It took Danny approximately five seconds to find her. He walked over and joined his dear friend at the customary booth. The waitress immediately brought him over a cup of coffee and a plate of toast and hash browns, his usual order.
"I wish she wouldnt do stuff like that," He complained. Most of the waitresses at Mabels thought he was cute, but only one or two were forward in their affections.
"She just wants to show you how much she likes you." Nicole laughed. "Its the price of fame."
"Damn confidentiality clause," He grimaced. "Wish I could just tell her about me. That its a lost cause and all that." Nicole sympathized. Danny was allowed to be gay, as long as his listeners did not find out about it. "As much as I like it here, sometimes it sucks to be in the buckle of the Bible belt." He went through his first cup in seconds. Nicole took that as a bad sign.
"I know what you mean. So, why did you call this meeting?"
"Thats what I like about you, Hotshot. Straight to the point." He waved the waitress over for a refill and then waited until she left again before bringing anything serious up for discussion. Nicole knew it was really serious when he cleared his throat a few times. She mentally braced herself for whatever he might say.
"You know, Hotshot, you are a very dear friend and I want nothing more than to see you happy and successful. You do know that right?" At her nod he continued. "I know you will never admit it, but I get the feeling that you are lonely."
"No, hear me out." He cut off her protest before it could start, took a sip of coffee and continued. "I dont generally butt into other peoples lives, but, honey, Im worried about you."
"Worried about me? Why?" She was honestly puzzled. Concern from others had her confused. She was a private person, and expected the same from others.
"All you do is work, sleep, play with the dog, practice the violin, and maybe eat. Sometimes, you meet us for a movie or drinks, but thats it." He paused for another sip of coffee as Nicole lit a cigarette. "Thought you quit."
"I did, but I dont want to be a quitter."
"Smartass." He shook his head. "Back to my point. Nicole, you really need to find yourself a life. And a nice girl to share it with."
"I had one of those life things once, that was enough for me." She took a few long drags off her cigarette before snubbing it out in the ashtray. "As for the other, well, Im working on it." Danny was her best friend aside from Sheryl. She trusted him like she trusted no other but Laurel and the critic. Strange that Laurel has made it to that list already.
"Really?" His ears all but perked up. "Who?"
"Laurel." At his look of nonrecognition she expounded. "The bass player for that band that won the contest about a month ago." Just the thought of the petite blonde brought a smile to her face.
"Only a month? Thats pretty fast there, Hotshot. Are you two..." He waved the waitress over again. This one did not care about either customer other than the tip they might leave. Nicole shook her head.
"Have you talked about it at least?"
"No, we met in the parking lot after the show, and then here a few days later. We talked and thats all weve done since." She shrugged and added cream to her coffee. "Well, she has been trying to teach me how to play guitar."
"But youve only known her for a few weeks?" He sounded skeptical.
"Yeah, but its different. Theres just something...."
"Maybe. More like intriguing. I want to know everything about her, and let her know everything about me. Its frightening in its intensity." She shuddered. She never thought she would be the type to want a relationship like that.
"Tell me about it. Its been so long." He sighed. "Anyway, Id like to meet her, but if you arent comfortable with that, just remember to keep me posted."
"Alright. I will. Now, whats up with you?" She was tired of talking about herself and felt a change in conversation was in order. "Those hash browns are getting cold, better eat them."
While he ate, they talked about inconsequential matters and touched on gossip within the group until both decided it was late. They dropped their tip and cash on the table and left.
It was past her normal bedtime when Nicole pulled into her driveway. She was shocked to see a motorcycle under the carport. Laurel was sitting on the steps smoking a cigarette. She looked up when the car pulled up, but did not smile.
"Whats up?" It wasnt until Nicole got out of the car that she saw the beer the blonde was drinking.
"Just a bad day. Want one?" She offered a bottle. Nicole took one and sat beside her on the steps. "How was your day?"
"Alright, I guess. Met with Danny at Mabels and drank a little coffee and basically just shot the shit." She uncapped her beer and took a long pull off it. "How come yours was so rotten?"
"Just my life I think," She finished her beer. "It has its mid points and its low points. Today just seems to be a low point." Until I came here.
"Well, I can see by the twelve pack that you plan on getting intoxicated, so, if were going to do this, we should do it right." Nicole stood up and unlocked the door. "Let me go change into something a little less business like. Would you like to come in?"
"Nah, Id just like to stare at the stars. You could let the dog out though." Nicole laughed. She had found that Laurel had a soft spot for animals. Mozart had a new friend for life. The fact that she scratched behind his ears had not impeded the bonding process either.
She let Mozart out and went inside to change. The blondes appearance on her doorstep was a welcome surprise. She was flattered that Laurel would come to her after having a bad day. She quickly changed into a pair of worn jeans and a sweatshirt before joining the depressed woman on the steps outside.
"Cmon." She led the way around behind the house to a tarp-covered vehicle.
"Whats this?" Laurels curiosity was at an all time high. She had never been behind the house, and was intrigued at the mystery the tarp provided.
"This is a Chevy. It is also the best place to see the stars." Nicole pulled the tarp off to reveal a powder blue 1967 Chevy convertible, and pulled a blanket from the back seat. "Grab an end."
The two positioned the blanket to cover the hood. Laurel was apprehensive about sitting on it, but Nicole assured her it was fine.
"This is a sweet car. When and where did you get it?" The bassist was awed.
"It was my fathers. The first car he paid for." Nicole felt the usual pang of loss when she thought about her parents. "It still runs well, has most of the original equipment, and makes the best star gazing platform." The CD player and the speakers made it less than mint, but Nicole wanted to drive it, not display it.
"Do you drive it?" She looked like she wanted to be behind the wheel.
"Yep. I dont like to drive it around here after its been raining because of the recent road construction. However sometimes its just too blasted hot to drive it during the summer." The blonde nodded her approval.
They took sides on the hood and began small talk. She was surprised that Laurel more than held up her side of the conversation with ease. The comfort level had grown between them, and the photographer reveled in it.
"What are you thinking of?"
"You have this really pensive look on your face."
"Labels." Laurel continued to stare off into space.
"Labels?" After a month or so in the younger womans company, Nicole had learned that Laurel would answer questions, but would not always volunteer personal information without prompting. So far tonight, she had been lucky, but inquisitions were not always Nicoles style. She found herself making the effort through humor to draw Laurel out of her depression.
"I assume you dont mean designer clothes," Laurel laughed and looked at her watch. Nicole had already determined it was late enough for their first deep conversation. She was wondering if now the blonde would tell her what was wrong.
"This may take a while," The young woman lit a cigarette and sat back on the hood, resting her back against the windshield. The only sound aside from their breathing was the sound of crickets chirping in the background.
"Take your time," Nicole sat back and opened another beer. She knew she should be in bed, but also knew that she wouldnt regret this in the morning. The quiet stretched and seemed to engulf them.
"Labels are like names, but they change over the years. You receive both at birth. You know, a first and last name, male or female, eye color, size, remarkable characteristics, all of it. It just strikes me as odd the way society is obsessed with labels."
"How so? I mean what do you struggle with?" Nicole knew the truth of it from her own experience, but she wanted to hear the blondes answer. She wanted to hear what made her the way she was, what shaped her personality, and what she struggled with on a day-to-day basis.
Nicole lit another cigarette, leaned back on the hood, and tried to unobtrusively observe her friends profile. The eyes were guarded, but with the blonde hair tucked behind her ears, Laurel looked like a vulnerable child. Nicole had to fight the urge to hold her.
"I, uh, cant really explain most of it. I just used to get flack from my family over how I dress, who I dated, stuff like that." She shrugged. "I just dont fit their labels. I dont fit the labels my friends do, and Im not the conventional history major/wanna be law student."
"But that can be good. Use it to your advantage."
"Let them underestimate you and you win," She took another sip of beer. "Besides, it doesnt pay to be what people expect."
"Yeah, youre right. Its just not all that easy to deal with on a day-to-day basis." She waited a minute before continuing. "I guess the day was bad because I had another screaming match with my mother this afternoon. It was bad enough that I tanked a pop quiz, but to have to deal with that too. It was just enough to give me grey hair." She calls once in over two years, and its to scream at me.
Nicole judged that it was not the proper time to delve into the parent/child relationship. So, she decided to change the subject.
"Grey?" She tousled her companions hair. "I dont see any grey in there. So do you wash it right out of your hair?"
"Ugh, that was corny. Stay a photographer, Nicole." Laurel smiled and swatted the other womans hand away.
"It got you to smile though."
"That wasnt a smile, it was a grimace." She reached down and pulled up two more beers. "Want one?"
Nicole took it after realizing the one she had was empty. She was pleased that she made her friend laugh. Although even she had to admit that it was a bad joke. They fell silent, just enjoying the companionship and the stars over head.
Nicole looked at her watch through blurry eyes. It was 3 am. The two women had downed enough beer that they were just making idle conversation.
"So, anyway, Im in that bathroom in Ihop when it suddenly hits me that there could be a camera back there. You know, behind the mirror. Some enterprising college student could be piping this stuff over the internet."
"So, what did you do?" Laurel had developed a severe case of the giggles. She was laughing so hard her sides hurt and she could be barely get the words out. She felt high, yet grounded at the same time. It was an odd sensation, but she knew she could get used to it quickly. She also knew it was not just from the beer.
"Held it, left my friends there after making some lame excuse and drove home," Nicole was trying hard not to giggle.
"Didja get pulled over?"
"No, thank some higher power I didnt," She wiped tears from her eyes.
"I could just see that too," The history major affected a deeper tone. "Excuse me, maam, can I see your license? Wanna tell me why you were passing cars on the sidewalk?" At this point, Nicole had free flowing tears down her cheeks. "But officer, its an urinary emergency. I hafta find a bathroom without spy cameras."
"Really, maam, can you step out of the car please?" Nicole continued the mock conversation. "Theyd have locked me up for a long time with that one."
"True. Very, very true." Laurel said with a certainty that only alcohol could sometimes provide. "Course that would have been a bad thing."
"What would have?" Nicole was slightly confused.
"You being put away, I think." Laurel was losing track of the conversation herself. "Then youd have not been at the conshert. Thatd have been a bad thing."
"Ahuh. I think weve had enough. Wanna spend the night?" Laurel wasnt that drunk, and practically slid off the car. "Relax, you can have the couch in the studio." Nicole staggered to a semi-standing position. "Cmon."
The two managed to bumble their way into the house. Nicole, slightly unsteady, assisted her companion into the spare room and to the couch there. Laurel collapsed on to it and curled up on her side. Nicole grabbed the blanket that was folded on the back of the sofa and covered the young woman with it. She watched her sleep for a few minutes, before heading to the master bedroom. She never remembered lying down.
The next morning, Laurel woke up with a slight headache and the urgent need to brush her teeth. She found her way into the bathroom that separated the two bedrooms and began searching for anything she could find to remove the feeling of cotton in her mouth. She managed to locate a bottle of mouthwash, but failed to find a toothbrush.
I could....no...thats too disgusting. The bassist thought to herself as she regarded the lone toothbrush in the rack by the sink. I can make it home. Firming her resolve, Laurel put the mouthwash to good use and then went out into the main room.
Mozart padded over to see her, happy that someone was home in his beloved masters absence. She grabbed his leash, not knowing if he would try to run off on her, and took him outside. Laurel sat down on the front porch and fished out her last remaining cigarette and lit it. The dog sat down beside her, content to be with his second favorite person.
"You know, Mozart," He looked up at his name. "I really like it here. I really like your master too, but you cant tell her ok?" She leaned closer to him, and he responded by licking her nose. It made her laugh. "I wonder why she doesnt call you something else. Like Mo. You like that?"
Mozart lie down on the porch and put his head on his paws.
"Ill take that as a no," She finished the cigarette in silence, then stood up to stretch. Surprisingly, she did not have a hangover. "Lets go back inside and get you settled in. I have to get home."
She let the dog back in the house and then closed the door, locking it in the process. She found her helmet lying on the ground by the motorcycle and brushed it off before putting it on. She would have liked to stay until Nicole was home from work, but she had class that afternoon. Besides, she did not want to overstay her welcome.
The ride home was forgettable. She was still in a half daze all the way back. She did notice that while BJ was gone, Mandy had yet to leave for work. She sighed and cut the engine, ignoring the cats that thought all humans meant food. The door opened before she had gotten very far, and by the look on her friends face, Laurel knew that Mandy was not going to follow the rules for sensitive chats.
Mandy had the good sense to wait until after Laurel had taken a shower before plying her with questions. However, when the bassist appeared from her bathroom in semi-clean clothes, she could not hold back any longer.
"Where were you?"
"Nicoles," Laurel decided she would answer all of Mandys questions, but she would not guarantee the length of the answer.
"Did you two...um...." The redhead searched for a way to ask delicately.
"No, we just got drunk, talked and I slept on the couch in her studio." Laurel barely remembered going to sleep. Matter of fact, she barely remembered getting back into the house. All she knew was that she had wakened up fully clothed, on a couch, and covered with an Aztec printed blanket.
"Have you told her?" Mandy was getting irritated. Laurel was being more difficult than usual to get information from. She felt like the bassist was treating her as anyone other than herself. Like a stranger, an outsider. Mandy did not like that feeling.
"Told her what? Ive told her that shes a good musician. She knows who I am related to, and she knows I am a student. Thats all that I am, and thats all that Ive said."
"What is your problem? You are treating me like you treat everyone else. Why keep me at arms distance?" Mandy was truly baffled. She had seen Laurel through too much to suddenly be treated like BJ, polite but indifferent to anything not surface related.
"Jealous?" Laurel herself did not know what her problem was, yet she could not stop herself from being irritable. Somehow a feeling of despair had settled on her after she had gotten home. She could not stop herself, and that made her angry.
"Of what? You know me better than that, Laurel Anne Kendrick. I will not stand in your way for anything." The redhead was close to tears.
"Mandy, Im sorry. Really I am. I have no idea where that came from." Laurel shook her head then sat down heavily on the sofa. "All I know is its getting frustrating. I want her so much and I havent told her. Im scared to end it, and Im scared to start it. That is, assuming there is an it to start or finish."
"Oh, honey," Immediately, Mandy was on the couch beside her. She wrapped her arm around her friends shoulder and offered the only comfort she had to give. Her friendship.
"How can something so glorious feel so horrible?" The blonde asked. "I think, no I know Im falling in love with her. I just dont know what to do about it. I cant risk losing her friendship, but I am so not content with just that." She wiped a tear from her eye. "And then to top it all off, my mother called me last night to scream at me. Apparently someone finally told her I was off probation." She hung her head, and Mandy moved closer.
"And what happened?" Mandy wrapped both arms around her young friend. Adding her physical comfort to her emotional support.
"She went off on how bad a person I am, how Ill never amount to anything. How Jon would have been disappointed in me. All the same old shit." She tried to shrug it off, to pretend it did not matter.
"Laurel, you are a special person. You deserve happiness. Jon would be proud of you. I am."
"Are you?" Laurel could not believe it. Oh, she knew Mandy supported her, but she never really thought her friend would be proud of her.
"You got in a bad spot, and you got yourself out of it. You never let that affect your grades, you still go to school, and youre passing everything. You are also a very talented musician. Whats not to be proud of?" Mandy let her go. "Now Im sure there is another person out there who will tell you the same."
"Nicole. Laurel, she adores you. I can see it in her face when she looks at you. Talk to her, Laurel. Youll see. Now I have to get ready for work, and you have class. Ill see you tonight." She leaned over and kissed the top of Laurels head.
Laurel just sat on the couch for a few minutes and stared into space. Slowly, the pieces of her heart were coming back together. All she could do at the moment was watch.
The mall was mostly deserted, which was not that unusual for a Wednesday afternoon. Sheryl and Nicole were at the food court trying to decide on lunch. Finally, each chose their food, received their orders, and found seats.
"So, what is it were here for again?" Nicole started picking peppers off her sandwich.
"Do you have to do that?" Sheryl carefully applied the dressing to her salad.
"Im using a fork, not my fingers," Sheryl was from a large, old-fashioned Southern family. As a result, she had impeccable manners, and attempted on occasion to instill them into her close friends.
"If you did that at my grandmothers table..."
"Were not at your grandmothers table, and I hate peppers. You know this. So, what are we here for again?"
"I need a present for a baby shower. One of my cousins is pregnant again." She sounded exasperated.
"Are you going to the shower?"
"God, no," She grimaced. "I have better ways of wasting my time. Besides it seems pointless to have a shower when you already have four kids."
"You could get them a box of condoms," Nicole suggested. Sheryl looked amused.
"No," The critic answered. "Much as Id like to. Theyre Catholic, just like the rest of them. That would be a major affront." For all her manners, Sheryl was the rebel, the black sheep of her family. She, like her friends, had a career, refused to move home, was unmarried, and had no children. Her relatives ignored that she was only 25. Most of them had been married or promised to another right after high school. Nicole knew that her friends family gave her as hard a time as the photographers own relatives. They had often escaped the traumas of adolescence together, or with the group they had hung out with.
"They do claim to practice some sort of birth control."
"What, Vatican roulette?" Nicole finished the rest of her meal. "You know what they call people who do that right?"
"Yeah, mom and dad." They laughed. "Are you ready?"
"Sure," They cleaned the table and left the food court. "Where do you want to start?"
"How about the candle store?" Nicole let Sheryl lead the way. She was content to look in the windows and not think of anything.
"So, how are the guitar lessons going?" Sheryl would choose that topic for conversation.
"Great. I can now play Tom Dooley," Nicole answered absently. She wondered if Laurel had slept well, since she had to be at work before the young woman had gotten up.
"Thats great. Is that all Laurel is teaching you?" She asked archly. The critic was nothing was if not blunt. It made her an asset to the paper, but sometimes a liability to her friends. Danny and Nicole were the only ones that constantly overlooked it and gave their well-meaning friend a break.
"Yes, that is all she is teaching me." Well that and patience, restraint, self-control...but Sheryl doesnt need to know that.
"Sorry, had to ask. Do you like her?" Nicole nodded. "Are you attracted to her?"
"Um..." The question, though expected, still caught the photographer off guard. Nicole was apprehensive about discussing her feeling for the enigmatic bassist. It was as if she was scared to admit the attraction was more than that. That it was real.
"Can I take that as a yes?" She asked after the silence went on too long.
"Yes, I am attracted to her," Nicole decided to be honest with her friend. More than attracted. She finally admitted to herself.
"Have you talked to her about it?"
"Did you talk to Danny?" Nicole had the sinking feeling her friends were conspiring against her.
"A little. So, have you?" Sheryl persisted. "Well, heres the store. You are momentarily saved, although I do expect a full answer." She grinned at the crestfallen look on her friends face. "Now, lets find something decent and cheap."
"Alright," Nicoles heart sank when she realized who the clerk was in the store.
"Nicole! How are you?" Mandy practically bounced around the counter to hug the photographer. After her conversation with Laurel that morning, Mandy was eager to probe Nicoles feelings for her friend.
"Great, I think. How are you?" Mandy smiled and then gave Sheryl a questioning look. "Oh, sorry. Mandy, this is Sheryl, an old friend. Sheryl, Mandy, Laurels roommate." The two women shook hands. Then Nicole was surprised by a stinging swat to her arm. She looked to her friend in question.
"Who are you calling old, there Hotshot?" Sheryl laughed. "Its nice to meet you, Mandy."
"You, too. Is there something I can help you with?" Mandy was pleased to see her roommates new friend, but discouraged by the critics presence. She had several questions for the photographer, but was prudent enough to know that work was not the place to start an Inquisition. She would have to wait until she could get Nicole alone.
"As a matter of fact, Sheryl needs a present for a baby shower."
"Really, first child?"
"Nope, fifth." Both women laughed at the exasperated look on Mandys face.
"Well, then. Anything particular you have in mind?" The critic shrugged. "Ok, price range?"
"Cheap." Sheryl did not like that particular cousin anyway.
Mandy lead her to a corner of the store devoted to such objects as suitable for baby showers. Nicole was left to entertain herself. Her attention was captured and held by a majestic, enormous candle statue of a Chinese dragon. She was tempted to buy it, but it was well out of her current price range. Disappointed, she joined Sheryl and Mandy in the baby shower area. The critic was concentrating on color choice for a birthday candle. Mandy, however, had been discreetly watching Nicoles enrapturement with the dragon.
"Go for green or blue," The photographer suggested.
"But what if its a girl?"
"Is there a law that says girls must have pink stuff?" She retorted. "I, for one, hate pink."
"Figures," She replied under her breath, although she also hated the color. "Ill take the green one."
Mandy went into the back room and returned with one in a box. "Do you need this gift wrapped?"
"Sure," Nicole left her friend to pay for the purchase and wandered back to the front of the store. Back to the dragon. That would look great on the mantel.
"Cool dragon. You going to buy it?" Sheryl appeared at her elbow with the package in hand.
"Nah, Id be tempted to burn it. Where to now?" She noticed the mischievous grin on her friends face, but reasoned that Mandy must have given the critic a discount.
"Excuse me? Theres a store called underwear?" She had not been expecting that answer.
"No, silly, that is what I intend to buy. Therefore we need to find a store that sells it."
"Alright. Lilys, here we come."
The two walked at a leisurely pace. Nicole thought that her friend had forgotten about their previous discussion and went back to window browsing. She was wrong.
"Well?" Sheryl asked as they entered the lingerie shop.
"Well, what? Its a store that sell underwear."
"Have you talked to her?"
"The object of your fantasies?" Sheryl was becoming irritated. Sometimes, Nicole was not the easiest person to get to talk.
"She might be straight, you know." She thought back to the conversations the two had had on labels. While meant to enlighten, they had confused the photographer more. Now, she refused to even try to make assumptions about her new friend.
"Oh, really. And you know this how? One of those physic hot line things? Have you got that infomercial lady tied up in your basement?" Nicole was trying to hide her genuine curiosity under sarcasm. Fortunately, Sheryl was used to it, and saw through it easily.
"Rumors mostly, and no I am not sharing. Besides, I went out with the drummer remember, who just happens to be the third roommate." Sheryl smiled at the memory. "And, furthermore, with some people you can just tell."
"Thats a little judgmental."
"Honey, I am a critic. That is what I do."
"I knew I kept you around for a reason," The photographer joked. "I sure as hell cant tell. May need the gaydar realigned."
"I think you need to get laid first," She held up a pair of leopard print thongs. "What do you think?" She loved making her friend turn red.
"I think I really didnt need the mental image of you in those."
"Now, Im disappointed," The critic joked. The two had been friends since their freshman year in high school, they enjoyed a comfortable relationship. Each was content with the banter and was aware that nothing more than sisterly affection could or would ever be there between them. It was enough for both of them.
"Speaking of laid," She paused to let a mother and daughter go by.
"Propositioning me? In public?" Nicole played her part.
"No, Hotshot. The changing room is more my speed." She paused for effect. "Seriously, when was the last time for you?" She thought she knew the answer but wanted to be certain. She was not surprised.
"Two years or so ago. Why?" Nicole was perplexed by the sudden change in topic. I know she knew about that. Whats the big deal?
"Just thought that might be part of your problem. Frustration makes the brain freeze." She wiggled her eyebrows. "Course you could always get to know yourself better, take matters into your own hands so to speak"
"Sheryl," I cant believe we are having this conversation in public. In a public lingerie shop, She amended.
"Dont act shocked. Everyone does it." Sheryl was amused at her friends discomfort.
"I dont," That was true. The tall, dark photographer was very good at denying herself certain things.
"Honey, a glass of wine, candle light, soft music and a bubble bath will always cure what ails you."
"Ill take that under advisement," She said dryly. Although, now her mind was stuck on images of Laurel immersed in her bathtub.
"Earth to Nicole, do you read me?" Sheryl was waving a bra in front of her friends eyes. Nicole grabbed her hand and forced it down.
"Youre in a mood today. What happened?" She placed the bra back on the rack.
"Hey, I was going to buy that," The critic retrieved her selection. "Nothing much. Just tired of the whole question thing: When are you getting married, having kids, emigrating to Mars, etc., etc."
"I know what you mean," Nicole laughed. She looked at her watch. "Oops, Ive got to get back to the grind."
"Then go on, Hotshot. I think I can manage choosing my own underwear. I am a big girl after all." She kissed her friends cheek and pushed her to the door, setting off the alarm in the process.
"I get the hint. No use of calling the firing squad out on me. Ill catch up with you later." Nicole squared her shoulders and mentally prepared herself for another turn at the grindstone.
For the rest of the day, Nicole had been thinking about her friends advice, and who had slept on her couch last night. The two together had made her more than uncomfortable throughout the afternoon. It was with a slight sense of trepidation that she stopped by the liquor store on the way home.
After letting herself in, and the dog out, she put her newly acquired bottle of chardonnay in the refrigerator to cool down. She listened to her messages, ignoring the one from her grandmother soliciting her for a visit during the month, and making a mental note to pick up the book she had ordered since it was recently delivered to the bookstore.
She let Mozart back inside before preparing dinner. Though she settled on reheating leftovers instead of making the pasta she had wanted. The movie she had picked to watch failed to keep her interest, and she noticed a restless anticipation begin within her. Even the candles she had lit before dinner failed to soothe her.
Deciding that the wine was cool enough, she poured herself a glass. Gathering up her resolve, she ran the bath water, added the bubble bath, sat the glass by the edge, and left to select a book to read. She placed a disc of Chopins Nocturnes in the CD player by her bed, and turned it up before disrobing and entering the bathroom again.
She never knew that she was being watched.
For most of the day, Laurel had been thinking about her friends advice. She had finally decided to lay it all on the line and tell Nicole how she felt.
Or at least, She thought, about me.
It was that decision that tore her away from her books and the couch. She left without saying a word to anyone. She felt compelled to seek out the photographer immediately, and left the trailer to do just that.
Laurel had pulled into the driveway to find the house dark. She assumed that since Nicoles car was in the driveway that her friend was home. She looked around the back of the house and saw that the Malibu was also there, indicating that Nicole was somewhere within her house.
Curious, Laurel walked back to the front door. She heard classical music playing from inside, and noticed the flickering of candles through the curtains. Even more intrigued, and slightly nervous, she crept along the back of the house to investigate. The young blonde was fighting and losing a battle with herself over the morality of voyeurism.
You know, Lakky, you really shouldnt be doing this. But despite her mental arguments, she stopped under the bedroom window. You are sinking to a new low, my friend.
She stretched up to the window just in time to see a very naked Nicole walk through the room and enter the bathroom. The sight held her speechless.
Oh, my god. She had to remind herself to breath, while her hormones were blocking the airflow to her brain. Other parts, however, got more than their fair share.
"Hello, nurse," She whispered. Breath, Laurel, breathe. Shes probably just taking a bath. People do that all the time. Theres nothing wrong with that. Chill. But I want to be in there with her.
Since she had gone this far, the young woman felt compelled to finish her mission. She was beyond fascinated, beyond embarrassed, beyond chastising herself. She was compelled by something other than reason: pure lust.
She walked to the next window, and boosted herself up a bit. Nicole was lying back in the tub. Her eyes were closed, and there was a book perched unopened on one of the sides. Her right shoulder showed signs of movement, although Laurel could not see the hand beneath the water. She did not need to either. The look on Nicoles face gave more than a clue as to what the older woman was doing.
The image of Nicole in rapture burned itself on her brain. Her own arousal kicked in full force, and made her more uncomfortable than ever before. Now she was really in a quandary. She could join the photographer against the pain of embarrassment, leave or go back to the steps and wait outside like always. She knew that waiting might kill her, joining Nicole might kill her, and leaving most definitely would. She opted to stay.
Silently, she snuck back around to the front of the house. Sitting on the steps, she lit a cigarette and forced herself to calm down. After reciting the preamble to the Constitution, naming all the presidents twice, backwards, repeating the Bill of Rights, and chain smoking three cigarettes, she was calm enough to knock on the door.
Before she could knock, the door opened. She almost hit Nicole on the head with her fist. The photographer was wearing a fluffy green robe, and look relaxed. Some of the tension around her eyes that Laurel took for granted was gone.
"Oh, sorry. I didnt know you were out here." Nicole was feeling a little awkward. The object of her fantasies in the bathtub was standing on her porch. Shit, now what?
"No, Im the one that should be sorry," For more than you know. Clearing her thought she added, "Am I interrupting anything?"
"No, I was just letting the dog out and about to smoke a cigarette. Care to join me?" Nicole closed the door behind her and took a seat in the rocker.
"Sure," Although she had just put one out, the blonde lit a cigarette, once again lighting Nicoles as well. The maneuver allowed Laurel to see that her friend was just wearing the robe.
"So, what brings you here?" The photographer tried to affect a casual air.
"I, ah, just stopped by to see you, if you wanted to rehearse that song we were working on a few days ago."
"Maybe not tonight. Im not up to rehearsing." Nicole smiled inwardly at her friends Freudian slip. "Hey, Im glad youre here. Theres going to be a small foreign film festival at the old theatre next Saturday. Would you like to go?"
"Uh, sure. I dont think I have plans." Laurel was still reeling from her vocal mistake. She only hoped that Nicole had not noticed.
"So, you want to come in and watch a movie?"
"Sure," The blonde readily agreed. "What do are you planning on watching?"
"Well, Im not sure." She laughed. "I can let you look through the library and pick something while I change into something a little less drafty."
"Sounds good to me. Any requests?" Laurel was starting to feel more at ease, and was glad she had made the trip. Well, Im as relaxed as I can be after seeing that.
"Um, no, not really. Ill watch just about anything."
It was a few days after Laurels brush with voyeurism when she realized why she had been acting so strange. She had the feeling that Mandy knew, but the redhead was not the type to reopen wounds. Especially wounds of this type.
When she finally remembered the date, the bassist did something rare for her, she skipped all her classes and drove south. She stayed in town long enough to fill up the truck, buy two packs of cigarettes and something to drink for the ride. She did not tell anyone where she was going. It was a private excursion.
The cemetery was deserted when the old truck pulled onto the gravel road. Laurel had to think back to her last visit before she remembered the right way. She stopped the truck and got out, walking silently and reverently to her brothers grave.
The granite tombstone bore his name, a cross, the dates of his birth and death, and an epitaph. "Beloved son and companion" summed up his life on this planet. There was no mention of his accomplishments on or off the basketball court, his skill with a guitar, how he died, why he died, his loves, nor was there mention of his little sister. And how much she missed him.
Laurel took her baseball cap off and sat down at the foot of his grave. She let the memories of his funeral and the fights with her parents through that time wash over her. She remembered the last time she had visited him, too. The time right after she was arrested. The worst parts of her life.
"Hey, Jon. Its me, Lakky. I miss you. I just thought Id come down here and talk to you for a bit. I dont know if you can see me, or even hear me. But I thought youd want to know that life is better than it was the last time I saw you here."
"Ive made a new friend. Her name is Nicole. I think you might know her. Shes a photographer and she went to college with you. Shes really great, Jon. Shes taller than I am, has these incredible legs, and kinda dark brownish hair, but the best part.... Those lips, my god, bro, they look so soft and kissable." She started laughing. "Sorry, man I didnt mean to come here and sound like a lovesick teenager. Well, I do believe that I am in love with her."
"Now that was a shock. Guess if you were here, youd either be laughing or feigning a heart attack. At least though youd be happy for me." She reached up to brush a tear from her eyes. "Oh, bro, why arent you here? I miss you so much. I still needed you. Mom called to bitch me out. I told you about my probation. I still dont know how that happened. I should still be in jail, but somehow the judge let me off lighter than I should have been. Anyway, Mom called to tell me how she wished we could trade places because you never would have been busted."
"I didnt know what to do after I got off the phone with her. I got on the bike and drove to Nicoles. Just being in her presence makes me feel better. Damn it Jon, now I know what Mandy meant to you, and you arent here to share it with me."
Laurel moved around the grave and sat by the headstone. She got the pack of cigarettes from her pocket and lit one. She let the anger at her brother dissolve as she exhaled the grey smoke. She never had been able to stay mad at him for long.
She stayed there, content to just sit at the graveside of her brother and watch the sky. In a way, it reminded her of the times the two of them would go sailing or fishing. She could almost feel him beside her. It was as if he were a tangible presence sitting there adding his support as he had many times in life.
The son rose to its zenith before Laurel realized she was hungry. With a lighter heart, she patted the tombstone and stood up.
"Goodbye, Jon. Ill be back soon, maybe next time Ill bring a visitor with me. I love you, bro. Happy Birthday. See ya soon."
She walked back to her truck and drove off after one last look back. In her rearview mirror, she noticed her fathers car. Silently debating, she decided to go home without letting anyone know she had been there. The dark figure in the car that pulled into the same space she had just vacated never saw her.
Somethings in life just happened. There was no getting around it, no way to avoid it. Obstacles could and would attack when least expected. That was a great mystery of life. One of the original lessons everyone learned the hard way.
It was with a feeling of despondency that Nicole drove home. No matter how many times she had been disappointed, or made to feel loss, she still was not accustomed to it.
Once she pulled into the driveway, she half expected to see Laurel sitting on the steps. Instead the house and porch were dark. She stopped the car and went inside. Letting Mozart out was a forgettable experience, but the poor creature did as instructed and made his mess in the yard.
Feeling somewhat battered by the bad news of the day, the photographer made a decision. She called the dog to her, grabbed the seldom-used key chain off the hook by the door, locked up and then went around behind the house. She took the tarp off of her fathers car and let the top down. Mozart did not need instruction as the big dog leapt into the backseat.
As she piloted the steel car out of the yard and onto the road, Nicole never thought about what she was doing. Had she thought for a second that this boarded on spontaneous behavior, she may well have stopped. As it was, for the first time that day, Nicole felt free. Mozart did too.
Laurel was sitting on the couch idly flipping through the channels on the TV and ignoring the history book on her lap, when she saw lights reflecting on the wall across from her. She thought for a moment that it could have been BJ or Mandy, but the knock at the door changed her mind.
At that cue, the dogs began barking, running back and forth from the door to the couch. They were helpfully trying to make sure that Laurel did not miss the tentative knock that followed shortly after the sound of a car door slamming shut.
Laurel opened the door to see a very agitated looking photographer. Nicoles tall frame was blocking the view beyond the steps.
"Now this is a surprise," The blonde smiled and waved her friend inside. "Whats up?"
"Well, I was kinda hoping youd wanna go for a ride," Nicole moved out of the way so Laurel could see the convertible still running in the driveway.
"Sure, just let me get my jacket."
Nicole opted to stay outside, climbing back into the car and waiting. Laurel was out in minutes, locking the door and jumping inside the car without opening the passengers side. She leaned over the front seat and scratched Mozarts ears.
"Hey, buddy. You having fun?" She laughed at his attempt to get her other hand in the action as well. She turned to Nicole and settled in. "Hope you dont mind, but Ive always wanted to try that, the jumping in front thing that is"
"Sok...it was one of my favorite shows too." Nicole answered in a voice just loud enough to be heard over the wind and the radio.
"So, where are we going?" Laurel had seen that look before, on faces other than Nicoles, and she knew that whatever had put it there was earth shattering. It concerned her that her friends world had been just turned upside down, and she had no idea what had caused the disruption.
"Believe it or not I have no idea."
"Um, ok," Laurel decided to risk a suggestion. "You look like you wanna talk, so how bout somewhere around water? It always makes me feel better."
"Sounds good," Nicole turned the radio up against the wind noise, and as a subtle cue that she was not quite ready to talk yet.
The three of them drove south on a darkened highway. One not thinking about anything, another watching the stars and wondering what was wrong, and the third was pretending he was flying. Mozart loved the convertible.
An hour and a half later, Nicole swung the convertible off of the highway and on to a narrow ledge on the right hand side. The ledge was beach parking, and she had finally found an uninhabited stretch of sea and sand. This time, Laurel opened her car door and held the seat back so Mozart could get out after she had.
The two humans walked down the stretch a bit before sitting by mutual consent on the seawall not too far from the car. Mozart went off in search of sand crabs and other nocturnal beach residents.
"So, whats up?" The blonde asked for the second time that evening.
"Well, I got some astounding news at work today," Nicoles voice was full of bitter sarcasm. Laurel felt her eyebrows rise in response to the tone.
"And?" She prompted after the photographers silence had seemed too long.
"Doug is closing the store. He wants to retire, and doesnt want to sell out. So hes closing us down. The day after Thanksgiving in fact, is our last day of employment."
"What? Why? I mean the man must make a fortune. He sells music and equipment that no one else around town does. What are you going to do?"
"He says the competition has gotten to be too much." She let out a bitter laugh. "So, if you want any good CDs, hes marking them down each week until they are gone. For the customers anyway, we still get them at cost."
"What are you going to do now?" The blonde was genuinely curious about her friends fate.
"I have no idea, but I guess something will come up," Nicole shrugged the question and all it entailed off for the moment.
"You know, thats something Ive never understood," Laurel had gone into pensive mode at the news.
"What that Doug was nicer to his customers than he was to his employees?"
"No, well, aside from that. Ive shopped there off and on for two years, but cant remember meeting you until that night after the concert."
"You know, I wondered about that a while ago myself." Nicole turned from watching the beach so she could face her companion.
"And what did you come up with o wise one?"
"That you cant question the whims of fate sometimes. It gives you a major headache." All ready Nicole was feeling better. The stress of the day seemed easier to deal with now that she had talked about it with someone.
"Well, you know, a walk on the beach with a good friend is supposed to be a good antidote to headaches, or so Ive been told," Laurel stood up and dusted off her pants before reaching down and helping Nicole off the seawall.
The two walked in silence until the lights playing on the water drew Nicoles curiosity.
"What are those lights out there? Ships?" She asked her companion.
"No, those are shrimp boats. Generally they arent out so far anymore. The shrimp are slowly dying, so they petitioned the local councils and got permission to come in closer." The blonde pointed at a larger vessel in the distance. "Thats a banana boat. They come in and dock close to here. Whenever theres a large shipment, you can get a bunch of bananas cheap at any local grocery store."
"Thats right, you are from around here arent you?" Nicole stopped and looked out over the water. The clouds around the moon made it look like a melancholy sight, but the photographer felt anything but melancholy at the moment.
"Yeah I guess you could say that. I was born a city over from here," Laurel did not need to say anything further. Both of them knew that her parents still lived in the same house the bassist grew up in, and that she was not welcome in that house any longer.
"You know, Im getting kinda hungry. You?" Nicole was seriously questioning the intelligence of being on a deserted beach at night with Laurel.
"Yeah, a bit. We cant take Mozart into any of the restaurants though. Well, unless you want to pretend hes your seeing-eye dog."
"Well, its your town, what do you want to do?"
"Guess theres always a drive through and then home. Or we could go get something and come back here to the beach." Laurel started to head back to the car.
"How about the food and home. Im getting tired too. And I still have to open the blasted store tomorrow." Nicole felt herself sink back into a morose mood.
"No problem. Ill drive, you can sleep after youre done eating." Laurel grinned. She had been waiting for the opportunity to drive the convertible.
"Wow, brains and a sense of humor. Are you sure you are a history major?" Nicole teased.
"I get that a lot. I guess only photographers are allowed to be funny," Laurel stuck her tongue out at Nicole. "Race you to the car."
Nicole struggled to catch up. Running in sand is not the easiest thing to do. She did manage to close the gap by a few feet until Mozart overtook them both. He was in the car before they managed to get to the seawall.
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