"You seem so far away though you are standing near
You made me feel alive, but something died I fear
I really tried to make it out
I wish I understood
What happened to our love, it used to be so good."
There was a bounce in Whitney's step as she slipped through the door of the Sheriff's department. Nothing like deception and manipulation mixed in with the excitement of her impending nuptials to brighten one's day. She'd left her friends back at Shorty's, tasting the themed drinks that would be at the reception while she ran across the street with a pair of coffee cups. She could barely contain the mix of eagerness and happiness coursing through her veins as she thought of all the possibilities ahead of her. Three more sleeps. The internal monologue had continued through her day.
The officer at the front desk smiled brightly, hiding her phone under some files to at least pretend she'd been working. "Hey Whit!"
"Hi Court." Whitney set a coffee cup in front of her old classmate. "He here?"
"Thank you so much." Court breathed a sigh of relief, popping open the cup to dip her finger into the melting whipped cream before nodding quickly. "Nedley's got him down in the dungeon."
With a snort, Whitney reached into her messenger bag and set a small napkin-wrapped bundle that smelled suspiciously like chocolate on the officer's desk.
"Courtesy of my mother's late night baking," she whispered with a wink before taking the remaining coffee cup and heading down a hallway. She found the stairs easily and made her way down, having traveled the path a few times before when the sheriff was being ornery and taking it out on everyone in the station by assigning menial tasks. A flickering light greeted her and she was drawn to the shuffling sounds coming from one corner.
Whitney paused for a moment, leaning against a shelf as she watched her fiancé reshelving file boxes. He was ridiculously adorable, she decided. With the amount of testosterone coursing through the veins of Purgatory, including his asshole of a father who measured a man's worth by however many seconds he could stay on a bull, she was glad Jesse was nothing like them.
Not saying he was weak, she thought as he moved a stack of boxes, watching the lines of his arm flex with the weight. No he was far from weak, and in truth he was a better shot with a shotgun than even her mother, but he was definitely a lover and not a fighter. She easily found herself lost as she watched him, a smile tugging at her lips until one box slipped from his hands, falling to the ground with files spilling out in a puff of dust.
"Dang it!" He sighed heavily, pushing his glasses further up the bridge of his nose before kneeling, only then seeing Whitney standing there. "Oh, hey!" He laughed nervously.
Taking mercy on him, Whitney was quick to his side, helping him scoop up the files and setting them haphazardly on the desk. "Sorry, Honey." She waited for him to set the box on the desk beside the small stack before holding out the coffee cup. "You look like you could use some of this."
He smiled bashfully, accepting the cup and setting it aside before wrapping his arm around her waist, pulling her closer. "You are too good to me."
"Nothing is too good for you." Whitney captured his lips in a quick kiss. "I can't believe the sheriff's got you all alone down here… with no one else around." Wiggling her eyebrows, she ran fingertips down the front of his uniform, circling a button. "You look like you could use a break."
Another laugh and he was pulling away with a shake of his head. "The sheriff's been on a strange warpath since this morning."
Whitney rolled her eyes. "Chrissy needs to pull the stick from her ass."
"I think the last thing I need right now is to get fired, at least not until after the wedding." He grinned a dopey grin that went all the way to his ears. "Because then I'll have a beautiful, college-educated wife that will be able to support me whenever she decides on a career path."
Whitney snorted, leaning back against the pile of boxes. "Well you better get used to enjoying my mother's cooking because we're gonna end up back at the homestead and God knows that bed squeaks louder than a cat in heat."
"Well, I think your mother's cooking is delicious."
"You're such a kiss ass." With a laugh, Whitney picked up his coffee and took a quick sip, wincing at the oversweet flavor. "I better go. Mom should be getting back soon with Aunt Wyn. I just wanted to see my future husband for a minute." She reached up to flick some dust off his uniform.
"Wynonna gets in today." His smile faltered, turning into a tight line as he fought the urge to frown. He was so bad at hiding his emotions from her.
"You know she loves you."
"She loves messing with me." He shook his head. "She just… I really wish she wouldn't compare me to my dad all the time."
Stepping into his space again, Whitney rested her forearms on his shoulders. "Sweetie, you are on the wrong side of the street to be anything like your dad. He's probably over at Shorty's right now, starting the day with a pint." She placed a quick kiss to the tip of his nose. "I love you because, on top of being a sexy beast, you are honest, brave, and full of integrity. Your dad couldn't even pass the officer exams and you are on route to be the next sheriff."
It was enough to bring back a grin as he pulled her closer, finding another kiss in her smile. His hands came up to capture her face, his thumbs gently brushing against her cheeks as he deepened the kiss.
Whitney groaned against his lips, breaking off the kiss to push away. "Ok, we should stop before we really get you fired."
"Hey, you were the one that offered." Still, he let her go but not without a pout.
"Well that was like….three minutes ago." She stuck her tongue out at him.
"And three minutes makes a difference?" Jesse argued before he saw the wry look on her face. "Ok, that's just mean."
"Oh but I do love every bit of those 3 minutes…" Whitney joked, slipping out of his reach as he playfully lunged for her.
Accidentally knocking one of the files from the stack, Jesse gave her a mock glare before picking up the folder, taking a quick look before his head tilted to the side. "Whoa… weird."
Pulling a small, wallet-sized photo out, he held it up so Whitney could see it. "Just an old personnel file. She kinda looks like you."
Her eyes growing wide, Whitney snatched the photo quickly, seeing the familiar angles of the face that was also in the photo in her bag except this time she was wearing the same uniform Jesse was wearing. God her mother must have been shitting herself when Whitney started dating an officer, she mused, reaching for the folder before Jesse could start reading. "That's crazy." She let her eyes scan the page, noticing the emergency contact where a very neatly written Waverly Earp was in black ink. "I wonder if Mom knows who this is."
She wasn't ready to deal with explaining Nicole to Jesse. She couldn't let him see the file. Not yet anyway. So with a big grin, she shoved the file in her bag.
"Hey. Whit…" He was cut off with a kiss, soft hands cupping his cheeks as Whitney's form pressed against his.
"I'm just gonna borrow it. I'll bring it back." She whispered against his lips.
Before he could protest, she broke the kiss off and pulled away. She could see the momentary hesitance in his eyes and quickly pressed one last kiss to his lips. "I have to go find the girls. I'm staying at the homestead again tonight. Come by when you're done." And with that, she turned and left.
Escaping up the stairs, she barely got her expression under control before running right into the Sheriff. "Sheriff Nedley! I was just looking for you!" She hoped her cheeks weren't as flushed as they felt.
Chrissy Nedley narrowed her eyes at the wayward Earp. "I don't remember my office being down in the archives."
Putting on the smile she'd taken from her mother, Whitney reached into her messenger bag to pull out a box wrapped with a ribbon, four small cakes visible through the plastic top. "My mom wanted to say thank you for your help with those coyotes the other night."
Her expression not faltering, Chrissy accepted the box as they began to walk back to the front of the station. "All in a day's work. Tell your mother she's more than welcome, but please remember that all messages of appreciation are better delivered from the other side of the front desk."
Whitney tried not to laugh. When her mother had told her about how the Sheriff had been in high school, she'd barely believed it. "Noted." She quickly commented, giving Court a quick wave before escaping out the front door.
"I'm here, Bitches!" Wynonna let her bag drop, her eyes scanning the unexpected darkness of the homestead with a frown. "What the hell? I didn't fly all the way from the UK to not even get a damn hug… a shot of whiskey… something?"
Waverly rolled her eyes, pulling a note off the cork board near the door. "She's running some errands with the girls."
"Kids these days." Wynonna moved to the kitchen, finding things exactly in the same place as they always were. "It's way too late in the day for me to be sober and what the eff is up with all the hammering?"
"It's not even noon." Waverly could only smile, seeing her sister pouring whiskey into their grandmother's china. "And the incessant banging is because her royal highness wants an outdoor wedding."
"It's fricking Purgatory in December. Her royal highness is asking for a swift kick to the box." Wynonna snorted, taking a sip before quickly spitting it out. "Either someone's been watering down the whiskey, or my tongue isn't working…"
"Well you'd be a lot more quiet if that were true." Waverly grabbed the bottle, inspecting it. "That little brat." She let her thumb brush over the small x near the barcode. "This is the bottle we bring out when her in-laws come over for dinner. I told her to get a new bottle."
Wynonna snorted at that. "Not like that man-child knows the difference."
Waverly froze as a voice from the past ran through her mind. A boy man? She shook her head, attempting to dislodge the memories. "Well, I'm suddenly in the mood to drink." She twirled the keys that were still in her hand. "Trip to town?"
Wynonna changed her mind and shot back the rest of the whiskey in her cup before nodding. "No sense in wasting it….ugh that's horrible. Let's go."
"What the hell is going on here?"
The entire bar jumped at the sound of the voice ringing from the double doors. The small party at the bar counter broke out in a burst of laughter.
"Mom!" Whitney laughed, knocking back the small shot of pink and green before hopping off the stool. "Mom we have to have this… this… Stevie, what is it?" She directed at the bartender.
"The Earp Express." He cleared his throat, trying to avoid his boss's even stare.
"It's fantastic!" Only then did Whitney notice the tall frame behind her mother. "Aunty Wyn!" She launched herself at the oldest in the Earp family who embraced her with a noticeable grunt.
Wynonna returned the hug briefly before holding her out at arm's reach. "My beloved niece, already drunk before lunch," she pulled Whitney in for another hug, pressing a kiss to her forehead. "I trained you so well. I'm proud of you," she mock cried before pushing her away. "Take me to your alcohol," she groaned as she followed Whitney to the bar, noticing the different shot glasses of various colors and mixes. "What's wrong with straight up whiskey?"
"It's a party!" Anna laughed, reaching for a suspiciously orange mixture and tipping the drink down her throat, wincing. "Oh… yeah the Pious Wyatt is horrible. Definitely not strong enough"
"It's a virgin drink." Jenn commented wryly with a shake of her head. "Hi Miss Waverly."
Waverly let her eyes drift over the bar. "You driving?" She asked, noticing the glass of coke in front of her.
"Good girl." Waverly looked over her shoulder where Whitney was peppering Wynonna with a few dozen questions about her travel. "Okay…" She clapped her hands together, looking at the bartender. "What the hell is this Earper Express?"
With a smile, he pulled a clean shot glass out, expertly layering the alcohol before presenting it.
Quickly swallowing the drink, Waverly pursed her lips. It was sweet with the subtlest of burns. People were going to get destroyed at this wedding, and she couldn't help but look forward to it. "I like it. Write it down and clean all this up." She looked at Purgatory's next generation, her daughter's rambunctious friends, and felt a small bit of sadness. She could hardly believe how fast time was going by, and yet she felt like every moment had lasted a lifetime.
A lifetime of waking up alone, taking Whitney to the dentist alone, having to attend the father/daughter dances with her. Now she was getting married.
God she felt old.
"Do you even know who I am?"
Waverly looked up to see Wynonna trying to get behind the bar. "Wynonna! Stop it." She hooked her arm around her sister's elbow. "Thank you, Stevie." She winked at the bartender before tugging Wynonna away. "Go in back, please. Find something to drink." Looking at the girls, she took another deep breath. "Girls, I take it you picked up the boxes from the post and the supplies for the centerpieces?"
"It's all in the trunk, Miss Waverly." Jenn supplied quickly.
"Then what the hell are you still doing here? We have about 100 of those damn things to make so if you could please get working on them." When Wynonna came out from the storeroom, she sighed softly. "Wynonna, can you go with them please? Make sure they actually get started while I run some errands."
"Yes, Mom." Wynonna muttered, hugging her bottle to her chest. Whitney and Anna piped up with a laugh, grabbing Jenn by one hand each.
Waverly sighed. Her baby was grown, and drunk, and getting married. It was that same motherly protective streak that led her to follow the girls outside, making sure that it was Jenn that slipped behind the wheel. "Turn it down!" She yelled as music poured out of the topless car that backed into the street. "Drive carefully!"
Watching as the car took off down the road, she winced as it almost swiped a car that was pulling in front of Purgatory's only hotel. As the driver slipped from the vehicle, obviously watching the car make it's way down the road, Waverly almost called out an apology when something stopped her.
There was no mistaking that frame, all 5'9" of it. She didn't even need the woman to turn towards her, shoulder-length red waves reflecting the light of the sun.
Waverly felt herself shutting down. Her heart stopped. Her breath caught in her throat, a vast desert that reached from her tongue to her lungs.
What the hell was she doing here?
"What the hell are you doing here?" Waverly breathed out the hushed question toward the wall. Despite the harshness of her words, she was too tired, too numb to put any heat in them. Instead, she felt deflated, shrinking and sinking like a balloon in the cold.
"I wanted to see you," Nicole said, equally resigned from the doorframe of Waverly's childhood bedroom. She didn't dare set foot inside. "Before I…"
"Run away?" Waverly, who sat on her old mattress, kept her eyes trained straight ahead at the Pokemon poster she had hung as a child. Its corners peeled at the edges. She refused to turn around. But if she did, she imagined she'd see Nicole's lips set in a thin, frustrated line.
"That's not what I'm doing."
Nicole blew out a breath. "We both agreed that we need some space. Get some perspective. Does it really matter if I'm here or in Chicago for it?"
"No," Waverly acceded, not wanting to fight. She didn't want to do much of anything. "I suppose not."
She picked a piece of lint off the sleeve of one of her favorite Christmas sweaters-a green and red monstrosity with a massive Rudolph emblazoned on the front. Or at least, it used to be one of her favorites. She stopped herself from re-living the mini-breakdown she had that afternoon, when an identical, newborn-sized one had arrived in the mail. She had forgotten that she had special ordered it all the way back in the spring.
"Wave, look at me," Nicole pleaded quietly. "Please."
She didn't want to turn around, both out of vindictiveness and, if she was completely honest, a lingering sense of self-preservation. She feared that if she looked at Nicole, the walls of indifference that she had erected around her heart would crumble. Walls she had meticulously put in place, conscious or not, after months of tests and shots and suppositories, disappointment after disappointment, fighting and frustration.
"This isn't permanent," Nicole insisted when Waverly remained silent and still. "If I visit my family for a bit, maybe it'll get them off my back."
Waverly snorted. "Whatever you need to tell yourself."
Nicole sighed, long and slow. "We'll talk soon," she said.
They both pretended it wasn't a lie.
An unexpected frisson of pain lanced through Waverly's chest, cutting through the numbness and leaving a dull ache between her ribs. She closed her eyes as she listened to Nicole turn and walk away, boots clicking lightly on the creaking hardwood.
Waverly felt torn between running after Nicole and staying in place. She buried her face in her hands. She didn't want Nicole to leave, but she didn't really want her to stay either. She could try to stop Nicole - all she had to do was call out her name. But then what? Pretend they hadn't said all those hurtful things to each other? Forgive and forget? Waverly wasn't ready. And she doubted Nicole was either. How did they end up here?
She startled when she heard the front door click shut with a finality that echoed throughout the Homestead. The sound spurred Waverly to her feet. Almost against her will, and most certainly against her better judgment, she approached her bedroom window and peered outside.
She watched Nicole walk slowly toward her squad car. The desire to slide open her window and ask Nicole to stay grew, almost overwhelmingly so. But Waverly didn't move. And Nicole didn't stop. When Nicole opened the car's door, she paused and Waverly held her breath. Even now, after everything, Nicole still looked tall and strong despite her hesitation.
Nicole turned her head and looked up toward Waverly's window.
Their eyes met and Waverly's heart throbbed.
It was now or never.
There would be no turning back unless one of them changed their minds.
But neither did.
And with one last sad smile, Nicole got in the car and drove away. Waverly reached out and touched the glass of her window, tracing the cloud of dust that trailed in Nicole's wake.
Twenty years later, Waverly cursed the fact that Nicole, in dark jeans and a gray peacoat, looked every bit as striking as she had the last time Waverly saw her. And even with the distance between them, she still felt an inexplicable pull toward Nicole. Perhaps old Waverly would have given in and let herself be driven forward by her thundering, traitorous heart. Would have marched right up to her ex and demand to know why she was in town, just to see her up close, to finally hear the voice that kept haunting her dreams.
But the Waverly of today wasn't driven by her emotions. No sir. She was no longer enamored by childish notions of romance, or meant to be, or true love conquering all. Waverly of today put one and only one first person, and that person was Whitney. And Waverly would focus on Whitney and make damn well sure that her daughter and future son-in-law had the best goddamn wedding the town had ever seen.
She wouldn't bother with Nicole, or even concern herself with why she was back. That's what Waverly told herself as she turned on her heel and walked to her SUV and hopped in. So what if she seemed to be having trouble catching her breath as she turned the engine over. No. She wasn't going to think at all about Nicole. And if her eyes happened to slide to the rearview window where Nicole was perfectly reflected, well, she was just checking that the coast was clear before she pulled out of her parking spot.