It wasn’t that Waverly didn’t want to be home, it was just that she’d been subconsciously avoiding it for almost a decade now. She could count on her left hand the number of times she’d stepped foot back in Ghost River County.
As she passed the ‘Welcome to Purgatory’ sign that lay just on the outskirts of town, her hands gripped the steering wheel of her rental car, knuckles white with the stress that began to build in the pit of her stomach, memories flashing back to the call she’d received just four days ago from her sister, Wynonna.
“Baby girl… I’m sorry but you have to come back… Willa’s dead.”
Waverly had never been close to her older sister, quite the opposite. Willa had tormented her when they were kids, hating the amount of attention tiny Waverly got from the family. She’d once been cruel enough to send the smaller girl out into the field with the cattle in search for her cabbage patch doll only to spook the creatures causing them to stampeded, nearly crushing the smallest Earp under their hooves.
Even after all the torment and the years estranged, the thought of her being gone forever, hurt more than Waverly would’ve guessed. She’d hopped the first plane back from England, leaving her Ph.D. thesis on ancient Egyptian texts on the shelf, wanting to be there more for her sister, Wynonna, than anything else.
The Homestead seemed quiet as she pulled down the driveway, only a light on in the dining room illuminated the porch through the window. The steps up to the front door made Waverly feel like she was walking through molasses. It’d had been over a year since she’d been back when Gus had gotten injured on a tractor.
The youngest Earp took a deep breath reaching her hand up to knock only to have the door swing open, Wynonna on the other side.
“Baby girl… fuck, it’s good to see you.” Her older sister tugged her into a forceful hug and Waverly wrapped her arms around Wynonna, the tension she’d felt moments before slowly melting.
While she hadn’t been home much, Wynonna had always made plans several times a year to pop in on her sister, whether she was in England, Egypt or elsewhere, so at least she’d be a friendly face among all the sadness that surrounded this trip.
“Come on, Gus will start to yell if I don’t drag you into the dining room to say your hellos.” Wynonna took Waverly’s hand, giving it a supportive squeeze before she led her to the table where Gus was sitting, papers sprawled out on the wooden surface.
“Waverly…” Gus stood, putting her pen down and taking off her reading glasses as she crossed over to her niece. She looked tired, eyes slightly bloodshot, bags underneath telling the world she hadn’t slept well in days.
Waverly pulled her into a hug, full of apologies, both for losing Willa and for tragedy being the only thing that brought her back these days.
“Hey hey… it’s okay…” Gus could feel the guilt through the hug and knew she needed to assuage the woman’s thoughts. “We’re glad you’re here.”
“So glad… I’ll put on some coffee.” Wynonna moved into the kitchen leaving Gus and Waverly to talk.
“I only know what I read in the papers…” Waverly took a seat across from Gus.
“Yeah, they didn’t paint a pretty picture did they…” Waverly reached over all the documents and took Gus’ hand in her own. “Police don’t have any leads… all they know is it’s definitely a homicide… someone they think who had grudge against Willa because it was so violent...” Gus’ words were shaky.
“Hey… it’s okay, we don’t need to talk about it.” The older woman looked at Waverly and smiled softly.
“There so much damn paperwork… why is planning a funeral this hard?”
“Let me help, please? I want to be useful.” Wynonna returned with a tray carrying three cups of coffee, cream, sugar and a bottle of Jack.
“Earp special, anyone?” All three women nodded.
“How are Robert and the kids?” Waverly took a sip of her coffee, enjoying the burn as it slid down her throat.
“Devastated. They were visiting Robert’s parents at the time and Willa was feeling a bit under the weather so she didn’t travel with them that weekend. Robert’s beside himself, blame, guilt, everything. I am pretty sure the only thing that’s holding him together are the twins.” Gus sighed, signing a few forms. “I agreed to make all the arrangements, take something off their plate. The coroner's office is supposed to release the remains tomorrow after all the tests have been run…”
“Waverly and I will go to the morgue. You don’t need to do that.” Wynonna placed a comforting hand on Gus’ shoulder.
“Thank you…” The house phone rang and Gus stood. “That will be your uncle…” She took the call in the other room, giving the sisters time to talk.
“I still can’t believe it....” Waverly was staring into her cup, watching as the steam drifted off the surface.
“It’s not fucking fair… she was one of the good ones, you know? Doc said they are bringing in Detectives from upstate. They think it’s connected to a small string of murders in Denver…”
It felt like something out of a made for tv movie and Waverly hated those.
“Whatever I need to do, just tell me. I’m here to help… I bought a one-way ticket.” Wynonna smiled and wrapped her arm around her sister’s shoulder.
“I’m just glad you’re here. I couldn’t do this without you.”
Morning came all too quickly and reality set in as the light of day poured through the curtains of Waverly’s old room. Gus and Curtis had barely changed anything since she’d went off to college. The books were still on the shelves, pictures left in their frames gathering the slightest bit of dust around their corners.
After her shower, Waverly wandered the room, flipping through books, boxes of keepsakes, and pictures of times she’d long forgotten. The youngest Earp had been so transfixed with her trip down memory lane she hadn’t heard her door open.
“Yeah, not a whole lot has changed... “ Wynonna moved over to a bookcase, lifting a picture frame. The image was of Wynonna, Doc, Waverly, and Nicole. A small date, Summer 08’, etched into the corner of the frame. “Has it really been nine years…”
Waverly looked up and moved to stand next to her sister, taking the picture from her. ‘Nicole…’ Waverly smiled fondly, her thumb tracing the redhead’s face.
“I haven’t spoken to her in over two years…” Waverly sighed, replacing the picture on the shelf.
“I know.” Wynonna shook her head and chuckled.
“Oh right… you guys still keep in touch.”
“Well, she is my best friend… so yes. In fact, she’s…” Wynonna was interrupted by Gus hollering from downstairs.
“I’m headed into town! There’s coffee brewing and donuts on the counter.”
“Man, she’s the best… come on, we’ve got a 10 o’clock appointment with the morgue.”
Waverly wondered what Wynonna was going to say, but the moment had passed and she let the subject drop, more concerned with Willa and the family.
After eating breakfast, the Earp girls headed into town. Waverly looked out the window as they passed building after building, practically unchanged. It was as if Purgatory itself was frozen in time. They pulled up to the morgue and Wynonna parked, glancing over at her sister.
“Do you want to come in? You don’t have to, I can handle this part.” Waverly shook her head, unbuckling her seatbelt.
“No, I want to come with you.” Wynonna nodded and hopped down from her truck, holding the front door open for Waverly. The smaller woman had always hated this place. Willa used to tell her it was haunted and threatened to lock her in here on more than one occasion when Waverly had done something particularly annoying to the eldest Earp. Waverly felt bad that the only memories she could think of at a time like this were bad, but if she was honest with herself, she didn’t have many good ones to rely on.
“Right this way, Wynonna…. Waverly.” The man at the desk nodded at the youngest Earp, leading them both down a hall. Willa had chosen to be cremated, so at least Waverly wouldn’t have to actually see a dead body. It was not on her list of things to do today.
Turning the corner, Waverly had been so lost in her thoughts she hadn’t even seen the woman before they collided, a flash of red blinding her for a moment.
“Oh shit, sorry, ma’am.”
“No… no totally my fa… fault.”
“Waverly?” She was frozen in place as if her name had triggered some sort of hypnosis response.
“Haught...fancy meeting you here…” Wynonna clapped her hand on the taller woman’s shoulder, glancing back at her definitely shocked sister.
“Nicole.” When she’d finally found her voice, Nicole’s name was all she could manage. It had been almost a decade since she’d laid eyes on the other woman. Something she blamed herself for mostly. They’d exchanged the occasional phone call or email when she’d first left, but as the years drifted by and the miles apart grew only larger, the contact all but disappeared.
“I’m… I’m sorry about Willa.” Right, Waverly thought, there was a reason she was here, though why Nicole was at the morgue of all places, confused her.
“Thank you.” Waverly couldn’t really look Nicole in the eyes, so she fixated on what the other woman was wearing, a pair of form fitting gray jeans and a blue button down with small white dots lining the fabric. She looked good, really good.
“Um… I may have forgotten to mention that Nicole is one of the Denver Detectives I was talking about the other night.” Wynonna figured her admission could help break the awkwardness between the other two women.
“Yeah… you didn’t mention that.” Waverly shot Wynonna a stern glance.
Before Nicole could say anything her phone rang.
“I have to take this… um… it was good seeing you.” It was in this moment Waverly finally decided to look up, making eye contact with Nicole, cursing herself for not holding out longer. The soft smile that played on Nicole’s lips were still filled with too many memories which seemed stupid after 9 years, but it was all right there on her face.
“It was good to see you too.” It was a lie. Waverly had often thought of their reunion over the years, wondered what it would’ve been like to just randomly see her across a street or at a table in a dimly lit bar, but in a morgue collecting her sister's remains. Yeah, that was the last place she wanted to see Nicole after almost a decade.
Nicole shot Wynonna a slightly grumpy glance before moving down the hall to answer her phone. She was almost glad her partner had interrupted the moment.
“I tried to tell you this morning…” Wynonna followed her sister down the hall and into the room where all the urns were located.
“You should’ve tried harder…” Waverly’s words weren’t as cold as they looked on paper, but she was still reeling a bit from the surprise reunion.
“It’s been 9 years, Waves, part of me figured it wouldn’t matter?”
“It doesn’t… it’s cool. Just a bit surprising. Um, which one did Gus want?” Waverly wanted to stop talking about Nicole, there was too much going on to process all of this at once. Wynonna let her sister deflect the situation, knowing they’d get around to it eventually and after several drinks.
“Well as I live and breathe, if it isn’t the world traveler.” Doc smiled as he saw Waverly and Wynonna enter Shorty’s, his arms opened wide to embrace the youngest Earp. She grinned as he enveloped her in a big bear hug.
“I’m glad you’re back, even if it’s not on the best of terms.” She squeezed him before pulling back and reaching up to tug on his mustache.
“Really getting into the westerns these days?”
“Hey, they have come back into style…”
“Maybe… for porn stars.” The group chuckled as they slid onto the bar stools. It was all familiar and Waverly actually found herself relaxing.
“Rosita! Darling, three whiskeys, make it the finest.”
The bartender emerged from the back, tossing a towel over her shoulder.
“You shout like you own the place.”
“That’s because I do.” Doc smiled and winked at the bartender.
“You own 50%, don’t make me turn my 50% into a hipster coffee shop.” Doc grimaced at the thought.
“They went in together on the place after Shorty retired, probably the best and worst idea they ever had.” Wynonna nodded a thank you to Rosita as she placed the glasses in front of them.
“Hey, Waverly… welcome home?” Rosita offered the youngest Earp a sympathetic smile.
“Thanks, Rosita.” She lifted her glass to the bartender before dropping the liquid down her throat in one quick motion, Doc and Rosita looking at her confused.
“Ran into Nicole.” Wynonna mouthed quietly to the other two as Waverly poured herself another shot.
“Slow it down baby girl, we’ve got all night.” Wynonna put a hand over Waverly’s glass after she tried to pour shot number three. Waverly glared at her but acquiesced, leaning back in her chair.
They spent the night talking and drinking, catching up mostly. Waverly told stories from her days in the Peace Corp and her research in Egypt. The drinks poured forth into the evening, Waverly losing count of how many she’d consumed.
“Alright, kids. Time to close everything out. You good to drive, Wynonna?” The older sister nodded, having switched to water several hours ago. Rosita answered her phone, a smile on her face. “Yeah babe, I’ll meet you out back in five. Love you too.”
Waverly took note of the conversation and smiled. “Awww… Rosita finally met someone in this one gay horse town? Who is it?” Doc was about to answer, but his eyes met Wynonna and she was frantically motioning for him to shut his trap.
“No one you know, darlin’. Come on, let’s get you home.” Doc stood and tossed an arm around Waverly’s shoulder, helping led the woman out of the bar and back to Wynonna’s truck. As Waverly drifted off to sleep against the window, her dreams filled with flashes of red and the sweetest of smiles.