“Okay, Haught- you can do this. You’ve looked serial killers in the eye without flinching. You’ve helped bring down political corruption. You’ve faced bullets and knives, murderers and psychopaths. You did once bring a pistol to an AR fight, not your best moment. Other than that, you’re a badass. A couple of drunk, stoned, crazy or overly enthusiastic college kids? That’s nothing for a badass, right?”
Nicole Haught stares at herself in the bathroom mirror, before dropping her gaze and sighing loudly. She still dresses like an FBI agent- white shirt clean and starched, black pants and jacket pressed and fitted, black shoes laced and shined. The badge clipped to her pants is now just laminated plastic, instead of the weighty metal she prefers. She briefly wishes she felt as shiny and new as her shoes. If only she felt half as confident as she looks.
“You’re also giving yourself a mirror pep talk like a crazy person. Just try to be normal for once. Enjoy the moment. You can do this.”
She was born and bred to be a Special Agent, to hunt down criminals and essentially read minds. She was made to read emotions and facial expressions, to analyze micro-expressions and gauge reactions in milliseconds. Suddenly, standing in front of a room full of normal civilian college students seems even more terrifying than anything else she’s faced. Teaching students who don't know who she is, or care who she could have been- that was never a part of the plan.
She steps out of the small bathroom, and heads for the front door. The limp in her left leg is more pronounced today, a testament to endless nerves and a heavy rain overnight. She presses down with her heel inside of the shoe, confirming the added support and padding is there to help relieve some pressure and keep her now awkward gait from being too obvious. She can show no weakness to her students and colleagues, not today. Today, she is the badass new professor who is going to change things at her alma mater, UCLA. Today, she is confident and awesome. She hopes.
Nicole checks her phone, and heads for her new office- Room 711. As she reaches into her pocket for the freshly made key, she notices the door looks to be unlocked and just slightly open. Weird, no one had been in the office in the days prior to Nicole’s arrival on campus. There’s music playing inside, peppy music.
She presses her shoulder into the door, reaching down to touch her right hip out of habit. No pistol there, per campus rules. The door slides open quietly and Nicole is ready, her gaze shifting to the presumably empty desk. Instead, she sees a smallish brunette woman sitting at said desk, Nicole’s desk. She’s typing animatedly and humming along to some poppy song from the radio. Is that Katy Perry? Nicole shakes the wonderment from her mind, before stepping into the room and making her presence known.
The brunette looks up, awkwardly stutter-stopping her quiet humming. She stumbles over the edge of the desk, dropping a hand onto the sturdy wood. She mumbles to herself, frowning for a moment before looking up and flashing a mile-wide smile at her first visitor.
“Hi! Wow, I didn’t think I’d see anyone else so soon! Did we have a meeting or something? I just, I got here early, to set up my things. Had to double and triple check the room number. I mix up numbers in my head. Stupid dyscalculia, right? Of course they’d give me a room with the two digits I mix up the most! I mean, you know you have a problem when you have to ask your nephew if the room number is 711 or 717. I’m so glad I got one that’s easy to remember though! 711, like the convenience store! ...Oh god, I’m rambling. Let me try again. Hi, I’m Waverly Earp!”
Nicole can’t stop herself from grinning, head tilting slightly as she tries to process the bumbling, yet endearing woman before her. Waverly rushes through the words, adding lilting inflection. Her adorably excited voice seems to make each syllable and phrase sound unique and important. Haught likes this girl, Waverly Earp. She’s going to enjoy learning what makes her tick.
“Waverly, hi. I’m Haught. Sorry, I’m Nicole, Nicole Haught. A, uh, force of habit.”
Nicole scolds herself inwardly. Good one, idiot. She’s going to think you’re trying to be-
“A James Bond force of habit, hey? Interesting there, 00-Haught.”
Waverly’s playful smile slips, and her head droops. A pout settles across her features as she looks back up at Nicole.
“Wow, I should not make jokes, like ever. That was way better and funnier in my head.”
“No worries, I’m always up for a good last name pun. Honestly though, good luck finding an original one. I’ve probably heard them all by now.”
“Right, noted. Anyway, what brings you to my office today, Nicole Haught?”
Nicole has to chastise herself inwardly when her name is spoken. Stop staring at the cute girl and say something!
“Hmm? Oh, I’m new, a Professor of Forensic Psychology and Forensic Sociology. Could have sworn the paperwork I got listed this as my office. Maybe I read the sign wrong or something? One sec.”
Nicole steps back, just outside the doorway, and stares at the sign- 711. A quick glance at her paperwork confirms this is definitely her assigned office. Further down the list, she sees Waverly Earp assigned to Office Number 717. As she raises her head to share the confirmation, she notices Waverly is staring darkly at a paper in her hands, eyes fluttering up to her computer screen with an expression Nicole easily recognizes- embarrassment.
Nicole has always been able to read people in a different and unusual way. Her whole world revolves around reading people, and recognizing what a facial expression means in the context of the moment, or of past events. Seeing the look on Waverly’s face, she knows the office is a big deal to the woman. She was terrified to be in the wrong place, and has now unwittingly set her things down on the wrong desk. A decision is made in an instant. Nicole steps back into the room and flashes what she hopes looks like an embarrassed, slightly dopey smile.
“You’re right- I totally mixed up the rooms. I’ll just head down to my office, 717.”
“Oh, great! Glad I didn’t mix them up for once. I did that at my old school more times than I’d like to admit. Had to write all the digits down in my handwriting, so I could use special marks to know which is which. Now, I don’t have to rewrite and print the syllabus!”
“Yeah, that’s good to hear. Wait, rewrite? Couldn’t you just make a quick change on your laptop and send it to the printer?”
“Oh, no, I like to handwrite and photocopy each syllabus for the Languages courses I teach. Helps me get comfortable with everything, and it keeps the students from trying to talk me into making changes or watering things down. Already have them done for the semester. Wanna see?”
“That’s admirable. I’m good, thanks. Actually, I think I’m going to drop off my stuff in 717 and take a look around. I haven’t been on campus in awhile. Gotta find the best, hidden away coffee place and re-acquaint myself with the hotspots to avoid.”
“Smart idea, Haught! Maybe I’ll see you around. Well, I will see you around, since you’re right down the hall.”
“Yeah, you’ll see me around for sure. Maybe we can grab a coffee once I find a good enough place, yeah?”
“Definitely! Just drop by, or-- here!”
Waverly scribbles for a moment, before handing Nicole a photocopy of the aforementioned syllabus with her name, ten digits and a smiley face in bubbly print freshly penned at the bottom.
“You can call or text me, and we’ll grab coffee. I need to know where this mysterious, unbusy coffee shop is, too, if I plan to survive the semester.”
“You’ve got a deal, Earp. I’ll see you around?”
“Yup, see you!”
Nicole’s eyes focus and move like a camera lens, taking in and momentarily studying the woman before her. She wants to know more, see more and watch a million micro-expressions and strong emotions fly across that face. She wants to see every look, every moment, every feeling move across those eyes and hidden facial muscles. After a slightly awkward pause and brief staring contest, Nicole lightly shakes her head and flashes Waverly a confident smile. Waverly grins back and turns to her desk. She seems to flit around the office-straightening papers, dramatically kicking out her chair, typing energetically. Quick movements, all while humming along to a Taylor Swift song playing through Pac-Man ghost shaped computer speakers. Nicole drops her head to hide her widening smile, takes a deep breath and heads toward (not) her office. As she pushes the door open, she wonders who she needs to contact to have her and Waverly’s office numbers switched.