It’s been awhile since I’ve seen the way the candles light your face

And it’s been awhile, but I can still remember just the way you taste

"Mozart? What are you barking at?" Melba interrupted Nicole’s story about trying to find the bassist to open the back door. "C’mere boy. What the? Nicole."

"What is it?" Nicole asked. She did not want to move from the table. Melba’s lunches were getting larger. The photographer knew it was out of grief, but she felt as if she had gained a hundred pounds since the will had been read to the family.

"Oh my god." Stan laughed. "You are not going to believe this."

"For Pete’s sake, what are you two laughing at?" She finally took the hint and walked over to the window. "Oh my god."

"Do I need to call the cops?" The housekeeper asked.

"No, Melba. It’s ok. I’ll handle this." Stifling a smile, Nicole walked out onto the back porch. "Mo, come here boy." The big dog obeyed, allowing Laurel to finally stand on her feet. Apparently he had tripped her and was holding her down while he licked her face.

"Thank you." The bassist stood. "That’s not quite the reintroduction I was looking for."

"And what were you looking for, skulking around in my back yard?"

"I wasn’t skulking." Laurel bent down and picked up her guitar. Mozart took it as a hint to reaffirm his feelings for her. "Mo. It’s nice to see you too. Really, but can I please stand this time?" She asked as she scratched his ears. "He’s getting fat."

"Melba’s been feeding him from the table." Nicole struggled to keep her voice even. She stuffed her shaking hands into her pockets. "So, what brings you here? Aren’t you supposed to be in Georgia or somewhere?"

"West Virginia." Laurel corrected. "The rest of the band is staying at a hotel there during a well deserved vacation."

"So you came back to visit?" Nicole prompted.

"In a way. So, how have you been?"

"Busy lately."

"I heard. I was sorry to hear about your grandmother." Laurel stuffed her hands in her pockets.

"Yes, it was a tough time. She’s not in pain anymore though." Nicole sat down on the steps. "How have you been?"

"Tired mostly. It’s not easy being on tour."

"I can imagine. So why are you really here?"

"Well, I have questions and you have answers. A good photojournalist once told me it’s best to go to the source." The bassist looked around. "Is there someplace a little more comfortable we can talk without people staring at us?"

"What?" Nicole looked back at the door in time to see Stan and Melba disappear from the window. "Yeah, follow me." She led the way around the house to another door. This one opened directly into the study. It was a late addition to the house. Adia did not like cigar smoke, so Nicole’s grandfather cut a door into the wood to keep the smoke from permeating the rest of the house.

"This is nice." Laurel commented as she looked around. "I like it."

"Me too. It’s one of my favorite rooms in the house." She sat down behind the wooden desk.

"I can see why." The bassist leaned her guitar against the wall. She remained standing. Nicole thought it was better than pacing, but it still made her nervous.

"You wanted answers?" She prompted when the silence grew oppressive.

"My first question is why did you dump me? And I don’t want to hear any bullshit about it either."

"I told you why."

"That answer is unacceptable. You’ll have to do better than that." Laurel walked slowly towards her. "Now, why did you dump me?"

"I didn’t want you to regret not giving yourself a chance to be part of something. I thought you wouldn’t go if I didn’t make you, so I made you." Nicole was glad that part of the conversation was over. She just hoped that the bassist did not press the issue further. She should have known better.

"Is that all? Because had you discussed the matter with me or believed me, you would have known I have never wanted to pursue a career in music. Matter of fact, I believe I told you that shortly after I met you." The photographer could tell Laurel was getting upset. "So, what else could there be?"

"Alright." Nicole sighed. She knew she was trapped. Only the truth could bridge the rift between them, and she was not prepared for the truth. Still, she owed it to the bassist to try. "I was scared. I didn’t want you to regret not giving it a chance because of me. I was scared you would get bored of me and leave. I was scared you’d turn out like the others and leave. I was scared you would go off to law school in Wyoming or Ottawa or somewhere. I was scared that if you left I’d never get over it. So I pushed you away to save myself and give you a chance to be a big shot rock star." She leaned back against the wall. "Basically I was scared that if you stayed you would realize you were young and not ready for a commitment and it would break my heart."

"So you decided to break mine before I could do the same?" Laurel closed the physical distance between them. She knelt in front of the chair. "All this could have been solved if you had only talked to me about it."

"I know that now don’t I?" Nicole snapped. She could feel the tears flow and wondered at it. She had thought her body would not be able to produce anymore after all the ones she had shed since May. She stood up and walked to the window. "You left anyway."

"Only because you made me." The photographer wondered at the tone. A year ago and Laurel would really have gotten upset. She had a flash of insight then. Laurel had matured on the road. Maybe the separation had been beneficial for both of them. Sheryl had been right. For once, Nicole could not wait to hear her old friend gloat.

"I’m sorry, but I couldn’t see any other way. You’ve grown though while you were away. You’ve lost weight too." The bassist had always been thin, but now looked a little too thin for Nicole’s comfort.

"So have you. Way too much weight, but you’ll gain it back soon." Laurel smiled gently. "Now another question. Are you happy?"


"Yep. Honestly."

"No, not really." It was true. Being the titular head of the Herbert clan, a freelance photographer, and an expectant mother was not easy.

"Neither am I. I haven’t really been happy since that last night we had together. I would like to be that happy again."

"It’s been too long, and things have changed, Laurel. We can’t go back to the way we were." She had to say it. She did not believe it, but she had to say it.

"I know that. But we can incorporate all of it and maybe start over. That is if you still want to."

"I don’t know if that’s a good idea." Part of her wanted to jump blindly at the chance, while the rest of her was screaming for caution.

"Look me in the eye and tell me you don’t love me." Laurel was suddenly behind her. She let herself be turned from the window. Nicole could feel the bassist’s breath on her face. Laurel was effectively pinning her to the wall. "You can’t tell me that can you? If you still love me as I still love you, then there won’t be anything to worry about. We can handle it. We’ve triumphed over obstacles before. Why shouldn’t we this time?"

"I…" Nicole’s body responded to the soft, seductive tones. Still, the bassist did not close the remaining distance between them. Laurel leaned in, bringing her mouth mere inches from the photographer’s. Nicole stared at the bassist’s lips before returning to look the woman in the eyes. The physical tension caused by their attraction and the bassist’s proximity was making her heart beat faster than normal. She swallowed hard and tried again. Nicole almost jumped when she felt a soft touch beneath her naval.

"Have you felt it move yet?"

"A little flutter, but how did you know?" Laurel’s question had redirected the photographer’s thoughts from desire to fear.

"It seems our friends make excellent spies."

"Do you hate me?" She could barely push the words from her mind through her mouth.

"Not in the least." Laurel pulled back further. "I was told what happened the other night. I can’t hate you. I’ll never be able to hate you."

"Good, because your hatred is the last thing I want."

"What do you want?" Laurel leaned in close again.

"I want things to be as they were, but better this time maybe. We weren’t honest with one another. There’s so much I never told you. I was scared that if I did, you’d see me like all the others do. Like I see myself."

"I’m not like the others. I had the same fears you know. But you aren’t like the others either. I did a lot of thinking on the road. I learned a lot. I stayed away from most of the temptations shoved in my face. I only got drunk a few times, picked one chick up for a few hours after that article came out, and avoided the drug scene."

"Was it that bad?" Nicole felt responsible for it all. Her mind registered the comment about the one night stand but overlooked it. She could not get mad for something she had done herself. However, she was surprised Laurel limited it to just one.

"Not all of it was horrible." Laurel admitted. "I wouldn’t have gone to New York had you not pushed me, but going on tour was my choice. I put myself in that position. I didn’t have to sign the contract. You didn’t force me to do anything. There was a reason this happened between us."

"I know. I’ve had it explained to me more ways than I can remember. We needed the time apart to grow into ourselves."

"Yeah we did. Mandy always tells me there’s no pain without some gain. Can we maybe try to work things out? We can start slowly. I’m going to graduate school down the road. I thought maybe I could find a place around here and we can maybe start over." Laurel stepped back. "Shit, I forgot Muggster. Can I bring her inside?"


"Yeah. She’s my dog. I left her in the truck bed. I’ll be right back ok?"

"Ok." Nicole laughed. Laurel may have matured some on the road, but she still had a childish exuberance at times. "She came home." She whispered to herself. Only twice before had she felt the same type of flutter around her heart that she felt now. It had been the night they met and then again that night Laurel first kissed her. On both of those occasions, something in her soul felt complete. She felt it a third time now. It was almost like being drunk, only without the hangover. It was a feeling she never wanted to live without. The choice was hers, and she was willing to make a decision. She would accept Laurel’s offer. There was no other decision to make.


"Alright, Muggster, be on your best behavior." Laurel warned the little dog. "If this goes right, you’ll have to learn to share the bed better than you do." For a small dog, Muggster took up a lot of room.

Laurel did not bother with a leash. The puppy followed her into the house and down the hallway. The bassist found the way back to the study easier than she found her way outside. Nicole was still standing by the window with a goofy smile on her face.


"Hi. So that’s Muggster?" Nicole knelt and greeted the puppy. "She’s adorable. What is she?"

"As far as I can tell, she’s 100% mutt. I think she’s part pug or bulldog, but I can’t tell for sure." She watched as Nicole scratched the puppy’s ears. Muggster was in ecstasy. She was almost jealous.

"So, you’re going to grad school or law school?"

"Grad school. I realized the only reason I wanted to be a lawyer was because my parents always wanted me to be one. I would rather get my masters, maybe my doctorate and teach college history." She finally sat down.

"I thought you didn’t want to teach." Nicole commented. There was still an aura of nervousness around them.

"I never did really. I mean I don’t want to teach little kids, but I’ve always fantasized about teaching at a college." Laurel admitted. "So what are your plans? Mandy says you’ve been working freelance down here."

"I’ll continue doing that for a while. Grandmother’s will left me in charge, and that’s almost a full time job by itself." The photographer laughed.

"Yeah, I can see where it would be. Well, you’ve always wanted to move back to New Orleans."

"Yes I have. So, um, when are you going to finish the tour?"

"I’m done. I quit the band. You remember Sam? She’s taking my place. I got into a fight with Jenna, and I wanted to leave anyway."

"What did you get into a fight with Jenna over?"

"That phone call you made to the house after we broke up. You were calling to make up weren’t you?" Her eyes followed Muggster. The puppy crawled underneath the desk and went to sleep.

"Yes I was." Nicole admitted.

"I thought as much. Jenna never told me you were on the phone. Then she rushed off and gave your boss a whole lot of incorrect information so he could write that infamous article. I gather that’s why you quit the paper?"

"It was. He asked me to do it since he knew we were friends. I couldn’t do that to either of us. You didn’t deserve it, and it went against every ethic I have." Nicole did not raise her head. "I’m sorry they did it anyway."

"That’s not your fault. It’s Jenna’s. Actually, Jenna gets a lot of blame for all this. It was her words that drove you to dump me wasn’t it?" Laurel walked over to the window.

"In a way. She made it clear I was the reason you turned it down."

"Hey. Look at me." She lifted the photographer’s chin. "I’m the reason I turned it down. I didn’t want to put myself back into that type of situation. I didn’t know if I could handle the temptations. I can. I learned that about myself. I’m a lot stronger than I think I am. And I think you learned the same lesson didn’t you?"

"Yeah. It hasn’t been easy."

"The harder the lesson, the better remembered. A professor once told me that." Laurel chuckled softly. "Regardless, we’re here now, right?"

"Yes we are." Nicole smiled. "I won’t let you go again."

"Good, cause I don’t plan on leaving." Laurel pulled her into an embrace. "I love you with all that I am, and all that I wish to be."

"You have an amazing way with words, you know. I love you too." Their lips were drawn together. "I thought you wanted to take it slow."

"Do you?" Laurel’s voice was deeper than normal. That one kiss reaffirmed her life.


"Me either." She laughed. "Now, say hello to me properly then introduce me to the rest of the family."

"As you wish." Nicole leaned down and claimed her lover’s lips. "Slow is bad."

"Very bad." Laurel agreed. "We don’t like slow."

"Did you bring anything besides you, the guitar and the dog?"

"Yes I did. I have a few bags out in the truck."

"I’ll make Stan bring them in." Nicole grinned. "I think I’ll make you stay here tonight."

"Oh really? You’re going to make me?" Laurel stood to her full height. Nicole still stood two inches taller. "I guess I’ll let ya."

"By the way, what did you bring the guitar for?" The photographer asked as she opened the door.

"I was going to serenade you until Mozart ruined those plans." She made sure Muggster was still asleep. The puppy would find her when she woke up.

"Can you do it later?" Nicole sounded pleased.

"Sure. Do you have anything to eat around here? Suddenly I’m starving." She patted her stomach.

"I was thinking we should fatten you up anyway. Melba should be in the kitchen. Come on, I’ll introduce you. She’ll take one look at you and vow to feed you until you’re as big as the house." Nicole promised.

"Good thing I took up jogging." Laurel laughed. "First, come here for a minute." She pulled Nicole into a doorway for another kiss.

"What was that for?"

"Because I could. I missed you."

"I missed you too. Welcome home."

"You’ll never be rid of me now, you know." Laurel promised.

"That’s just the way I wanted it." Nicole pulled her to her feet. "I wouldn’t have you any other way. Well, maybe without the purple hair."

"Just wait until you see the tattoos." She winked.

"Tattoos?" Nicole’s voice was weak.

"Nicole Herbert, you bring your guest in here and introduce her properly." Melba commanded from the kitchen.

"She’s not a guest. She’s family." Stan corrected. "Now get in here, both of you."

"You sure you want to be here?" Nicole asked. "This is your last chance to cut and run. Once you get past that door, there’s no turning back."

"I am very sure. C’mon." Laurel took her hand. "There’s no way I’m backing out of this. Let’s go eat with the family." Hand in hand they entered the kitchen.

"Melba, I’d like you to meet Laurel Kendrick. Laurel, this is Melba." Nicole made the introductions.

"Hi." Laurel freed her hand and shook the housekeeper’s. "I’ve heard a lot about you."

"Not as much as I’ve heard about you, I’m sure." Melba gripped her hand tightly. Laurel would have sworn there was a threat implied there.

"I hope it was all good." She tried her charm.

"Some good, some bad. Let’s hope the good continues to outweigh the bad, ok?" The housekeeper looked at her sharply.

"Yes ma’am." Laurel reclaimed her hand and then turned to the other person standing in the room. "Stan the man. How’s it hanging?"

"Halfway to my knees." He grinned. "How’ve you been? It is so great to see you." He pulled her into a hug.

"Better, worse, you know how it goes." She laughed. "I get the feeling it might get a lot better from now on."

"It better." Nicole stated. "C’mon let’s get some food into you. Melba, do we have any left?"

"Left? Honey, we have tons of food, and it looks as if your friend could use most of it." The housekeeper finally smiled. "C’mon sit down, let me get you a plate. Are you a picky eater like Nicky?"

"No ma’am, not really." Laurel answered. "I’ll try just about anything once."

"Now that’s what I like to hear." Melba smiled broadly as Laurel took a seat at the table.

"Have you eaten?" She asked Nicole.

"Yes, but I’ll sit here while you do."

"Good." She leaned over. "I don’t know if your housekeeper trusts me or not. You might wanna stay here and protect me."

"She won’t hurt you." Nicole laughed. "She’s just a little protective."

"A little?" Stan asked. "Try a lot."

"Here you go. Something to drink?" Melba set a large plate in front of the bassist.

"Thanks. Tea if you have any please." She looked down at her plate. "You know, I don’t think I’ve seen this much food in a long time."

"Get used to it. Melba loves to over cook." Stan told her.

"I heard that. If I didn’t cook so much, how would you eat?" The housekeeper asked as she joined them at the table. "So, what plans do you have for your life?"

"Um. I was going to go to graduate school. I’ve made more than enough to pay for that and live pretty comfortably." Laurel answered after hastily swallowing a mouthful of food. "After that, I might try teaching."

"Cool. Are you moving in here?" Stan asked.

"I don’t know." She answered. All she knew is she was staying there that evening. There was more they had to talk about before living arrangements were decided. "We’ll get to that eventually."

"That reminds me." Nicole broke into the conversation. "Stan, can you get Laurel’s bags from her truck? We don’t want to leave them out there in case it rains or someone decides to borrow them."

"Sure, no problem. I’ll be right back." He left to run his errand.

"This is really good." It was without a doubt, the best meal she had eaten in months.

"I’m glad you enjoyed it. Wait until you see what I have planned for dinner." Melba seemed friendlier now that Laurel had shown appreciation for her food. "Why don’t you two go talk or something while I clean up? I’ll call you for dinner."

"Thanks, Melba." Nicole smiled at the housekeeper. "Want the tour?"

"Sure." Laurel was willing. Touring a house was a lot easier than touring the country.


"Holy shit. Is it always like that here?" Laurel asked as Stan finally left the house.

"Like what?" Nicole asked mildly from her seat on the couch.

"Packed with people?"

"Sometimes. Phil and Jay come over regularly, or did to see grandmother. Now they probably will too to check up on everything. Stan is over here a lot to eat. Kay used to be here a few nights a week. Denney did the weekend thing. I guess they’ll still drop in when they want to, though I will try to cut some of that down. Mainly they get bored so they come over here." She shrugged. "At least now you’ve met most of the family."

"There’s more?" Laurel seemed shocked.

"Yep. There are a lot of us."

"So, now that we’re alone again, where am I sleeping tonight?" Laurel asked. The tour of the house had been cut short by Phil and Jay’s arrival. They had been overjoyed to see the bassist and insisted on staying for dinner to talk to her.

"Anywhere you want except Melba’s room. I don’t think she’d like that too much. She refuses to get something other than a double bed." Nicole was nervous. She decided to take it easy and let the bassist decide this issue.

"Can I sleep in your room? Or are you not allowed to have over night guests?"

"I’m allowed." She laughed. "Sheryl used to stay over all the time. Nothing happened though, so my bed is still innocent." For some reason it felt important to make that clear.

"Ok then. I could use some sleep. I fell asleep on the plane before we took off this morning." Laurel said around a yawn.

"You flew in today and then drove down here?"


"No wonder you’re tired. Come on, let’s go get some sleep." Nicole stood. "Can you bring the dogs inside?" Muggster and Mozart had bonded instantly. They shared a love of the backyard.

"Yeah. I think I remember the way. Yours is the room above the kitchen right?"

"Yes it is. By the way, how did you get in the backyard this afternoon?" Nicole asked. The gate was always kept locked.

"I climbed the fence." Laurel smirked. "Go on up, I’ll be there in a minute."


Nicole used the time alone to change into her pajamas. She was thrilled Laurel was home, but did not know if she could handle more than sharing the bed. So much had happened, so much was still unsaid. She knew they would have to talk it all out before they resumed their relationship completely.

"Um, Nicole, did you know your pajamas have ducks on them?" Laurel asked as she entered the room.

"Yeah. They’re old. I actually wore them in high school."

"Ok. I was just checking. Mind if I change in here?" She was pleased to see that Laurel was feeling the same awkwardness.

"Go ahead." Nicole climbed under the covers. Both dogs took that as their cue and joined her on the bed.

She watched as Laurel took off her jeans. As always, the bassist was wearing boxer shorts. The long sleeve shirt was placed on the chair by the desk, but the t-shirt stayed. Laurel did however remove her bra by slipping it out through one of the t-shirt’s sleeves. It was unfortunate, but Nicole only caught a quick glimpse of the tattoo on Laurel’s arm. She knew she would see it in detail later.

"Can I join you or should I sleep on the floor?" The bassist grinned.

"Come on." Nicole moved to the edge of the bed to make room. It did not take long. As soon as Laurel was fully under the covers, Nicole found her shoulder. "I missed this."

"I did too. Muggster is not the best cuddle toy." Laurel laughed softly as she put her arm around the photographer.

"Mo isn’t either. I did however find a stuffed monkey. That was a good one. You’re better."

"You got the monkey?"

"And the CD, and three unsigned postcards. What was the Grand Canyon like?" Nicole asked. It seemed a good place to start their conversation.

"Hot. It was hot, dry and beautiful. I got it all on tape if you want to see it later."

"I would love to see it." Nicole rolled over and placed her arm around Laurel’s waist. She felt her lover shift and welcome her. "What was it really like out there on tour?"

"It was rough. We played almost every night. Every callus I had doubled in size. I had blisters underneath each one within a few weeks of touring. We never got a good night’s sleep it seems, I never really had time to eat decent meals, I know we didn’t drink enough water. But, I saw some really neat places. I meet some really great people, and I ran into an old friend on one of our stops."

"Good friend or bad friend?" Nicole could not tell from her lover’s tone.

"I tell you what. I’ll trade you one of my bad experiences for one of yours, ok?" Laurel rolled over so they were facing one another.

"You mean you tell me one and then I tell you one?"

"Yeah. Agreed?"


"You remember that accident I was in? I met the person who was in the car with me when it happened." Laurel closed her eyes. Nicole could tell this was a painful story for the bassist. "Her name was Sharon. She’s the only other person I’ve ever loved. We were on our way home from a party. I had just graduated high school. Sharon and I were the same age, but in different year groups since I skipped a grade in elementary school. Anyway, it wasn’t long after Jon died. We were drunk, but I didn’t think I was too drunk to drive home. We were both still kinda stoned too, but it wasn’t the first time I’d ever driven stoned. I figured I could handle it. We might have made it too, had Sharon not grabbed the wheel and turned us off the road."

"You ok?" Nicole could feel the shudders running through the body in her arms. She knew this was hard for Laurel.

"Yeah. We ran off the road. I could see this huge oak tree in front of us. Sharon wouldn’t let go of the wheel. I did everything I could, but she was stronger than I was at the time. We had been doing maybe fifty miles an hour when she grabbed the wheel. She crossed over and slammed my foot onto the accelerator as well. I managed to step on the brakes, but it didn’t seem to help. It just made the car want to go out of control. We skidded into the tree. One of us dropped the car into neutral by accident I think. I wish it had been a standard, I could have let off the clutch and let the car die, but it was an automatic. Regardless, I panicked. We collided with the oak, I hit the steering wheel and then the window on my door, or maybe it was the other way around. Sharon hit the dashboard. The next thing I remember, the state police are standing over my bed twelve hours after they brought me to the hospital. As soon as I was released, I was arrested."

"What happened to Sharon?" Nicole could feel an overwhelming hatred for the other passenger.

"I didn’t find this part out until I saw her again, but her father bribed someone to keep her from getting into trouble. It was too late for me. Sharon was shipped off to a rehab center in Gulfport. Her father gave the DA plenty of false information about me, and even though the judge threw most of it out, I was still sentenced to time served, time in a halfway house and probation. It was a weird sentence, but it was better than jail. The judge knew my dad, and my attorney talked me into a plea bargain. Had I pled innocent, I could have avoided all of it, but I think my parents wanted me out of the way and I really didn’t know better at the time. So, I went along with what the attorney told me to do. As a result, I started college a semester late."

"Yeah, but you made it out in four years."

"Three and a half, really. I took at least one course every summer to catch up. Sharon apologized for what happened. She wanted to be friends again, but Laurie Kendrick died in that car accident. I started using my full name after that. I always thought she betrayed me, but she claims she didn’t. She did get my record expunged though. Which is odd, because I was tried as a juvenile since I was still under age." Laurel sounded puzzled.

"Maybe she did anyway." Nicole attempted to reassure her. She did not believe Sharon’s story, but she knew Laurel almost had to. It would heal part of the bassist’s soul. "Betrayal is not easy to live with." The photographer whispered. She leaned in and lightly kissed Laurel’s forehead. "Please don’t think I ever meant to betray you."

"I know you didn’t. Tell me about that?" Laurel freed her hand and dried her eyes. "Please?"

"Brian or Jenny?" Nicole was nervous again. She did not know if Laurel knew about her encounter with Jenny Phelps. "Is it late enough for a full confession?"

"I think so." Laurel chuckled. "It’s not 2 am, but I think it’s late enough for this. Tell me about whichever you wish. I already knew about Jenny, though I didn’t know her name. Did you like her?"

"She was a nice person. She had attractive qualities, but she wasn’t you."

"Carrie wasn’t you either. She was just relief. That article threw me off balance, and she was a way to escape for about half an hour."

"Half an hour?" Nicole laughed. "You only lasted for half an hour?"

"She did. I didn’t let her touch me. I realized why, I think. Sharon made me think about all of that. She was the last person I ever let touch me freely except for you, and even that was always a fight. She made me not want to be vulnerable. I want to be like that with you."

"I do too." Nicole thought she understood what Laurel was attempting to say. "Brian always had a way of playing on my vulnerabilities. He knew what buttons to push to make me react. That night. I still don’t remember it clearly. I know what happened, but I don’t remember how it happened. I think I passed out in his arms. I remember falling as I turned to say something to him, and I think he caught me. That’s all I remember."

"It’s probably for the best that you don’t remember everything." Laurel said softly. "Obviously though, he took advantage of you."

"Obviously." Nicole snorted. "The first, only and last guy I’ve been with. I’ll never tell my child that. For all intents and purposes, Danny is the biological father. He spread the word around that he donated sperm and I used a turkey baster." She laughed. "He wanted to make sure Brian would never know the truth, so he told them all we decided to do it three weeks before we knew Brian was in town."

"He’s a smart man." Laurel commented. "I’m glad he did that. I wish I could beat the crap out of the asshole though."

"Danny did that too. His mother showed me a picture of Brian at his wedding. He had to get married with a broken nose, a black eye, bruised ribs and a split lip."

"Serves him right." Laurel was quiet for a moment. "I should have been here."

"You’re here now. That’s all that matters, ok?" Of all the reactions she expected, Nicole had not expected guilt. She gently took Laurel’s hand and placed it under her naval. "Besides, something good came of it."

"Yeah, I guess it did." Laurel’s smile was interrupted by a yawn.

"It did. Get some sleep. We can talk about everything else in the morning."

"Ok. I love you." Laurel leaned in for a chaste kiss. Incredibly, it almost remained chaste.

"I love you too." Nicole returned to her position on the bassist’s shoulder. "Night."



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