Laurel unlocked the door to the trailer and let the dogs outside. She had decided to stay the night at her home instead of Nicole’s for several reasons. Those reasons had seemed like good ones until she had returned to an empty trailer. Mandy and BJ were either still at work or out with friends, and Laurel found herself with nothing to do. Already she had let herself become accustomed to the photographer’s presence. However, she thought that distance would be good for them, and Laurel had no desire to move from what had been her home for so long.

The dogs were barking so Laurel let them back into the trailer. She left them in the living area and decided to use this time alone to practice. She had an idea for another song. It had always seemed an intriguing idea to blend a bit of Delta Blues and River Jazz. After all, she was from Mississippi, the birthplace of Blues, and Nicole was from the birthplace of Jazz. She privately thought that the two meshed nicely together. It was recreating it in music that was giving her a problem.

Knowing that the lyrics would come later, Laurel got out her fourtrack recording system and hooked her brother’s guitar to it. She wanted to at least record her efforts. Listening to it later might give her more insight into how she wanted the song to go. She settled back against the wall, sitting across her bed and began to play. The melody came effortlessly.

"Wow, that sounds really good," BJ had been drawn by the sounds of the lonely guitar melody.

"Yeah, mind if we join you?" Sam peeked around from behind him.

"That’d be great. I’m trying to write a song that blends a little Mississippi blues and a little New Orleans jazz together."

"Great, let me go get my guitar," Laurel had almost forgotten that Sam was the lead guitarist for Coin-op.

"Come on Lakky, let’s go to my room and we can have a complete jam session," BJ’s room was larger than hers since he kept a full drum set in there. Of course, this meant that the only furniture the man had was a bed, but it never seemed to bother him.

"Great," She grabbed her bass and unhooked the fourtrack.

Sam met them in BJ’s room. Laurel helped her set up her amp and then set up her own. Before too long, the three of them were improvising the basics for the song she had in mind. Sam began by echoing what she had heard Laurel play and then adding her own flourish to it. BJ kept a steady beat before giving over to his creative urges and imitating his musical heroes. Laurel kept the rhythm steady, but alternated it between the two musical genres. She wished for a moment that she had access to a stand up bass, but that was kept at the school. She did not own one.

The three of them gave themselves over to the music. They only stopped when something sounded so right they had to play it again. Before too long, Laurel had a good start on her song. She also had two willing participants for future jam sessions. They had played remarkably well together. The bassist was astounded. Not many people could have a pick up jam session and enjoy it, much less have something good come from it.

"Are you three finally finished?" Mandy called during one of the pauses.

"Yeah, I guess," Laurel called back. "Thanks guys. I couldn’t have written this without you. Now comes the hard part though."

"Transcribing it?" Sam laughed. "I always hate that part, too."

"Dinner is ready," Mandy called again. The three went to join her at the table. "So, who one the game?"

"We did," Laurel replied with a large grin. She had managed to see the last four minutes of the game.

"Did you see that great play in the last few minutes of the second quarter?" BJ asked eagerly.

"Um, no. I missed that one," Laurel could feel her face growing warm. She was rarely embarrassed by anything, but the thoughts of what she had been doing at that moment were enough to make her want to return to Nicole’s house.

"Wow, it must really be love," Mandy commented. "I’ve never known you to miss a game for anyone."

"Well, I did see part of it," Laurel admitted. "The last few minutes were very exciting."

"Hey, we don’t need to hear that," BJ put his hands over his ears.

"I meant in the game, idiot," Laurel smiled to keep the words from stinging. "I can’t believe we won in the last minute and a half."

"We excel at that," BJ rolled his eyes. "Watching that team is like having a cardiovascular work out. Its good for the heart to have it worked so strenuously."

"True, I wonder if anyone’s ever had a heart attack while watching a football game?" Sam asked. She was studying to be a nurse and such statistics fascinated her.

"It would be interesting to find out," Laurel reached for another helping of mashed potatoes. "So, what’s the plan for Halloween?"

"The same as it is every year, binky," BJ laughed. "Isn’t it?"

"Yes, dinner here at 6:00 and then candy duty. You know we don’t celebrate Halloween like normal people," Mandy was looking at her friend curiously.

"I knew that much, but I was invited out to celebrate Sheryl’s birthday. Thought I could go after the feast," Laurel had to keep from asking permission.

"Well, that is up to you," Mandy shrugged. "BJ and I can do the candy thing if you wish."

"I’ll help, our band doesn’t work on Halloween either, but we do have a party to work that Saturday," Sam was eager to spend more time with the little family.

"What party?" Laurel asked.

"Some Halloween birthday party here in town. Some guy named Greg who has been chasing me non stop for months asked us to do it."

"Ah, ok, I’ll be there," Laurel was slightly upset that her band had not been asked to perform. "That’s Sheryl’s party."

"Why weren’t we asked to play it then?" BJ wondered. "Though your band is great," He said quickly so he would not offend his girlfriend.

"We aren’t half as good as you are though," Sam said modestly. "You have more talented people than we do."

"That’s not true," BJ protested. "I think you are very talented."

"So do I," Laurel was quick to agree even though she had not listened to them during the contest at the Eagle. She never could listen to her competition. It did not make her nervous, but it did not put her in the proper frame of mind for performing either.

"That was good as usual, Mandy," Sam cleared her plate of food. "BJ and I’ll do dishes."

"Thanks," Laurel grinned in relief. It was her turn in the rotation. She cleaned off her plate and sat it in the sink before Mandy could protest. "Well, I have homework to do. See ya’ll in the morning."

"Night, Lakky," They called out behind her. Laurel thought it felt good to be home.

Laurel made sure all the pieces parts for her costume were in her bag. She had been so busy with school and Nicole had been so busy with her new job that they had not been able to see much of one another during the week. They had solved the costume question over the phone and then discussed it farther when they met at Mabel’s Wednesday for coffee. Laurel hoped that their schedules would allow them more time together. As it was, they had only spent one night together, though they did have all weekend to get reacquainted.

The old truck sputtered a little as she started it. Laurel made a mental note to have it checked out after the weekend. However, it drove well and she made it to Nicole’s with out any problems. The photographer was partially dressed in her costume and sitting on the front porch waiting. The bassist almost decided to skip the party.

"Hey, are you wearing the robe to the party?" Laurel teased as she stepped out of the truck. "Hi, Mozart," She scratched the big dog behind the ears when he put his paws on her shoulders. She had missed him as well.

"No, though it is tempting. You need to change quickly or we’re going to be late."

"Ok, I can do that, though are you sure you want to go to this?" Laurel wrapped her arms around her lover after she tossed her bag onto the porch.

"We have to, though I am tempted to stay here with you, I’ve missed you this week," Nicole leaned back into Laurel’s arms.

"And I’ve missed you too," The bassist nuzzled the long neck before her. "I should get dressed if we’re going to make it to the party." She reluctantly released her hold on the photographer. "I still don’t know how you talked me into this costume."

"It was your idea," Nicole grinned maliciously.

"Nicole, I was teasing about it," She grumbled. Laurel had taken a few liberties with the general concept, but she was not going to tell Nicole that. She wanted to surprise the photographer. "I’ll get dressed in the studio while you finish in your bedroom."

"That might be a good idea," Nicole agreed. She did not know if she could withstand the temptation of staying home if she watched her lover undress a few feet from her.

Laurel took her bag into the studio to change. Carefully she pulled on each article of clothing. The black cotton pants fit snugly, but allowed full range of movement. Laurel laughed as she tested the range of motion they allowed her. She felt like a ninja, but that was not the effect she had wanted. Although the soft black leather boots that came to her mid calf enhanced the effect, the blue short-sleeved shirt did not. The ensemble was completed with the sleeveless black tunic, two black wrist guards and the sword belt. The sword itself was a cheap metal one that the bassist doubted would survive a single blow from another.

She checked her reflection in the mirror and was pleased with the effect the costume had on her. She felt the only thing she was missing was a horse. She made sure everything was properly fastened before returning to the living room. The soles of the boots were soft and hardly made a noise as she walked.

"I don’t think Prince Charming wore such an outfit," Nicole commented as she joined her lover in the living room.

"Yeah, well I got a little carried away in the store," Laurel turned at the sound of the photographer’s voice. "Oh wow."

Nicole shyly turned in the light so Laurel could see the dress from every angle. The maiden dress was one of dark purple velvet. It was low cut and showed off the photographer’s ample cleavage. It also clung to her hips and accentuated every curve. It hung low on her and the back just brushed the floor behind her. Laurel had to wipe the sides of her mouth for fear that she had been drooling.

"Does that mean you like it?" The photographer asked quietly.

"Oh, I like, very much," Laurel doubted her ability to last through the party. She felt this delicious tightening in her stomach at the very thought of removing the dress from her lover later that evening. "The ball awaits, madam, shall we?" She offered her arm.

"Yes, I think we shall," Nicole grinned. "Wanna take the Chevy?"

"If you want to," Laurel took the proffered keys. "Guess I should remove the sword first," She took the sword belt off so it would be easier to drive.

Laurel locked the house as Nicole preceded her to the car. The photographer had begun keeping the car under the carport instead of behind the house. Her other car had not been all that reliable of late, and she really did enjoy driving her father’s car. She also knew that Laurel enjoyed driving it as well.

Laurel set the sword belt in the backseat. Nicole helped her take the top down on the car, and they slowly backed out of the driveway. It was a clear cool night, and both were soon wishing they had brought jackets. However, the sky was clear and the moon was almost full. It was a wonderful night and everyone seemed to be taking advantage of it when they pulled into Sheryl’s driveway. The party was already in full swing.

It seemed strange for Sheryl to host her own birthday/Halloween party, but she had only agreed to do so after the other plans had fallen through. Greg had tried to rent one of the local community centers, but they had already been booked for more sophisticated affairs. No one else volunteered their home after the last party. It had resulted in several broken plates, a lamp, and a weird purple stain on beige carpet.

"Wow, warrior babe and a helpless maiden," Greg had already consumed a little too much beer judging by his swagger when he came to meet them. He was dressed as a football player, though he did not look like one. "Whatcha got there?" He asked as Laurel opened the trunk and pulled out a cardboard cutout.

"This is our contribution to the party," Nicole answered.

"Steven Phelps at his best," Laurel put the cutout back together. The vapid younger actor was in a tuxedo. It had been a promo for his big budget, no profit spy film. Sheryl had not given the movie even one star.

"Wow, we can make our own movie," Danny hurried from the porch and over to the car. The cape he was wearing flapped in his wake. "We can move him around and have everyone pose with him. I bet it would be a better performance than he gave in ‘Round the Rough House’."

"Never saw that one," Laurel commented as she gave possession of the cutout to Danny. He was juggling a video camera as well as a beer but still managed to carry the cutout back to the house. They could hear him tell the crowd his ideas for a movie.

"Shall we?" Nicole asked. She was waiting for Laurel to rush back to the car. She knew the bassist hated crowds, and also knew that her friends could get a bit scary. Little did she realize how tame the party would seem to the bassist.

The house was crammed with people. Coin-op had set up a stage outside, but had yet to begin playing. Laurel worked her way through the press of people to the back deck while her lover went in search of the hostess. Sam was just finishing her sound check when the bassist finally cleared the throngs and made it to the stage.

"What are you supposed to be?" The guitarist laughed.

"A warrior I think. It was Nicole’s idea. So, what’s up?"

"Not a whole lot," Sam shrugged. "BJ might be stopping by later. He doesn’t trust that Greg guy."

"Greg’s harmless," Laurel laughed. She could not picture him as being anything more than all talk. "I think. But, we can handle him," Laurel already counted Sam as a friend and worth assistance.

"Thanks. Well, guess I should get started here," Sam hefted her guitar. "A post college Halloween party. Guess its better than nothing."

"That it is," Laurel laughed. "I’ll be around if you need to help with the sound."

"Thanks, Lakky."

Laurel watched as her friend rejoined the rest of the band. They started to play and a swarm of people came out of the house and onto the deck. The bassist took advantage and went inside. She needed to give her greetings to the hostess and she wanted to find her lover. She hated the thought of leaving Nicole alone for long. That was the protective side of her rearing its head.

"Hey, there you are," Nicole spotted her first. The photographer pulled her by the hand over to Sheryl’s side. "See?"

"Very interesting," Sheryl smiled at Laurel. "I’m not sure what it is, but it works for you."

"That’s ok, I’m not sure what it is either," Laurel answered. "Nice outfit," She commented. Sheryl had managed to find an authentic Egyptian slave/belly dancer costume. She was wearing a gold plated brassier type top, a wide golden belt; sheer scarves hung from the belt and revealed that the critic was wearing a thong. She was also bare foot. Laurel had to keep herself from staring. The outfit showed off assets that the bassist had never believed Sheryl possessed. "Ouch."

"Its not polite to stare," Nicole had swatted her lover’s arm. She had been shocked by Sheryl’s choice of costume as well, but since the two had grown up together, Nicole was not as impressed. She had seen Sheryl in more revealing swimsuits. In fact, she had seen the critic naked.

"I wasn’t staring," Laurel defended herself. "Shall we dance?" She offered her arm to her lover more to cover up her mistake than anything else.

"I’d be honored," Nicole saw the gesture for what it was, but did not mind. As long as her lover did not touch another, the photographer felt looking was all right.

Laurel escorted her lover to the deck. Coin-op was playing a slow ballad and she took the photographer into her arms. There was not a lot of room to move, but they soon forgot about the press of people around them. The music was almost well played, and managed to make them forget their surroundings.

"You really do look great in that," She whispered into Nicole’s ear.

"Thank you."

"I think I have the best looking woman here," She chuckled softly. "Unless you count the hag over there Elvis is dancing with."

Danny was indeed dressed as Elvis. He had donned the entire costume moments after they had arrived. According to Sheryl, he had been content to run around in just the cape, but soon talked himself into the full outfit. He was dancing with someone dressed as a stereotypical witch. Neither Nicole nor Laurel could tell who it was under all the green paint and fake nose and moles. All they could tell was the person was tall.

"Wonder if that’s Aaron?" Nicole asked.

"It could be," Laurel answered as she led the photographer into another dance. "He said he’d be here when I talked to him Tuesday."

"Guess we’ll find out later," The photographer was not concerned with the matter. She felt too safe and welcomed in her lover’s arms to worry about trifles.

They danced through several songs. Laurel was impressed with Coin-op. At least she thought she was, she had been so caught up in the spell that Nicole had inadvertently woven around her that the bassist could not tell anyone what songs the band had sung. In fact, she was fighting the urge to hoist the photographer over her shoulder and carry her back to the car. The velvet warmed under her hand, and her senses felt as if they were on fire. Laurel could hardly wait until she got Nicole home and into bed.

"Hey do you want to," Laurel stopped as the loud voices reached her ears. The band had stopped playing and Laurel could see Sam was trying to calm someone down. She shifted so that the photographer was behind her and finally was able to see her roommate. BJ was talking to Greg and neither man looked happy. "Oh shit. Stay here," She advised Nicole.

"I said I have a right to talk to whoever I want to," Greg was yelling.

"I never said you couldn’t talk to her, I just said keep your hands off her," BJ tried to sound calm but failed.

"BJ, its ok, really," Sam put her arm around the drummer and attempted to restrain him.

"Ok? He pinched your ass," The large man bellowed.

"Yo, what’s up?" Laurel situated herself between the two men.

"He was making the moves on my girlfriend," BJ explained tersely.

"I was just trying to be a good host," Greg protested. Laurel could smell the beer on his breath. He was without a doubt completely intoxicated.

"Alright, you two. Calm down. Return to your corners, this bout is over," The bassist put her foot down. "BJ, you know you shouldn’t get upset and that Sam wouldn’t do anything to encourage him."

"I know, Lakky, but it just," He sighed. "I think I better head home. I’ll see you there?" He asked Samantha.

"Yeah, I think its best that we call it a night already," She did not look happy about it, but was willing to compromise with her boyfriend. "Go ahead, I’ll see you there in a few minutes."

"Ok," He leaned down and kissed her before clapping Laurel on the shoulder. "See ya later, Lakky."

"Take it easy, big man," She in turn patted his side. "What was all that about?" She asked when BJ had left.

"He’s touchy. We had full confession time the other night and I told him about how my daughter was conceived," The haunted look and the flat tone provided Laurel with the rest of the picture.

"Ah, I can understand that. For what its worth, I’m sorry. I know that sounds lame and all."

"No, its fine," Sam shrugged it off. "Anyway, I should pack up. You should tell that gorgeous woman of yours that her friend needs a leash and a shock collar."

"Ok," Laurel grinned. "She does look great tonight doesn’t she?"

"If I were into women and she wasn’t madly in love with you, I’d hit on her," Sam grinned. "However, I’m straight and all for your roommate. And I’m smart enough to back away from a lost cause."

"Lost cause?"

"Yeah, Nicole has eyes for no one but you, my friend," Sam pulled the strap off her guitar and laid the instrument in its case.

"It’s the same with BJ," Laurel admitted. "I’ve never seen him so happy before. He loves you."

"I hope so. Now go back to your girlfriend. She looks worried," Sam pushed the bassist away. "I’ll catch ya later, Lakky."

"Take it easy, Sam."

"Well?" Nicole had barely restrained herself from following the bassist over to the fight. As it was, her patience had been wearing thin by the time Laurel had returned.

"Greg grabbed Sam’s ass, and BJ flipped," The bassist kept the explanation simple. She did not feel the need to tell her lover about Sam’s unconsented conception in front of a large crowd of people. "Wanna get out of here?"

"Yeah," Nicole was happy to acquiesce. She was suddenly not in the mood to party. "Let’s go say goodbye to Danny and Sheryl first."

"Ok," Laurel had been ready to slip out quietly, but knew that would have been a display of bad manners. They had just made it into the kitchen when the deejay came up behind them.

"Leaving so soon?" Danny slid over to them. He had been attempting to perform some of the King’s more famous moves all night. "Have you seen the witch I was dancing with?"

"Yeah, a few minutes ago, but not since ya’ll were dancing. Who is that?" Nicole was curious.

"Some guy from the school, he says his name is Aaron," Danny grinned again. "He came in drag from a frat party and didn’t have time to change. Oh, there he is. See ya’ll later," Danny quickly ran back out onto the deck.

"Well, guess they hit it off," Laurel laughed. Aaron was grinning broadly as Danny rejoined him.

"Looks that way," Nicole smiled. She hoped her friend would find someone to make him happy. "Let’s go find the slave girl and say goodbye."

"Sounds like a plan," Laurel stood on her toes to peer over the crowd. "There she is," She pointed over at a crowd by the stereo.

Sheryl was arguing in an amiable manner with a small crowd of people about different bands. The bassist led her lover to the crowd. The gathering parted easily for them, and soon they were standing in front of the critic. Sheryl had wrapped a shawl around her shoulders to ward off some of the fall chill, but it did not hide much of her considerable assets.

"What’s going on? Someone said something about Greg starting a fight?" Sheryl stood from the CD rack and looked at her friends. She knew instinctively that Laurel would be drawn to conflict like a bee to spring flowers. She was counting on them to tell her what had happened.

"They didn’t fight," The bassist assured Sheryl. "Greg apparently made an unwanted advance on Sam and BJ took exception to it."

"Who’s Sam?"

"Samantha is BJ’s girlfriend and a member of Coin-op," Nicole explained.

"Ah, well trust Greg to do something so stupid," Sheryl did not appear concerned. "You two leaving?"

"Yeah, we haven’t had a lot of time together lately," Laurel explained. She knew without looking that the photographer’s ears were turning red. "Thought we’d catch up."

"Well, don’t let us keep you," Sheryl laughed. "I fully understand that. See ya’ll later then," She pulled them both into a hug. Laurel’s ears turned red and caused both her lover and the critic to laugh.

"It’s a shame Jessie can’t see you in that outfit, but maybe we can send her the video," Nicole teased her friend. Danny had gotten several minutes of footage of all his friends. The photographer had seen him out of the corner of her eyes while she had been dancing with Laurel. "Course, I’ll want a copy as well."

"I’ll make sure to tell him," Sheryl promised. "Now, get out of here and go reacquaint yourselves."

"Don’t have to tell me twice," Laurel took Nicole’s hand and led her outside. "Later," She called back over her shoulder.

The front yard was packed with cars, but Laurel was happy to see no one had blocked the Chevy into the driveway. She was actually amazed that they had left the driveway open for another car, but did not question her good fortune. She held the door open for her lover before walking to the other side. Again she had to remove the sword belt. She did not want to attempt driving with three feet of steel strapped to her side.

"Um, hon, I don’t mean to spoil the mood or anything, but have you eaten?" Nicole asked as Laurel pulled the car out from Sheryl’s driveway.

"No, have you?"

"Nope. Wanna go get something?"

"Long as I don’t have to go into Mabel’s dressed like this," Laurel did not want to enter a restaurant in her Halloween costume.

"We can pick something up if you want to swing back through town," Nicole was starving. She had not really eaten all day.

"That’ll work," Laurel made a right turn instead of a left at the stop sign and took the road back into town. "Burgers, chicken, what?"

"Chicken if that’s ok with you," Nicole was not a big red meat eater but she knew her lover was fond of beef.

"Yeah, that’s fine with me."

The streets were almost deserted. It was unusual for a Saturday night, but the bassist thought it was still too early for most people to be driving. She knew there would be countless parties and those that "party hopped" would still be at their first gathering for the night. In an hour or so cars and cops would be everywhere. Laurel thought their timing was perfect until she encountered a roadblock.

"Good thing I didn’t have anything to drink," She commented as she reached inside her tunic and pulled out her driver’s license.

"Evening, license please," The young officer maneuvered his flashlight over both Nicole and Laurel. "Going to a party?"

"Just came from one. We’re on a food run," Laurel explained as she handed him her driver’s license.

"Had anything to drink this evening?" He asked the bassist but continued to gaze at the photographer.

"No sir," Laurel replied honestly. He used his flashlight to check her eyes. Apparently they dilated normally since he returned his stare to Nicole. Laurel was starting to get irritated.

"Well, ok then, drive safe," He handed the bassist her driver’s license.

"Thank you officer," Laurel returned the little card back to the inner pocket in the tunic she was wearing before slowly driving around the roadblock. "I think he liked your outfit,"

"I guess," Nicole said shyly. She had never gotten comfortable with people’s stares. "Least they are blocking the roads tonight. That’ll help keep the accidents down."

"Yes it will," The bassist agreed. "So, what do you want?" She asked as she turned the car into the drive through.

"Just a two piece I guess," Nicole tried to read the large menu. "And biscuits and gravy."

"Good choice," Laurel answered before she leaned forward and placed the order with the disembodied voice coming from the box in the center of the menu.

"Thank you and drive around please," The voice commanded.

Laurel reached back inside the tunic and pulled out a money clip. Separating a bill that would cover the charge, she used her knees to steer the car until the curve was too great. She handed Nicole the money and then followed the small road around to the window. They settled the bags in the backseat and then headed back to the house after the bassist had received her change.

"You sure you wanna go home to eat this?" Laurel had been struck by a sudden idea.

"Where else is there?"

"The state park is only fifteen minutes from here. Wanna have a picnic?"

"Sure," Nicole could not have thought of anything more romantic.

"Then that’s where we’ll go," Laurel grinned and found a deserted parking lot to turn around in.

Part 22

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