Nicole reached over and felt air as her hand landed on the pillow beside her with a soft thump. When she opened her eyes, her mind learned what her body had already known. She was in bed alone. She knew that Laurel had probably gone downstairs for a cigarette. Still, there was as always a slight sense of panic before the rationale of her lover’s whereabouts came. Sighing at her temporary abandonment, Nicole gathered clothing and headed for the shower.

Danny and Sheryl had done a masterful job when they packed her clothing. One of the two, and she did not know which one, had even snuck the red dress into the bag. She did not think she would need it, however she did hang it up so that it would not wrinkle. She was thankful for the several pairs of jeans and long sleeved t-shirts and other warmer attire. Blood maybe thicker than water, but southern blood was not thick enough to withstand wind and fog rolling in off the River.

After her shower, Nicole pulled a pair of socks from her bag. She grabbed her shoes and walked over to the couch. She made the mistake of not looking before she sat.

"What the hell?" Nicole stood quickly and reached for the scissors on which she had accidentally landed. "Where did these come from?" She noticed the small white bits of plaster scattered all over the couch and floor. "That little minx," She could not decide if she wanted to laugh or scream in frustration. Her lover was nothing if not unpredictable.

The photographer let her mind wander back to their previous conversation. She resolved to question Laurel more about her quasi confession. Oh she was positive that the bassist had been truthful about her probation, but she now wondered if that was all. She got the feeling that Laurel had glossed over some of the darker points of her history. She did not blame her, after all Nicole had not been all that forthcoming with details about her life with Annie. She had not told her lover about Brian yet either. However, all of that could wait. They had plenty of time to talk of such things. Soon the photographer hoped that there would be no secrets between them.

Deciding to have a little fun at her lover’s expense, Nicole quickly pulled on her socks and shoes. Mozart was not in the apartment either, and she easily deduced that her lover and her dog were in the courtyard. She managed to get the elevator to work and decided to go check. She heard the voices before she saw the faces. Sure enough, Laurel was sitting at the table with Jessie, Stan, Phil and Jay. By the silence that greeted her, she got the impression that she had been the topic of the conversation. Phil’s strained smile and Laurel’s slightly guilty expression confirmed it.

"Do I look like a Borg?" She asked with a serious tone. It always bothered her when other people talked about her.

"If so, you have to be the sexiest one I’ve ever seen," Laurel gave a charming smile. She was slightly nervous about what her lover would say when she realized the cast was missing.

"Thanks, you devious little minx," Nicole barely managed to keep from grinning. She crossed her arms and attempted to keep her expression guarded.

"Me?" Laurel went for innocent confusion. It did not work very well. Jessie was snickering behind her hand. "What did I do?"

"Let me see your foot," Nicole commanded. "The other one," She said when Laurel produced her right foot completely encased in black leather boot. The bassist reluctantly slid her left foot around the table. "Thought so. Want to tell me how you can wear that?"

"The ankle fairy?" Again the charming grin.

"That’s a new one for me," Nicole finally grinned. She planned on vocalizing her displeasure when they were in a more private setting. Conceding temporary defeat, the photographer took a seat by her lover. "So, what was so important that ya’ll had to shut up when I walked out?"

"We were actually discussing lunch," Jay told her. "Laurel wanted to wait until you came down, but then you appeared at the door." It was late for lunch but early for dinner.

"Ok," She did not believe him in the least, but knew she could get the truth out of her lover later. After all, she had been sated, but Laurel had not. It was a dirty trick, but the photographer was fully capable of devious behavior when required. "So what does everyone want for dinner?" She was feeling better about the situation enough that she abandoned the desire to simply exist.

"Food would be good."

"Stan you are such a smart ass," Jessica swatted her brother’s arm. "Anything sounds good to me."

"Critics?" Laurel mumbled.

"What was that?" Jessie’s head snapped up.

"Crickets? I’ve heard that some people eat them dipped in chocolate," Laurel tried again to look innocent. This time it was Nicole snickering beside her. "Seriously, whatever ya’ll want is fine with me."

They decided on a small café not too far from the Warehouse. Over dinner, Nicole informed her family, the core group of her family, of Michael’s promise to be there before morning. They were all thrilled, as none of them had seen him for years. Jessica informed them that she had been in contact with Sheryl and the critic would also be joining them that evening. Danny and Greg would be adding themselves to the gathering the next morning. Nicole was touched by the news. She had all the support and more that she would ever need in her friends and this assembly of her family.

After they had eaten, they returned to the Warehouse. It did not seem appropriate to explore Bourbon Street under the circumstances so they settled themselves in the courtyard. Phil and Jay took their leave as the four younger members of the group were deciding whom to send for beer and cigarettes. Stan chose to be chivalrous and run the errand.

"How is Sheryl going to get in here?" The thought had just occurred to the bassist as she lit her last cigarette.

"Oh, I gave her a key before she left," Jessica did not seem to mind bending the house rules. No one outside of the Herbert family was allowed to have keys to the building. Though no one had ever asked for the one still in Laurel’s possession.

"What about Michael?"

"I did not even think about that," Nicole admitted. "Guess I can stay up and wait for him."

"Or, he can use the pay phone across the street. He’s a big boy," Jessica laughed. "Someone will let him in, don’t worry."

"True," Nicole let herself forget about it for the moment.

"So, is that pool table there for decoration?" Laurel wanted to do something, but did not suggest leaving the building. She knew it would not be appropriate.

"No. Why do you want to play?" Nicole asked. She vaguely remembered watching the bassist and Sheryl play at one of the bars during their last trip.

"Sure," She shrugged in an attempt to be nonchalant.

"Ok," Nicole was ready to get her mind occupied with something other than the thoughts that kept sneaking in despite her best efforts.

The three of them plus Mozart walked into the game room. Jessie quickly found the lights and Laurel looked around in wonder. There was a giant television, a tournament sized pool table, a table soccer game, a ping-pong table, a poker table, a small basketball game like she had seen at the fair, a dartboard, a bar and a two lane bowling area. It was a game player’s fantasy. The bassist quickly realized that if she were to live at the Warehouse, she would only have to leave for food.

"Wow," She could not find another word to describe the room.

"My grandfather was very much into convenience. He built most of this to keep the boys here instead of roaming the streets," Nicole explained.

"It would have worked for me," Laurel spun on her heels in an effort to get the full panoramic effect.

"Sadly it didn’t work for them," Jessica laughed. "Or us for that matter. We still manage to get bored without other people to play with."

"That is understandable," Laurel was not a big people person, but even she would get lonely without someone else present to break up the routine. She smiled gently at her lover when she realized they would never let themselves settle too far into a routine.

"Beer’s here," Stan arrived carrying a large bag from the local convenience store. "And I found a lost soul who followed me home. Shall we keep her?" He grinned as Sheryl entered the room behind him.

"I suppose we must," Jessie sighed.

"Yeah, she might write something scathing about us," Laurel teased.

"Ok, watch it you two," She mock threatened as she hugged Jessica. "How ya holding up, Hotshot?"

"I’ve been better, been worse, you know the drill," Nicole said as she hugged the critic.

"You too, SBD," Sheryl pulled Laurel into a hug after disengaging herself from the photographer.

"SBD?" Stan scratched his head. The acronym made no sense to him.

"Short but deadly," Sheryl answered much to Laurel’s displeasure. "So anyone up for pool?"

"No thanks," Nicole knew pool was not her game. "Jessie, ping-pong?"


"I’ll play you in pool," Laurel still resented losing their last game.

"Good," Sheryl gave a wicked grin. "I’ll rack."

Nicole gave her attention to the game against her cousin. Stan played as the referee, but was soon called over to mediate the grudge match between the bassist and the critic. When they started letting volleys pass them that even rank amateurs would not miss, Nicole and Jessie called a halt to their game. The pool game sounded much more interesting.

"That was not a shit shot," Laurel protested. "I meant to bank it."

"Why didn’t you just cut it?" Sheryl asked.

"Because I rock at bank shots and that one seemed easier," Jon had taught her how to play pool, and he had never mastered the cut shot. Therefore, Laurel had not either but she would not admit that to the critic.

"What’s the difference?" Nicole asked out of curiosity.

"A bank shot is when you use the table in your favor by bouncing the cue off it or letting the cue hit the other ball into the table and then into the pocket," Stan explained. His father had taught him to play at an early age.

"Ah," The explanation made little sense to the photographer.

"Ok, SBD, I’ll let you have that one," Sheryl forfeited her right to complain. "You still won’t win."

"Watch me," Laurel was determined. It was not long before she sank the eight ball and claimed victory. She was gracious about it. Her victory dance did not last long. "That’s game."

"Who’s next?" Sheryl contemplated challenging the bassist to a rematch but thought against it quickly.

"I’ll play," Stan willing took up Laurel’s discarded cue stick.

Laurel and Nicole were content to watch the game. Jessie wandered over to the basketball net and practiced her free throw. Stan and Sheryl’s game was not as enthralling as the previous one. Stan knew how to play, but he was out of practice. He lost the game quickly.

"Well that was an entertaining diversion," He commented.

"Yeah, have you eaten?" Sheryl had not stopped for food on her way to New Orleans.

"We ate a very late lunch," Nicole informed her.

"Ah, guess I’ll just order in pizza for me," She teased. She knew that by the time the food arrived, her friends would be hungry again.

"You might as well order enough for all of us," Stan told her. He was already getting hungry.

Sheryl ordered two large pizzas for them all. They took up a collection to pay for it and made sure to watch the clock. The Warehouse did not have a buzzer, so they would have to keep a look out posted to meet the pizza delivery person. Once that was decided, they moved their little gathering back out to the courtyard.

The beer was cold, and they enjoyed it as well as the companionship. They actually enjoyed the companionship more than anything else. All five of them were determined to keep happy thoughts and feelings flowing among and between them. They started an impromptu contest to come up with the most outrageous stories they had. No one could have been considered the winner, as they had all done something insane at one time in their lives. It was all for fun anyway.

The pizza disappeared within minutes of its arrival. Jessie and Sheryl had gone to claim the food from the delivery person when they had assumed enough time had passed. Their timing had been off by a few minutes, but the ones that had to wait had been Sheryl and Jessie.

"Well, I am truly stuffed," Laurel commented. She thought it was amusing that they always seemed to eat more in New Orleans than at home.

"Me too," Nicole agreed around a yawn. "Its been fun, but I think its time for me to get some rest," She was faking her exhaustion some, but no one questioned it. "Ready?" She asked her lover.

"And willing," Laurel grinned. She had guessed that Nicole was not as tired as she pretended.

"Good night, ya’ll," Sheryl winked. She felt it was appropriate for them to have time alone. It would also give her time alone with Jessica. She was really looking forward to that.

"Later," Jessica was preoccupied with thoughts of having Sheryl alone.

"I’ll keep watch for Michael," Stan offered. He wanted to practice his pool game. Losing to Sheryl had wounded his pride slightly.

"Thanks," Nicole spoke to all of them.

"Anytime," Stan smiled.

They took the stairs back to the fifth floor. Laurel still did not trust the elevator. Had she been the type to ascribe human characteristics to inanimate objects, she would have called it evil.

"So," Nicole began to undress as soon as they entered the apartment. She knew of one good way to make the bassist talk. "What were ya’ll talking about earlier when I interrupted you?"

"Lunch," Laurel stuck to the story as she watched Nicole’s long fingers unbutton the grey shirt. It was an erotic sight.

"Sure," Nicole pulled the shirt off her shoulders and let it fall to the floor. She kicked her shoes off and bent low enough to pull off her socks. The angle left Laurel staring at an enticing amount of cleavage. She straightened up and slowly unzipped her jeans. She struggled not to smile as she watched the bassist attempt to swallow.

"We were," Laurel licked her lips with a tongue dry with desire.

"Somehow, I don’t believe you," Nicole stepped from the puddle of denim around her ankles. She slowly slid her fingers into the waistband of her panties. She watched as Laurel’s eyes darkened. "The truth?" She kept her hands entwined with the elastic and refused to unveil her most private sights until she heard the answer.

"We were," Laurel attempted to swallow. She felt as if she had been sucking on a cotton ball. "We were discussing contingency plans."

"For what emergency?" The photographer rewarded her lover with a slight push to the underwear. She had rolled them down an inch.

"The funeral," Laurel started to walk closer.

"Uh huh," Nicole shook her head. "Stay right there," She watched as her lover only nodded. "What were the plans?"

"To um, do we have to talk about this?" She was getting very aroused and was not in the mood for a conversation. Nicole nodded so the bassist had to continue. "For damage control."

"Ah, plotting to keep me and my grandmother separated?" She deduced the answer. Her lover nodded. "Wise move, perhaps," She slid the cotton panties down her hips and past her knees where they formed a puddle around her ankles. She casually stepped out of it. "Now, come here," She commanded. She was not comfortable in such an aggressive role, but she believed it was worth a shot. Laurel had answers and Nicole had many questions.

"You are definitely a goddess of desire," Laurel whispered reverently. She raised her hands to the photographer’s hips but was confused when they were batted gently away.

"Oh, no, you little minx," Nicole laughed to hid her nervousness. "I lead this show tonight."

She took her time undressing her lover. It was a struggle of and against patience, temptation and the bassist’s wandering hands. Laurel kept trying to take the lead. She was no more comfortable in a submissive role than Nicole was in a domineering one. It may have been a trust issue, but the bassist had never given it much thought. To her, it was all about comfort and fulfillment. As long as she was comfortable and her partner was sated, it was good for her.

"So, got anything else you need to tell me?" Nicole pushed the now undressed bassist back on the bed and straddled her hips.

"I love you," Laurel was finding herself highly aroused as well as nervous.

"And I love you," Nicole rewarded the answer with a kiss. "But I was thinking more along the lines of something else."

"Like?" She tried to run her hands along the photographer’s thighs, but soon found them pinned above her head. She was almost ready to panic. That emotion just added fuel to the fire and she struggled to raise her hips into her lover’s.

"Well," The photographer paused for effect. She lowered her mouth to Laurel’s throat and began to lightly taste, lick and bite the skin she found there. "For starters, you can tell me why you decided to cut your own cast off."

"It was," The touch of lips on her neck was driving her wild. "It was uncomfortable, and unnecessary. I think there was a," She groaned as Nicole continued her attack by nibbling an earlobe. "It can’t have been broken."

"Says you?" Nicole whispered into the ear she was feasting upon.

"It didn’t feel broken."

"And you know this?"

"I’ve broken a few bones in my time," Laurel was fighting the need to be sated and the need to be irritated.


"Put my hand through a wall," The assault on her senses continued as the photographer kissed around her chin and to the other side of her throat. "Broke my leg playing soccer. Stuff," She took a deep breath. "Like that."

"Why would you put your hand through a wall?" Nicole almost stopped her seductive assault, but fought the need to look in her lover’s eyes as they talked. She believed she would get more information when the bassist did not have the concentration misdirection required.

"A girlfriend…dumped…me."

"Were you stoned?" The tone was low and the words were seductively whispered into the bassist’s ear.

"Yeah," Laurel admitted before she had time to think. Fuck.

"High school?" Bingo.

"Yeah," Laurel gave up trying to understand the conversation. She felt so aroused that she almost feared spontaneous combustion. I think I’m melting or exploding or something.

"That’s all I wanted to know," Nicole moved down and took a very hard nipple into her mouth. "About that."

"What else?" The words were not easy to get out through a very dry mouth.

"Are you still using?" Nicole asked as she lightly bit her lover’s nipple.

"No," It was a sigh more than a word. "Haven’t since I met you. Harder."

"Good," Nicole grinned as she complied with the request. She moved to the other breast. She kept her lover’s hands pinned to the bed with one hand and brought the other down to give attention to the recently abandoned breast. Laurel was writhing beneath her.

"You’re…not going…to hold that against…me?"

"Oh, no," Nicole murmured. She slid her hand clear of the breast it had been teasing and began to lightly caress the bassist’s stomach. "Do you love me?"

"Very much so," The answer earned attention to her damp curls.

"Need me?"

"Yes," Nicole’s hand parted the dripping folds.

"Want me?"

"More than anything," She struggled to get the words out around the sensation of long fingers filling her. "Oh goddess."

Nicole continued her oral assault on Laurel’s breast as she set a slow rhythm with her hand. The bassist was not content with slow, however and used her hips to speed up the motions. Nicole pulled back and watched. Laurel had closed her eyes and was straining to reach the peak of ecstasy. Taking pity on her, Nicole stilled her hand and moved down. She started her movements again, this time accompanied by her tongue on the bassist’s clitoris. It was not long before her name was shouted into the air and the muscles around her hand caused her to stop her movements.

"You. Here. Now," Laurel pulled her hands free and then pulled the photographer up for a long, fiery kiss. "My turn."

The orgasm that she had experienced dulled the edges of her own desires, but gave energy to the rest of her libido. She was determined to have Nicole quivering in ecstasy before releasing her. She figured it was fair repayment for the teasing she had undergone.

Laurel kept the photographer on top, but made her move until those inviting breasts were at a level with a willing mouth. Nicole thought the positioning rather awkward until Laurel showed her the benefits. The bassist let her hands roam the long back and longer legs. She caressed every inch of skin she could reach but never took her mouth away from one breast without soon placing it on the other. Nicole was soon rolling her hips in an effort to find release.

"Scoot up and grab the headboard," Laurel commanded. Nicole did as requested and stopped only when she felt breath on the area that cried most for attention. The bassist contemplated interrogating her lover during the onslaught, but believed that the past did not matter. She was a firm believer in the present and future.

Laurel tortured Nicole for a moment by doing nothing more than blowing cool air across hot skin. The photographer had lost control of her hips as they began to move without her instructions. Laurel leaned up for a taste before pulling Nicole firmly on top of her. She knew that all she would have to do was provide the friction, and the photographer would ride her way to release, but Laurel did not see the fun in such an action. Instead, she orally attacked the moist area with kisses, licks and gentle bites with her lips.

"Oh god."

"It gets better," Laurel eased her hands around and grabbed the firm cheeks willing the hips to slow. Nicole complied and Laurel rewarded her by firm caresses with hands and tongue.

"Holy Mary," Nicole exclaimed when she felt Laurel enter her. The bassist glided three fingers into the warm, inviting depths from behind while continuing to tease the hard bundle of nerves poking from its hood. "Jesus, Laurel," She held on to the headboard with all her might as the bassist picked up the rhythm. The box springs were creaking and Nicole almost slammed her head into the wall behind the bed. She would not have cared if she had, nor would she have felt the impact. All her attention was focused on a talented tongue and a strong hand.

"Come for me, baby," Laurel whispered. She was finding it difficult to breathe, but she had no worries. She could tell that her lover was close to the edge.

"I…love…you," Nicole panted the words. She was so close she could feel the edge but could not quite make it over.

"I love you too, Hotshot," Laurel felt her lover’s hesitation. "Come on, hon, let it go," She pulled the clit into her mouth and began sucking.

"Laurel!" That did it. Nicole felt her strength leave her as she made her quick trip to oblivion.

"Shh, I’m here," Laurel rolled them over and crawled up the bed to hold the photographer. "Its ok," She wiped the tears from her lover’s eyes. It still fascinated her that Nicole wept when she experienced an orgasm.

"Hold me."


part 18

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