Laurel leaned back into her seat. The band could not yet afford a more luxurious tour bus. They had to make do with a reconditioned one. It was built to transport tourist to and from scenic points of interest. At least it was clean and almost comfortable.

She reached behind her and repositioned the pillow she used as a backrest. The last bump they went over caused it to slip. The arm of the seat was starting to dig into her back again. Her movement caused the ice pack balanced on her knee to slip. She groaned as she picked it up off the floor. It was dripping slightly so she grabbed a small towel from her bag. The towel was courtesy of the last hotel they stayed at. Of course, the management of the hotel did not know they had so generously donated it. She figured what they did not know would not hurt her.

Idly she traced the scar that ran the length of her knee. One stupid mistake and she was scarred for life. She possessed three visible reminders of that car accident as well as countless invisible ones. The visible ones were at least easy to hide. Bangs hid the one on her forehead, the one in her right eyebrow was barely visible from a distance, and she rarely wore shorts. Even in summer, jeans covered her disfigured knee. Some people regarded scars as badges of honor. Laurel regarded her three as badges of shame.

Though she hated touring, it was getting harder to keep herself from liking the concerts. She loved playing music. Playing in front of a live audience had an allure she did not know she could guard against. More and more fans were appearing at each venue the band played. Their one and only single was selling out everywhere. It boded well for the success of the CD. That was due out in a week. She did not concern herself too much with the finer points of band management. She just played. Although, sometimes late at night the thoughts that she might miss this life occurred to her. She had not asked for it, but it was hers just the same.

"Not sleeping?" Harold asked as he sat down on the seat in front of her.

"Not yet. I can barely hear over the ringing in my head." The after effects of the amplifiers sometimes took hours to undo. "What's up?"

"I just wanted to talk to you for a few. It seems as if I were given some bad advice."

"Advice about what?"

"How to deal with you. You don't seem to respond well to orders. You don't seem to follow blindly either." He reclined the seat so he could see her better.

"Let me guess. Jenna gave you that advice?" It was easy to deduce.

"Yes and quite a bit more. If you hate this so much, why are you still here?"

"Aren't I still under contract?"

"For now. Your lawyer seems to be working on that."

"I thought as much." Laurel nodded to herself. It was a good question. Why was she still on tour?

"Do you dislike touring that much? I've seen you on stage. I've seen the joy you have for your music. It is starting to affect you isn't?"

"What do you mean?" She did not want to give him more information in case it became ammunition later.

"I mean you love playing don't you?"

"I wouldn't be a musician if I didn't."

"No, you wouldn't I guess. Tell me something, why have you let me make the changes I have?" He kept his voice low so they would not disturb anyone else.

"I've argued with you. Would you really have listened to me anyway?" She countered his question with one of her own.

"You've bitched, moaned and grumbled. Was I really supposed to take that seriously?"

"Ok, we're not going to continue this conversation in this manner. What do you want?" The ibuprofen for her knee was starting to wear off and it was beginning to throb again.

"To find out why you're fighting this. Can't you see that you're supposed to be the leader of this band? BJ and Steve follow your every advice when you give it. Jenna is the only one giving it at the moment." He leaned back a little.

"What brought this on? I thought you were so far up Jenna's butt you could remove her tonsils." She did not understand what he was doing.

"Jenna is the reason you got the contract, or at least signed it. You wrote the songs, you lead the tempo on stage, and you have the qualities to lead the band. I'm not going to lie to you, but you probably won't believe me anyway. This is my one chance at a winner. I screwed up my career a while ago, and they gave me this chance. I used to work for a different label, but managed to catch on here a short step in front of the firing squad. If I can take you guys to the top of the charts when I couldn't do that with the last band I managed, then I'll save my career."

"Is that why you're with us?" It made sense in a way. Not that she fully believed his story, of course.

"Well one the first legs of tours, the managers usually either travel with the band or have assistants that do. That way they can ensure nothing goes wrong. I've only got this band to manage so I can come along personally and supervise things."

"So what does this have to do with me and leading the band, much less enjoying touring?" Laurel redirected the conversation back to the topics that started it.

"Because I have personal, emotional, and financial motivations behind this. The personal is that I have an ex-wife and three kids to support, the emotional is that I actually like your music and want you to succeed for yourselves, and the financial is I really don't want to lose my job." He paused for thought. "If this band continues to follow Jenna's leadership, it will self destruct."

"Is that what happened to the band that cost you everything?" It was a shot in the dark born from innate curiosity.

"Pretty much. Things got out of control before I realized anything was wrong. I don't want to see that happen again." He seemed very serious. So serious in fact she felt compelled to believe him.

"I'll think about it." She did not want to make another promise she might be forced to break.

"I guess that's as close to a yes as you'll give me. For that, thanks." He stood. "I'll let you do whatever you were doing. By the way, what's wrong with your knee?"

"I shattered my kneecap several years ago. The replacement parts don't always like what I make them do on stage."

"Is there anything you can do about it?" He seemed concerned.

"Not yet. Well, I suppose I could get another, I may have to eventually, but so far this one works pretty well." She laughed. "Seriously, I did bust my knee up pretty bad, but they managed to save most the bone. I could get it replaced, but it doesn't bother me every day." She did not want to tell him that she preferred the pain sometimes. It reminded her of lessons learned she felt she should not forget.

"Ok, well if you continue to have problems with it, we can get you a specialists. Now get some rest. That should help."

"Thanks, H." She watched as he walked away. She really wished they could smoke on the bus. Harold forbid it. He claimed he did not want to call the insurance company to replace a burned out bus.

Now she had more to think about. She hated when that happened. The question of the hour seemed to be what she wanted in life. She had been thinking of that since the conversation with the professor she met at the museum. Her parents wanted a doctor and a lawyer. The more she thought about what she wanted to do, the more she remembered that. Jon was intended for medicine. He chose basketball. She was intended for law. Instead she was a musician with a passion for history. How much of her desire to practice law was a reflection of her last remaining desire to be acceptable to her parents? She had no idea. All Laurel knew was she would get a strange feeling in the pit of her stomach whenever she thought about actually entering law school.

"Well, guess that means grad school." She muttered as she sat back against her pillow. The decision relieved a weight from her shoulders. She solved one problem, but still had several more to deal with. She felt they could wait for another night. The amplifiers quit resounding through her ears and she finally felt able to sleep.


Maybe I'm finally insane/But I don't know what I believe anymore/It's like I'm caught in some revolving door/ Going over and over and over and/ Teach me how to pray…

Concrete Blonde. Help me.

Nicole slowly walked around her childhood home. Everything seemed different though the furnishings were still the same. It also seemed quieter now, emptier. It was as if the house itself missed the matriarch of the Herbert Clan. Adia did have a way of making her presence known. The doctors and nurses at the hospital could attest to that. Her grandmother wanted to be at home. It was left to Nicole to find a way to make that happen.

More and more often, Nicole found herself in a position of leadership. Most of her family looked to her for guidance during Adia's illness. The photographer did not know if she could handle it. She had only returned to New Orleans a little over month ago. Laurel had left for New York two weeks before Nicole was called home. Her heart was still sore. Her very soul hurt at times. She had not been aware that type of pain was possible.

The photographer was almost glad she was forced into this new role. It took her mind off the bassist. It almost felt comfortable. Before Phil called her home, Nicole had been convinced she would die from the pain. Now, she was coping a little better each day. Though she knew she would never completely recover from their separation, she felt a little stronger, a little more optimistic.

Being home forced her to confront demons long thought vanquished. She almost decided to stay at the Warehouse since it was closer to the hospital, but there was something comforting about her childhood room. It was a comfort and a torture all at once.

She could deal with the torture. She needed to deal with the torture. Something within her demanded it. Nicole knew it as finally time to grow up completely, to let herself mature into the person she should already be. She could not do that until she vanquished those demons. Laurel might be out of reach, Annie may be best left buried in the past, and Brian may be long gone, but the Herberts were close. She could not deal with the world until she dealt with her family. She could not face her family until she faced herself. Somehow, she knew all that to be true. It was a sobering realization, but she was finally ready to embrace it.

"You look like you're doing some heavy thinking." Melba entered the living room dragging the vacuum behind her. "Something on your mind?"

"More thoughts than it seems I can handle." Nicole quickly took her feet off the coffee table. That was a sure way to raise the housekeeper's ire.

"Anything I can help with?" Melba must have sensed a long conversation approaching. She left the vacuum by the door and took a seat. "And don't think I didn't notice your filthy shoes on my clean coffee table."

"I took them down, and my shoes aren't filthy." Nicole waved a relatively clean tennis shoe at the housekeeper for emphasis. "See?"

"You can't see the dirt sometimes, but it's still there. Didn't you learn anything at that college?"

"I barely remember biology. Jay would know though." Nicole was glad for the verbal distraction. Her head really did feel as if it were too full of thoughts for comfort.

"Yes he would, doing whatever he does at that company and all. Still, that is beside the point. Feet do not belong on furniture." It was a statement Nicole had heard for most of her life.

"What about footstools then? Aren't they furniture?" Finally, she had an answer.

"That is a different matter entirely. What has come over you, girl?" Melba leaned forward in her chair. "You're not moping so much now, but you're still not yourself."

"Interesting. Who am I then?"


"If I'm not myself, then who am I?" It was something that she had been asking herself lately.

"That's crazy talk, Nicole. You are Nicole Elizabeth Herbert. Who else do you want to be?" Melba seemed confused as well as concerned.

"Me." It was a simple answer to a complicated question. "Sorry, Melba, I just can't figure out who that is anymore. It feels like I lost myself. I mean I wander around here and I don't seem to be that person anymore. I think I was happy in high school, or at least happier than I am now. I know I was happy in college until things went bad with Annie, and I was happy with Laurel, but I can't seem to be happy alone. Does that make sense?"

"Perfect sense. Unfortunately, I think you need to talk to someone a little more educated in the ways of the heart for this." Melba seemed uncomfortable. "I can't give you advice about things I don't understand myself. I just put my faith in the Lord and let it go. Somehow I don't think you could do the same, though it might would help you if you could." Belatedly, Nicole remembered how religious the housekeeper was. She had never been comfortable talking about things she felt God could handle and always gently tried to get the photographer to return to church.

"Yeah, I suppose. I really don't think anyone could help though. Maybe Phil and Jay." She nodded to herself. "Of course, this is something I seem to need to work out for myself."

"Well, you do what you can and let Him do the rest. I have to get back to work. I don't need your grandmother yapping about how dirty the house is when she gets home." Melba greeted each day as if it were the day Adia would be able to return home.

"Yeah, she'd just get more stressed." Nicole played along. She did not have the heart to tell Melba the bad news. Adia would be coming home to die. It was not something most members of the family knew. She knew once the news got out, the house would become a circus tent. Everyone would be clamoring for last minute favors and to prove their love for the family matriarch. That mostly would be the extended family, but there were select immediate family members who would act as bad.

"Now don't you get stressed. You're still not eating as well as you should." The housekeeper admonished.

"I eat."

"One meal a day is not healthy, Nicole. You know that even without remembering your biology class from college."

"You're only eating one meal a day? And you're staying here? Nicky, what is the matter with you?" Phil asked as he walked into the room. She did not even hear him enter the house. "If I still lived here, I'd be bigger than this room."

"I'd make you jog." Jay told him as he entered the room.

"There you go. Talk to them and see if they can help you. I'll be in the parlor cleaning." Melba left the living room.

"What do you need to talk to us about?" Jay asked as he sat down. "Something up? By the way, I was teasing about the jogging part. If you were bigger than this room then I'd make you jog." He told his lover.

"You're too sweet." Phil told him as he took a seat across from his niece. "So, what's up and why aren't you eating?"

"Damn." Nicole muttered. She really had not intended to talk to them about it. "Melba thinks I'm not acting like myself."

"Then whom would you be acting like?" Jay asked, as practical as ever.

"I have no idea." She answered.

"It sounds to me as if it's a then versus now comparison. You aren't acting like the Nicole we remember, and we haven't had the chance to learn who this Nicole is." Phil was definitely the more philosophical of the two.

"Neither have I. That seems to be the problem." Nicole placed her feet back on the coffee table. What Melba did not see would not hurt either of them.

"Ah, I know that feeling. It happened to me when I was forced to move back in with my parents before grad school." Jay leaned back in his chair and copied her posture.

"Well?" She asked.

"It's nostalgia. You're around things that haven't changed but you have. It's natural to feel like that. What you have to do is adjust to it, incorporate the then and now. That is if you wish to be who you were. You can't go back, but you can go forward with that in addition to the person you are now. If you can safely combine the two, provided you want to, then you'll be better for it. But." He paused to make sure she showed signs of understanding his point. "If you really can't define who you are now, then look to the past to see who you were then define yourself in a way that makes you comfortable."

"Sounds like you've given this a lot of thought." Nicole commented.

"I did then. I went through somewhat the same thing. I had to come home, work for a semester until my grant cleared and then go back to school. I had to reconcile the college me, the post college me, and the me my parents remembered. It's not easy to do, but it can be done."

"No, it doesn't sound easy. It hasn't been easy so far either." Nicole commented.

"Well, we really came by to see if you wanted lunch, but since you aren't eating, we're going to force you to come along. You should get out more and live a little." His philosophical comments finished, Jay stood and offered his hand.

"And eat a lot." Phil stood as well. "We'll force feed you if we have to, but you're coming with us, kiddo." He did his best gangster impression. It was horrible, but it did make Nicole laugh. "Come on."

"Alright, I surrender." She used Jay's hand to pull herself from the chair's embrace. "Where are we going?"

"It's a surprise."

"The Court of Two Sisters, where else?" Jay said at the same time as his lover's comment. "Like that's a surprise, really."

"Well, it would have been had you not said anything." Phil argued.

"I'm flattered." Nicole stopped the mock argument. "Let's go."

"Oh, she's so butch." Jay teased.

"She gets that from me." Phil puffed out his chest.

"Not." His lover and Nicole said at the same time.

"No respect. Just for that Jay's paying."

"Sounds good to me." She laughed.

"Yeah, yeah. Whatever. Let's roll." Jay opened the car door and gestured for her to climb in the backseat. "Can't catch a break."

"Sure you can. You're such a wonderful uncle." Nicole gave him a hug.

"Well, that's worth the price of a meal. Get in, kiddo. I'm starving."


Laurel set a slow pace as she jogged around the hotel. After talking to several of the other bands on the tour, the bassist decided she needed a hobby to keep from falling back into bad habits. A trip to a few local stores had yielded her first pair of tennis shoes in five years, and shorts. Of course, she had purchased all the accessories to accompany her previous acquisition, the laptop, such as DVD movies, a few games and as an added feature, a digital camcorder. Graduate school was already paid for thanks to the initial signing bonus, so the rest was hers to waste as she saw fit.

This was their third stop on the tour, and blue gecko was the youngest band there. It was their duty to open for the others. Five bands in all, and only one was well known. However, it was a start, and Jenna at least could not be happier. Laurel just hoped that the performance went smoother than the first time. If this experience was teaching her anything besides how to jog, it was restraint. She really had moments when she envisioned inflicting gruesome deaths on Jenna. Harold she did not mind so much anymore. In fact, she was almost starting to like him. Jenna however, had the ability to annoy her more than any other person on the planet.

Pushing those thoughts from her mind, she quickened the pace. Larry, a member of Growed Upstarts, had suggested to her at the start of the tour that jogging would ease her tension. He was a recovering alcoholic and replaced his drinking with running. He even offered to be her running partner, but she declined. For this first run, she wanted to be alone. She did not want to show him just how out of shape she was.

Laurel passed the hotel parking lot and added a little more speed to her steps. So far she felt as if she were doing well. Her shins were not hurting as they usually would, but she knew that was from the shoes. It is not easy to run in construction boots. The tennis shoes felt much better and absorbed the shocks better. She hated the thought of actually appearing in public in them, but they would work for jogging. A small athletic brace covered her knee in case the strain got to it. She was taking no chances with it.

A sign caught her eye just as she was starting to feel winded. It seemed as good a place as any to cool off in, so she followed the curved driveway to the front of the store. The air conditioning felt wonderful, though the bassist had not thought it very hot outside. This place had no humidity and for once she was grateful for it.

"Can I help you?" The older lady behind the counter smiled as Laurel entered the building.

"I'm just looking around, thanks."

The first thing the bassist noticed was the smell. It was the smell of animals treated well. That made her happy. Several larger pet stores either smelled too clean or smelled of fear and despair. This one appeared to treat its animals better. They looked healthy and content.

Laurel passed kittens, cats, birds and fish on her way to the back of the store. There, lined against the back wall, were several pet carriers and large cages full of dogs and puppies. All of them looked well cared for and happy to see her. They barked, whined, growled and danced to get her attention.

"Would you like to see one?" A young boy on crutches asked as he hobbled over.

"Ah." The question caught the bassist off guard. She had been staring at the only puppy ignoring her. It was curled up with its head on its paws balefully staring out of its cage. "What breed is that one?" She asked pointing it out.

"We're not sure, really. Someone dropped her off here instead of at the pet shelter." He propped his crutches against the glass wall and leaned in for a closer look. That was when Laurel noticed his hands. He appeared too young and in too ill health to be working.

"Do you work here?"

"Yeah, that's my mom." He waved his hand in the direction of the counter. "She owns the place and I get to help out after school." His face showed his pride. She guessed he was rarely able to do any physical work, but he could at least talk to customers and feed the animals.

"Can I see that one?"

"Yeah, let me get mom to let her out for you." He turned and waved to his mother. She hurried over. "Mom, this lady would like to see the stray."

"Ok, wait one moment."

"So, what grade are you in?" The bassist asked to make conversation.

"Seventh. Or at least I will be after the summer's over."

"Cool, I remember seventh grade. It was fun. I started playing the guitar then." She smiled at the memory.

"Really? Wow. I would love to learn how to play. Do you teach?" The innocent question brought up painful memories.

"Not anymore. Though I'm not from around here anyway." She told him.

"I could tell. You sound different. Are you with one of the bands?" He looked excited.

"Actually, yeah I'm with the opening act. Laurel Kendrick at your service, but folks call me Lakky."

"Mitchell Boyd at yours. I wanted to go to the concert, but mom says I can't."

"Mitchy, you know why you can't go." His mother looked sympathetic. Laurel guessed that it had something to do with the lack of handicap access. "Anyway, here's the stray. We just got her and haven't had a chance to name her."

"Thanks." Laurel took the small dog and held her up. The puppy showed signs of life and licked her face. "Guess this means you like me?"

"It seems that way. She doesn't like anyone, not even Mitchell and he's the one all the animals love." Mrs. Boyd went to take the puppy back. It began whining and attempted to take the bassist with it.

"I think she has claimed me." Laurel made a swift decision. "How much?"

"Are you sure?" Mrs. Boyd asked.

"Very sure." Laurel grinned. Harold would hate the dog. She could see that already. It made her more determined to keep it. "I'll need puppy food and stuff like that too." She followed the pet storeowners to the counter. "But, let me make you a deal. Here." She reached into her pocket and pulled out one of the all access passes she had been given that morning. "What say ya'll bring the puppy with you to the concert tonight? You can watch from backstage and avoid the crowds."

"Can we Mom? Please?" Mitchell practically bounced on his crutches.

"Yeah, I don't see why we can't." Mrs. Boyd looked pleased. "Now, why don't you go make out a list of things we'll have to take with us tonight when we take the puppy over ok?"

"Sure Mom. Thanks Laurel. See ya tonight." He disappeared behind a door set off to the side of the counter.

"How much do I owe you?" The bassist asked again.

"You don't owe me a thing. He's been down about not being able to go to that concert. Tomorrow is his birthday, and all his friends are going tonight. But I didn't want him down front where he could get hurt and I knew they'd all talk about it at his party tomorrow evening."

"Hey, it was no trouble. We get these things all the time, and I never have anyone to give them to. I'm just glad ya'll will appreciate them." Laurel took a bill from her wallet. "Now, whether or not you charge me for the puppy, take this. At least donate it to the animal shelter or something. Just don't tell me, ok?"

"Thank you. You've made two people very happy today." Mrs. Boyd took the money and set it beside the cash register.

"Nope, I should thank you. After all, you gave me a running buddy. Speaking of, I really should get back. The concert starts at 7:30, but you can get there before then. Just show those to the guys backstage at the musician's entrance and they'll let you in." Laurel bounced a little on her toes. She was looking forward to ending her first day's run. "See ya tonight." She called out as she left the store. Her heart felt a little lighter than it had in weeks.


"My you were up early today. You missed breakfast. Again." Melba admonished as Nicole used the kitchen door to enter the house.

"I had an assignment this morning." She sat the camera bag on one of the chairs surrounding the table and then took a seat beside it. "It sucks working freelance."

"Watch your mouth, young lady."

"It does though. I mean I only work when they need me to cover for one of the other photographers, none of them are ever sick or apparently lazy by the way, or when they want something done the others just won't do. By modern definition, the only word that fits is sucks." Nicole defended her choices of words.

"Can't you say stinks?" Melba asked.

"I would if it did, but it doesn't fit this assignment. Now the last one stunk, but that was because the River was really low and more mud was able to send its toxins airborne." She leaned back in her seat. "Can I pester you for a glass of tea?"

"You're legs ain't broke. There's some freshly made in the fridge." The housekeeper pointed to the refrigerator with a spoon. "Is it just going to be you for lunch?"

"Sheryl said she was taking a few days off, so she should be here around then." Nicole opened the brushed steel door. The coolness of the refrigerator made her wish she could climb inside. "Is it only a little after 9?"

"Yes it is. What did they have you doing so early this morning?"

"One of the local schools did this morning presentation thing for the mayor, can't imagine why since it was all a waste of time, and the only other photographer on call has been banned from our esteemed mayor's presence." She grabbed a glass from the drying rack by the sink. The tea was already so cool she did not need to add ice. "From what I was told, and was able to infer, she turned him down. Before you ask, I was able to stay out of his line of sight."

"Good thing too, otherwise I'd hafta march on City Hall." Melba was still as protective as ever. Nicole did notice that the older woman's speech patterns had relaxed back to normal. She took it as a good sign. It meant that the housekeeper was no longer thinking of her in terms of then and now. "You planning on taking a nap?"

"No." Nicole bit back a yawn. "I want to find a larger format camera. Is all daddy's stuff still in the attic?"

"Child, nothing has ever been removed from that place. I think you'll find your great-great-great grandfather's stuff up there."

"Cool. That stuff ought to be donated to a museum or something. What are you making?" The activity around the large steel pot caught her attention.

"Jay and Phil are joining you for dinner this evening. Jay has requested all day crawfish gumbo. I think Phil really wants it but blamed it on Jay."

"Sounds like something he would do." Nicole drained her glass. "Well, I'll be up in the attic if you need me."

"You be careful up there." Melba instructed.

"Oh, I'm always careful." She stopped for a moment at that phrase. It was one of Laurel's favorite lines. "I'll be fine."

Nicole was grateful the house boasted a real attic. It was almost a third floor instead of a crawl space like most houses possessed now. She vaguely remembered hearing stories of her father and his brothers fighting over converting it to a bedroom so they would no longer be required to share. She always thought that was why her grandfather made the Warehouse into an apartment building. It eased the overload.

As soon as she opened the door and walked up the stairs, Nicole could see that no one ever visited the attic. Her shoes left imprints in the dust on the stairs. She fumbled for the light switch and was surprised when the lights actually turned on for her. That was when she was presented with the full panorama of junk accumulated by generations of Herberts for the first time in her life. She had never been allowed in the attic before. Old furniture, boxes, trunks, cupboards, shelves, photographs, paintings, mirrors, an old trombone, a beanbag, drapes of cloth, and more stuff then she ever imagined was crowded all around the perimeter of the attic. Even more things were clustered together in the center.

"And this mess runs the entire length of the house?" Nicole asked herself. Her simple errand now seemed a daunting task. She was very much a forest for the trees person, and accepted it. This almost overwhelmed her. It really made her understand her grandfather's decision more. He must not have wanted to deal with it either. There was barely a way to walk around most of the clutter.

"Why can't anything ever be easy?" She muttered the question. "Oh well, guess I have to start somewhere."

She chose the pile of clutter closest to her since she could barely move past it. She had no idea where to look for her father's camera equipment. This seemed as good a place as any to start. She cleared off an old trunk and looked through it first to make sure it did not contain anything she was needed or wanted. It was full of old fur coats and the smell of mothballs. She quickly closed it and used it as a seat while she looked through the other stuff around her.

Sometime during her dig through the past, Mozart joined her. The big dog sneezed at the dust in the air, but seemed content to lie at the top of the stairs and watch her sort through everything. She was glad for his presence. She would need him to go for help if the clutter came alive and overwhelmed her.

The strangest things she discovered were the ones she could not identify with anyone she knew. The old derby, faded from years of neglect, suffered from a drooping brim, but other than that she deemed it keepable. In fact, as soon as she wiped off the dust covering the hat and noticed that it was actually brown, she put it on to test it. She was surprised it fit. Her image reflected in the mirror across from her looked a bit goofy, but she did not care. It was a cool hat.

Several things she encountered were sat aside to be looked at in great detail later. There was a box of newspapers from the turn of the century, a scrapbook of old photographs, sheet music, flyers, handbills, campaign buttons, playbills, and more. She nudged the box so it was nearer the staircase. She wanted to examine it all somewhere a bit more comfortable.

"Hello, what is this?" She pulled a violin case from the clutter. She had yet to move farther inside the door, though she had no idea of the time. "There's no name." The violin case was covered in dust. She used a piece of lace she had uncovered earlier. A small brass nameplate was near the two inside latches, but it was blank. "This keeps getting weirder and weirder, Mo."

She forced the latches open and nearly dropped the violin in shock. It appeared to be an antique. Of course if it were as old as the rest of the stuff around it, it could very well be almost one hundred years old. She used the lace cloth to wipe the violin clean. The wood was warm, but brighter than the one she played. It was a golden brown instead of the more popular dark brown. The bow was carefully placed beside it. She picked both up with hands that shook slightly.

"I wonder." She plucked the strings and winced when it showed they were badly out of tune. Whoever had placed the violin in the case and then in the attic had detuned the strings for safekeeping. She made the appropriate adjustments and then set the bow to the strings. She soon lost herself in the sweet sounds and the search for her father's camera was quickly forgotten.

"Am I being serenaded?" The voice broke through the self-imposed trance and brought Nicole back to reality.

"What?" She turned to find Sheryl standing near by.

"Never mind. Where did you find that?" The critic asked as she used her hand to wipe a bit of floor before sitting there. "Let me guess. It was under all of that junk?"

"Yes it was. Amazing, but true." Nicole reluctantly placed the violin back in its case. "When did you get here?"

"A few minutes ago. Melba told me you were up here and to tell you that it's past lunch time so come and eat."

"Already? It doesn't seem like I've been up here that long." She stretched. "Well, I guess we can go eat. Can you grab that box for me?" She pointed to the box near the top of the stairs. "I wanna go through that later. I'll take this with me though. Where's the dog?" She closed the case and grabbed it in a gentle but secure grip.

"What are you going to do with that anyway?" Sheryl groaned as she lifted the heavy box as asked. "He's in the kitchen."

"I'm going to take it to the store and have it cleaned. Finders keepers, this is now mine." Already she was attached to it.

"Goofball. I was going to ask if you were going to sell it, but that answers that question."

"Nope. I couldn't sell a thing like this."

"That's cool. It's a nice violin. That's a nice hat by the way." Sheryl's voice was full of suppressed laughter.

"It will be when I get it cleaned too. Think there's anywhere around here that does that anymore?" Nicole closed the door to the attic behind them.

"Ask Melba. She'd know better than I would. Now let's eat. I skipped lunch just for this."

"Alright. Lead the way."

Part 15

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