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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.

Chapter Text

"Caught Up in You" .38 Special, 1982
And baby it's true: you're the one who caught me, baby you taught me how good it could be.

The next morning, Waverly is the first one down the stairs of the McCready house. Nicole is already out of the car, leaning back against the driver’s door. She spent the whole night in bed shaking, nervous energy curled up in the pit of her stomach. She jumps when the screen door bangs open and her heart beats in double time when she sees Waverly, her hair crimped and her purple leg warmers sliding down her ankles and her bedazzled denim jacket sparkling against the snow.

Whitesnake is playing in the back of her head, “ Is this love? ” echoing loudly in her ears.

Waverly grins at her. “Hey,” she breathes out, coming to a stop in front of Nicole.

Nicole feels herself smiling back. “Hi.”

Waverly keeps smiling at her, bouncing lightly on the tips of her toes.

“I didn’t slam the damn door!” Wynonna shouts, cutting through the daydream haze in Nicole’s head. “It was your precious little angel,” she adds, glaring at Waverly.

Gus pauses at the top of the stairs and frowns. “Waverly, don’t slam my door.”

“Sorry, Gus!” Waverly shouts, pulling the driver’s door open. Gus nods, satisfied, and goes back into the house.

Wynonna glares, mouth hanging open. “Are you-”

Nicole interrupts before Wynonna can get going. “Come on. Let’s motor.”

Wynonna gets into the front seat, muttering to herself, but reaches for the glove compartment to find something to listen to.

Nicole presses herself against the driver’s door and tries to play off the shiver that goes through her body as being cold when Waverly slips by her, her hand at Nicole’s waist. She can feel Waverly’s fingers slip into her pocket and then they’re gone. Waverly pushes the seat up so Nicole can get back in.

She fishes something out of her pocket before she gets in the car.

Third period, second floor bathroom ’ it says in Waverly’s handwriting, all bubble-letters and hearts over the i’s.

Nicole folds the note back up and slips into her pocket, grinning before she slides into the car.

 

-

The cold metal of the bathroom stall cuts through her thin, white t-shirt. Waverly grins into her mouth when Nicole hisses. The lock on the door presses into the small of her back, but Waverly’s mouth takes the sting out of it all.

“Sorry,” Waverly mutters. She smooths her fingers across Nicole’s cheeks.

Nicole smiles, turning her head to kiss Waverly’s fingers. “You’re not.”

“Not even a scosche,” Waverly continues.

Nicole kisses Waverly, her tongue sliding into Waverly’s mouth in a way that’s too familiar, too quickly. This isn’t their first time in the second floor bathroom during third period. It’s been a month of this, stolen moments and quick kisses. She grabs the shoulders of Waverly’s denim jacket, pushing it back. Waverly breaks the kiss and starts to pull it off. Nicole barely waits for it to hit the floor before she’s sliding her hands down Waverly’s arms to her waist, letting her fingers slip under Waverly’s top.

Waverly shivers and her hips press a little tighter against Nicole’s. Nicole’s hands twitch against Waverly’s skin. She edges Waverly back until they reach the other side of the stall and she slides her leg between Waverly’s, the hem of her skirt lifting slightly. Nicole dips her head and presses a line of kisses from Waverly’s jaw up to under her ear, sucking softly until she feels Waverly squirming under her hands.

Nicole can feel Waverly’s hands in her hair, twisting the strands almost roughly. Waverly pulls, lifting Nicole’s face until they’re kissing again, Waverly’s tongue hot in her mouth.

The bell rings in the hallway, like an alarm clock in the middle of a dream, and Nicole slows her kisses, each one longer than the last until Waverly’s forehead is pressed against her own. Waverly leans in and kisses Nicole sweetly before she lets her hands slide to Nicole’s shoulders, squeezing gently.

Nicole slides the lock open and goes to the sink, turning on the faucet. She cups her hands and splashes her face with lukewarm water. She can still feel Waverly’s hands on her cheeks. Waverly steps up to the sink next to her, catching her eye in the mirror.

Waverly pulls her denim jacket on slowly. Nicole’s eyes follow the motion until she sees Waverly grinning at her and she blushes, looking away.

The bell rings a second time and Waverly squeals a little. She grabs Nicole’s arm and squeezes gently before she slips out the door.

Nicole stares at herself in the mirror but can’t find a way to stop smiling.

 

-

“The door is locked,” Nicole sings as she walks over to the jukebox. She leans against it, pressing the arrow button to scroll through the selection.

Waverly lifts onto her tiptoes and pulls the shade on the front window down. “Thanks.”

“You only ask me because you can’t reach the key,” Nicole teases. She finds the tape she’s looking for, .38 Special’s first release, “Special Forces”.

Waverly glares at her, like she always does when Nicole picks on her. She usually swings the broom half-heartedly in Nicole’s direction, or throws one of the cleaning rags at her. Sometimes, she’ll chase her around the diner with the mop.

This time, her eyes narrow and then they change, taking on a look Nicole is starting to recognize. It’s the same look she gets right before she drags Nicole into an empty classroom, or the bathroom during third period, or when she’s staring at Nicole in the rearview mirror on their way to school. Waverly moves from the window, stalking across the diner floor and trapping Nicole against the jukebox.

“Caught Up In You” starts playing and Waverly is grabbing Nicole by the front of her shirt and they’re kissing.

Warrant was right when they said ‘ heaven isn’t too far away ’.

Waverly’s fingers twist creases into her black and grey three-quarter sleeve Survivor ‘Going The Distance’ 1981 tour shirt. She smooths them out, her hands hot through the thin material. Nicole’s head tips back as Waverly kisses her neck, her mouth sliding down to Nicole’s collarbone.

She fights a groan and pulls Waverly’s mouth to hers. She bites at Waverly’s bottom lip and pulls Waverly as close as she can, feeling their hips press through her jeans. Nicole’s hand slides up Waverly’s rib cage, brushing against the wire of the bra she’s wearing and she pauses.

Waverly breaks their kiss, panting softly. She nods.

Nicole’s hand keeps sliding, her fingers moving along the curve of Waverly’s breast.

Waverly exhales shakily and kisses her again, hard and hot and unrelenting.

Nicole grips Waverly’s waist with her other hand and spins, pressing Waverly against the jukebox. She slides her leg between Waverly’s and brushes her thumb against the side of Waverly’s breast again. Waverly grabs at the back of Nicole’s neck, pulling her down for a kiss Nicole can feel in her toes. Her tongue slides against Nicole’s lower lip and then into Nicole’s mouth. Nicole groans, her hand flexing. Waverly whimpers into her mouth.

“Back Door Stranger” starts, and the song change makes Nicole pause. Waverly pants, her hips rocking slowly against Nicole’s thigh.

“W-why did you stop?” Waverly asks, her fingers swirling softly against Nicole’s neck.

Nicole smiles and leans her forehead against Waverly’s. Her eyes dart to the clock on the wall over the door and she sighs. “I have to get you home.”

Waverly’s head drops back against the jukebox and Nicole can't help but kiss the spot right where her neck meets her collarbone. She steps back slowly, working her hand out of Waverly’s shirt, squeezing her bare waist gently before she steps back.

Waverly straightens up and take a few deep breaths, tugging her skirt down again. “I've always wanted to do that,” she admits quietly.

“What?” Nicole asks, her eyes on Waverly's hands as they smooth out her top.

“Make out against the jukebox.” Waverly grins, her eyes sparkling. “With you.”

It takes everything in Nicole to pick up the broom, sweep behind the counter, and not go back to kissing Waverly.

 

-

The streetlight cuts in through the windshield, giving Nicole enough light to see the blush across Waverly’s cheeks. They’re idling in the car a few streets over from the McCready house, The Eagles playing low, and the windows fogging.

Waverly smiles at her. “Hey,” she says quietly.

Nicole brushes her thumb against Waverly’s cheek. “Hey.”

“I’m, um, really enjoying these rides home,” Waverly continues, her voice still soft.

Nicole grins. “They’re pretty schweet.”

Waverly pretends to be annoyed. “Stop making fun of me.”

“Or what?” Nicole asks.

“Or…” Waverly slides closer and pushes Nicole’s jacket off her shoulders, dropping it into the backseat. She’s already shed her jacket and it’s on the floor of the passenger’s seat. “Or…” she starts again, kissing the spot under Nicole’s chin that makes her shiver. “What was I saying?”

“No idea,” Nicole breathes out. Waverly scrapes her teeth against the spot she was kissing. Nicole shudders, her body tensing. She threads her fingers into Waverly’s ponytail, twirling the strands around her fingers as Waverly moves across her neck, kissing and biting softly.

“Then I better stop talking,” Waverly breathes against her skin. She lifts her head and kisses Nicole. It’s messy and the heat sinks into the pit of Nicole’s stomach.

Nicole can feel the driver’s door against her back, and she pushes forward until Waverly slides back across the bench seat, her eyes wide. Nicole swallows heavily, closes her eyes, and grabs the hem of her t-shirt, pulling it up and over her head. She keeps her eyes closed, hissing softly when she feels Waverly’s nails against her bare stomach. She can feel Waverly’s palm burning into her side and then Waverly’s lips are on her shoulder.

Her eyes flutter open as Waverly’s fingers dance across her back. She hooks one finger under Waverly’s chin and lifts her face, kissing her softly. One of Waverly’s hands goes back to her side and Nicole can feel her fingers through the fabric of her bra. A rush of something burns through Nicole and she feels breathless, pushing her body into Waverly’s hands desperately.

Waverly kisses her hard, her thumb pressing and rolling against Nicole’s nipple. Nicole groans and her hips rock forward. She presses Waverly back against the bench. The leather isn’t cold but she can feel goosebumps on her skin as Waverly’s hands flex and slide.

A car drives by, their headlights cutting through the car as they turn the corner, and Nicole feels her stomach turn. She freezes, her hand against her chest as it passes them. Waverly is motionless, half under her, her hand still on Nicole’s breast.

Waverly snickers first, then laughs, throwing her head back. Nicole sighs and leans her forehead down against Waverly’s shoulder, trying to catch her breath.

When she finally pulls up to the McCready house, she puts the car in park on the street. She smiles sheepishly at Waverly, ducking her head to hide the blush she knows is spreading.

Waverly moves closer, slipping a hand across her neck and into her hair. She kisses Nicole neatly, small pecks to her mouth that Nicole tries to keep up with and then she’s sliding backwards across the bench and reaching for the door handle.

“Goodnight,” she whispers, leaning back again for one more kiss.

Nicole idles on the curb until the porch light goes off.

 

-

Nicole slips Nathan a CA$10 bill and tells him that she needs him to book it for a few hours. He teases her until the tip of her ears turn red, but he takes the money anyway and tells her now he doesn’t need to pay for his own ticket to see Nightbreed . Her mom is working a weekend shift and the house is entirely hers for at least two hours.

“All ours,” Waverly repeats, grinning at Nicole as she sits on the end of Nicole’s bed. “Aces.”

Nicole flushes. She’s leaning back against her desk, her legs outstretched and her ankles crossed. “ Aces ,” she mocks.

Waverly grins at her. “What did you want to do?” She leans back on her elbows. “We never did watch The Big Chill .”

Nicole smirks and pushes off her desk, hovering over Waverly for a moment before she puts one knee down. “Sure. Popcorn?”

“I was thinking something… sweeter,” Waverly says, her cheeks red as she reaches up and grabs the front of Nicole’s shirt, pulling her down.

Nicole drops her elbows, catching herself before she crushes Waverly. Their hips fit together and slide. Waverly’s body arches up into hers. “Waves,” she breathes out.

They’ve been doing this for going on two months now; hiding away and losing themselves in kisses and touches and whispers. Nicole’s fingers know the curve of Waverly’s ribs and the way her mouth tastes after a vanilla milkshake at The Patch and the way she sighs when Nicole’s mouth finds that one spot on her neck. Each time, it feels like they’re getting closer to something, but Nicole doesn’t know what. They don’t talk about it; they just kiss and they kiss and Nicole feels herself falling even more in love with Waverly Earp.

Waverly breaks her out of her thoughts, tucking her fingertips into the waistband of Nicole’s jeans. She smiles at Nicole and kisses her, her mouth opening as Nicole brushes her tongue against Waverly’s lips.

Nicole’s hand slips under the hem of Waverly’s shirt, splaying wide across her stomach. Her leg slips between Waverly’s, bearing down gently. Waverly’s back arches off the bed again and Nicole can feel every part of them press together. She kisses Waverly harder, her eyes squeezed shut tightly as she takes ragged breaths. Waverly’s fingers are tucked into her waistband, unmoving except to grip the top of her jeans and twist them as Nicole’s leg moves slowly between their bodies. Waverly throws her head back, her mouth open, and Nicole kisses a line from behind her ear to the hollow of her throat.

She moves her hand from Waverly’s stomach to just below her breastbone, thumbing at the cotton bra Waverly is wearing. Waverly whimpers slightly and places one of her hands over Nicole’s, moving it up to rest on her breast.

“Please?” Waverly asks softly.

Nicole squeezes gently and Waverly whimpers again. Nicole feels her stomach clench at the noise. She squeezes again, but kisses Waverly this time, swallowing her moan. Waverly’s hand is at the back of her neck, holding her close. Their bodies move slowly, pushing and pressing against each other as Nicole tries to find her footing, to settle her heart racing in her chest. Waverly’s mouth is sweet, like she's been drinking Orange Crush. Nicole kisses her hard, biting at her bottom lip before she soothes the sting with her tongue. Waverly’s leg hooks around the back of Nicole’s until there's a heat against Nicole’s leg that she can feel through the denim of her jeans. She fumbles with Waverly's bra, her fingers clumsy as she tries to find the strap.

Waverly wiggles underneath her, her hips losing their rhythm as she lifts her shoulders enough for Nicole to help her pull her shirt over her head, toss it towards the corner, and slide the strap of her bra off her shoulder. Nicole pants heavily into Waverly’s shoulder as she slides a shaky hand against Waverly’s bare breast. Waverly gasps as Nicole’s hand curls against her.

Nicole brushes her thumb against Waverly’s nipple, kissing her as Waverly goes to gasp again. Her hips move again, agonizingly slow against Nicole's. Nicole kisses along Waverly’s cheekbone to below her ear, sucking softly.

“Okay?” she asks, her voice shaking.

Waverly nods sharply. “ Aces ,” she groans. Her fingernails dig into Nicole’s neck.

A door slams downstairs and Nicole freezes.

“Nicole!” her mom shouts.

Nicole panics and she pushes up onto her knees. Waverly leans up on her elbows, eyes clouded for a moment before she recognizes the sound of someone moving around downstairs. Waverly sits up, pulling the strap of her bra up.

My shirt, ” she hisses.

Nicole’s legs get stuck underneath her as she tries to get off the bed and she falls heavily to the floor. She hears the rummaging downstairs stop and then there are footsteps on the stairs. Nicole untangles herself and scrambles for the corner, grabbing Waverly’s shirt and tossing to her. Waverly pulls it on as her mom reaches the top of the stairs. Nicole shoves a tape in her boombox and presses play, the volume turned up louder than any B-52’s song should go. The doorknob twists and her mom pushes the door open, frowning at them.

“Didn't you girls hear me?” her mom asks over the music. She scowls and turns the volume down before she looks between the two of them. “What’s wrong with you two?”

Waverly pushes off the bed, stumbling slightly. “Nothing,” she says brightly, her voice too high to be genuine. “I was just leaving.”

Nicole feels her body move, her arm lifting to reach after Waverly. “Wait, I-”

“I’m leaving,” Waverly repeats firmly. She wraps her arms around her middle and her eyes dart to Nicole’s mom nervously. She smiles at Nicole’s mom but it’s fake and polished. “Bye, Mrs. Haught.”

“Bye, honey. Tell Gus I said ‘hey,’ would you?” her mom asks, frowning after Waverly as she stomps down the stairs. They hear the door open and close gently. She turns to look at Nicole. “What’s wrong with her?”

Nicole swallows the lump in her throat and tries to ignore the voice in her head that tells her Waverly had the same look in her eyes as the night at Stephanie’s party; the panic and the regret .

“I don’t know,” she lies. She tries to ignore the burn in her eyes and gives her mom a tight, forced smile. “I thought you were working?”

Her mom sighs. “They cut me. I worked too many hours this week. Come downstairs. We’ll make Chicken á la King. I need some cheering up.”

Nicole nods. “Sure. I'll be right down.”

Her mom stares at her but eventually nods and starts back down the stairs. Nicole waits until she can hear her mom opening and closing drawers before she sits back down on her bed, staring at her hands.

She presses the palms of her hands against her eyes and tries not to keep picturing the regret on Waverly’s face.

 

 


"I Can't Hold Back" Survivor, 1984
Can you feel my tremble when we touch? Can you feel the hands of fate? Reaching out to both of us - this love affair can't wait.

Nicole avoids Waverly for a while. She still picks her up in the morning, but she doesn’t check the notes Waverly slides into her pockets. She avoids the second floor bathroom and risks it by using the bathroom near the gymnasium. She tells Gus that her mom needs her home early to help out with some around-the-house things and that she can’t drive Waverly home from The Patch on the nights she’s scheduled to close.

After the fifth day, Waverly gets into the car and slams the seat back into place. She doesn’t slide Nicole a note, she doesn’t speak a word, and when they get to school, she’s out of the car before Nicole even really has the thing parked.

At lunch, Nicole sits on one end of the table, talking to Wynonna if she’s there, or Xavier if she’s not. Waverly sits at the other end, pushing her sloppy Joe and peas around, and talking to Rosita or Chrissy.

After the ninth day, Chrissy loops her arm through Nicole’s, and tugs her away from the cafeteria as the second bell rings, signaling the start of the lunch period.

“It’s hamburger casserole day,” Nicole whines as Chrissy tightens her grip on Nicole’s arm.

Chrissy shrugs. “I brought Twinkies.”

Nicole thinks about it for a minute and nods. “That’ll do.”

Chrissy drags her through the empty halls and out a side door that leads back to the parking lot. She beelines for Nicole’s car, slipping into the passenger seat, and looking expectantly at the driver’s side until Nicole gets in. Chrissy keeps staring at her until Nicole sighs and fishes her keys out of her jacket pocket and turns the car on.

“This car is so flash,” Chrissy says decisively. “Like, totally bitchin’. Have I said that before? Even if it looks like split-pea soup.” She opens her small backpack and pulls out a tape. “Do you like Pat Benatar? It’s not her new one, but it has ‘Painted Desert’ on it and I love that song.” She doesn’t wait for Nicole to answer; she pulls Nicole’s tape - “Somewhere in Afrika” by Manfred Mann’s Earth Band - out and puts her own tape in.

“Chrissy,” Nicole tries as “Diamond Field” starts playing. “Why are we skipping lunch?”

“Because that table is a total minefield. I mean, it’s one wrong look away from exploding. And I need the 411 on you and Waverly.”

Nicole chokes on the air in her throat. “What do you mean, the 411?”

Chrissy rolls her eyes. “The details, of course.”

Nicole slowly turns down the volume and stares at Chrissy. “The details about what ?”

“You and Waverly and the kissing .”

Nicole cranks the heat down in the car. “W-what?”

Chrissy turns on the bench seat, tucking one leg underneath her, and resting her head against her elbow, up on the back of the seat. “Are you doing it? Do you want to do it? Does she want to do it?” She wiggles her eyebrows at Nicole. “There's been a lot of hearteyes lately.”

Nicole pulls at her jacket. “You-you don't know anything?”

Chrissy shrugs. “Not yet.”

“But you're Waverly’s best friend,” Nicole breathes out. And she didn't even tell her best friend , she thinks. That look on Waverly’s face looks more and more like regret every time Nicole imagines it.

“She's been spending all her time with you lately,” Chrissy says.

Now that she’s pushed Waverly away, there’s anger . Nicole has never been good at dealing with Waverly’s anger; she goes out of her way to avoid it. The pain of Waverly leaving her standing in her bedroom alone outweighs it all, though - the guilt she feels, the guilt she’s sure she saw on Waverly’s face, is worse than any anger Waverly throws at her.

Chrissy frowns at Nicole. “Okay, don't wig out. You don’t need to tell me.”

Nicole drops her head back against the headrest. “I can't betray her trust,” she mumbles.

Chrissy is quiet at that. “We Belong” fills the empty space between them. Nicole has to try hard not to sing along; Waverly loves this song. Nicole turns her head, still on the headrest, and Chrissy is frowning at her, sideways.

“Well, what about you ?” she finally asks.

Nicole snorts. “What about me?”

“Don't you need someone to talk to?” Chrissy asks, her voice soft. “You can't talk to Wynonna, obviously. And Waverly seems… complicated ?” Nicole snorts again. “So… who else do you have?”

Nicole frowns. “I don't know.”

Chrissy claps her hands. It's a sharp noise in such a small space. Her bangles clink against each other like applause. “You have me!” she declares.

Nicole groans and presses her forehead into the steering wheel. “Wicked,” she grumbles. She feels a hand on her back, rubbing small circles. She startles for a minute before relaxing into it; it’s not Waverly’s hand , she tries to remind herself.

“So tell me everything .”

Nicole shrugs. “Not much to tell.”

“You two are walking around like you’re hella upset about everything,” Chrissy argues. “There’s something to tell.”

“We kissed,” Nicole breathes out. She can’t keep this secret to herself any longer - not if she’s not talking to Waverly. She feels her shoulders drop, the tension fading. “Like, big time. A lot.” She can feel Waverly’s mouth brush against hers and she wipes at her bottom lip hastily, like the memory will fade. “A lot, a lot,” she breathes out.

“Was it the bombdiggity?” Chrissy’s eyes are wide in excitement.

Nicole feels her face flush and she can’t stop the small twitch of her lips.

Oh ,” Chrissy teases. “It was.”

Nicole’s smile fades. “Yeah,” she says flatly. “ Was .”

Chrissy rubs at her shoulder. “What happened?”

Nicole shrugs. “She doesn’t want to be with me.”

“Did she say that?”

“No,” Nicole admits. “But she doesn’t have to. My mom nearly caught us doing… something. And she panicked and she left and I just-” She swallows, a lump in her throat. “I don’t know if I can hear her tell me she doesn’t want me.”

“So you went full-spazz and avoided her,” Chrissy finishes.

Nicole shrugs. “Better than sure death.”

Chrissy reaches for her glove compartment slowly. “You have Tears for Fears in here, don’t you?”

Nicole ignores her. “It was the same look on her face at Stephanie’s party. She didn’t want me to be around. She was- She regretted it,” Nicole whispers, saying the words for the first time.

Chrissy’s hand lands on her knee, squeezing softly. “I’m sure it’s not like that. I mean, at Steph’s party, she was really upset when you left. We both tried to go after you, and then when you left, Waverly locked herself in Stephanie’s room for a while.”

“She-she did?”

Chrissy nods. Her voice is soft and serious when she starts speaking. “I think you need to give her a chance to explain herself?”

Nicole sighs and drops her forehead to the steering wheel again.

“Come on,” Chrissy prompts. “Let’s blow the rest of the day and go listen to all of the bunk tapes my dad has from, like, the 50’s.”

Nicole looks back at the school and imagines Waverly sitting at their lunch table, pushing her hamburger casserole around on her tray and smiling at Rosita. She bites her bottom lip and sighs. “Yeah. Okay,” she says, shifting the car into drive.

 

-

“You don’t have to keep sneakin’ out of my house like a common criminal,” a gruff voice says behind her.

Nicole pauses with her hand on the doorknob, her shoulders tight. She’s been at the Nedley’s after school every day for the last week, avoiding The Patch and alone time with Waverly. She lays on Chrissy’s bedroom floor and listens to Survivor and John Cougar and The Eagles until they hear the Sheriff’s truck pull into the driveway. Chrissy is nice enough not to mention Waverly’s name when Nicole wipes clumsily at her eyes during The Eagles’ “Best of My Love”. Every night, she slips down the stairs as he rummages through the kitchen and drives the long way home so she doesn’t go by The Patch.

“Why don’t you stay for dinner?” Sheriff Nedley continues.

Nicole turns around, but Nedley is already walking back into the kitchen. She looks helplessly at Chrissy, standing on the stairs, but Chrissy shrugs and follows after her dad. Nicole sighs.

It’s nearly six at night. Waverly will be in the middle of the dinner rush, smiling and waving at the regulars who come in just to see her. Nicole would be at the counter, giving Wynonna a hard time while she makes shakes and smiling at Waverly as she runs orders back to the kitchen.

Nedley is at the stove, sprinkling cheese onto a casserole. “Steak-Ums need a few more minutes.”

Chrissy groans. “Daddy, that stuff is gross. And your doctor told you to lay off it.” She pulls open the fridge. “Nicole, do you want Hi-C? Or lemonade?”

Nicole stands helplessly in the middle of the kitchen, gripping a sweaty glass of Hi-C until Nedley nods at a chair and tells her to sit down.

Chrissy makes faces at her over Steak-Um casserole and Nicole stares directly into her plate for nearly twenty minutes before Nedley burps.

“So, plannin’ on doing the lawns this summer?”

Nicole nearly drops her fork. “Yeah. I mean, yes, sir.” She’s got the Nedleys’ and the Millers’ and the Gibsons’, and Gus lets her cut the lawn just so she feels like she’s being helpful.

Nedley nods. “Going to college in the fall?”

Nicole shakes her head. She filled out the police academy application a few weeks ago, riding high on the confidence of Waverly’s tongue in her mouth, but it’s still sitting on her desk in her room, waiting to be put in the mail. “I’m thinking of going to the academy,” she admits. “To become a police officer.”

Nedley sits back in his chair, a small smile on his face.

“Does Waverly know that?” Chrissy asks, her voice confused.

Nicole flinches. “No.”

Chrissy stares at her for a few moments before she goes back to her dinner.

Nedley clears his throat, getting her attention. “Where do you think you wanna be placed?” he asks. “Big city?”

Nicole shrugs. “I just know I want to protect and serve. I love Purgatory. It’s my home. If the city is the only place offering, I guess I’ll go.”

Nedley nods knowingly. “Police work is a good thing to want to do.”

“I know I’m a woman-”

Nedley narrows his eyes. “What’s that go to do with it?”

Nicole shrugs helplessly. “I don’t know?”

He peers at her over the rim of his glass of water. “You’re a good kid, Haught. You always stop by to do the lawn without asking,  and you never run over my flowers.” He pauses. “Except one time. But you haven’t done it again.” He nods. “Yeah, tell you what. You go through the academy, you get high marks, and you come back here. I’ll save you a spot on the force, okay?”

Nicole swallows the mouthful of Hi-C she’s drinking, trying not to choke on it. “You’re- I mean, really ?”

Nedley nods seriously.

Nicole leaves the Nedleys’ house late, floating on air. She can do the academy, six months, and come back to Purgatory, back to-

Waverly , the voice in her head says traitorously. You can come back to Waverly .

Only, she thinks about the look in Waverly’s eyes that day. She thinks about Waverly ignoring her at the lunch table and in the hallways and in the car each morning on their way to school.

She’s not sure Waverly would want her to come back anymore, but God does she want Waverly to want her to.

Her car is parked in front of The Patch before she can change her mind. There’s still a half an hour till closing, but Nicole knows the diner is probably empty, the end of March chill keeping people at home. The bell above the door chimes loudly over Nicole’s heart pounding in her chest. This is a bad idea , she tells herself.

Waverly looks up from where she’s rewriting the specials board for the morning.

This is an awful idea , she thinks.

Survivor plays quietly from the corner.

This is the worst idea .

She dodges the small dirt piles on the floor, rounding the end of the counter.

What is you problem?” Waverly starts. “You-”

Nicole reaches for her, sliding one hand around the back of Waverly’s neck at the same time as she moves for Waverly’s waist, pulling her close. Her nose bumps against Waverly’s, but then their lips touch and Nicole feels her bravado melt as Waverly kisses back. She feels the specials board scratch across the counter and she hears it hit the ground with a clatter, but Waverly’s tongue brushes against her own and Nicole forgets everything around them.

“You,” she breathes out. She presses her forehead to Waverly’s. Her hands tremble as she runs her fingers across Waverly’s cheeks. “ You are my problem.”

Waverly smiles widely and kisses her again.

 

 


"Can't Fight This Feeling" REO Speedwagon, 1984
My life has been such a whirlwind since I saw you. I've been running around in circles in my mind. And it always seems that I'm following you, girl, 'cause you take me to the places that alone I'd never find.

Nicole frowns as Waverly slips around the front end of the car and slides inside. She drops her book bag into the passenger seat and gets comfortable in the middle of the bench.

“Wynonna is sick,” she says, her eyes on Nicole as she slowly pushes the driver’s seat upright. She pats the seat. “You don’t mind driving just me to school, do you?”

Nicole swallows heavily, looks up to the second floor windows of the McCready house, and takes a deep breath before she slips into the car.

Waverly is already loading REO Speedwagon into the cassette player as Nicole backs down the driveway. Waverly moves a little closer, their hips and knees pressed together. Nicole idles for a moment at the stop sign at the end of the street.

“Go right,” Waverly says. “Let’s take the long way.” Her fingertips drift across the inside of Nicole’s thigh. She looks at Nicole out of the corner of her eye, her mouth turned up at the edges. She winks at Nicole.

Her heart flutters wildly in her chest. She turns right, lifting her arm and draping it across Waverly’s shoulders. Waverly leans into her as she drives, her fingertips drawing shapes over the denim of Nicole’s jeans.

Nicole shivers despite the hot air blowing from the vents in the dashboard and Waverly pressed to her side.

She had spent the night before pressing soft kisses to Waverly’s mouth and chin and neck, breathing her in and holding her tightly. She had driven Waverly home, holding hands on the bench seat. She had kissed Waverly until the clock on the dashboard turned to 10:00pm and she knew Gus would come looking. They didn’t talk much - whispered “goodbyes” in between kisses - and Nicole had driven home excited, but confused.

“Pull over?” Waverly murmurs in her ear. Her breath is hot on Nicole’s neck.

Nicole gets through another stop sign before she puts on her blinker and pulls over to the curb. She puts the car in park and twists in her seat, grinning at Waverly. “Hey.”

“Hi,” Waverly says. She picks at the zipper on Nicole’s jacket, sliding it up and down. “You look really clutch in this jacket. Have I told you that?”

Nicole feels an unexpected rush of confidence shoot through her. “Not with your words,” she says quietly. She slides a hand along Waverly’s neck, fingering the loose strands of hair lingering there. “But you have with your eyes.”

Waverly’s face flushes a pretty shade of pink. “Oh,” she breathes out.

Nicole grins.

Waverly ducks her head a little, but when she looks up, she’s smiling. “Well, you do. Almost as good as I do when I wear it.”

Nicole’s mouth goes dry. She thinks back to Waverly on the front porch of the McCready house, pausing at the top step in her jacket, grinning at her. She nods, her movement jerky. “You do,” she agrees. Nicole’s hand moves into Waverly’s hair, slipping through the crimped strands. Her other hand brushes one of the buttons on Waverly’s denim jacket. “Did you have me pull over so you could tell me how good I look?”

Waverly grins. “No, I didn’t.” She leans in, pressing Nicole back against the car door, her mouth finding Nicole’s.

Nicole’s lips part quickly, letting Waverly’s tongue slide into her mouth. Waverly tastes like Aquafresh toothpaste and coffee, hot and minty. Her hands are cool under Nicole’s shirt, against her hips. She smiles against Nicole’s lips, nipping gently. Nicole whimpers softly and Waverly’s hands drift to the clasp of Nicole’s bra, fumbling.

“Wait,” Nicole pants, trying to pull back.

Waverly leans in again, magnetic, kissing her hard as she slides her hand to Nicole’s chest, squeezing softly. Nicole’s eyes close as she gasps into Waverly’s mouth.

She pulls back again. “Waves, wait.”

Waverly looks up at her, her eyes unfocused for a moment before she exhales shakily and blinks. “What’s wrong?”

“School,” Nicole murmurs. She kisses Waverly softly, unable to help herself.

“I hate school,” Waverly groans.

Nicole pulls back. She presses her hands to Waverly’s face, tilting her head up, narrowing her eyes. “Who are you and what have you done with my Waverly?”

Waverly rolls her eyes playfully. “I just…” She looks away. “I missed you,” she says quietly.

Nicole thumbs the top of Waverly’s cheek. “I missed you, too,” she admits.

“Fifteen days,” Waverly murmurs. “I hated it.”

“I’m sorry I stayed away so long,” Nicole whispers.

Waverly covers one of Nicole’s hands with her own. “We should talk.”

Nicole nods. “I know.”

“But not now, I guess,” Waverly says, looking at the clock on the dashboard.

Nicole kisses Waverly’s forehead. “Tonight?” she asks. “I can drive you home after you close The Patch.”

Waverly smiles softly. “For real?”

“For real,” Nicole promises.

Waverly’s smile widens. “Rad.”

Nicole rolls her eyes and untangles herself from Waverly, letting Waverly settle against her side again before she puts the car in drive. She drapes her arm along Waverly’s shoulders again.

Waverly lifts a hand and tangles her fingers in Nicole’s.

She doesn’t let go until they park the car.

 

-

Waverly closes The Patch five minutes before nine. Between the two of them, they get the closing list done in twenty-five minutes: sweeping, mopping, checking the bathrooms, writing the morning specials, cleaning the shake maker, refilling the salts and the sugars, restacking the jelly containers, and unplugging all the neon signs. Nicole’s hands shake as she shifts from one foot to the other on the sidewalk while she waits for Waverly to double-check the locks on the front door.

She’s been nervous all day.

She walked Waverly to her first class, their shoulders brushing as they moved through the halls. She had met Waverly in the second floor bathroom during third period, easing her nerves by kissing Waverly until neither of them could breathe. They had sat next to each other at lunch, thighs pressed together under the table. Waverly had scratched their initials into the denim covering Nicole’s thigh. It had taken her almost the whole lunch period to figure out Waverly was drawing a heart around the “NH” and “WE” she traced over and over. She had sat at the counter at The Patch all afternoon, working on her homework and catching Waverly’s eyes across the dining room.

She’s still nervous.

Her hand slips off the door handle when she tries to open the door for Waverly. She gets it on the second try and pulls it open hard enough for the hinges to groan in protest.

Nicole turns the car on and puts it in drive. REO Speedwagon is still playing, and Nicole taps her steering wheel in time to “Can’t Fight This Feeling” to distract herself from the look on Waverly’s face - her eyes narrowed in concentration, her bottom lip worrying between her teeth.

Nicole’s thoughts go from zero to bad .

Waverly is going to tell me this is done , she thinks. We don’t even know what this is yet. But she’s going to tell me it’s over. All those things today, the kissing and the touching. It’s all done. She’s going to tell me ‘no more kissing’. Nicole’s grip tightens on the steering wheel. Oh god, I am never going to get to kiss her again .

She pulls over too quickly. Waverly slides across the seat, catching herself on the dashboard. Nicole throws the car into park, her body stiff, anticipating the blow of rejection. Waverly opens her mouth.

“I think we should go out.”

“I think that’s a terrible idea,” Nicole says at the same time.

Waverly frowns. “What?”

“What?” Nicole echoes. She tips her head to one side. “Did-did you say we should go out?”

“You think it’s a bad idea?” Waverly’s eyes narrow.

Nicole shakes her head. “No. No.” She tugs at her shirt collar. “I thought you were going to say we couldn’t do this anymore.”

Waverly’s eyes soften. “You thought-”

“I thought you didn’t want this,” Nicole interrupts. “I thought you were going to tell me this ,” she says, moving her finger between them, “was done.”

Waverly reaches up and tucks a loose strand of hair behind Nicole’s ear. “Why would I do that?”

Nicole frowns. “Because you… You ran . When my mom came home early, you left, so fast. I thought…” she trails off.

“You thought what?” Waverly asks softly.

“That you were finally regretting this? Us ,” Nicole clarifies. “That you finally realized that maybe I wasn’t worth all this sneaking around.”

Waverly’s mouth opens slightly. “I don’t regret anything,” she says, her voice quickening. “I just got scared. We’ve never been caught, and-and we hadn’t even really talked, and I just couldn’t imagine having to answer all these questions about what we are in front of your mom, and-” She stops abruptly. “I got scared.”

Nicole exhales softly. “So you don’t-”

“I don’t regret anything ,” Waverly promises. Her hand is still in Nicole’s hair, twisting a strand around and around. “I can’t believe you thought that,” she says softly. Her fingers slide out of Nicole’s hair. “That’s why you ignored me for fifteen days.”

Nicole winces slightly. “I-”

“Pulled a disappearing act on me,” Waverly interrupts.

“Okay,” Nicole says. She puts her hand on Waverly’s cheek, pulling until their eyes meet. “Here’s the thing. You, like, couldn’t leave fast enough. And you would barely look at me, and I thought…” She breathes out slowly. “I just thought, if that was it, and you were done with me, I couldn’t-I couldn’t see you. I couldn’t handle that.”

Waverly sighs. “Nicole.”

“It made sense to me,” Nicole defends.

Waverly rolls her eyes, but there’s a softness in them that takes the sting out of it. “I’m sure it did,” she coos. “I just don’t know why you would think I would be… done with you.”

Nicole shrugs helplessly. “I’m not clutch or cool or anything, you know. I’m just me . And you’re…” She runs one finger along Waverly’s jaw. “You’re you .”

Waverly scoffs and looks away before she looks back at Nicole, unblinking. “You don’t even know how rad you are, do you?”

Nicole shrugs again, trying to force her hands into her jacket pockets.

Waverly grabs her hand and grips it tightly. “Nicole, you are .”

Nicole shifts uncomfortably. “Waves, you want this?” she asks quietly. “You want… me ?”

Waverly grips her hand tighter. “ Yes ,” she breathes out. “I-”

Nicole cuts her off, sliding across the bench seat until she’s pressed against Waverly. She reaches up and holds Waverly’s face in her hands. “Are you sure?” she asks, her heart hammering in her chest.

Waverly nods slowly. “I really like you,” she breathes out.

Nicole’s hands cup Waverly’s jaw. “I like you, too,” she whispers.

Waverly leans in to kiss her. Her nose bumps against Nicole’s before their lips touch, hesitantly, like she’s scared. Nicole kisses harder, needing something more ; something to ground her. She feels like she’s floating away.

I really like you , Waverly had said.

Nicole breaks the kiss. “Go out with me.”

Waverly grins widely. “Really?”

Nicole tries to press closer to Waverly, trying to show her how much she means this; how much it means to her. “Yes,” she whispers, her forehead resting against Waverly’s. “We can go wherever you want. Anywhere.”

She thinks of picking Waverly up from Shorty’s, hearing the music and the arcade games and thinking to herself, I could do that . Nicole thinks of renting skates, and spinning lazily around the rink, their hands laced together. She thinks of winning Waverly a stuffed animal, playing Tetris and skee-ball.

“Actually, let me take you out, okay? Saturday. Saturday night,” she continues. “I’ll plan it. You just need to show up.”

“For a date,” Waverly says.

Nicole grins. “A date.”

Waverly smiles brightly, the streetlight above them lighting up her face. “A date,” she breathes out. “Yes.”

 

-

Dude , what’s your deal?” Wynonna explodes.

Nicole flinches, the car jerking towards the right. “Wynonna,” Nicole says, her jaw tight. “Don’t do that.”

Wynonna shrugs unapologetically. “Unclench, then. You’re making me nervous.” She turns down Foreigner. “Seriously. You look like you’re one quick stop away from tossing your cookies.”

Nicole swallows heavily and wonders if she should say anything. They’re on their way back to school after ditching study hall to go see Doc, and she’s dying to tell someone that she’s going on a date . Except that it’s a date with Wynonna’s sister . Chrissy would be better, Nicole knows. Chrissy would squeal and be excited and offer to do her hair and probably try to pull a Breakfast Club and do her makeup or something.

“Oh god,” she mumbles to herself. “That means I’m Ally Sheedy.”

Wynonna frowns. “What?”

“Nothing,” Nicole says.

“You’re definitely Judd Nelson. Though, the red hair and-”

Nicole socks Wynonna in the arm. “If you say I’m Molly Ringwald, I swear I’ll kick you out of this moving car.”

Wynonna grins wickedly at her and shrugs. “Ginger is as ginger does.”

Nicole rolls her eyes and focuses back on the road. Wynonna is quiet for a few minutes, “Hot Blooded” filling the silence.

“No, but for reals. Your face is doing that serious thing it does sometimes.” Wynonna stares at her. “What’s the deal?”

Nicole shrugs. “It’s nothing.”

“You look the same way you do before Lucado gives us a test,” Wynonna continues. “And I’ve played ‘Hot Blooded’ three times and you haven’t even noticed. You’re singing along .”

Nicole frowns and then glares at Wynonna. “I hate this song.”

“I know! ” Wynonna shouts. “But you haven’t even noticed. What’s the beef?”

Keeping it in is killing her. Her nerves are shot and her stomach is rolling. She clenches her hands tight around the leather of her steering wheel and exhales through her nose. “I have a date,” she says in a single breath.

Wynonna frowns. “You have a what?”

“A date,” Nicole says a little more slowly. She feels the tension in her shoulders start to loosen.

“A date .” Wynonna claps her hands together once. “With who ?”

Nicole’s shoulders tighten again. “Uh, with, uh…” She shakes her head. “Somebody. A girl.”

Wynonna rolls her eyes. “I mean, duh. Unless one of the York boys has really managed to shake things up. Or, god, Dolls .”

Nicole makes a face. “Ew, no.”

Wynonna twists around, pulling one leg up underneath her body. Nicole groans when she realizes Wynonna isn’t even belted in. “So, who is it? Someone I know?”

Nicole shrugs one shoulder noncommittally.

Wynonna’s grin stretches across her face. “Oh my god . It’s ‘Perky Tits’, isn’t it? You got a date with Perky Tits Baker.”

“You really need to stop calling her that,” Nicole grumbles.

Wynonna rolls her eyes. “You sound like Waverly.”

Nicole’s heart presses against her ribcage, threatening to shatter it.

“But seriously, dude ,” Wynonna continues. “Look at you. I thought you were one more school dance away from joining the nuns at St. Christian’s.” She leans back against the passenger seat. “Perky Tits Baker. Damn, Nicole.” She straightens up. “Pussy Wagon is finally going to get some action,” she whispers reverenetly.

Nicole chokes on air as Wynonna pets the dashboard gently. She wants to tell Wynonna her car has already gotten plenty of action ; she’s slipped her hand under Waverly’s shirt in this car; she’s pressed Waverly back into the seat until neither of them could breathe; she’s stripped off her own shirt and laid Waverly down on this bench seat and stared into her eyes, the streetlight the only thing letting her see the curve of Waverly’s smile.

“It’s about damn time,” Wynonna declares. “Oh!” She reaches for her backpack on the floor of the passenger’s side and unzips it. She pulls out loose papers and chewed pens and half of a biology textbook Nicole thinks she remembers from freshman year. “ Righteous ,” she breathes out, her hand pulling out of the bag, clutching something. She thrusts it into Nicole’s face.

Nicole jerks her head around Wynonna’s hand, trying to keep the car steady.

“Here,” Wynonna says, still holding her hand in front of Nicole’s face.

Nicole pushes it out of the way as she gets to a stoplight near Main. Shorty’s is right down the block from here. “Move, Wynonna,” she grumbles.

“You need to take this,” Wynonna says decisively. “It’s the best wisdom I can offer you.”

“I don’t need any of your wisdom .”

“But you do need my Def Leppard ’Hysteria’ tape.” Wynonna’s hand uncurls and she’s holding the tape in front of Nicole’s face.

“Wynonna-”

“Not even,” Wynonna interrupts. “This tape right here, it’s the whole reason I lost my virginity,” she says proudly.

Nicole makes a face.

“I’m gifting this to you,” Wynonna says in a loud, dramatic voice. “May you also lose your virginity to Def Leppard’s title track. Or at least get your hands all over those perky tits.”

Nicole tries to push Wynonna away, but she slips the tape into Nicole’s pocket and zips it up before Nicole can get her hands off the steering wheel.

“I won’t take no for an answer. This is my duty , as your best friend, to make sure you have the single best date possible. And this tape is going to get your some major pu-”

“Wynonna!”

Wynonna grins widely. “Dude, I am stoked for you. I expect every single perky detail. You feel me?”

Nicole swallows heavily. “Sure, sure.” She tries not to think about Waverly sliding a hand across her thigh or Waverly pressing her lips in a neat line up Nicole’s neck. She tries not to think about Waverly looking up at her through her lashes, biting down on her bottom lip. She tries not to think about the warmth and weight of Waverly’s hand on her stomach as it moves up her body. She tries to remember that Wynonna is in her car, talking to her about losing her virginity, but all she can think about is Waverly Earp, smiling on her front porch. Just for her .

Wynonna claps her on her shoulder. “Choice.” She turns Foreigner back up and presses the fast forward button. “You are so going to get laid.”

Nicole presses harder on the gas pedal.

 

 


"Faithfully" Journey, 1983
I get the joy of rediscovering you. Oh, girl, you stand by me. I'm forever yours, faithfully.

“You wastoid ,” she breathes out, standing in front of her mirror. It’s only 5:00, and there’s still three hours until she’s supposed to pick Waverly up for their date.

Date , she thinks to herself, grinning in the mirror at her own reflection.

“There won’t be a date if you can’t find anything to wear,” she says aloud.

She tugs at her Rolling Stones shirt, the one with the ‘84 on the back, but it feels weird on her shoulders and it’s not right . She peels the shirt up and over her head and throws it onto the floor with the other fifteen shirts she’s tried on. Everything has been wrong so far. Sighing heavily, she shoves some hangers aside in her closet, her fingers skipping across something soft and warm.

She pulls the flannel out and holds it up. It’s blue and black patterned, and has a small pocket on the left side, and Nicole wonders if maybe it’s too much. She fishes a white short-sleeve shirt out of her dresser drawer and puts it on, sliding into the flannel. She stands in front of her mirror and takes a deep breath. Her hands edge the collar slightly, straightening it, and - yes , she thinks. This will work. She shrugs out of it again and lays it on her bed, rolling the sleeves up. She puts it back on, but it’s not right; the sleeves are uneven and just above her wrist. Every time she tries, it’s wrong. Either the sleeves are too bulky, all rolled up, or they’re uneven, or they’re too tight around her forearms, or it just doesn’t look right.

Her clock flashes 7:35 at her by the time she gets it right. The rolls are perfect half-inch sections and they fall right below her elbow. She smoothes the edges of the shirt out so they fall just right. She tucks and untucks and retucks her white shirt until it’s tight against her stomach, held in place with a belt she changes four times. She pulls on her Red Wings and ties them into three knots, tucking the extra string into the boot. She dusts off her jeans one last time and realizes, too late, that she hasn’t done anything with her hair.

“It’ll have to do,” she mumbles. She runs a hand through it, twisting a few strands back when they fall into her face, and shrugs at herself.

At the last second, as she’s leaving her room, she grabs the cassette Wynonna had pressed into her hand.

She puts on Asia’s self-titled cassette, just for noise; for something to drown out the way her heart is making as much clamor as a Mötley Crüe concert. The Def Leppard tape burns a hole in her pocket, right against her thigh.

May you also lose your virginity to Def Leppard’s title track”, Wynonna’s voice echoes in her mind.

She shakes her head sharply, trying to clear Wynonna from it. It’s a quick drive to the McCready house, but Nicole makes every effort to slow herself down. It’s just a date. It’s just like every other time they hang out.

Just a date , she repeats. She scoffs. “With Waverly Earp.”

She pulls into the driveway at 7:58 and looks one last time in the rearview mirror, finger-combing her hair back behind her ear. She shoves Def Leppard into the glove compartment. “One Step Closer” cues up and Nicole slides out of the car, leaving it running. The end of May still has some cooler nights and she’s got the heat on low. She reaches the bottom of the stairs at the same time as Waverly pushes through the screen door onto the porch.

She adjusts the black hat on her head. Her hair is long and loose tonight, curling over her shoulders and the collar of her black turtleneck. It nearly hides the straps of her pink corduroy jumper that travel down to her waist. Nicole can’t stop herself from letting her eyes move down the length of Waverly’s legs, hidden by black leggings that disappear into black boots.

“Wow,” Nicole breathes out.

Waverly slides a bangle up and down her arm, her eyes falling to the porch before they meet Nicole’s again. “You like it?”

Nicole takes a step up, her hand falling to Waverly’s waist and squeezing softly. “You look beautiful,” she says quietly.

Waverly smiles shyly and grabs for the end of Nicole’s shirt, rubbing the flannel between her fingertips. “You look aces,” she murmurs. She pulls again until Nicole has to take another step up so they’re standing on the porch.

Nicole smiles down at Waverly. “It’s just something I threw together.”

Waverly grins. “I like it a lot.”

A door open and shuts somewhere inside the house and Nicole startles.

Waverly rolls her eyes and moves down the stairs, grabbing for Nicole’s hand and tugging her towards the car. “Where are you taking me?” she asks.

Suddenly Shorty’s seems like a bad idea. It seems like not enough. But she doesn’t have any other ideas.

“You’ll see,” she says, sliding her fingers between Waverly’s. She pulls open her driver’s door and steps back a little to let Waverly slide into the car.

Waverly’s hands curl around her hips and she pushes up onto her tiptoes, pressing a kiss to Nicole’s cheek, right at the corner of her mouth. “I’m so excited,” she breathes out.

Nicole shudders. “Me, too,” she admits.

Waverly slides into the car, over towards the middle, and Nicole climbs in after her. Asia is still playing and Waverly wraps her arm through Nicole’s as she backs down the driveway, and Nicole feels something building, low in the pit of her stomach, threatening to explode.

The ride to Shorty’s is short and Waverly’s hands slide up and down her leg as she drives. She’s holding her breath when they pull into the parking lot. She parks under the large neon sign, Waverly’s face painted blue and pink. Nicole studies her carefully.

“This is okay?”

“This is perfect ,” Waverly says.

“I know Champ,” Nicole starts, her mouth twisting uncomfortably around the name. “I know he took you here, but-”

“Nicole,” Waverly interrupts. Her voice is low. Her hand slides further up Nicole’s leg until her thumb is brushing against Nicole’s hipbone. “This is perfect,” she repeats.

Nicole smiles widely. “Good,” she exhales.

She laces her fingers in Waverly’s as they move through the parked cars and into Shorty’s. It’s the best place in town on a Saturday night and it’s packed. No one sees them slip through the door and weave their way through the arcade crowd. Nicole feels Waverly’s hand tighten in hers. She stops short and turns around, pulling Waverly close to be heard over the ringing games, talking, and “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” playing over the speaker.

“Games? And then skating?” she half-shouts.

Waverly smiles and nods and tugs Nicole towards the last row of arcade games, stopping briefly at the token machine. Nicole fishes a few loose bills out of her wallet and exchanges them for tokens, a large S stamped on each side. Waverly doesn’t let Nicole pocket them, grabbing her hand again and tugging until they’re stopped in front of Tetris, her eyes bright.

“You can’t beat me,” Nicole says, already shaking her head.

Waverly tips her head to the side. “Maybe not. But do you think you can play if I’m here?”

Nicole scoffs. “Of course I can.” She bumps Waverly out of the way gently, smiling to take the sting out of it. She slides a token in. “I’ve done it a hundred times.” She has. Every high score she’s gotten has been with Waverly cheering her on.

A hand slides under the loose side of her flannel, across her hip to the small of her back. “I know,” Waverly breathes into her ear. “But I was never doing this before.” She slides her hand down, her fingertips under the waistband of Nicole’s jeans.

Nicole jumps and the joystick jerks in her hand the wrong way. “ Waverly ,” she hisses.

Waverly smirks and shrugs. “I thought you said you could play if I was standing here.”

“You’re not just standin’ here,” Nicole says, her eyes narrowed.

Waverly holds her hands up in surrender. “Okay, okay.”

Nicole stares at her for another moment before turning back to the game and sliding another token in. She rests her hand on the joystick and looks back at Waverly again before starting her game. She lands the first few Tetriminos where she wants them, thinking out the long game. The fifth Tetriminos falls slowly and Nicole moves the joystick precisely, lining up the right spot, when she feels Waverly’s body press into her side. A hand slips into her front pocket and Nicole flinches.

“Waves.”

“Hmm?” Waverly asks, her eyes on the screen.

Tetriminos slide down the screen, building up in haphazard piles with large gaps and Waverly’s hand stays where it is, warm in Nicole’s pocket. Nicole turns her head, scanning the arcade space, but no one is paying attention to Tetris, in the back corner. There’s a small crowd around Duck Hunt, everyone focused on the screen. Nicole turns back and presses her mouth to Waverly’s forehead.

“People can see,” she murmurs.

Waverly flinches a little, just enough for Nicole to feel it, but her hand stays where it is. “So?”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “So, quit feeling me up and let me show you how good I am at this game.”

Waverly opens her mouth to argue, but something catches her eye across the room and she looks back at Nicole excitedly. “Let’s play skee-ball.”

Nicole shrugs, already moving away from Tetris. The Tetriminos pile up and ‘Game Over’ flashes across the screen, but Nicole doesn’t notice; Waverly has her hand again and is dragging her through the crowd to the skee-ball, closer to the foosball table and the air hockey table everyone stays away from.

They’re three games in, a string of tickets spilling from the slot, when Waverly rolls a 50. She squeals loudly, jumping up and throwing her arms around Nicole’s neck. Nicole’s hands go to Waverly’s waist, holding her steady. She lifts one hand and pushes the brim of Waverly’s hat back, her eyes drifting to Waverly’s mouth. The sound of tickets spitting out of the machine shakes Nicole out of her head and she smiles sheepishly, letting Waverly go. She tugs at the collar of her flannel and winks at Waverly as she picks up a skee-ball and feeds the machine another token.

“You know,” Waverly says casually. “I think we’re only, like, a hundred tickets away from winning that teddy bear.” She points to a large brown stuffed bear behind the prize counter. It has an ugly pink bow tied around its neck. “You should win it for me.”

Nicole snorts. “And what? Carry it around all night?”

Waverly’s mouth turns down. “You have a car. We can-”

“Stick that thing in the trunk?” Nicole finishes. “Because there’s no way it’d fit in my backseat.”

Waverly sticks her tongue out at Nicole. “You’re no fun.”

“I’m aces ,” Nicole argues. She turns back to throw her next ball, but pauses, looking back at Waverly. Waverly doesn’t notice, staring longingly at the bear. Nicole sighs. She reaches for Waverly, hooking a finger over the top of Waverly’s jumper, right at her hip, and tugs her close, their legs bumping. “You want that bear.”

“No, I-”

Nicole tips her head to one side. “Waves.”

Waverly sighs. “I want the bear.”

“Okay.” Nicole nods sharply and turns, picking up a skee-ball. “Watch it.”

“What are you doing?” Waverly asks.

Nicole pauses, her arm in its backward motion. “I’m winning you that bear.”

It takes another ten tokens, but she slams her tickets, all 250 of them, onto the counter and leans down against it, smiling widely at Waverly.

“What do you want?” the boy behind the counter asks, his voice flat.

“The bear,” Nicole says, her eyes still on Waverly.

The boy sighs and sweeps her tickets into a box without even looking at them. He climbs a ladder and pulls the bear down, tossing it onto the counter. Nicole grabs it under one arm, reaching for Waverly with the other, and they make their way back out into the parking lot. Nicole pops the trunk and shoves the bear inside, rolling her eyes while Waverly fusses with its bow.

“Thank you,” Waverly says quietly as Nicole slams the trunk closed and leans back against the car.

Nicole crooks her finger at Waverly, beckoning her closer. The parking lot is empty and Waverly is lit up by the neon again, her face blue and pink. Nicole kisses the blue first, moving slowly from the top of Waverly’s cheekbone down to the corner of her mouth. Then she kisses up behind Waverly’s other ear, her throat tight as she hears Waverly sigh and whimper. Waverly’s hands are hot when she reaches up impatiently and pulls Nicole’s mouth to her own. They kiss for a few minutes, breathless, open-mouthed kisses that make Nicole’s stomach clench. She tries to slow down, dragging out each kiss until she can breathe again.

“Skating,” she pants.

Waverly groans.

Nicole shakes her head, forcing her hands away from the button on the back of Waverly’s jumper. “This is a date ,” she says, her voice slightly steadier. “Games and skating and-”

“Making out in your car,” Waverly finishes.

Nicole groans and lets her head drop back against her car. “Baby,” she tries.

Waverly looks up, her eyes wide.

Nicole panics, trying to pull the word out of the air between them. “I mean-”

“No,” Waverly cuts in. “I…” She smiles softly. “I like that.” She stretches up on her toes and presses a hard, bruising kiss to Nicole’s mouth. She straightens up, stepping back from Nicole and smoothing a hand down the front of her jumper. She readjusts her hat on her head. “Okay. Skating.”

Nicole takes a deep breath, trying to keep up. She nods shakily, pushing off her car. “Skating, totally.”

When they get back inside Shorty’s, they head straight for the counter, renting two pairs of skates. Nicole tries not to stare as Waverly slides her feet out of her boots and slips them into the brown skates. No one should look like that in red-wheeled skates , Nicole thinks as she pulls her pair on. She stands, adjusting to the feeling of being on skates, and then pushes across the floor slowly, stopping in front of the chair Waverly is in. She grins down at her.

“Ready?”

Waverly stands shakily, her feet moving back and forth before she straightens and takes a deep breath. “Uh…” Her arms flail for a second.

Nicole grabs her and holds her steady. “I got you.”

“Yeah?” Waverly asks, looking up at Nicole shyly.

Nicole feels her heart skip. “ Yeah ,” she breathes out.

Clutch ,” Waverly whispers back.

Nicole groans and throws her head back. “Okay, listen. Let’s go skate already.” She ducks her head. “You’re turning me into a space cadet.”

Waverly grins widely at her and puts a hand up. “I’m almost ready. Just…” She grips the collar of Nicole’s shirt, tugging her closer. Their skates bump. Nicole’s eyes flutter closed but instead of Waverly’s mouth on hers, she feels her flannel sliding off her shoulders and down her arms.

“What the-”

Waverly unrolls the sleeves of the flannel, the sleeves she spent hours on, and Nicole feels her stomach turn in agony. Waverly shakes them out and grabs the ends, looping them around her waist and tying them together in the front. Nicole blinks a few times, trying to figure out why there’s a lump in her throat all of the sudden. She swallows heavily past it. The pink of Waverly’s jumper and the blue of her flannel shouldn’t work, but Waverly only grins and Nicole feels a soft patter, patter in her chest as Waverly readjusts her hat, pushing it back slightly. She holds out a hand.

“Ready?”

Nicole swallows again, but that lump in her throat just won’t go away. “That's my flannel,” she manages to say. Her hand shakes a little as she grips Waverly’s, her palm a little sweaty as they slide against each other.

Waverly grins. “It looks good on me, doesn’t it?”

It shouldn’t, not really, but somehow, Waverly makes it look good.

“Are you cold?” Nicole asks, wondering if she should have brought her jacket so Waverly could wear it again.

Waverly shrugs. “No. I just like the way it feels.” She pushes close to Nicole, leaning up to her ear. “Like your arms are around me, even if they can’t be for real.”

Nicole’s stomach bottoms out.

They wait a second at the gate for a crowd to pass and then Waverly takes a deep breath, pushing onto the hardwood surface. Nicole follows, their arms tugging for just a second before she catches up. “In The Air Tonight” blows into her eardrums as they skate past the speaker setup. Waverly presses into her side and Nicole squeezes her hand tightly as they weave through the crowd.

“Oh!” Nicole breaks free, skating hard a few feet and then looking back at Waverly over her shoulder as she bangs out the drum solo in mid-air.

Waverly throws her head back and laughs.

Nicole keeps going, reaching again for Waverly’s hand as they weave through the skaters, doing her best Phil Collins impression. Waverly keeps laughing, her hair lit up by the sparkling lights.

Nicole opens her mouth to say something as the song changes. She hears the opening notes of “Faithfully,” and looks up for a moment as the people on the rink start to thin out and the arcade crowd swells.

Waverly slows down a little, her eyes darting to the gate. Nicole bites her lip, swallows her fear, and readjusts her grip on Waverly’s hand.

“It’s a date,” she reminds Waverly.

Steve Perry croons through scratchy speakers and their hands swing between their bodies. Nicole looks at Waverly, at her profile in the colored lights bouncing off the disco ball above them, and she knows she’s in love.

She’s going to do the academy and she’s going to take Sheriff Nedley up on his offer; she’s going to come back for Waverly.

When they circle towards the shadowy corner of the rink, Nicole nudges Waverly off track and back against the rink side. Their skates knock together dully. “Hey,” she murmurs, her nose brushing against Waverly’s.

“Hi,” Waverly breathes out.

“I’m going to kiss you,” Nicole warns.

Waverly pushes up against her, her fingers in Nicole’s beltloops, and kisses her first.

“Right down the line ,” the song plays. “ It’s been you and me .”

Someone skates by and whoops behind them and Nicole pulls back, her face burning with embarrassment. Waverly kisses her again, quickly, and pushes off the wall. Nicole turns around and leans back against it for a moment, grinning when Waverly looks back over her shoulder for her. She pushes off the wall and accelerates, twisting around to skate backwards as she catches up to Waverly.

“W-what are you doing?”

Nicole grins. “Skating?”

One of Waverly’s skates slips and she loses her balance for a second before she rights herself. “But you’re backwards?”

Nicole shrugs. “Nathan wasn’t the worst brother growing up. The summer before you guys moved onto Homestead? He learned how to skate so he could impress Wendy Pelletier, but she moved to the States and he decided he’d teach me everything he learned instead.” She pushes back a few more feet, skating slowly to let Waverly catch up. She reaches out, and when she has Waverly’s hand, she pulls her in.

Waverly’s arms go tight around her waist and the footing is tricky, but Nicole manages to keep moving backwards.

“Remind me to thank him,” Waverly says quietly.

“For sure,” Nicole breathes out.

I’m forever yours , faithfully ,” the speakers scratch.

Waverly looks up at Nicole, her eyes wide and bright and changing colors as they move around the rink.

“Through space and time, always another show ,” the song continues.

Nicole breathes out the next line. “ Wonderin’ where I am, lost without you .”

They move slowly backwards through the crowd, staring at each other until Nicole feels like she can’t breathe under the weight of everything she’s trying to say. The song fades out and Waverly is singing, softly enough that Nicole can’t hear it until the last note ends, and then she’s biting her bottom lip nervously.

“Do you… Do you want to get out of here?” she asks, her voice a whisper.

Nicole nods, her throat too raw to speak.

Waverly’s arms uncurl from around her waist and her fingers lace with Nicole’s, pulling her off the rink and back to the counter. They exchange their skates and slide back into their shoes. Nicole’s hands shake and she fumbles with the knot three times before she gets it.

The air outside is cold after being in the rink, and Nicole’s bare arms explode into goosebumps. She runs a shaking hand up and down her other arm, trying to warm it. She should just ask for her flannel back, but Waverly still has it tied around her waist, hugging it close to her body, and Nicole doesn't want to ruin it; this image of Waverly moving through cars, backlit by blue and pink, in her flannel.

Waverly slips into the car and Nicole slides in after her, turning it on and cranking the heat. Waverly’s body is shaking and she wills the car to warm up quicker as she pulls out of Shorty’s parking lot. Asia is still playing, but Nicole can barely hear it over the thudding of her heart and the roar of her pulse in her ears.

“Where are we going?” she asks quietly.

Waverly’s hand picks at the denim covering her knee. “You choose,” she says, her voice just as quiet.

Nicole nods a few times and then pulls a u-turn in the middle of the street, her headlights cutting across lawns. Waverly giggles softly and Nicole grins widely. She rights the car and hits the gas, just to settle the lurching in her stomach.

Waverly twists the knob on the radio and sighs. “Do you have any new cassettes?”

She can hear Wynonna’s voice in the back of her head again and she nods shakily towards the glove compartment. “I have Def Leppard?”

Waverly shrugs. “Sure.” She stretches towards the glove compartment and cool air rushes into the space between them. She leans back into Nicole and ejects the Asia tape, sliding Def Leppard in. She makes a small face as “Women” starts, the electric guitar whining softly, but she stays pressed against Nicole’s side.

Nicole cuts across Main Street, past The Patch, her car bouncing slightly as they go over potholes and sewers. Def Leppard keeps playing, “Women” going into “Rocket”. She stays on Rt. 81 as it heads out of town, but peels off to the right before she gets to the town limit. Her heart beats rapidly in her chest and she slows the car down as the asphalt turns to dirt, sewer caps replaced by rocks. Waverly grips her leg a little tighter and Nicole knows she knows where they’re going.

They get closer to the clearing and Nicole slows down even more, the car inching through the overgrown trees until they reach the clearing. It’s still early on Saturday night, and the ledge is empty for now. Her headlights hit a crudely marked sign that reads ‘Lover’s Lane,’ and Nicole feels herself shiver.

She’s heard stories of Lover’s Lane. Wynonna has told her about coming up here with Doc; things Nicole wishes she had never heard. Nicole has never been up here herself, though; she only knows where it is because of Nathan - more things she wishes she didn’t know. Waverly’s breath catches, but Nicole barely hears it over Joe Elliot’s voice. She’s sure Waverly has never been up here either.

It makes her panic, for a minute, just like it did back at Shorty’s. She pumps the brake a little too hard. “Is this-”

“Yes,” Waverly interrupts.

Nicole nods and parks the car at the far end of the clearing, away from the entrance, angling it so her headlights point out into the darkness. “Love Bites” starts up, echoing in the speakers. She can see the lights of Purgatory from here, a sweeping brush of neon and streetlights. She stares for a minute, trying to figure out where The Patch is, the post office, Shorty’s. When she looks back, Waverly is staring at her, her lips parted and her eyes dark.

There’s a knot in Nicole’s stomach as Waverly’s tongue darts out, wetting her bottom lip. When she leans in to kiss Waverly, the knot tightens into something nearly painful. It makes her jerk, and she knocks Waverly’s hat to the floor of the car.

Waverly gasps softly and her hands slide into Nicole’s hair, pulling her close and digging her fingernails into Nicole’s neck. Waverly kisses her hard, each press of their lips pulling more air out of Nicole’s lungs. She tries to find somewhere to put her hands, but she wants to touch everywhere . She slides them along Waverly’s sides, up her neck, into her hair. She runs her fingers across Waverly’s cheeks and jawbone, holding her face gently. Waverly nips at her bottom lip and slides her tongue across it, into Nicole’s mouth and around the back of her teeth.

She pulls back slightly and Nicole tries to follow. Waverly smiles into the kiss, sliding back on the bench seat. Nicole tries to twist, but the steering wheel gets in the way and she hisses as it cuts into her abdomen. She can feel Waverly’s hand fall away from her neck and then there’s a sharp smack of leather hitting leather as the passenger seat folds in two. Nicole pulls back, her mouth hanging open slightly as she pants, trying to catch her breath.

Waverly’s eyes are still dark and she pushes a lock of hair behind her ear.

“You-”

“Yes,” Waverly says quickly.

Nicole smiles crookedly. “Waves, let me-”

“You don’t need to,” Waverly interrupts again.

Nicole smoothes her fingers across Waverly’s cheek, thumbing her bottom lip. “Baby,” she says slowly. Waverly’s eyes flash. “We don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do.”

Waverly is quiet for a moment and Nicole can almost see her counting to five in her head before she opens her mouth. “I want to,” she exhales. “I want to get in the backseat with you. And if we… If it feels good , I want to.”

Nicole feels the knot in her stomach start to build again. “But we don’t have to,” she says again, feeling like she needs to make Waverly understand that she drove them up to Lover’s Lane without that expectation.

Waverly ignores her, twisting neatly and sliding over the folded seat into the back. She scoots to the far side and pats the empty space next to her. “Come here. Please ,” she says quietly when Nicole hesitates.

Slowly, Nicole slides along the front bench and climbs into the back, less than gracefully. Waverly smiles softly at her and Nicole swallows heavily.

Love me like a bomb, bomb,” the tape deck whispers as “Pour Some Sugar On Me” starts.

“I know,” Waverly says, her voice still low. “I know you didn’t bring me up here for that.” She slides a hand over Nicole’s shoulders, walking her fingers across Nicole’s neck. “I want to kiss you. Anything else that happens…” She pauses. “It’ll be because we want it to.”

Nicole nods. “Okay,” she breathes out. She doesn’t lean back in yet, wanting Waverly to set the pace, but her eyes slip closed as Waverly presses her fingertips into the back of her head. “Okay,” she says again.

Waverly pulls her head down and kisses Nicole softly, first her bottom lip and then her top, until Nicole feels her body relaxing into Waverly’s hold. Waverly’s fingers walk down her neck and over the front of her shirt, skipping over her chest and pulling at the bottom of the shirt until it comes loose from her jeans. Her hands are hot against Nicole’s skin, but Nicole presses into the heat, her tongue pushing at the seam of Waverly’s lips. Waverly’s hands move to the small of her back, pulling her closer until there’s nowhere to go but down, Waverly stretching out beneath Nicole, laid across the back seat.

Nicole’s hand slips up the length of Waverly’s side, her fingers already familiar with the dips and curves. She brushes her thumb against the cotton of Waverly’s bra, swallowing the gasp Waverly lets out. She can feel Waverly’s body arching up into her own, their hips and legs and stomachs pressed together and on fire.

Waverly whimpers and her hands tighten on Nicole’s back, trying to pull her closer. Nicole kisses the corner of Waverly’s mouth, moving to press a line of kisses towards the hollow of her throat before she remembers Waverly is wearing a turtleneck. Nicole leans back, pressing one palm flat against the seat to hold herself up, and pushes at fabric she can't quite figure out.

Waverly laughs softly and leans up on her elbows.

“I don't-” Nicole starts and stops. “If you don’t-”

“You need to unzip it,” Waverly says, her chest rising and falling heavily. She unties the flannel from around her waist and drops it down. “Can you reach it?”

Nicole works her other hand between the seat and the small of Waverly’s back, fumbling before she finds a zipper. She tugs it down clumsily, enough that Waverly can shimmy a shoulder out of the strap. Nicole finds the bottom hem of her turtleneck and pushes it up until Waverly can pull it up and over her head. It's all elbows and grunts and Nicole can't see anything until the turtleneck is somewhere in the front, and then all Nicole can see is the smooth expanse of Waverly’s stomach and the white cotton bra she’s wearing and the spot where her hip bone dips beneath the top of her jumper.

Wow ,” she breathes out, dipping her head down to kiss Waverly’s stomach, just above her jumper. She kisses up Waverly’s torso, between her breasts and up to her collarbone. She sucks hard until she feels Waverly squirming under her, grabbing at her shoulders and arching up into her.

Waverly slides her hands into Nicole’s hair and pulls until their mouths meet, an urgency in their kisses.

She can hear the tape skipping before it scratches and the first notes of “Run Riot” start.

Nicole can feel Waverly’s hips under hers, lifting and pressing and searching for something. She clumsily slips her hand under Waverly, fumbling with the clasp on her bra before it releases. The straps loosen against Waverly’s skin, but before Nicole can slip the bra off her shoulder, Waverly is pushing at hers.

“Take this off,” Waverly says, her voice strained. She fists Nicole’s white t-shirt in her hand, creasing it. Nicole lets Waverly pull it up under her arms and then over her head. She feels Waverly’s hands on her face, tucking flyaway hairs behind her ear, and then Waverly is kissing her again. Her bra comes loose, Waverly’s fingers dancing across her back, sliding the straps down off Nicole’s arms until it’s somewhere in the car and Waverly’s hands cover her breasts, thumbs sliding against her nipples. She gasps into Waverly’s mouth and her arms give. She can feel the rough corduroy of Waverly’s outfit scratching against her skin and the rough tips of Waverly’s fingers.

Nicole pulls down Waverly’s bra, her mouth dropping to the top of Waverly’s breast, kissing her way down, over the curve of her skin. Her hips are moving now, matching Waverly’s, and Nicole feels like she’s burning up from the inside out; Waverly feels like the only thing that will make it better. She twists her hips just enough to drop her leg between Waverly’s and Waverly groans, low and breathless, into her mouth, a hand moving to Nicole’s hips, trying to pull her closer.

Nicole leans back instead, onto her knees, her bare shoulders rubbing against the top of the car. The windows are fogged and she can’t see through them into the darkness of Lover’s Lane. She tries to catch her breath, but her entire body is working against her, each part of her trying to get back to Waverly. Nicole rests her hands on Waverly's hips, over the pink corduroy, and she pauses, looking at Waverly for direction.

Waverly takes a deep breath and nods once, lifting her hips so Nicole can work the corduroy jumper down Waverly’s body. She growls in frustration when she gets to her boots and the jumper catches, but she tugs once and the boots slide off easily. Nicole throws the jumper forward, into the darkness of the front seat, and looks back down at Waverly.

She tries to remember how to be cool, but Waverly Earp is nearly naked, laying down in front of her, eyes wide and dark and her lips swollen from kisses and her fingers twisting in the belt loop of Nicole’s jeans - Nicole finds it a little hard to try and be smooth right now. Instead, she slides a shaking finger from Waverly’s collarbone down to the top of her black leggings, her finger tripping over the bunched up fabric.

“Waverly,” she manages to say, her voice breaking halfway through. “I-”

Love you, her mind finishes. Want to come home to you . Want to spend the rest of my life with you .

“Are you sure?” she asks instead.

Waverly pushes up onto her elbows and her bra strap slides again. She takes it off and drops it to the floor and looks up at Nicole, her eyes unblinking.

Yes ,” Waverly breathes out.

She doesn’t seem to breathe after that, as Nicole’s fingers catch in the fabric of her leggings and pull slowly, over her hips and thighs and down to her knees and off her feet until she’s in nothing but her underwear. Nicole’s finger traces the line of them, from the inside of Waverly’s thigh to her hip bone. Waverly shudders and Nicole falls, hovering over Waverly’s body, pressing hot kisses everywhere she can. Waverly breathes hard in Nicole’s ear, whimpering when Nicole’s tongue swirls around her breast and down to her bellybutton. Waverly’s hips rise and fall to a rhythm Nicole matches quickly, thighs clenching around her leg. Waverly’s hands are in her hair, holding her close, and then they’re gone, pulling at Nicole’s belt.

Nicole pushes up, her palms flat against the bench seat again. Her arms shake as Waverly’s fingers fumble over her belt, pulling and twisting the buckle until it gives. Nicole’s hair falls around her face as she watches Waverly work, undoing her button, sliding down her zipper. Waverly’s hands are cold against her overheated skin as she works Nicole’s jeans down over her hips, past her thighs to her knees. Nicole’s arms give and she toes off one Red Wing, kicking her leg until her jeans fall off one foot and then she slips her leg back between Waverly’s, their bodies finally coming together with nearly nothing between them.

They both groan and Nicole kisses Waverly, deep and slow and trying to say everything she can’t get past the lump in her throat. Their tongues brush and Nicole’s body reacts, her hips pushing down. There’s a friction there she is instantly addicted to. She moves her hips again, a slow roll forward, and Waverly’s head falls back, her neck exposed. Nicole bites gently at her pulse point, pressing quick, wet kisses over the soft bite. Waverly’s hand runs up and down her back, slipping past the elastic of her underwear and skating across skin no one has touched before. She feels that knot in her stomach again, twisting hard, and she angles her hips down, trying to relieve the pressure.

Waverly hooks one leg around the back of Nicole’s thigh and they both freeze, pressed together in a whole new way. Nicole doesn’t breathe, afraid to shatter whatever is building between them. Waverly inhales slowly, her chest filling until it presses against Nicole’s, and then she lifts her head, kissing Nicole messily before she rolls her hips and everything starts to fall apart.

Her hand shakes as it slides between their bodies, past thin lace, and into a heat she’s never felt before. She feels too clumsy to be touching something so delicate, but Waverly whimpers and presses harder against her. Nicole’s fingers slip and Waverly gasps, her whole body tense.

Please ,” she whispers, her fingernails sharp against Nicole’s back. Waverly’s head is thrown back again and Nicole bites at her earlobe, at her neck, at her collarbone, as she presses further into Waverly, feeling the whole world tighten around her. She moves slowly, trying to find a rhythm over the beating in her heart and “Hysteria” playing in the background. Waverly’s hips shudder against her hand, their beats out of sync for a moment before Nicole angles her wrist and matches Waverly. The heel pressed into Nicole’s leg pushes harder, pulling Nicole closer.

She stays in that moment, trying to remember everything: the line of Waverly’s neck, the swell of her breasts pressed against Nicole’s chest, the pressure at her fingertips that fades with each thrust. Waverly pants, Nicole’s name slipping past her lips, breaking in the middle. Her nails dig into Nicole’s skin hard enough to bruise. Her hips lift off the seat, higher and higher until she’s whimpering in Nicole’s ear and her whole body is tight, pulled back and ready to explode.

There’s a quiet moment where Nicole can hear nothing but the sound of her own breathing and Joe Elliot singing “ can’t stop this fire,” and then Waverly cries out, her body collapsing around Nicole’s hand.

“I’ve got you, baby. I got you,” Nicole whispers, pressing soft kisses to Waverly’s face, her mouth clumsy around the words. “Breathe, baby.”

Waverly’s eyes flutter closed for a moment, but when she opens them, she flushes and turns her head into Nicole’s neck. “I-” She giggles. “Oh my god ,” she breathes out. “That was…”

Nicole grins down at her, her arm shaking as she leans on it. “Yeah,” she agrees, breathless.

Waverly’s hair is everywhere, spread out across the seat like a halo. She looks like the closest thing Nicole has ever seen to an angel. She’s so caught up in her thought that she doesn’t feel Waverly leaning up towards her until Waverly is kissing her, her tongue hot in Nicole’s suddenly cool mouth.

“I want to make you feel like that,” Waverly whispers against her lips. Her fingers ghost a cold line down Nicole’s body, her thumb slipping under the elastic of Nicole’s underwear. “Please?”

Nicole nods shakily. Her whole world spins as Waverly’s hand strokes her thigh, squeezing gently. Nicole shudders and her body jerks, pressing into Waverly’s hips. Waverly hisses softly, but when Nicole opens her mouth to ask if she’s okay, Waverly shakes her head.

“...Sensitive,” she mumbles. “It’s good , though.”

Nicole waits a second longer, but Waverly kisses her again and her eyes slide closed without permission. She can feel the knot in her stomach threatening to explode up and out of her chest, and Waverly must sense it. Her eyes catch Nicole’s and her hand slides down until there’s nothing between them.

Nicole hisses at the unfamiliar sensation, but her body adjusts and her hips move before she can tell herself what to do. Waverly’s face is serious, her eyes and her mouth drawn in concentration, and Nicole pulls at Waverly’s chin, kissing her until the lines in her forehead smooth.

“Don’t think,” she pants against Waverly’s ear. “Just… Just,” she tries again.

“Nicole,” Waverly breathes out. She licks her way into Nicole’s mouth.

Nicole can feel the muscles of Waverly’s arm moving against her stomach and she inhales sharply, her hips rolling towards Waverly’s hand. Waverly hits a spot every few thrusts that quickens something inside of her, and the knot grows and grows until Nicole is winding her fingers through Waverly’s hair just to have something to make her feel like she won’t float away. She feels like she’s walking on a wire that’s being stretched out beneath her feet, drawn as tight as it can be, and then she’s flying. Something snaps, low in the pit of her stomach, and the knot loosens in a long, languid breath.

She drops her head back against the back of the seat and tries to catch her breath. Waverly kisses a lazy line up her throat, sucking at the soft skin under Nicole’s chin until Nicole shudders and blindly nudges Waverly away.

Waverly strokes a single finger along Nicole’s arm. “Was that… Was it okay?”

Nicole opens one eye and then the other, her breathing a little easier now. She kisses Waverly instead, trying to tell her I’m okay and it was perfect and this is the best night of my life, but afraid the words won’t come out the right way. She kisses Waverly and tries to tell her that it was more than okay; it was everything .

Waverly sits up a little, her shoulder pressing into Nicole’s as she reaches blindly for the floorboards. She pulls something up and smiles widely as she realizes it’s what she was looking for. She pulls Nicole’s flannel around her body, pushing the unrolled sleeves up her arms only to have them slip back down. She lays back down, pulling Nicole’s head down onto her chest. Nicole draws lazy circles on Waverly’s stomach.

I love you is on the tip of her tongue but Nicole swallows it down and breathes Waverly in.

Best night of my life , she thinks again.

 

 


"Don't You (Forget About Me)" Simple Minds, 1985
Slow change may pull us apart when the light gets into your heart, baby. Don't you forget about me - don't, don't, don't, don't.

It’s late by the time they sneak up the creaky porch steps of the McCready house.

They had laid in the back of Nicole’s car until Def Leppard had gone quiet, and then a little longer, Waverly’s fingers writing words and sentences across Nicole’s bare arms and legs while they talked and kissed until another car swung into the clearing, headlights cutting through her car. Waverly had shimmied back into her leggings and left her turtleneck on the floorboards, just buttoning up Nicole’s flannel instead. They had laughed as they tried to get Nicole’s jeans back on and eventually she gave up, leaving her fly undone and her belt hanging loose and just pulling her white shirt over her head. She drove back into Purgatory in her socks, Waverly under her arm, peppering kisses to her cheek at every stop sign.

Nicole is still shoeless when they climb the porch steps, skipping the third one to avoid the rickety, groaning wood. Waverly’s boots are heavy in the kind of silence that belongs to one o’clock in the morning, and Nicole shushes her as she pushes her against the railing, kissing her before she can argue back.

Waverly breaks the kiss, poking Nicole in the chest. “You’re the one making noise,” she hisses.

Nicole rolls her eyes, but smiles. “Sure,” she teases. “You’re something else, you know that?”

Waverly’s hand slides down Nicole’s chest, tugging at her already-loose belt. “I know you think you’re really clutch right now, but I have news for you. You’re not.”

“Oh, really?” Nicole asks, leaning down to press her forehead to Waverly’s.

“Really,” Waverly insists, her smile wide.

Nicole kisses her, their teeth clacking until their smiles fade and they’re pulling at each other. Nicole slides her hand into Waverly’s hair and Waverly’s hands slip under the hem of Nicole’s t-shirt. Every touch is electric, and Nicole feels her body sparking. She reaches blindly for the railing, pressing Waverly back against it as she kisses her.

She’s pressing one leg between Waverly’s and sliding her hands over the knotted flannel at Waverly’s waist when the porch light comes on at the same time as the screen door bangs open.

“What the fuck , dude,” Wynonna growls.

Waverly squeals and pushes Nicole back. Her socked feet slide on the soft wood and she stumbles for a second before she finds her balance. Waverly is pressed against the side of the house and Wynonna is glaring, looking back and forth between the two of them, her eyes narrowed and angry.

“That’s my sister ,” she says to Nicole. “You and-and my sister ?”

Nicole looks at Waverly for help as Wynonna takes a heavy step in her direction, her hands clenched into fists. But Waverly is staring at Wynonna and her shoulders are turning in, and when she looks at Nicole, her eyes are empty.

“I can’t,” Waverly starts. “I shouldn’t have...”

She pulls open the screen door and runs into the house, and for the first time since Waverly pulled her into that backseat, Nicole feels the cool May night air settle around her.

“You had a date tonight,” Wynonna continues. “I let you borrow my Def Leppard tape for your date so you could-” She stops and looks up, shaking her head. Nicole can see her trying to put the pieces together and something about the look on her face makes Nicole take a step back. “You listened to my Def Leppard tape on your date with my sister ,” she hisses.

“Wynonna, I can explain,” Nicole tries.

Her hands are out in front of her, held high in surrender. It’s why she doesn’t see when Wynonna pulls back and swings, her fist crashing hard into Nicole’s mouth. The taste of Waverly is instantly replaced with the coppery taste of blood as her lip splits under the force of Wynonna’s fist.

It knocks her off balance and her socked feet slide again. This time, she slips off the porch and her heel lands heavily on the next step down, the shock echoing up into her knees. Wynonna storms towards her and Nicole scrambles back, tripping over the stairs and then the sidewalk. Wynonna follows her down the stairs and Nicole grabs for the driver’s door, wrenching it open and putting it between her and Wynonna.

“Wynonna, it’s not-”

“Get bent before I snuff you,” Wynonna spits. She pulls back her foot like she’s going to knock out one of Nicole’s headlights.

Nicole fumbles with the keys, but turns the car on and backs down the driveway, her door banging closed and nearly catching her pant leg in the latch. Her gears grind as she shoves the shifter into drive too quickly. Her feet slide on the pedals without the grip from her shoes. She looks up towards the McCready house, but there’s no light on in Waverly’s bedroom and Wynonna is stalking down the driveway, so Nicole slams her foot down on the gas and feels her car lurch.

She drives home with her eyes burning and her chin slick with blood. Her car weaves side to side dangerously on the road and she parks crookedly in the driveway. Somehow, she makes it into the kitchen and up the stairs, but by the time she makes it to her bed, her vision is blurred with hot tears and her jeans at nearly at her ankles. She pulls them off and throws them against the wall, ignoring the sound of the belt catching in the plaster. She pulls her shirt off, and then her bra and underwear, each of them covered in Waverly’s smell and Waverly’s touch.

“I can’t,” Waverly had said. “I shouldn’t have.. .”

She pulls on a new pair of underwear and an old t-shirt and stands in front of her mirror, pressing a clean sock to her lip to try and stop the bleeding. She peels it off her mouth and winces in the mirror; there’s no way she can hide that. If Wynonna had at least aimed up, a black eye could be explained away. She slips out into the hall and across it into the bathroom, wetting the sock and rinsing out the old blood.

“I shouldn’t have.. .”

Nicole lays down in bed with a wet sock pressed to her mouth and the memory of Waverly’s body pressed to her own. Her body aches - before, the ache was good and right, but now it just feels wrong and uncomfortable.

“I shouldn’t have...

She turns her face into her pillow, the sock still pressed to her mouth, and she feels her body shudder as she tries to hold in her tears. She tries to remember skating and skee-ball and Tetris, and kissing in shadowy corners and kissing in her car and kissing on the front porch of the McCready house.

All she can remember is Waverly’s voice, over and over again, on a loop: “I shouldn’t have.. .”

Nicole eventually falls asleep, clutching her pillow tightly to her chest, and she wakes up with a bloody sock in her mouth and tear stains on her pillowcase.

 

-

On Monday morning, Nicole doesn’t turn down Homestead Ave.

She had finally dragged herself out of bed on Sunday morning, just before noon, and down the stairs. Her mom had demanded to know what happened to her lip, but Nicole had silently shook her head and refused to tell her, and eventually, her mom dropped it. She barely ate anything, each breath pulling the soft skin of her lip apart. Her mom stared at her across the kitchen table, a hundred questions in her eyes, but she let Nicole go to bed early, pressing a kiss to her forehead.

On Monday morning, Nicole slides into her car and feels like her lip is being split all over again.

Waverly’s hat and jumper are scattered across the front seat. She fishes her Red Wings out from under the passenger seat. Her hand brushes against something else, and she panics until she remembers its Waverly’s turtleneck.

She turns the car on and the Def Leppard tape clicks loudly in the deck until Nicole hits the eject button and grabs the tape, throwing it hard across the car. She puts her shoes on the front seat and drives to school in socks, hardly focusing on the road. She pulls into the parking lot on autopilot and pulls her shoes on, lacing them loosely. Her jeans aren’t rolled right and one of them is too high. She doesn’t realize she’s not wearing her jacket until a warm hand grabs at her bare arm.

“Jesus, Nicole,” Chrissy says. “You’re like, in a fog. I called your name ten times. What’re you wearing .”

Nicole looks down at her shirt, not seeing it for a moment. Then she realizes she’s in her 1976 Queen Tour t-shirt that she cut the sleeves off and a pair of jeans she didn’t put on right and the laces of her Red Wings are dragging through the dew of the grass.

“That shirt is grody . Have you even ever washed it?” Chrissy continues.

She sucks in a shaky breath and looks up at Chrissy, running her hand through her hair.

“Yikes,” Chrissy hisses. “What happened?”

She thumbs at Nicole’s chin. Nicole flinches and turns away.

“I’m fine,” Nicole says, her voice hoarse. She hasn’t said anything since “ Wynonna, it’s not- ” and her throat is raw.

“You look like someone punched you in the face,” Chrissy says flatly. She pauses, her face twisted in confusion. “Did someone punch you in the face?”

“It’s fine,” Nicole repeats.

Chrissy studies her for a moment and then she looks past Nicole. “Hey, where’s Wynonna and Waves?” She snickers. “Did you forget them?”

Nicole pulls out of Chrissy’s arm and takes a few steps back. Her head is spinning.

She can’t forget Waverly; she’s tried all weekend. She laid in bed with a sock in her mouth and tried to forget about the look of terror and regret on Waverly’s face; to forget about the way her hands fit perfect over the swell of Waverly’s hips; to forget about skating a slow circle around the rink to “Faithfully” with Waverly’s arms tight around her waist; to forget about the smile on Waverly’s face as they drove home through empty streets and the way Waverly had been hers for a minute.

There’s a rumbling behind her and Nicole turns quick enough to jump back as Curtis McCready’s old 1975 Ford F-150 comes roaring past her through the parking lot. Nicole can see Wynonna and Waverly through the rolled down windows.

Chrissy frowns. “Why are they driving that thing?”

Nicole shakes her head slowly. Gus had parked the truck in the garage after Curtis’s sudden death and hadn’t taken it out since. They both must hate me that much , Nicole thinks. To take a dead man’s truck out of its tomb .

Wynonna climbs out of the driver’s seat and slams the door shut. She’s wearing her aviators, but Nicole can still see her scan the parking lot and land on Nicole. Nicole takes a step back, ducking her head so her hair falls in her face. She twists on her heel, spinning so quickly that the lace of her Red Wing gets stuck under her boot and she trips. Chrissy catches her and pushes her upright.

“Okay, what’s the beef?” Chrissy asks, looking across the parking lot.

Wynonna is still staring in her direction, her mouth twisted in anger.

Nicole shakes her head. “It’s-it’s nothing.”

Chrissy snorts. “And I’m Joan Jett.” She rolls her eyes and throws an arm up in the air. “Waves!”

Nicole swallows the lump in her throat and lets her eyes move past Wynonna’s glare, over the bed of the truck, where Waverly is standing. Nicole bites down on her bottom lip and feels it break again. Waverly looks at her for a moment, her face unreadable, before looking away, at Wynonna.

“I shouldn’t have… ” she hears in her head.

Nicole takes a step back, feeling like Wynonna just landed another punch to her gut. She feels her keys still in her hands and she fumbles with them for a second, pulling her car door open.

“Nicole, where are you going?” Chrissy asks.

Nicole shakes her head. “I can't stay. I have to… I have to go.”

“But the first bell hasn't even- Nicole!” Chrissy shouts.

Nicole doesn’t listen to her, though, turning her car on and revving the engine before she shifts it into reverse. The loose gravel of the parking lot spits in every direction and Nicole throws the Bonneville into drive before her tires stop. In her rearview mirror, she can see Wynonna marching towards Chrissy and Chrissy trying to wave her down, but she can’t see Waverly.

“I shouldn’t have… ” Waverly had said.

Nicole flies across Main Street, her car bouncing. Her heart is in her throat, just like Saturday night, but for a whole different reason now. Her stomach twists as she turns off Rt. 81 onto the dirt road leading up to Lover’s Lane and barrels out of the trees so quickly that she has to pull the emergency brake to stop her car. Her tires scratch against the compacted dirt, but slide to a stop away from the edge of the cliff. Her hands shake as she turns the car off, and she doesn’t bother shutting the door when she gets out of driver’s seat. She pulls at her cutoff, trying to take some pressure off her chest, but it does nothing.

After all the times Nicole asked; paused; waited. After all the hesitation and the shaking hands and promising she had no expectations. After meaning it . After all of that, Waverly had looked at her and said ‘ I shouldn’t have… ’ and ran from her.

Nicole screws her eyes shut and slams her hand down against her trunk and frowns at the dull thud her fist makes. She opens her eyes and stares at the tuft of brown fuzz sticking out of her trunk. It takes a minute to get her keys out of the ignition and into the keyhole of the trunk, but as soon as the trunk springs open, she wants to slam it shut again.

That stupid brown bear with it’s stupid pink bow looks up at her from where it’s squished into her trunk. There’s a crease in the fur where a leg must have gotten stuck in the latch. Nicole stares down at it, her stomach knotted. She inhales shakily, but when she tries to breathe out, her throat seizes and she doubles over by her taillight, vomiting into the grass and dirt.

She spits a few more times, trying to clear the acrid taste from her mouth. She looks back at the trunk, at the bear, but all she can see is Waverly’s face in the blue and pink neon, grinning at her as she shoved the bear into the trunk and told Waverly she wanted to take her skating. Her stomach turns again as she remembers Waverly pressing her back against the car and kissing her. She kneels down, vomiting again.

When she finally stands, she wipes clumsily at her mouth with the back of her hand and then wipes her hand on her jeans. She shoves the bear as far into the trunk as she can and slams the lid closed. She takes a deep breath and climbs onto the car, laying against the back window.

“I shouldn’t have…” Waverly keeps saying over and over. Her eyes had been wide, the same panic as before at their edges. “I shouldn’t have…”

Nicole’s mind races. If Waverly shouldn’t have, then why did she? she asks herself.

She tries to think about Saturday night, about the times Waverly had pulled away from her. She tries to think about what she missed. Waverly had asked her if she wanted to leave Shorty’s, right?

“Right?” she asks out loud.

No one says anything back.

Waverly had slid into the backseat. But Nicole had followed, and Nicole had slid her hands under Waverly’s shirt. Waverly had said, ‘I want to kiss you,’ but Nicole’s brain goes fuzzy around what she said next. She can’t remember if she said that was all she wanted to do, or not. She can’t remember if Waverly had lifted her hips as Nicole rolled her leggings down, or if Nicole had imagined that.

Her mind skips back to that night at The Patch, when she had stormed through the door and pulled Waverly in close and kissed her. She hadn’t asked; she just took . She grabbed Waverly by the back of the neck and kissed her without asking if that’s even what Waverly wanted.

Like Champ , the voice in the back of her head whispers. Like Champ did during ‘spin the bottle’. He took that kiss from her, even if she didn’t want to give it .

Nicole feels her stomach turn again, but she swallows hard against the bile rising in her throat.

“I shouldn’t have…” Waverly had said.

Nicole blinks against the burning in her eyes. She digs her fingernails into her thighs, trying to ground herself in something. She takes slow, measured breaths until her stomach stops turning end over end. She brushes her thumb against her bottom lip and winces.

“I shouldn’t have…” Waverly said.

Nicole is starting to think she shouldn’t have either.

 

-

Nicole doesn’t notice someone is in her room until her stereo shuts off and she’s the only one quietly singing “Hold On Loosely” by .38 Special. She sits up quickly and nearly falls off the bed as Wynonna comes into focus. She pushes to her feet, putting the bed between them.

“Listen,” she starts. “I fucked up, okay? But, I’m-I’m staying away. I swear it.”

Wynonna sighs. “No, I fucked up.” She flops down onto Nicole’s bed, kicking her feet up and leaning back against the headboard. She looks at Nicole and tips her head to one side. “Sit?”

Nicole sits down slowly, her hand going to her mouth before she can stop herself. She knows Wynonna sees it, though.

“Harsh,” Wynonna mutters.

Nicole frowns. “You punched me.”

Wynonna seems to think that over before she shrugs. “Okay. My bad.”

“Your…” Nicole trails off, her mouth hanging open. “Your bad ?”

Wynonna sighs and sits up, crossing her legs. “I know we don’t do the emotions thing and-” She stops when she looks at Nicole. “ Okay . I know I don’t do all the tubular emotional stuff that every other girl does, but I’m trying something here. So don’t Kirk out, and just let me get through this.” She picks at Nicole’s comforter. After a minute, she pushes off the bed and turns Nicole’s Panasonic back on.

.38 Special goes back to singing and the air feels a little less stale; a little more breathable.

“So… Def Leppard totally got you laid, dude,” Wynonna finally breathes out.

Nicole chokes on air, coughing so hard her throat burns. “W-What?” she manages to ask.

Wynonna grins wickedly at her. “You totally lost your virginity to Def Leppard, didn’t you? Haught, you dog .”

Nicole blinks a few times. “But, I don’t-” She shakes her head. “You… You punched me in the face. Wynonna, you split my lip!”

Wynonna’s grin fades into something more serious. “I know. I’m… Well. I’m sorry. I saw your car pull in and I knew Waverly was out on a date and I kept thinking about when she went out with Champ.”

Nicole flinches.

“And how she called you to come get her,” Wynonna continues. “But maybe that makes sense now, because you guys were all-”

“We weren’t,” Nicole interrupts.

Wynonna frowns. “But Waves said it’s been a while and-and she was wearing your jacket?”

Nicole shrugs. “I liked her. But nothing happened until after Stephanie’s party.”

“No, Waverly definitely said she’s felt like this since way before you-” Wynonna cuts herself off. “Oh,” she breathes out.

Nicole swallows hard. “She what?”

Wynonna waves a hand at her. “Nothing. Forget I said that.” She pats Nicole gently on the knee, her mouth twisted into an awkward grimace. “She didn’t even tell me she was going out with Champ, you know? And like, I tell her everything .”

“I’m sure she wishes you wouldn’t,” Nicole mumbles, thinking of Wynonna’s colorful play-by-plays after a night with Doc.

“So when Gus told me Waverly was on a date, and then you’re driving her home, I just kind of…”

“Motored to the porch to punch me in the face,” Nicole finishes dully.

“To yell at her,” Wynonna corrects, rolling her eyes. “You can’t even tell you bled anymore.”

Nicole sighs heavily.

“I wasn’t going to punch you until I saw you with your hand up my baby sister’s shirt, you airhead. On my front porch, no less.” Wynonna leans back against Nicole’s headboard again. “I mean, I never thought you were that ballsy, Haught.”

“I was feeling… confident,” Nicole admits.

Wynonna smirks at her. “I bet you were.”

Nicole looks away, twisting her fingers into her comforter as she thinks about that night. She’s been dreaming of it every night since, of her socked feet slipping against the wood as Waverly pulled her in for a kiss; of feeling Waverly’s bare hips under her flannel and Waverly’s mouth against her own; of that last moment before the light came on and turned her dream into a nightmare.

“I shouldn’t have…” Waverly had said.

It’s been nearly two weeks of seeing Waverly in the halls and walking in the opposite direction or diving into a classroom. It’s been nearly two weeks of driving to school by herself; it took four days before she put another tape into the player in the car. It’s been nearly two weeks of avoiding Chrissy’s questions and her mom’s questions and her own questions.

“I didn’t,” Nicole starts. She stops and swallows. “I didn’t mean to make her do something she didn’t want to do, Wynonna.” Something breaks inside her chest and she grabs for Wynonna’s hands, squeezing them tightly. “I would never do that to her, Wynonna. Okay? You have to believe me. I-I kissed her and she kissed me back, but if I had known she felt like she had to-to do it, I wouldn’t, I would never -”

“Whoa,” Wynonna breathes out. She pulls her hands out from under Nicole’s and grabs her by the shoulders. “You’re buggin’ out right now. Take a deep breath and try again.”

Nicole is already shaking her head before Wynonna tells her what to do. “I didn’t mean to, Wynonna,” she insists.

Wynonna squeezes her shoulders again, hard enough that Nicole flinches and snaps her mouth shut. “Listen to me, Haught. You’re sound like a Eurythmics song right now. Slow down and start over.”

Nicole sighs, trying to slow her racing heart. “I shouldn’t have… done that . With her.”

Wynonna lifts an eyebrow, a silent question.

“Because she didn’t want to,” Nicole says slowly.

“She didn’t-” Wynonna’s mouth falls into a perfect o-shape. “You think she didn’t want to?”

Nicole clenches one hand into a fist tightly. “She said ‘ I can’t ’ and ‘ I shouldn’t have’ and then she, you know, ran away and she hasn’t talked to me since,” Nicole says in one rushed exhale.

Wynonna stares at her, her mouth still hanging open. “ That’s what this is about?” She sighs. “Because Waverly went full-on spazz when she realized she shouldn’t have stayed out so late? And ‘cause she knew I was going to be razzed she kept this from me?”

Nicole feels her mouth go dry. “...What?” she asks.

“She went and locked herself in the bathroom when she ran inside,” Wynonna explains. “She was mad at herself for letting you two get caught by me so easily. It took me forever to get her to open the door, and she was super harsh on herself.”

“But Monday, at school,” Nicole says weakly.

Wynonna ducks her head slightly. “I was still mad,” she admits. “That might have been my bad.”

Nicole wets her bottom lip as she shakes her head. “Wait. She… She doesn’t think she shouldn’t have done it?”

Wynonna is silent for a moment, and Nicole feels her body start to try and pull away from Wynonna’s hands. Wynonna tightens her grip. “You really are a ditz, aren’t you? What is she? Made of magic ? Did she break your big, dumb brain? I’ve spent the last week trying to get her to understand that you’re not someone who would get her to put out and then just dump her.”

“I would never do-”

“I know ,” Wynonna says over her. “But you’re over here thinking the same thing about her. The two of you are going to be the death of me,” she grumbles.

“S-she thinks I -”

“And I thought Doc was needy,” Wynonna mutters. She shakes Nicole by the shoulders. “Listen to me, Nicole Haught. That girl is mental about you. She’s my baby sister so, like, no one is good enough for her. But you’re my best friend. And I know we don’t say that a lot because, like, gross . But if you’re happy, and she’s happy, then…” She makes a gagging noise. “Just tell her to stop talking to me about how great your boobs are, okay?”

Nicole clutches an arm to her chest, her face flushing. “W-what?”

Wynonna wiggles her eyebrows at Nicole. “She thinks your tits are the tits.”

Nicole pulls back and socks Wynonna in the arm. Wynonna rolls to get away from her and something crinkles underneath her. She stands and pulls an envelope out of her jacket, smoothing it between her hands before she holds it out for Nicole.

“Oh, your mom said this came in the mail. She thought it might cheer you up?”

Nicole turns the envelope over and reads the printed return address. It’s from the academy. She pulls it open with shaking hands and slides a large packet of folded pages out. She unfolds them slowly and tries to remind herself that they wouldn’t write a rejection essay.

“Dear Nicole Haught,” she reads, her voice small. “We are pleased to inform you that you have been chosen to be a member of the…” She trails off and looks up, her eyes wide. “I got it in. Wynonna, I got in!

Wynonna is grinning when Nicole tackles her to the bed, laughing. “Oh god,” Wynonna groans. “You’re gonna be Five-O.”

Nicole drops onto her back, panting. “I’m gonna be a cop .”

“Makes sense,” Wynonna sighs. “You were always telling on me to Gus.”

Nicole snorts and turns, pressing her forehead into Wynonna’s arm. “I wasn’t taking the fall for you snapping that treehouse ladder in half. I had plans to go see ‘Rocky’ in theaters.”

“With Waverly ,” Wynonna adds. “God, this is what I get for being friends with a narc.”

Nicole grins. “You love me.”

“Not as much as Waverly does,” Wynonna fires back.

Nicole feels her heart clench in her chest. “She does?” she asks, her voice a whisper.

Wynonna rolls her eyes and then sits up. “You two are going to make me ralph. Come on. Put on something that doesn’t smell like you’ve been living in it for four years and let’s go get your girl."

 

-

This time when Nicole strides into The Patch, the place is jampacked. It’s only 5:00 on a weeknight, and the dinner crowd is just starting to fill the diner. She’s wearing her lucky shirt - her 1978 Foreigner World Tour shirt - and her acceptance letter is folded in half and hot in her back pocket. She pauses in the doorway, scanning the room until she finds Waverly, behind the counter, making a shake.

A few people look up as the bell above the door rings. Champ catches her eye, his own narrowing back at her. He looks at Waverly, behind the counter, and then back at Nicole. He stands slowly, a smirk on his face.

Nicole ignores him. She takes two steps into the dining room, a smile pulling at her lips as she lifts her hand to flag Waverly down when someone beats her to it.

“Waverly Earp,” Champ says loudly. He slaps the jukebox. Nicole jumps a little. Champ’s smirk widens. The place goes quiet as nearly every head in the diner turns to look at him, including Waverly’s.

Nicole turns her head and keeps staring at Waverly. She sees Waverly’s eyes skate past her, to Champ, and then back to Nicole.

“This song is for you, Waverly Earp,” Champ announces loudly.

Nicole is still staring at Waverly when the first strands of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke” fill the silence of the dining room. Someone starts coughing, and Waverly looks away for a second. Nicole feels a pain bloom in her chest.

She’s too late.

Waverly rounds the end of the counter and Nicole holds her breath for just a second.

“Champ,” Waverly starts.

Nicole doesn’t stay to hear the rest. She pushes out of The Patch and stands on the sidewalk for a moment, panting as she tries to catch her breath. She curls her hand into a fist, her keys cutting into her palm, and slams the driver’s door behind her as she gets into her car.

“Hot Blooded” echoes against the windows, the song picking up where she turned it off before.

She peels out of her parking spot and onto Main Street and she decides, just as she blows through a yellow light, that she’s not going to lose Waverly Earp that easily.

 

 


"Heaven" Warrant, 1989
I don’t need to be a Superman; as long as you will always be my biggest fan.

The next time Nicole sees Waverly, they’re passing in a near-empty hallway during third period. They pass in front of the second floor bathroom doors and Nicole’s knee gives out a little, as if her body is telling her to stop and slow down and talk. She hasn’t seen Waverly since The Patch, a few days ago, and Nicole’s hands ache to touch her. She wants to; she wants to grab Waverly by the hem of her shirt and pull her into the bathroom and tell her everything she’s been too afraid to say until now.

She doesn’t have the words for it. Not yet. She knows if she tries to talk now, it’ll come out in starts and stops and she won’t be able to say anything right. So instead, she pulls one strap of her backpack tighter around her shoulder and lifts her head high and keeps walking. She turns back to look over her shoulder as she rounds the corner, but Waverly has already slipped into a classroom, so Nicole slides into her own and pretends to pay attention as Ms. Clootie, their English teacher, tells them that they may be graduating, but they haven’t gotten there yet, and hasn’t anyone read any of the assigned chapter from Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee ?

Nicole spends the entire period scribbling down things she wants to say to Waverly. She rips the page out of her notebook, folds it three times, and shoves it into her back pocket. It burns through the denim all during fourth period, and finally , it’s lunch.

She grabs her tray without paying attention to the lunch slopped on it. Distantly, she can hear kids complaining about it being meatloaf with gravy. She stands at the front of the cafeteria and scans the room, trying to spot Waverly. She drops her tray on a table near the trash cans and she can hear someone complain, but she’s already weaving through the tables, pulling her note out of her pocket.

Chrissy looks up first, her forkful of meatloaf hanging in midair as she sees Nicole coming towards the table. Jeremy looks to the side and puts down his milk carton. Even Dolls and Rosita go quiet, their conversation dying as Nicole comes up to the table, her chest heaving.

Waverly turns around last, her forehead drawn in confusion as she tries to figure out what everyone is looking at.

“Hi,” Nicole breathes out.

Waverly’s lips part.

Nicole fumbles with the paper in her hand, trying to unfold it. She pulls the wrong way and winces as she has to turn it over in her hands and try again. “Just-just a minute. I have something I want to-”

“Hey, Waves,” Champ drawls, plowing his shoulder into Nicole’s back as he pushes through her. He slides behind Waverly, his legs on either side of the bench, and his back to Nicole. He grabs the apple on Waverly’s tray. “S’up?”

Nicole exhales through her nose, trying to stop herself from grabbing Champ by the back of his letterman jacket and jerking him to the ground. She looks down at her hands and carefully folds her piece of paper back up and slides it into her pocket. When she looks back up, Waverly is staring at Champ, her mouth still hanging open.

Nicole thinks, for a minute, about how she used to press one finger to the bottom of Waverly’s chin, close her lips together, and cover them with her own. She shakes her head to clear her thoughts and straightens her shoulders. She ignores Chrissy and Jeremy and Rosita blatantly staring at her, and Dolls doing his best to look at the floor. She even ignores the smirk Champ is throwing at her over his shoulder, and she keeps her eyes on Waverly.

Waverly blinks at her once, then twice.

Champ turns and swings his leg around so he’s leaning back against the table. “Aren’t you late for, like, something ?” he asks.

Nicole doesn’t waste her time looking at him. “I can talk to you later. I can wait,” she says to Waverly, her voice low and promising. She turns on her heel and cuts back through the cafeteria.

When she gets through the double doors, she hunches over, her shoulders heaving and falling as she tries to catch her breath. She straightens up as more kids wander into the hallway, probably headed to the parking lot for a smoke.

A kid walks by holding a small boombox, a newer version of Nicole’s Panasonic at home. There’s a lag as the song changes, but Nicole recognizes the start of Warrant’s “Heaven” through the speakers. It echoes off the lockers and Nicole feels her head bobbing to the soft acoustic guitar that leads into the vocals. The kid with the boombox - Ewing something, Nicole remembers - stops at his locker and puts the boombox down at his feet.

How I love the way you move ,” Jani Lane croons. “ And the sparkle in your eyes .”

Nicole fishes into her pocket for the list she made in English class. It says things like, “ you’re the best thing about this town” and “I like your smile the most ” and she groans, pressing her palm to her forehead. She’s never going to win Waverly over on her own; she can barely string together a full sentence when she’s around Waverly. Even if Champ is a first-class cyldesdale wannabe , Nicole thinks to herself, he can talk a decent game .

Nicole sighs. This is why music is so much better than words , she thinks.

Something in her brain snaps like a rubberband breaking in two. She straightens up, her hand shaking as she holds her handwritten list. “Music is better,” she mumbles to herself. “ Music is better.”

Ewing and his friend, a kid with a nose shaped like a beak, turn and stare at her. “What?”

Nicole frowns at them. “Nothing. What’re you staring at?” They blink at her. “Kick rocks,” she growls.

They bolt down the hall, taking Warrant with them. Nicole lifts her note up in front of her and grabs it with both hands before she tears it down the middle. She throws the two pieces into the trash can by the doors and nods to herself.

“Music is better,” she repeats as she slips into her fifth period class. She picks a seat by the back of the room and glares at Pete York when he tries to argue that she’s sitting in his seat. He rolls his eyes and takes her usual seat in the front of the room, throwing glares at her over his shoulder the whole class.

Nicole doesn’t even notice him. She keeps her head bent over her notebook, tapping her pen restlessly when she gets stuck, humming a few bars under her breath every now and then. By the time her class ends and she’s heading out to the parking lot, skipping last period, she’s got a small list and a plan.

The first part is the hardest; she needs Nathan’s help.

“No way,” he says as soon as she’s done explaining that she needs his Panasonic RX-FT600 Dual Deck Boombox and a blank TDK 90 minute cassette.

Nicole groans and steps further into his room. She wrinkles her nose at the smell of dirty laundry and sweat and oil, and pushes forward. “ Please , Nathan. I know you, like, are annoyed with me for existing, but please .”

Nathan narrows his eyes at her. “What do you need it so bad for?”

Nicole shakes her head. “I can’t tell you.”

“Then no can do,” he sings back. He turns his attention back to his bicycle, turned upside down on his bedroom floor.

Nicole clenches her hands into fists. “I’ll do anything,” she promises. “I don’t have enough to go out and buy a new tape player, and I need to make a tape.”

Nathan shrugs and goes back to tightening a loose bolt on his bike. “Must not be that important if you’re not even going to tell me why you need to borrow my stuff.”

Nathan ,” Nicole growls. He ignores her and continues to oil each individual link on his bicycle chain. “I need to make a mixtape,” she finally says.

Nathan snorts. “No shit, Sherlock. Why ?”

“Keep digging, Watson,” she fires back. She drops her shoulders quickly. “It’s for… for a girl,” she whispers.

Nathan pauses, the chain hanging limp in his hand. He sets it down on the floor, on a towel he’s laid out, and meets her eyes. He nods slowly, making sure he has her attention. “I know, Nicole.”

Nicole exhales a stream of air that turns into a sob. She catches it in her throat and shakes her head to clear the tears pushing at her eyes. “Right. Of course.”

Nathan stands up and walks over to his desk. It’s the same desk Nicole has in her room, but painted blue with baseballs and bats stenciled all over it. He yanks at the one of the drawers a few times until it unsticks and pulls out a brand new blank cassette, still in the packaging. He hands it to her. But when she reaches for it, her hand still shaking, he holds onto it for a moment, looking up at her.

“It’s not Wynonna, right?”

Nicole snorts. “ No . It’s not Wynonna.” She pushes the blank cassette deep into her front pocket.

Nathan nods. “Good. Because, you know, she’s already dating someone.” There’s something else in his eyes that Nicole can’t really get a read on, but she’s almost sure he’s thinking of their dad, living somewhere else with his new family.

“I know,” Nicole promises.

Nathan nods again and points at his nightstand, to the Panasonic RX-FT600 just sitting there. “Don’t break it,” he warns.

“I promise,” Nicole breathes out, holding the boombox in her hands reverently. She heads towards her room and pauses in his doorway, turning back slowly. “It’s for Waverly,” she admits.

Nathan looks up from the bike chain and grins crookedly at her. “No shit, Sherlock.”

Nicole stares at him for a long moment before she scowls and storms off into her room. She can hear him laughing as she slams her door.

 

-

She sneaks into Nathan’s room when he leaves for work the next day and steals a second blank cassette out of his desk drawer. She slides a dollar in there, just in case he gets worked up over it, and slips back into her room, back into bed, just as her mom comes storming up the stairs looking for her.

“You’re going to be late for school,” her mom says dryly from the doorway.

Nicole groans and rolls over, blinking wearily at her mom. “I don’t feel well,” she mumbles.

Her mom sighs. “Nicole, it’s almost the end of the school year. You’re leaving for the academy in a week. You graduate in four days. It’s not the time to be catching that senioritis everyone is talking about.”

“It’s not senioritis,” Nicole argues. “It’s a stomachache.”

“Nicole,” her mom warns. “If you’re just skippin’ school to go spend the day at The Patch with Wynonna, I’m going to be very disappointed in you.”

Nicole knows that her mom knows disappointment is the worst punishment there is. “I’m not, Mom,” she promises.

Her mom stares at her until Nicole feels like she’s going to just give in and get out of bed and go to school. Just as Nicole grips the edge of the comforter to throw it off her body, her mom sighs and nods shortly. “Fine,” she says. “But I’m going to be calling the house all day. And you better pick up.”

Nicole nods solemnly. “I swear.”

She lies in bed a little longer, listening to Nathan call goodbye to her mom as he gets on his bike and heads towards work; to her mom closing the back door and starting up her 1974 Ford Country Squire station wagon that Nicole’s dad had bought, brand new. She listens to the tires groan as she turns off of their street before she rolls out of bed. She tugs at her sleepshirt, an old 1969 Rolling Stones US Tour shirt that belonged to her dad, and sits down at her desk.

She spins her chair towards the dozen cassette containers stacked on the edge of her dresser. Each drawer holds twelve tapes and there’s three drawers in each container and she had to constantly cycle her favorite tapes in and out so they all fit. There’s still a few shoeboxes under her bed with tons of tapes her dad left behind, too. She pulls one of the drawers open, thumbing past Flock of Seagulls’ “The Story of a Young Heart” and Foreigner’s “Double Vision” before she picks out Foreigner’s “4” cassette. She scans the track listing and double checks it against the list flattened out on her desk.

“Waiting For a Girl Like You” is the fourth song, nearly 15 minutes in. She loads the tape into Nathan’s borrowed player and slides her blank tape into the other deck. She had messed up the first tape and only hit ‘record’ on the blank tape nearly two minutes into the song. This time, she’ll be ready.

She fast-forwards through the first two tracks and slows down when she recognizes the chorus of “Break it Up” playing. With a shaking hand, she hovers over the record button on the dual deck as the third song fades out. She presses record too soon and counts five agonizing seconds of silence before “Waiting For a Girl Like You” starts. Nicole exhales noisily as both tapes roll.

She smoothes out a blank piece of paper in front of her and scribbles the name of the song at the top.

I’m pretty sure this song was playing the summer Wynonna taught you how to ride a bike, Nicole writes. The same summer my dad left. You were mad no one had taught you before, and you stole my bike and you wouldn’t give it back until someone taught you how. You broke my chain twice and nearly crashed it into Curtis’s truck. I called you trouble. You told me I always seemed to be looking for trouble, and if that’s what you were, then I was right where I needed to be. You had the prettiest smile, even when you fractured your arm trying to avoid the McCreadys’ mailbox. This song was playing in the kitchen and you were laying half on the grass and half on me and you told me trouble had landed right in my lap. I told you good, I was waiting for you.

Nicole barely manages to stop the recording tape as the song fades out. “Luanne” starts playing as Nicole ejects the “4” cassette.

She checks “Waiting For a Girl Like You” off her list and lets the tape record four or five seconds of silence before she cues up The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic”.

Nathan would play this song and pretend to be singing to Kathy Harrison - remember her? We would lie on the floor and sing along, or make fun of him. You were a freshman. Champ Hardy asked you out your first week of school. I remember wanting to punch him for even thinking he had the right to ask you something like that. You grinned and reached for my hand and squeezed it really tight and told me that boys like Champ weren’t worth it. You wanted a boy like Nathan, who would sing songs into his hairbrush, pretending to serenade you, a boy who thought you were magic. But the truth is, I’ve always thought you were made of magic. I still do.

Dead or Alive’s “Youthquake” needs to be spooled before she can make “You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” the third song on the tape, and she painstakingly twists a pencil around and around until the tape is tight inside the cassette.

The first time I saw you, I knew I was going to be crazy about you. I don’t know what it was, but you made me dizzy on the inside. My mom used to say my dad made her dizzy in a good way, in the kind of way that made you want to keep spinning. You’re like that ride at the fair, the one we used to go to a few towns over, with Curtis. Do you remember it? It spun around and around and around and Wynonna always puked, no matter what. But you never did. And you always wanted to go back on it again. And I always went with you, because being dizzy without you didn’t make sense to me. It still doesn’t make sense to me.

Nicole panics when she can’t find her Modern English cassette. She pulls all of her tapes out, thumbing through the alphabetical order she painstakingly maintains, wondering if maybe she misplaced it. But after a half an hour, she still can’t find it. She storms into Nathan’s room and pulls his closet door wide open, rifling through the collection he keeps on a shelf in the back, and there it is; shoved between a Jimi Hendrix tape and a Kenny Rogers cassette.

She pushes record a little harder than necessary when “I Melt With You” starts.

I nearly killed a tape listening to this song , Nicole writes, wincing at the truth. I played this song over and over again and imagined kissing you and running my fingers through your hair and making you laugh. I played this song and imagined that I promised you I would do anything for you; I’d stop the world if you said the word. But the truth is, I don’t need to imagine I would promise you. I’ve always been willing to jump when you asked me to. I think I’ve been promising you that every day since I met you.

It takes her the whole morning to get through the first four songs. Her mom calls five times and Nicole answers each time, coughing or sniffling to sell her act. She picks at the potato salad in the fridge and makes herself a fluffernutter. She takes it up stairs with a cola and pulls The Cure’s “Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me” tape out, stabbing at the record button as “Just Like Heaven” starts.

She thinks of Stephanie Jones’s party and cramped closets and mothballs and Waverly’s mouth against hers for the first time. Her face feels hot when she pushes the pen to the page.

I’ll never be able to hear this song again without thinking about kissing you .

Nicole pulls the rest of the tapes and stacks them on her desk: Belinda Carlisle’s “Belinda”, .38 Special’s “Special Forces”, “Vital Signs” by Survivor, REO Speedwagon’s “Wheels Are Turnin’”, “Frontiers” by Journey, “Don’t You Forget About Me” by Simple Minds that she has to take from Nathan’s Room, and “Dirty Rotten Stinky Filthy Rich” by Warrant.

She listens to “Mad About You” a few times before she decides it’s really the song she wants. It’s all pop, and the only song by a woman she picked, but it’s Waverly, and it works.

Whenever this song comes on, I can see you standing in the middle of The Patch in your apron with the broom in your hand and you’re mad, you’re so mad at me and all I can think is: I suddenly understand why every girl sings songs like these. You know, the ones where you can jump around and clutch your picture of Kirk Cameron? (You’re Kirk, by the way.) Because I am crazy about you, mad or angry or happy or crying or screaming “Africa” by Toto in my car - I’d have to be, to listen to you sing that song. I’m crazy about the way you make me feel. I’m crazy about the way you turn everything in my life upside down and still make it make sense .

She puts “Special Forces” in and has to immediately hit record so she doesn’t miss “Caught Up in You”.

The day you slipped that note into my pocket, the one that said to meet you during third period? Until then, I had never skipped a class. I can’t believe you skipped class. But that day when you pointed at the last stall and leaned back so I could lock the door and you stared up at me, I knew I would skip every class - I’d drop out of school - just to be able to disappear with you for twenty minutes. I got so caught up in being around you that none of it mattered to me. Only you. You matter to me, Waverly. You caught me and I never want to get myself free of you.

Survivor’s “Vital Signs” first track is the song she wants, but she listens to “I Can’t Hold Back” all the way through and lets “High On You” cue up before she starts writing.

The first time I heard this song I knew someday I was going to listen to it and think of someone special. I didn’t know who yet - I was just starting high school and everything felt so big and scary. But on our first day, when I rode my bike to the McCreadys’ to meet Wynonna, you were sitting there on the front porch. You wished me good luck and you kissed me on the cheek and I shook the whole way to school. That night at The Patch, when I came in and kissed you, every part of me shook. I was afraid you could feel it, but you didn’t say anything, and I thought that you were always going to be the girl I thought about when I heard this song. You’re always going to be the girl.

Nicole puts in Journey’s “Frontiers” and lets each song play, shaking her hand out to loosen the cramp forming. For a minute, she’s not sure this will even work. Waverly Earp has never been a girl for grand gestures.

But maybe , Nicole thinks, it’s because no one has ever done something grand for her before .

By the time “Faithfully” comes around, Nicole is already writing furiously. She drops her pen and stabs at the record button frantically, breathing a soft sigh of relief when the tape starts rolling just as the first piano notes start.

This isn’t our song , she writes. She almost goes back and crosses it out, but she tries harder to explain herself. This isn’t our song, because our song hasn’t been written yet. There are a hundred songs just like this one that are almost our song, but I haven’t heard it yet. And while we wait, while we spend our lives together, this can be the next best thing to our song. Okay? This isn’t our song because that night, at the roller rink, with your arms around my waist, was one of the best nights of my life, but it wasn’t the best. When someone writes a song good enough for us , that’ll be our song. And when the best moment happens, that song will be playing. And until then, we’ll always have ‘Faithfully’ at Shorty’s and the disco lights in your hair.

She loads Nathan’s borrowed Simple Minds tape into the deck. It’s a single, so she doesn’t even look away from the Panasonic, just presses play and record at the same time on the different decks. Nathan made her watch “The Breakfast Club” and it was good - Wynonna loved it, too - but she swore it off after Waverly spent a whole afternoon swooning over Anthony Michael Hall. At the next movie night, Nicole had vetoed “Sixteen Candles” and called Molly Ringwald the worst . Listening to “Don’t You (Forget About Me)” now is like a quick punch to the gut and she stares at the piece of paper in front of her through the whole song, trying to figure out what to write.

God, please don’t forget about me , she ends up writing before she loses her nerve.

She skips a few lines, picks the last tape up off her desk, and fast forwards through “Dirty Rotten Filthy Stinking Rich” until she gets to track 8.

There's a line in this song that say “How I love the way you move and the sparkle in your eyes,” and when I think about what I wanted to say to you in the cafeteria the other day, before Champ interrupted, none of it was good as that line. You are extraordinary, Waverly Earp, and nothing I can say can even come close to telling you that. So I picked these songs for you, about you, and about us . I don't need anything but you, Waverly. I hope you want me, too.

Nicole finishes the tape just as the sun sets and her mom’s headlights are cresting the driveway. She fumbles with it, trying to shove it into the cassette case. The note paper is too big, folded clumsily, but she forces it into the plastic case and shoves it under her pillow, jumping onto her bed and pulling her comforter over her head as her mom’s feet thud up the staircase.

“Nicole?” her mom calls.

The door creaks open. Nicole holds her breath as the silence stretches, and then the door closes softly. She can hear her mom going back down the stairs.

Nicole throws the comforter off her face and sucks in the fresh air. She slides a hand beneath her head, under her pillow, and thumbs the edge of the cassette. The tape is done. Every song has been picked and explained and recorded.

Now, she waits.

 

-

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.

“Nicole,” Waverly hisses, looking back over her shoulder.

“So long, I’ve been looking too hard, I’ve been waiting too long ,” Lou Gramm croons.

Nicole doesn’t move. She knows Gus is at Bingo in the next town over and Wynonna is spending the night with Doc.

“House should be empty, except for Waves,” Wynonna had said earlier on the phone. “So ‘Operation: L-lyod Gets L-laid’ is a go .”

Nicole groaned, shuffled even further into the pantry, and pulled the phone tighter against her ear.. “ Wynonna ,” she growled. “First of all, gross . Second of all, we’re not calling it that. Third, that’s your sister you’re talking about.”

There had been a pause on the line before Wynonna cleared her throat. “Shit. Fine. We’ll call it ‘Operation: L-loyd Keeps Her Hands To Herself Before They Get L-lopped Off’ then.”

Nicole rolled her eyes. “That’s too long of a name to put on the rad t-shirts I got us. And we don’t need a name for the plan. You just need to make sure Waverly stays home.”

Wynonna had gone quiet again and Nicole had started to clear her throat, to ask if there was something wrong when Wynonna finally spoke up. “You’re really leaving, huh?”

“Day after tomorrow. With or without Waverly,” Nicole added after a moment.

Wynonna sighed. “You know, with or without her, you and me-”

“You’re not getting rid of me, Earp,” Nicole interrupted. “If I stuck around through your Cabbage Patch phase, there’s nothing else in the world that could make me go away.”

“Cabbage Patch Kids were the tits, and you’re just jealous I stole enough from Curtis to buy one,” Wynonna fired back.

Nicole snorted. “You know he left that money out for you to find.”

“Yeah,” Wynonna breathed out. “Yeah, I did.”

Nicole toes the peeling linoleum in the pantry. “I love you, Wynonna.”

Wynonna coughed into the receiver, and by the time she spoke, her voice was clear. “Okay, okay. Don’t get all sprung on me.”

“Wynonna,” Nicole scolded.

“Bite me,” Wynonna growled. Her voice softened quickly. “I love you, too, Haught.”

Nicole grinned. “Sorry, Wynonna. You’re not the Earp I’m after.”

Wynonna had hung up then, and Nicole had laughed so hard she didn’t notice her mom or Nathan sitting at the kitchen table, eating dinner, staring at her.

Sometimes I don’t know what I will find. I only know it’s a matter of time,” the boombox plays.

“Hear me out,” Nicole shouts towards the window. “Please. Just-just a few minutes.”

Waverly crosses her arms over her chest, glaring. “I don’t know. Are you going to run away again?”

“I don’t know. Is Champ here?” Nicole can’t stop herself from asking. She shakes her head. This isn’t going the way she wanted it to. She swallows heavily and tries again. “Waverly,” she says, taking a small step towards the house. “Just let me speak. For one minute. You can time me. And then when I’m done, you can tell me to ‘get bent’ or ‘take a hike’ or whatever you want, okay?”

Waverly stares at her for a moment before nodding slowly. Nicole puts the boombox on the ground, her arms heavy and stiff. She toes her Red Wings against the grass and shoves her hands into the pockets of her leather jacket. The nights are still cool this time of year, but Nicole feels like she’s burning from the inside out.

“I-” she starts and stops. She leans back, stretches her whole body back, to stare up at Waverly’s window. “You’re so pretty,” she breathes out. She knows Waverly can hear her. “I like you so much.”

“Nicole,” Waverly tries to say. Her fingers curl around the bottom of the windowsill.

“No, it’s more than that,” Nicole admits. “I-I love you.” She scoffs, rubbing at the back of her neck with a shaking hand. “I’ve been in love with you since the first time you asked me to pass you the mashed potatoes, that first night I was over for dinner.”

“You passed me the peas instead,” Waverly remembers.

Nicole shrugs. “I’ve always been a sucker for those hazel eyes.”

Waverly sits down in the windowsill, tucking one leg beneath her. “Nicole,” she sighs.

Nicole shakes her head. “No. Just… hear me out. I’m not… brave . I’ve spent my whole senior year hiding from this,” she says, waving her hand between them. “And it’s a totally harsh move, standing here and admitting all of this when I’m leaving in two days and-”

“You’re what?” Waverly asks, standing up quickly.

Nicole winces. “I’m leaving. For the police academy,” she says slowly. “So this is my last chance to-”

“You’re what ?” Waverly repeats, her voice low and threatening.

Nicole pauses and takes a small step backward. “I-”

Waverly disappears from the window and Nicole takes another step back. Her shoulders drop and she wipes at her eyes, frustrated. She pulls her foot back, like if she dropkicks her boombox into the next decade, this won’t hurt as much. But she puts her leg down and reaches for the boombox instead, lifting it and fumbling for the stop button.

“Nicole Marie Haught,” Waverly shouts from behind her.

Nicole turns and backpedals quicker. Waverly is storming down the front steps, her eyes narrowed and her arms swinging wildly. Nicole holds the boombox out in front of her, stumbling when she backs into the mailbox.

“You’re leaving ,” Waverly growls. “You’re standing on my front lawn with your boombox and you’re leaving in two days?”

“I got into the police academy in the city,” Nicole explains. Her throat closes around the words when Waverly’s eyes flash in anger. “My-my class starts at the beginning of July. I need a few days to settle in.”

Waverly’s jaw clenches. Nicole’s stomach rolls as she remembers pressing her mouth to Waverly’s jawline, the windows fogged around them. Her grip on the boombox falters, and she stoops to put it down on the ground.

“I just-”

“Decided to come over here, say all this-this stuff, and then leave as if you don’t mean a single word you’re saying.”

“Waverly, I’m sorry,” Nicole breathes out.

Waverly waves a finger at her. “Oh, no. You’re in deep shit , Nicole. Don’t you dare look at me like that.”

Nicole tips her head to the side in confusion. “Like what?”

“Like… Like…” Waverly sighs. “Like you have no idea what you leaving will do to me,” she admits softly.

“Waverly-”

“You’re a real hoser, you know that?” Waverly takes small, even steps towards her. “First you’re all over Chrissy Nedley and- No,” she says firmly, shaking her head when Nicole opens her mouth to say something. “ I’m talking."

Nicole’s mouth snaps closed.

“First you’re all over Chrissy Nedley and then you get mad when Champ Hardy asks me out. See? You flinched ,” Waverly accuses, stabbing her finger in Nicole’s direction. “And then I tell you I don’t want to go out with Champ, but you still let me dance with him at Stephanie’s party.”

Nicole grinds her back teeth together and her hands tighten into fists.

“But in the closet,” Waverly continues, her voice softer. “I kissed you and you-you kissed me back. I thought, ‘ Finally , she’s figured it out’ but you still didn’t.”

“My mom said I have a thick head,” Nicole mumbles.

Waverly’s mouth twitches in a small smile. “You kept kissing me.”

Nicole shrugs. “You kept letting me.”

Waverly snorts. “Good logic.”

“Waverly,” Nicole tries again.

It’s okay, she wants to say. It’s okay if you don’t love me back. It’s okay if you don’t want me. I’ll be okay. I won’t come home for Christmas or Boxing Day or your high school graduation, but I’ll be okay.

You don’t have to love me , she wants to tell Waverly. I don’t want you to pretend .

“That night, in your car,” Waverly starts.

Nicole shudders. She starts to shake her head, but Waverly talks over her.

“That night, I was so scared. You looked so good, in your flannel and your jeans and I felt like a little kid dressing up in her big sister’s clothes.” Waverly pulls her arms around her body, swaying side to side. Nicole’s hands ache to reach for her, to smooth back the hair around her face, and press a kiss to her forehead.

“I never meant to make you feel like you needed to-”

“I wanted to,” Waverly says quickly. “I wanted to ever since you told Wynonna you were saving yourself for Alyssa Milano.”

“You hate her,” Nicole says, her face twisted in confusion.

Waverly shrugs one shoulder unapologetically. “Yeah, well, that’s why.” She twists her fingers together nervously. “I wouldn’t trade that night for anything, Nicole. I…” She reaches out with one hand, her fingers catching briefly in Nicole’s t-shirt before they fall away again. “I’ll never forget it.”

“Waverly-”

“What are you so scared of?” Waverly asks, her voice loud in the small space between them.

“I’m not you,” Nicole whispers. “I’m not brave like you or smart like you or amazing like you are. There’s so many things I’m not good at.”

“Nicole,” Waverly breathes out.

Nicole shakes her head. “But the one thing I have always been good at is loving you. And if I only ever get to be one thing, that’s the thing I want to be. I don’t need to be a cop or anything else. I just want to be the girl who loves you.” She swallows heavily. “I just want to be the girl you love.”

Waverly looks away. Nicole feels her heart drop into her stomach, a cannonball of disappointment, and this time, when she turns around, she doesn’t reach for her boombox. It’s playing “Just Like Heaven,” somewhere around the end, and Nicole can’t stop to pick it up this time. She can’t force herself to bend and lift it off the ground and carry it home while it plays that song.

A hand grabs her arm.

“See, there you go,” Waverly says. “You’re doing it again. Making my decisions for me.”

Nicole opens her mouth to argue, but Waverly presses a single finger to her lips, stopping her.

“I love you,” Waverly whispers.

Nicole’s heart hammers into her ribcage. “W-what?”

Waverly’s arms slide over her shoulders, locking loosely behind her head. “I love you,” she says again, slower. “How many times do I have to keep saying it to you?”

Nicole lets her forehead drop against Waverly’s. “One more time,” she breathes out.

Waverly’s bottom lip brushes Nicole’s when she speaks. “I love you,” she promises.

When their lips meet, Nicole finally breathes. Her hands slide across Waverly’s back, gripping her shirt tightly, as if she might disappear at any moment. She tries to press impossibly close, to make Waverly understand that she’s here and she’s not going anywhere. Waverly’s tongue slides against her bottom lip and Nicole’s lips part easily. Waverly tastes like mint and cola and Nicole whimpers softly, her hands in Waverly’s hair now, twisting through the loose strands. Waverly pulls back, panting, and presses her forehead against Nicole’s.

“I love you,” Nicole murmurs softly, pressing neat kisses to Waverly’s mouth and face.

Clutch ,” Waverly breathes out. She yelps when Nicole pinches her side. “I love you, too,” she adds, her voice softer.

Aces ,” Nicole says, her mouth stretched wide in a smile.

Waverly rolls her eyes. “Yeah, aces ,” she says as she leans back in, her mouth hot against Nicole’s.

Nicole holds Waverly tighter as the next song starts.

 

 


Bonus Track - “Up Where We Belong” Joe Cocker, 1982
The road is long. There are mountains in our way. But we climb a step every day.

“Your girl coming?” Robbie asks, scanning the growing crowd.

Nicole’s leg bounces nervously as she does her own sweep. “Supposed to be,” she murmurs. “I just hope she didn’t miss it.”

Robbie slaps her on the back and she nearly stumbles forward. “The way you go on and on about her, I doubt she would.” He nods towards the crowd and his face lights up. “Hey, speakin’ of. My girl, she’s right over there and-”

Nicole grins at him. “Go, go.”

He takes a few steps away before he turns back around. “Hey, listen. No matter what anyone said, you were always the top of the class.”

Nicole waves him off. “Yeah, yeah. Just get over there before she thinks anything of this.”

Robbie grins crookedly at her. “Oh, no. Who do you think I told about all those things you told me?” He wiggles his eyebrows at her. “Seriously, Haught-”

Go , Robbie,” she says, pushing at him. He grins again and jogs off into the crowd.

Nicole stands in front of the stage, turning her certificate over and over in her hands. She looks down at her shoes, her own reflection looking back up at her. She’d spent over an hour on each shoe, spit-shining them to perfection to take her mind off of seeing Waverly for the first time in six months. She had called the night before to tell her that she was coming down for her graduation; Wynonna was going to drive them. Nicole had barely slept, the thought of seeing Waverly after so long making her dizzy.

The months had been long and their phone calls had lasted even longer. Nicole had spent too many nights hogging the phone in the hallway of their sleeping quarters, sleeping against the wall with the phone pressed to her ear and Waverly’s voice lulling her to sleep. It became a running joke with the cadets; if no one could find Nicole, she was probably on the phone with her girl.

Nicole feels a small thrill spark through her veins. Her girl. Waverly was really her girl.

And now that Nicole had officially graduated, she could go home to her girl, once and for all.

Sheriff Nedley had called the night before, too, to wish her luck. He had driven up to the city a few times over the months, each time painstakingly going through her scores and her written exams. When the phone rang and Drake, one of the guys a few doors down, had called her name, she thought it might have been Waverly.

“Haught,” Sheriff Nedley barked into the phone. “You’re graduating in the morning.”

“Yes, sir,” Nicole breathed out, nodding.

Nedley cleared his throat. “Well, if you’re still looking for an open spot, there’s a place here in Purgatory for you.”

Yes ,” Nicole practically shouted.

“Now the pay isn’t great and the hours won’t be the best but-”

“Yes,” Nicole repeated, her voice steadier. “Sir, I want it.”

Nedley cleared his throat again. “Alright then. It’s yours. Why don’t you take Christmastime for yourself and yours, and start after the New Year?”

“Yes, sir. I’m looking forward to it, sir.”

Nedley had hung up on her before she could ask anymore questions, but she couldn’t find it in herself to care.

Nicole scans the crowd again, trying to spot either one of the Earp girls through the other families. She hears Wynonna before she sees her, and she instantly pushes through the crowd, trying to follow her voice.

“I’m telling you, Waves. She’s looking for you, too,” Wynonna is saying.

“If you didn’t stop to pee for the hundredth time,” Waverly growls.

Wynonna sighs. “Oh, come on, baby girl. We got here in time for her to walk across the stage. What more do you want?”

“I’m a planner , Wynonna,” Waverly argues. “I had the perfect seats picked out. She would be able to see us so we wouldn’t be stuck in this crowd instead of being with her.”

Wynonna looks up and her eyes find Nicole. She opens her mouth, but Nicole shakes her head quickly and Wynonna immediately looks away. “You’re right,” she tells Waverly. “I’m sorry.”

Waverly’s shoulders drop, as if she had been expecting a fight and she was disappointed she didn’t get one. “Oh. Well. That’s fine.”

“Why don’t we go stand by the stage and see if she’s looking for us?” Wynonna grabs Waverly by the shoulders and turns her so her back is to Nicole, slipping through the swelling crowd.

Nicole dodges a few elbows and sloppy kisses and falls into Waverly’s slipstream as she cuts a path through the crowd. Nicole waits until the crowd thins slightly and then she rockets forward the last few steps, sliding her arms around Waverly’s waist and pressing her lips to Waverly’s neck.

She can feel Waverly go stiff in her hold before she relaxes, turning to press her face into Nicole’s shoulder. “Not fair,” she grumbles.

Nicole presses erratic kisses to Waverly’s forehead, trying to make up for months’ worth of missing kisses. “You came.”

“Of course I did,” Waverly breathes out. “My best baby is a cop.”

Nicole pulls at the jacket Waverly is wearing, a leather one with a Rolling Stones logo for a zipper. She grins down at Waverly, sliding the zipper up and down aimlessly. She reaches back blindly, letting go of her certificate when she feels Wynonna grab it. “You bet I am. You’re looking at one of Purgatory’s finest.”

The words take a minute to sink in, but when they do, Waverly’s smile stretches wide across her face. “You’re coming home?” she asks breathlessly.

“I’m coming home,” Nicole says just as softly. “I’m never going away again.”

Waverly curls her fingers around the back of Nicole’s head and pulls her down, their lips finally meeting. Nicole groans and Waverly whimpers into her mouth. Her hands slide to Waverly’s sides, drifting higher until her palms are flat against Waverly’s cheeks, holding her still. A hand slides into her hair, a small bun she painstakingly put up. It falls apart as Waverly’s fingers work through it, freeing it. The climb higher into her hair before they find the edge of her hat.

Something tips off of her head, and before Nicole can try and catch her falling hat, Waverly is plucking it out of thin air and pulling it crookedly onto her own head.

“Well, Officer Haught,” Waverly starts. Her eyes are bright and her smile sets off a small, warm feeling in the pit of Nicole’s stomach. “What do you want to do now?”

Nicole thinks for a moment before she leans down, sliding one arm under Waverly’s legs while the other goes to her back and she lifts her off the floor, cradling Waverly in her arms.

Waverly squeals and grabs Nicole around the neck, holding on tightly. Nicole keeps pressing kisses to Waverly’s shoulder and neck and jawline and cheeks, spinning in a small circle.

“You guys are going to make me vomit,” Wynonna drawls, picking at her fingernails and looking bored.

“Shut up, Wynonna,” Nicole breathes out, her eyes locked on Waverly’s.

“Yeah, take a chill pill,” Waverly says, grinning widely back at Nicole.

Nicole holds Waverly tighter, spins on the heel of her overly shined shoe, and kisses the woman she loves.