Laurel woke the next morning to a cold nose pressed against her ear and a soft whine. Mozart had apparently chosen her to be his dog walker. She groaned and carefully got out of bed. She wanted to let Nicole sleep for as long as possible so she would be prepared for the day ahead.
The bassist let Mozart out the front door. She smoked a cigarette while the dog christened his yard. When he was finished, she went back inside to feed them both.
After searching, Laurel learned that Nicoles shopping trip had resulted in milk and cereal. The bassist found a bowel in one of the cabinet and a spoon in the drawer by the stove. Satisfied with her choice for food, Laurel poured milk and cereal into the bowl and took her breakfast outside to the patio.
It was a nice morning, though it was getting cooler. Laurel felt it was time for fall to start, though she was not looking forward to winter. After she had finished, she let Mozart drink the milk and decided to get the day started.
"Hmm?" The photographer rolled over and opened her eyes.
"What time is your interview?" Laurel asked as she sat on the bed.
"One oclock, why?" She tried to blink her eyes into focus.
"Just curious. I have class in an hour, so I need to get a move on. You wanna go back to sleep while I take a shower?" Laurel asked when she realized how tired Nicole still looked.
"I would say no," She gave a small grin. "But I need a few more hours at least."
"Go ahead. Ill wake you before I go," Laurel promised.
Laurel smiled as she watched her lover fall back asleep. She quietly got off the bed and took her backpack to the bathroom. She waited for the water to heat up before stepping in the shower. The water waked her up completely. As the water rained on her head, Laurel let out a small prayer to the gods for Nicoles good fortune.
The shower over, Laurel got dressed and went back to wake Nicole again. The photographer was curled around the pillow Laurel had slept on. The bassist wished she had her lovers talent with a camera. It was a sight that touched her heart and brought an emotion filled smile to her lips.
"Nicole, sweetheart, its time for me to go," Laurel brushed the photographers bangs back.
"Already? I cant wait for summer," Nicole murmured as she sat up.
"Me either. Well, maybe well have Saturdays," Laurel suggested.
"Yeah, thatll work. What classes do you have today?"
"Lit, two bass lessons and economics," Laurel told her. "Economics is a night class and then I have the Tuesday night rehearsal tonight."
"You going to make it to Mabels?" Nicole really hoped she would be.
"Yep, Ill have that hour or so free." Laurel regretted that she might not be able to spend the night with her lover that night.
"Alright, Im out of here," Laurel leaned down and kissed Nicoles forehead. "Good luck."
"Thanks. Now get to class before I cause you to be late," Nicole tried to push her off the bed.
"I get the hint," Laurel laughed. "Ill see you later at Mabels. Now get some sleep. You need to be completely rested to go in there and show them how marvelous you are."
"Yes maam," Nicole gave a mock salute.
"Just smile when you say that and its all good," Laurel joked before leaning down for one last kiss. "Later."
Nicole slept for two more hours after Laurel had left. She woke on her own, grateful that the phone did not ring once. Mozart was curled up at her feet, and did not look happy at the disruption of his sleep.
"Alright, Mo, got a big day today," She leaned over and scratched his ears. "Gonna wish me luck?" She laughed when he yawned and set his head back on his paws. "Guess Ill wait for that."
She checked the clock and decided she had enough time for a leisurely shower and maybe a quick cup of coffee at Mabels before the interview. She let the water run to get it heated and made sure she had hose all the other accouterments for the suit. Finding that she was fully prepared, Nicole stepped into the shower. Unknowingly echoing her lover, she let the water run over her as she sent out a general wish for success.
She took care with her dressing when she got out of the shower. She even blew her hair completely dry and curled the ends of it. Mozart behaved for once and did not rip her panty hose as she put them on. Normally he tried to see what they tasted like.
Satisfied with her appearance, she let Mozart out on last time before grabbing her portfolio, locking the door and heading to Mabels. She took the newer car to maintain a more respectable image. She had been raised with the tenet that although appearances can be deceiving, they were nevertheless important.
Mabels was almost deserted when she arrived. She took a seat at the counter instead of her normal booth. She took a pack of cigarettes from her attaché and packed them. She had just lit one when the waitress walked over.
"Wow, you look great today. Whats the occasion?" Wanda asked.
"Job interview at the paper," Nicole was starting to get a bit nervous.
"Dont worry, dear, youll do fine. I remember seeing some of those pictures you took in college. Bet the student paper really misses you," She smiled fondly. "Can I get you anything?"
"Just coffee please. I dont have long. I just didnt want to be half an hour early if you know what I mean," Nicole gratefully took the cup the older lady had handed her. "Thanks."
"Youll knock em dead today, dont worry." Wanda reassured her.
"I hope so, Ill tell you about it when I get out of there, cause Im supposed to meet the others here after the interview."
"Ill be thinking of you," Wanda promised. "Now, you need to hurry up and get moving dont you?"
"Yeah I do," Nicole drained her cup. "Thanks."
"This ones on the house, now go wow em," Wanda took the cup and put in the bus tray.
"Thanks again," Nicole felt better. She had needed the reassurance. It was almost expected from her friends, but not from acquaintances.
Nicole pulled into the parking lot of the paper and felt the butterflies attack her intestines. She found a mint to hide the cigarette and coffee breath. She waited until she had finished it before getting out of the car.
She gave her name to the receptionist, took a seat in the waiting area and wondered what Laurel was doing at the moment. Thoughts of the bassist made her smile and it relaxed her enough to let her regain a sense of calm. She had just reclaimed that calm when the receptionist interrupted her thoughts. Mr. Daniels was on his way to see her.
Mr. Daniels was not what she was expecting. He was relatively new to the paper. They had fired or retired most of the old guard when the paper had fallen into a slump a year ago. Mr. Daniels looked more like a track star than a reporter. He was tall, lean, well dressed and surprisingly had a full head of dark hair. Nicole always believed premature balding was a pattern for photographers everywhere.
"Ms. Herbert?" His voice was a light tenor and green eyes crinkled when he smiled at her.
"Yes, sir," Nicole stood and offered her hand. He even had a strong grip. He was nothing like her professors or the last head of the department she had interned under.
"Jeff Daniels. Come on back," He unlocked the gate and held it open for her.
"Thank you," Nicole passed through the gate and followed him down the hallway.
The paper had not changed much since she had been there last. He led her on a rambling walk to his office. He also gave a running commentary on what they were passing, but it was not necessary for Nicole. Her only regret in the rambling walk was that they did not pass Sheryls desk. A sight of her oldest friend would have been welcome.
"So, I see you brought your portfolio," He said when he took a seat at his desk.
"Yes sir," She handed it over then pulled her resume out of her attaché. "And Sheryl mentioned that you needed a complete resume as well."
"Yes I do. Youre friends with our critic?" He looked amused.
"Yes sir, we grew up together," Nicole hoped that their connection would not be held against her. She would hate to lose this job by defending her friend.
"Good, I like Sheryl. Shes highly opinionated, but highly amusing too." He seemed to approve.
He flipped through her portfolio, stopping to take a closer look to several of the pictures. He read through her resume and then picked up her portfolio again. He showed great interest in several of the photographs they had put in there the night before. She was more than grateful to her friends at that moment.
"Did you know Jon Kendrick?" He asked as he looked at the funeral shot.
"I had taken his picture a few times and been present at a few interviews for the school paper but I did not really know him. I guess I knew of him more than anything." She told him.
"Ah, thats me there," He said pointing out himself in the picture. "I used to work on the paper on the Coast before I was hired to take over here. It was a great loss, though the Kendricks were not exactly the nicest people on the planet, no one deserves to loss a child like that." He looked at the family portrait on his desk.
"Thats a good picture, did you take it?" Nicole asked as she studied it. It was a picture of the Daniels family. Mr. Daniels, his blonde wife and two small boys were smiling at the camera.
"Yes I did," He gave a genuine smile. He was obviously proud of his family. "Well, now we get to the interview part of the interview. I must tell you that I am very impressed with your portfolio. And that one of your professors called me yesterday and told me point blank that Id be an idiot not to hire you. Your job right now is to tell me why I should believe that."
"Well, sir, I am a dedicated employee. I rarely take days off unless its absolutely necessary," She was just starting when he cut her off.
"Yes, I know all that. I called your previous boss and talked to him this morning. He was very eloquent in the esteem he holds you in. What I want you to tell me is whats beyond that. Whats inside of you that you can bring to this job."
"I," She hesitated. She wondered if hed think she was insane. "I see the world through a camera lens. I have this huge box in my homemade studio that is nothing but pictures I have taken over the years. I never throw any of them away, and I always seem to have a camera with me," She pulled a one time use camera from her attaché as evidence. "My father was a photographer and I started to emulate him at a young age. Ive always been told that I inherited his talent and his goal. I see photographers as modern day storytellers, bards. We chronicle what goes on in the world through film. I can honestly not imagine living my life any other way." She ran out of words to express her ideas.
"You know something Ms. Herbert?" He leaned back in his chair and smiled.
"Sir?" Her nervousness returned.
"I feel the same way. Ive only heard a few other people describe it as well and as passionately as you did. When can you start?" He grinned widely at her look of astonishment.
"Monday?" She made the statement a question.
"Sounds good. Be here at eight am and well get all your forms filled out and then Ill show you the ropes. Youll start out at the base salary which is listed in here," He handed her a handbook. "This also goes over our dress code. Youll only be required to wear business suits when you have a high detail job like a press conference. Which is where I have to go today. Read through that handbook and if you have any questions before Monday, heres my card. Feel free to give me a call."
"Thank you, Mr. Daniels." She took the handbook and the card. Both were carefully placed in her attaché.
"Call me Jeff. We dont stand on too much formality here," He grinned again and stood up. "So I can call you Nicole, right?"
"Yes sir," She stood up as well and shook his hand again. "Thank you, Jeff."
"It was my pleasure, Nicole. Do I need to walk you out or can you find your way?" He asked as his phone rang.
"I think I remember the way," She gathered up her attaché and portfolio. "Ill see you Monday morning."
"I look forward to it," He waved as he answered his phone. "Jeff Daniels."
Nicole felt as if she were walking on air. She knew she had a goofy grin on her face, but at the moment she did not care. She checked her watch and knew that Sheryl would already be at Mabels. So, instead of looking for the critic, she went straight to her car and left the paper.
Laurel pulled into the parking lot of Mabels and looked for her lovers car. She did not see it anywhere. Not worrying about it, the bassist parked her car and went inside. Danny and Sheryl had beaten her there. They waved her over to their booth.
"Have you heard anything?" Laurel asked the critic as she took a seat.
"Nope, I do know that she got there ok. I bribed the receptionist to page me when Nicole showed up, but by the time I got there Jeff was already showing her the way back to his office."
"Should she be finished by now?" Danny asked. His show was scheduled to start in an hour.
"Depends on how it went. Jeffs a pretty decisive guy. Hell have made his decision before fifteen minutes passed, but hes the type of guy that will pay close attention to her portfolio and answers. However, Im willing to bet that if she got hired hell tell her before she leaves his office."
"Wow, shouldnt he talk to her references and stuff?" Laurel asked.
"I talked to him this morning," Danny told her. "He called me at work and asked if Id trust her with my kids and stuff like that."
"Did he really?" Sheryl laughed. "Thats Jeff for you. Must be that Coastal mentality."
"Hey, watch that," Laurel mock scolded. She could not maintain her straight face for long though.
"Well, it is true," Danny pointed out. "Must be something in the water down there."
"Oh, like you New Orleans people are so centered and normal," Laurel stuck her tongue out at the deejay.
"Watch that or Nicole will be complaining when I stab it with a fork," He raised his fork in a quasi-threatening manner. However, he ruined his poker face when he started laughing.
"Hey, there she is," Sheryl was the first to see the photographer enter the restaurant.
"Well?" All three of them asked as she took a seat beside Laurel.
"Yeah, well?" Wanda asked as she placed a cup of coffee in front of Nicole.
"Oh, well, I," She paused for effect. "I start on Monday," She let the grin possess her face again. The table erupted into cheers.
"Way to go," Laurel gave her friend and lover a hug.
"Alright Hotshot!" Danny cheered.
"Yeehaa," Sheryl yelled.
"Knew you could do it, kid," Wanda patted the photographer on the back.
"Thanks to my friends. They helped put my portfolio together," Nicole was eager to share the credit.
"Oh, bull hockey, you are the one that took the pictures," Sheryl was quick to place the credit back on Nicoles shoulders. "Now tell us all about the interview."
"Can I get you anything to eat?" Wanda interrupted the story telling.
"Yes, Ill take a Rueben," Nicole told her.
"Well?" Danny asked as Wanda left to go place their orders with the kitchen staff.
"He looked over my portfolio, read my resume and asked a few questions," Nicole took a sip of her coffee. "Then he told me that I was hired despite knowing Sheryl."
"He did not," The critic protested.
"No he didnt say that, but I gotcha," Nicole grinned. Gaining a point over the critic was rare. She felt almost as good about that as she did about landing the job.
"So, when do you start?" Laurel wanted to know. She was extremely thankful that Nicole had gotten the job.
"Monday at eight," Nicole was still grinning.
"Way cool. So this means we have all Saturday right?" Laurel referred to their conversation that morning.
"Yes it does. Itll be a good day to celebrate since you cant make it over tonight," Nicole regretted not being able to celebrate that evening, but she was willing to take what she could get.
"So what are you doing for the rest of the day?" Sheryl asked as Wanda handed the plates of food around the table.
"Go to Dougs and find out whats going on, I guess. Besides, he offered part of the stock and I should go claim it. And, he gave me a very good recommendation according to Jeff," Nicole was still in shock over that.
"Maybe he feels guilty about closing the store so quickly," Danny suggested.
"Maybe, but Im not going to question it too much," Nicole was feeling too good to worry about it.
"I dont blame you," Laurel said as she practically inhaled her food.
"In a hurry?" Nicole asked.
"Yeah I have to be back on campus in a few for a lesson," Laurel hated their conflicting schedules.
"Thats ok," Nicole reassured her. "Call me after band practice?" She asked as she stood to let the bassist out of the booth.
"Will do," She promised. "Later."
"See ya later, Laurel," Danny and Sheryl said their goodbyes.
Nicole watched her lover leave before turning back to her friends and her food.
"Youve got that one well and truly hooked my friend," Danny said after he finished his sandwich.
"I think Im the one thats hooked," Nicole attempted to correct him.
"Nah, you can see it in her eyes when she looks at you. Im almost jealous, Hotshot," Sheryl told her.
"You jealous? Youre the one seducing my cousin," Nicole turned the conversation around to the critic.
"I did not seduce Jessie. It was mutual. And very, very good," Sheryl grinned evilly.
"Ok, I did not need to hear that," The photographer did not want to hear about her cousins sex life.
"Oh, I know. Thats why I said that," Sheryl was determined to pay Nicole back for her earlier comment. "Besides, Danny here is the one that heard stuff he shouldnt have."
"Oh, yeah?" Nicole asked.
"Yeah," Danny blushed. It was such a rare occurrence that Nicole had to look twice at the sight. "Thanks, Sheryl."
"Dont mention it," The critic was enjoying his discomfort.
"So, what did you hear?" Nicole was curious about anything that would turn her friend that color.
"He was in the elevator when you were amorously occupied," Sheryl tried to put it in discreet terms.
"Yeah, I found out who the screamer was," Danny recovered from his embarrassment.
"Oh, god," Nicole was the one embarrassed now. "Im going to kill Laurel."
"Why? Sounded to me like she had done her job extremely well."
"Thats why. She made a bet with me. Apparently she won," The photographer was ready to fall through the floor.
"Well, you can pay her back later," Sheryl told her. "Damn," She reached for her pager. "I have to get back to work. See ya later, Hotshot."
"Ill walk out with you," Danny told her. "I have to be at the station in a few for the show. If youre in the car, listen to it Nicole," He grinned.
"Ok," She went on suspicion alert. She got up as well. "Might as well get Dougs out of the way. Lets go pay and get out of here."
They walked to the counter and waited for one of the waitresses to appear. They had not had a check on the table, so they had just thrown the tip there and were going to have the waitress split the check at the register.
"Oh, your bill has been taken care of," Amber told them.
"By whom?" Sheryl asked.
"Its on the house," Wanda told them as she came around the counter. "Congratulations, kid. We expect big things of you."
"Thanks," Nicole was speechless. She had been a regular of Mabels since her freshman year in college and had never gotten anything on the house.
"Course, when we do our new ad, were expecting you to take the picture," Wanda winked at her.
"I will if I can," She promised. "Thanks."
"Ok, well yall have a good day," Wanda told them before going to clean off their table.
The three friends walked out to their cars in awe. None of them had ever gotten so much as a free cup of coffee at the establishment. They were feeling pretty good about it.
"See ya later, Hotshot," Sheryl waved bye as she unlocked her car.
"Yep, take care, Nicole."
"You two, as well. Ill talk to yall later."
Nicole pulled into the parking lot of Dougs shortly after leaving Mabels. She had decided not to go home and change clothes. She saw Marys car but did not see her bosss vehicle. The front of the store was boarded up and had the word closed spray painted on the plywood. Once again, Nicole wondered what the real reasons were for the abrupt closing. She parked her car and left her questions locked in with her portfolio and attaché.
"Mary?" She knocked on the door.
"Were closed, cant you read?" The older lady opened the door prepared to yell at someone. "Oh, come on in Nicole. Doug said youd be stopping by."
"Thanks," She entered her old place of employment. All the shelves were still stocked full.
"Wow, you look good. Job interview?" She grinned.
"Yeah, I hear I owe the old man a thanks," Nicole smiled. "Apparently he gave me a glowing report."
"He spoke the truth. Now, I was told to let you get what you wanted. The other two are supposed to be dropping in today. Anything you all dont take will be sold off or something," Mary told her. "So, just pick what you want and Ill help you load it up."
"Ok, thanks," Nicole swallowed her questions and began to look around. She chose a few CDs that she had been intending to get anyway. "We can get the equipment too?"
"Sure can. All is up for grabs," Mary was busy pulling posters off the wall.
Nicole sat her CDs on the counter and wandered around the store. She found a cardboard cut out of a famous vapid actor and dragged it up to the counter. She thought it would make a good present for Danny. She also picked up a few movies, a t-shirt and stocked up on candles and candleholders. By the time she had made it back to the music equipment she wished she had borrowed Laurels truck. As it was, she managed to pick out a few presents for the bassist before she decided she had enough stuff.
Mary helped her take all the stuff out to her car. They had to break down the cut out, but surprisingly everything fit. The car was crowded but Nicole was pleased. She had managed to pick out several things for herself and her friends. She could not wait to see the look on Dannys face when she gave him the cut out.
She said goodbye to Mary and went home. She had several new movies to watch and a dog to let out. She wished that Laurel was able to join her that evening, but she understood. She could not spend every moment with the bassist. They would smother one another. As it was, she would save at least two of the movies to watch with the bassist.