"Wow, you must be Nicole. Im Sheryl and this is my friend Danny," Sheryl took a seat across from Nicole. Danny remained standing long enough to attract the attention of a waitress.
"Nicole, dont I know you from somewhere?" He sat down beside the critic.
"Ha, ha. Very funny," Nicole put out her cigarette and turned to face her friends. "What took you guys so long?" She had been sitting at their customary booth for almost half an hour already.
"Well, what do you expect after practically disappearing on us this month?" Danny ignored the implied scold for tardiness.
"Yeah, Hotshot, Danny and I have been a little worried."
"Worried? Why?" Nicole realized that she had not been around her old friends much, but did not realize it was a cause for concern.
"Because lately you have been more of a hermit than before," Danny answered as the waitress delivered two cups of coffee to the table. He poured a liberal amount of sugar into his cup, causing Nicole to think of Laurel.
"Ok, that explains it," Sheryl announced after catching the soft smile on her friends lips.
"What explains what?" Nicole was rapidly becoming confused.
"The smile, the far off look in your eyes "
"The increased absence from old friends " Danny took up the thread of the conversation.
"What are you two babbling about?" Nicole leaned back into her seat and sipped her coffee.
"Laurel," Sheryl answered. She waved some of the steam away from her coffee before tasting it.
"What about her?" Now Nicole was getting anxious.
"She has you well and truly hooked my friend," Danny smiled softly. "It looks good on you."
"You know, we may have to spell it out for her," The critic turned to him and waited for his agreement. He nodded so she continued. "Honey, not even the Bitch rated that kind of look from you. Laurel has to be the real deal."
"What were you two smoking before you came over here?"
"I told you she wouldnt see it in herself." Danny stage whispered to Sheryl.
"Love, Nicole," Sheryl reached out across the table and took the photographers hand. "Its obvious to anyone who knows you."
"Obvious?" Nicole felt her heart sink. She had been wondering that same thing since last weeks trip to the beach, but each time the answer deluded her. Sheryls gift for blunt delivery shocked her this time. If those two had seen it, could Laurel?
"To those who know you. Why? Arent you two dating?" Danny wondered if maybe they were being a bit too hard on their friend. Nicole was extremely sensitive most of the time, and was sheltered as a child. He turned to Sheryl with doubt in his eyes. Sheryl had helped Nicole lose a lot of naivety, but there still remained some to contend with.
"You havent told her about the Bitch have you?" Nicoles ex girlfriend was not named around the critic. Sheryl had honestly vowed death and dismemberment if she were ever to catch sight of her again.
"No I havent. I cant," Nicole let her emotions rise to the surface and vowed to tell her two best friends the truth about everything. "I She We I cant do it."
Both Danny and Sheryl held her hand. They were patient and sympathetic. That alone almost made the photographer start crying.
"Hey, why dont we go back to your house. Danny and I rode together. Ill drive you back in your car and he can follow. Sound good?" Sheryl motioned for Danny to move. They helped Nicole out of the booth, dropping the money for the bill on the table.
Wordlessly, Nicole handed her friend the keys to her car. Sheryl went to help her out of the establishment, but she was waved away. Instead, the critic used the remote and unlocked both car doors. Danny made sure both women were safe before walking over to his.
They rode in complete silence to Nicoles house. Nicole leaned her head against the window and watched the scenery pass. Sheryl was, for once, without a thing to say.
They were sitting on the porch when Danny pulled into the driveway. Sheryl had used the keys on Nicoles key chain to let the dog out. Neither the critic nor the photographer made a move to go inside.
"So, what do you wanna know?" Nicole asked from the swing. She pulled a cigarette out of her pack and lit it.
"Well, why dont you start at the beginning?" Sheryl was still almost speechless. Even after Nicoles previous relationship, the photographer had never been this depressed.
"First though, wait a moment," Danny rushed back out to his car and grabbed a bag from the passenger seat. "You know gay men and sensitive chats. It always requires chocolate or cheesecake." He pulled three bars of chocolate, three colas and a pack of cigarettes from his bag. He handed both women a cola and a candy bar, making sure to hand Nicole the cigarettes as well. He was rewarded with a small smile for his efforts.
"Thanks, Danny," She placed the candy bar where Mozart could not get to it and then took a deep breath. "Doug is closing the store, so I am out of a job next month."
"What?" Both of them asked at the same time.
"He doesnt want to run his own business anymore, and instead of selling the place intact, hes closing it down. So now I need to find a job here fast before my grandmother forces me back to New Orleans and my uncles store."
"Hey, nothing to worry about there. Ill talk to the head of the photography department. We are about to lose one of the guys to a larger market. Maybe you can get a job there," Sheryl almost jumped up from her seat next to Nicole in her enthusiasm. "Ill talk to him first thing tomorrow morning. Have you been keeping up your portfolio?"
"Yes I have actually. Though not as much as I would like," Nicole let doubt creep into her voice. She had merely been taking photographs as a hobby for the past year.
"Well, you have almost a month to get it into shape," Danny seemed as enthusiastic about the idea as Sheryl. Neither wanted to see their friend leave, especially since they knew she would not be as happy anywhere else. Especially when that anywhere else would land her right back under her grandmothers iron fist.
"You know, I didnt even think of that. Thank you both," Nicole felt a little relieved after seeing their enthusiasm. Now all she had to do was get the job.
"So, what else is bothering you?" Danny took the incentive this time.
"I " She took a deep breath. "I think I have fallen in love with Laurel." She paused for their response. Both just nodded and kept silent. "After the Bitch, I dont know what to do about it."
"Honey, she was two years ago. Let it go. Im sure Laurel has her own skeletons. Everyone does. Maybe you should talk to her about it," Danny tried to reassure her.
"It would be different if she were straight," Sheryl added. "I know you arent sure, but Ive heard pretty convincing rumors. But even so, you dont have to rush things. Give it time to work out on its own. It will if its meant to be."
"How will I know?"
"If shes the love of your life?" Danny continued after getting a nod from Nicole. "All thoughts, all actions, everything will be done for her. It will burn and cool you like nothing else you have ever known. Anything I can tell you or describe to you will pale in comparison to her smile."
"Like Greg?" Nicole asked softly.
"Yes, but hopefully your entanglement works out better than mine," He gave a sad, sweet smile and opened his chocolate bar.
"And mine," Sheryl added as she opened her candy too. "Theres no replacing the real thing."
"Hey, now theres no sense in you two getting depressed while trying to cheer me up," Nicole gave what almost passed for a real smile. She opened her cola and took a long sip. "Thank you both before I forget."
"No problem Hotshot. You are always there for me. Its nice to be able to return the favor occasionally," Danny reached over and patted her knee.
"So, what do you want to do now?" Sheryl asked.
"I guess theres always the old standby," Sheryl grinned. "Movies. The real question is rent or go to one?"
"I vote we go to one. I dont want to watch one here," Nicole did not feel like staying home without Laurel there.
"Great, lets go eat first. I think we all missed dinner," Danny stood up and offered each woman on the swing a hand.
"Sounds good to me. Let me put Mo inside. Youre driving tonight Cowboy."
"I can do that," He helped Sheryl throw the trash away while Nicole put the dog inside and locked the house. "Ready?"
"And waiting," She replied as she walked to his car. "Shotgun!"
"Aww man, alright. Ill sit in the back," Sheryl always forgot to call the front seat. "But I get it on the way back."
"Alright girls, lets get out of here."
Laurel banged on the dark green door and tried to ignore her conscience. After what she felt had been a sufficient amount of knocks, she leaned back against the porch railing and lit a cigarette. Before too long, the curtains over the window in the door parted and then the door itself opened. A very disheveled Nicole peeked around the side of it and gazed bleary eyed at her.
"What," She yawned. "Whats up?"
"Er, sorry to wake you," Laurel grinned impishly and tried unsuccessfully to look penitent.
"No, thats ok," Nicole opened the door fully and waved the bassist inside. "Come in."
"Thanks," She tossed her cigarette into the newly acquired ashtray and went inside. "I seem to be making a habit of catching you in that thing." She indicated the bathrobe with her eyes.
"Yeah, but thats ok. This time I have pajamas on underneath it." Well, pajama bottoms anyway.
"Yeah dont wanna give the postman an eyeful," Laurel tried to laugh. Damn
"So, what brings you to my humble abode this early on a Saturday?" Nicole sat down on the couch and waved Laurel to the chair.
"Well, I have a goal for today, and I was wondering if you wanted to help me accomplish it,"
"Um, sure. Whats the goal?" Its not like I have plans anyway. No life, no plans.
"Desk shopping. I need a new one, and I thought maybe if you didnt have plans for today, you could help me pick one out. Of course, you can help put it together too," She gave what she hoped was a charming grin despite the babbling. Cmon get a grip Lakky. Youve seen half naked, slightly disheveled, gorgeously half awake women before. Right? Wrong.
"Yeah sure. You have but to ask," The photographer grinned. She had caught the babbling and found it endearing. Including her in this "goal" showed that Laurel valued her company as much as she valued the bassists companionship.
"So, what made you desire to be so spontaneous today?" Nicole asked as she took a seat on the couch.
"Well, my old desk finally fell apart last night, and since I didnt have anything else to do today, I thought I might as well go looking for a new one."
"Makes sense," Nicole stood and walked towards her bedroom door. "Let me get changed and then we can go. Theres coffee brewing in the kitchen if you want any. Or at least it should be if the timer is working today."
"Thanks. Go on, Ill make myself comfortable," The bassist grinned. She watched Nicole disappear behind the bedroom door and then went in search of the coffee.
Laurel easily pulled the truck to a stop outside of yet another store. The two friends had been to four different stores already, but none of the places they had tried had a desk that suited Laurels vague notions of what she wanted. The salesperson inside took one look at the pair and then turned his attention back to the elder couple he had been stalking.
"Why are we at a furniture store? Shouldnt we be at an office supply store or something?" Nicole asked as they wound their way through bedroom suits.
"Isnt a desk a piece of furniture?"
"There you go then," Laurel led the way around the dining room sets and eventually around the back of the store. "They should have desks around here somewhere."
"May I help you?" Another salesperson appeared from thin air not too far from where they stood.
"Yes actually, we are looking for a desk." Laurel made it sound like an important quest.
"Any particular type of desk? Or would you prefer to see them all?" The salesperson gave them a slight smile, as she looked them over.
"Id like to see them all if thats ok."
"Of course, if you will follow me." She took them around the rest of the store to a corner towards the front. They passed all sorts of home furnishings in their walk. The bedroom suits in particular teased them both with Victorian and Edwardian headboards neither could afford.
"So, how long have you two been together?" She asked as she stopped before the line of desk the store carried.
"Oh, about two years," Laurel answered, grinning at Nicoles perplexed look.
"Really? Thats great. I could tell by looking at you two. There are some intense emotions there. Ok, here are our selections of desk. I must confess theres not much left anymore. We arent carrying much of those type furnishings anymore. Its gotten too easy to get them at office supply stores."
An elbow to the ribs interrupted Nicoles snort. She rubbed her side as she followed Laurel through the selections of desks. Intense emotions? Thats one way of putting it
Laurel spotted a white washed cherry roll top over to the side and walked over to it. She opened all the drawers and cabinets, examining every inch of it. The price tag was one of the rare orange ones, indicating that it was a clearance item. The sale price put it easily within Laurels price range.
"Hey Nicole, what do you think of this one?" Laurel stepped aside while the photographer took a look at the table.
"You two always shop like this?"
"Oh, yeah. If we buy something, we want to made sure it will last." Laurel was enjoying the charade, though she was wondering what her friend was making of it.
"So, how did you two meet? I met my life partner at a yoga class five years ago."
"I interviewed her for the school paper," Nicole added joining the other two. "Things just kinda snowballed after that. So, do you have one of these in a box?"
Nicole wisely stayed out of the way. She knew her limitations when it came to constructing things, so she let Laurel and BJ handle the assembly of the desk. She had helped bring it in from the truck though, and her back was still complaining about the weight. The bassist however, seemed none the worse after heaving the heavy wooden desk into the house.
The one time she had surprised herself with her ability at construction was right after she had graduated high school. Her uncle and his partner were putting in a new deck and had to demolish the old one. They had invited Nicole and a few of her cousins for the weekend to help in return for meager wages and undying gratitude. Nicole was placed on the destruction team once her cousin Stan decided that anyone that could not even hammer in a nail should not be involved in the delicate art of framing the new deck. The sledgehammer had made the self-conscious, slightly ungainly eighteen-year-old feel powerful. It was heavy, and she could not lift it that high, but she exulted in the cracking of boards as the tool met the wood.
Nicole closed her eyes for a moment and remembered that summer day. It was a wonderful weekend despite the hard labor. Uncle Phil and Jay had given her a hundred dollars for her first term at college, with instructions not to tell her cousins. Then the two of them had thrown a party for the helpers, even bringing in a keg despite the promised wrath of the kids parents and guardians.
"Hey, Hotshot, can you hand me that hammer?" Laurels voice broke through the memory. "Just slide the board in gently what a crock. Do aliens write these instructions?"
"Here you go," Nicole handed over the hammer and backed quickly out of the line of fire. Laurels normal grey eyes were turning blue. Something the photographer had never noticed before, but she was sure that it was a bad sign.
"Ouch, damn it all to the furtherest reaches of the underworld in the Easter bunnys basket." Laurel pulled her injured finger from beneath the shelves BJ had just dropped. "Fuck!"
"That was quite a tirade. You ok?" Nicole kneeled down and examined the injured digit. It looked a little sore but otherwise fine. "I think youll live to curse another desk."
"Thanks. Well, its about done. What do you think?" Laurel indicated the desk with a wave of her uninjured hand.
"Looks better here than it did in the store." Nicole was honestly impressed. She would have called the phone number on the front of the instructions and let someone else put it together.
"Thanks. So, what do you have planned for this evening?"
"Just a movie with the gang. Nothing special."
"Oh, well I guess I should be getting you back to your place then," Laurel was racking her brain to find someway to prolong the day.
"Yeah, and make it fast Lakky, we got band rehearsal tonight." BJ annoyingly reminded her on his way out the door.
"Well, I wouldnt want you to miss that," Nicole smiled at the bassist. She glanced at her watch and was amazed at the amount of time that had passes since Laurel had picked her up that morning. "Id like to get a shower before the movie."
"Alright, let me wash up and well get out of here."
Laurel left Nicole sitting in her room while the bassist went to wash the prefabricated wood dust off her hands. Nicole sat on the bed and contemplated the desk before she slowly began to take in the rest of the décor. Few pictures were displayed around the room. One was of the entire band taken during rehearsal, another was of Laurel and Jon apparently taken on his graduation from high school, and the final was of Laurel playing her bass during a gig. Aside from those three pictures, there was only a poster of Van Goghs Starry Night, a Georgia OKeefe poster, an old postcard of some city in Europe, and a placard from the Eagle announcing blue gecko was on the roster of bands for that evening.
"Ready?" Laurels voice broke through Nicoles wonderings and reminded her of the present.
"When you are," She got up and followed the bassist down the hall.
Laurel reached her truck after a long day of classes and lessons. She had one more lesson before she could go home for the day, but that was not for another two hours. She threw her bag on the passenger side of the vehicle and took out her light jacket. The weather was turning a bit cooler, but it still was not cold enough for something heavier. Mentally reviewing her options, the bassist decided to walk down to Dougs and see if Nicole was working.
The music store was not more than a five-minute walk from the commuters parking lot, so she left the truck where it was parked. The pavement under her boots was cracked and almost dangerously uneven, but she reached the store without mishap. The sound of her footsteps comforted her. It was one of those odd things she liked about herself. She loved the sound of boots on pavement and nice hardwood flooring.
She checked the parking lot first, but did not see Nicoles little red car. She knew that the photographer would not drive the convertible to work, so she did not bother to look for it. At a loss for further options, she noticed the neon sign for Mabels two blocks away.
Deciding coffee was always a plus, she began the hike back onto the sidewalk and towards Mabels. There was the added bonus of maybe running into Nicole there. That thought quickened her steps faster than anything else could have.
Sitting prominently in front of the entrance was Nicoles car. Laurel grinned at her good fortune and crossed to the median. The traffic going away from campus was heavy, and she was cursing the lack of a convenient traffic light before too long. Finally, a break in the flow of cars allowed her to run for it. She almost tripped over another large crack in the sidewalk once she reached the right side of the road. However, she was saved from that embarrassment and entered the establishment without bodily harm.
Nicole had gone to Mabels just to get out of the house. It was her day off, and all she wanted was caffeine, nicotine, and a chance to read a few chapters in her book. The house had seemed too quiet and she was attempting to take her mind off of her future, or lack thereof.
She received her coffee in a prompt manner. Which was only fitting, as she was the only customer there. She was half way through a chapter, completely engrossed in a Dickenss masterpiece, when she heard a shrill voice echo across the empty restaurant.
"What do you mean I cant see him?" The waitress was on the phone yelling into the receiver, not in the least concerned about her one, lonely customer. She turned and noticed Nicoles gaze upon her. She then whirled quickly in the other direction and immediately lowered her voice.
The photographer quickly returned to her book, and once again became enthralled in it. She only looked up when her automatic gesture of raising her coffee cup to her lips revealed that it was empty. The waitress was still animatedly gesturing and talking to whoever it was on the phone. Nicole gave up the hope of a second cup for the moment.
The bell over the door announced another customer to the establishment, but Nicole was so far drawn into the lives of the characters before her that she did not pay the least attention to it. It was not until a shadow crossed the page in front of her that she awoke from the literary trance she had fallen into.
"This seat taken?" The soft voice and teasing tone made Nicole lift her eyes from the print in her hands and behold a very welcome sight.
"Its got your name written all over it," She smiled and waved the blonde to take her seat.
"How did I rate an embroidered booth?" Laurel laughed and set down.
"By virtue of being you. No other is necessary." Dickens always had such an effect on Nicole that she began to talk like one of his characters. Plus, Laurels smile had done what Danny had promised. It made everything shed ever heard about love pale in comparison.
"Ahh, ok," She grinned. "I never realized that was a plus. So, what do you have to do to get coffee around here?"
"I dont know. Ive been here for " She looked down at her watch. "Over half an hour, and this is the only cup Ive gotten. It seems as though the waitress is having personal problems."
"Well, looks as though Ill just have to improvise then," Laurel got up and walked to the counter. The waitress never looked up as the bassist liberated both a mug and the pot of coffee. She carried her prizes to the booth, much to Nicoles amusement and amazement.
"Here ya go milady," She said as she refilled Nicoles empty cup and filled her own as well. "Anything else I can get you while Im up?"
"No, goofy, the coffee is sufficient for now. However," Nicole paused as she stirred the cream into her coffee. "There may be something that comes up later." She grinned evilly.
"And what, pray tell, would that be?" Laurel raised an eyebrow and resisted smirking. She knew what she wanted to happen later. Unfortunately she thought that was an idle fantasy.
"Oh, I dont know. How good are you at making omelets?" Nicole laughed at the look of disappointment on Laurels face. "Come on, its not like Im asking you to slay a dragon."
"True, I guess I could find it within myself to make an omelet," Laurel thought for a moment as she sipped her coffee. "Not here though, but I will at some point in the near future if you desire it so."
Lurid thoughts ran through Nicoles mind, but she kept a smile on her face and shook her head. Laurel added more sugar to her coffee, and both settled into the silence. Just as they were getting comfortable, Wanda, a longtime waitress at Mabels came over and collected the coffee pot.
"She do that, or did you?" Wanda looked first at Nicole and then scowled at Laurel.
"Um, actually I liberated the coffee pot. It appeared when I came in that no one was prepared to give service, so I took matters into my own hands and solved the problem. Something wrong with that?" Laurels face had lost the faint look of amusement it generally held, and her voice hardened.
"I guess its not. I just got back from break, myself. What was Amber doing while you borrowed the pot?" She indicated the other waitress now detached from the phone.
"I assume she was trying to calm down someone on the phone," Nicole interjected. "Sounded like an upset customer."
Hearing that a customer could have been complaining, Wanda raced back to the front of the cafe as fast as she could with the pot of coffee in her hands. The two women watched her set the pot down and ask something of Amber. The younger waitress shot a look in their direction, smiled thinly and answered. Wanda patted her on the back and seemed to be amiable after that.
"You know, I dont think she appreciated your rescue of the coffee pot," Nicole teased gently. Laurels defiance of authority however minuscule had not escaped her notice, but she ignored it.
"Well, the other one, Amber?" At Nicoles nod she continued. "Amber should not have kept her ear glued to the phone. I mean she is in the service industry and we are paying customers. That means she is by definition supposed to serve, right?"
"Yes, Madam prosecutor, you are correct."
"Thanks," She laughed. "I do think your explanation saved her a reprimand though. Probably saved me one too, so thanks again."
"So, what are you doing inside on a nice mild fall day?" Laurel put her boots up on the seat and leaned back into the corner.
"Just reading an old classic. Kinda got bored at home and decided to come up here. You?"
"Came here to unwind after my last class for the day. I have a lesson at 4:00, so theres no real reason to go home for an hour or so." She did not want to admit that she had been looking for the photographer.
"Makes sense. So what was your last class?" Nicole was also struggling to be nonchalant. Her heart had started racing the minute she heard Laurels voice.
"Oddly enough, English Lit I. We are in the middle of Beowulf. How were going to cover the rest of the syllabus after spending weeks on it is beyond me." She rolled her eyes.
"Isnt the Canterbury Tales after that?"
"Yeah, hopefully we wont have to read Chanticleer again. I hate that story. Now the Wife of Baths tale was a lot more interesting." They both grinned. "Still, were doing pretty well in American History. Were in the beginning stages of the American Revolution. The professor really sped through the colonization."
"Thats too bad. The Salem Witch Trials were interesting. One of my teachers in high school was really into that. It seemed almost ironic for a nun to be interested in witches."
"You went to a catholic high school?" Laurel almost choked on her coffee. Suddenly she saw hundreds of dancing Nicoles in catholic uniforms dancing before her eyes.
"Most kids from New Orleans do. Several of the schools even give out scholarships to inner city kids so they wont have to face public school."
"So did you ever go to any football games?" Laurel was trying to keep her mind off plaid kilts.
"Plenty in high school, and a few here for the paper."
"No, goofy, professional football games. You are from New Orleans and you do have a team there. Right?"
"Yeah, I have been to one of those. It was a class trip. My family does keep a suite though. Do you want to go one Sunday?"
"Hell yeah," Laurel practically shouted her answer. She loved football and tried to make it to every game she could since students got free tickets to all the home games at the university.
"Cool, Ill try to arrange it next time I talk to my grandmother."
The two fell into a comfortable silence. Amber stopped by to refill their mugs, gracing each of them with a relieved smile of gratitude. Apparently she did not get into any trouble over her phone call.
"Hey, its that time again. See you tomorrow night for lessons?" Laurel threw two dollars on the table and stood up to leave.
"Ill be there," Nicole watched the bassist leave and then turned her attention back to the Victorian world of Charles Dickens. After reading the same page three times, she packed up her belongs and headed home.
"I could do that," BJ said as he sat down on the couch.
"Could not and you know it," Laurel laughed and turned her attention back to the television.
"Yeah, well, Id look better in those leather pants though,"
"Forget the pants, man I want that jacket."
"Nice idea, Lakky," Mandy had heard the laughter and came out of the kitchen to investigate. "I dont think you have the chest hair to pull it off."
"Shes got ya there, kid," BJ pointed out. "What are we watching this shit for anyway?"
"Oh for a few reasons," She turned the volume down to better explain. "We could all use a little culture sometimes, this maybe as close as I get to Ireland for a long time, and of course to bug the shit out of you."
"Now that is the real idea isnt it?" BJ asked. The females of their household seemed to delight in making him slightly uncomfortable at any given opportunity. "Whats that guy talking about now?" He pointed out the new talking head interrupting the program.
"Oh, this is to stretch the guilt muscle," At his blank look, Mandy continued much to Laurels amusement. "You see, public television likes to show you all these great programs during their fund raising weekends. It stretches the guilt muscle. You feel bad about watching and not contributing, so eventually, you end up sending them money."
Laurel turned the volume back up after the well dressed but harassed looking man indicated the program was about to be continued. She had laughed at what Mandy had said, but the truth was she had already sent in her pledge. She suspected that her old friend had too.
"Yeah, but the real question is what is the point of this show anyway?" BJ was just slightly irritated. The race was on, and he didnt want to miss a lap. "And who does that guy think he is? The river lord or a foot aflame?" Both Mandy and Laurel started laughing at him.
"Never mind, BJ. Just never mind." Laurel tossed him the remote. "Im going to be late anyway. See you guys later."
Laurel had stretched the truth a bit to her roommates. She really did not have to be anywhere, but did not feel like staying at home to watch the race with BJ. To her, car racing was as exciting as watching clothes spin in a dryer at the laundry mat. Still, she did not have any plans with Nicole, and honestly had no idea what the photographer was up to this evening.
She drove down the familiar street without really thinking too much about it. The small house was dark. Only the porch light was on, and it showed a deserted carport. Laurel used the driveway to turn around and wondered what to do next.
If you show up at Mabels and shes there, then you are going to look like a stalker. Which you are. Have you no shame?
"Nope," She answered the voice in her head, laughing a little at her inner monologue. She did not believe that talking to yourself was a sign of insanity. Provided of course, that you answered yourself in the same character. Naming parts of your personality, according to her therapist, was when the problems arose.
Mabels was busy compared to the other times the blonde had been there. There were several cars in the parking lot, and she could see more than two waitresses through the windows. She tried to keep from looking for Nicoles little car, but could not help it. She sighed as she pulled into the open space next to it.
"When did I develop stalker tendencies?" She asked herself as she got out of the truck. She had no answer, nor did she really expect one from anyone including herself.
Several tables were occupied. The bassist stood just inside the door for a few moments before she noticed Nicole. The photographer just happened to be sitting with several other people, all of them seemed to be engrossed in conversation. Oh, shit.
Unobtrusively, Laurel tried to turn around and leave before she was spotted. Fate, however, can be cruel when you really do not need it to be. She turned right into a waitress carrying a hot pot of coffee. The resounding crash as the glass hit the floor caused all the patrons to turn in their direction. Laurel quickly knelt and tried to help the flustered young waitress clean up the mess when the hostess appeared with a broom and dustpan.
"Thank you for your help, maam, but weve got it from here."
"Um, sorry," Laurel did not need a mirror to know that her face was a bright red. So much for an unobtrusive exit. She looked back at the photographers table. Sure enough, Nicole and the rest of her friends were looking right at her. She noticed Nicoles wave and shrugging her shoulders, took that as an invitation.
"Hey, whats up?" Nicole was surprised but pleased to see Laurel. "You ok?"
"Yeah the coffee missed me mostly." She shook some of the dark brown liquid off of her jacket.
"You must be Laurel," A tall, blond man stood up and offered her his hand. "Daniel Watson at your service. I am very pleased to finally meet you. Nicole has told us so little about you." His grin was infectious, and Laurel returned it as she shook his hand.
"Laurel A. Kendrick at yours. Pleased to meet you too. Its "Cowboy" isnt it?" The table laughed as Danny groaned.
"Just Danny please,"
"Thats ok, Ive only really heard your show once. I seem to like stuff a bit harder," She grinned as she watched Danny breathe a sigh of relief. He reached around and grabbed an empty chair and pulled it over to the table next to him. She spared a glance at Nicole. She looked a little tense.
"To be honest, I do too. But," He shrugged, "A job is a job."
Laurel sat down and started laughing as she realized the redhead on her other side was humming. The rest of the group picked up the tune. All of a sudden, Nicole joined in a duet with the guy sitting next to her.
"Its a hard knock life for us. Its a hard knock life for us. Instead of treated we get tricks, instead of kisses, we get kicks. Its a hard knock life."
"That is so not funny," Danny scolded, but he was struggling to hold back a smile.
"Sure it is, Cowboy," The redhead said. "By the way, Laurel, Im Sheryl. It is nice to finally meet you. Ill do a quick intro for the rest of the group too," She grinned. "One of them is a bit shy. Ok, roll call: Greg is in the ugly shirt ogling the waitress and sitting next to Danny, and thats David next to Nicole." Both guys grinned and waved as they were introduced.
"Hey, my shirt isnt ugly," Greg protested.
"Sure it is. Most Hawaiian shirts are," David pointed out. Laurel judged he had been working late. He was well dressed in a dark suit, with the tie loosened. "Its nice to finally meet you, Laurel. We were all impressed with your band." He ignored Greg, who rolled his eyes.
"Yeah, whered you learn to play like that?" Greg finally addressed the bassist.
"My brother taught me."
"Hey wasnt," He stopped in mid sentence when he felt two feet make connection with his shins. Both Nicole and Danny had warning looks on their faces. "That a great movie?" He said to cover his almost mishap, before returning the kicks to the guilty parties.
"What did yall go see?"
"Some deadhead shoot em up and spit em out action flick," Sheryl answered. "I can tell you right now, the review will be short and nasty. Naturally, everyone will want to go see it then." She shook her head as the group laughed. Except for Nicole. The photographer looked nervous.
"You know, Nicole," Laurel was anxious to get the photographer away from the crowd. "I found that sheet music you wanted to borrow."
"Oh, do you play the violin too?" Greg asked. He shrugged at the look of disgust Sheryl gave him.
"Um, no I dont. I am teaching Nicole how to play the guitar though," Laurel answered evenly. Interesting. I didnt know she played the violin. Wonder what else I dont know?
"Oh, you didnt tell us that Hotshot,"
"Yeah, well. Its kinda late and I need to open the store in the morning. I think Ill see all of you later." She stood up to leave, causing her friends to wonder at the sudden retreat.
"Here, Ill walk outside with you and give you that sheet music." She stood to leave as well. "It was nice meeting all of you."
"Goodnight Nicole. Laurel, Im sure well be seeing more of you in the future. Drive safely."
After the two women had walked outside, Greg was pelted with napkins.
"What?" He asked. He was always the clueless one.
"Hotshot, huh? Howd you earn that nickname?" Laurel practically had to jog to catch up to the older woman.
"Just my luck I guess. Wanna head back to my place?" Nicole offered. She had not expected to introduce Laurel to the group so soon, and she was a little rattled.
"Yeah, sure. You ok?"
"Yeah, Im fine." Nicole unlocked her car and then took a key off her key chain. "Here, Im gonna stop by the store on the way. You go on ahead and wait inside. Ill be there in a few."
"Ok," Laurel took the key without further comment. Nicole shut her car door and took off, leaving the bassist watching her tail lights. "Yeah, nothings wrong with you at all Nicole."
She started the truck and retraced her route back to Nicoles house. Instead of going inside and getting comfortable, she opted to let Mozart out and sit on the porch. As usual she took a seat on the steps, forgoing the actual patio furniture.
Lighting a cigarette, Laurel wondered what was wrong with the photographer.
Nicole stood beside the giant freezer door looking in at the treats on display. The grocery store was almost deserted, which was fine for her. She hated being there during the day. It was too crowded for her comfort.
She had already decided on what flavor ice cream she was going to get for herself, but she did not know what flavor Laurel would prefer. Luck would have it though that the store actually had her favorite type. Vanilla with hot fudge swirls was a rare flavor to find. At least, she could never find it when she wanted it. Making a sudden decision, Nicole reopened the door and pulled out a pint of mint chocolate chip and a pint of strawberry cheesecake. Somehow, she had a feeling that the bassist did not like plain ice cream.
Juggling the three pints of ice cream, Nicole made one more stop. There was plenty of tea and coffee at the house; however, she had forgotten to get sugar when she had gone grocery shopping. Adding the pound of sugar to the pile in her arms, she ignored the strange glances and headed to the checkout lines.
Despite only having one cashier, Nicole easily bought her items and made her way to the car. The parking area was dimly lit, but she had parked close to the door. Without incident or accident, the photographer made it to her car and out of the parking lot.
Laurel sat outside on the porch, she felt more comfortable outside with the dog than inside. Nicoles house was comfortable, but Laurel trusted herself more outside the house. She knew she would not snoop, but felt the temptation too much to trust herself completely.
She had just finished a cigarette when she saw the car pull up in the driveway. She walked out to the car to see if the photographer needed help.
"You got everything?"
"Yeah, some ice cream and a bag of sugar." Nicole held up the bag for inspection as she closed the car door and made sure it was locked.
"Planning on a major sugar high?" The bassist swiftly took possession of the bag and led the way into the house.
"Nope, just in the mood for some ice cream and " She paused as a seventy-five pound weight hit her chest. "Hello, Mozart." Nicole scratched her dogs ears as she pushed him down. "As I was saying, I thought a movie would be nice."
"Sounds good to me. I have no plans. So, where do you want this stuff?"
"The kitchen works. You want a bowl for your ice cream?" Nicole walked through the living room and to the kitchen. She liberated two bowls from one of the cabinets by the sink. "By the way, you have your choice of ice cream. The vanilla hot fudge swirl is mine though."
"Lets live dangerously. No bowls, just spoons," Laurel choose the mint chocolate chip and took the spoon that was handed to her. She placed both on the counter and put the other pint of ice cream in the freezer. "Ill leave that for you to have later."
"Oh, I would if I could, but Im allergic to strawberries." Nicole reached in the refrigerator and pulled out a bottle of water.
"Want me to leave the mint chocolate chip then?" Laurel asked as she opened the freezer door again.
"No, I didnt know which youd like, so I got both. Eat whichever you want, we can save the other one for when you come back over."
"Sounds like a plan. Im gonna go get started on this stuff before it melts. Ill let you choose the movie. Ill watch anything."
"Alright." Nicole put the bowls back in the cabinet, and took her ice cream into the living room. She pulled a movie from her video library, not really caring which one it was, and sat down on the opposite side of the couch.
Laurel had turned off the lights and was sitting cross-legged on the far side of the couch. They ate their ice cream in silence, paying more attention to the movie than anything else. All was fine until the scrape of spoons on cardboard could be heard.
"Well, this is a first." Laurel broke the silence.
"What?" Nicole looked over at her friend.
"Eating an entire pint of ice cream in one sitting. Thank you though, it was good."
"My pleasure." Nicole was in a much better mood after the ice cream and the companionship. "Just leave it, we can throw the remains away after the movie." She added to forestall Laurel from trying to clean up.
Laurel sat back down and returned her attention to the movie. She pretended to ignore Nicoles yawning, since the photographer made no move to leave. However, she could not ignore the weight that suddenly appeared in her lap when a dozing Nicole stretched out in her sleep.
She looked down at the dark head in her lap, and resisted the urge to move. She let the movie play out and then fumbled for the remote. She debated on waking her friend as she turned off the television and rewound the movie, but she gave into her hedonistic desire and ran a hand lightly through Nicoles dark brown hair.
Nicole sighed and shifted in her sleep. Laurels resolve broke completely. Deciding she could sleep in her clothes yet another night in her life, she gently shifted Nicole on to the couch. Lying down behind her, Laurel put her arm around her friends waist and pulled her breathing body pillow closer to her. It was not long before Laurel joined Nicole in the realm of dreams.
Nicole woke up when her attempt to roll over landed her on the floor with a thump. She looked around trying to get her bearings, before seeing an arm dangling from her couch. She looked up to see Laurel curled in a loose fetal position.
Grey eyes opened and looked at her. It took a minute for them to focus, and Nicole realized that those eyes were covered by contacts. She grinned up at Laurel from her position on the floor and watched as a sleepy smile crossed the bassists face.
"Morning, what are you doing on the floor?" Laurel sat up and rubbed her eyes, careful not to disturb her contacts.
"Rolled off, damn things not wide enough for two." Mozart left his guarding post by the door and came over to inspect what was going on.
"What time is it anyway?" Laurel attempted to make out the glowing green numbers on the VCR.
"It is 2:38 am." Nicole stood up and held out her hand. "Come on, my bed is big enough for the both of us. No sense in you driving home at this hour when youre half asleep."
"Alright, Im too tired to argue anyway. Lead the way." She took the proffered hand and followed the photographer to bed.
It took them surprising little time to choose sides, and all three of them, Nicole, Laurel and Mozart were asleep before the uncomfortableness of the situation could hit them.
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