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The cassette feels heavy in her hand.

She holds it so tightly that the sharp plastic of the case cuts into her palm. She paces back and forth in front of the house, pausing every so often to look up at the lit window on the second floor.

She looks back down at the cassette.

One side, 51 minutes, her whole heart.

She had painstakingly written the track listing on the inside cover and a small explanation for why she picked each song on a separate sheet of lined paper. In a fit the night before, she had added a folded piece of copy paper with her favorite lines from each song. It feels stupid, now. Reckless, even.

This was a terrible idea , she thinks. She tucks the cassette into her pocket and turns to head back to her car, to disappear into the night and forget she was ever going to do something as stupid as this.

She pauses with one hand on the door handle. No , she tells herself. This is my last chance . In two days, she’s leaving town to chase what comes next, and there’s no telling what Purgatory will be like when she gets back. This is her last chance to take the biggest risk of her life.

She pulls the cassette back out of her pocket and picks up a pebble from the small garden in the front yard and tosses it a few feet into the air, testing its weight. With a silent prayer that she doesn’t miss, she pulls her arm back and lets it fly, wincing as it hits the window with a loud clink . Her heart stops for a moment when nothing happens, and she starts scanning the garden for another pebble when the window groans open.

“What’re you doing out there?”

She panics and squeezes her hands into fists. The case presses harder into the soft skin of her palm. She doesn’t speak, too afraid that her words aren’t enough; that she’ll say the wrong thing; that she’ll be too much of herself. Instead, she presses the ‘eject’ button on her Panasonic RX-5030L boombox and slides the tape in, Side A down.

There’s a hum of static for five seconds, a recording error before the first song cues up, the sound of a synthesized piano filling the silence. She takes a deep breath, grabs the boombox in both hands, turns,  and lifts it over her head.

Nicole Haught stands on the lawn with her stomach in knots, her blood rushing in her ears, a boombox in her hands, and her heart on her sleeve.

Waverly Earp hangs out from her bedroom window and stares at her with wide eyes.

 


"Waiting For a Girl Like You" Foreigner, 1981
I've been waiting for someone new to make me feel alive. Yeah, waiting for a girl like you to come into my life.

 

Nicole Haught stands in front of the mirror and scowls at her reflection. She readjusts the cuff on the bottom of her denim jeans and then sighs when she realizes she needs to do the other leg so they’re even. She rolls them over until they rest right at the top of her Red Wing 875 boots - the ones she spent all summer staring at in the window of Fred’s Shoes. She stands back up and smooths out the wrinkles in her white t-shirt.

The white shirt she had pressed the night before sits in a wet pile on the floor. Nathan had spilled a glass of orange juice on her this morning and she had to change. The shirt she puts on instead was at the bottom of her dresser drawer and the sleeves won't roll right.

Her senior year starts today, and it's not going according to plan.

“And that was Richard Marx with his swooning single, ‘Right Here Waiting’, this week’s Billboard Hot 100 song,” the disc jockey says from the radio. “Good morning, kids. You're listening to 88.3, CKXU out of Lethbridge. It's the start of the school year, and we’re the station to get you through the day.”

Nicole scowls at the radio and twists the volume off as Prince’s “Batdance” starts up.

She pulls the top half of her hair back, winding a hair tie around the ponytail and tugging at the half of her hair still hanging loose. She can hear her mom banging around downstairs and she sighs. Since her dad left, her mom has been on edge - worrying about money and Nathan dropping out of community college and Nicole’s blank police academy application on the counter.

“Nicole! Get down here! You're gonna be late for your first day!” her mom yells.

Nicole grabs her jacket off of her bedpost and slides her arms into it. It's August and the nights are starting to get cool, but the days are hot. Her leather jacket gets a little sticky come midday, but she knows she looks good in it. It hangs just above her waistline, the bottom hem buckle hugging it to her body. There's three stars on each shoulder that she polishes once a week. She found a Rolling Stones logo keychain, broke it off, and uses it for a zipper.

Nathan is at the table drinking another glass of orange juice when she gets downstairs. She makes a wide turn around the table to avoid him and pulls her chair up to the edge, turning it around before she sits down on it backwards.

“Sit right, girl,” her mom snaps at her.

Nathan laughs over the rim of his orange juice. “Good morning, Princess Ke nic kie.”

Nicole reaches over the table to try and swat him, but her mom shoots her a look and Nicole picks up a piece of toast instead.

Nathan sticks his tongue out at her, drains the last of his orange juice, and drops the glass to the tabletop with a thud . Some droplets of juice splatter across the table and Nicole’s jacket. She wipes hastily at the sleeve and glares at him. He shrugs unapologetically.

“Two shifts today,” he tells her mom. “Be home late.”

Her mom pulls him down until she can press a kiss to his forehead and then leans over and does the same to the top of Nicole’s head. “Me, too. Linda is on vacation so I'm working her evening shift. You’ll be okay for dinner, girl?”

Nicole nods, her mouth full of toast. “I'll go to The Tomato Patch,” she manages.

Her mom gives her a sad smile. “Don't you bother Ms. McCready too much.”

“Never do.”

Nathan smacks her on the back of the head on his way out the door and it slams shut behind him just as her mom follows, lecturing him on being nicer to her. Nicole sighs as silence fills the kitchen. She picks up Nathan's dishes and puts them in sink - she can do them later. She takes a long pull from the orange juice container he left on the table, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. She puts it back in the refrigerator and pulls the Polaroid off the door as she closes it.

It's her, Nathan, her mom, and her dad, ten years ago when they piled into her dad’s 1972 Ford LTD 4-door and drove to Niagara Falls. Just for the heck of it , her dad had said.

Her eyes glance at the clock on the wall before it registers that it's nearly 7:30. She grabs the brown paper bag lunch her mom packed her and jumps the stairs on her way out the door, landing hard enough that she feels the vibrations of the impact up into her knees.

Nicole pauses for a moment in the driveway to stare at her car.

It’s beautiful , she had said the first time she saw it. A 1979 Pontiac Bonneville, mint condition. 2-door, 4-seater with manual windows. It has leather seats and a tape deck that works like a dream.

It’s the same color as whatever I threw up that time I had the flu, Nathan had said.

The old woman selling it had taken CA$1000 for it. It was my son’s, was all she had said. Nicole painstakingly counted out every dollar she made that summer, sweeping the floors at the Sheriff’s Department and mowing Sheriff Nedley’s lawn.

And then it was hers .

She slips into the front seat and breathes in the smell of hot leather. She cranks the driver’s window down and reaches across the bench seat to roll down the other window. She opens the glove compartment and fishes through her cassettes.

John Cougar’s “American Fool”. Asia’s self-titled cassette. The Eagles’ “The Long Run”. Police’s “Synchronicity”. Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors”.

She picks Foreigner’s “4” tape and loads it into the player. She pauses right before she pushes it the whole way in and takes a deep breath.

“Here we go,” she mumbles to herself. She turns the engine over and pushes the cassette in.

Wake up in time to see the sun going down,” Mick Jones croons as she backs it out of the driveway and points her car towards the first day of the rest of her life.

 

-

Nicole honks the horn impatiently for the third time, idling in the driveway of the McCreadys’ house. She shimmies up until she's sitting on the door, hanging out of the open window before she yells. “I'm leaving without you!”

The track changes and “Waiting for a Girl Like You” cues up.

The screen door to the house blows open and hits the siding with a bang. “Hold your tits,” Wynonna yells at her, hurrying down the front stairs.

Gus McCready comes storming down the stairs after Wynonna. “What did I tell you about slamming doors in my house?”

Wynonna ignores her.

“And don't leave without your sister! She's right-” Gus cuts off  abruptly as someone runs by her, stops, doubles back, and leans up to press a kiss to her cheek.

“Bye, Gus!” Waverly Earp shouts. She runs down the stairs after Wynonna, her ponytail bouncing.

So long, I've been looking too hard, I've been waiting too long,” the song starts.

Nicole’s breath catches in her throat.

“Morning, Nicole,” Gus says, waving.

Nicole recovers and gives Gus a wide smile. “Mornin’, Ms. McCready.”

“Keep my girls out of trouble?”

Nicole shrugs, still smiling. “Not likely.”

Gus sighs. “I didn't figure.” She turns and goes back inside the house as Wynonna slips into the passenger seat.

“Sorry, baby girl. Get in on Nicole’s side,” she says, pulling her door closed.

Waverly pauses at Nicole’s side of the car. “Hey,” she says quietly, a smile on her face.

“Hi,” Nicole breathes out.

Nicole wishes Nathan hadn't spilled juice all over her shirt. She's too aware of the large wrinkle running across the midsection of the shirt she ended up wearing. The jewels on Waverly’s bedazzled jean jacket catch the sun and momentarily blind Nicole. Instead, she looks down at Waverly's L.A. Gear High Tops and their neon laces. Today, she's wearing matching leg warmers.

“You don't mind if I ride with you guys, do you?”

“Of course not,” Nicole answers quickly, her voice still soft.  

Waverly puts a hand on her hip. She tips her head to the side, and Nicole gets stuck watching the way her side ponytail tips dramatically, the teased-out curls wild in the morning sun. “Can I get in, then?”

Nicole nearly falls out of the window. “Of-of course,” she sputters. The bottom of her jeans catches on her buckle in the middle of the bench and she struggles to free it, nearly scratching her nails across her Red Wings. She curses under her breath while Wynonna stares at her from the passenger seat, looking bored. Waverly tugs her door open for her and she stumbles out of the driver’s seat, immediately trying to straighten her jacket.

Waverly’s eyes trail from Nicole’s shoulders to her jeans and down to her feet. “New shoes!” she squeals.

Wynonna groans and reaches across the seat, pulling the lever to fold the seat down. “Come on . If we don't get there soon, we’re going to miss the Freshman March.”

Waverly rolls her eyes at Nicole and presses a hand to Nicole’s arm as she climbs into the backseat of the car. She pushes the seat back into place and smiles widely at Nicole.

Nicole clenches her hands into fists to try and stop them from shaking. She climbs into her car and pulls her seatbelt across her chest, staring at Wynonna pointedly until she does the same. She backs out of the McCreadys’ driveway and starts towards the school

I've been waiting for a girl like you, your loving will survive .”

In the rearview mirror, Nicole sees Waverly make a face. “Do you have Love Shack?” she asks hopefully.

Nicole frowns. The B-52’s are… annoying . She shakes her head. “No.”

Waverly sags back against the seat. “Too bad.”

Wynonna turns in her seat and glares at Waverly. “There are rules in this car.”

Waverly rolls her eyes. “It’s not even your car. It’s Nicole’s .”

“Fine. Nicole has rules in her car, don’t you, Nicole?” Wynonna looks at her expectantly. “Like, no shit music in the Pussy Wagon at any time.”

Nicole meets Waverly’s eyes in the rearview mirror and looks away, horrified. “That’s not what we call it,” she says quickly.

“Yes, it is,” Wynonna argues. She looks at Waverly. “So if you want to listen to the B-52’s, or Paula Abdul , go hitch a ride with Dolls. He loves that stuff.”

“We don’t call it that,” Nicole repeats a little louder, her eyes fixed on the road.

Waverly doesn’t seem to hear her. “Just so you know, ‘Straight Up’ was number one on the Billboard Hot 100.”

“Blah, blah, blah,” Wynonna says over Waverly speaking.

“We don’t call it that!” Nicole shouts.

Wynonna and Waverly both pause.

“Dude, get a grip,” Wynonna finally says, rolling her eyes. She looks at Waverly over her shoulder. “We totally call it that. Because Nicole is going to use this car to get all the p-”

“Popularity votes,” Nicole cuts in. “For the yearbook.”

Waverly gives her an ‘ I obviously don’t believe you ’ look, but sighs and settles back against the seat, tapping her finger against the top of Nicole’s seat, right next to her shoulder. Her fingertips brush against the stars on Nicole’s jacket, and even if Nicole can’t actually feel it, she shudders slightly. She leans toward Nicole.

“You okay?” Waverly asks quietly in her ear.

Wynonna is using the Foreigner cassette cover as a microphone, singing off-key to ‘Luanne’.

Nicole barely looks over her shoulder. “Yeah,” she mumbles.

“First day jitters?” Waverly shrugs. “It’s your senior year. Even Wynonna was a little nervous.”

“I’m fine,” Nicole insists. “What about you? First day as a junior and everything.”

Waverly smiles brightly. “I have a feeling this is going to be the best year yet.”

They pull into the parking lot of Purgatory High, and Nicole cuts the engine as she parks next to the gymnasium. She climbs out of the car and pulls the seat down, offering Waverly a hand as she tries to climb out of the car. Waverly takes it and grips it tightly, stretching as soon as she gets out onto the asphalt. Her hand stays linked with Nicole’s for a moment longer. Nicole looks down at their joined hands and feels her face flush. She looks up slowly and Waverly is staring back at her, a small smile on her face.

“Freshman March!” Wynonna shouts.

Nicole startles, dropping Waverly’s hand.

Waverly smooths down her stonewashed denim miniskirt before shooting Wynonna a glare. “You know, you hated when seniors watched you do the march,” she reminds her.

Wynonna shrugs, pulling a cigarette out of her back pocket and tucking it behind her ear. She pushes the pack back into her jeans and unzips her leather jacket a little further, showing off her white tank top beneath it. “What’s your point, Dexter?”

Waverly opens her mouth, but shrieks at something over Nicole’s shoulder before she sprints towards Chrissy Nedley. Nicole leans back against the hood of her car and crosses her arms over her chest as she watches the two girls jump up and down, screaming as they exchange bangles and pull at each other’s hair. Nicole waits until Wynonna is done using the car window as a mirror and then pushes off the hood, falling into step beside her. Waverly gives them a wide smile as they pass her.

“Hey,” Chrissy says, her eyes on Nicole.

Nicole nods and pushes her hands into the pockets of her jacket. “Hey.”

She can feel Chrissy’s eyes on the back of her head as she keeps walking, Wynonna talking next to her. Nicole tugs at the collar of her t-shirt gently as she thinks about the summer she spent mowing the lawn at Sheriff Nedley’s house. They have a pool and Chrissy had spent every minute this summer at it, stretched out in a bikini on a lounge chair. She had offered Nicole lemonade and a suit to swim in and a sandwich every so often. When she had leaned in to try and kiss Nicole at the beginning of August, Nicole should have expected it, but it caught her off guard.

When Chrissy had explained that it was okay, that she knew Nicole was into someone else, it had caught her like a Jean-Claude Van Damme punch to the gut.

Nicole had spent the rest of the summer with her head down and a few extra sandwiches in the bag on the back of her black and silver Bridgestone 400.

Wynonna pulls her to a stop as they reach the front walk. “Here they come,” she whispers gleefully.

Nicole rolls her eyes. “Why’re we doing this, again?”

“Tradition,” Wynonna answers, her eyes already scanning the growing crowd of upperclassmen.

Nicole points at a small figure in the middle of the sidewalk, looking around frantically as the student body swells around him. “Isn’t that your neighbor, Jeremy?”

Jeremy looks around wildly, clutching a textbook to his chest. He tugs nervously at his bowtie. When he turns around, Nicole can see that his suspenders are twisted. She feels sorry for the kid. He’s lived next to Wynonna and Waverly for as long as Nicole has been friends with Wynonna. He’s sweet and harmless and way too much of a dweeb for his own good. She’s about to break ranks and pull him from the parade of freshman marching to their first day of class when she sees Waverly dart into the crowd and lace an arm through his.

She marches next to him, talking rapidly, her free arm flapping with each word. Nicole puts one hand in her back pocket and scratches at the back of her neck with the other, wondering how Waverly always seems to know when someone needs her help.

Waverly looks up, meets Nicole’s eye, and smiles widely.

So far, it’s a breathless start to her senior year.

 


"Every Little Thing She Does is Magic" The Police, 1981
I resolve to call her up a thousand times a day, and ask her if she'll marry me in some old fashioned way. But my silent fears have gripped me long before I reach the phone, long before my tongue has tripped me. Must I always be alone?

 

“Isn’t Sting, like, a major fox? ” Waverly sighs dreamily as she sits down next to Nicole in the cafeteria. Her hair tickles the side of Nicole’s cheek and she rubs at the spot absently. She toes the grimy floor and frowns down at her Red Wings. She’ll need to polish them later.

Nicole shrugs. “I guess?”

“He’s a total babe,” Waverly says decisively. She peeks into Nicole’s lunch bag and frowns. “Is that a fluffernutter?”

Nicole pulls her lunch away from Waverly. “They’re good,” she says defensively.

Waverly pats her on the arm, her fingers resting on Nicole’s leather jacket. “Sure,” she coos. She looks at the empty table and frowns. “Where’s Wynonna?”

Nicole nods in the direction of the open cafeteria door. Through it, students linger on the school lawn in groups eating their lunches and spending the break period outside while they still can. October brought slightly colder weather and even though the sun is hot, the nights are too cold for it to warm up much during the day.

“Doc came by on his lunch break.” She takes a bit of her fluffernutter.

Waverly wrinkles her nose. “So they’re doin’ the wild thing?”

Nicole gags on bread, peanut butter, and fluff in her mouth. “ Waverly ,” she finally croaks.

Waverly’s hand feels hot through her jacket, squeezing as she laughs. She pauses and gives Nicole a soft smile. “You have, uh…” She lifts her other hand and it hovers in the space between them for a moment. “Can I?”

Nicole nods wordlessly.

Waverly rests her hand on Nicole’s jaw, using her thumb to brush away something - crumbles , Nicole realizes - off of her bottom lip. Her hand lingers, feverish against Nicole’s face, and she knows she should look away, but Waverly is so close and her lips part as she breathes out and Nicole can feel her pulse roaring in her ears.

“Got it,” Waverly exhales softly.

Nicole swallows, her eyes drifting to Waverly’s lips. “Waverly, I-”

Something heavy hits the table top and Nicole jumps, pulling back from Waverly. Waverly’s hand slips off her jaw and hits the table softly. Her other hand slides down Nicole’s arm, brushing against her wrist before she puts both of her hands in her lap.

“I swear he was about to, like, have a cow,” Chrissy is saying as she sits down across the table.

Xavier Dolls adjusts his sweater before he sits down next to her, stacking his books neatly. “He’s an airhead,” he says flatly.

Nicole fights the growl rising in her throat. Chrissy catches her eye across the table and Nicole looks away, focusing on Dolls instead. She rolls her eyes as he adjusts the heavily-starched collar of his polo shirt, then straightens out the sleeves of his sweater over his chest. He brushes some lint off of his pressed khaki pants and looks up, catching her staring.

“What?”

“What?” she asks.

He opens his mouth to answer her, but frowns instead. “Where’s Wynonna?”

Nicole’s eyes widen and she turns quickly, slapping her hand down over Waverly’s mouth before she can say anything. “With Doc,” she says quickly.

Waverly smiles against her hand and then there’s something wet and warm on her palm.

Nicole pulls her hand away and stares at it, mouth open. “Did you… you licked me.”

“Totally,” Waverly says, her mouth stretched wide in a smile. She leans across the table towards Chrissy. “So Champ Hardy asked me to go to Shorty’s this weekend.”

Chrissy’s eyes dart to Nicole for a moment.

Nicole feels her hand clench into a fist under the table. In the two months since Chrissy had told Nicole she knew about her crush, Chrissy had hovered like a helicopter, shooting Nicole lingering looks of pity.

“I told him I’d think about it,” Waverly continues. “Like, he’s cute .”

“If you’re into that,” Nicole mutters.

Waverly’s hair tickles the side of her face again as Waverly turns her head. “You don’t think he’s totally clutch?”

“I think he’s a total jerk,” Nicole mutters.

“What?”

“I said ‘jock’. I think he’s a total jock,” Nicole corrects.

Waverly frowns. “Do you have a problem with jocks?”

Nicole looks down at herself, taking in her dark denim jeans, her Red Wings, her white t-shirt, and her leather jacket. “Jocks have a problem with me,” she says slowly.

She looks across the cafeteria to where Champ is sitting. He’s easy to find, sitting on the edge of the table, his bright blue and white letterman jacket like a sore thumb in a sea of bedazzled denim and polo shirts. She can see the grease in his hair from here, oozing behind his ears. She watches him punch one of his football buddies in the arm and the rest of them laugh. He scans the cafeteria and pauses at their table, a slimy smirk on his face as he nods at Waverly.

Waverly giggles and ducks her head.

Nicole scowls.

Chrissy reaches across the table and rests her fingers on Nicole’s hand.

Waverly looks back up and frowns at Chrissy’s hand on Nicole’s, eyes moving between the two of them in confusion.

Nicole slides her hand out from Chrissy’s and forces it into her pocket. “He’s a meathead,” she finally says. She looks back across the cafeteria at the same time as Champ sticks his foot out, tripping Jeremy. He laughs with his buddies, but reaches down to pull him off the ground just as Waverly turns to see what all the noise is about.

“See?” Waverly asks. “He’s not that bad.”

Nicole closes her mouth with a snap and shakes her head. She stands up and straightens her jacket and runs a hand through her hair, not pulled back today. “Chemistry,” she offers. “Gotta motor.”

Waverly half-stands, a hand reaching after her. “Are you coming to The Patch later?”

Nicole feels her face soften. “Yeah, ‘course.”

There’s footsteps following her out of the cafeteria and when she gets out to the lawn, she turns around and sighs heavily. “Chrissy, stop.”

“You look like someone told you REO Speedwagon was breaking up.” Chrissy catches up to her and Nicole starts walking again, across campus with no direction. “Or Bad Company decided to wig out again.”

Nicole immediately stops. “They would never . Not again.”

Chrissy shrugs. “You know she thinks you’re totally rad, right?”

Nicole turns and steps close to Chrissy, lowering her voice. “Chrissy, stop ,” she pleads. “It’s a… a stupid crush. I just need to… I don’t know. Take a chill pill.”

Chrissy’s hands come up to Nicole’s collar, smoothing it out. Her hair is teased out like Waverly’s and the afternoon breeze pushes it into Nicole’s face. Chrissy smiles apologetically. “She does. She talks about you all the time. She thinks you’re totally happening. Even if you do look like a background actor in ‘Bennie and the Jets’.”

“Hey!” Nicole protests. “I look good in this jacket!”

“I know,” Chrissy agrees. “And so does Waverly.”

Nicole sighs and looks off to the side. “It’s still a stupid crush. She’s got guys like Champ Hardy chasin’ after her. She doesn’t need some poser following her around.”

Chrissy grips her jacket a little tighter, pulling her attention back around. “You listen to me, Nicole Haught. You’re no poser. As if . You’re, like, the total package. Like, your car is grody, but you’re definitely not.”

“You forgot your fluffernutter,” someone says flatly behind Chrissy.

Nicole can’t see until Chrissy turns and her ponytail is out of the way, but she immediately flushes as Waverly comes closer, holding out Nicole’s brown bag lunch.

“Didn’t mean to interrupt,” Waverly continues. “I just know you get hungry during last period.”

Nicole opens her mouth to say something, but Waverly turns on the heel of her high tops - bright red laces today, to match the red leg warmers over her white pants - and starts walking back towards the cafeteria. Chrissy jogs to catch up to her, linking an arm through Waverly’s.

Chrissy looks back over her shoulder and gives Nicole a look that says ‘ sorry’ before turning back to Waverly.

 

-

The Tomato Patch is busy by the time Nicole gets there in the afternoon.

Usually she heads over right after school, but today she lingered in the back parking lot at school, listening to The Police’s “Synchronicity” all the way through. She laid, stretched out across the front bench seat, and sang along to “King of Pain”. There’s a little black spot on the sun today , she thought as she pictured Waverly’s face when she handed her the left-behind fluffernutter.

The jukebox in the corner is blasting and Nicole rolls her eyes as she recognizes the song - “Jukebox Hero” by Foreigner. There’s always some group of kids that waste their dimes on the same song, over and over again. Last week, Nicole had grabbed the broom from the back room and chased them out after they played it twenty times in a row.

Wynonna is easy to spot, sitting at the counter next to Doc. He’s leaning up against the counter, his coveralls stained and his hair slicked back. He smiles at Wynonna and his moustache twitches. He spots her standing in the doorway and waves a hand at her. Wynonna spins on her stool and grins, waving her over.

“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” Wynonna complains. “Waverly has been bitchin’ about it all afternoon.”

Nicole swallows heavily. “Oh, yeah?”

“I thought you were supposed to be working,” Gus snaps as she comes out of the kitchen with a bucket of wet malt glasses. She spots Nicole and smiles. “Hi, Nicole. Where’ve you been? Waverly is in the kitchen blowin’ a gasket.”

Nicole flushes. “I got held up at school,” she mutters.

Wynonna frowns at her. “Doing what ?

“Not my boyfriend,” Nicole says under her breath.

Wynonna’s head snaps up to see if Gus heard, but Gus picks up another malt glass and wipes it clean. Instead, her mouth curls up in a smile and she leans towards Nicole. “Oh, I see. P-” She looks at Gus again. “P-Dub was getting a… workup ?”

“P-Dub?” Gus asks, tuning into their conversation.

“Nicole’s car,” Wynonna says, her lips pulling as she tries to fight a smile.

Gus frowns. “Why do you call it that?”

Wynonna breaks into a full laugh, turning and tucking her head into Doc’s shoulder.

“Because, uh,” Nicole tries, looking desperately to Wynonna for help and getting nothing. “Because it’s a Pontiac.”

Gus’s frown lasts a moment longer before she shrugs and shakes her head. “Kids these days. Hey, go on back and say ‘hey’ to Waverly, would you? She’s starting to scare the guys.”

Nicole slides around the counter, glaring at Wynonna. She slips through the kitchen door. Waverly is easy to spot, with her bright red scrunchie and her matching red shirt. It says ‘ The Patch’ across the back and has a small drawing of a tomato; Waverly always told her she had drawn it when she was younger and Curtis liked it so much, they made it the logo.

“Hey, Waverly. Can you read that order again?” one of the line cooks shout.

Nicole watches Waverly’s shoulders tense. Knowing the line cook, a guy named Bobo, he’s probably asked her to read it four or five times by now. Nicole crosses the kitchen in a few steps, avoiding the puddle of something that looks like ketchup, and grabs the ticket off the line.

“Two burgers with the works and a side of fries to split,” she reads in a loud voice.

Bobo pokes his head around the fryer. “Oh, it’s you.”

Nicole gives him a tight-lipped smile.

Waverly turns, a large kitchen knife in her hand, sliced lemons on a board behind her.

Nicole puts her hands up in surrender. “Okay, Michael Myers. Just put it down.”

Waverly frowns and then looks down, jumping slightly. “Oh, jeez Louise.” She drops the knife back onto the cutting board and wipes her hands on her apron.

Nicole snickers. “You know, it’s funny when you say things like ‘jeez Louise’ while you’re wearing those,” she says, pointing at Waverly’s leg warmers. “Gus says you’re getting a little mental in here.”

“Not even,” Waverly protests, crossing her arms over her chest. It makes her shirt, a crop top she cut herself, lift a little more. Nicole tries her best to keep her eyes at face-level, but when Waverly glances back at the line to snap something at Bobo, her eyes slip and she catches a glimpse of Waverly’s bare midriff.

If she’s being honest, she’s probably always been a little bit in love with Waverly Earp.

She had been eight, riding her bike after Nathan, yelling at him about leaving the house without taking her - he was supposed to take her, her mom had said - when she cruised by the McCready house. A cherry red 1975 Ford F-150 sat glistening in the driveway. She skidded to a stop, her Adidas Top Ten Rick Barry hightops burning against the asphalt. The truck was idling, the radio on loudly.

A girl had kicked the screen door open and it slammed against the side of the house. A small woman with graying, curly hair chased after her. Nicole watched with wide eyes as they stormed around the side of the house, yelling at each other. Nicole turned her attention back to the porch as the screen door creaked again, another girl slipping out onto the porch. “Brandy (You’re a Fine Girl)” by Looking Glass started playing through the open truck windows. Yeah, your eyes could steal a sailor from the sea , she sang in her head. Nicole stared until the girl looked up and then she panicked, the soles of her hightops sliding on the pedals of her bike as she tried to remount and ride off. She had looked back once and the girl was still there, sitting on the top step, staring in her direction.

A finger grazes her nose and startles her back to reality.

Waverly gives her a crooked smile. “You’re here.”

“I said I would be,” Nicole reminds her.

Waverly shrugs in that self-conscious way that Nicole hates; like she doesn’t believe she’s worth anyone coming around for. “I figured you’d be with Chrissy. Since you two seem like real galpals lately.”

She knows my secret , Nicole wants to tell Waverly. But then she would also have to tell Waverly her secret, and that’s not something she’s ready for.

Instead, she shrugs and gives Waverly a crooked smile. “You know you’re my favorite.”

“I better be,” Waverly says, her eyes narrowed playfully. She smiles widely, breaking the illusion. “You know what would be totally tubular, and would make me forgive you for jetting at lunch?”

Nicole grimaces. “What?”

“If you got Gus to take that lame Aerosmith album out of the jukebox and replace it with “Heart of Stone”. The Cher album,” she adds when Nicole stares at her blankly. “It has ‘If I Could Turn Back Time’ on it. That song is mint .”

Nicole shakes her head. “ Not even ,” she mocks. “That Aerosmith album has ‘Love in an Elevator’ on it. It’s not going anywhere.”

Waverly tips her chin down and looks up at Nicole through her lashes. She bats her eyes a few times and lets her lower lip wobble slightly. Nicole pulls at the bottom of her jacket, looking at anything and anyone other than Waverly.

“No way,” Nicole tries to say.

Waverly grabs for the bottom of her jacket, tugging her closer. “Come on.”

“Nope,” Nicole tries again.

Waverly tilts her chin down another inch and Nicole feels her resolve crack in her chest.

“Fine,” she says, giving in.

Waverly jumps on the tips of her toes and giggles. “You’re so clutch,” she squeals. Her hands are still at Nicole’s waist, idly toying with the belt buckle there. “Anything you want, just say the word.”

Nicole pauses. Some answers to come to mind: a kiss; a date; for Waverly to look at her like she’s Kelly McGillis looking at Tom Cruise in Top Gun while Berlin plays on the radio. Instead, she swallows them down and shrugs a shoulder and lets Waverly keep running her hands along her torso, zipping and unzipping her pockets.

“Waverly, run these plates!” Bobo shouts, putting two burgers in the window.

Waverly grins widely at her and grabs the plates, balancing them in one hand as she grabs the basket of fries in the other. She bumps her way out of the kitchen. In the diner, she can hear the jukebox playing “Take Me Home Tonight”, Eddie Money hitting a note that sours in Nicole’s stomach.

Airhead, ” she mutters to herself. Someone snickers behind her and she turns to snarl at Bobo, leaning through the window, smirking at her. “Oh, eat my shorts,” she growls at him.

She might not even make it through the school year at this rate.

 


 

"You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)" Dead or Alive, 1985
I got to be your friend now, baby, and I would like to move in just a little bit closer.

 

“Nicole!” her mom yells from the kitchen. “Waverly is on the phone!”

Nicole rolls off her bed and presses the pause button on her Panasonic, stopping R.E.M in the middle of “The One I Love”, and storming down the stairs before Nathan can get to the phone - sometimes he hangs up on whoever is waiting to talk to her. Her mom is standing in the middle of the kitchen impatiently, tapping her foot on the linoleum tile.

“Hold on, Waverly. She’s right here.” She hands Nicole the receiver.

Nicole grabs a kitchen chair and drags it into the small pantry, stretching the cord as far back as it will go. She closes the accordion door around her. “Waves?”

Waverly sighs heavily in her ear. “You’re home.”

Nicole frowns. “Where else would I be?”

“Are you busy?” Waverly asks. She barely pauses. “Listening to music doesn’t count.”

Nicole huffs. “Then no.”

“Can you come get me?” Waverly’s voice is small. In the background, Nicole can hear something that sounds like the B-52’s and bells and whistles. “I’m at Shorty’s.”

“What happened?” Nicole stands from her chair and pulls open the pantry door. Nathan startles, standing in front of the fridge, a baloney sandwich hanging from his mouth. Nicole ignores him and pushes the chair back to the table. The telephone cord hangs loose. “Who are you with?”

“I came with Champ, but I want to go home.”

Nicole’s free hand clenches into a fist. “Did he do something? If that wastoid did something, I swear I’ll-”

“Nicole, don’t have a cow. I just want to go home,” Waverly interrupts.

Nicole immediately calms down. “For sure, Waves. I’m getting in my car in a few.”

“I’ll wait outside,” Waverly says before she hangs up.

Nicole ignores Nathan’s confused look and takes the stairs two at a time. She hastily pulls on her jeans but doesn’t waste her time trying to find a clean shirt. She pulls her jacket on over her Rush Power Windows tour t-shirt and slides into her shoes. She runs her hand quickly through her hair and thinks, for a second, about combing it, but doesn’t want to leave Waverly hanging too long.

“I’m going out!” she yells as she moves through the living room.

Her mom pops her head around the corner, leaning out of her bedroom. “Where’re you going at this hour?”

“Waverly needs a ride home.”

Her mom narrows her eyes, but Nicole knows she won’t give her any trouble. Her mom comes off as hard and controlling, but she has a soft spot a mile wide for Waverly Earp. Must run in the family , Nicole thinks for a moment. “Fine,” she says. “But get her home and then you get back here. And if any of those pushers try to make you do crack, you just say ‘no’, you hear me?”

“Mom,” Nicole groans. “That’s not... People don’t...” She sighs. “Okay.”

Her mom nods sharply and goes back into the room.

The leather seats of her car are cool when she gets in, but by the time she’s down the street, she can feel them warming beneath her. She hums along to “Bohemian Rhapsody,” but it’s a quick ride to Shorty’s and she’s there before the song ends. She turns it down and reaches across the bench, opening the door for Waverly.

With the door open, she can hear the bells ringing as people play arcade games. She can hear Diana Ross and Lionel Richie belting out “Endless Love,” and tries not to picture Waverly in skates, holding Champ’s hand as they glide in circles.

Waverly slides in, shivering slightly. Nicole’s eyes go from her hightops - green laces tonight - to her leg warmers and up to the hem of her denim skirt. She can see a hint of Waverly’s midriff under her green crop top. Nicole absently reaches for her shoulder, thumbing at nothing.

“You’re the max,” Waverly says, her voice trembling. She slides further into the car, in the middle of the bench, and twists a few knobs on the dashboard until the vents are blowing hotter air. “I’m freezing.”

“Where is Champ?”

Waverly rolls her eyes. “Inside. Probably playing Duck Hunt for the tenth time.”

Nicole’s arm slides around the back of Waverly’s shoulders, Waverly’s skin hot to touch. “What did he do?” she asks.

Waverly shivers again. Nicole leans away from her, pulling her arms out of her jacket and motioning for Waverly to move. When she leans towards the dash, Nicole puts the jacket on Waverly’s shoulders. Waverly shimmies into it.

“He didn’t do anything ,” Waverly complains. “The whole night was lame-o-rama. He picked me up in his truck ,” she starts.

Nicole rolls her eyes. She knows Champ’s truck. It’s a terracotta red, 1983 Toyota SR5 with a spoiler on the front of the cab and a rack in the back with foglights. The tires are too big for the frame, and he always parks across two spaces.

“And then he drove me over here and I thought we were going to skate,” Waverly continues. Nicole’s heart flutters when Waverly turns towards her, her eyes lit in anger. “But I must be a noob, because he just bought, like, a hundred tokens and I watched him play arcade games the whole time.”

Nicole narrows her eyes. “So he brought you on a date and… ignored you?” She scoffs. “What a spazz.”

Waverly sighs and leans into Nicole’s side. “He got me some tokens too,” she says softly. “So the night wasn’t that bad.”

Nicole shakes her head and puts her car in drive, pulling back out onto the road. “What a bohunk.”

Waverly brightens slightly as they drive further away from Shorty’s. “I nearly beat your high score at Tetris, though.”

Nicole scoffs. “As if .” She turns the volume back up on her cassette player. “I’m dynamite at that game.” She makes a clumsy, wide, left turn with only one hand on the wheel. The road is dark, though, her headlights the only thing cutting through the night.

Waverly elbows her gently and leans away from her side, reaching for the glove compartment. She pulls all of Nicole’s tapes out, spreading them in the empty passenger seat and holding them up in the passing streetlights to read them. “You’re okay, I guess. For someone who likes Rush ,” she teases. She finds the tape she’s looking for and ejects the Queen cassette, pushing a new tape into the deck. She presses the ‘fast forward’ button, counting in her head as she tries to find the song she’s looking for. She stabs the ‘play’ button and Nicole groans as she hears the end of “Waiting For Your Love” playing.

“Waverly, no .”

“Most definitely,” Waverly fires back.

Nicole rolls up to the stop sign and puts on the brake, letting her head drop to the steering wheel. She groans again as the synth starts.

“This song is the-”

“Bombdiggity?” Waverly offers.

“The worst ,” Nicole corrects.

I hear the drums echoing tonight, ” Waverly starts singing. “ But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation .”

Nicole turns down Homestead Ave, knowing the way back to the McCready house in her sleep. She hates this song, but she can’t help but grin as Waverly starts dancing in her seat, singing loudly. She walks her fingers up Nicole’s bare arm. “ Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you ,” she sings.

There’s something magnetic about Waverly’s smile; how Nicole can only see it as they glide through the dark street, passing under streetlights. Waverly leans into Nicole’s side, Nicole’s jacket too big on her arms and slipping down over her hands.

If Nicole wasn’t already in love, she would be now.

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you ,” Waverly shouts. “ There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do !” She elbows Nicole.

Nicole rolls her eyes, but she still sings along. “ I bless the rains down in Africa!

They coast into the driveway at the McCreadys’ house and Nicole cuts her headlights. They shine right through the living room and Nicole doesn’t want to wake Gus; she’s been sleeping on the couch since Curtis died.

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had ,” Waverly finishes, her voice fading out. She turns the volume back down and sighs happily, leaning her head against Nicole’s shoulder. “Ten minutes with you was better than two hours with Champ.”

Nicole feels her heart flutter quicker in her chest. “Yeah, well. I’m sure.”

Waverly turns in her seat, looking up at Nicole. “Thanks for coming to get me. It was real-”

“If you say clutch , Waverly Earp, I’ll kick you and this stupid Toto tape out of my car,” Nicole threatens.

Waverly grins widely at her. “No, you won’t. You love Toto. And you love me,” she teases.

Nicole’s heart revs its engine and she can feel it threatening to overheat. “I wouldn’t have taken you out and ignored you,” she blurts out in a rush.

Waverly’s smile falters just enough for Nicole to notice. “I know,” she says quietly.

“He’s a barf bag.”

“He’s a boy,” Waverly argues.

Nicole shakes her head. “No. He’s mental. You’re… You’re… the best.”

Waverly ducks her head and smiles. “You’re not so bad, either.”

The tape stops, a loud jarring noise that pulls Nicole out of her head. “Okay, well,” she says. “I’ll pick you up in the morning?”

Waverly slides across the bench towards the passenger side and pauses with her hand on the door handle. She smiles widely at Nicole. “For sure.”

Nicole watches her go up the stairs and slip inside. The light in the top left window goes on, and she sees a Waverly-shaped shadow moving around. She waits a few minutes, watching the shadow, before she puts the car in reverse and backs out of the driveway, turning on her headlights when she gets back into the street.

She’s home, getting out of the car, before she realizes Waverly still has her jacket.

 

-

“Waverly is doing her hair,” Wynonna growls as she climbs into the car. “She already did it this morning. There’s a whole extra ozone layer in the bathroom to prove it. But then she decided it was bunk, or something, and showered. Now she’s crimping it.”

Nicole sags back in her seat and puts the car in park, taking her foot off the break. “Okay.”

Wynonna holds up a cassette. “Want to listen to the new Kiss tape?”

Nicole grabs it out of her hand. “ Wynonna ,” she breathes out. “This is ‘Hot in the Shade’. This just came out.”

Wynonna grabs it back. “Doc got it for me.”

Nicole stares at Wynonna seriously. “Marry that man.”

Wynonna rolls her eyes and ejects Nicole’s “American Gigolo” tape mid song, tossing it into the backseat. Nicole watches in despair as the spools keep spinning, some of the tape running loose from the bottom of the cassette.

All that style going to waste,” Paul Stanley starts.

The screen door creaking open pulls Nicole’s attention to the house. Waverly comes down the stairs and Nicole swears the world is moving in slow motion. Her crimped hair is pulled into a side ponytail that bounces as she moves down the stairs on the tips of her toes. Her hightops look clean and she’s got her pink laces in them today. It matches her pink leg warmers and the pink top she’s wearing that looks like it hangs off both shoulders.

She’s got Nicole’s jacket on, though. She rolled the sleeves up and pushed them up to just under her elbows. She lifts one hand in a wave, the other pushing her ponytail out of her face, and she smiles.

Wynonna smacks her in the face. “You’re not even listening to this.”

Nicole shakes her jaw out, rubbing at it. “Are you mental?”

“Most definitely,” Wynonna agrees. She growls and looks at the house. “Is she waiting for the paparazzi?” She reaches across Nicole and honks the horn.

Waverly jumps a bit.

Wynonna keeps frowning. “Where did she get that jacket?” She looks at Nicole’s bare arms. “Is that your jacket?”

Nicole suddenly feels self-conscious in just her REO Speedwagon shirt, the black three-quarter sleeves resting just below her elbows. She picks at the graphic - the band logo in red and yellow and gray on white - and flushes. “I drove her home last night.”

Wynonna tips her head to the side, confusion across her face.

“After her date with Champ,” Nicole adds. “She was cold. She just forgot to give it back.”

“Doesn’t look like she’s going to,” Wynonna says. She straightens up. “Wait. She went out with Champ ?”

“Don’t remind me,” Nicole mutters. She looks up as Waverly comes to her window. “Hey.”

“Hey. Can I get in?”

Nicole gets out of the car and pushes down her seat, backing up to give Waverly room to get in. Waverly pauses with one leg in, giving Nicole a wide smile. “I hope you don’t mind me wearing your jacket.”

“N-no,” Nicole stutters.

“That shirt looks good, 84,” Waverly says, tugging at the bottom of Nicole’s shirt. “You know, 84? There’s a really big number 84 on the back of your shirt,” Waverly continues when Nicole frowns.

Nicole suddenly remembers - It says ‘Speedwagon’ on the back and has the tour year, ‘84, in black. “Right,” she says slowly.

Waverly shrugs. “Oh, well. It looks good on you.” She smirks. “You look like a proper jock.”

Nicole lets out a soft gasp. “Take that back.”

“Never.”

Nicole’s hands go to Waverly’s waist, twisting in the leather of the jacket she’s wearing. “Take it back, you poser.”

Wynonna punches the horn again and Nicole jumps this time, nearly knocking Waverly over. She grips her waist tighter, holding her close enough that she can breathe in the smell of Aquanet, and she has to crane her neck back to meet Waverly’s eyes.

“Let’s go, hosers!”

Nicole immediately lets go of Waverly’s waist and flattens herself against the car door, giving Waverly enough room to get in. She takes a deep, steadying breath as she hears the seat click back into place. When she gets in the car and checks her rearview mirror, Waverly is staring, horrified, at the Blondie cassette Wynonna had thrown into the backseat. She starts winding it up and hands it back to Nicole as they get out of the car at school, Nicole shutting the car off in the middle of “Prisoner of Love”.

Chrissy is leaning against a car a few spaces down, a Walkman in her hand and headphones around her neck. She straightens up when she sees them get out of the car and shushes the girl talking to her. Nicole knows her, sort of. She knows her name is Rosita and she’s friends with Waverly. She hangs around the motorcycle shop her dad owns, where Doc works. They’ve talked a few times and she’s nice enough, but she’s a junior and doesn’t have any classes with Nicole.

“Waverly!” Chrissy shouts. “Tell Rosita there’s more to life than Madonna.”

Nicole snorts. She’s pretty sure even if you told Rosita that, it wouldn’t change her mind. She’s got mesh gloves, and a black halter top over a white three-quarter sleeve crop top. Her hair is piled up high on top of her head, curled in small ringlets.

“Well,” Waverly starts. “There’s Kirk Cameron. And Ralph Macchio.”

Rosita wiggles her fingers in Nicole’s direction. “Hey, you. Wynonna,” she adds after a moment.

“Boobs,” Wynonna greets. She grabs Nicole by the elbow and starts tugging her towards the front doors of the school. “Later, Waves!”

Nicole stumbles away just as Chrissy notices the jacket Waverly is wearing. “New look, Waves?” she hears Chrissy ask. “You look bitchin’.”

Wynonna drags her past the benches in the front of the building. There’s a group of letterman jackets sitting on them, laughing and roughhousing. Nicole barely jumps out of the way as Kyle York rolls to a stop in front of her, ignoring her as gets up and shoves Carl Junger back.

“Wynonna!” Champ shouts, pushing through his friends. “Hey, wait up!” He jogs to a stop next to them. “Hey, so, has your sister said anything about me?”

“In your dreams,” Wynonna mutters. She points a finger in his face. “Stay away from her, you wannabe.”

Champ smirks and puts his hands up in surrender. “It’s not my fault she’s Hot for Champ.”

Nicole steps forward, straightening her spine until she’s looking down on him. “Listen, dickweed,” she starts. She leans in close. “I know you think you’re righteous and all that, but you mess with Waverly Earp and there’ll be a line of people waiting to put your gnarly face in a toilet. Got it?”

Champ swallows heavily and takes a step back before he scoffs and shrugs his shoulder. “Yeah, whatever. She’s a Joanie anyway.”

Nicole steps in again, but Wynonna catches her around the arm and tugs her in the opposite direction.

“Waverly can take care of herself,” Wynonna says lightly.

Nicole takes a few deep breaths and nods. “I know. Right.”

Wynonna shakes her head. “And where the hell is your jacket. You look like such a nerd today.”

 


 

"I Melt With You" Modern English, 1982
And there's nothing you and I won't do. I'll stop the world and melt with you.

 

The crowd cheers as the football spirals through the air and lands in the outstretched hands of Pete York. The score is tied 21 even with a minute left to play.

Wynonna rolls her eyes and pulls her sunglass back up over her face. The sun isn’t out but that’s never bothered Wynonna. “Can we motor?”

Nicole sighs and stretches her legs out in front of her, pushing the tips of her toes against the bleacher seat below her. “We’re Waverly’s ride.” She pulls the edges of her jacket around her body tighter, trying to fight the beginning-November chill.

“You know, we didn’t buy this car so we could play ‘Taxi’ for my baby sister.”

Nicole frowns and turns to Wynonna. “Does that make me Judd Hirsch?”

Wynonna scoffs. “As if. You’re definitely Tony Danza. I’m Judd Hirsch.”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “That’s bogus. Tony Danza is the nice guy who keeps getting hit in the head and goes back for more. I’m nothing like him. And we didn’t buy that car. I bought that car. It’s my car. So I get to decide what we do with it.”

“Okay, okay. Cool out.” Wynonna winces again as the crowd roars. “What is the point of this game again?” She answers before Nicole can. “Oh, right. To watch Champ Hardy have his head taken off. And for you to oogle cheerleaders.”

“I don’t oogle,” Nicole defends weakly, her eyes finding Waverly on the sidelines before she can stop herself. “I appreciate .”

Wynonna shoulders her. “Appreciate that, then,” she says, pointing at a cheerleader on the end of the formation.

Nicole leans forward, pulling her eyes away from Waverly to glance at the cheerleader Wynonna is trying to point out. She recognizes the girl. She scowls at Wynonna. “Stephanie Jones? Really?”

“What’s wrong with her?”

“Everything?” Nicole makes a face. “She’s a bimbette.”

Wynonna shrugs. “Fine. What about Samantha ‘Perky Tits’ Baker?” she asks, pointing towards the middle of the group.

Nicole tries to focus on Samantha Baker but she has to look past Waverly to get there and she gets stuck.

She watches Waverly bounce on the tips of her white sneakers. Her legs disappear under her blue and white pleated skirt. Her long sleeve lycra shirt is just a little high on her stomach and there’s a sliver of skin between her top and bottom that Nicole can see, even near the top of the bleachers. Waverly throws her arms in the air, her pom poms as big as her hair, and kicks a leg up. She spins and does the same facing the crowd. The bleachers roar and Nicole is sure it has nothing to do with Champ throwing a short pass over Pete’s head.

Waverly scans the crowd and gives a big wave when she sees Nicole.

Nicole feels her face flush and she smiles back hesitantly, lifting a hand up and letting it drop when Waverly turns around to face the game again. She shoves it in her pocket, embarrassed.

Wynonna looks down onto the field at the same moment and notices Samantha Baker waving up in their direction. She elbows Nicole and points down to the field. “There. Perky Tits wants to get in your Pussy Wagon.”

Nicole feels her face burn. “We’re not calling it that.” She turns and punches Wynonna in the arm. “It’s my car.”

Wynonna opens her mouth, but anything she says is swallowed up by the crowd. They’re all on their feet, screaming loudly. Nicole pushes up from her leaning position and stands. The cheerleaders are rushing the field and the scoreboard says ‘27-21’ and somehow, Champ Hardy has done it again. They follow the crowd down the bleachers and they linger at the stairs, waiting for the field to clear.

Chrissy skips over, her hair and pom poms bouncing. “Hey. You guys came. That’s rad.”

Nicole leans down, resting her elbows on the railing. “Yeah, totally tubular ,” she mocks.

Chrissy grins at her. “Enjoy the view?”

Nicole glances quickly at Wynonna. “I-”

“You know Perky Tits, right? I’m trying to get Nicole a date.” Wynonna elbows Nicole out of the way.

Chrissy’s eyes sparkle. “Samantha Baker?” She looks at Nicole. “ That’s who you think is the happening?”

“I don’t think she’s anything,” Nicole tries to protest.

Wynonna cuts her off. “She’s at least an 8 on the hot-o-rama scale. When are you going to do better than that?”

Nicole’s eyes stray to Waverly, still on the field, talking to Champ. Nicole straightens up a little, her eyes narrowing. Wynonna notices her silence and looks to see what she’s paying attention to. Her own eyes narrow.

Chrissy follows their line of sight and immediately turns back to Nicole, sympathy in her touch as lifts onto her toes and presses her hand to Nicole’s arm. Her hand stays there for another five minutes, until Waverly comes marching towards them, a scowl on her face.

“He is so, so…” She growls. “ Butt ugly .”

Wynonna reaches out for a high-five. Waverly’s eyes narrow as she looks at Nicole, noticing Chrissy’s hand. She ignores Wynonna’s high-five. “What are you doing?” she asks Nicole.

Nicole looks at Wynonna, confused. She feels Chrissy’s hand slide off her arm. “Waiting for you?”

“And checking out Perky Tits over there,” Wynonna throws in.

Waverly glares at Nicole. “Really?”

Chrissy frowns. “I thought you were coming over after the game?”

“We came for nothing ?” Wynonna complains.

“I’m not interested in Samantha Baker,” Nicole tries to say.

“Can we go, please?” Waverly asks, not looking at Nicole.

Wynonna waves her arms around. “We didn’t even need to be here?”

Nicole jogs down the last few stairs. “You’re not going over to Chrissy’s?”

Wynonna jumps down the stairs after her. “We sat on those metal death traps for nothing ?”

“Get bent,” Waverly fires back, storming away.

Wynonna pauses and frowns at Waverly’s back. She turns to Nicole. “What’s her deal?”

Nicole ignores Wynonna and Chrissy calling after her and jogs after Waverly. They get nearly all the way to the parking lot before Nicole grabs her by the shoulder and pulls her to a stop, moving in front of her. “Hey,” she tries. “Cool your jets.”

“I’m cool ,” Waverly says. Nicole raises an eyebrow in disbelief. Waverly huffs and looks away from Nicole. “Alright. Alright. I’m fine.”

“What happened back there?”

Waverly glares at her again. “Samantha Baker? She’s who you’re into?”

Nicole shakes her head quickly. “ No .”

Waverly falters for a second. “Okay.”

“Okay?” Nicole tips her head to the side, confused.

“Primo,” Waverly adds.

Nicole starts to shake her head again. “Waverly Earp, what is going on in that head of yours?”

Waverly sighs and looks away. Nicole’s hands are still on her shoulders and for a moment, she thinks about moving them, tucking them back into her pockets, but Waverly sighs again and steps closer, wrapping her arms around Nicole’s middle. She buries her face in Nicole’s chest, breathing deeply.

Nicole frowns, but holds Waverly close, running a hand down her back. She tries not to get too lost in this hug. Waverly is obviously upset, and Nicole shouldn’t ruin this moment by wishing she could run her hand through Waverly’s hair, tip her head back, and kiss her.

The wish catches her off guard. Usually, she’s better better at only thinking about those things when she’s alone, in her room, and Modern English’s “I’ll Melt With You” is playing.

“Champ apologized,” Waverly mumbles into her shirt. “He said he was a total barf bag and he wants to take me out again.”

Nicole’s hand stills on Waverly’s back. “Oh,” she breathes out. “Well. Are you going to?”

Waverly pulls back a little, enough to be able to look up at Nicole. “Are you going to ask Samantha Baker out?”

Nicole frowns. “Why would I do that?”

Waverly shrugs but looks away from her. “I hate November,” she breathes out. “It always wigs me out.”

Nicole tries to sort through the memories in her head until she remembers that Waverly and Wynonna’s mom left in November, years ago. She pulls Waverly back into a hug, tighter this time, and rests her chin on the top of Waverly’s head. “You don’t have to go out with Champ if you don’t want to,” she murmurs.

Waverly nods against her. “I know.”

“And I am most definitely not going out with Samantha Baker.”

“Even if she has perky tits?” Waverly asks, her voice small.

Nicole makes a face at the phrase ‘perky tits,’ but nods. “Even then.”

Waverly lets out a heavy sigh, squeezing Nicole tightly once more before untangling herself from the hug. “What would I do without you?” she asks.

Nicole shrugs and throws an arm over Waverly’s shoulders, waving at Wynonna with the other. “Walk everywhere?”

“That would suck,” Waverly sighs, leaning into Nicole’s side. “Can we stop at The Patch on the way? I want a shake.”

Nicole rolls her eyes. She hates Wynonna a little for being right; she definitely is the Tony Danza.

 

-

Nicole checks the clock on the wall behind the counter and groans. “Waves, it’s almost closing. Can you just lock the door?” She can hear chatter on the street and knows if people see the lights on and the ‘open’ sign is still facing out, they’ll barge their way in, order a few milkshakes, and Nicole will be stuck waiting at the counter for another hour.

Waverly sighs and leans on the broom in her hands. “If I close earlier, Gus’ll wig out. And you know that. So stop asking.”

Nicole sighs and spins on her stool. She goes around once and then starts to again, but stops with her back to the counter. Her jacket, balled up on the counter, cushions the edge of it from pressing into her back. She pushes off the stool and sways for just a moment before she makes her way towards the jukebox. She leans against it, scanning the selections.

“Who put Cougar on here?”

When Waverly doesn’t answer her, Nicole looks up. Waverly is sweeping again, pointedly ignoring her.

Nicole feels her body melt. “ You put John Cougar on here?”

Waverly continues to ignore her.

Nicole crosses the diner and grabs the broom from Waverly, sweeping at her feet. “You hate John Cougar. You think he’s-”

“He’s whiny,” Waverly finishes. “He is .”

“Says the dweeb who likes Olivia Newton-John,” Nicole teases.

Waverly puts her hands on her hips and glares at Nicole. “She is an American classic.”

Nicole smiles crookedly. “She’s Australian.”

Waverly sighs and grabs for the broom. Nicole swings it out of her way, dancing back on her toes. Waverly holds out a single hand and makes a ‘gimme’ hand motion. Nicole shakes her head silently. Waverly glares a little harder.

“That hasn’t worked on me in years,” Nicole says casually. It used to work. Before. When Waverly hadn’t used her pout yet. She used to march around the McCready house with her face scrunched up and her hands on her hip, demanding attention. Nicole had followed her around, at her beck and call.

Waverly frowns and seems to remember what does work. Nicole backs up, holding the broom out in front of her as a shield.

“Waverly,” she warns.

Waverly takes slow steps forward, her bottom lip wavering. She tips her chin an inch, maybe less, but it’s enough that she has to look up at Nicole through her eyelashes. “Come on, Nicole. I just want the broom.”

Nicole shakes her head. She takes even steps backwards, trying to put distance between her and that pout. “Fat chance.”

Waverly leans a hip against one of the booths. “But I thought you wanted to get out of here.”

Nicole makes a face. “I got all night.”

Waverly’s entire bottom lip trembles. Her shoulders slump and she crosses her hands in front of her body. She looks to the floor, toeing one of the tiles with the top of her sneaker.

Nicole counts down in her head. Waverly is going to look up in three, two, one-

Please ?” Waverly whispers.

Nicole feels her resolve give and she hands Waverly the broom without looking at her. Waverly’s hand closes over hers, squeezing gently before pulling the broom away and laughing.

That worked,” Waverly teases.

Nicole waves her hand. “Not always .” She starts back towards the counter.

Waverly laughs loudly. Nicole glares at her. “Yes, always . You, Nicole Haught, are ‘ hopelessly devoted to me ’ and you know it.”

Nicole puts her foot down too soon and stumbles, her knee buckling underneath her. She hates how right Waverly is all the time. She hates that some days, Waverly can see right through her. And other days, it seems like Waverly has no idea of the affect she has on Nicole’s overworked heart.

“Then you better shape up,” Nicole finally says.

Waverly turns from the small pile she's swept up and grins at Nicole. “Because you need a man?”

Nicole crosses her arms over her chest, ignoring the goosebumps forming on her bare skin. “I don't need a man.”

There's nothing but the quiet hum of the neon lights buzzing around them. Nicole swallows the lump in her throat and picks nervously at the hem of her The Police cutoff shirt. Waverly is still looking at her, her mouth still turned up in a smile.

“No, you don't,” Waverly says quietly.

Nicole climbs up onto a stool and leans back against the counter again. “Not to keep me satisfied,” she says, remembering the next words in the song.

It breaks the spell.

And my heart is set on you , is what she had wanted to say. She looks down at the floor and she scowls. Airhead . When she looks back up, Waverly is closer than before, the tips of her hightops nearly on her Red Wings.

“Hi,” she mumbles nervously

Waverly’s smile is softer now. She tucks a loose strand of hair behind Nicole’s ear. “Hey,” she says just as quietly. “Are you cold?” She trails a finger from Nicole’s bare shoulder, just under the cuff of her cutoff, down to the crook of her elbow. A line of fire follows, roaring through Nicole's veins.

“It's nearly November,” Nicole says.

“Then why're you in this shirt? It's grody to the max.”

Nicole reaches to tug self-consciously at the collar of the shirt, but Waverly grabs her hands first, stilling them.

“On you, it's totally choice,” she says. “Let me borrow it some time?”

Nicole nods silently.

Waverly lets go of one of Nicole’s hand and slides her fingertips across Nicole’s collarbone. Nicole holds her breath as Waverly’s hand keeps moving, over her shoulder. Waverly steps closer, a foot between Nicole’s. “But this jacket? It looks better on me.

It takes Nicole a second to realize that Waverly has pulled her jacket out from behind her and slipped it over her own shoulders. By the time she figures it out, Waverly is dancing away from her, using the broomstick as a microphone stand.

“Dude,” Nicole tries half-heartedly. “Give it back.”

If you're filled with affection, you're too shy to convey,” Waverly sings. She moves slowly, her hips swaying. Nicole can feel her heart start to hammer against her ribs. Her mouth goes dry. “ Meditate my direction ,” she sings, her hand outstretched. She points her finger at Nicole and curls it, telling her to come close.

Feel your -”

The bell above the door clatters and two kids stumble in, laughing into each other. Waverly clutches the broom and spins, holding it out in front of her. Nicole pushes off the counter and crosses the room in a few steps, stopping at Waverly’s side.

The couple look up. The boy is still smiling. “You guys open?”

Waverly shakes her head. “N-no. We're closing.”

The girl sighs. “I told you, Bud. They're closed.”

The boy turns back to them. He opens his mouth like he's going to argue with them, negotiate, but Nicole crosses her arms over her chest and stands straight up and narrows her eyes at him. He takes a step back, grabbing the girl by the hand. “My bad.”

They slip back out the door. When Nicole turns back to look at Waverly, the moment is over and she's not wearing Nicole’s jacket, sweeping again. Nicole picks her jacket up out of a booth where Waverly put it and slides it on. There's a faint lingering smell of Waverly’s perfume on the collar. Nicole sits back on her stool and spins aimlessly in circles until Waverly tells her she’s done.

Waverly sits in the passenger seat on the way to the McCreadys’ and she feels so far away.


 

"Just Like Heaven" The Cure, 1987
Show me how you do it, and I promise you - I promise - that I'll run away with you. I'll run away with you.

Stephanie Jones is throwing a party.

Somehow, Nicole gets invited, even though it’s not her typical scene on a Friday night. She knows it has everything to do with Waverly. Waverly probably got the invitation and demanded that Nicole and Wynonna and Doc be invited, too. She probably mentioned that Doc had a way to get some alcohol and even Stephanie Jones knows you don’t get Doc Holliday without also getting Wynonna Earp.

Nicole ignores the fact that where Waverly Earp goes, Nicole Haught is known to follow.

Nathan flicks her in the ear when he finds her ironing a white shirt, her jeans just finished and hanging from the doorknob. “Be cool, Dexter,” he teases.

Nicole chases him out of the kitchen with the iron.

She decides to leave her hair loose tonight. It falls just below her chin and the most she can do is pull it half-up anyway. Instead, she rubs some of Nathan’s L’Oreal Valance mousse into her hands and runs it through her hair, trying for tousled. It’s not the grease most boys use, but it’ll do. She tucks her shirt in, satisfied with the way it looks. She rolls the bottom of her jeans in perfect half-inch sections, twice over. She double-checks the tops of her Red Wings and laces them tightly. She sings along to “Here I Go Again”, using her comb as a microphone. She checks the clock and pulls her jacket on, thumbing the stars on her shoulder.

Nicole hollers to her mom on her way out of the house and hurries down the driveway to her car before she can ask where she’s going, who she’s going to be with, and what time she’ll be home. She’s pretty sure she can’t handle her mom using the word ‘doobie’ tonight.

She pulls out her Night Ranger tape for the ride over to the McCreadys’, and drives with the windows down. She lets one hand hang out of the window, tapping along to “Sing Me Away”. By the time she pulls into the McCreadys’ driveway, she’s actually a little stoked for this party.

Waverly comes down the stairs as soon as she pulls into the driveway, and Nicole almost forgets to put the car in park.

She’s traded in her hightops for high heels. Nicole’s eyes travel from her ankles, up her legs, and she nearly chokes when she realizes Waverly is wearing fishnet stockings. Her pink and black shirt fit tight around her silky pink spaghetti strap top. She’s pulled her hair up like usual, but her bangles are more like wristbands. Waverly pauses at the bottom of the stairs to adjust her black necklace, then the black bow on her skirt. She grins widely at Nicole.

“Wh-where’s Wynonna?” Nicole asks, her mouth stumbling around the familiar words.

Waverly slides across the bench into Nicole’s side. “She’s with Doc. She said she would come by later.”

Nicole groans to herself. ‘Come by later’ is Wynonna-speak for ‘Never show up’. It means Nicole is going to have to spend the night trailing after Waverly and drinking crappy punch.

“What do you think?” Waverly asks, pulling at her skirt.

“You look,” she starts, words fading from her mind. She shakes her head. “You look… wicked .”

Waverly grins and tugs at Nicole’s jacket. “You look pretty wicked yourself.” She rubs her fingers against the Rolling Stones zipper.

Nicole puts the car in reverse and pulls out of the driveway. Night Ranger is still in the deck and Waverly doesn’t make a move to change the tape. She reaches up instead and twists a strand of Nicole’s hair around her finger.

“I like your hair like this,” she says casually, letting the hair slide off her finger.

Nicole looks at Waverly with a soft smile. “Yeah? I wasn’t sure if-”

“Nicole!” Waverly shouts.

Nicole turns back to the road and realizes at the last minute that she’s about to run a stop sign. She slams on the brakes, her tires squealing. She throws one arm out, across Waverly’s body. Waverly still slides forward, coming to a jarring stop. Nicole inhales sharply.

Fuck ,” she curses. “Are you okay?”

Waverly nods wordlessly. After a second, she exhales and nods again. “Totally fine,” she breathes out.

Nicole tightens her hand on the steering wheel. She goes to pull her other arm, the one stretched across Waverly’s body, back into her side, but Waverly grips it tightly, holding it in place. Nicole pats Waverly’s knee gently. She checks oncoming traffic and slowly eases down on the gas pedal, turning onto the road.

“I’m okay,” Waverly assures her. “Scout’s honor. Just…” She holds Nicole’s arm tightly “Don’t let go.”

Her hand stays on Waverly’s knee the whole time.

When they pull up to the Jones’s, Nicole fights a groan. There’s already more than a few cars in the driveway and she can hear Madonna blowing out of the living room windows. Waverly is grinning again, barely waiting for Nicole to turn the car off before she’s pushing Nicole through the driver’s door.

“Oh my god, this song is aces ,” she gushes, grabbing Nicole’s hand and pulling her across the lawn and through the front door. It’s a sea of letterman jackets, suspenders, and scrunchies.

Nicole adjusts her grip on Waverly’s hand, lacing their fingers together. She doesn’t want to lose her before she finds someone else she knows. They’re pushing through the bodies in the living room, trying to get into the kitchen, when Waverly spins quickly and they’re suddenly face to face. The song changes from Madonna to A-Ha.

“Wanna dance?” Waverly asks, shouting over the opening notes of ‘Take On Me’.

Nicole shrugs. “Sure!”

She’s a terrible dancer. She doesn’t even dance alone in her room when no one is watching. But Waverly grabs her by the waist and starts swaying back and forth until she’s jumping from foot to foot. Nicole moves her shoulders, trying hard to match the beat of the song. Waverly can dance, though, and she throws her arms in the air, her eyes closing - Nicole is helpless to do anything but watch. Waverly’s hands skate across Nicole’s waist; her arms; her shoulders. Nicole looks around the darkened living room, colored scarves draped over the lamps, and fights the nerves in her stomach, letting her hands rest on Waverly’s waist. Waverly smiles at her like it was exactly what she wanted Nicole to do. They move closer together as the song goes on, until Nicole’s nose bumps against Waverly’s forehead with each move.

The song ends and Nicole tries to catch her breath. Her hands are still on Waverly’s waist, her thumbs brushing against the cool silk of her top. She opens her mouth to ask Waverly if she wants to get a drink when someone bumps behind her.

“My bad!” Champ shouts. He’s smirking anyway. Her peers over her shoulder. “Waverly. Hey. Wanna dance?”

Waverly looks up at Nicole, but Nicole just shrugs and lets her hands fall from Waverly’s waist. She thinks she sees Waverly’s shoulders drop, but then Champ is sliding between them and Waverly is locking her fingers around the back of his neck. Nicole grits her teeth and leans back against the wall. Champ pulls Waverly towards the center of the room.

Nicole’s ears strain to catch the beginning of the next song and she nearly gags in her mouth. Of course they’re going to dance to “Every Rose Has its Thorn,” she thinks to herself.

Was it something I said or something I did. Did the words not come out right? ” Bret Michaels croons.

Nicole clenches her hand into a fist until her fingernails cut into her palm.

Though I tried not to hurt you, though I tried, but I guess that’s why ,” it continues. “ They say every rose has its thorn .”

Nicole looks up and Waverly is staring right at her. It’s too much. It’s too much to watch Waverly dance in Champ’s arms while Bret Michaels sings about love dying and Waverly stares at her across the room. Nicole pushes off the wall and ducks through the other people dancing, dodging elbows and couples making out. She fights her way into the kitchen and sees the open basement door. She heads down the stairs and it’s quieter there. She stops at the bottom of the stairs for a minute to catch her breath.

“Hey, you,” Rosita says in her ear.

Nicole’s eyes spring open and she takes a step back. Rosita waves a lace-gloved hand.

“Sweet outfit,” Rosita continues. “I like your hair like that.”

Nicole can feel Waverly’s hand in her hair and she shakes her head to try and clear the memory. “Hey,” she finally says back.

Rosita angles her head towards a small group of people on the couches arranged in a u-shape. “Come sit. We’re hiding from that inevitable moment when someone wants to do the electric slide.”

Nicole follows Rosita, sighing in relief as she spots Chrissy. Nicole grabs the spot on the couch next to her, tucking her arms in awkwardly as she tries to fit in the small space.

“Where’s Waverly?” Chrissy asks, looking at the stairs.

Nicole shrugs. “Dancing.”

Chrissy opens her mouth to ask another question, but looks at Nicole’s face and changes her mind, turning her attention back to the group. Nicole looks around the small circle. Rosita, Chrissy, Dolls, Jeremy , she rattles off in her head. Pete York is there too, and Samantha Baker. Kyle York drops on top of his brother, getting him in a headlock, and they go sprawling off the couch.

“You’re such cavemen,” Stephanie complains, slumping down into the empty space Pete left behind. “And this party is grody. Somebody do something fun .”

Nicole rolls her eyes and leans back into the cushion on the couch. She elbows Chrissy and mutters that she’s sorry.

“Spin the bottle,” Pete declares, wrestling away from his brother enough to speak up.

Chrissy, Rosita, and Jeremy all groan. Dolls creases his starched collar a little more. Nicole stays silent.

Stephanie’s eyes narrow and she grins. “ Yes . Perfect.” She scans the basement and scurries off the couch, grabbing something and sitting down on the floor. She pats the space next to her, looking at Kyle York. “Come sit.” She holds the ship-in-a-bottle she took off the bookshelf in one hand.

Slowly, everyone slides off the couches and sits cross-legged on the floor. Nicole feels her knee press into Chrissy’s side and she’s debating how to get out of this strange circle of hell she’s found herself in when someone crashes down the basement stairs.

“Spin the bottle?” Champ asks as he steps through their circle. “This is my jam!” He looks back towards the stairs. “Come on, Waverly. Maybe you’ll get lucky ,” he teases, wiggling his eyebrows at her.

Everyone shuffles and Waverly ends up sitting on the other side of Chrissy, tucking her legs gracefully underneath her. Nicole can feel Waverly staring at her but she tries hard not to glance back, her mind flashing with images of Waverly and Champ dancing together.

Stephanie spins the bottle first, watching it go around and around. “Rules are simple,” she says while it’s spinning. “You spin, you kiss. No exceptions .” The bottle slows and stops, pointed at Pete York. Stephanie grins, lifts up onto her knees, grabs him by the back of the head, and kisses him square on the mouth. There’s lipstick on his bottom lip when she pulls back.

He blinks a few times before he spins the bottle and watches in anticipation as it slows down. He grins widely when it lands on Rosita. Nicole stifles a laugh at the face Rosita makes, but the kiss is over by the time it starts and Rosita gets to give it a try.

Nicole can still feel Waverly staring at her. It takes everything in her not to look back.

Rosita spins and it stops on Kyle. She rolls her eyes but kisses him anyway.

Kyle picks the bottle up, but Champ grabs his arm before he can spin, pulling him close and whispering in his ear. Kyle nods and puts the bottle back down, barely spinning it. It moves agonizingly slow and doesn’t make it all the way around even once. Nicole looks away for a second, towards the stairs and definitely not at Waverly.

When she looks back, the bottle is pointed at her.

“Did you even spin it?” she asks, frowning.

Kyle grins widely. “Sure did.”

“Rules are rules,” Champ adds. He leans back on his hands and smirks at her.

Nicole looks between the two of them slowly. “You did that on purpose.”

“Don’t be such a noob, Haught,” Champ continues. “Kiss him.”

Nicole continues to look between them. “No way.”

“It’s the rules ,” Champ argues. He looks to Stephanie. “It’s the rules, right?”

Stephanie sighs and shrugs. “Just kiss him, Nicole.”

Nicole feels Chrissy’s hand press against her leg. Nicole forces her anger back down and leans in, eyes closed. Kyle kisses her hard, his tongue pushing against her lips, and she growls, shoving him back hard enough for him to land on his back. He’s laughing. Champ is snickering. Nicole feels herself getting up to stand but Chrissy is pushing the bottle into her hand and telling her to spin.

She glares at Champ as she spins, the bottle bouncing slightly on the carpeted basement floor. It spins erratically, and only slows as the thumping bass of “Feels So Good” by Van Halen is replaced by Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody (Who Loves Me)”. When it stops, it rests on the line between Nicole and Chrissy.

Champ snickers. Chrissy turns instantly and smiles brightly. Nicole catches a glimpse of Waverly over Chrissy’s shoulder. Her eyes are narrowed and there’s a hard line in her forehead that Nicole wants to reach for and smooth out. Then Nicole can’t see Waverly at all; Chrissy kisses her quickly and firmly and sits back on her feet, her smile still on her face.

Nicole sits back, blinking a few times. This past summer, Chrissy had kissed her desperately and messily and Nicole had ducked away, embarrassed and wishing it was Waverly. It’s almost the New Year and Chrissy kisses her quickly and neatly, but Nicole still wants to duck into a corner and hide away.

Chrissy spins Pete and kisses him even quicker, wiping her hand across her mouth when she sits back down.

Pete leers at Samantha Baker as he gives the bottle a spin. He licks his lips as it slows. But he starts to shake his head as it lands, pointing straight at Champ.

Nicole leans forward, already pointing at Champ. “Rules are rules,” she repeats firmly. She looks at Stephanie. “It’s the rules, right?”

Stephanie huffs, blowing her bangs out of her face, and rolls her eyes. “Stop spazzing and kiss him, Champ.”

Nicole grins widely as Champ closes his eyes and pushes his lips out. Pete leans in quickly and leans away just as fast. Champ gags and sits down, glaring at Nicole. She winks at him.

Champ takes the bottle and spins it violently. It bounces off Jeremy’s shoe and stops abruptly, pointed right at Waverly. Now Champ grins at Nicole, leaning slowly across the circle to kiss Waverly hard on the mouth. His hand goes to her neck possessively, and Nicole clenches her own into a fist to avoid punching him the face. When he finally sits back down, Nicole has decided she’s done with the game.

“This is lame,” Stephanie complains.

Nicole nods.

“We should play Seven Minutes in Heaven.” Stephanie continues.

Nicole stops nodding.

Stephanie hands Waverly the bottle. “Same rules. You spin, you go in the closet. Herb here can be the timekeeper,” she says, pointing at Jeremy. She squints at him. “How did you even get into this party?”

“Oh, well, see, I was walking down the hallway the other day and-”

Dolls claps a large hand down on his shoulder. “She doesn’t actually care. You’re the timekeeper.”

“Timekeeper. Right,” he agrees. “I can do that.”

Stephanie looks impatiently at Waverly. “Well? Spin.”

Slowly, Waverly puts the bottle down and flicks her wrist, sending the bottle around and around.

It lands on Nicole.

Chrissy’s hand is on her leg again, squeezing softly. Nicole stares at it, confused for a moment, until Chrissy leans in and whispers at her. “ Go .”

Nicole stumbles to her feet and Waverly is already standing, looking at her. They’re inside the small coat closet by the staircase before Nicole can really think about being anywhere else. It smells like stale Aquanet and men’s aftershave and mothballs. A fuzzy coat brushes against Nicole’s face and a coat hanger sticks her in the back. She can hear the group talking in the basement and Jeremy shouts he’s staring the clock.

Waverly looks small, on the other side of the closet. Her arms are wrapped around her middle and she’s looking everywhere but at Nicole. Nicole counts to 45 in her head before she sighs heavily.

“How was dancing with Champ?” she asks. She bites at her fingernail and immediately shoves her hand behind her back; she’s not giving into that habit again.

Waverly shrugs one shoulder, still not looking at her. “He was fine.”

Nicole nods. She can hear the music leaking through the floorboards. Someone must have changed the tape. She can hear “We Got the Beat” playing above her. “Wicked,” she mumbles.

Waverly’s head snaps up. She opens her mouth like she’s going to say something, but closes it instead, looking away again.

“If you wanted to come with Champ, you could have just told me,” Nicole mutters.

Waverly looks at her again. “But, I didn’t.”

“Seems like it,” Nicole says.

“He asked me to dance. You just… You left .”

Nicole narrows her eyes. “You didn’t look like you wanted to say no,” she accuses.

Waverly scoffs. “Oh, as if.”

Nicole straightens up, ignoring the fuzzy coat in her ear. “You just wrapped your arms around his stupid neck and let him book it across the room.”

“You’re mental,” Waverly says, pointing a finger at her.

"You’re mental,” Nicole fires back. She can feel her chest rising and falling rapidly as she tries to calm herself down. She sighs. “Waverly, I’m-”

Waverly is kissing her. Her hands are cool on Nicole’s neck and her wristbands scratch against her leather jacket. Her body is pressed against Nicole’s and her mouth is hot where it touches her own. Nicole’s hands hang uselessly at her side for a moment. She’s lifting them up, trying to find Waverly’s hips, when Waverly pulls back.

The song changes; “Just Like Heaven” comes on and Nicole can still hear it through the walls and the ceiling and it’s echoing in her chest.

“Waverly,” she breathes out.

Waverly looks up at her through her eyelashes. Her eyelids look heavy and she’s taking slow, shallow breaths. Her hands are still on Nicole’s neck, holding her still. Her eyes trace Nicole’s face. “Rules are rules,” Waverly whispers. “It’s the rules, right?”

Nicole nods slowly.

Waverly bites her bottom lip, her confidence wavering for a moment. Nicole tells herself that rules are rules and you’re never going to get this chance again and reaches a shaking hand out to rest on Waverly’s hipbone.

Waverly pushes up and Nicole meets her halfway. She feels hands sliding through her hair and fingertips pressing into her scalp. She slides her hand to Waverly’s lower back, pulling her closer and stepping back until Waverly is pressed against the wall of the closet. Waverly nips at her bottom lip, soothing the small bite with her tongue. She moves her other hand down Waverly’s leg, the fishnet stocking rough on her palm. She bends slightly, pulling Waverly’s leg around her side, sliding her own leg between Waverly’s.

Waverly whimpers softly into her mouth and Nicole pauses, her lips brushing against Waverly’s as they both pant for air. She forces her eyes open, but Waverly’s are still closed, squeezed tight.

This is not how she expected their first kiss to go. She thought it would be after their third date, at least, Gus flashing the lights on and off as Nicole lingered on the front porch, afraid to kiss Waverly and afraid not to at the same time. She thought Loverboy would be singing “Heaven In Your Eyes” as she carefully and slowly tilted Waverly’s chin up and kissed her softly goodnight, a promise of more to come.

Instead, the Cure feels too loud in her ears and the closet feels like it’s closing in on them. Instead, Waverly is panting heavily into her mouth and her hips are rocking slowly against Nicole’s and she can hear Jeremy shout that they have two minutes left.

Nicole leans back in, kissing Waverly hard. She reaches down with her other hand and lifts until Waverly’s legs are wrapped around her waist and Nicole has to tilt her head back, just barely, to keep kissing Waverly. She can feel Waverly’s fingers dancing across the back of her head, pressing into her skin. Her jacket feels too hot. Waverly is burning against her. Her tongue slides into Nicole’s mouth, curling up against the back of Nicole’s teeth quickly before disappearing. Nicole chases the feeling, pressing against Waverly insistently.

Someone knocks heavily against the closet door. “Time!”

Nicole pulls back too quickly, immediately disoriented. She barely catches Waverly, her hands shaky against the back of Waverly’s thighs. She sets her down softly and steps back, pulling at her bottom lip. She can taste Waverly’s lip gloss under her thumb. Waverly straightens her skirt, her eyes skating around the closet a few times before they land on Nicole.

There’s a look in her eyes that Nicole can’t name, but she panics and decides it’s regret. She pulls roughly at her jacket, trying to stop the burn in her eyes. “I-” she starts.

“Nicole-” Waverly breathes out at the same time.

They both pause.

Nicole recovers first. “I have to go,” she whispers. “Can-can you get a ride home with someone else?” She doesn’t wait for answer. She shoves the closet door open, nearly knocking Jeremy down. She pulls up short and scans the room, only catching Chrissy’s eye before she turns and runs up the stairs, taking them two at a time. Below her, she can hear Chrissy, and then Waverly, calling her name.

She drives home blindly, and pretends like she can’t still feel Waverly’s fingers against the back of her head or Waverly’s mouth against her own.

She turns the volume all the way down.

 


 

"Mad About You" Belinda Carlisle, 1986
I'm mad about you. You're mad about me, babe. Couple of fools run wild aren't we?

 

Nicole spends the weekend laying in bed with her Tears for Fears cassette single playing “Mad World” over and over again. The look on Waverly’s face as they pulled apart in the closet makes her head spin. She keeps thinking back to that moment, right before the door opened, when Waverly had opened her mouth to say something. She dreams of everything Waverly could have said: Nicole, don’t touch me. Nicole, stay away from me. Nicole, I didn’t want to kiss you. Nicole, I hate you.

Nicole keeps “Mad World” on until Nathan storms in on Sunday, wrenches it from her boombox, and unspools it right in front of her.

“You’re gonna make me ralph,” he tells her.

Nicole chases him out of her room and throws the tape at the back of his head.

Her mom hollers up the stairs every couple hours to tell her Waverly is on the phone, but whenever Nicole thinks about going to take the call, she remembers the look in Waverly’s eyes, the regret, and she shouts that she’s about to take a shower, or she’s working on her homework, or she’ll call back in a bit.

Instead, she pulls her comforter tighter around her and wonders how she can avoid Waverly on Monday. She can pretend she’s sick. She can forget to stop at the McCreadys’ house. She can let Wynonna get in the car and then jet because Waverly is always late coming outside anyway. She can say her car broke down and ride her Bridgestone 400 to school, even though the handbrake is broken. She can probably even just get in her car and point it towards the shore; her dad keeps writing to tell her she can visit any time.

By Monday morning, she’s in the driver’s seat of her car with both hands wrapped tight around the steering wheel and she’s praying Waverly suddenly decides her perfect attendance award isn’t worth it. Wynonna comes flying down the steps and slips into the passenger seat, grinning mischievously as Waverly comes out of the house behind her, pausing at the top of the stairs to push her hair out of her eyes.

She’s back to her hightops and legwarmers - blue and pink today, with two matching scrunchies in her ponytail. Her denim jacket is a little too small, but she’s rolled the sleeves back and the morning sun catches the bangles on her wrists and makes them sparkle.

Nicole’s breath catches in the back of her throat and she nearly chokes.

She shakes herself out of her head long enough to get out of the car before Waverly asks her to, pulling the lever and letting the seat drop. She stands by the backseat window, far enough away that she won’t brush against Waverly. Waverly pauses, for just a second, before she slips inside the car wordlessly.

“So how was the party?” Wynonna asks as soon as Nicole starts backing down the driveway.

She punches the brakes a little too hard. Wynonna nearly slips off the front seat.

“It was f-fine,” Nicole says.

Wynonna looks between Waverly and Nicole and frowns at them. “Dude, was it like, the lamest party in the history of parties?” She looks at Waverly. “Waves wouldn’t tell me anything.”

“You should have just come to the party,” Waverly fires from the back seat.

A sense of panic seizes Nicole. If Wynonna had come to the party, she would have seen Nicole and Waverly go into that closet together. She can’t make her foot find the gas pedal for a minute.

“Doc gave me a… better offer,” she says, winking. “If you-”

“We know what you mean,” Nicole interrupts. She finally gets her body to move and she gets on the road, hands still tight around the wheel. She avoids looking in the rearview mirror, afraid to catch Waverly’s eye.

“I’m surprised you went,” Wynonna continues, punching Nicole in the shoulder.

“I shouldn’t be surprised you bailed, but here we are,” Nicole says, her eyes on the road.

Wynonna shrugs. “At least you had Waves, right?”

Nicole swallows back the memory of Waverly’s tongue against her lips. “S-sure.”

Wynonna leaves it alone, rummaging through Nicole’s tapes until she finds the Fleetwood Mac tape and starts playing “Second Hand News” on high volume. Nicole spares one single glance at the rearview mirror but Waverly is looking out the window, her head resting on her elbow.

When they get to school, Nicole puts the car in park and jumps out. “Gotta jet,” she throws over her shoulder, her eyes darting to Waverly quickly before she can help herself. She sees Waverly frown and she turns quickly, ducking and diving through people to get to class. She has math first period, and she knows Ms. Lucado wouldn’t mind if she just sat in the back of the room until the bell rings.

Champ cuts her off on her way up the front steps.

“Nicole. ‘Sup,” he says casually, his arms over his chest.

She rolls her eyes. “Not now, Champ.”

“I saw you,” he sneers, following as she ducks around him and tries to get up the stairs. “With Waverly. You think you can steal my girl?”

She steps up to him, edging him back against the railing. “First of all, lower your voice. Second, Waverly doesn’t belong to anyone.”

He narrows his eyes. “It’s disgusting.”

She falters for just a second and he keeps talking.

“It’s disgusting that you think you can take something away from me. She’s mine .” He thumps a hand against his chest. “So, don’t get crunchy about it and just back off.”

Nicole laughs. “Get bent, Champ.” She pushes him enough that he stumbles slightly, and hurries up the stairs and down the first hallway, slipping into her math classroom. Ms. Lucado doesn’t even pay her any attention and Nicole puts her head down for a little, only lifting it when she hears Principal Moody on the PA system.

She manages to avoid Waverly for the entire day. Instead of their usual table at lunch, Nicole sneaks through the gymnasium and out onto the side lawn no one uses, pulling her headphones on and pressing play on her Walkman. She’s got Prince’s “Purple Rain” tape in today.

She kissed Waverly.

“I kissed Waverly,” she whispers aloud.

It’s the first time she’s thought about it, specifically, since Friday night. She spent the whole weekend avoiding the entire thing; avoiding Waverly .

She didn’t just kiss Waverly. She pressed her against the wall and kissed her like the world was burning right outside of that closet door. Nicole can still feel Waverly’s fingertips pressing into the base of her neck if she tilts her head at the right angle. She can feel Waverly’s thighs against her palms. She can hear Waverly whimpering in her ear.

“When Doves Cry” kicks in and Nicole pulls her headphones off, sighing.

She’s sure that she’s always wanted to kiss Waverly. That first day, when Nicole had nearly pulled the soles off her sneakers trying to get away from the McCready house, she had looked back and wished that the girl on the porch hadn’t looked so sad. Nicole had nearly turned her bike around and gone back, but she waited until the next day. Waverly had been outside again and Wynonna was there, too, and Nicole started a conversation and ended up staying for dinner. She had stared at Waverly across the dining room table, wondering how a smile like that could fit on such a small face.

When Waverly had her first kiss, with Jimmy Pine a few houses down, Nicole kicked the Pine’s mailbox down without knowing why. When Champ winked at Waverly for the first time, Nicole’s freshman year, during Junior Midget football, while Waverly cheered on the sidelines, Nicole had quit going to games.

Back then, it hadn’t made sense.

Now, she knows she was jealous - she wanted to kiss Waverly; she wanted to impress Waverly.

She kissed Waverly and she ruined everything .

Distantly, she hears the bell ring, signaling the end of lunch.

She doesn’t get up.

 

-

The Patch is quiet when Nicole slips through the unlocked door ten minutes before closing. The bell above the door echoes loudly in the dining room. Nicole looks around but doesn’t see anyone at first. The swinging door to the kitchen shoves open and Waverly freezes, the door nearly catching her in the face as it closes.

“What’re you doing here?” Waverly asks.

Nicole flinches a little at the tone of her voice. “I came to give you a ride home.”

Waverly narrows her eyes. “I didn’t think you were going to show up.”

Nicole rubs at the back of her neck, looking at the ground. “I’ve been driving you home every night since I got my car,” she mumbles. She doesn’t mention that before she had her car, back when she only had her bike, she’d walk Waverly home every night she closed The Patch.

Waverly continues to glare at her. “Well, I figured since you just left me at school, you weren’t showing up here either.” She grabs the broom from where it’s leaning against the counter.

Nicole sighs. “Sorry about that.”

Waverly shrugs one shoulder but doesn’t look at her this time. “Cool beans,” she mutters.

Nicole takes a few cautious steps forward. She stretches a hand out in front of her, reaching for Waverly’s shoulder, but lets her hand fall before she touches her.

Waverly spins and steps back. “You’re in my pile.”

Nicole looks down. She’s standing in a small pile of dust and dirt tracked in by high school students and the nighttime dinner crowd. She jumps out of it, trying to give Waverly a soft, apologetic smile. Waverly ignores her.

Nicole sits down slowly on one of the stools and spins it back and forth. Waverly continues to ignore her, refilling the sugar containers and restacking the jelly containers. Nicole counts ten minutes out in her head before she snaps, desperate to say anything.

“Is someone else coming to get you?” A thought grips her in fear. “Is Champ?”

Waverly looks up from rolling out the mats by the door, her face twisted in disbelief. “ No ,” she growls. She pauses for a moment before she says, “I’m walking home.”

“It’s winter,” Nicole points out.

“I can walk in the snow,” Waverly fires back.

Nicole snaps her mouth closed and crosses her arms over her chest.

Waverly stops unfurling the mat and lets it drop to the floor with a thud . “It was just a kiss, okay? It doesn’t have to mean anything. You don’t need to act like I have some sort of disease.”

Nicole’s mouth falls open.

“Champ kissed Pete! You don’t see them wigging out over it,” Waverly continues. “If you really think I’m that much of a dweeb, th-then, fine . I think you’re a spazz.”

“You do?” Nicole asks, her voice quiet.

Waverly huffs and her shoulders sag. “Of course I don’t,” she says softly. “I’m… I’m mad .”

Nicole pushes off her stool and tries to orient herself. Her body is still swaying, but she’s sure it’s not only because of the stool.

“It was just a kiss,” Waverly continues. “It’s not the end of the world.” She frowns. “Is it?”

Nicole shakes her head. “I thought you were mad at me. For the kiss,” she adds.

Waverly shakes her head, too. “Not even,” she breathes out. Her cheeks flush red. “I mean, rules are rules. Right?”

She sounds too hopeful for Nicole to tell her that they didn’t need to kiss; that they could have stood in the dark of the closet for seven minutes; that they could have talked about anything else. So instead, Nicole nods slowly.

“Rules are rules,” she repeats.

Waverly nods sharply and picks the mat back up, flicking her wrists so that the mat unrolls and snaps in the air. It lands on the floor and Waverly bends to straighten it out.

“It wasn’t the worst,” Waverly says casually.

Nicole swallows heavily. “What wasn’t?” she asks, already knowing the answer.

By the way Waverly’s eyes snap to hers, Waverly knows Nicole knows the answer, too. “The kiss,” she says slowly.

“Right. Right, right,” Nicole mumbles. She shrugs one shoulder, trying to play it cool. “Yeah. It wasn’t bad.”

Waverly is quiet for a long moment. She picks up the broom again and leans it behind the counter, looking at the neon sign above the swinging kitchen door. “Was Chrissy’s kiss better?”

Nicole’s heart drops into her stomach. “ No ,” she breathes out.

Waverly doesn’t look back at her. “What about Pete?”

Nicole snorts. “Definitely not,” she promises.

Waverly smirks at her over her shoulder. “Just checking.”

Nicole grins brightly for a second before her smile fades. “What about Champ?”

Waverly leans against the counter on her elbows, her side ponytail spilling into her eyes before she pushes it back. The bangles on her wrist twinkle softy. “What about him?” She pushes off the counter and runs a hand along the top of it as she rounds the end and makes her way slowly towards Nicole.

Nicole’s jacket suddenly feels too heavy on her shoulders and her feet feel stuck to the floor. “Was he a better kisser?” she asks slowly.

Waverly is in front of her now. Her hand brushes across the stool as it drops between them. Waverly lifts it slowly, running the tip of her finger up the zipper of Nicole’s jacket. Her eyes follow her hand up before they meet Nicole’s. “No,” she says quietly.

Cool ,” Nicole exhales.

Waverly looks up at her, her eyes roaming Nicole’s face. “Maybe,” she starts. She stops, and Nicole watches the muscles in her neck move as she swallows. “Maybe you should kiss me again, though. To be sure.”

Nicole swallows heavily and nods her head clumsily as she rests her hands on Waverly’s waist. “It’s just a kiss,” she says, echoing Waverly.

“Just a kiss,” Waverly breathes against her mouth.

Waverly’s hand winds in her collar and drags her down roughly. Nicole is already pulling Waverly closer, her mouth hot and insistent. She cups Waverly’s jaw in one hand, barely tilting her head back. She kisses Waverly like she’s desperate for air, panting into Waverly’s mouth when Waverly’s hands skim along her neck. Nicole feels her body falling back onto a stool and she sits clumsily, nearly falling off. She balances herself and kisses Waverly hard. She feels her knees being pushed apart and then Waverly’s thighs are pressing against the inside of her own, burning through her jeans. She tries to slow their kisses, tries to slow the fire in her chest to something that doesn’t feel like it’s going to swallow her from the inside out.

Waverly steps closer, her hands skimming down Nicole’s sides. Her fingertips slip under the hem of Nicole’s t-shirt and she feels herself jump. She nips at Waverly’s bottom lip, pressing openmouthed kiss after openmouthed kiss to her mouth. Her hands go to the sliver of skin between Waverly’s shirt and the dark denim skirt she’s wearing, thumbing at the warm curve.

Her lungs ache when she pulls back, resting her forehead against Waverly’s. She leans back in, unable to help herself, and kisses Waverly quickly.

“It’s just a kiss, right?” Waverly asks. Her voice is small, breathless.

“A kiss,” Nicole echoes, trying to catch her own breath. She kisses Waverly again, her tongue brushing Waverly’s bottom lip.

“And we don’t have to do it again,” Waverly continues.

“Right,” Nicole breathes out, starting to unwind her fingers from where they’re tangled in Waverly’s crop top.

Waverly’s hands rest over hers. “Or… we can.”

Nicole grins widely. “That would be… Clutch.”

Waverly laughs and leans back in to kiss her again.