2008 was supposed to be an easy year for Waverly Earp. Her senior year of high school had gone off without a hitch. The youngest Earp had graduated top of her class with a full ride straight into the Anthropology department at the University of Chicago, one of the best in the nation for her desired major. On top of all of that, she was coming up on her two year anniversary with Champ, the school’s popular quarterback. Her life was almost too picturesque but everything was how Waverly had planned it to be since she was little.
She could remember being around 11 or 12, riding in her Uncle Curtis’ truck as they tended to the fences around her family’s farm. He’d blare the loudest country music he could find on the radio. Songs about girls liking boys and their tractors, going to proms, riding off into the sunset on horseback. Ever since then Waverly had a plan, steps set in motion so that she could be one of those girls. She’d gotten the popular boyfriend with a truck, joined the cheerleading squad, made friends with all the right people in their small town. Granted she couldn’t remember any songs that involved a girl being the smartest in her class and getting into the college of her dreams, but that had been a side bonus. Now she just needed the perfect summer before heading out of Purgatory.
“Waves! Tell your Uncle dinner’s ready and he’d better be in before it gets cold.” Her aunt Gus hollered out of the kitchen window as Champ dropped off Waverly in the driveway.
“Duty calls… pick me up tomorrow for the lake?” The small girl leaned against Champ’s truck, placing a quick kiss to his lips.
“Sure thing. Later!” Her boyfriend flung his truck into reverse, hauling ass down the driveway so fast a dust storm kicked up practically surrounding Waverly. “Damn it, Champ!” She hollered after him, but he was long gone. He could be such an inconsiderate asshole sometimes.
Waverly wandered over to the barn, shoving the large door open. The loud creaking noise that accompanied the movement caused her uncle to look up from his tractor.
“Hey little one, let me guess, dinner?” She nodded, stepping up next to him.
“Alright, hand me that wrench and I’ll finish up here.” Waverly dug through the tool box before finding the mentioned tool and sliding it over to her uncle. Tiny moments like this reminded her of when she used to help her dad fix up all the old farm equipment. He didn’t let her use the tools until she was about 8, but she’d always watched him intently and loved being his assistant.
“That oughta do it!” Curtis replaced the cover of the engine and wiped his hands clean.
“Let's go get washed up before your aunt locks us out and we have to sleep in the barn again.” He smiled sweetly as he scooted them both out of the barn and back up to the house.
“Is your sister coming home tonight, Waves?” Gus placed the meatloaf and green beans on the table, finally taking a seat herself.
“Nope! She’s with Doc tonight, as usual.” Gus sighed and shook her head.
“Never understood those two, but the heart wants what the heart wants….” Curtis chuckled at his wife.
“I ain’t sure heart’s got anything to do with it…”
“You shut your mouth, Curtis.” Gus playfully smacked him with her cloth napkin.
“I second that…” Waverly shivered in disgust. Her sister and Doc had been on and off again for over three years and while Waverly loved the mustached cowboy, she’d heard far too much about her sister’s sex life already, no need to think of it before eating.
“So I was thinkin’ since you’re headed off to college in the fall, I’m gonna hire a farm hand this summer. Give you a bit of a break from helpin’ me out and maybe you and Wynonna can even train them a bit before you rush off to Chicago.” Curtis shoved a fork full of meatloaf in his mouth as Waverly processed what he’d just said.
She’d been helping out her Uncle since she was old enough to milk the cows and the thought of someone else being on the farm outside of the Earp family just felt odd aside from the random help during the busy seasons. Gus could sense the young Earp’s unease and spoke up first.
“It’ll be fine Waves, besides, with the new cattle, we probably would’ve needed an extra set of hands even if you weren’t leavin’. This way you can even help us pick someone, if you don’t like’em we’ll chuck’em.” Waverly was still unsure about the change, but she knew someone had to replace her.
“I suppose.” Waverly used her fork to build a small mash potato mountain as she let the thought of someone taking her place settle in. It’s not like they would replace her in the family, it would just be extra help. She should feel better about this since she had been worried about what they would do without her help. “When are you gonna start interviewing…?”
Gus and Curtis looked back and forth at each other, worried expression showing clear as day on their faces.
“You already picked someone didn’t you?” Waverly pretended to be upset if only to poke at her aunt and uncle a bit.
“Well… yes, we didn’t want to trouble you or Wynonna with the trivial stuff like that… but if either of you don’t like them, we’ll toss 'em out that second.” Waverly smiled.
“Good. So when do they start?”
“Tomorrow morning, I figured since you were gonna be out at the lake all weekend with Champ, I’d go through the boring introductory stuff and then you can start training them Monday.” Curtis began to scrape the small remnants of his potatoes off of his plate, preparing for seconds.
“Wow… that’s fast… well, I’ll meet them at least, get a first impression before I head out.” Waverly was extremely protective of her family, she’d lost too many of them already and she wasn’t about to let anything happen to the remaining Earps if she could help it.
Morning came quickly and Waverly was up early, expecting Champ shortly after sunrise. He loved trips to the lake house and his buddies had already planned the entire weekend rager. After packing her bag, tossing on some jean shorts and a small tank top over her bikini, she bounced down the stairs to the sweet smell of pancakes and maple syrup.
“Pancakes and a day at the lake, you guys are too good to me!” She grinned taking a pancake straight from the pan.
“You in a hurry? Champ’s not even here yet.” Gus took a sip of her coffee, paper in hand, not even looking up at her niece.
“He’s late, yet again.” Waverly sighed and plopped down next to her aunt, smiling as her uncle placed a plate with a stack of three pancakes in front her, powdered sugar and all.
“Figured a big breakfast to celebrate the official start of summer.” They spent a few minutes eating together before Waverly practically jumped out of her seat at the sound of a car crawling down their gravel driveway.
“Must be Champ, Love you both, gotta go!” She grabbed her back and made a beeline towards the door, swinging it open just as the person on the other side was about to knock.
The redhead took a step back as the door flew open, a petite girl standing in front of her, almost ready to mow her over.
“Oh! God, I’m so sorry.” Waverly froze, taking in the unexpected person in front of her. A girl… woman, maybe not much older than Waverly, stood easily 5 or 6 inches taller than her. The woman’s fire red hair practically glowing in the morning’s sunlight. She was wearing a pair of tight Carhartt khakis and a gray v-neck t-shirt that hugged her torso, a gray Stetson placed perfectly on top of her head.
“Nicole, you’re early!” Gus stood right behind Waverly, smiling at the newcomer. “Waves, this is our new farm hand, Nicole Haught.”
“Hot? Ha.. I mean. Right. Sorry! I’m Waverly.” The smaller woman stuck out her hand, taking in a deep breath as Nicole shook it back in return.
“Nicole, a pleasure to meet you, Waverly.” Their eyes locked for a few moments before the universe pulled them from their trace with the sound of a loud car horn. Waverly practically jumped.
“Shit! Sorry, that’s Champ, my boyfriend, um, gotta go! See ya later!” She slipped past Nicole, almost glad that her jerk of a boyfriend had been rude with his interruption.
“Well okay, then. Nicole, do you like pancakes?” The redhead smiled and nodded, looking down at the hand that was still buzzing from the brief contact with the bubbly girl before following Gus into the house.
The lake didn’t really feel the same as it always had and Waverly found herself wanting to be back at the homestead more than she’d like to admit. Maybe that was part of growing up, growing out of the things that used to mean the world to you. She should’ve loved this weekend, all of her friends piling into a big house, partying into all hours of the night, but she found it easy to leave Monday morning, piling into Champ’s truck and not even looking back.
It was right around lunch when they pulled into the driveway, Champ insisting on practically sucking her face off before letting her out of his truck with a promise to be by the next day. Waverly padded up to her bedroom, tossing her stuff next to her dresser before changing into a pair of jeans and a t-shirt.
The house was pretty quiet which meant Gus and Curtis were probably out in the pasture or barn, hard at work. Waverly decided to check the barn first, hearing the noise of the hay baler from all the way inside the house. She expected to see her uncle tossing the finished bales up into the trailer, but instead she was met with a completely different sight. Nicole was standing there in a white tank top and jeans, glistening with sweat and she flung the bales with ease. The redhead jumped slightly when she heard the loud door open.
“Oh, sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you.” Waverly approached the other woman tentatively.
“No worries!” Nicole flipped the switch in the baler, the mechanical sounds slowly coming to a halt. “Your uncle’s already left me to my own devices, you just missed him. He’s out in the left field with Gus, something about a break in one of the fences.” The redhead reached up, wiping her forearm, which had a black bandana tied to it, across her brow.
“Oh… cool.” Waverly knew she was staring, it was hard to pull her eyes off of Nicole, not that she’d ever admitted it or even if she realized it herself. “Umm, sorry about the other day, rushing off like that, Champ doesn’t like waiting.”
“Really? You seem like a girl worth waiting for.” That made Waverly grin, feeling the heat in her cheeks rise slightly.
“Well, I don’t know about that… but anyway, it doesn’t seem like you need much help here, I assume you’ve done this before?” She needed to change the subject before her face became as red as her shirt.
“Oh… yeah, I spent the last two summers working on farms. It’s a good way to help pay for school.”
“Oh, you’re in college, where? “ Waverly leaned against one of the wooden posts that held up the barn roof.
“Nevada State. For criminal justice. Cops sorta run in the family.”
“Oh… neat. I’m going to school for Anthropology in the fall, University of Chicago.” A cop, Waverly forced herself not to picture Nicole in that uniform, it was hot enough in this barn already.
“Waverly! You’re back, we figured we wouldn’t see you until this evening.” Gus entered the barn, tossing her saddle on the rack.
“Oh, well forecast said rain, so we packed up a bit early, do you need help with anything?”
Gus shook her head and locked the room to the saddles and horse equipment. “Nope, your uncle’s headed back now. The storm is startin’ to roll in so we’re done for the day. You can finish up the last few bales Nicole and then come on in, I’ll get lunch started. Oh, and Curtis will fix up that spot on the guest house roof before it starts to pour.”
“Already done, actually. Couldn’t sleep last night. Hope you don’t mind.” Gus just smiled at Nicole. Right, Nicole was staying on the property… of course. Waverly had completely forgotten that the guest house, which wasn’t more than a tiny cabin about a quarter of a mile from the main house, was used whenever they had someone helping with the farm.
“Not at all, you’re almost too efficient. Well, I’ll let Curtis know he’s off the hook. Come on, Waves, help me with lunch.”
Waverly was glad her aunt gave her an excuse to leave as she was pretty sure she would’ve just followed Nicole around like a lost puppy if someone had let her. It wasn’t often they got a new face in Purgatory and Waverly was intrigued.
The rain did come in hard, a huge storm rolled across the farmland, carrying loud thunder and huge streaks of lightning across the sky. Nicole was thankful she’d done a solid patch job to the tin room of the guest house when she got back inside after lunch. Even just the short trip from the house to her cabin had drenched her. She was about to remove her wet clothes when she heard a knock on the door.
Waverly was standing on her small porch, carrying a bundle of wood covered in a tarp.
“Uncle Curtis figured that your wood pile was useless since it’s not covered, so he wanted me to bring you some of ours from the cellar.” Waverly almost dropped the pile on Nicole's feet when a loud crack of thunder snapped in the sky as lightning lit up the clouds. The redhead reached out just in time, grabbing the wood with one hand and Waverly’s waist with the other, steadying her.
“Easy there.” Nicole smiled sweetly, thinking it was cute that the younger woman must have been afraid of the storm. “Not a fan of storms?”
“Not particularly… I know it’s silly, only about 230 people are struck by lightning a year and only about 10 percent of those people are fatally injured, but it’s a force of nature that is relatively uncontrollable, so it freaks me out a bit…” Waverly could feel her heartbeat in her chest, her body still pressed against Nicole. She was about to step back when another crack of lightning flashed across the sky breaking through the constant rain, thunder rolling quickly afterward. She wasn’t sure if it was the storm or the proximity to the new farm hand that was making it hard to move.
There was only one situation she could remedy, so she took a deep breath, shoving the wood into Nicole’s arms and turning to slam the door shut behind her.
“Okay… that was really close, wasn’t it? Like not even a few seconds between thunder and lightning. I hate Uncle Curtis for sending me out, he knows I hate storms. Such an ass, I mean you needed the wood, it’s probably gonna get a little cold tonight and there’s no heating here outside of that wood burning stove in this little place…”
“Waverly, deep breath, yeah?” The smaller woman paused, looking at Nicole before doing as suggested. After a few calming breaths, her eyes not leaving Nicole’s, her nerves began to settle.
“Sorry. I’m not making the best first impressions with you, am I? First I almost run you over when you get here, then I make you jump when you’re working with heavy machinery and to finish it all off, I almost drop a huge pile of wood on your feet…”
“Well, they’ve been a memorable few impressions.” Waverly could swear those dimples would clear any set of storm clouds away. Jesus.
“Memorable isn't always good.”
“It is this time.” There is tension in the air, and Waverly swears it’s because of the static energy, not because she finds the woman a few feet in front of her rather attractive and flirtatious? If Waverly wasn’t mistaken.
“Want me to walk you back?” Nicole didn’t necessarily want Waverly to leave, but she didn’t want the other woman to feel trapped in here with her.
“Oh… um. Mind if I stay here… just until it lets up a little?” Part of Waverly wanted to sprint back to the house, not really sure what she’d do if stuck with this practical stranger for more than a few minutes at a time, but the thought of venturing in the storm overpowered her new found shyness.
“Yeah, make yourself at home? Want a beer? It’s about all I have.” Waverly nodded and Nicole moved over to the small cooler she had set up in her room. She pulled out two beers and used the end of a lighter to pop the tops off.
She handed one to Waverly and moved over to the small wood burning stove, unwrapping the wood the other woman had brought. There wasn’t much space, just enough room for a bed, a wood burning stove, dresser a small table to two chairs. There was an outhouse a few feet away from the small structure and an outdoor shower connected to one of the cabin walls. It definitely wasn’t luxury, but it was free and it was a shelter.
“My sister Wynonna and I used to come out here all the time and spend the night, we’d pretend we were settlers in the wild west, taming the unknown wilderness of the Rockies.” Waverly watched as Nicole placed some logs into the stove, using a bit of kindling and some matches to get a fire going.
“I met Wynonna the other day, she came by with some supplies your uncle asked for. Seems like a cool girl.” Waverly chuckled.
“I suppose she does to outsiders, she’s got a bit of a reputation as a bad egg around this town, always getting into trouble with her boyfriend, Doc, but she’s a sweetheart when you get to know her.
“She seemed nice, Gus said she’ll be around later in the week to help get the cows settled in the west barn.” The fire finally started to crackle and produce a bit of heat, so Nicole closed the small stove.
“Sorry, this place is so rustic, puts most people off from helping during the busy seasons…”
“I kinda like it? The school is a bit crazy, so it’s a nice change of pace.” Nicole moved over to the window and peeked outside. It was raining so hard you could barely see two inches in front of you.
“The fields are gonna be a mess tomorrow.”
The two women talked for what seemed like hours, about the town, school, the farm, everything. Nicole was really easy to talk to and Waverly hadn’t even noticed that the storm had let up until she heard her uncle’s truck pull up to the cabin.
“You girl’s alright?” He knocked on the door and Waverly stood to answer.
“Yeah! I just didn’t want to walk back in that weather. You’re horrible, you know that?” She playfully hit her uncle on the shoulder.
“Well, at least you kept Nicole company. You want to head back? I can drive you.” Waverly nodded and turned back towards Nicole.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Til’ tomorrow.” Nicole flashed a smile at the younger woman and watched as they exited her cabin. She was in trouble.