"So, from my research, I’ve noticed a few things I need you to clarify." 

"Ok." Laurel eased back into the well-padded chair. Krista had the best office furniture. It was all designed for comfort. 

"Who owns the rights to the name ‘blue gecko’?" The attorney looked up from the stack of papers on her desk. 

"I have no idea. I guess we all do. We came up with it shortly after starting the band. Beth wanted to call the band salamander grotto; we liked the lizard idea, but not the salamander. I don’t remember who suggested the color, but I suggested gecko." The bassist shrugged. 

"Then no one owns it?"

"No one, unless all six of us do. I wasn’t aware that we had shares in the band. I mean it’s not a corporation or anything."

"True, and ordinarily it would not be a problem. In this instance it is. The name has been copyrighted, so has the symbol you use to represent it."

"Who did that?" Laurel asked. She had a good idea though.

"One Jenna McCormick." Krista rechecked the papers on her desk. "Apparently she did so back in March. That means she gets a greater percentage of the band’s profits. Fifteen percent goes to your manager right off the top. Normally that would leave 21.5% to each of you after everything else has been paid. So the net profits should be split four ways. They aren’t. Ms. McCormick is earning 30%, which leaves 54% to be split between the rest of you. That equals a grand total of 18% each."

"Bitch. That means I make $1.80 for every ten dollars we make. We gotta change that."

"Well, there’s some other things here, but I suggest we talk to your manager. First of all, I’ve filed the paperwork to register your songs, which will get them copyrighted. As soon as your manager finds that out, you’ll be making all the net off the songs minus his cut and expenses. It’ll give you an edge. What do you want to do with it?"

"What do you mean?" Laurel was more concerned with the unfairness of it all instead of the money.

"What I mean is that could be an awful lot of money. I can recommend a few people to help you invest it, you could put it in a bank and earn straight interest, but you at least need to hire an accountant to help you manage it all." Krista looked at her oddly. She pushed her glasses up and hit the buzzer on her intercom. "Can you bring us some drinks please? What would you like?"

"Water sounds good. Thanks."

"Did you hear that, Abbey?"

"Yes, ma’am. I’ll be right in with it."

"Now, back to the conversation. Your manager really should have gone over all of this with you. I take it he didn’t?"

"Not really. He said we’d have to meet with the studio attorneys as soon as the CD was ready to ship."

"Well, they might tell you all this. However, you do need an accountant just to keep up with taxes. The label won’t do that for you. Now, you had a signing bonus. Is there anything you need assistance with on planning how to handle that?" She looked up as her assistant entered. "Thank you, Abbey."

"You’re welcome. Is there anything else I can get for you?" The assistant waited for an answer after placing the drinks on the desk. Both of them shook their heads. "I’ll be outside if you need me."

"Do you?"

"Nope. I’ve had it wired to my bank. I plan on using it to pay part of my tuition for law school. Unfortunately I’ve just realized it won’t pay for all of it. I’m only staying on with the band until I get called home." Now that she learned the percentages, Laurel realized she had less in her bank than she thought. "It’s the rest of it I would be concerned about."

"Well, how can I assist you?"

"I want you to draw up a will for me."

"Ok. I can do that." Krista turned around and pulled a form from her desk drawer. "You’re not planning on anything are you?"

"No." Laurel laughed. The attorney relaxed. "I just want to be prepared. I mean you hear all those stories about buses and cliffs and stuff. Why did you think that?"

"You said you were only staying with the band until you were called home. That can be taken many different ways. Especially when one is talking about wills."

"I only agreed to go on tour because I made an agreement with a friend. She advised that it made more sense. I’m only here because I can’t be back in Hattiesburg until some things are settled."

"Not illegal I hope. I’m not licensed to represent anyone in Mississippi."

"No. It’s a personal matter. My girlfriend was under the assumption that I should be here even though I didn’t want to be. She dumped me as a result. There are some other things that need to be worked out as well. I’m staying away until she calls me home."

"I’m assuming that means she was your prospective life partner?" At Laurel’s nod she continued. "And you want her to be the beneficiary?"

"Yes. Well, one of them. I want the other to be my other roommate."

"Ok. The names?"

"Nicole Herbert and Amanda Humphries. Amanda goes by Mandy more than anything else." Laurel told her. "I want to make sure that if something happens my parents don’t get anything."

"Really? I would ask you to explain that, but I do not think I have to. I did some research into your background as well." Krista had the grace to look more than a bit contrite.

"Ah. Figured as much. Saves me from having to rehash it." She was relieved.

"Well then here’s some other things we need to go over." Krista produced a folder full of papers.

"Great." Laurel was anything but thrilled. "So much for sightseeing today."

"Oh, this will only take an hour or two." Krista pushed her glasses back into their proper place. "Well, maybe four."



I’ve got the ways and means, to New Orleans

I’m going down by the River where it’s warm and green

The photographer lit a cigarette and leaned back on the porch swing. It was fast becoming her favorite place around the house, especially at night. At night, she could sit and watch the stars without thought of what someone else might say. She kept the porch light off so no one would see her. It helped keep the bugs away, but it failed to keep her misery at bay.

She had yet to find a new job. Every posting on the Internet was unappealing. She wanted to stay in Hattiesburg or go home to Louisiana. Neither seemed possible at the moment. She also missed Laurel worse with every day that passed. For the first few days she thought she would make it. She thought the pain was tolerable and the boredom bearable. It was no longer so easy.

In the week that followed the recent changes in her work and relationship status, Nicole finished cataloguing her photographs. Like everything else in the house, the pictures were stored chronologically and alphabetically. The entire house had been cleaned, from the curtains to the walls. Even the dining area in the kitchen had been repainted. Since the trip to the bar had not helped, Nicole combated boredom and heartache with housework. It did not ease either.

The cinema failed to offer an escape. During each movie, she would imagine Laurel’s comments. She missed the gentle companionship the bassist offered so willingly, and the scathing commentary she gave so readily during movies. As a result, even going to Mabel’s was out of the question. Ghostly shadows were present all over Hattiesburg. Regret gave them color and life. Nicole was no longer happy there.

The new portable phone on the porch railing rang. The Caller ID bar glowed, letting her see the exact location of the device. She was expecting Sheryl’s nightly call. Laurel no longer called. The photographer could not blame her. However, this was a different number. The area code was from New Orleans. Giving in to curiosity, she answered.



"Phil?" She barely recognized her uncle’s voice. "What’s up?"

"We need for you to come home."

"At whose request?"

"Mom’s. She wants to see you, Nicky."

"Then why couldn’t she call herself?" It did not make sense. Her grandmother would not ask her to come home easily. "Are you sure she asked for me?"

"Yes, she did. She’s in the hospital. It doesn’t look that bad yet, but we’re not sure about it. Come down in the morning and stay at the house. We’ll explain everything then." He did not sound that worried. "Please, it will make her happy. That’s all she’s talked about. Kay and I had to flip a coin to see who would get to call."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" She was slightly confused by his tone.

"It was such a relief to be able to call you home, that we both wanted to tell you the good news. Bring Laurel with you, but be here tomorrow. Tell them at work it’s a family emergency." Apparently Stan and Jessie had not clued their uncle into the changes in her life.

"It will be just me tomorrow I think. Laurel and I broke up, and I don’t have to say anything to work. I quit."

"What?" He seemed shocked.

"I’ll explain it all down there. I’ll be there tomorrow after breakfast." She promised. She knew that he would want the full story. She also knew that it was wise to go home. It was time to make up with her grandmother. At least that wound would not ache any longer. She had too many holes in her heart; the lessening of one would make a great deal of difference.

"Good, I’ll expect a full explanation then." He sounded eager to hear the news.

"As will I. Is it alright if I bring Sheryl?" She knew she would need emotional support from someone outside the family.

"Yeah, that will be fine. Bring her down, she’s always fun." He laughed. She knew he enjoyed Sheryl’s company. "So, we’ll see you tomorrow. Come to the house, not the Warehouse. Melba will be very happy to see you. She’s missed you."

"I’ve missed her too." Nicole had been unable to see the housekeeper on her last visit to the Herbert home. "I’ll see you tomorrow then."

"Goodbye, Nicky."

"Later, Uncle Phil." She stayed on the line just long enough to hear him disconnect. She waited until the count of ten before hitting a button on her speed dial. Sheryl’s answering machine picked up on the fourth ring. She left a message as asked. As soon as she hung up, a thought struck her. She would go find the critic. The odds were that Sheryl was at Mabel’s.


"I am not going down into that subway. It is bad enough you hauled my ass up to the top of the Empire State Building." BJ stopped at the sign for the subway. "I am not going down there."

"Alright, big man, alright. We’ll walk then." Laurel could tell that he was a step away from freaking out about the subway tunnel. "Did you get those pictures developed?"

"Yeah, I’ve already mailed a set of copies to Mandy. I thought she’d like to see them." He seemed to relax the farther away from the subway station they walked. "Maybe we should catch a cab."

"Yeah, it is a long walk. Not as far from the hotel to the museum, mind you." She was proud of that. Their hotel was in Times Square and she had walked the entire way to the museum. She did however take a taxi back to the hotel.

"Yeah, yeah, super Lakky. Better watch that ego, kiddo." He mocked threatened. "How come the others didn’t want to come with?"

"Jenna said something about a facial and massage and Steve just wanted to hang out at the hotel. I miss Beth and Charles."

"Yeah so do I. Extraneous members of the band my ass." BJ practically snarled. "I’ll have you know I used that new computer of yours and looked that word up. They are not unnecessary or superfluous. We need them."

"I know we do. Harold will see his error eventually. Probably after we suck it up at our first concert." Laurel groaned as another taxi went right past them. "Damn it. How do you make them stop?"

"Like this." BJ stepped in front of a taxi. Fortunately it did stop. "Yo, we need a ride."

"I guess that’s one way." Laurel commented as she climbed in the backseat.

The taxi was an older one. The driver seemed stereotypical. He could not speak English well and could not speak Southern at all. The only way they were able to get him to understand where they wanted to go was for Laurel to imitate the accent Professor Morganstern had. That seemed to work. It reminded her of the time she had to call overseas to talk to her parents. They had been in Belgium when Jon broke his leg. Imitating a different accent had gotten her through to their room where her normal one had not. She thought it was more a failing of her culture than any other. At least her father had been amused when she told him the story.

"Wow. That place is enormous." BJ exclaimed as the taxi pulled to a stop in front of their destination.

"Yeah it is." Laurel was in awe. She had never seen such a large toy store before.

"We should definitely be able to find something for the kid in there." BJ watched as a man dressed as a toy soldier opened the door for them. "Man I’d hate to have his job."

"We’re just shopping for the kid?" Laurel asked as she looked around the store. She ignored the rest of his statement. The sheer size and inventory of the store made her wish for another head just so she could see it all.

"Oh goddess." BJ turned from watching the toy soldier. "Where should we start?"

"That, my friend, is a very good question." On their right was a jungle of stuffed animals, on their left was clothing and other accessories marked with the store’s logo, and in front them was an escalator and a giant, singing clock. "Let’s start at the top and work our way down."

"Sounds like a plan to me." He was already heading for the escalators.

Laurel willed herself to ignore the two floors they passed on their way to the fourth and final floor. It was not easy but she managed to resist temptation long enough to reach their destination. BJ seemed to have as difficult a time as she. Several times she caught him staring longingly back the way they came. She could only laugh at him. She had been doing the same thing.

"Man, baby clothes. What luck." BJ grumbled. The entire fourth floor seemed to be stocked with nothing but items for newborns and toddlers.

"And we have to walk around everything to go down. Remind me to read the store directory first next time." Laurel began looking for the proper signs that would lead them to the other escalator. "If before we get downstairs you hear me say the word cute…"

"I’ll put you out of your misery." BJ promised. "We’re tough, we can make it through here." He quickened his steps as they passed displays of cradles with animal mobiles hanging above them.

"Yeah, we can take this." She turned her head to avoid looking at the clothes for newborns. "Aha, we made it." It was with great relief that they stepped onto the escalator and headed for the third floor.

"Oh no, we are not getting off on this floor." BJ blanched when the third floor proved to be wall-to-wall dolls and pink boxes.

"I agree. Run before it sucks us in." Laurel hurried to the next escalator.

"Now this is more like it." BJ commented as they stepped off the escalator onto the second floor. It was filled with what can only be called ‘macho toys’. Robots, building blocks, action figures, train sets, remote controlled cars and trucks were everywhere.

"Um, BJ, I hate to point this out, but you do have a daughter. She’s only four, what can she play with here?" She asked as her attention was drawn to the costume section. "They didn’t have any of this when we were kids." She lamented as she held up a box containing all the accessories a young knight errant would ever need.

"You’re telling me." BJ chose a cowboy play set. "Think we should get one each, dress up as them and then terrorize the hotel staff?"

"Sounds like a plan to me." Laurel picked out two different play sets. "Hey look at this." She held up a plastic replica of a sword from a popular science fiction movie. "En garde."

"Oh, think you’re gonna strike while my back’s turned huh?" He quickly grabbed a different colored one to defend him.

"Um, excuse me, but we don’t allow sword fighting in the aisles." A young salesman came over to separate the two.

"We were just testing out the merchandise." Laurel lowered her sword and wiped the sweat from her eyes. "We wanted to make sure they performed adequately before purchasing one for his child."

"Yeah, I hear that a lot." The salesman took the swords from them. "Now if you don’t mind, please set a good example for the real children here."

"Sure, right, whatever." BJ muttered. "C’mon let’s go pick out some stuffed animals for the kids."


"Well, I thought I’d send Sam’s kid something too." BJ shrugged. "I didn’t break up with him."

"Shit. That reminds me. I bought this stuffed otter in New Orleans and I left it at the Warehouse. Oh well, I guess Nicole can burn it."

"Nah, you can claim it later. Were you able to get through to the people at the University?" He led the way to the jungle of stuffed animals.

"Yeah, though now after talking to that Professor. I don’t know. I applied and was accepted to both grad school and law school. I have no idea which to choose. It seems like I’ve wanted to be a lawyer forever, but it just doesn’t sit right somehow. Oh, wow." She stopped in front of a large stuffed teddy bear. "I wonder if they deliver?"

"Huh?" BJ half turned from the life sized stuffed lion he was staring at. "I want one of those. Where’s a salesperson?"

"For whom?"

"The kid of course. And me." He answered. "Flag me down someone."

"Alright." She laughed but did as asked.

"Can I help you?" An elderly sales lady approached as Laurel waved a stuffed monkey by the tail.

"Yes. I have two questions. Do you deliver and can I have that one?" BJ asked when she neared easy conversation range.

Laurel left the two of them to work out the details. She did manage to finish her shopping. She picked out a souvenir t-shirt for Mandy, a large stuffed dog, and the stuffed monkey she used as a flag to attract the salesperson. She managed to pay for it all before BJ completely worked out the details on the delivery of his giant lion. He did buy two smaller ones. Each was to be delivered to Mandy so she could pass them along to the kids.

"Are we ready?" He asked. He seemed pleased with himself.

"Yes we are." Laurel hefted her bags. "Shall we go scare the hotel staff?"

"Yep. Though we should have gotten water pistols." He stopped when she turned. "Race ya back up there."

"You’re on." He won, but he had less to carry.


"Well, well, the hermit approaches." Danny’s voice was overloaded with sarcasm.

"Hello to you too." Nicole took a seat across from him. She turned to her seatmate. "Can’t you do something about him?"

"Nope." Sheryl grinned. "So to what do we owe the honor of this visit?"

"Ya’ll act like you haven’t seen me in forever. We went out last weekend." She reminded them.

"I know. We just kinda worry about you." Danny answered. "So, what does bring you out of your shell?"

"Phil called. Adia has requested my presence."

"Ah, and you came up here because?" Danny prompted.

"Because she wants one or both of us to go with her." Sheryl supplied.

"Very astute. Now do you wanna go?"

"I don’t know, Hotshot. The old lady hates me." Sheryl almost sounded upset. "Did Phil at least tell you why she wants you home?"

"No he was being very vague. I get the feeling something’s wrong, but they aren’t telling me. All I know is that I’m supposed to go to the house in the District." Nicole shrugged.

"Well, I’ll go. I have tomorrow off." Danny grinned. He enjoyed visiting her family.

"Well, I need to go into the office and clear some things up but then I can go. Do you want to wait on me? It’ll take about two hours."

"Yeah, we can do that. I need to go pack anyway." Nicole almost waved the waitress away but thought better of it. "It won’t take me that long to pack, so why don’t you meet me and Danny back at my place in three hours? Coffee please."

"Anything else?" The waitress asked.

"No thanks." She turned back to her friends. "Well?"

"That’ll work." Sheryl finished her coffee. "I guess this means I should go then."

"Yeah I guess." Nicole laughed weakly as she let her friend up from the booth. "See ya in a few."

"Yep. Don’t leave without me." Sheryl dropped a few bills on the table.

"We won’t. We can’t if you don’t leave." Danny stuck his tongue out at her.

"I get the point. Later."

"So, what did Phil say?" He asked once Sheryl left.

"He said grandmother was in the hospital and seeing me would make her happy. He wouldn’t tell me anymore than that." Nicole tried to keep the worry at bay. After all they had been through Adia was still her grandmother.

"Well maybe it’s nothing. I mean she could just have a cold." He tried to remain positive.

"Yeah, but at her age, even a cold can be serious."

"Nicole, I love you dearly, but you worry way too much. Now, drink some coffee, let’s chat, and you can think about it when we get there ok?"

"Ok. Shouldn’t you call Aaron and tell him what’s going on?" She suddenly remembered his other half.

"I would, but he’s supposed to meet me up here anyway." Danny looked down at his watch. "In fact, he should be here by now."

"Well, I wouldn’t worry. He probably got caught up in something at work." She almost said traffic until she remembered they did not have much to worry about at this time of night. She also knew only too well the last minute details that went in to publishing a paper. "That used to happen to me all the time."

"I remember. Man if you were later than usual, Laurel would practically be pacing. Getting her to drink coffee didn’t help much either. It just made her more wired."

"Really?" It was news to her. Laurel never commented on it. "I know about the coffee bit though. And man, if she got bored." She shook her head.

"Ah, did she get constructive?"

"Destructive is more like it." Nicole laughed. "Fortunately she always stayed away from my photography equipment or I’d have rolls of nothing but pictures of Mozart, the car, squirrels, her bass, whatever."

"Sounds like fond memories."

"Yeah, most of them are." Nicole turned to flag down a waitress. The conversation was starting to make her uncomfortable. "Those last few aren’t though."

"They never are, sweetheart, they never are." He seemed to understand how uncomfortable the topic made her. "Now then, how long are you going to pack for?"

"A week I guess. Might as well pack for the worst." Nicole turned her mind back to the topic at hand. "I really appreciate you coming with me."

"That’s what friends are for, Nicole. It’s the same thing you’d do for me or Sheryl." He held out his mug as the waitress finally approached. "Thank you."

"What’s the other mug for?" Nicole asked as a third mug full of coffee was placed at their table.

"Oh, your other friend just pulled up. I thought I’d make one trip instead of two." The waitress smiled as she filled Nicole’s cup. "Besides, the way ya’ll drink coffee, I should just bring over a thermos full."

"But then we’d miss your charming conversation, Wanda. We can’t have that now can we?" Danny turned on his charm. He once confided to Nicole that he enjoyed the harmless flirting with the waitresses. He claimed it kept him in practice.

"Smooth, you are so smooth." Wanda laughed. "Ah well, it’s nice to know they still make them like they used to." She winked and retreated back to the counter.

"I don’t think they make them quite that way." Nicole commented. "At least you’re not from the same mold."

"I agree. You’re completely one of a kind." Aaron joined the conversation. "So, it seems as if the hermit has joined us. What brought this on?"

"Well, it seems as if Nicole has been called home. Her grandmother is in the hospital, but we don’t know why yet, and Sheryl and I volunteered to go with her." Danny summed up the situation quickly. Surprisingly, he said it all in one breath.

"That’s about it. We are supposed to meet Sheryl at my house in a few hours." Nicole discovered she did not have much information to add.

"Ah, ok then." Aaron simply nodded. "I hope everything’s ok."


"Now, you wouldn’t believe the day I’ve had. This should cheer you up." He launched into a description of his day. He soon had them laughing at the antics he seemed to always get caught up in. Nicole felt sorry for his photographer. Apparently the man appealed to cows. According to Aaron, one cow in particular seemed attracted to the man so much that the farmer he was interviewing had to call for help to separate the two. "So, I’ve managed to convince him to change his cologne. Thank god for that. He bathed in some rancid stuff anyway. Maybe I’ll pick him up a bottle next time I’m at the mall."

"Or he could let his wife choose a different scent." Danny interjected mildly. "We should let Nicole leave so she can go pack. I’ll just grab a bag and be there in less than half an hour, ok?"

"That sounds fine. I have to stop for gas." She did the calculations in her head. She would be pressed for time, but she could clean up any mess later. She knew she would be back soon. "See ya in a bit. Thanks Aaron."

"Anytime Nicole. Take care and remember that everything will turn out alright."

"I will. Bye."

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