Author’s Note: This scene contains THE awaited scene…that’s right…some one gets lucky <g>

It was not a phone call that woke Laurel that morning. Mozart apparently elected her to take him downstairs. He was half on her chest licking her face when she opened her eyes.

"Ugh. All right Mo, alright," She fumbled around until she found the bathroom’s light switch. She pulled on her jeans and another shirt, not wanting to surprise anyone that might be up and about downstairs.

Nicole was curled on her side sound asleep. Laurel did not want to wake her, so she took her shoes downstairs without putting them on. She did not bother with Mozart’s leash; she just opened the door to the stairway and followed him down. He was waiting for her by the French doors when she made it, so she let him out onto the courtyard. She closed the doors on him and found the door to the outside.

She remembered how much Nicole had liked the beignets yesterday, so she retraced her steps back to Café Du Monde. There was a line this time, as it was actually time for the locals to have breakfast. The line moved quickly, and soon she was at the window placing her order. She sat at a table and waited for her food, tipped the waitress and started back toward the Warehouse.

She still had Jessica’s key so she let herself into the building, collected Mozart and went back upstairs. After she ate her share of the beignets, she brushed her teeth, took a shower and went back to the bedroom area to wait for the photographer to wake. She was dozing off in a chair when she felt blue eyes staring at her.

"Morning, breakfast is on the table."

"You’ve already been out?" Nicole said as she sat up rubbing her eyes.

"Yeah Mozart woke me up and wanted to be let outside. I thought breakfast might be a good idea since I was already up," Laurel went over to the kitchen area, got the bag of beignets, a lot of napkins, a paper plate and retrieved one of the cartons of chocolate milk she had gotten as well. She took it all over to the bed and handed them to the photographer.

"What did I do to rate breakfast in bed?" Nicole sat the order of beignets out on the paper plate and covered her lap with the napkins.

"By virtue of being you. No other reason is necessary," Laurel grinned.

"I believe I have heard that line before," Nicole grinned over a beignet. "Thank you."

"Anytime," Laurel crawled back on the bed. She watched as Nicole ate. Mozart was doing the same thing on the other side in the hope that Nicole would drop something.

Nicole was flattered that Laurel went for breakfast. It was another little sign much like the way the bassist always lit both cigarettes, that made her feel special. She finished the beignets and set the plate on the nightstand before wiping her mouth with one of the napkins.

"Did I get it all?"

"Unfortunately you did."

"Why is that unfortunate?"

"Because I can’t kiss away the crumbs now," Laurel let out a very dramatic sigh. "Guess I’ll have to improvise then."

She leaned over and caressed Nicole’s cheek. She let her hand wander down to her partner’s neck before she leaned over and kissed her on the lips. Nicole responded and pulled her closer. Laurel let her hands roam down the photographer’s back and side. Nicole groaned through their kiss, and Laurel tried to bring her even closer. She gave up and rolled Nicole over onto her back, following the moment and laying on top of the photographer. She had just let her hand reach Nicole’s breast when the phone rang.

Nicole reached over and picked the phone off the charger. She was tempted to quickly press the end button and disconnect the call, but brought it to her ear instead. Laurel stayed where she was. She was comfortable lying with her knee between the photographer’s legs and her hand on her breast. If she had to be diverted from her goal, she was not going to give up easily.

"Huh…Hello?" Nicole struggled to get her breath even. She listened to the aged voice on the other end of the line with patience. It was not an easy thing to do since a certain blonde bassist kept shifting her knee and flexing her hand.

"Yes, ma’am, we will be there," Nicole put the phone back on the charger.


"We are due at the hospital in an hour. It takes about fifteen minutes to get there, so we kinda need to get moving," Nicole surprised the bassist by flipping them both over. She leaned down and put her mouth near Laurel’s ear. "You are pure evil, you know that?"

"I have been told so before," Laurel grinned and flipped both back over. She leaned down and kissed Nicole again before getting up and walking over to the kitchen area. "I’ve already had a shower. I think I really need a cigarette. Do you want me to take Mozart downstairs with me?"

"Yeah, I’ll be down after a very cold shower. It shouldn’t take that long. But, could you wake Jessie and Stan on your way down please?" Nicole was still breathing hard, and was glad that Laurel seemed so flustered.

"Yeah, no problem. Meet ya downstairs," She called Mozart and walked down the stairs to the third floor.

Stan and Jessie were already awake and dressed when Laurel knocked on their door. The three of them decided to wait for Nicole downstairs. They sat around chatting about small stuff until Nicole appeared at the doorway. She joined them around the table for a cigarette before taking charge and heading them toward the car.

"So, why are we going back today? I thought Margie would be released in a day or two. We shouldn’t have to go participate in the vigil," Stan protested from the backseat as Nicole piloted the car onto the street.

"According to Grandma, Margie’s blood pressure went back up last night. They wanted us to come down to donate blood in case she needs a transfusion." Nicole was not any happier about this change of events than her cousins were.

The traffic was heavy, but Nicole easily maneuvered the car down the one-way roads to Canal Street. The main problem she had to worry about was the pedestrian traffic. Some people felt that although cars were larger than they were, brakes would keep them from getting smashed into the concrete. To lower the stress level, Laurel found a rock station on the radio, and the four of them ended the ride singing along with the radio.

Most of the relatives they had seen there the day before were already in the waiting area. Phil and Jay were standing in front of the nurses’ station talking to a young man in blue scrubs. Adia was nowhere to be seen, so Nicole assumed her grandmother was in Margie’s room.

"Hey, Nicole. Have you given blood yet?" Jay intercepted the four before they could sit down.

"No we just got here. Have you two given blood yet?" Nicole hugged her uncle’s partner hello.

"No, Adia decided that Phil and I should not give blood because of our lifestyle," He rolled his eyes. Adia was not as opened minded as most of her progeny.

"That wasn’t really a bright idea. But, what can you expect? Anyway, where do we go?" She asked.

"Are you four here to donate blood?" The young man they had seen talking to Phil and Jay walked over to them.

"Yeah, I guess so," Stan answered for the group.

"Then follow me," He directed them back the elevators. They went down four floors and followed him down a long hallway. They came to a room near the back entrance where hospital beds and nurses waited for them.

A different nurse took charge of each member of the little group. They were made to lie on a hospital bed and get prepped for their donation. Laurel went along with the group, even though she was not a member of the family. Her nurse had her take off her over shirt before rubbing the inner part of her elbow with alcohol. She watched as the nurse inserted the IV. She took the rubber ball and squeezed it, morbidly fascinated by the sight of her blood making its way into the plastic bag.

Jessie was walking around soon after she was finished, and Laurel joined her. Stan needed to be revived, and Nicole looked as if she was about to pass out as well. Laurel walked over and sat on the bed by Nicole.

"You know, this isn’t a cool place to be. You gonna be ok?" Laurel hoped seriously that she would not have to repeat sitting at Nicole’s bedside in a hospital anytime soon if at all.

"Yeah, I just got lightheaded. I’ve never given blood before," Nicole sat up slowly. Laurel helped her get out of the bed and roll down her sleeve.

"You going to make it upstairs?"

"Yeah, I should be able too. How’s Stan?" She directed this to Jessie.

"He should be fine. I’ll wait here with him if you two want to go back upstairs."

"Yeah, we’ll meet you there," Laurel stayed close to Nicole in case the photographer needed her assistance.

The elevator was empty when they entered. Laurel pressed the proper floor button. She turned to check on Nicole and found her leaning against the wall. She walked over and put her arm around her. The photographer grinned weakly at her.

"You sure you are ok?"

"Yeah, I just need food,"

"Well, I’m sure they have vending machines around here somewhere. In the meantime, how about some TLC?" Laurel gently kissed Nicole on the lips.

"Hey, I feel better already," Nicole’s grin got wider. The elevator slowed to a stop, and they separated quickly.

This time, Adia was waiting for them. Laurel put Nicole’s arm around her shoulder and steered her to a chair. Jay and Phil quickly came over to help. Several relatives got out of the way. Laurel made sure that Nicole was seated before going in search of a vending machine.

She found one not too far from the waiting area. She fished out three dollar bills and feed them into the machines. She chose two different candy bars and a soda. She hurried back to the waiting area. Relatives were still crowded around Nicole, but Adia did not seem to be one of them. Laurel had to push several out of her way before reaching the photographer. She handed Nicole the soda after opening the can and sat down beside her.

"Here, you have a choice of candy bars. I didn’t know which you would prefer."

"Thanks," Nicole took a long drink of the soda and picked the candy bar without peanuts.

"Anytime," She turned to Jay. "Has Jessie made it back up here with Stan yet?"

"No, why what happened?" Jay looked concerned. He considered Phil’s family as his own, despite Adia’s coldness toward him.

"Stan passed out after giving blood. They had to revive him with smelling salts. Jessie stayed down there with him. She was going to bring him up when he could walk."

"I think I’ll go down there and see how he is," Jay stood up and waved Phil over. "Hon, I’m going downstairs to see what is wrong with Stan. I think Nicky will be fine; she just needs rest now that she has sugar. But I think Stan should be tested for anemia if he did indeed pass out."

"Ok, I’ll wait here and make sure no one disturbs these two," Phil reassured his partner. Jay disappeared down the hallway.

Nicole ignored what was going on around her. She just finished her candy bar and rested her head on Laurel’s shoulder. Laurel put her arms around her. Phil sat down on Nicole’s other side and was ready to block anyone’s approach. They sat like that until Jay returned supporting Stan. Phil got up and helped Stan sit down in the recently vacated chair.

"Laurel, do you think you could drive Nicole’s car back to the Warehouse? These two really do need to get some rest," Jay kneeled in front of Laurel.

"It’s alright Dr. Lawrence. I’ll be fine," Nicole protested her treatment.

"Yeah, I can get them home. Will that be ok with Mrs. Herbert?" Laurel did not want to offend the family’s matriarch.

"I’ll make it ok with her, don’t worry," Phil reassured her. "We’ll come by and see if you all are up for dinner later."

"Ok, thanks," Laurel helped Nicole from the chair and started to lead her to the elevator. Jessie did likewise with her brother.

Nicole gave in and handed Laurel her keys without argument when they reached the car. They debated on borrowing a wheel chair for Stan since he was still very unsteady on his feet, but he would not let them. It took them twice as long to exit the hospital as it had taken them to enter it. Laurel left the group at the corner and went to bring the car to them.

She had driven in New Orleans before, so she was well aware of the weird traffic laws, one-way streets, and strange positioning of the traffic lights. She managed to make it back to the garage without mishap and pulled the car back into the parking space they had vacated that morning. She stopped the car and then looked to make sure the garage door was closed behind them properly. She helped Nicole out of the car and then turned to help Jessie assist Stan from the backseat.

Jessie led Stan off the elevator and pointed him toward his side of the apartment. Laurel was left to get the elevator to move the remaining two floors. It would not work for her again. Nicole chuckled and leaned over. It worked for Nicole, much to Laurel’s chagrin.

When they got off the elevator, Nicole went straight to the bed. She crawled over the mattress and almost fell into the pillows. Laurel took the stairs back down and went to fetch Mozart. Nicole was fast asleep by the time she got back upstairs. Mozart immediately crawled up beside his master and put his head on his paws. Not having anything else to do, Laurel followed his example. She curled up on her side facing the photographer with her arm over Nicole’s back.

"Hey, how are you feeling?" Laurel had spent over an hour watching Nicole sleep before the photographer stirred. She moved her hand and began gently rubbing Nicole’s back.

"I’m ok I think," Nicole’s blue eyes met Laurel’s green. "Just remind me not to donate blood again."

"Oh, I will. That was something I wouldn’t like to repeat," Nicole’s condition after giving blood had scared the bassist.

"Thank you for taking care of me, for being here," Nicole was extremely glad that Laurel had insisted on making this trip with her.

"Trust me, it was my pleasure. Besides," Laurel grinned softly. "I had a very good reason."

"And what would that be?" Nicole whispered

"Because I care about you a great deal, Hotshot. And there is not much I won’t do for those I really care about," It was as close as she could come to saying she loved her.

"Good, because I really care about you too," Nicole stumbled over the word slightly. She was ready to confess her undying love and devotion. However, she sensed that Laurel might not be ready to handle that yet. As it was, Laurel’s grin got wider when she heard the words.

"So," Laurel moved closer and gently kissed Nicole. "Do you feel up to getting lunch? You need to eat something more substantial than a candy bar."

"Yeah, we can walk down to Hard Rock for lunch. I could use one of their milkshakes or sundaes. Let me brush me teeth and we’ll go," Nicole decided she could forego a shower for now.

Laurel moved to let Nicole up and then lay back on the bed. She grinned at the ceiling in her joy. So far everything was going great. Well, except that they kept getting interrupted during those intimate moments. Soon though, very soon they would be able to cross that barrier as well. At least, Laurel hoped so.

"Hey, Hotshot, can I use your phone to call Mandy?" Laurel hollered.

"Yeah, go ahead. I have to call Sheryl too, but I’ll do that when we get back from lunch. I’ll have to let her know that I won’t be making the usual Friday night movie." Nicole said from the bathroom’s doorway.

Laurel picked up the phone and took it to the couch. She sat down and dialed her home number. The phone rang three times before BJ picked up.

"Hey, BJ, is Mandy there?"

"Yeah, hang on for a minute," She could hear him call for Mandy through the line.

"Lakky?" Mandy picked up. She sounded concerned. "Is everything ok?"

"Yeah, everything is fine. Well, Nicole’s sister is in the hospital. We don’t know when she’ll be released, but other than that everything is going great." Laurel could not keep the smile from her face or out of her voice.

"I guess that means you two have um…" Mandy coughed slightly. "Taken your relationship beyond the friendship level?"

"Yeah, I guess you can say that."

"Have you done more than talk?" Mandy played her role as the inquisitioner. She knew that if Nicole was in the room, Laurel would not even hint as to what occurred.

"Yeah, we have," Laurel made sure that Nicole was out of easy conversation range.

"More than kissed?" Mandy hated the question and answer conversation, but went along with it.

"A little but not much. Anyway, I was calling to let you know we were ok, and I won’t be home today or tomorrow. Can you tell the band for me?" Laurel did not want to go into detail about the interruptions they had faced.

"Yeah I’ll have BJ tell them. But, Laurel?"

"Yes?" She was expecting to owe Mandy a favor in return.

"Is she worth it?" Mandy as usual wanted to make sure that Laurel was not getting in over her head. She still worried about her young friend.

"More than I can put into words," Laurel answered honestly. Nicole moved to the loveseat, but showed no sign of following the conversation.

"Ok, then. I’ll talk to you later. Don’t get mugged."

"I won’t," Laurel chuckled at the warning. "Bye." She ended the call and handed the phone to the photographer.

"Everything all right at home?" Nicole took the phone and sat it on the end table.

"Yeah, the band was supposed to practice tomorrow night, so I had Mandy promise to make my excuses," Laurel stood up. "Ready?"

"Yep. And feeling much better," Nicole said before the bassist could ask. "We’ll leave Mozart up here this time. He can go outside when we get back."

They took the elevator down again. Apparently someone else had used it after they had, because they had to wait for it to come back up to the fifth floor. Laurel led the way out the main door since she had finally learned her way around. They walked side by side to the restaurant.


The waitress took their order over the noise and then left them to their conversation. They were in a booth in the smoking section to the side of the restaurant. The tourist themed menu offered something they both found appetizing, but it was not authentic Cajun food. Nicole had promised Laurel that Jay and Phil would probably take them somewhere classy and authentic that evening.

"So, would we have to dress up this evening?" Laurel was slightly worried. She had not thought to pack anything nice to wear.

"Yeah, and I didn’t pack anything. There’s a shopping center not too far from here, maybe we can go get something decent to wear," Nicole mentally calculated the money she had in her savings account. It was more than enough to last the weekend and a couple of weeks of unemployment.

"Yeah, I think we can do that too. Though I must confess that I usually hate shopping," Laurel did the same calculation. She had not touched the money she had made over the summer when the band had gigs, so she was certain she could handle a pair of pants and a shirt among other things.

"So, do you think the band will be ok with you missing practice?" Nicole was concerned that Laurel might get into trouble with her band mates.

"Yeah, it’s the first time I’ll have missed rehearsal since I joined the band. What are you going to tell Sheryl?"

"The truth. She knows most of the trouble Margie has caused. Sheryl was there for most of it when we were in high school."

"Oh, yeah," Laurel was a little envious of the friendship between the photographer and Sheryl.

The waitress brought over their food. She placed the regular burger in front of Nicole, and set the bacon cheeseburger in front of Laurel. She stayed long enough to make sure that she had gotten the order correct. They reached for the ketchup at the same time. Their hands intertwined on the bottle.

"Go ahead," Laurel let go of the bottle. She started adding mustard to the hamburger bun while Nicole poured ketchup over hers.

"Here," Nicole handed the bottle over. She took a big bite of her burger. Laurel laughed as the burger slipped out from the bun. "Oh, my god. I can not believe that just happened."

"It’s ok. At least you didn’t get any on you," Laurel handed the photographer her napkin.

Nicole ended up eating the hamburger patty with her fork. They finished their meal over small talk. Mostly the conversation stayed around music. They were sitting back in their seats smoking cigarettes when the waitress came back over.

"Is there anything else I can get for you?"

"Yeah, I’ll take a hot fudge brownie sundae and she’ll have a vanilla milk shake," Laurel placed their dessert order. The waitress took their plates and left.

They were content to wait in silence for their desserts. The lunch crowd was thinning out, but several people were in line for t-shirts and other souvenirs. There was also a big crowd of people around the bar. Of course, some restaurants in the city sold alcohol with breakfast. Most of the tourists that came to New Orleans were there for the nightlife.

"The hot fudge brownie sundae?"

""Right here," Laurel sat up and inspected her dessert. It looked wonderful.

"Then you must be the vanilla shake. Here you go," She placed their check on the table. "Just pay me when you’re ready. Enjoy," She disappeared again.

"That looks good," Nicole glanced at Laurel’s dessert with some envy.

"Oh, it is," She loaded her spoon with brownie, ice cream and hot fudge. "Here, try it," She offered the spoon to Nicole. The photographer leaned forward and tasted the treat.

"That is good. I’ll have to remember to get one of those next time we’re here."

"How’s your shake?"

"Better than I remembered. Want a sip?" Nicole slid the glass across the table.

"Thanks," Laurel took a drink of the shake and then slid it back to Nicole. "That was good too. Maybe next time we can come here just for dessert."

"Yeah, we can do that," Nicole seemed to be holding back a laugh. "You have whipped cream on your nose," She took her napkin and whipped it off.

"Thanks. We seem to be getting really clumsy lately, don’t we?" Laurel laughed.

"Yeah, but I don’t think anyone will hold it against us," Nicole smiled. "You finished?"

"Unless you want the rest, they can take it away. I get the feeling we won’t be eating much tonight."

"Maybe not, but it’ll be a fun night anyway," Nicole reached for the ticket but Laurel beat her to it.

"I’ve got this one," She was surprised the amount was so low, but she was not going to complain. She took the money out of her pocket and placed it with the receipt underneath her plate. "C’mon lets go shopping," She gave Nicole a sardonic grin. "Does this shopping center have a cash machine by any chance?"

"Yeah it should. You sure you don’t want me to pay for lunch?" Nicole did not realize how much money Laurel made giving lessons or playing in the band.

"No, I have money, I just didn’t grab a lot of cash for the trip," She started toward the door. "Ok, what direction are we going in?"

"Take a left out the door," They were hit by the heat and humidity once they passed the doors. It was hot for mid October. "How much do you make playing in the band anyway?"

"I get a sixth of everything we take in, we all do. Our overhead is low because everyone owns his or her own equipment. Plus, I usually work during the summer, I help Mandy’s store take quarterly inventory when they need me, and I have three stand up bass students, five electric bass students, and one guitar student."

"Wow, I didn’t realize you were so busy. I’m impressed. How much do you make a lesson?" Nicole now understood why she usually did not see the bassist until late at night

"This will impress you," Laurel grinned. She was proud of being one of the highest paid tutors on campus. "I make sixty an hour for the stand up bass students, forty for the electric bass, and the guitar student is a charity case," She teased.

"I’ll give you a charity case," Nicole mocked threatened. She was impressed with Laurel’s varied income. She was more impressed by the way the bassist was determined to make it on her own.

"Is that a promise?" Laurel grinned until she saw the sign for the record store. "Oh, man we have got to in there."

"Sure, you want to go in now?" Nicole was up for about anything at the moment.

"No, we can come back later. Let’s get this shopping out of the way first."

"Ok, we’re almost there," Nicole gestured to the building a block away.

The shopping center was connected to a hotel, and catered to a more upscale clientele. Nicole and Laurel entered the massive marble and granite edifice and gazed at the different stores. They walked the perimeter of the ground floor before taking the escalators upstairs. They had several shops to choose from, and decided to split up so they could shop easier.

"Meet you back here in an hour," Laurel indicated the food court.

"Ok," Nicole waited until her companion wandered off before going back down to the ground floor.

She entered on of the more trendy clothing stores and looked around. If they were going to dress up for dinner, Nicole wanted to do it correctly. That store did not have anything worth looking at, so she tried the one next to it. At the back of the store, Nicole noticed a sales rack. She walked back to it, ignoring the hopeful looks from the sales girls.

The rack was covered mostly with shirts and translucent pants. The photographer peered through it anyway. She was about to give up and go to another store when she saw what she was looking for. Hidden between two other outfits was a dress Nicole thought would be perfect. She double-checked the size and the price tag. It was the right size and the right price. Not wanting to take any chances, she took it to the dressing room.

It fit better than she had hoped. She did notice that she needed the accessories to go along with it though. The white socks she had on just did not look good with the dress. She put her clothes back on and went in search of accessories. The store had everything she needed but the shoes. She paid for her purchases and went in search of shoes. It was not until she passed the lingerie store that she was inspired with a wicked thought.

She walked inside the store, and smiled at the memory of the last time she was in a store like that. She missed Sheryl’s presence at that moment. The critic’s opinions would have been both needed and welcomed.

"Can I help you find anything?" The sales person walked over.

"Yes actually I could use some help," Nicole put her dress bag over her shoulder. "I have a very big date this evening."

"Say no more," The salesperson gestured for the bag Nicole was holding. "May I see what you’re wearing?"

"Sure," Nicole handed over the bag.

"Very nice. So you really want to impress this person tonight?"

"Yes I do."

"Well, give me fifteen minutes and your date will never forget tonight, I promise," The salesperson took Nicole’s bags and set them behind the counter. "They’ll be safe there. Now, lets go see what we can find shall we?"

Nicole left the lingerie store with two other large bags. She could not believe the amount of stuff she had bought. She still had to find shoes, and she was rapidly approaching her spending limit for the entire weekend. She found a shoe store on the first floor. Laurel was not anywhere in sight, so she hurried into the store.

The salesperson there was a young man. He was not as helpful as the woman in the lingerie store. Nicole wandered around on her own, almost desperate. She was accustomed to dressing for dinner; the Herbert house had been very formal. However, her grandmother had always chosen the attire.

She wandered around the rack of shoes looking for something that matched her dress. She stopped and looked at a pair of heels, but decided that Laurel might get intimidated if she were any taller. She noticed a pair of opened toed sandals and then decided to pass those up as well. She was about to give up on this store when a pair of pumps caught her attention.

"Can I help you?" The salesman finally came over.

"Yes, can you see if you have these in a nine?" Nicole handed him the display.

"I’ll be right back," He disappeared around the desk into the storeroom. Nicole sat down on a chair and waited for his return.

"Size nine," The salesman handed Nicole.

She took off both shoes and socks. She pulled out the pumps and then all of the paper that was stuffed in the toes. She was surprised at how well they fit. She stood up and walked around. They felt well too.

"There’s a mirror over here," The salesman showed her the set of mirrors. There were two, a full length and a shorter one for just seeing the shoe. "How do they fit?"

"Very good, how do they look?" Nicole asked, even though she felt he would lie about them.

"Excellent, ma’am," Nicole had to agree, even though she was wearing jeans. "Shall I wrap them up for you?"

"Yes please," Nicole took them off.

The salesman put them back in the box and carried it to the register. Nicole put her socks and shoes back on. She took her bags up to the counter.

"Will this be cash or charge?" The salesman was more polite now that he knew he would make commission off the sale.

"Charge please," Nicole handed over her charge card.

"Are you Adia Herbert’s granddaughter?"

"Yes I am."

"Well, you can put it on her account then, several of your cousins do."

"Let’s do that then," Nicole grinned evilly. It’s the small things in life.

It was a good thing that she put the pumps on her grandmother’s account. Nicole had almost fainted when she saw the total. She glanced at her watch and noticed that she still had fifteen minutes before she had to meet Laurel. She took the escalator to the second floor and got a soda. Laurel was not there yet, so Nicole took a seat and waited.

It had only taken Laurel half an hour to pick out her attire for the evening. She did get some strange looks from the sales people, but she had known what she wanted. She walked around for fifteen minutes before going back to one store and collecting her purchase. She walked back around to the food court and saw Nicole waiting for her at a table.

"This seat taken?" Laurel looked at the amount of bags Nicole had and groaned quietly.

"Well, I was saving it for this really smart, funny and cute bassist. But I have a few minutes until she is supposed to be here, so you can sit there until then," Laurel laughed and sat down.

"Are you finished shopping?" Laurel took a sip of the soda when Nicole passed it over. "Thanks."

"Yeah, you?"

"Yep. Shall we get back to the Warehouse?" Laurel stood and collected her three bags. She went to carry a few of Nicole’s too, but the photographer blocked her move. "You sure you are going to be able to carry five bags?"

"I’ve got them," She hefted three of them over her shoulder.

"Did you buy out the mall?" Laurel asked as they got on the escalator down.

"Nope, just some things for tonight," She smiled. Laurel looked at her suspiciously.

Despite her protesting, Nicole had to surrender two of her bags to Laurel before they had gone two blocks. They crossed the busy road carefully. Nicole saw the Hooter’s and laughed.

"What is so funny?"

"Jessie works at a Hooter’s in New York," The photographer explained. Laurel suddenly understood Jessica’s request to avoid the restaurant after that.

They made it back to the Warehouse in one piece. Nicole ended up just carrying her bag from the shoe store and the dress bag. They took the elevator to the apartment; Laurel did not want to navigate the stairs carrying six bags. Mozart greeted both of them enthusiastically.

"Down boy," Nicole dropped her bags on the loveseat. Laurel did likewise. "I suppose I owe you a reward for carrying those bags for me,"

"Nope, you owe me the reward for not peeking at what was in the bags," Laurel grinned.

"Fair enough," Nicole reached for her and pulled her close. "So, how should I reward you?"

"Like this," Laurel reached up and pulled her down. The bassist brushed her lips against Nicole’s. Laurel leaned her head against Nicole’s shoulder and groaned. Mozart was whining at the door.

"I’ll take him out so you can put up your mysterious packages," Laurel told her. "Just leave mine there, I’ll get them later." I am starting to get really frustrated here.

"Ok," Nicole leaned down for one more kiss. "I’ll meet you outside."

Stan was sitting at the patio table when Laurel went outside. Mozart ignored him this time. From his run to a far corner of the courtyard, Laurel assumed he was too preoccupied.

"Hey, how are you feeling?" Laurel asked him as she sat down.

"I’m doing a lot better. The nap I took helped. How is Nicky?" He had regained his color at least.

"She’s fine. She’s putting her recent purchases up. Where’s Jessica?" Laurel lit a cigarette. From the constant presence of Stan and Jessie in the courtyard, she had concluded that smoking in the main building was not allowed.

"You two went shopping? Why?"

"We needed something to wear tonight in case we go somewhere nice," Laurel explained. "Do you know where we are going?"

"No I don’t. Jessica was on the phone with Uncle Phil when I came down here. I’m sure she’ll tell us. Matter of fact," He leaned forward to get a better look. "That should be her now."

Laurel turned in her chair to get a better look. Jessica was indeed standing in the doorway. She seemed to be waiting for something. Laurel soon saw that Nicole followed closely behind her younger cousin. Jessica held the door open for her cousin with an elegant flair. Nicole grinned at the gesture and mock bowed. The two of them joined Laurel and Stan at the table.

"Well, I have good news and bad news. Which do you want first?" Jessica announced to the group.

"Survey says," Stan paused for effect. "The bad news first."

"Something has prevented our beloved uncles from treating us to dinner this evening," Jessica looked around at those at the table. "However, the good news has two parts. The first is that they are stopping by here in a few minutes to give us all money to go out on. The second is that they want to treat us to brunch tomorrow at the Court of Two Sisters."

"Now that is good news," Nicole said. "Laurel you are going to love the jazz brunch. It is excellent." Even Stan looked gladdened by the news.

"So, what are you two doing for dinner now?" He asked Nicole.

"I have no idea. Laurel?"

"Beats me, do we have to dress up for brunch tomorrow?"

"From what I remember, you just have to wear a shirt with a collar and no shorts are allowed at all," Jessica told her. Laurel filed that away for later use.

They had let the conversation turn to other things after that. Laurel was surprised at the intelligence both Jessica and Stan showed. Clearly intelligence and looks ran in the Herbert family. If the stories the three told were even half-truths, the ability to attract their Grandmother’s ire did too.

"Well, if it isn’t my three favorite nieces and my favorite nephew," Phil announced as he entered the courtyard. Laurel felt pleased that she was considered to be family. At least she was by Stan, Jessica, Phil and Jay.

"Sorry we can’t treat you to dinner, but something has come up that we need to take care of tonight." Jay did not explain which caused all four of them to wonder what was so important.

"However, we have a gift for you all," Phil handed Nicole a hundred dollar bill as Jay did the same to Jessica. "Now there is a condition to this. You have to share. Nicole has to take Laurel with her," He grinned at them.

"And of course, Jessica and Stan have to eat together. The other condition is that it cannot be a fast food place. We consider pizza to be fast food, Stan," Jay teased. "That’s it. The rest is up to you. However, you are allowed to eat all together if you so desire."

"However," Phil took the conversation over again. "If you do, you have to eat at Hooter’s." He said it so seriously that it took Jessica a few seconds to realize he was teasing.

"Very funny," She grumbled.

"I thought so. Anyway, have a great night. We need to be going."

"Uncle Phil?" He turned from the door at Laurel’s call. "Thank you."

"Anytime," He said as he followed Jay out the door.

"Wow, that was something. So, what do you wanna do?" Jessica asked.

"Well, do we want to go out to dinner as a group?" Nicole was hoping she would say no.

"Stan, what do you want to do?" Jessica asked her brother.

"Well, I was up for pizza, but since that’s out. I don’t know. I was supposed to meet up with some friends later."

"I have an idea," Three sets of eyes turned toward Laurel. "How about we do dinner separate and then meet back here at ten. Then if Jessica wants to go out with us, Stan can go kick it with his friends."

"You know, that is a very good plan." Nicole smiled at her companion. Jessica and Stan agreed with their cousin.

"Great, so now we have a plan. Anyone know what time it is?" Jessica asked.

"It is a quarter to six," Nicole stood up to leave. "Meet you back here at ten."

Nicole and Laurel headed upstairs while Jessica and Stan stayed in the courtyard to plan their dinner. The photographer left Mozart with her cousins. She did not want dog hair all over her new outfit. In fact, she was contemplating getting dressed in another apartment.

"So, where do you want to eat?" Laurel asked as they rode the elevator to the apartment.

"Somewhere that does not require reservations. I’ll have to think about that," The elevator stopped abruptly at the fifth floor. The two got off of it quickly.

"I think I’ll stick to the stairs from now on," Laurel was not kidding. She believed the elevator hated her. "You were going to call Sheryl remember?"

"I already did. I talked to her as I was putting my stuff up," Nicole laughed a little in memory. As usual, her old friend had demanded details. Nicole was only let off the phone after she promised to call the critic tomorrow to give the updated version of events.

"Ok, guess everything is fine at home?" Laurel started looking through her bags.

"Yeah, she wasn’t upset at all. Listen to make this go a bit faster since I know I want to take another shower, why don’t you get dressed in here? I’ll go down to Margie’s and get dressed there." Nicole was glad now that she had not removed anything from its bag.

"Ok, if you want to. Do you want me to meet you down stairs?"

"Yeah, how about in an hour?"

"That’s fine. See ya in an hour,"

part 7

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