They had only stopped once for drinks. Laurel had ran into a convenience store and returned with a large paper bag. Nicole was curious; she had thought that the bassist had only gone inside for drinks. However, when the photographer had asked, Laurel had just smiled and said to wait. Nicole had no choice but to do so.
The state park was twenty miles or so south of the city. The drive was all on the highway, and the traffic was light. The turn off for the park was hard to see, but Laurel remembered where it was in time to make the turn. The road that ran into the park was dark and lined with pine trees. It was almost spooky the way the moon made the road glow in reflected light.
By law, the park closed at dusk to all but campers, but Laurel got out of the car and moved the divider barring the way. Once she had pulled the Chevy past it, she got out again and replaced the orange and white barrels. She did not want a ranger to drive by and see the gate open.
She pulled the car around, following the road. Not even campers appeared to be on the side of the park she had chosen. They were both glad for the solitude. Laurel pulled the car into one of the gravel lots and stopped the engine. She had parked facing the lake.
"Since we dont have a flashlight, do you want to eat in a booth?" She asked her lover.
"Yeah, the moon is bright enough for us to see the way," Nicole answered when she realized they were only twenty-five feet from the nearest pavilion.
Nicole grabbed the bag of food while Laurel took possession of the bag she had gotten at the convenience store. They walked slowly over to the dark pavilion. The surrounding trees blocked most of the moons light near the building, but it was not as dark near the water.
"Do you still have that blanket in the trunk?" Laurel asked as she sat the bag on the nearest table.
"Yes I think so," Nicole barely answered in the affirmative before Laurel was retracing her steps.
The bassist returned a few minutes later with the blanket. Instead of rejoining her lover at the table under the pavilion, she walked directly to the lake. Nicole could barely make out what her lover was doing, but Laurel soon reappeared. The photographer did not need a lot of light to know that the bassist was smiling contentedly.
"Cmon," Laurel grabbed her bag and took Nicoles hand.
Nicole hefted the food bag and allowed her lover to lead her to the waters edge. Laurel had spread the blanket over a relatively flat area. She wasted no time in sitting on the blanket and motioning for the photographer to do the same.
"Now this is more like it," Laurel grinned again as Nicole joined her.
"Wow, this is a great spot. Ive never been out here at night," Nicole looked at the sky and saw nothing more than stars and the tops of tall pine trees.
"Weve snuck out here a few times," Laurel did not say why she had done so. "But this is the first time Ive had a picnic out here."
"Guess its time for food then," Nicole opened the bag and handed the bassist half the food. She was glad they had ordered separate dinners. They had no plates and sharing would have been interesting but difficult.
"Thank you," Laurel took the box containing her food and sat it before her. She in turn handed the photographer a soft drink.
They enjoyed the peace of the outdoors as they ate. They could hear an owl in the distance, though neither of them believed they would be able to spot it in the darkness. Along with the birds, several crickets and other insects were raising their voices to the night. It made for a lovely chorus to eat dinner by. Both of them were grateful for the inspiration that had led them to this point, both in their relationship and in the park.
"Well, that was good," Laurel did not eat fast food often. She was surprised at the quality of food the restaurant had provided them.
"Yes it was. This was a good idea," Nicole smiled gratefully at her lover.
"I thought so," The bassist sounded a bit smug. "Are you finished?"
"Good, stay there while I throw this stuff away," Laurel gathered all the trash their meal had generated and put it all back in the bag. She quickly took it to a trashcan and threw it away before returning and sitting behind her lover. "Here, lean back."
"Oh, now this is nice," Nicole leaned back into her lovers arms. Laurel had placed her legs on either side of the photographers and pulled her close. "So is this what you had in mind when you suggested this?"
"Partly," Laurel whispered her answer into the ear she had been nibbling. "Oh, I almost forgot," She reached around without getting up from her position and pulled the paper bag to her. She pulled two packs of cigarettes, a package of cupcakes, a brownie, two bottles of water and a package of emergency candles from the bag. "I was supposed to have lit the candles for dinner, but I forgot. Anyway, here," She opened the package of cupcakes and broke off a piece before feeding it to her lover.
"Thanks," Nicole felt very spoiled. "Youre ruining me you know."
"Thats the plan," Laurel answered cheerfully. "Ill court you so well that youll never want to let me go."
"You have already accomplished that," Nicole twisted around and looked into her lovers eyes. "I could never be with anyone else."
"I like hearing that," Laurel smiled softly. "I feel the same way, too."
"Good, now kiss me and lets go home."
"Well, I want you to think of my house as home too," Nicole reasoned. "I know you dont want to move out of Mandys yet, and its too soon to do so anyway. I just want you to know that youre always welcome at my house. Ill even get you a key."
"I like that," Laurel kissed her lover. She knew Nicole was correct. It was too soon in the relationship and the bassist really did not want to move from what had become her first, real home. "Now are you sure you want to go home?" She teased.
"I dont care where we go as long as youre there too," Nicole had allowed herself to be lost in that kiss.
In answer, Laurel laid them both out on the blanket and continued the kiss. She ran her hands along the velvet-clad sides of her lover. She was extremely grateful that Nicole had purchased the dress instead of renting it. It was as much fun to remove as the bassist had imagined.
The cool air cutting across the lake did nothing to cool the ardor the two were creating. Nicole felt that it almost enhanced the experience. Everywhere the bassist touched was warm and the weight of her on top of the photographer was pleasant and comforting. Nicole loved those moments when their bodies molded together without regard to anything else. Of course she loved what came after as well, and that was enough to keep her staring at the stars without really seeing them. It was without a doubt, one of the most memorable orgasms of her life. It was also one of the best.
"You ok with this?" Laurel assumed that Nicole had never made love outside. She had been correct in her assumption.
"Yeah, that was a first, but it was incredible," The photographer pulled her lover up and kissed her deeply. "Ok, now its cold."
"Alright, lets go home," Laurel laughed. "Here," She gathered the velvet garment in her hands and helped Nicole dress. It had surprised her when she realized her lover had not worn anything under that dress. She made a mental note to ask Nicole to wear it again in the future.
They gathered the water and food and returned it to the bag. Nicole held onto it while Laurel shook out the blanket. It was easier to see their way back to the car as their eyes had become accustomed to the darkness. Laurel placed the blanket back in the trunk while Nicole sat in the passenger seat. The bassist pulled the convertible top up before sitting behind the wheel and staring the car and the heater.
"Yes, this was a wonderful idea," Nicole was still smiling in ecstasy. "We should do this again."
"Anytime you wish," Laurel promised. "Next stop home."
Nicole was still in bed when the phone rang. Laurel had departed an hour ago for a hastily scheduled band rehearsal. They had to prepare for their gig in Gulfport, so the photographer could not grumble. Much. Thinking it was her lover; she rolled over and answered the phone instead of letting the machine get it.
"Morning Nicole. This is Jeff Daniels. Listen, I need you to go on an assignment today if you can," Her new bosss voice was cheerful for an early morning Sunday call.
"Sure, where?" Nicole looked at the clock and finally realized that it was not as early as she had thought. It was almost lunchtime.
"144 Van Slyke," He gave her the address. She hurriedly wrote it down on a scrape of paper. "Meet the reporter there in half an hour. I will warn you, its not going to be pretty. It was a suicide."
"A suicide?" Nicole was shocked. The address sounded vaguely familiar, but she could not place it.
"Yeah, remember dont get gruesome details. A stretcher shot would be ok, but no blood."
"Good luck," She heard the click as he hung up the phone.
Not wasting any time, Nicole jumped out of bed and grabbed some clean clothing. It was fortunate that Van Slyke was only three streets over from her house. She had time for a shower as a result of the close proximity.
She was a bit sore, though it was in a good way. Once Nicole and Laurel had returned to her house, they had continued reacquainting themselves with one another. Nicole did not regret the time spent, or the stiffness at all. She only wished they had more time together. As it was, Nicole would not see her lover again until Halloween night. She hated the conflicting schedules, but knew that it was one obstacle they could easily overcome.
After her shower, Nicole dressed quickly. She was out the door before she remembered her camera bag. She took two precious minutes to unlock the door again and return for the bag. Finally, she was in her car and heading for the scene of the suicide. It did not take her long to get there. In fact, she was there five minutes before requested.
"Hey, Hotshot," Sheryl pulled herself away from a police officer and met her friend at the car. "Be warned, its Doug."
"What?" Nicole had almost exited the car, but the shock of the critics statement caused the photographer to fall back into her seat.
"The suicide, it was Doug. Mary found him this morning when she returned from Sunday school."
"Oh, my god," Nicole pulled herself together and pulled her camera from its case. "What are you doing here anyway?"
"Im the standby reporter on Sundays," She explained. "Gary was already on assignment."
"Ah, guess this makes me the standby photographer then. Just like old times," Nicole attempted to smile. She was still rattled at the news of her previous employers sudden demise. "So, whats the story here?" She moved a little closer and got a few pictures of the cops milling around the front of the house.
"So far all I know is that Mary went to church with out Doug this morning, came home after class and found him in the den with a gun in his mouth. Shes over there getting attention and tranquilizers from the EMTs. They wont let me talk to her yet."
"Any idea why?" Nicole thought there was a connection between Dougs suicide and the sudden closing of his store.
"The cops are kicking around a few ideas, but we wont know more until Mary can answer a few questions or find a note from him," Sheryl shrugged. She had already interviewed two officers. "I got here fifteen minutes ago, and they havent told me more than that."
"Odd," Nicole commented. "Have they completely closed the house?"
"We can go in. I was waiting for you," Sheryl did not want to admit that she had no desire to enter the house alone.
"Fun," Nicole took a deep breath. "Lets go."
Though neither woman was pleased with the idea of entering the house, they knew they were required. It was all part of their job. Though unlike larger papers, the one they worked for would not run descriptions or photographs of the incident.
Nicole could hear Mary cry as the photographer entered the house. She had been to the house once before when the couple had hosted a Christmas party for their employees. She led the way to the den with ease. She really wished she let the machine answer the phone, but knew that she would have wanted the news first hand. For a few years, she had felt close to Doug and his wife. She realized with hindsight that his sudden change in behavior should have been seen as a warning sign.
"You two from the paper?" An older cop was standing behind Dougs recliner. The body had been covered with a sheet until the coroner appeared.
"Yes," What gave it away? The camera or the notebook?
"Im the reporter, Sheryl, and this is my photographer, Nicole," Sheryl stepped forward and ignoring the body under the sheet, offered her hand to the police officer. "Have you any idea why this happened?" She asked as Nicole began taking pictures of everything but Dougs body.
"He left a note, but we cant release that until his wife has read it," The officer did not look particularly helpful.
"Surely you have some idea," Sheryl began to use her charm on the reluctant officer.
"We think that it was for " A young officer moved over to answer the critics question, but the other officer interrupted.
"We can not answer any questions until the wife has been informed and our superior allows comments."
"Well, thank you both for your time," Sheryl made a few notes in her book. "Ready?"
"After you," Nicole had been studiously avoiding looking at the remains of her former boss.
"I want to see if we can talk to Mary," Sheryl said on the way out of the house. The older woman was still sitting outside on the porch, but the EMTs had left her alone.
"Mary?" Nicole knelt in front of her.
"Oh, god, Nicole its horrible. I knew it was bad, but I had no idea," Mary threw herself onto the photographers shoulder.
"What caused this?"
"He was audited last year, and then again this year. I dont know what happened, but he started changing, getting really uptight about everything," She finally noticed Sheryl. "Is this off the record? Ive seen enough TV to know that if I say off the record then you cant print anything."
"Its ok," Nicole assured her. "It is off the record."
"Well, we closed the store cause the we were about to lose it and the house. Doug hadnt been paying his taxes, but I dont know why. I thought we were doing fine."
"I thought so too," Nicole said quietly.
"Im sorry, but I have to ask you two to leave," A tall intimidating looking man approached them. He was wearing a suit and his black shoes had been highly polished. "My client has no comment to make."
"We werent asking for a comment. I used to work for them, and was trying to comfort Mary," Nicole protested.
"Wearing a camera in the presence of a notorious critic/reporter?"
"I did my job then I wanted to talk to her. We werent going to use anything she said," The photographer stood and faced the man.
"Its ok, Clyde," Mary wiped the tears from her eyes. "I trust Nicole."
"Well, I still think they should leave. The official stance on this should be no comment," He still stared at Nicole and Sheryl with animosity. "As your attorney, that is my official advice."
"Then we shall leave you two alone," Sheryl bristled at the lawyers presence but wisely did not say anything more.
"When did you become notorious?" Nicole asked as they walked back to their cars.
"I interviewed him six months ago after another suicide," Sheryl explained. "Hes very uptight."
"Sounds like it," Surprisingly, Nicole did not feel bad about her job at the moment. She knew that the reality of the situation would hit her later. "Wanna go for coffee?"
"Sure, we dont have to get into the office until later. But, we should do that first so the day will be done."
"Ok, meet you there," Nicole climbed into her car and watched as Sheryl did the same.
Since the Sunday edition was delivered before 7 am, and the Monday edition did not hit the press until 9 pm, the offices were almost deserted. Most of Mondays paper was written on Saturday anyway. Only the sports section and the breaking news stories were written on Sunday. Therefore, only a skeleton crew worked the office on Sunday.
Nicole developed her film as Sheryl wrote her story. There was no one there to proof the story, but the critic was proficient enough to proof her own work. Nicole left her to it. She enjoyed watching the pictures develop before her eyes. It was a great repetitive task that kept her attention fully on what she was doing. It helped clear her head as well.
"Which one are you going to use?" Sheryl asked when Nicole stepped out of the dark room.
"I dont know. What do you think?" She held up three proofs for her friend to see.
"This one should work," Sheryl pointed at a shot of the house with the ambulance and the police cars in front. "It draws attention to the story better than the others."
"I agree," She handed the print to the critic. "Ill drive us to Mabels if you turn everything in."
"Its a deal," The critic took the proffered picture and disappeared through the large double doors.
Nicole waited for her friends return. Her desk was still immaculate, but she knew that would change with more than a week at the office. Sheryl reappeared from the prepress room and the two of them headed out to the parking lot.
"Actually, I think Ill follow you. I need to go shopping after lunch,"
"Suit yourself," Nicole told her as she climbed into the car again. "See ya there."
Sheryl, the speed demon, managed to beat Nicole to Mabels. The critic was already inside the restaurant and at their normal booth when Nicole pulled into the parking lot. The photographer locked her car and joined her friend inside.
"So, what did you do after the party?"
"Well, we went and picked up food, and then went to the park and had a picnic," Nicole smiled in memory.
"The state park."
"I thought that was closed at night. Coffee and the pancake meal, please," Sheryl told the waitress.
"Scrambled eggs and ham, please and coffee of course," Nicole added her order. They did not know this waitress, and she did not appear to want to know them either. "Yes, it is closed at dusk, but we snuck in."
"How romantic," Sheryls slightly mocking tone was missing. "So, did you eat by the lake then?"
"Yes," She could feel herself turning red.
"More than that? Im jealous."
"Yeah, but it was glorious," Nicole paused to let the waitress set the cups of coffee down on the table. "It was a first, but definitely one to remember. So, whats the story with you and Jessie?"
"Well, weve decided to have an open relationship. It was her idea," Sheryl said quickly when she noticed the look on her friends face. "I wasnt for it, but I guess it does make sense. Shes in New York and will be until she graduates. I wont see her again until Thanksgiving," She shrugged.
"I guess that does make sense," Nicole could not fault the reasoning though she felt as if she should. "How do you feel about that?"
"I dont know. It makes sense, but I cant be all that happy about it. Jessie is young though."
"She is, but Laurel is only a year older," Nicole wondered at that.
"Yeah, but I think that short but deadly has lived more of a life than the two of us together," Sheryl leaned back to allow the waitress to put the plates in front of them.
"That is true. She turned out incredibly though," Nicole vaguely felt that she should be defending her lover, but Sheryl was not really attacking the bassist.
"She did at that. So what are you doing this afternoon?"
"Just going home and chilling. I have no plans other than finishing this book Ive been trying to read for a month," Nicole cut her ham and covered it with her eggs.
"What about tomorrow? Since you are supposed to have Sundays and Mondays off what do you have planned?"
"Shopping and other assorted errands. Laurel has class, lessons and then a gig down in Gulfport tomorrow."
"Are you going?" Sheryl added more syrup to her pancakes.
"No, I have to be at work at eight Tuesday," Nicole felt the pressure of responsibility hit her in the chest. "So, I figured it would be better to catch the band at a rehearsal or at another gig."
"Sounds reasonable. Dont you hate being an adult?" Sheryl grinned.
"Yeah I do," She sighed. "Oh well, well make it through."
"I have no doubts of that. So what have you miscreants planned for Tuesday night?"
"Actually, I have no idea. Danny is supposed to tell me tomorrow."
"Yeah, right. Just no more strip clubs ok?"
"Ok," Nicole laughed. "You finished?" She threw her napkin on her now empty plate.
"Yeah, I should get to Walmart before the football crowd gets there," Sheryl tossed her napkin to the table and stood. "Split the bill and the tip?"
"Good idea," Nicole fished two dollars from her pocket and set them on the table. Sheryl did the same.
They took care of the bill. Nicole had to pay with her card since she was out of cash. She made a mental note to stop by the bank and withdraw money. She liked having cash on hand for small purchases and emergencies.
"See ya tomorrow night?" Sheryl asked as the walked to their cars.
"Ill be there."
The ride to Gulfport had taken them longer than expected. What was supposed to have been a forty-five minute drive became an hour long one. Beth had a bladder the size of a walnut, and ten minutes was spent looking for clean restrooms along the highway. Still, they had made it in time for sound checks. The old van had behaved well, though everyone knew it would have to be replaced soon. They were actually halving their portions of profit from each gig for a newer vehicle.
Several bands were on the bill for the evenings performance. It was a Halloween concert and the profits from the door were split between the overall cost of the concert and a local charity. That was the only reason why the members of blue gecko had decided to take the job. They generally did not like performing so far from their hometown. Although, Jenna, the rhythm guitarist, was ready to propel the band to a higher level of performance. She harbored dreams of platinum records and summer tours.
Laurel was already tired. They had been ready for an hour and the gig had not even started yet. They were the second to last band to perform, and the first had not even taken the stage. The bassist was rapidly becoming annoyed with whoever had scheduled this concert. Sighing in resignation, she took a copy of the paper, a cup of coffee and her pack of cigarettes outside to wait.
She had begun reading the paper after Nicole had been hired. She wanted to keep up with her lovers work, and it was a nice way to show how much she cared. Of course, she may have been slightly biased, but Laurel firmly believed that her lover was the best photographer working for the paper. She could see a big future ahead for Nicole. The bassist just hoped she would be there to share the ride.
It was the front page that caught and held Laurels attention. The coffee and cigarette were forgotten as she read the article. Sheryl had done a masterful job at subtly belittling the police for not revealing information, as well as some attorney that had shown up while Sheryl and Nicole had been at the scene. The photograph, while good in composition, was just a standard one of the house surrounded by activity.
She was astounded at the article. She knew that Nicole must have been hit hard by Dougs sudden death, but the photographer had not mentioned it on the phone while they had discussed costumes. Searching for clues, she reread the article, but Sheryl had made no mention of the reason Doug had ended his life. Still, the bassist reasoned that there never was a good enough reason. She firmly believed that if life were a game, the only way to lose would be to take oneself out before it was over. Mandy had theorized that suicides were really people reborn too late or too early. Laurel did not think that was the case in Dougs situation.
"Hey, Lakky, the first band is taking the stage," BJ joined her on the low curb she had been sitting on. "Whats the matter?"
"Doug committed suicide yesterday," Laurel handed over the paper.
"Man, and Nicole had to go take the pictures. Man that sucks. Howd she handle it?" He sounded concerned. He really liked the photographer.
"I have no idea, she didnt mention it last night and all I saw of her today was a card and a key she left in the truck. Speaking of, do you think Mandy would mind if I gave Nicole a key?"
"So, whether or not I mind doesnt count does it?" He teased. "I dont think shell mind at all. And just for the record, I dont either."
"Thanks, big man. How long until were on?"
"About an hour. Why?"
"I think Im going to find the nearest pay phone and see how Nicoles holding up. If I know her, the reality of the situation hit her today. Ill see ya back inside."
Nicole was really ready to get caller identification services from her phone company. The phone had rang seven times since she had eaten dinner. Four of those had been hang ups, one a collection agency looking for someone who had the phone number years ago, one had been a telemarketer trying to scare her into home security systems, and the seventh had been Danny.
The deejay was in charge of planning Sheryls kidnapping this year and had chosen a more low key schedule of events. They were planning on nothing more than dinner and a bar trip. Nicole was pleased. She really wanted to spend more time with Laurel than with her friends, but she was not going to tell them that.
"Hello?" For the eighth time that evening she answered the phone.
"Hello, will you accept a collect call from..." The computer voice paused so Laurel could say her name. "Please say yes at the tone if you accept, or no if you do not wish to be charged for this call."
"Yes," Nicole spoke quickly at the prompt. "Are you alright?"
"Yeah, Im fine. I just didnt have a dollar and sixty-five cents in change. Sorry about calling collect, Ill pay you back for it," Laurels voice came through loud and clear. The photographer was glad it was a good connection.
"Well, I just read todays paper. Thought Id call and see how you were holding up."
"Oh," Nicole took the phone and sat down on the couch. "Well, it was a shock yesterday when I got there, but so far Im doing well. Im concerned for Mary, and I hate that it happened, but I cant find it in myself to feel too bad about it. I guess if Doug hadnt made us all hate him it would have been different."
"Thats understandable. Do you know why it happened?"
"Mary said something about the IRS and not paying taxes. He may have done it so she could get the life insurance," Nicole had thought about that all day. She was truly saddened by the event, but not overly so. Losing her sister had hurt much worse.
"Ouch, thats gotta suck. Remind me to always pay my taxes."
"Oh, I will," Nicole could not help the grin that formed at those words. She liked hearing the bassist refer to a future together. "So, where are you?"
"In Gulfport. The first band took the stage a few minutes ago. Two more have to play before we do, but well be leaving right after we strike the set," Laurel stifled a yawn. "Doesnt look like well make it home until after midnight which sucks cause I have an early morning class tomorrow."
"Oh, you are not going to feel well for class," Nicole sympathized.
"Well, Ill try to get some sleep in the van, but I already know itll be a lost cause. Jenna will point out all the mistakes we make all the way home. Shes like that littlest piggy."
"Now thats something Ive never heard anyone described as," Nicole laughed. She loved hearing the things Laurel could come up with.
"So, what all did you do today?" Laurel wanted to keep the conversation going. "Thanks for the surprise by the way."
"You are most welcome," Nicole had wondered if her lover would bring that up. "I just ran a few errands, bought some groceries and some new clothes. I dont seem to have a lot of khaki pants and golf shirts, so I needed some for work."
"Speaking of shopping, I bought Sheryl a movie. Ill drop it off at the house tomorrow between classes."
"Whats Mo barking at?"
"You can hear that?" Nicole was amazed. The connection was better than she had thought. "Danny just pulled up. Were supposed to go buy the DVD player tonight."
"Ah, ok. Guess Ill let you go then."
"Yeah, Ill see you tomorrow?" Nicole asked as she watched the deejay open the door and enter the house.
"Definitely," Laurel promised. "Now go spend a large amount of money on your friend. I love you."
"I love you too. Bye," Nicole kept the phone to her ear until all she heard was the dial tone.
"Ready?" Danny asked as he watched her put the phone back on the receiver.
"Yeah, I guess. Lets go."
Laurel used her new key to let her in the house. The key had been a surprise. She had walked out to her truck Monday and found a rose and a card sitting on the seat. The card had contained a short note and a key to the house. It had made the bassists day. Nicole had apparently dropped off the package during her errands.
Mozart was curled up on the couch and blinked at her disinterestedly as she entered the house. Laurel turned on the lights and was prepared to wait for Nicole to return. It was unfortunate, but Laurel had missed the surprise kidnapping for Sheryls birthday. The bassist had called and made her excuses. Nicole had been mollified by Laurels promise to stay the night.
Dinner had run late. Several of the band members, Sam and a few others had shown up for it. Every year they had a large gathering, but this year seemed larger than any other. The preparation and the clean up had taken hours. Laurel never wanted to wash another dish again.
However, the dumb supper had gone well. Mandy had spent the day making a pork roast with blessed herbs and spices. They had scrounged for enough black tableware, but finally managed to find enough for all fifteen people. The only time anyone had spoken during dinner was when Sam accidentally knocked over a candle and almost set the table on fire. They had taken the spare plates of food out to the park to bury them in honor of their departed.
For the first time since it happened, Laurel felt the pain of losing Jon ease as she shoveled dirt over his portion of food. She knew that every year on Samhain she would do the same, but this year there were not as many tears. Her heart felt too full of love to be filled with pain. She almost felt guilty, but then she could almost feel his presence as she threw the last of the dirt over the hole. He would have liked Nicole, and he would have been happy that his little sister had found love. That much insight she had gained during the ceremony.
"Need to go outside, boy?" Finally the big dog moved from the couch.
Laurel did not use his leash this time. Mozart obeyed her as if she were his owner as well. She had managed to get the stamp of approval from the dog and half of the photographers family. That was all that she could ask for under the circumstances.
The bassist lit a cigarette and sat back on the porch swing. She had no idea when Nicole would return, but the photographer had promised it would be an early night. Laurel had taken her lover at her word. She had brought a movie and her bass to entertain herself until the photographer returned.
"All right, boy, back inside," It was too cool to remain outside for long without a jacket and Laurel had left hers inside.
She started the movie and was almost finished with it when lights shone through the window. Nicole was home at last. Laurel pretended to sleep as she watched her lover enter the house through half closed eyes.
"Hey, you awake?" Laurel did not answer. She wanted to see what Nicole would do. "Laurel? Honey?" Nicole put her keys on the rack and turned off the TV.
Laurel closed her eyes when she felt a weight settle beside her on the couch. Nicole leaned in and gently kissed the bassists forehead. She let out a squeak of surprise when Laurel wrapped her arms around her and pulled her close.
"Someone was playing possum," Nicole accused in a jesting tone.
"Nope, if I were playing possum, Id have hissed and tried to bite you," Laurel laughed before she hissed and then softly bit the photographer on the arm. "That was a possum imitation."
"You do that so well," Nicole dissolved into giggles. "Im a little drunk I think."
"Smells like yall partook," Laurel commented. "Whered you go?"
"Just out to a bar or two. Sheryl said thank you for the movie by the way," Laurel had managed to drop off a DVD at the house before the party. "I barely crossed my limit of two beers, but I think Im buzzing."
"You just cant hold your alcohol," Laurel laughed.
"Can too," Nicole started to protest. "Ok, maybe not. Im gonna go brush my teeth."
"Ok. Then well figure out some way to work the alcohol from your system."
"Mm, I like that. Be right back."
Laurel did not wait for her lover to return. Instead, she followed Nicole into the bedroom and sat on the bed to wait. She did not have long to wait, as the photographer was true to her word. She was only in the bathroom long enough to brush her teeth.
"Waiting for me?" Nicole was surprised to see the bassist sitting on her bed waiting.
"All my life," Laurel stood. "Now, I know that weve got horrific schedules, but I promise to be here when I can, and to think about you every other millisecond."
"Well, every millisecond when Im not driving."
"I can deal with that, I think," Nicole pulled her into an embrace. "I really do love you."
"And I love you with all my heart. So much so, that I miss Jon less than ever."
"Really?" Nicole was surprised. She still missed Margie, and knew she would for a long time, but Laurel had been closer to her brother.
"I finally said goodbye to him tonight after the supper. Thank you."
"For what?" The photographer was slightly confused.
"Filling that hole. Since its new year, I reflected on my life. I havent seen a lot Ive liked until I came to the point when I met you. Nicole, you have given me a reason to enjoy life. Ive always had the drive to live, but you make me want to enjoy life again. Ill always be grateful for that. And Ill always love you."
"And you claim to be bad at verbal expressions," Nicole laughed weakly. Laurels speech had made her feel weak in the knees and had started the tears. "I cant imagine my life without you either."
"Then dont. Lets start this turning of the wheel off together. Love is good magick, and we should exploit that," Laurel leaned up for a kiss.
"Ok," Nicole had not understood the magick comment, but she knew they had plenty of time for it to be explained. "I guess this means were official?" She needed to hear it in words she fully understood.
"Nicole Elizabeth Herbert," Laurel knelt before her lover. "Will you accept me with my flaws if I do the same for you? Will you be there when I have need if I promise to do the same for you? And will you offer me your heart in exchange for mine? If I promise to love you and to stay with you will you be my girlfriend?" She grinned.
"Yes, yes, you already have it, and Id be honored," Nicole laughed in spite of herself. She thought the use of the antiquated term girlfriend was adorable. However, she also knew that Laurel was not ready to move beyond that at this point. She knew it would not be long, though.
"Good," Laurel stood and took her lover in her arms. "Now, shall we make magick?"
"For the rest of our lives."
"Its a deal," Laurel leaned up for another kiss.
Mozart took the hint and left the room. His job was to guard the door while the humans were occupied on the bed. It was a duty he was happy to perform for the rest of his life. He approved of Nicoles partner, though he missed sleeping on the bed for the entire night. However, he knew he would get used to it. He laid his head on his paws and listened to the sounds of love and laughter. It was a beautiful combination of smoky blues and sultry jazz.
Does it really end here? Of course not .watch for the sequel .All that Jazz coming to a desktop near you <g>