Typical for a day when Nicole could sleep in, the phone rang before the crack of dawn. The chirping was coming from the other side of the bed, and a groggy Nicole reached over to quiet it. Unfortunately, what she grabbed was not the phone. Fortunately, her companion did not stir.
The result of their positions on the bed required Nicole to reach over Laurel who was curled on her side facing away from the photographer. She spooned up behind Laurel and reached over to grab the phone.
"Yeah?" She groaned as she recognized the voice.
"You have to come home.... now, theres been . theres been an accident." Her uncles voice conveyed his concern and nervousness.
"An accident? What? Who?" Nicole felt Laurel stir beneath her.
"Nicky, I cant explain now. Please just meet us at the Warehouse. Jay and I will come get you there."
"Alright, Ill be there in about two hours." She replaced the phone with a heavy heart. Laurel did not move until Nicole was back on her side of the bed.
"Whats wrong?" The bassist turned over on her side and faced Nicole. Her eyes were still bleary from lack of sleep, but she seemed coherent.
"My uncle Phil just called. He said there was an accident and I was needed at home." Regardless of their positions on the bed, Nicole sat up then crawled over Laurel. She turned on the light and started looking for clothes.
"When are you leaving?"
"As soon as I can get packed and get a shower." She tossed a couple of days worth of clothes on the chair in the corner and started looking for a bag to put it all in.
"Can we stop by my place on our way out of town?"
"What?" Nicole felt she had been saying that a lot recently.
"I am going with you. Can we please stop by my place on our way so I can get some clothes and a toothbrush?" Laurel grinned and sat up in bed.
"Sure, if you really wanna go. I dont know why you would, but ok." She was startled by the announcement that Laurel wanted to go with her. However, Nicole knew that the bassist would at least ease the tension she would be under. Her mere presence would see to that.
"Alright then, you get a shower, and Ill do something about breakfast. Then Ill get a shower at home. Sound like a plan?" Laurel was already heading toward the door before the sentence was finished.
"Yeah, thanks." For everything.
Laurel tried not to think too much as she wandered into the kitchen and began looking for something to make for breakfast. Nicoles cupboards were extremely bare of breakfast foods. It was obvious that Nicole rarely took time for breakfast. However, more than enough food was available for every other type of meal the bassist could imagine.
She did manage to locate a carton of eggs in the refrigerator. With an idea in mind, she began to hunt for ingredients to make omelets. Laurel was not that good in the kitchen, but she could make a good omelet. Before too long she had the makings for a decent breakfast.
"What smells so good?" Nicole asked as she walked into the kitchen towel drying her hair.
"Bacon and cheese omelets. And you are just in time, they are finished." Laurel slid an omelet out onto each plate Nicole sat on the counter. "Plus, they should be edible. Only things I can make in the kitchen without instructions. Now on the grill I rock."
"I remember," Nicole said around a mouth full of omelets. "This is good. Tastes different then normal omelets. Whats your secret?"
"Cant tell you under penalty of death," Laurel took her own plate and started in on her food. "My grandpa taught me how to make these. He was an excellent cook, but I only got the eggs down. He gave up after the bread we were trying to make imploded."
"Well, my compliments to both of you," Nicole inhaled her omelet and started washing the dishes. Laurel followed suit and handed her plate to the photographer before too much time had passed.
"Ill let the dog out. Who are you going to get to watch him?"
"Hes going with us. He likes riding in the convertible." Nicole started washing the skillet as she spoke.
"Ok, Ill meet you outside then."
Mandy was awake and making breakfast when Nicole and Laurel entered the trailer. They had left Mozart in the car, to discourage any fights with the other dogs.
"Well, I guess that answers the question of where you were last night." Mandy laughed as she poured batter onto the skillet. "Morning Nicole. Have you two eaten?"
"Yes, we have to go to New Orleans today. Theres been an emergency, and Nicole is required at home." Laurel gave Mandy a kiss on the cheek then went back into her room, leaving her roommate and Nicole staring at each other.
"So you sure you dont want any pancakes?"
"Im sure. But thanks for the offer. Laurel made some omelets before we left." Nicole gingerly pulled out a chair at the small kitchen table and sat down.
"Laurel made you breakfast?" Mandy could not keep the shocked tone from her voice. She turned to stare at the photographer.
"I guess that means its not something she does often?"
"No, Laurel cooking is very rare. Its not something she does for just anyone." Mandy turned back to her pancakes when they started to sizzle more.
When the pancakes were finished, they could hear the shower cut off. Mandy excused herself and went back towards her room. Nicole was left to ponder the hints the redhead had left her with.
Laurel got dressed quickly and packed a light bag just in case they stayed a night or two. Nicole had done the same back at her house. She had just zipped up the backpack when Mandy appeared at her door.
"How long do you think youll be gone?" Mandy leaned casually in the doorway. She looked uncomfortable.
"As long as it takes I guess. Maybe until Sunday, if not, Ill call you." Laurel promised.
"Thats five days, Lakky. Including today."
"It probably wont take that long, and if it takes longer, you can come get me. I wont miss that much school, I promise." Laurel turned to look at her roommate. "Whats the matter, Mandy?"
"Just promise me youll be careful. Please."
"I promise Ill be careful." Laurel raised her right hand and held up the first three fingers.
"Have a safe trip," Mandy crossed the little room and embraced her friend.
"I will. Promise." Laurel was puzzled about her friends concern, but overlooked it for the time being. "Do me a favor and let the music department know so theyll cancel my lessons please."
"Sure, anything else?"
"Nope, I havent missed a day all semester so I shouldnt have to make excuses to my professors. Well, time to get a move on."
The two walked quietly down the little hallway back to the kitchen area. They found Nicole anxiously watching the sunrise through the window.
"Ready?" Laurel walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed two bottles of water then stuffed them in her backpack.
"When you are." Nicole turned from the window slowly. Even Mandy saw the slightly haunted look in her eyes.
"Im sure everything will be ok, Nicole. Ill keep you in my thoughts." To Laurel and Nicoles surprise, Mandy hugged the photographer.
"Thank you, Mandy. Ready?" She turned to Laurel. At the smaller womans nod, Nicole led the way to the door.
"When you are," Laurel shouldered the backpack and followed Nicole outside. "Later, Mandy."
The pine trees on the interstate kept the morning suns light from fully reaching the pavement beneath the car. Nicole turned on the headlights so the trucks passing them would see the light blue convertible. They had kept the top up, and had the radio on loud to combat the road noise.
"So," Laurel reached over and turned the radio down. Nicole was looking incredibly tense, and Laurel wanted to try to relieve that. "You never did tell me. Just how did you get the nickname Hotshot?"
"Sheryl gave that to me a long time ago when I first started taking pictures. She likes nicknaming people. She gave Danny his nickname after a very intense canoe trip. Said he rode the waves like a bronco. Now, how did you end up with Lakky?"
"My brother. Jon used me as his fetch and carry for a while, and my initials already spelt lak, he just added the other k and the y. That reminds me, how well did you know him?"
"Not well actually. I did a couple of interviews, well Sheryl or another reporter would do the interviews and I took the pictures. So mainly, I knew of him, had talked to him once or twice but that was all. My roommate our freshman year had a huge crush on him though."
"From what I understand a lot of people did." Laurel looked out the window for a moment. "Isnt there a shortcut or something? There is to the Coast."
"Nope, just one interstate to another. I-59 to I-10. If were lucky, it will only take an hour and a half total."
"I bet youve made this trip a lot more than I have. Where in New Orleans are we going anyway?" Laurel knew that making Nicole concentrate on their conversation would keep her from worrying too much about whatever awaited them.
"Well, my grandmother lives in the Garden District. Youve been there havent you?"
"Um, no Ive really only been to the clubs in the French Quarter."
"Oh, then youve missed an awful lot. Theres a lot more interesting things in New Orleans than the Quarter, although that will be our first stop. Were meeting Uncle Phil and Jay at the Warehouse."
"Whats the Warehouse?"
"Youll see." Nicole gave a small grin.
The closer they got to New Orleans, the more withdrawn Nicole became. By the time they had gotten on Interstate 10, Laurel was practically talking to herself. However, once they had turned off the interstate onto Canal Street, Nicole seemed to wake from her self induced hypnosis and play tour guide.
Laurel sat back and enjoyed the running commentary. She helped Nicole take the convertible top down at a red light right off the interstate; the morning was too nice to waste inside. Mozart apparently woke from his nap and began drooling on the seats in his excitement.
Nicole carefully and skillfully negotiated the early morning traffic down Canal Street and into the actual French Quarter. She pulled into a driveway and using a remote from her glove compartment opened the large metal door. Laurel was surprised at the large garage they pulled the car into.
"Nicole!" The shout came from behind them as soon as they had gotten out of the car. Nicole turned and saw two men standing by a mid sized sedan. Mozart jumped out of the car and ran to the taller of the two.
"Uncle Phil," Nicole went a little slower than her dog and embraced the man. Then she turned and hugged his companion. "Jay, whats going on?"
"Rugrat, its good to see you. Weve been instructed to bring you to the hospital. We cant tell you anymore than that." Jay shook his head regretfully. Her uncle did as well.
"Whats going on? Why all the secrecy?"
"Its what your Grandmother asked for. Now, introduce us to your lovely young companion." Phil grinned.
"Oh, um, Uncle Phil, Jay this is Laurel Kendrick. Laurel, this is my uncle, Philippe Hebert and his life partner Jay Lawrence Hebert."
"Its a pleasure to meet you Mr. Herbert," Laurel said shaking Phils hand.
"And you as well, Laurel. However, Jay and I both would be honored if you called us Uncles Phil and Jay." The man next to him nodded and smiled. They had both been briefed about Laurel during a conversation with Nicole right after Labor Day. Both Phil and Jay tried to keep abreast of the changes in their favorite nieces life.
"Alright, its a deal."
"Great, welcome to the family," Jay gave Laurel a hug. "Shall we?"
The four of them climbed into the sedan, and were backing out when Mozart protested his abandonment.
"What are we going to do about the dog?" Laurel asked from the backseat.
"Dont worry, Stan is here, well call and let him know. Hell take Mozart up to your floor Nicole."
"Thanks, though I dont think Stan will be too happy about it," She laughed. Laurel looked at her curiously. "The last time those two were in the same place at the same time, Mo tried to take Stans hand off."
"Im sure theyll be fine. Now, lets take you to see what all the fuss is about." Phil used his remote to close the garage door behind them, while Jay used his cell phone to wake Stan.
The car ride to the University Medical Center did not take as long Nicole had thought it would. Her sense of foreboding had grown through out the trip. She knew by now that it was not her grandmother that was in need of medical attention, the attitudes of her uncles had shown her that. They were not tense enough for it to be a problem with the family matriarch. However, the secrecy surrounding their trip did not sit well with the photographer. She was dreading who or what she would find at the hospital.
They parked the car across the street in a pay to park lot and walked over in silence. Already, the day was showing itself to be warming and the humidity was steaming off the cracked pavement. Laurel was looking around in interest, but Nicole could only stare straight ahead.
The Medical Center was a large, multi-floored marble and steel edifice. Phil and Jay led the two around to a side door. Their footsteps echoed off the tile floor, and Nicole counted the steps to the elevator. Once again, they walked in silence. Nicole caught the sympathetic looks the men kept casting her way, but she chose to ignore them. They had only increased her unease.
Jay pressed the button for the fifth floor once they crowed inside a relatively full elevator. Laurel took Nicoles hand and gave it a squeeze, easily reading the photographers stance as one filled with tension. Laurel shoved aside her own memories of an emergency hospital trip, and tried to convey her support through their contact. What comfort she could give was not long lasting, because Adia Herbert was waiting for them when the elevator doors opened.
"Oh, Nicolette," The elderly lady wrapped her granddaughter in a hug. "Isnt it wonderful? Horrible but wonderful."
"What are you talking about?" Nicoles stomach fell to her knees.
"They didnt tell you? No, of course they didnt. Here, follow me and see for yourself," Adia took Nicoles arm and led her down the hall. Laurel, Phil and Jay followed close behind.
Room 507s door was ajar, and Nicole heard voices coming from inside. She paused when her grandmother did, in front of a waiting area. Several of Nicoles aunts and cousins were already there in various stages of wakefulness. A harassed looking doctor came out of the room, and the crowd became instantly alert.
"Mrs. Hebert, you can see her now, but please try not to excite her too much." He brushed his graying hair back and adjusted his glasses. "She should be able to be released in another day or two, if her recovery stays as rapid as it has been."
"Thank you Doctor Simon," Adia grabbed Nicoles arm and started towards the door.
"Oh, let me guess, Darlin Nicky has come home too," An overstated southern accent wafted through the open door.
Nicole threw off her grandmothers arm and stopped where she stood. Her face went ashen, and Laurel immediately went to her side. Seeing this, Adias face went white as well. The older lady tightened her mouth and rounded on her granddaughter.
"Nicolette Elizabeth Herbert, you get in there and talk to your sister. She almost died last night." The matriarch disregarded Laurels presence after a brief, withering glance.
"Of what? A drug overdose?" Nicoles voice carried an immense level of disdain with it.
Uh oh, Laurel thought to herself as she wrapped an arm around Nicoles waist. Guess this weekend is not the time for confessions.
"Nicole, go in and see her at least. Ive lost a brother, so I know how it feels. You dont want to know that feeling."
Nicole looked down at her friend and nodded. Without a word she took her grandmothers arm and this time, she lead the way. Inside the room was a thin, pale woman under an equally thin hospital sheet. Her waist length hair was streaked with grey, though she was only four years older than her sister.
"Oh, now theres the golden child. Nicky, Nicky, Nicky, how Ive missed you," Her sisters voice was full of sarcasm.
"Margie, you look," Nicole paused searching for a proper word. "Different than the last time I saw you. That IV, nice look."
"Nicolette, be nice," Adia stage whispered. Nicole shook her head in disgust.
"Oh, thats ok, Grammy, Nickys probably just being grumpy. Bet she hasnt had a lot of sleep lately. Was that your new friend I heard outside?" Margies smile turned evil. "Id like to meet her, after all, these family reunions dont happen everyday."
"Im sure Nicole will introduce you to her friend at a more appropriate time, dear. Right now you should get your rest. Nicole, maybe you should have Phil take you back to the Warehouse and get some sleep. Then you wont be as tired when you come back here this afternoon." Both women caught the polite commands the matriarch was infamous for in her speech.
"Yes maam," Nicole replied through gritted teeth. Without another word, she turned around and walked out the door.
"See ya later, Nicky. Ill be looking forward to your afternoon visit." The falsely bright voice followed Nicole out into the hallway.
"You ok, Hotshot?" Laurel asked as soon as Nicole had cleared the doorway.
"Yeah, I just need some sleep. Wanna go back to the Warehouse and crash?"
"Sounds like a good plan." Laurel was more than a little curious as to what exactly the Warehouse would be and could not wait to find out.
Jay and Phil had already pressed the down button on the elevator, and were waiting for the two women to catch up to them. The elevator doors opened just as Laurel and Nicole reached it. Nicole stood in the back corner, her thoughts and emotions in a whirl. Jay looked sympathetic, but Phil looked uneasy with the entire situation.
The ride back to the Warehouses garage was tense. No one said a word. Nicole just sat in the back seat and looked out the window. Laurels silence stemmed from her own confusion about the situation. Nicole had never mentioned having a sister to her, and now she thought she knew why. Far from being angry, Laurel was plotting ways to keep Nicole from sinking down into depression or self-pity. For the first time in a long time, the bassist was putting someone elses feelings before her own.
"Look, Rugrat, err Nicolette, Im sorry about how you found out, but the old ladys wish was to surprise you." Jay pulled the sedan in to the garage, but left the motor running. "Do you want us to come up with you? The place has been cleaned and aired out, so its all ready for you two."
"Thanks, Uncle Jay, but I think well be ok. Well see you later."
"Well, here we are," Nicole opened the grate on the old elevator and gestured for Laurel to precede her. "This is my floor in the Warehouse."
"Oh, my wow," Laurel was speechless as she looked around. The elevator was situated in a corner of the very large room behind a screen. The floor was one large room, and well furnished. Laurel noticed the lack of walls, the furniture acted as partitions, except for what appeared to be the bathroom in the back right corner. It was a large apartment made from a converted warehouse. The wood had been sanded until it shown. There were prints of black and white photos next to color shots all over the walls and some looked older than others. All in all, Laurel was very impressed.
"This used to be my great grandfathers warehouse. He was in the textile industry. My grandfather inherited it, but he sold off the company and kept the warehouse. Originally he was going to renovate it and rent it out, but his brood was so large that he kept it for family housing. He did use the bottom two floors for his company until he retired. This was originally my parents floor. Margie has one but it was chopped in half and Stan has the other half."
"Its great. I love it," Laurel walked around a little and turned to face Nicole. "You want to take the bed and get some rest? Ill crash on the couch for a bit."
"Actually, Im a bit hungry. What time is it?"
"Um, its just now ten," Laurel was surprised at how early it was.
"Sounds like beignets to me then."
"Hey, Ive had those before. Course, I really dont remember much of it." Laurel grinned sheepishly. "I think I will this time though." If nothing else, this will definitely be a memorable trip. "But first, Ive got to go um "
"Ill wait until you are through, its behind the only wall in the place," Nicole gave a weak grin and watched Laurel walk to the bathroom.
She really did feel at home here. Despite the comforts of her house and her friends proximity in Hattiesburg, New Orleans would always be home. Nicole noticed a large black lump on her bed, and recognized it as Mozart as she walked closer to it. The poor dog was sleeping soundly. She sat down beside him and stroked his fur, gently waking him. He was so tired that he looked at her then rolled over. She laughed and lay down beside him, taking comfort from a long time companions nearness.
When Laurel walked back into the room, she heard two sets of snores. Nicole was lying with her arm across Mozart and was obviously fast asleep. The blonde gently sat on the bed beside her friend and pushed the dark hair from her forehead. Not in the least bit tired, Laurel went in search of an exit.
She managed to get the elevator to the ground floor without disturbing anyone. After much searching, she found a door in the garage that led outside. However, she did discover upon trying it first, that it locked automatically when someone closed it. Not wanting to compromise the security of the building, she was on her way back upstairs to find Nicoles keys when she heard someone pulling into the garage.
A small red car with a rental sticker on it pulled into the space next to Nicoles convertible. A weary looking young girl got out and was opening the trunk when Laurel was struck by an idea.
"Can I help you?" Laurel asked as the girl tried to carry a large duffel bag and a suit bag.
"Yeah sure," She looked grateful, and Laurel hefted the duffel onto her shoulder. "Are you a friend of Stans?"
"No, Im Laurel Kendrick. Im here with Nicole. I was about to go find breakfast when you pulled up."
"Oh, Im Jessie. Stan is my older brother. So, Nicky is here already? Cool. I wont be here long, I just flew in for the rest of the week and the weekend." Jessie explained as they entered the building. "Just to the elevator is fine, I can manage from there."
"Where did you fly in from?"
"New York. I go to school up there, one day Ill be a great fashion designer. Or, Ill just go work on costuming movies out in Hollywood. Thanks for the help." Laurel had loaded the duffle bag into the elevator and moved out of the way. "Hey, do you have a key to get back in?"
"No actually, I was going to go get Nicoles but I didnt want to wake her."
"Well, here take mine. I wont need them for a few hours. I just want to kick my brother out of his bed and crash," Jessie took a key off her key chain and handed it to the bassist. "Ill come get it later."
"Thanks," Laurel was honestly grateful. She would have hated to wake Nicole for something as trivial as keys.
"Anytime," Jessie grinned then climbed in the elevator and pulled the door shut.
Laurel knew where she was as soon as she made it outside the Warehouse. Remembering that Nicole had mentioned beignets, the bassist crossed the street and walked toward the river. Not too many people were out, the tourists were probably sleeping in, and so Laurel had the street almost to herself.
Once on the Riverside of the street, Laurel aimed for Café Du Monde. The air was full of moisture, legacy of the river, but it felt refreshing. New Orleans had always seemed magical to Laurel, and just walking down the street revived her spirits. She kept alert of her surroundings enough to know if someone got too close to her, but otherwise she let her mind wander.
Before she knew it, she was standing outside of Café Du Monde, home of the original beignet. Underneath the green and white striped awning, several people were eating the sugarcoated pastries and talking with friends. She walked up to the take out window and placed her order, telling the server that she would be sitting at a table near the window.
Lighting a cigarette, Laurel watched the people around her. She pitied a few of them, an older man eating alone and a teenager in all black. She silently laughed at his scowl when the wind blew half the powered sugar on the beignet onto his shirt. Her pity extended only so far.
"Maam? You had the two orders of beignets, the two chocolate milks and the coffee and chicory to go?" The server handed her two white bags. "Need anything else?"
"No thanks, but here," Laurel handed him a dollar bill, though she had paid the cashier when she placed the order, she still wanted to tip the young man. He smiled and went back inside the main building.
Instead of the ambling walk she had taken on the way to Café Du Monde, Laurel walked a little faster on the way back to the Warehouse. Beignets were best eaten warm, and she had not had them in a long time. Fortunately, the Warehouse was only six blocks away.
She used Jessies key to open the door to the garage and then found her way back to the elevator. She had to set the bags on the floor to figure out how to make the car move. Everything she tried failed to make the antique elevator move in any direction. Swearing in a way that surely would have raised Adia Herberts ire even more, Laurel pushed hard against the lever. The elevator moaned in protest but decided to do its duty. Finally, she arrived at Nicoles floor vowing revenge on the elevator as soon as she figured out how to accomplish it.
Nicole was still sleeping when Laurel walked into the apartment. The smell of food did wake Mozart however. Laurel looked around and found a bag of dog food that looked relatively new and poured some into a bowl on the floor. Then she was able to enjoy her lukewarm beignets.
When Nicole woke up, it took a minute for her to realize that she was at the Warehouse. She lay on the bed for several minutes staring at the ceiling before getting to her feet. She wondered if her helpful relatives had stocked the pantry, and decided to go in search of food.
Laurel had fallen asleep on the couch. She was stretched out on her side with her arm supporting her head. There was a sweet half smile on her face along with several mysterious white flakes. Nicole smiled in reflex.
On the table in the kitchen area, Nicole found a white bag. Curious, she opened it and discovered the source of Laurels white spots. Inside the bag was an order of beignets. They were slightly cold, but Nicole found a plate and placed all three of them on it. Gathering plenty of napkins, she wandered back into the living area to watch the bassist dream.
Laurel was conscious first of being watched. She opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was a white flecked Nicole sitting on the love seat.
"Afternoon. Thanks for breakfast or brunch, whatever you want to call this."
"My pleasure," Laurel could barely say the words without laughing. Nicole looked so funny with powdered sugar all over her. She looks like a big kid.
"I dont know what time the others will be here or if we are expected to go to the hospital by ourselves. I havent heard yet what the plans are."
"Whatever is fine with me, Im just here for moral support."
"Thanks for being here. I owe ya one." Nicole stood up. "Im going to go take a shower, feel free to look around. I have no secrets from my friends."
"Ok, I think Ill take one when youre finished. Even naps make me feel grungy. Go on, Ill be fine." Laurel shooed Nicole off to the bathroom.
Laurel walked around to get a better look at the apartment. The photos on the wall in particular held her attention. There were some well-composed black and white shots of the French Quarter at night, different ones of the cathedral, a few museums, the obligatory street entertainer and the steamboat. All looked like classy tourist shots, and all had a feeling of age to them. A few of the prints had corresponding color shots next to them, recreating the original. They looked newer, and Laurel was willing to bet those were Nicoles.
It was the family shot though that caught and held her attention. Two smiling parents were sitting and holding three children. The woman in the picture looked enough like Nicole for Laurel to see that it was the Herbert family portrait. It was the children that surprised her however. On the fathers lap was a toddler, a preschool aged daughter on the mothers lap, and between them was a newborn. It took Laurel a moment to realize that the toddler was her friend. It was the eyes more than anything that gave it away. The other two children had brown eyes, and the toddlers eyes were the same clear blue as Nicoles.
"Thats my brother, Michael. He lives with my mothers sister out in California. I havent seen him since he was eight."
"I thought you were in the shower," Laurel whirled to face the bathroom door when she heard the voice behind her.
"I left my toothbrush on the bed," Nicole only had a towel around her, and despite herself, Laurel could not stop staring. Fortunately, the photographer was too embarrassed to notice.
"Um, Im going to walk the dog. Any particular place?" Laurel looked around for Mozarts leash, more to keep her eyes off Nicole than anything else.
"We have a courtyard outside the game room downstairs. Just take the elevator down, and walk past the door to the garage. Youll see it," Nicole grabbed her toothbrush off the bed and headed back into the bathroom, too distracted to see that the towel had slipped past her breast.
Laurel called the dog to her and practically ran for the elevator. She stopped to put Mozarts leash on when she noticed the other door. She opened it and discovered a stairway. Praising any higher power she could think of, she led the dog to the bottom floor.
She followed her friends directions, but in truth, Mozart knew where to go. Together they found the entrance to the game room, but he was in too much a hurry to let his masters friend explore the area. All Laurel really got to see before they encountered the French doors to the courtyard were two pool tables and a ping-pong table.
Once outside, Laurel let go of Mozarts leash and sat down at the patio table. She fished a cigarette out of her battered pack and lit it, watching Mozart run around sniffing all the plants. He seemed determined to mark each part of the large courtyard as his own, and the bassist was amused by his antics. She leaned back into the chair and relaxed, despite the raging hormones coursing through her.
"I think its time Nicole and I had a little chat," She told herself.
"A chat about what?" Jessie Herbert appeared from behind Laurel, lighting her own cigarette.
"Her dog, he seems bound and determined to be an alpha male."
"Oh, I was wondering if she brought him with her," Jessica sat down on another patio chair and then whistled for Mozart. He bounded to her and eagerly began to lick her face. "Thats a good boy."
"Do you see a lot of him?" Laurel asked, wanting to know how often Nicole made the trip home.
"A few times a year, but hes actually one of my dogs pups. To look at him, youd never know that he was the runt of the litter," She laughed. "I think hes bigger than his sire by now."
"Yeah, he is a big dog. Must have been a fine line that he came from." Laurel reached over and scratched Mozarts ears.
"Least he likes you. He didnt like Nicoles previous girlfriend," Jessica imparted this information in a matter of fact tone. Laurels jaw almost hit the floor. "You ok?"
"Yeah, Im just tired. Its been a long day already." She tried to cover her mistake.
"I know what you mean. At least Im used to this soap opera. I feel for you though, I bet you didnt have a clue as to what you were getting into when you started dating Nicky."
Laurel affected a weak laugh. She didnt know how to respond to that statement. She knew that for Nicoles sake she should set Jessie straight on the nature of their relationship, but she could not bring herself to do so. She wanted it to be true so much that she was willing to play along for the moment.
"Anyway, Nicole should be out of the shower by now, and Ive had my recommended dose of nicotine. I think Im going to head upstairs." She snubbed out her cigarette and went to put Mozarts leash back on him. He of course protested.
"Dont worry, Ill bring him up when Im finished with mine. I want to see Nicky and I need to get my key anyway," Jessie reassured her.
"Alright, thanks." Laurel turned and started back inside. "Just one more question. How old is Mozart anyway? Ive never asked Nicole."
"Um, two and a half years old I think. Yeah thats right. Annie was here when he was six months old."
"Annie?" Laurel was not sure she wanted to know the answer.
"Nicoles last girlfriend. Boy did that cause a stir. Grandmother almost had a heart attack. Its going to be interesting to see how she reacts to you." Jessie looked amused and slightly sympathetic.
"Yeah, well, interesting can be entertaining at least," Laurel grinned. "See you inside."
Nicole was sitting on the bed drying her hair when Laurel reentered the apartment. She was dressed casually, but still seemed preoccupied.
"Hey, wheres Mozart?"
"Your cousin Jessie said shed bring him up," Laurel sat heavily down on the couch.
"Jessica is here too? Boy Grandma really brought out all the stops on this one," Nicole stood up and walked over to the couch. "You wanna take a shower now or wait until we come back?"
"Ill take one now. When are we expected at the hospital again?" Laurel got up to find her backpack.
"I dont know. Im hoping Jay and Phil will call here, but if they havent called by the time you are out of the shower, Ill call them."
"Sounds like a plan," Laurel found her backpack and carried it to the bathroom. "Ill be back in a few minutes."
"Take your time," Nicole sat on the loveseat and propped her feet up on the coffee table. She laid her head back on the cushions and tried to even out her breathing. She did not mediate very often, but she felt it might ease her tension this time.
"Hey, am I interrupting anything?" Jessies voice came from around the elevators entrance. Mozart broke from his leash and jumped on the bed, daring anyone to make him get down.
"No, come on in," Nicole got up and hugged her cousin. "Hey, you look great kid."
"Thank you. You do too. Love suits you Nicky," Jessica was as blunt as Nicole remembered.
"Love? What are you talking about?" Nicole resumed her seat. Actually, she fell back into the cushions of the love seat.
"Oh come on Nicky. You wouldnt even bring Sheryl home for this type of emergency. Sides, Ive seen Laurel. Not your usual type, but very impressive." Jessica plopped down on the couch.
"Yeah, well Adia didnt seem too pleased to see her. Have you spoken with her yet?" Nicole tried to deftly change the subject.
"Yeah, I met her today," Jessica looked at Nicole as if the photographer had lost her mind.
"No, goofy, I meant have you talked to our grandmother?"
"Nothing since the phone call last night. Do you know how hard it is getting plane tickets from New York to New Orleans with only three hours notice? Not to mention how expensive it is?"
"No, but I can imagine." For once I should be grateful I live as close as I do.
"So, tell me, how did you meet Laurel? She looks younger than you are." Jessie turned the conversation back to Nicoles personal life.
"Well, the gang and I went to go see a band contest in August. Laurel was the bassist in one of the bands."
"Ah, love at first sight?" Jessica leaned forward in interest.
"It was something at first sight. I guess it was love, though I didnt realize it until a couple of weeks ago." Nicole had always gotten along well with her younger cousin. Their relationship was much better than the one she had with her own sister. It helped that Jessica shared her preferences. That much the photographer had learned last Christmas.
"Anyway, we met after the concert and then again after that at a coffee shop. Things just kinda snowballed," She unintentionally echoed the phrase she had used with the salesperson at the furniture store.
"Wow, wish I had that luck. My last girlfriend was psychotic. Worse than Annie was to you. She stalked me for a while. It was scary," Jessie still had a haunted look and a flat way of speaking about it.
"Tell me what happened?" Nicole settled back to listen to her cousins problems, forgetting for a moment that she had a bassist in her shower.
The bathrooms immense proportions impressed Laurel. The claw footed tub looked as if it could hold two adults comfortably. She wondered if it ever had. The room itself looked as if it could sleep twenty. She laughed at the thought of her and her friends camping out in a bathroom during Mardi Gras. They had definitely done worse.
Laurel started the water and then started to undress. Her head seemed to be filled with thoughts and remembrances of the time she had spent with Nicole so far. She knew how she felt for the photographer, but she wondered how much Nicole felt about her.
She put her dirty clothes in a hamper by the towel rack and grabbed a towel. The water was of an adequate temperature so she climbed in and just stood under the spray. The water hit the top of her head and felt relaxing. For several minutes, she just stood there, letting the water rain down on her until she remembered something.
Lacky, she adores you. Mandys voice came to her from out of nowhere. With that sentence came several other little hints Nicole had inadvertently dropped when they were together.
We really need to talk, about everything. Guess maybe it is time for full confessions.
With a vague plan of action in mind, Laurel started to finish her shower.
"So, I called in the campus police, but they didnt want to do anything about it."
"Why, cause it was another female or because they couldnt bother with a stalking complaint?"
"A little of both I think. Fortunately my roommate was there that night. She called in her sorority sisters, and they held a vigil. She didnt bother me anymore after that."
"I dont think Id bother several sorority members at once either," Laurel came out of the bathroom fully dressed and joined the conversation. "Though something tells me I missed an awful lot of this conversation."
"Thats ok, Nicky can fill you in later," Jessica told her. "So, what do you think of the Warehouse?"
"I think its a great place. Its a very well kept building. Youd never think all this could be in here when you see it from outside either," Laurel took a seat next to Nicole.
"Thats New Orleans for you. Theres always something more to see beneath the surface," Nicole offered. She was about to say something else, but the phone rang and interrupted her.
"Hello?" Nicole grabbed the phone from the end table. "Ok, well meet you there. Do you want me to bring Stan and Jessica?" She rolled her eyes. "Yes maam. Then well just bring Jessie with us."
"Was that the drill sergeant?" Jessica asked when Nicole hung up the phone.
"Yeah, apparently Stan the man is already at the hospital, and we are supposed to be there as soon as we can get there."
"Do you think if anyone would mind if we got lunch first?" As usual, heavy thinking made Laurel hungry.
"No, I dont think anyone will," Nicole smiled fondly at her friend. "What do you want?"
"Anything but Hooters," Jessie added. The other two laughed. "I think theres still that pizza parlor on the corner of Bourbon."
"Sounds good to me. You?"
"Yep, that is perfectly acceptable to me," Laurel added her approval.
"Alright then, lets get out of here."
All three of them had had a nice time at lunch. Of course, they had prolonged the moment of departure for as long as possible. However, before they knew it, they were parking Nicoles car in a lot outside of the Medical Center.
Once again, Adia Hebert was waiting for them when they stepped out of the elevator. She smiled when she saw her two granddaughters, but her face fell when she noticed that Laurel had returned with them. Not wanting to cause a scene, she ignored the bassists presence for the time being.
"Shes regained a lot of color. The doctors think she could be home again in a day or two."
"Great," Jessie tried to sound sincere. Nicole could not bring herself to say anything.
Adia steered the group over to the waiting area where the rest of the family was waiting. Phil and Jay were already seated. Jay was flipping through a magazine and Phil was playing a video game. A small boy was giving him agitated instructions. Laurel took an empty seat by Jay and smiled at him when he looked over.
Nicole was hugged by several relatives, and introduced to a few family friends she had not met. She kept her grandmother in her peripheral vision the entire time, and did not smile until the old woman went back inside Margies room. Only then did she give her uncles a smile and take a seat by Laurel. The bassist reached over and took Nicoles hand in a gesture of support. Nicole gave it a small squeeze.
"So, is this tradition? Sitting around waiting in the hospital for news?" Laurel asked her friend.
"Yeah, though we should not have to come up here and wait all day tomorrow if Margie really is getting better. Speaking of," Nicole leaned over and got Jays attention. "What happened anyway?"
"Well, from what we gathered, Margot had a drug overdose. Heroine. She ended up back in New Orleans and was living in an apartment with several other less reputable people." As always, Jay was trying to be nonjudgmental.
"One of her roommates found her unconscious on the floor yesterday evening and had the presence of mind to call an ambulance. She was in a partial coma or something similar and somehow they managed to figure out who she was and called your grandmother." Phil finished the story for his partner.
Nicole did not feel vindicated by that story. Nor did she feel as if that was the entire truth of the matter. She released Laurels hand and started pacing the length of the waiting area. Something did not fit. She knew that Margie would lie about whatever would have happened, so they must have gotten the information about her overdose from either the doctors or the police. All in all, it just made her madder at her sister than she had been before.
Laurel however did not feel any better about her vow to tell Nicole her past history, but she knew that she had to do so. If what she wanted to happen between them was to have a chance to grow, the air between them had to be clean. She could not start another relationship based on a lie. Both she and Nicole deserved more than that.
They sat at the hospital for two hours. Margie had a small complication when her blood pressure rose dramatically, and for an hour no one was allowed inside the room. Adia sat in a chair right outside the door. Finally, she was allowed back inside, and one by one the family started to drift off.
Nicole waited until her grandmother came back outside into the waiting area before walking over to her.
"Grandmother, I am going to take Jessica home and find something for dinner. If that is ok," No one but Adia was allowed in the room, so Nicole felt her presence there was pointless.
"Yes, dear. You can take your cousin and your friend back to the apartment. I think when they can release your sister she should stay with me instead of at the Warehouse. She might rest better at my house. What do you think?" As usual, Adia had everything planned.
"I think that is a very good idea," Nicole was relieved. She was worried that her grandmother would have talked her into watching over her sister.
Laurel looked up when the photographer walked back over. Nicole did not even have to say anything, both Jessie and Laurel stood as she got within conversation range. Silently the three made their way back to the car.
"Well, that was a waste of time," Jessica was the first to break the silence. Nicole just grunted. "Anyway, I have some friends to see this evening, so once we get back you two will be on your own for dinner."