Weeks pass and work continues on the ranch as normal. Everyone knows what they have to do and everything goes smoothly. Waverly has been home for four weeks now. She starts every day with her next step in her unpacking process. Today is the end. By the evening, Waverly has her room mostly unpacked and is satisfied it will do for now. Wynonna comes up the stairs and to her room.
“Wow, Wave. You got that done quick.” She says as she looks around the room.
“Yup. Wanted to get it over with. Now I can actually start working.” Waverly states proudly.
“Only you would work really hard, just to finish quicker so you can do more work.” Wynonna says, taking a swig from a bottle. “I just came up to remind you that we have the all hands on deck dinner tomorrow night. Curtis enforced it and it would be weird not to keep it going.”
They hear Dolls calling for Wynonna downstairs. Waverly heads down stairs just in time to hear Dolls enter the house.
“Wynonna. You got a first aid kit in here that has gauze? We need more than the stuff that is in the one outside.” He says calmly.
“What? Why do you need gauze?” Wynonna asks before Waverly can.
“Just a little rope burn. Not a big deal.” He says. “So? Gauze?”
Waverly stands up and grabs the first aid kit from the closet, but she doesn’t give it to Dolls. “I would like to see this little rope burn for myself. Been awhile since I got my hands dirty.” Waverly says suspiciously. Dolls doesn’t argue, but he looks a slight bit nervous as he leads Waverly and the extra first aid kit to one of the ranch hand cabins. Each ranch hand had their own little cabin. They enter one to find Nicole sitting on the bed with Nedley sitting on a stool by her side. He has her hand in his and the floor around them is a mess with first aid supplies. Nicole looks up and sees Waverly. Her head immediately falls.
“Damn Dolls, what happened to being discreet?” She says dryly. Not able to completely make the pain in her voice.
Waverly ignores the comment and step closer to Nicole. She sees the so called little rope burns and glares at Dolls. Nicole’s hands were a mess. The rope had gone in deep and the swelling and bleeding was pretty intense. The burns wrapped around both of her hands, but her left got the brunt of it. Her right hand would probably heal fine in a couple days if left untouched. Nedley stands from the stool and offers it to Waverly. She sits down and opens up the first aid kit.
“Heal up kid. I want you healthy. I don’t care if that means taking the whole day off tomorrow.” Nedley says. “Shorty agrees, you are banned from working with that horse or any ropes for at least a week.” Nicole goes to protest but gets a look from Waverly that tells her not to start. She resigns to nod her head as Dolls and Nedley leave the cabin.
Waverly looks at Nicole’s hand holding them at the fingertips as to not touch the angry lacerations. “God Nicole. What the hell were you thinking?”
“I was thinking I have a job to do and a lot of work to get done. I don’t have time to be injured.” Nicole says with a pout.
“Nicole this started weeks ago. Why did you let it get so bad? It had to hurt. Why ignore it?” Waverly asks as she looks Nicole’s hands over.
“I told you why Ma’am.”
“That answer isn’t good enough for me on the account of the fact that it is total bullshit. And please, for the love of god Nicole, call me Waverly.“
Waverly has come to know Nicole over the last couple weeks. She is wicked smart and fast on her feet. She is insightful and incredibly caring and observant. Something she is not: stupid. There is more to this that Nicole hasn’t said. Waverly thinks about all of this as she cleans the wrounds. She wraps them up properly, making sure not to restrict circulation and hands Nicole some painkillers that she refuses.
“Nicole? Can I ask you something?”
“Why is a college educated girl like yourself working as a ranch hand in Purgatory?”
Nicole sits and contemplates her thoughts before speaking. “I went to college on scholarship. So I really couldn’t find an excuse not to go. But my love has always been with the simple life. I couldn’t handle doing a job where I sit at a desk and do paperwork every day. I would much rather work my ass off all day in the heat, but do a job like this every day. It is just the type of person I am I guess.” Nicole says with a shrug.
“What were you on scholarship for?” Waverly asks.
“Competitive shooting.” Nicole answers.
“And what did you study?”
“I have a degree in Agricultural Systems Management and a degree in Animal Sciences.” Nicole says in a modest tone. “It is one of the reasons your uncle hired me. I had been helping him update the ranch and how it works.”
Waverly looks surprised. “You have two college degrees and still decided to work here. Wow.”
“It felt right, being here. Plus your uncle was a very persuasive man.” Nicole says with a small smile. But that smile falls almost as quickly as it came. “Waverly why do you keep asking me why I am here? Do you have a problem with me being here or…?”
“No! No. It’s not that.” Waverly says quickly. “I just want to understand. And I think part of me does.”
“Okay then.” Nicole says with a little bit of hesitation. She looks down at her bandaged hand. “Thank you. For… um… taking care of this. It really wasn’t necessary.”
“It was no problem. But I agree, you need to take it easy for the next couple of days.”
“Waverly.” Nicole starts to argue.
“Nicole. Don’t make me order you to as your boss.”
“Well what other way would you tell me?
“How about as your friend.” Waverly offers. “Nicole. Take it easy.”
Nicole looks stressed and won’t look up at Waverly. She fidgets with her bandage a bit, weighing her words, before speaking. “I will take it easy Ma’am.” Nicole finally says with some formality. “Thank you again.” Nicole stands and cleans up the mess. She walks Waverly to the door of the cabin and bids her goodnight.
Waverly walks back to the house, engrossed in her thoughts. There was a shift in Nicole. The woman who is always so warm and friendly completely shifted when Waverly mentioned them being friends. Nicole has been so kind to her since returning home. She is always so helpful and sweet. Did Nicole not like Waverly? Did she do something wrong? Waverly shakes the thoughts from her head as she enters the house. She sits on the couch where her sister is drinking straight from the Whiskey bottle.
“Nicole won’t be working on the mustang for the next couple days.” She says to her sister.
“Why?” Wynonna asks, mildly surprised. “She isn’t one to give up so easily.”
“She f’ed up her hands pretty bad.” Waverly comments in explanation.
“Ha of course she did. Guess she is on planning duties again.”
“Planning duties?” Waverly asks.
“She is redesigning the east barn. Wants to turn it into a legitimate stable so we can hold more horses and work on them more efficiently. Curtis had her working on it before he died. They used to work all day and then spend their nights drawing up blueprints and plans.”
“You alright Waves?
“Yeah, I think so.” She says. “I just can’t really get a read on her.”
“Haughtstuff? Yeah, she is different. But she is a good person. There are not enough good people in this hell hole town.” Wynonna comments bitterly.
“Yeah. I am just going to go upstairs, finish up and go to bed. Let me know if you need anything.
Waverly wakes up the next morning with a pounding headache. She bypasses waking Wynonna and goes straight for coffee. She drinks her coffee on the porch, as she does every morning. She watches Nicole and Dolls ride their horses around the different paddocks, checking on the cattle and horses. She can’t really figure out what happened last night with Nicole. She doesn’t know what caused the shift in the redhead’s demeanor. By the time she is finished, Nicole is riding out to the east barn (after being scolded by Shorty for working). Waverly doesn’t see Nicole for the rest of the day and Nicole even missed the mandatory all hands dinner. Wynonna apparently excused her for personal reasons. When Waverly asks why, everyone seems to know the answer, but no one says anything. Well, everyone except Waverly. She tries to let it go, but she can’t. Shorty notices her discomfort and does his best to console her. He pulls her aside after dinner and they sit on the steps that lead upstairs.
“Waverly dear, it isn’t our story to tell. Haught has some… personal things to sort out as of late. She hasn’t had a lot of privacy in the matter thus far, so we are doing our best to give her as much privacy as possible.” He says, patting her knee.
“I don’t even know what that means.” Waverly protests.
“Then ask Haught. She is the only witness that can truly give you the full picture. “
Nicole is working out in the east barn everyday now and has been for the last week. Waverly has been toying with what Shorty said since that night. She decides she wants to know and heads out to the east barn. She is taken completely off guard. Nicole has transformed the old, run down barn into a workshop. There are blueprints and papers on the walls. The lights are dim and there are large tables that are covered with papers. There is a huge workbench that is covered with tools. There is a stereo system on a makeshift shelf on the wall. There is country music playing loud and thus, Nicole doesn’t notice Waverly’s presence. Waverly taps Nicole on the shoulder and Waverly swears Nicole jumps a foot into the air.
“Shit! Waverly!” Nicole clutches a hand to her chest.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to scare you. I guess the music didn’t help my entrance.” Waverly apologizes.
“It’s alright. I’m just a little jumpy.” Nicole shakes her hand and that easy smile spreads on her face. “Did you need me for something or…?”
“Well, I actually wanted to see what you are working on in here. Wynonna told me it was something you worked on with Curtis. Wanted to see it for myself.”
“Oh, yeah. Of course. Well, do you want me to give you the rundown?” Nicole asks.
“Sure.” Waverly says with a grateful smile.
Nicole leads her to various blueprints and papers. Explaining the plans and how each part ties into the next part. It was a brilliant plan and would definitely increase efficiency a lot. Nicole had estimates for supplies, a detailed timeline and a bunch of samples. Waverly was completely engulfed in it all. It was very uncle Curtis, but with a modern twist.
“Nicole, this is amazing.” Waverly praises as her eyes wander the various papers and samples.
“Thank you, but I cant take all the credit. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without your uncle. He had the original idea to renovate this place.” Nicole says, her respect for Curtis obvious in how she spoke of him.
“Yeah… well um… do you need any help?” Waverly asks. “I mean, if you want an extra set of hands, I would love to help you work on it.”
Nicole seems to think about it for a moment before responding, “That would be nice. But you are my boss and I don’t want you to feel obligated to help. But if you want to, I would love the help.”
“Great. What time do you start in the morning?” Waverly asks.
“Dawn.” Nicole says with a smile and a soft chuckle. “But you can just come in whenever you are free.”
Waverly laughs. “How about I come in later, but I’ll bring breakfast?”