was the last to raise her head.


"Alright, let's eat," Mandy passed the plates of side dishes around.


Nicole was impressed.  Mandy was a really good cook.  She remembered Laurel telling her that Mandy had wanted to open her own restaurant once but could not afford cooking school.  The redhead made more managing the candle store than she would have as a short order cook.


BJ and Laurel dominated the conversation talking about a video game and the next gig the band had set up.  They were playing in Gulfport the day before Halloween.  They were supposed to be the opening act for a Coastal band.  Both agreed that it was good exposure, and would garner them a new audience.


Before she knew what was happening, Nicole agreed to take the promotional photo of the band so they could put up flyers.  BJ reported that the band had been impressed with her portfolio at Labor Day and could not think of anyone else they wanted to do it.  Nicole privately thought that they knew she would do it for free and that was what had influenced their decision.  Little did she know that the band chose her to keep from upsetting Laurel.


After dinner, Nicole helped Laurel clean the table while BJ washed the dishes.  The three roommates had a routine when it came to household chores.  The only chore Laurel was excused from was cooking.  None of them wanted salmonella. 


When they had finished cleaning the kitchen, Nicole and Laurel stepped outside for a cigarette.  It was a nice night and plenty of stars were shining.  They sat on the steps watching the antics of the cats and two of the dogs.


"Mandy really is a good cook," Nicole patted her stomach.  She was stuffed.


"Yeah she is.  I keep telling her she needs to apply at that new restaurant in town.  It's upscale and should pay well."


"Yeah she should. Maybe she could make the connections and get backing to open her own," Nicole agreed.


"Are you staying over?"


"You asked me to didn't you?"


"Yes I did," Laurel laughed.


"Then I'm staying over," Nicole snubbed out her cigarette.  "Where do I put this?"


"There's an old can over there somewhere for butts," Laurel informed her.  She looked around and found it.  She took Nicole's and put both cigarette butts inside.  "Wanna go back inside?"


"Sure," Nicole was content to do whatever or nothing.  She had no plans.


BJ and Mandy were arguing over a show to watch when they went back inside.  Mandy was sitting on the couch with the remote and BJ was complaining from the recliner.  Laurel and Nicole took the loveseat and inspected the choice the redhead had made.


"I have an idea," BJ interrupted Laurel's objection to the inane sitcom. "Lackey, play ya in baseball?"  He grinned evilly thinking that she had not had time to practice.


"Sure," Laurel found her controller and sat cross-legged on the floor.  "Home team or away?" She asked her roommate.


"Away team, I want to bat first," The big man was gearing up for a major rout. 


Nicole and Mandy were kept amused by the game.  Laurel soundly defeated BJ by a score of 31 to 12.  Both players were volatile in an amusing manner.  They constantly berated their teams with absurd comments and suggestions, questioned plays and offered their own brand of commentary.  The youthful side of her lover charmed Nicole.


"You should see them watch a game," Mandy leaned over and whispered to the photographer.  "You don't want to be in here with out a recording device if they root for opposite teams."


"I'll remember that if I'm over here for a game," Nicole was already plotting ways to talk Danny out of his video camera.


"I heard that," The bassist protested.


"You were meant to," Mandy told her.  "Anyway, I have to open the store tomorrow.  Don't forget you have class tomorrow Lackey," She stood up and stretched.  "I'm for bed.  Good night all."


"Good night," The three of them echoed.


BJ showed no signs of vacating the living area.  He turned on one of the sports channels to get the highlights of the games he had missed.  Laurel was getting irritated. 


"Don't you have an early class tomorrow?" Nicole hinted.


"Yeah, guess I should be getting to bed then," She grinned.


"Like you two are going to get sleep anytime soon," BJ teased.  He was subsequently hit with a pillow.  "Nice aim, Lackey.  You're improving."


"Thanks, now we're going to bed.  Night, BJ."


"Night, ladies," He was glad they were leaving.  Now he could watch what he wanted on TV.


"Least I got a bigger bed last year," Laurel commented when they entered her room.  "I used to have a twin, but I upgraded."


"I wouldn't complain if we were sleeping on the floor, though I must admit I'm glad we aren't," Nicole smiled at Laurel's disclaimer.  She knew it must have been hard to go from middle class to something different.  It was for her when her grandmother had cut her allowance after finding out about Annie.


"Now, I believe I owe you a little payback for a quarter, don't I?" Laurel chuckled evilly.


"Um, well you asked for the two bits," Nicole backed up against the bed when Laurel turned the lights off.  The street light outside her window gave her enough light to see the water gun by.


"That I did," Laurel set the water pistol down.  "Guess I can't complain too much."


She unbuttoned her shirt as she approached the photographer.  It hit the floor right before Laurel took Nicole in her arms.  She leaned up for a kiss and found the distance slightly more than normal.  She had forgotten that the photographer was wearing shoes.  Laurel never wore shoes around the trailer.


Nicole chuckled and kicked her tennis shoes off.  She normally did not wear them and had forgotten how thick the soles were.  On a more even level, their lips met again.


Laurel freed Nicole's shirt from her waistband and unbuttoned it while her tongue battled with the photographer's.  Laurel pushed the shirt down long arms and began kissing the photographer's neck and shoulders.  Nicole moved her hands to Laurel's bare back and squeezed when the bassist hit a particularly tender spot.  She felt Laurel's smile against her skin.  The bassist swiftly removed her bra and continued kissing the photographer's neck.


Laurel slid her hands down and unbuttoned Nicole's jeans.  She ran her hands along the slack it caused in the waistband.  She smiled again when she felt the photographer's shivers.  Grabbing the waistband at each hip, she pushed the jeans down her lover's body until gravity pooled them at Nicole's feet.


Nicole stepped out of the by using Laurel's shoulders for balance.  The bassist took advantage and wrapped her lips around a nipple.  Nicole lost her balance and they both fell back onto the bed.


"You ok?" Laurel sat up rubbing her forehead, which had met Nicole's collarbone. 


"Yeah, I think I'll live," Nicole dissolved into giggles.


"What's so funny?" Laurel was confused.  The lust had yet to clear her mind enough to let her catch the humor of the situation.


"Well, now we have one of those ‘I got injured during sex' stories," Nicole answered when she could breathe again.


"True, but at least it wasn't serious," Laurel started laughing as well.  "Cause that really could have hurt," She said when she replayed the scene in her head.


"It didn't though," Nicole reassured her.


"Ok, so where was I?"


"Right about here," Nicole straightened up on the bed and guided Laurel in for a kiss.


"Nice, but I think I was already here," Laurel moved down and begin kissing Nicole's breast.


"Uh huh."


Laurel kissed each breast thoroughly before taking one nipple in her mouth.  She let her tongue tease it into hardness before sucking on it.  Her hand found the photographer's other nipple and began rolling and lightly pulling it.  Nicole was already writhing beneath her, and Laurel got her first whiff of what awaited her farther down.


She switched breast and let her hand wander down.  She slipped a finger underneath the photographer's underwear and gasped at the wetness she found there.  She sat up and pulled Nicole's underwear off, throwing them somewhere over her shoulder.


Unable to contain herself any longer, Laurel leaned down for a taste. One taste was not enough for the bassist.  She parted Nicole's legs with her hands and let her tongue part her folds.  She pulled the hard bundle of nerves into her mouth and sucked gently.  She could tell Nicole was close to climax already.


She moved one hand to her lover's breast and the other she placed at the entrance of Nicole's depths.  She timed the thrust of her hand to match the rhythm of the photographer's hips.  Nicole moaned in ecstasy when the bassist filled her.


Laurel sat a nice rhythm, matching her strokes with her tongue.  She curled the two fingers she had inside Nicole and began nibbling the photographer's clitoris.  Nicole was moaning in earnest now.  Laurel started her motions faster until she felt the walls around her fingers tighten.  She continued the motions with her tongue, but stilled her hand. After the tremors stopped, she gently reclaimed her hand.


She crawled up the length of Nicole's body, stopping only to occasionally kiss the skin she encountered on her way. She pulled the photographer into an embrace and wiped the dark bangs from the fair forehead.


"You alright?" Laurel whispered as Nicole struggled to even out her breathing.


"Oh, yeah."


"Good," Laurel kissed her lover's lips. 


"Very good," Nicole agreed.  "Is it my turn now?"


"Only if you want it to be."


"Oh, I want it to be," Nicole propped herself on her elbow and smiled down at her lover.


She leaned down and tasted herself on Laurel's lips.  Laurel lay back and allowed Nicole all the access the photographer wanted.


Nicole ran her hands along Laurel's sides.  Frowning when she encountered the bassist's jeans, she sat up and removed them.  She went ahead and removed Laurel's underwear as well.  She crawled back up and kissed her lover again.


Nicole went slowly.  She kissed her way from Laurel's lips to her ear.  She sucked an earlobe while letting her hand wander down to the bassist's breast.  She felt Laurel gasp when her fingers teased a nipple.


"What do you want?" She whispered.


"You," It was all Laurel could answer.


"You have me," Nicole leaned over for another kiss.  Laurel placed her hands on the photographer's shoulders and gently pushed her down.




In answer, Nicole began sucking a nipple as she entered the bassist with two fingers.  Laurel began moving her hips as a result, and Nicole matched the pace.  She moved her thumb to brush the bassist's clitoris on each stroke.  It did not take long before Laurel was holding her in place and struggling not to moan too loudly.


"See how wound up you get me?" Laurel asked when she caught her breath.  "Making love to you does that to me."


"It does the same to me, too you know," Nicole kissed her again.  "We really should get some sleep so you'll be coherent in your class tomorrow."


"I know," Laurel leaned over and turned the alarm closest to her on.  "Wake me when this goes off?"


"Sure," Nicole chuckled.  Laurel was a heavy sleeper and the photographer assumed she had several alarms in the room.


"Goodnight, Nicole," Laurel said around a yawn.  "Love you."


"Goodnight, hon. I love you too," Nicole echoed the yawn and claimed her favorite pillow.  She felt Laurel's arms tighten around her.


The alarm woke Nicole up right after it started to ring.  Nicole rolled over and found Laurel still sleeping soundly.  The photographer laid back and watched her lover sleep until she heard Mandy's movements through the walls.


"Lackey, time to wake up," Mandy knocked on the door but thankfully did not open it.


"I'll get her up," Nicole called through to the redhead.


"Have fun," Mandy's laugh echoed through the trailer as the photographer heard her enter the bathroom.


"Laurel," Nicole's voice got no response.


The photographer studied her lover.  She knew Laurel was one of the heaviest sleepers she had ever met, and could not thing of a way to wake her.  She was at a loss until she remembered an incident in New Orleans.  Laurel had woken her by kissing her into consciousness. 


Inspired, Nicole ran her hand over Laurel's cheek.  The bassist leaned in to it a little, but showed not other signs of waking.  Nicole leaned down and placed a small kiss on Laurel's lips.  When she got no positive reaction from that, she increased the contact.


"Hmm…what?" Laurel opened grey eyes to see grinning blue one looking down at her.


"Morning," Nicole grinned down at her lover.  "Don't you have to be at the campus soon?"


"Yeah I have class in an hour," Laurel yawned and stretched.  "So what do you plan on doing today?"


"I have no idea.  Probably go home, let my dog out, get some grocery shopping done, stuff like that," Nicole had not thought about making plans for the day.


"Sounds good," Laurel rolled out of bed and began searching for clothes.  "You can stay here and sleep you know,"


"I know, but Mozart is probably busting a gut about now," She hated leaving the poor dog alone over night.


"Lackey, you up?" Mandy pounded on the door again.  To her chagrin, Laurel opened it.


"Obviously, yes I am," She grinned.  Mandy refused to look over at the bed where Nicole had pulled the covers over her head.  She buttoned the shirt she had worn the night before.  "You done in the shower?"


"Yeah, I'm going to make breakfast now," The redhead turned and ran to the kitchen.  Laurel dissolved in to laughter as she closed the door behind her friend.


"That wasn't funny," Nicole complained.


"You look so cute like that," Laurel crawled back on the bed and pulled the covers off of her lover.  "Too bad I really do have to get to class," She leaned down for a kiss.


"How much longer do you have?" 


"A year and a half.  I'll graduate not this spring, but the next."


"That's not too bad then," Nicole brushed her hair back as Laurel sat up on the bed.  "Sides, there's always the weekends to do nothing but lay in bed."


"True," She grinned and gathered her clothes together again.  "I'm gonna take a shower.  Why don't you go let Mandy feed you.  I'll be out in a few, ok?"


"Ok," Nicole waited until Laurel had shut the door behind her before moving.  She pulled the clothes she had packed out of her bag and got dressed.


Mandy was making French toast when the photographer wandered into the kitchen.  The redhead was apparently making enough for everyone in the trailer.  She was also making sausage and had several different selections of fruit on the counter.


"Feeding an army?" Nicole asked.  "Need some help?"


"No, not really, though it can feel like that around here sometimes," Mandy turned and pointed at the fruit.  "You can cut up the apples if you want to.  BJ's girlfriend showed up last night, so she'll be joining us for breakfast as well."


"It's almost like you run a home," Nicole joked.


"In truth," Mandy turned and faced the photographer.  "I do.  My door is always open to people who need it."  The look on her face was the most serious one Nicole had seen on it.  "Jon used to laugh and say I was born too late for the Sixties, but I think I was born right on time this life."


"It's a noble ambition," Nicole started cutting the apples in to quarters.  She remembered Laurel telling her that Mandy was into the New Age religions, but the bassist had never expanded on that.  Nicole did not think this was a good time to find out either.


"What's that smell?" BJ walked out of his front room in boxers.


"French toast, and go put on some shorts," Mandy was clearly the one in charge around the house.


"Alright, alright," He laughed and went back inside his room.  He appeared a moment later in a pair of jeans and a woman in faded jeans and a ripped t-shirt. Nicole though that she looked vaguely familiar.  "Nicole, this is Sam.  Sam, this is Laurel's girlfriend Nicole."


"Don't I know you from somewhere?" Sam asked.


"Probably the One Stop.  I go there a lot since it's just down the block from my house," Nicole tried to fill in occurrence.


"That must be it, everyone in that area stops there," She laughed.  "Mandy, you need some help?"


"Nope, I think Nicole and I have it, unless you two want to set the table.  Lackey's in the shower, she should be out in a minute."  Mandy took the last of the French toast from the griddle and placed on a plate with the rest.


Nicole had just placed the apples, whole bananas and grapes on a plate when Laurel joined them.  The bassist was dressed except for her socks and boots, but looked ready for the day otherwise.  She skillfully intercepted the photographer, stole the plate and placed it on the table.


"Thanks," Nicole was a slightly shocked, but getting used to Laurel's habits.


"My pleasure.  You must be Sam?" Laurel said to BJ's companion.  "Laurel Kendrick."


"Yes I know, BJ and Mandy have told me a lot about you," Sam shook Laurel's hand.


"Wasn't true in the least," The bassist grinned and sat down.  She pulled out the chair next to her and waved Nicole into it.


"Oh, so you can cook then?" Sam teased.


"No," She laughed and looked at BJ. "Had to pick a smartass didn't you?"


"Who else could hang with this crowd?" He laughed as well.


"Alright, you know the drill.  A moment of silence and then we eat, and we need to put a move on it too, otherwise some of us are going to be late," Mandy informed them.


Once again, the group around the table bowed their heads.  Nicole was getting accustomed to the household, but she still did not think of anything during the silence.  Instead, she watched the others through the corners of her eyes.  Laurel had her head bowed and her eyes closed, Mandy's lips were moving in prayer, BJ had an intense look on his face, but Sam was also watching the others.  When Nicole caught her eye, Sam winked.


"Alright, let's eat," Mandy broke the silence.


"What time is it?" Laurel asked.  She had a feeling she was about to be very late to class.


"Relax, you still have forty-five minutes to get there," Mandy reassured her.  "That's plenty enough time to eat breakfast," She grinned.  "But not much else."


"Thanks, Mandy," Laurel turned to pat Nicole on the back.  Mandy's comment had caught the photographer off guard and she almost choked on her French toast.


"Anytime," The redhead grinned.  "Anyway, its time for me to get out of here.  I'll see all of you later."  Mandy put her plate in the sink, grabbed a banana and left.


"Yeah, I need to get a move on too," Laurel grabbed another piece of toast and munched on it while putting her plate in the sink.  "Nicole, wanna come back here while I put my boots on?"


"Sure," Nicole followed the examples and put her plate up before following the bassist down the hall.


Laurel was sitting on the bed when Nicole walked into the room.  She sat down on the bed beside her lover and watched while the bassist pulled a pair of socks on.


"So, what time do you want me to come over tonight?"


"Whenever you get there I guess.  I don't know when Sheryl and Danny are coming over, but I assume sometime around dinner time," Nicole shrugged.


"Ok, I can do that.  I'll even go buy the steaks," She thought for a moment.  "You do have a grill don't you?"


"Yeah I do.  It's a small one, but it works."


"Good," Laurel finished lacing her boots up.  "Wanna kiss me bye here or are you following me out?"


"I'm following you out, but I think your neighbors might like it better if I kiss you goodbye here," Nicole smiled at the mock dejected look on her lover's face.


"You never know with this crowd, they might get off on it," She stood up and opened her arms to her lover.  "C'mere."  Nicole went willingly.


The first thing Nicole did when she got home was let Mozart out into the yard.  The poor dog had been good, there were no messes inside the house, but he was not happy.  After feeding him, Nicole crawled into her bed and fell back asleep.  She did not wake until the phone rang sometime around noon.


"Hello?"  She was really starting to think that there was a conspiracy to keep her from sleeping.


"Nicole?  Doug.  Can I meet you somewhere?  I need to give you your last paycheck" Her boss's voice came through loud and clear.


"Yeah, I was just about to head out for lunch.  Where do you want to meet?"


"Well, I'm at the store, so I can meet you at Mabel's in about half an hour.  Will that work?"


"Yeah, that will work," Nicole got out of bed and opened the back door.  She did not let Mozart out front if she were not going to watch him.


"Great, see ya then," He disconnected the call.


"Great," Nicole muttered to herself.  She found some clean clothes from her laundry basket and set out to take a very short shower.


Mozart was back on the bed when she got out of the shower.  She got dressed quickly and shut the backdoor.  She took the convertible since it was closest to the door.  She was in a hurry since she knew that Doug would not wait for long; the man had no patience. 


She pulled into the parking lot of Mabel's thirty-two minutes after she had hung up the phone.  Doug was sitting at a table waiting on her.


"Hey Nicole, thought this might come in handy," The older man smiled and handed over an envelop.  "I added a little bonus since it was such a sudden closing.  You can also come in tomorrow if you want and chose some of the stock left."


"Ok," Nicole took the envelope and pocketed it.  Doug's niceness raised her alarm flags.  "What happened anyway?"


"Oh, well you know how it goes.  Mary wants to retire and all that.  Just thought it was time," He wiped his forehead with his sleeve.  "Anyway, Mary will be there tomorrow after three if you want to come in and pick out part of the stock.  Anything that is there you can have.  I'm only letting you, Beth, and Jeff do that.  See ya around Nicole," He hurried out.


Confused, Nicole took a seat at her regular booth.  She placed her order for food and coffee before opening the envelope Doug had given her.  She felt her jaw hit the floor.


"Something wrong?" Wanda asked when she brought Nicole's food to her.


"No, I guess not," Nicole put the check in her pocket.  "That was quick.  Thanks,"


"Honey, you've been sitting there staring at that thing since I brought you coffee.  You sure you're alright?"  The waitress looked concerned.


"Yeah, I was just kinda lost in space there." Nicole shook her head.


"Alright, enjoy your food," Wanda went back to the counter.


Nicole thought about the mystery Doug had left her with as she ate.  She had worked for him since her junior year in college.  That was about the time she had started seeing Annie, and Nicole found herself suddenly living outside her means.  Doug had paid her more than minimum wage, and she had continued to work there past college to give her a reason to stay in the city.


When she had started working for him, Doug was a great employer.  He was patient, pleasant and easy going.  It was within the last year that he had gotten harder.  They all thought it was added pressure.  A newer store had opened in town, and a large chain had opened in the mall.  For a long time, Doug's had been the only music store in town.  She wondered if it was just the competition.


At any rate, she was not going to question the check he had given her.  She finished her food and left the bill plus the tip on the table.  She had to get to the bank before they registered their deposits on the following day.  Nicole just hoped this check did not bounce.


To Be Continued in 12



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