The first time it happens, Nicole finds herself standing in a dark alley that smells like piss. It’s raining.
She had been standing, moments before, pouring coffee into her mug in the small kitchenette at the station, taking a break from an all-night case. One of her hands is still raised, as if gripping the coffee cup.
Dreaming, she must be dreaming.
There’s a girl at the other end of the alley, huddled into a corner. Nicole peers at her through the rain. She’s about fifteen or so, tall and skinny, wearing a leather jacket too big for her.
“Hey,” Nicole says. “You alright?”
The girl glances at her, frowns. “You here to pick up?” she asks. She steps a bit closer, out of the merger shelter the alley provides from the weather, and Nicole’s mouth drops open. The girl is Wynonna Earp. Or, what Wynona Earp would have looked like at fifteen.
“Look, creep,” the girl says, glaring at Nicole, “either pick up your stuff or piss off. I’m not here for your goddamn entertainment.”
“Um…” Nicole manages, “actually, I... um….”
The girl rolls her eyes, suddenly relaxing her stance a little. “You got the wrong alley, I ain’t a working girl either. They hang out a couple roads down.”
Nicole shakes her head. She’s hallucinating or… something. Probably fell asleep standing up in the kitchen. It had been 3 am when she’d last looked at the clock.
But… this girl is definitely Wynonna. Same way of talking, same way of holding her body, same look – like she’s peering out of her body, waiting to see what is going to get up and punch her in the gut next.
There’s a sudden movement at the mouth of the alley and Nicole instinctively steps back into shadow. If unsure of your position, they’d told her during her police training, make yourself inconspicuous and wait.
A man appears, silhouetted and indistinct. He kicks a bottle near his foot and it rolls across the concrete towards Nicole.
“Oi, where are ya, ya little brat?” He gruffs into the gloom.
Wynona steps forward. “Your mamma never teach you no manners?” she snaps at him.
The man sneers, stepping closer. He smells like stale beer and he gets close enough to where Nicole’s standing, half hidden, that she can see the flex of the tendons in his hands as he clenches and unclenches his fists. “Ya don’t deserve my respect you little sewer bitch. Give us the gear.”
Wynona looks the man disdainfully up and down. “Money,” she demands.
The man reaches into his jacket, pulls out a crumpled envelop and passes it over. In return, Wynona fishes out a little bag from her pocket and throws it at him.
Nicole closes her eyes briefly and prepares herself to intervene. She’s not sure how it’s going to look down the station, handing over a fifteen year old look alike of Wynona Earp, arrested for dealing, when, on Nedley’s own orders she should be tucked up in the office pouring through case files. Before she can un-holster her gun though, the man makes a low hissing noise and steps further forward, backing the girl up against the wet alley wall. “The fuck is this? This is shit. Whatcha cut it with, fucking talc?”
He throws the little bag down on the ground and it explodes, releasing a puff of white.
“Easy-“ Wynona mutters, but the man snakes a fist out and presses his meaty hand around the girl’s slim neck, squeezing.
Nicole acts without thinking, hand falling from her holster to grip the lid of the trash can next to her. She smashes it over the man’s head and it ricochets off him with a metallic crack. He crumples into a heap on the wet ground and the Wynona look alike blinks at her.
“…thanks?” she offers.
“Don’t mention it,” Nicole replies but… she is talking to the station’s microwave, alone in the little kitchenette, one hand still raised gripping her coffee cup.
No one is around, the station is quiet except the whir of the coffee percolator next to her. Nicole pours her coffee, takes an aspirin and goes back to her case files.
Nicole chalks it up to lack of sleep and stress, and completely forgets about the weird, brief hallucination that had felt so real. She only remembers when it happens again.
Except this time she isn’t at work, she is brushing her teeth in her tiny bathroom. One minute she’s staring at her own reflection in the mirror, the next at the inside of an old barn. She recognises this place. It’s the Earp barn; she’d spent a fairly memorable afternoon curled up with Waverly exchanging kisses and secrets on the old, rickety bed in the corner.
At first she thinks the barn is empty, but then she hears a sob and shuffles forward. There’s a little heap of pink clothing and long brown hair on the floor across from her.
“Uh, hello?” Nicole suggests into the light slatted space.
The bundle on the floor shifts and Nicole is suddenly looking at a tiny girl with tear streaked cheeks, clutching one wrist to her chest. It’s Waverly. Baby Waverly, about four or so. And really, Nicole thinks, if she’s going to keep hallucinating the Earp family’s childhood, she could at least hallucinate something cheerier. Her mouth still tastes of peppermint toothpaste.
The girl sniffs at her. “Who are you?”
“I’m… Nicole.” Nicole crouches down, to get a better look at the tiny girl. “You okay?”
Baby Waverly ignores her question and frowns at her, “are you one of Daddy’s friends?”
“No,” says Nicole, “I’m one of your… friends, I guess.” She winces.
“Oh,” the girl says. She thinks about this for a second, light brown eyes considering the redhead curiously, and then seems to decide this is perfectly normal and scoots closer. “I hurt my wrist,” she says and thrusts her arm up for Nicole to see.
And Waverly’s small wrist does seem to be swollen, turning an angry looking red. “Try and keep it still,” Nicole murmurs soothingly. She’s never really been good with kids. Her brother’s baby had burst into cross, scrunched up tears if she so much as looked at it too long. “How did you hurt it?” she asks.
“Willa made me walk across the beam. She said if I did, she wouldn’t tell Daddy that I…” The child trails off, eyes flicking guiltily to the floor.
“And where is Willa now?” Nicole says softly. She takes the thin cardigan she’s wearing off and gently reaches out to tie the arms around Waverly’s neck, forming a makeshift sling. She’d completed a mandatory first aid course as part of her training. Waverly’s wrist is probably sprained, but not broken.
The girl sniffs unhappily, looking ready to start sobbing for real now. “She laughed and said- and said it serveded me right.”
Nicole has met Willa at thirty, and that sounds about accurate. Nicole waits until Waverly’s wet eyes meet her own, “well, she’s wrong. You don’t deserve to be hurt. Not ever.”
Waverly scoots forward even further and leans her head against Nicole’s arm, blinking up at her. The child considers her seriously. “You’re a lot nicer than my other imaginary friend,” she says.
Nicole frowns, “what other imaginary friend?”
“Bobo,” Waverly murmurs. “I’m sleepy. I’m gonna sleep, ‘kay. Don’t go anywhere.”
“Okay,” says Nicole softly, closing her own eyes too, “I’ll stay.”
When she opens them again, she’s standing in her white, bright, tiny bathroom, toothpaste dripping down her chin and her own tired face looking blankly back at her in the mirror.
She doesn’t forget this time. Instead she goes to the Purgatory public library and researches psychosis and narcolepsy and anything else that might cause vivid hallucinations. She ignores the fact that she came back to her bathroom without her cardigan on. Pretends she lost it somewhere, even though she roots through every cupboard in her house without finding it.
Then Willa turns out to be an even bigger bitch than even Nicole had thought, and shoots her in the chest, and Nicole stops her research to focus on trying get back to breathing without wincing.
She’s in the hospital, getting checked over after a run in with petty criminal, when it happens again.
She’s in a little cubical in the ER, curtains pulled together. And then she’s not anymore.
She’s in a public toilet somewhere, probably in a bar from the steady pulse of music and the stickiness of the floor. There’s a girl standing over the sink, looking like she’s going to puke, hands clenched so tightly round the basin that they’ve gone white at the knuckle.
She knows it is Wynona without having to see the girl’s face. She looks older this time, maybe twenty or so. When Nicole edges forward to see Wynona’s reflection in the mirror, the other girl’s pupils are blown wide.
“Wynonna?” she says.
The girl stills, back tensing. “What do you want?”
“Are you okay?” Nicole asks, thinking there is a definite pattern emerging in these weird trips into insanity she keeps having.
If anything Wynona tenses even further at her query. She glances over her shoulder, “who the hell are you?”
Nicole shrugs, “we’ve met a few times,” she offers.
“Riiiight,” Wynona drawls. “Well why don’t you carry on and mind your own goddamn business.” It’s not a question, but as she talks, Nicole sweeps an examining look down the other girl’s body. Wynonna is wearing a tight black dress that cuts off at her thigh. And she’s high as a kite on something. There are bruises forming on the other girl’s leg just below the hem of her dress. They look like finger marks.
“Wynona… did someone try and hurt you?”
Wynona drops her grip on the sink and shuffles her feet so she is pressed defensively into the space between the sink and the wall. “Just some guy,” she mutters. “Didn’t know the meaning of ‘no’.”
Nicole swallows dryly, feeling like she might be sick herself. She moves over to the wall, leaving plenty of space between her and Wynona, and slides her back down it until she is sitting on the floor. Make yourself less threatening, place yourself lower than the other person, don’t block any exits, don’t make direct eye contact, keep your face neutral. Sexual assault and battery education, along with first aid, was also part of her training.
“Anything in particular hurt?” she asks the wall opposite.
Out the corner of her eye, she can see Wynona squinting at her. “Why are you trying to help me?”
Nicole considers her answer. She thinks back to little Waverly, holding back sobs in the Earp barn. “You deserve to have someone help you,” she says, keeping her eyes fixed on the wall opposite. Someone’s scrawled their name in a purple marker pen, surrounded by badly drawn flowers and a few shaky stars.
She hears Wynona, rather than sees her, slide down onto the floor as well. “You clearly don’t know me then lady.”
Nicole risks a glance at her, meeting Wynona’s eyes, and trying to put as much honesty into her gaze as she can. “You deserve to have someone help you,” she repeats.
Wynona lets out a ragged breath and wraps her arms round her knees. “Okay,” she says, “okay.”
“Your test results are back Ms. Haught,” someone says, and Nicole blinks. Her eyes feel dry, like she’s been trying to out stare someone. She is in the hospital, back in the little cubical with its fluttering curtain walls. There’s a doctor in front of her, frowning at her. “You’ve got a couple of broken ribs, Ms. Haught. Are you sure you didn’t hit your head? You look like you may have a concussion.”
When Nicole sees Wynonna next, a few days later in the Earp kitchen, she thinks about the girl she met in the sticky bar bathroom.
“What?” asks Wynona, looking at her like she has grown another head.
“Nothin’,” Nicole says. She thinks for a second, watching Wynona fill up a glass of water from the kitchen sink. “You’re just… strong, is all.”
Wynonna rolls her eyes, “sure Haught, and you get all your lines from a bumper sticker.”
She’ll be prepared next time, Nicole thinks. When it happens, she will focus on the way things feel, how she feels. Try and work out what the hell is going on in her brain.
It doesn’t happen again for a few weeks, and Nicole wonders if whatever was happening to her has stopped. But then she’s on a stake out, watching the seedy front of a tobacco shop on the outskirts of town. Officer Webb is sitting shotgun, peering through a pair of binoculars, trying to make out what’s happening inside the store.
And then she is standing in the hallway of an unfamiliar house, near the top of some stairs. The wallpaper is an unappealing lime green, but the house looks normal, lived in, clean. No one is around, but there is the sound of voices downstairs and a few hollers. A teenage party, Nicole thinks.
A door opens to her left and a Waverly steps out. She’s dressed in a sparkly dress, hair done up in two neat buns. She looks around sixteen. She spots Nicole and stops in the middle of the hallway, looking hesitant.
“Hi, uh, sorry were you waiting for the bathroom?” she asks, glancing down at Nicole’s uniform and frowning. “I haven’t been drinking,” Waverly says quickly. She offers Nicole a quick, sweet smile but it doesn’t reach her eyes.
“I’m, um, just here to see,” Nicole looks around wildly, searching for an excuse, “about the noise.”
It’s a weak excuse and Nicole has to supress a wince when Waverly looks at her curiously and says, “but the Nedley’s don’t have any neighbours.”
“Oh,” says Nicole, “well I was just passing in my car and heard the noise.” She wonders why she’s trying to justify her presence in her own damn hallucination and then remembers she is meant to be focusing on how she feels. But Waverly is still standing in the hallway in front of her and… Nicole’s been dating Waverly for a month or so now and she recognises the way the other girl is hugging herself, shoulders hunched. “Everything okay?”
Waverly looks at her, her gaze shooting to another door a little further down the hallway. “Yeah, everything good, just… well, yeah, why wouldn’t everything be?” She’s rambling and Nicole is smiling fondly at the other girl before she can stop herself.
“What’s on your mind?”
Waverly gives a quick little laugh, which sounds completely insincere, “like I said, nothing wrong.”
“Look,” says Nicole, dropping down to sit on the topmost stair of the stairway, “I can tell you’ve been drinking, so how’s about you tell me what’s wrong and I can try and help. Or, I can take you down to the station and issue you a warning for underage drinking, huh?” She slides herself over so there’s plenty of space on the stair next to her and gives Waverly a friendly smile. During training they had called it the big-sib routine. You slip into acting like the older sibling of the suspect, firm but kind. It works really well with the teenagers, who, Nicole knows from her own angst filled teenage years, really only want someone to listen to them without fear of being judged.
Waverly shifts from foot to foot.
Nicole takes off her hat and turns it over in her hands, inspecting the brim. Wait for the suspect to come to you, no point pressuring them. If they want to talk, they will.
“My boyfriend wants me to have sex with him,” Waverly suddenly bursts out behind her. Nicole forces herself to keep her expression neutral. The other girl is suddenly sitting beside her, hands gripping her own knees, “it feels really good to tell someone.” She smiles shyly at Nicole, and Nicole tries to remember, when Wynona left, how old Waverly would have been; whether Waverly at sixteen would have had anyone safe to talk about this stuff with.
“Ok,” Nicole smiles, “and do you want to have sex with him?”
Waverly frowns at her knees, “I think so. I’m meant to right? It’s like, normal to want to. And I do like him. He’s a bit…” Waverly trails off and then grins brightly, “but he’s sweet and he treats me nicely.”
Nicole considers this for a second, still turning her hat round in her hands. “Well, if you want to, then that’s okay. As long as you aren’t doing it because you feel you should.” Nicole glances at the girl next to her, “you know about protection, right?”
“Yah,” Waverly says, waving a hand flippantly. “Chrissy gave me some condoms.”
Nicole nods, “well, if you like him and you want to, then it’s your choice.” She takes a longer look at the girl next to her, “how much have you had to drink?”
Waverly wrinkles her nose, “just some wine.”
“Your judgement not impaired?”
“I don’t think so,” Waverly says. Nicole nods. She must really be losing it, talking to an imaginary version of her girlfriend about losing her virginity.
Waverly is quiet and still beside her. There’s more, Nicole thinks. “Anything else you’re worried about?” she prods gently.
Waverly bites her lips and flicks anxious eyes at her. “Will it hurt?” she whispers.
Nicole thinks about this. She’d slept with a boy once, when she was eighteen, at college. Experimenting, trying to figure out her sexuality. It hadn’t been wonderful, wet and quick and completely unexciting. She tries to remember. It had hurt a bit, but she’d slept with a girl before that and that hadn’t hurt at all.
“It might,” she offers cautiously. “But it shouldn’t, not really, if he…” Nicole considers her wording, “does things slowly and properly. Just make sure that he, um, builds you up.”
Waverly nods decisively next to her. “Okay,” she says, standing up. She’s a few steps away when she stops and turns back, “and hey, thanks for, you know.”
“No problem” Nicole says and-
“What isn’t?” Officer Webb asks next to her. She’s back in the squad car. Webb has got two red rings round his eyes from where he’s pressed the binoculars against his face too hard.
“Oh… erm, nothing,” Nicole says. She presses a hand against her thigh and pinches the flesh through her trousers. She’s real, this is real. She’s back from… whatever that was. But there’s a thought in the back of her mind she can’t quite squash; the hallucination had felt real too. “Hey, Webb?” She asks.
“Do you know what colour wallpaper Nedley has in his house?”
She’s asleep the fifth time it happens, dreaming something. And then suddenly she’s awake, but not in bed. She’s outside, by the road somewhere.
The night is cold, but there is heat against her face; there’s a car, clearly just crashed, steaming, in front of her. It’s on fire, smoke billowing out from under the hood.
She stares at it sleepily for a second before her brain kicks in and she’s running forward. There is a woman in the car, crumpled against the steering wheel. Her hair is swept across her face, but Nicole recognises the leather jacket. Wynonna.
She reaches the car just as the fire is beginning to lick up through the crumpled metal of the hood. She wrenches open the door and tugs at Wynonna’s body.
Wynonna’s wearing her seat belt, and she doesn’t smell – unusually for Wynona – of alcohol. Not drink driving then, the calm cop part of Nicole’s brain that doesn’t ever switch off tells her. Nicole grapples with the seat belt for a second and finally wrenches it off the other woman. She pulls Wynonna sideways and they land in a heap beside the open car door. And god, Nicole hopes that Wynonna doesn’t have a spinal cord injury because she could be doing more damage.
But it’s either risk increased spinal damage or let Wynonna burn to death.
Nicole stumbles to her feet, hooks an arm around Wynonna’s waist and drags her as far from the car as she can. Wynonna’s light, but Nicole is barefoot and the ground is a hazardous jumble of loose stones and smashed glass from the car’s windshield.
She collapses 100 yards from the car panting. She turns Wynonna over in her arms. “Wyn?” she breaths, “please don’t be dead.”
Wynona looks… about the same age as the Wynonna Nicole knows. The one that isn’t imaginary.
The other woman is breathing, shallowly, but breathing.
Nicole squints at the car. From this angle, she can make out a tire, not flat, but ripped apart, like someone had shot at it. Not an accident at all then.
Nicole allows herself one long, deep breath, pushing as much smoke from her lungs as she can, and then fishes in Wynona’s jacket pocket for her phone. She rings 911 and just catches the beginning of a woman’s voice asking about the nature of her emergency when the car, 100 yards away, explodes.
She wakes up in bed, in her dark room. Everything is normal. Even the bedcovers are still neat, like Nicole had just fallen asleep in them. Not twisted around her body, like they are in films when someone has a nightmare. Nicole pants into the darkness of her room. Hallucination, she thinks. Dream, she thinks. But her pyjamas smell like smoke and, when she gets out of bed to turn on the light, there is a cut on her foot filled with gravel.
She spends the next night at Waverly’s, pressed against her girlfriend, trying not to close her eyes and fall asleep. She does eventually, but the night is uneventful, except for a bizarre dream about floating cows that moo with a French accent. Waverly wakes her up in the morning with kisses, and then pretends to be a horse with a German accent over breakfast pancakes, in a way that makes Nicole’s heart swell with love and Wynonna snort coffee out of her nose.
Later, when she goes upstairs to fetch Waverly a jumper, she finds her cardigan, folded neatly in a box in Waverly’s cupboard. The box is marked ‘keep’.
Nicole picks the cardigan up. It’s hers, she knows it is, but… it’s faded, like it’s old. There’s a moth hole in one of the sleeves, and it’s worn thin in places. But, it is hers. There’s the same small bleach mark on the front, and one of the buttons is mismatched with the rest. Nicole’s mother had sown it on for her when the original had fallen off.
She puts it back in the box and hurries back downstairs.
She doesn’t mention it to Waverly.
Nedley and his wife invite her over for dinner. She asks to use the bathroom and they direct her upstairs.
The wallpaper is lime green.
The next time it happens she is walking back to the station with a bag full of takeout to share. There had been a series of bank robberies in the area and Nedley had asked everyone to stay late, pooling resources to try and dig up some leads. Nicole had offered to go and get Chinese from the 24 hour place around the corner. She’s walking down the street, swinging the takeout bag in one hand, and then she’s stepping forward into the Earp’s living room. She stumbles into the coffee table and the corner jabs itself into her shin.
“Fuck,” she mumbles.
There’s a man passed out on the sofa in front of her. He reeks of cheap whiskey.
“Dad? Daddy, you awake?” Wynonna sticks her around the corner and freezes when she sees Nicole. “Oh. I thought you were Daddy.”
“No,” says Nicole, glancing at the man on the sofa. Wynonna’s young, maybe younger than she has ever seen her before. Nine or so. “Sorry.”
The girl shrugs. She looks… thin. She steps out to stand in the kitchen door way, frowning. “What are you doing in our house?” she asks, like she doesn’t know whether to be polite or scared. Her eyes alight on the bag in Nicole’s hand and her frown suddenly drops. “Is that food?”
Nicole looks at her, takes in the gaunt cheeks and the lankness of the girl’s hair. “Yeah. Your, um, your Dad called me, said to bring somethin’ round.”
“Waverly…” Wynonna breathes, “Dad got us something to eat.”
And then there’s a small head appearing around the doorway. Waverly. She also looks thin, drawn and tired like she hasn’t had a bath or slept properly in a few days.
Nicole seizes the excuse, “that’s me,” she says, grinning. “Just the takeout lady from town. Now, why don’t you two go and get some plates for this, huh?”
They both scamper back into the kitchen. There’s some clacking of crockery.
Nicole looks at the man laid out across the sofa. There are two empty bottles by his feet and one, still half full, by his hand. There are a pile of letters by the door. Three or four days, Nicole thinks, since anyone has touched them.
“Ready!” Little Waverly appears in the doorway. She’s maybe three and looks about the same age as the girl Nicole had met crying in the barn. “Hey…” the child says slowly, “you came back!”
Oh, thinks Nicole, now what? “Yes,” she says carefully, walking towards the girl. “Um, but I’m just here as the takeout lady today, okay?”
“Okay,” Waverly agrees eagerly. Her eyes are fixed on the bag that swings from Nicole’s hands.
Nicole hesitates for a second and scopes down to pick the tiny girl up. She steps into the kitchen just as Wynona is finishing setting knives and forks down. She has set three places and Nicole has a sudden thought. “Is, um, Willa here?”
“No,” says Wynona, flopping down into a seat. “She went with Aunt Gus to her judo trip.” She reaches over to tug the bag from Nicole’s grip. Waverly wiggles out of her arms and climbs up onto her own seat.
Nicole helps them open the containers and dishes out as much of the food as she can fit onto their two plates. They eat fast, barely chewing, not bothering with knives but shovelling food into their mouths so quickly Nicole is worried they might choke.
She waits until they’ve slowed down a bit before she asks, “when was the last time you ate, huh?” She tries to keep her voice light, jovial, as if she’s commenting on their table manners and not enquiring about the level of neglect they are suffering from.
But Wynona still squints at her suspiciously. “We’re fine,” she says. Nicole flicks her gaze over to Waverly, who is sleepily taking bites out of an egg roll, and Wynonna glares. “I look after her just fine.”
Nicole looks at the older girl seriously. She really is no good with kids. But then she wonders whether Wynonna, suspicious and aware, really is a kid anymore. Looking after her baby sister, watching her Daddy drinking himself into a stupor, taking on responsibilities far too big for her thin shoulders. “You’re doing a good job, Wynonna,” she tells her seriously. The girl is behaving like an adult, she deserves to be treated like one. “I’m going to give you a number of someone who can bring you some food tomorrow, okay? Her name is Margaret, she lives in town.”
Margaret, least the Margaret Nicole knows, is a middle aged dumpy woman with a voice as hard as her heart is soft. She doubts the woman was much different twenty years in the past. She’s a good woman and quiet, won’t go running her mouth about Wyatt Earp and his neglected girls. “If you ring her, she’ll come and bring you a casserole or somethin’, you got that?”
“Yah,” says Wynonna,
“Wynona,” Nicole says, “you promise me that if your Daddy ain’t awake tomorrow, you’ll ring her?”
“Yes,” Wynonna repeats. But there’s a level of sincerity in her tone that wasn’t there before.
Nicole feels a tug at her hand. Waverly grins toothily at her, “’Cole? Look, it’s all better now.” The girl waves her wrist at Nicole, wiggling it up and down.
She remembered my name, Nicole thinks, or at least part of it.
“Good as new,” Nicole manages, breathless. “Um, Wynonna, why don’t you and your sister go and have a bath? And then maybe go to bed? I’ll put the left overs in the fridge, alright?”
Wynonna stands and takes Waverly’s hand. “You’re weird,” she says, “for a takeout lady. Normally they just drop stuff by the door.”
Nicole watches them get halfway across the kitchen before she finds herself standing, stock still, back in the middle of the street in Purgatory.
The takeout bag is gone. Not a hallucination, she thinks. For a second she feels like she might throw up from sheer confusion and then Waverly and Wynonna’s dirty, thin faces drift back into her mind and she clenches her fists so hard, her nails draw blood.
Wyatt Earp, her voice echoes angrily in her own head, you’re lucky your dead, you waste of good skin.
And then she turns back to the Chinese place and places her previous order all over again.
If they’re not hallucinations, what are they? Nicole toys with possibilities in her mind, each more and more bizarre than the last.
The word ‘time-travel’ buzzes around her head for days, before she finally turns up unexpectedly at the Earp homestead.
Waverly looks as confused as she is happy to see her and distracts Nicole for a good half an hour, kissing her senseless up against the front door, before Nicole remembers why she actually came.
“Waves?” She enquires. If Waverly remembers her then… maybe what is happening to her is real. “Did you ever have an imaginary friend?”
Waverly stills next to her. “Oh, I never told you, did I? Bobo… Bobo was my imaginary friend.”
Nicole pushes down a wave of rage. She reaches out to lace her fingers with Waverly’s, “I’m sorry.” She doesn’t really know what else to offer other than that.
Waverly toys with Nicole’s hand in hers. “You know, it sounds silly now I come to say it out loud but… I had another imaginary friend as well. She didn’t… show up very often, expect for when I really needed her.” Waverly ducks her head and laughs, “sometimes, at night, I’d spend hours wishing she would appear. She… she made things better you know? I guess that’s what it is supposed to be like to have a real imaginary friend, rather than a real person pretending to be an imaginary friend.” Waverly grins at her, brightly, “I’m not making any sense, am I?”
“Perfect sense,” Nicole says. “What was she like? Your real imaginary friend, I mean?”
“Oh,” Waverly frowns, “I don’t really remember, exactly. She… wasn’t really human, or, she was but,” the Earp sister trails off. She looks at Nicole. “She had hair like fire,” she says softly, “and she had magic healing powers. I use to pretend that if she touched me I wouldn’t be hungry anymore, or that my bruises and scrapes would be healed all at once.”
Nicole bites her lip.
“Silly, huh?” Waverly says suddenly, shaking herself. “Stay for dinner?”
She doesn’t say anything to Wynonna. Most of the times she has met the older Earp sister, she’d been either high, or unconscious, or distracted.
Nicole takes to carrying a small bag around with her. She fills it with a couple of condoms, some bright Band-Aids with dinosaurs on them, some cereal bars, about thirty dollars in cash and some aspirin. She clips it to her utility belt at work.
They are having dinner one night, all of them: Doc, and Dolls, and Wynona and Waverly, and Nicole, all siting around the Earp’s small kitchen table, knocking knees and jostling for elbow room.
Waverly asks what they would each do if they won a million dollars, grinning around the rim of her wine glass and then pressing a wine flavoured kiss to Nicole’s cheek.
“Save it”, says Dolls.
“Spend it”, says Wynonna, “on really great whisky.”
“Buy a horse”, Doc offers, moustache twitching.
“Only need one,” he rumbles, winking at Nicole across the table.
“What about you Waves?” Wynonna asks. Waverly rubs her socked foot up across the back of Nicole’s bare calf and Nicole nearly bites through her own lip. “Mmm…” she hums, “can I trade it?” Slim fingers dance around Nicole’s knee.
“A wish?” Waverly suggests, “one really good wish.”
Nicole glances up at Wynonna just in time to see the older girl’s expression go from playful to thoughtful. “We cast a spell like that once,” Wynonna says, “do you remember?”
Waverly shakes her head, “a spell?”
“Yeah, a pretend one Willa found in one of Daddy’s books somewhere. You must have been only two or something. Willa said we were silly and wouldn’t join us.” Wynonna blinks rapidly at the kitchen table, like she’s trying to see something fuzzy and far away. “It was for money, I think, but we switched out the words.”
“For what?” Nicole asks. She feels funny suddenly; her skin prickly, like all her hair is standing on end.
“Just for… someone I think. Someone to help us, whenever we needed them.”
“Did it work?” grins Doc, fishing for a cigarette in his coat pocket. But Wynonna is still staring at the table, brow furrowed.
Nicole glances at Waverly, whose fingers have stilled in their progress up her thigh. Her girlfriend lifts a hand to Nicole’s hair and twists a red lock around a finger. “Whenever we needed them,” Waverly echoes. She smiles at Nicole, “you came back.”
There is a pattern. She nearly always travels backwards, into the past. Except for a couple of times, when the Nicole in the Earp sister’s own timeline is unreachable for some reason.
Once Nicole appears in the Earp family bathroom to find Wynonna throwing up repeatedly into the toilet. “Morning sickness,” her girlfriend’s sister manages to wheeze between wretches.
Nicole realises later that she was in hospital at the time, shot through the thigh by some revenant or another.
The last time it happens Nicole is seventy and she is watching her wife fondly as she dances stiltedly around their kitchen. Even a hip replacement can’t stop Waverly Earp from dancing.
And then there is a different room in front of her. Their bedroom. And Waverly is sat on the bed, dressed in all black, looking older, older than Nicole’s ever seen her before.
Her wife is crying, but stops, suddenly when Nicole steps forward and mutters, “Waves?”
“Cole?” Waverly, murmurs. And then she’s laughing, tears still rolling down her face, “you came back.”
Nicole kneels down on the bed to let her wife wrap her arms around her. “Always,” she whispers, “always.”