Laurel was leaving her last class for the afternoon when she heard her name from some point behind her. She turned and looked, but did not see anyone familiar. Shrugging, she repositioned her backpack and started the hike to her truck.
"Laurel?" A hand on her shoulder stopped her.
She turned to see a face that looked vaguely familiar. The man before had shaggy brown hair and brown eyes. She was trying to place him when he did that for her.
"Dont tell me you rescue guys and then forget them?" He grinned. "Aaron Grant. We met the night my buddy split his head open at the fair."
"Aaron, hi. Sorry, I was way off in left field. Hows Adam?" She remembered the incident clearly once he reminded her.
"Hes pretty good. Though our fraternity brothers have banned him from any ride anywhere. Forever,"
"That might be a good idea," She laughed.
"Hey, I was wondering if I could buy you a cup of coffee?" He had an earnest look on his face. She remembered telling him that she would go for coffee with him if they ran into one another. It looked as if she had to make good on that promise.
"Yeah sure, I have a few minutes before I have to be anywhere," She followed him into the building she had just left. It had a café that served good coffee, but was usually too far from her lessons to get to when she wanted any. It was closer to walk to Mabels. At least that was what she told anyone that asked.
Aaron paid for two cups of Columbian coffee while Laurel found them seats outside in the little courtyard. She gave him high marks for the choice. She hated flavored coffee.
"I saw you yesterday at Mabels," He told her as she was adding sugar to her coffee. "Thats why Im glad I ran into you today."
"Oh yeah, whys that?" Laurel was starting to get a little suspicious.
"Well, that woman you were with, Nicole right?" At her nod he continued. "Thats your girlfriend right?"
"Dont worry, Im not doing this for class or cause anyone put me up to it, relax," He laughed. "Ive kinda been wondering if you could help me with something."
"Help you with what?" Laurel was really getting suspicious. She wondered if Adia had something to do with this, but thought better of it. The old woman might be that vindictive, but it was too soon for her to plan something.
"About a year ago I met this really cool guy that your girlfriend is friends with. Anyway, Im almost obsessed with him, but I dont know if hes gay or not. And I know that his job probably wont let him date openly if he were."
"Are you gay?" Laurel could not always tell with guys.
"Yeah, but no one knows. I do my partying at home at one of the clubs there, but not here. I dont know how my fraternity would take it. Being out wouldnt be good for my career either."
"Journalism right?" She thought she remembered correctly.
"Yeah," He grinned a little. "Got a light?" He asked after his lighter failed to work.
"Yeah," Laurel pulled her pack of cigarettes and her lighter from her pocket. "Thats a good idea actually."
"Thanks," He inhaled deeply. "Anyway, back to the reason I coerced you into coffee. I want to meet Danny in a more social setting. I was wondering if you could help me with that."
"You dont even know if hes gay," Laurel told him. She was not going to out Danny. She wanted to make sure that Aaron was being honest first.
"I know, but I just want to meet him," He saw the doubt. "Look, Im not a nutcase, Im not going to out him. It would hurt me just as much as it would him. I just want to find out if hes as great as Ive made him out to be. He is all I can think about."
"And you want me to help you meet him?" Laurel was becoming convinced he was on the level.
"Please, Ill do anything for you if you do," He pleaded.
"Ill think about it. I have to ask Nicole first though. She knows him better than I do." Laurel told him.
"Thank you. Laurel if you pull this off, Ill help you and Nicole have kids," He promised. "In a technical way anyway."
"Thanks, Aaron," She looked at her watch. "I need to get going, see ya around?"
"Yeah," He pulled a card out of his pocket. "Here, I had to do this for a project, but these have come in handy. If you find out anything, or if you just want to hang out give me a call."
"I will," She promised as she put the card in her pocket. "Later."
By the time she had made it halfway to her car, she was laughing. They had just been talking about finding someone for the deejay. It seemed too good to be true that the answer had shown itself. Then again, anything was possible. She would have to remember to ask Nicole about it.
"Wow, Hotshot, when did you get this one?" Danny asked from inside Nicoles closet.
"Which one?" The photographer had let her friend rummage through her clothes to help her pick out something for her interview.
"This one," He pulled out the red dress.
"Did you wear it for Laurel?"
"Yes I did," Nicole was blushing again. Danny had always been able to do that to her.
"Wow, Nicole, did you intend to kill the poor girl?" Sheryl asked from the bedroom door. She had been looking in the closet in the studio.
"No, it was on sale and I just wanted to dress up," She tried to explain.
"You just wanted to show off you mean," Danny held the dress up to himself. "You really wanted to show off. Interesting Nicole. Id never picture you in something this daring."
"Yeah, very out of character, but very nice," Sheryl took a closer look at the dress.
"Ugh, you guys are not helping," Nicole complained from her position on the bed.
"The lady doth protest too much, methinks," Sheryl winked at Danny.
"It must be love,"
"It is, now wheres the grill?" Laurel grinned from the doorway. "Um, Danny, I really dont think red is your color." She pointed at the dress he still had pressed against him.
"The grill? Ill show you," Nicole was thankful for the bassists timely arrival. She hurried out of the room leaving her two friends laughing behind her.
"Were they trying to help?" Laurel asked as Nicole led her to the back of the house.
"They were trying to," She rolled her eyes. "So how was your day?"
"Not too bad. I aced an exam in America History, rescheduled all my lessons, and ran into Aaron."
"Whos Aaron?" Nicole pulled the grill and the charcoal from the back storage room.
"He was the one that didnt ride the ride when Adam busted his head open. You have matches and lighter fluid?"
"Yeah, let me look back here," Nicole entered the storage room farther. "So, what did he want?"
"Danny," Laurel shook the new charcoal into the bottom of the grill after emptying the old.
"He what?" Nicole came back out, convinced she had misheard.
"He has a crush on Danny and want to meet him in a social setting," Laurel took the lighter fluid from her lover and sprayed it on the charcoal.
"Interesting. Isnt he a journalism major?" Nicole was as suspicious as Laurel had been. The photographer did not want her very dear friend to get hurt.
"Yep, I asked him about all that. He reassured me that he was not after a story. He says he just wants to meet him," Laurel explained. "He didnt even ask if Danny were gay. Said he didnt know."
"Well, what did you tell him?"
"I told him that I had to talk to you about it since you know Danny better than I do," Laurel went to light one of the matches. "Stand back. And I did not tell him that Danny was gay." The grill erupted into flames.
"You trying to set the whole house on fire?" Sheryl asked as she joined them.
"Nope, this will burn off in a minute. I am going to go season the steaks," Laurel knew that she could get Danny to help her and give Nicole a chance to ask the critics opinion on the Aaron/Danny situation.
"What was that about?" Sheryl asked after Laurel had disappeared inside.
"She went to distract Danny I think," Nicole pulled out her lawn chairs. "Here,"
"Thanks. Whats this got to do with Cowboy?"
"Well, remember I told you about that trip to the fair Laurel and I took?"
"Yeah, and?" Sheryl was a little confused.
"Seems as if one of the guys we rescued that night has a crush on Danny and wants to meet him in a social setting," Nicole summed it up for her friend.
"Whats a social setting?" Sheryl laughed.
"I have no idea. I guess the kid met Danny at work or around the campus and wants to meet him around friends or something."
"Sounds good to me, maybe we can invite him the Halloween party," Sheryl was ready to give it a shot.
"You think its a good idea?" Nicole was a little astounded that the critic was so accepting of the idea.
"Sure, well just kill the kid if he screws up," It made sense to Sheryl.
"You are too blood thirsty my friend," Nicole laughed.
"Beer?" Laurel handed on over Nicoles shoulder. Danny handed one to Sheryl.
"Thanks, take a seat," The photographer indicated the two remaining lawn chairs.
"So who was Sheryl threatening to kill this time?" Danny asked as he opened his beer.
"The usual," Nicole went for evasive measures. "Oh, yall will not believe this. Doug called me today and asked me to meet him at Mabels so he could give me my last check."
"Did you go?" Laurel was kicking herself for not checking during her lunch break.
"Yep, sure did. He gave me an envelope with my check and told me to go there tomorrow and pick out some of the stock if I want it. Apparently hes not selling it all off. Anyway, this is the real shocker. My check? It was my regular weekly pay plus a bonus."
"Wow, that was the first kind thing hes done in over a year," Danny was impressed.
"How big was the bonus?" Sheryl always wanted the details.
"A months pay," Nicole told them. "Yeah, I finished lunch and made it to the bank quickly. Lets just hope it doesnt bounce."
"I dont see why it would. It was probably the money he made during that fire sale during Labor Day," Laurel reasoned. "Did he tell you why he was closing down?"
"Just that his wife wanted a vacation," Nicole shrugged. "Ill ask her tomorrow."
"So what all are you going to claim?" Danny asked. He knew Nicole was not in to popular music and thought she would take the opportunity to expand her blues and classical collections.
"I have no idea. It just depends on whats left and what theyll let me have. So what do we want to go along with the steaks?"
"Whatcha got?" Sheryl asked.
"I did some shopping today after I went to the bank. Ill go see what I can put together,"
"Ill come with you and get a brush or something to clean the grill thing," Laurel followed.
"Grill thing?" Sheryl asked laughing.
"You know the metal thing the food sits on," Laurel refused to quibble over the proper name.
"Ok, yeah, go help your woman," Sheryl waved her off.
Laurel found Nicole standing on tiptoe looking through the cabinets for food. She could not resist the opportunity and walked over behind her lover. She wrapped her arms around Nicoles waist and pulled her in close, forcing the photographer back on her heels.
"Hi, yourself," Nicole turned around in Laurels arms.
"Need some help?" Laurel asked. She leaned in and kissed Nicole. "I think I forgot what I came in here for," She said when they broke apart.
"You were looking for something to clean the grill thing with," Sheryl reminded her as the critic opened the refrigerator. She pulled out two more beers and left with a smirk.
"Its called a rack," Laurel yelled after her. Its always semantics.
"Here let me get you a brush," Nicole laughed. Laurel did not let go but pulled her in for another quick kiss.
"Ok," She let her go. "But I know what I want for dessert."
"You are incorrigible," Nicole told her.
"That I am. What are we having to go along with the steaks?"
"Steak fries, I just found the olive oil. I picked up a bag of potatoes. I thought Id let Danny do those. He likes making fries," Nicole handed Laurel the brush for the grill.
"Thank you," Laurel took the brush and filled a cup with water. "Want me to send him in?"
"Yes, please," Nicole emptied the sack of potatoes into the sink.
"Danny," Laurel got his attention when she went back outside.
"Nicole wants your help with the fries if you dont mind," Laurel picked up the rack and set down on one of the chairs.
"Were having fries? Awesome," The deejay ran inside to help.
"Is he always hyper?" Laurel asked the critic.
"Pretty much so. So is this frat guy on the level?"
"From what I can tell," Laurel finished cleaning the rack and placed it carefully back on the grill. "Ok, we should be ready for the steaks. How do you like yours?"
"Medium. Need some help?"
"Nah, I can get it. Thanks though," Laurel headed back inside to get the steaks.
"Those were great steaks, Laurel," Danny complimented around the last piece of his steak.
"Very good," Sheryl agreed.
"My girl can grill," Nicole told them proudly.
"Thanks," Laurel accepted the praise easily.
"Ok, well clean the kitchen if you two gather her portfolio together," Danny told Laurel.
"Ok, did you pick out an outfit?" The bassist asked.
"Sure did, well break it out in a minute," He started gathering the plates. Sheryl was right behind him.
Laurel followed Nicole into the studio room. She had only been in there once, and was amazed at how different it looked when she was sober. The photographer pulled a large box out from a corner of the room. Apparently everyone had forgotten about the contest on worthy modern movies. Laurel did not feel like reminding them. She was too interested in seeing her lovers visually creative side.
"Ok, if the pictures arent in that portfolio, theyre in here," She said indicating the box.
"Alright, well you get the portfolio and Ill get the box."
"I can get the box," Nicole protested.
"Yes you can, but its my pleasure to do it for you," She grinned. "Call it my misplaced sense of chivalry, but I get the box and you get the book," Laurel held firm.
"All right, if you insist," The photographer laughed.
"Oh, I insist," Laurel grabbed the box carefully. It was as heavy as it looked, and she doubted Nicole would have been able to lift it. After all, the photographer had not been able to carry all her bags back to the Warehouse after their shopping trip in New Orleans.
Danny and Sheryl had the room clean when they made it back to the living room. The deejay had washed the dishes and the critic had dried them. They looked at the box with amusement, knowing that half of those pictures were going to be either embarrassing or incriminating.
"Here," Danny grabbed on end of the box and helped Laurel set it on the coffee table. Sheryl had cleaned it off for just that reason.
"Thanks," Laurel stretched after setting it down.
They began to go through the pictures first. Nicole protested that they were working backwards, but Danny and Sheryl out voted her. They chose several shots that all of them agreed would add a certain depth to the portfolio. Sheryl sat aside several pictures to look at in detail later.
They took apart her portfolio and rebuilt it. They each believed the addition of early photographs would show Nicoles growth as both artist and journalist. They added a nice shot, the one that earned Nicole her nickname, from her high school paper. They also added one of the pictures Laurel had seen hanging in the apartment at the Warehouse. It was a nice night shot of the riverboat in New Orleans, and Danny said it showed good composition.
The other picture Danny wanted to add tore at Laurels heart. It was a picture of her brothers funeral. She had not realized that Nicole had been there.
She took the picture in her hands and looked at it closely. Her mother was clinging to her father and both had tears running down their faces. Laurel saw herself standing by Mandy. The redhead looked ready to collapse. She remembered that day well. She doubted she would ever forget it.
"Yeah, um, this one would work too," Laurel handed Danny the photo. "I need some air."
She went out to the porch and sat on the swing. It was easy to remember all the details of that horrible afternoon. Her mother and father had taken their grief and anger out on her. She had borne it until they had taken it too far. She had loved him too, and they had forgotten that. They had forgotten how Mandy felt as well, and how Jon had loved her. Their grief isolated themselves from everyone and everything. Laurel could understand it to a point, but she could not forgive what they had made her feel like, what they said and did to her. She felt there was no excuse for that.
"You alright?" Nicole felt bad. She had meant to remove that picture, but Sheryl and then Danny had arrived and she let it slip from her mind.
"Yeah, its easier than it used to be. That was a good picture though. I wasnt aware you were there," Laurel lit a cigarette.
"I wasnt supposed to be, but the person who was going had an emergency. We werent allowed that close. I just snapped a couple of shots and left. It wasnt anything I felt comfortable doing."
"It was your job. Nothing wrong with doing your job," Laurel was used to the press anyway.
"You know, when I saw you on stage that night, and then again at Mabels, I didnt recognize you. Whyd you cut all your hair off?" Nicole was curious. In the picture, Laurel had long blonde hair that came to right past her shoulders.
"The emergency room people shaved right here," Laurel moved her hair away from the right side of her forehead to reveal a scar. "I just did the rest out of rebellion I guess. I hated having long hair, but my parents didnt want me to cut it. I thought about shaving it all off, but Mandy pointed out the scar would ruin the look. So now I keep it short and let it fall to cover the scar."
"Mandy means a lot to you doesnt she?"
"She gave me a home after I was kicked out. She didnt have to, or at least didnt have to let me stay. Shes like the sister I never had. She never tried to replace Jon, but she help take care of me when I felt no one else would. When I couldnt take care of myself. So, yeah she means a lot, but not as much as you do," Laurel held Nicoles hand.
"You are both very special people you know that?"
"Mandy is special."
"So are you, and I owe Mandy an awful lot, too," Nicole squeezed the hand holding her own.
"Why is that?"
"Cause she took care of you."
"We better go back inside before Danny and Sheryl think were having sex on the swing," Laurel joked. "But first," She pulled her lover into a hug. "Thanks."
"For what?" Nicole whispered into Laurels shoulder.
"Hey, Hotshot," Danny held out a pantsuit for inspection when the pair reentered the house. "What do you think of this one?"
The pantsuit was a conservative charcoal grey. Nicole remembered that her Aunt Kay had picked it out for some funeral last year. A friend of the family had died and Nicole had been summoned home for it. As a result, it was a nice, conservative suit for a serious person to wear. They all agreed that it would work for the interview.
"We finished laying out your portfolio too," Sheryl had managed to keep Danny from sneaking in any pictures that could be viewed as risqué.
"Thanks," Nicole flipped through it and was satisfied. She felt as prepared as possible for the upcoming interview.
"And we found a whole bunch of pictures we had forgotten you had," Danny indicated a very large stack of photographs precariously balanced on the edge of the sofa.
"Yeah, works done, now its time for show and tell," Sheryl grinned like a small child. Nicole had been very good about chronicling their lives in pictures.
"Yeah, I wanna see," Laurel caught the enthusiasm. She was already over her depression thanks to the photographer.
For an hour they sat around looking at pictures. Nicole had kept even her earliest attempts at photography. Danny and Laurel both laughed at the picture of Sheryl covered in shaving cream during her eleventh birthday party. The critic retaliated by showing Laurel one of Danny with a boa and rubber chicken at Mardi Gras. The deejay was obviously drunk in that picture, and Laurel had to examine it closely to see what he was doing to the light post.
That escalated into an open war between the two as they each searched the box for embarrassing photographs of the other. Nicole and Laurel were laughing so hard before they were through that they each had tears running from their eyes. It was a welcome catharsis.
Finally, Danny repacked the box and took it into the studio. His own sense of chivalry would not let any of the women handle the cumbersome cardboard structure. They all three appreciated the gesture.
After the box was put away, Danny and Sheryl decided to leave the lovers alone. Of course, they insisted on meeting at Mabels after the interview for coffee and a play by play. Nicole agreed and Laurel promised she would be there as well.
"Well, that was a lively evening," Nicole was thankful for the help and the entertainment.
"Your friends are crazier than mine."
"I do believe I warned you of that didnt I?"
"Yes you did. Ready for bed?" Laurel yawned. She was also suffering from lack of sleep.
"Yeah, let me lock up and turn the lights out," Nicole called Mozart back from outside and locked the backdoor once he was in the kitchen.
Laurel turned off the porch light and locked the front door while the photographer turned off the lights in the backyard. The two met in the living room and then followed the dog into the bedroom.
They changed into their pajamas in front of one another. Neither felt the need to be shy. Mozart beat them to the bed, and they curled themselves around one another and him.
"Goodnight," Laurel kissed Nicoles forehead.
It was not long before both women were in the arms of the god of dreams.