Handwritten note, from Waverly Earp to her niece, Alice McCready, along with a small black shoebox filled with various documents and photographs
Happy 18th birthday, baby girl! In some ways, I can’t believe how quickly the years have gone by. I am so proud of who you are and everything you’ve accomplished, and I feel like I can say with confidence that your Mama would have been, too. Sometimes I still see her in my dreams, and you are always the first thing she asks about.
I’m writing this letter to give you an explanation of the shoebox I just handed you. Although the contents of this box is what you might call ancient history, to me, these memories are as fresh as they would be if they had happened yesterday. Long story short, I’m writing because I feel incapable of speaking these things out loud.
Your Mama made two requests of me, moments before she died. The first was that I shield you from anything and everything that had to do with our family’s curse until I believed you would be emotionally capable of shouldering such a monumental burden. The second request was, when such a time came, that I share with you all the events that transpired in their entirety and I let you process it in any way you see fit. That includes returning to a town called Purgatory, if that is what you wish.
Far be it for me to deny your Mama anything in this world. For 18 years, your Aunt Gus and I have carefully protected you from our family’s curse. I did all that I could to ensure that you grow up a happy, well-rounded child leading a relatively normal life. Seeing the extraordinary woman you have grown into, I'm happy that I played a role in fulfilling Wynonna’s wishes to her specifications. This leaves me with her second request, the one that I have truly been dreading.
I can start with the basics, because they don’t hurt so much. You, Alice McCready, are the last descendant in a long line of Earp heirs. You are the first in that line that will not have to face the burden of the curse on your 27th birthday, and that is due to the incredible selflessness, courage, and sacrifice of your Mama, Wynonna Earp. For generations, Wyatt Earp’s descendants have been tasked on their 27th birthdays with the annihilation of 77 demons, called revenants, that Wyatt himself “put down” over 100 years ago. None were successful. None, until your mother.
In a small, cold, backwater town called Purgatory, your Mama, myself, and a tightly knit band of close friends (who were really more like family) faced demons and monsters from the depths of hell itself over the course of one long and (mostly) awful year. In the end, it was our collective bond, with Wynonna at its center that lead to the breaking of the curse. At terrible cost.
Our triumph resulted in the loss of several friends, including two of the three great loves of my life. One was your Mama. The other…
Suffice it to say, you will meet the other person in question very shortly within the cardboard walls of this Pandora’s shoebox. To this day, the loss of this person from my life sucks the air from my lungs and renders me unable to speak, and therefore also unable to fulfill the second half of my promise. I believe this is information that you deserve to know, so I won’t let my own limitations deprive you of it. I’ll let the voice of my love tell our story to you. (Yes, you’re reading that correctly. Your 40 year old spinster Aunt had a love.)
After 18 years my emotional wounds have mostly scarred over. Mostly. All but one, which gets ripped open anew every time I hear her name or smell vanilla or see a flash of auburn. In those moments, the shrouded form on the edges of my consciousness steps out of darkness and manifests itself into the person who was the other half of my soul. No matter how hard I rale against the universe, I can’t bring her back to me. All that I have left of her is contained in this box.
When you’re finished reading (you’ll find several handwritten letters, case files/notes, and a black, leather bound journal), and you feel ready, come find me and I’ll fill in the holes and answer any questions that you might have. I will tell you anything you wish to know about the curse and your beautiful Mama.
But the person whose life and love is at the center of the contents of this box, well. That topic has to remain off-limits. At least for now. You’ll understand.
I love you, Alice.
Handwritten note tucked into the inside flap of a black, leather-bound journal
The fact that you’re reading this means that my worst fears have come to pass. I gave Jeremy very specific instructions to get this journal and my notes to you in the event we were ever separated…in any sense. If you’re reading this and Jeremy is still with you, please thank him for me. Please also thank him for safeguarding the secrets that this journal will shed light on. He and I were always good friends (albeit on the DL) as we had a significant common interest.
(Although our motivations for keeping you out of harm’s way and the manner we went about ensuring your safety were quite different.)
I can’t begin to imagine the confusion and sadness you must be feeling right now. I fear this won’t compare to the heartbreak and betrayal you’ll feel once you’ve read what’s enclosed. From the depths of my heart, from the bedrock of my soul, baby, I am so sorry for the pain and deceit you have experienced in the course of our relationship. All I can do now is hope that the things I have written in this journal will shed light on every decision I’ve made and give you some sense of closure…and if I’ve done a good enough job, maybe even of understanding.
There is one thread (perhaps steel cable is a more accurate term) that runs through the center of our story, and it is this: I love you, Waverly Earp. I loved you from the moment I laid eyes on you standing across the street from Shorty’s on my second day on Assignment in Purgatory. Before I even met you I was already bound to you by an oath that I will elaborate on in this journal, but after your endless green eyes met mine across the bar for the first time, I was entirely and irrevocably yours.
I ask you to please see past this sloppy letter and hear me in your heart and see me in your mind’s eye. I’m on my knees before you with tears in my eyes as I tell you, no matter the distance between us (temporary or otherwise) and no matter what has transpired to get us here, you were and you are the love of my existence. This life, the ones behind it, and the ones that stretch out endlessly after it, they are all yours. Know that every decision I’ve made, since the day we met to the one that lead to you reading this letter, has been to ensure your safety and well-being. Being your Guardian (and more importantly, your lover) gave me back my life as if you were the air in my lungs and the blood in my veins.
Know this, too: If I am alive, I will move heaven and earth to find you again.
And if I am not…I will wait.
Journal Entry #1
27 Feb 2016
“Graduation & Assignment Day”
Well, I’m here. I arrived in the town of Purgatory today at 0700 hours. Traveling was, as expected, an absolute nightmare. It’s hard to believe that people consider this part of the country habitable. Temperature-wise, it’s one hell of a change from what I’ve been used to for the past four and a half years, alternating the blast-furnace of the Middle East with the humidity of Fort Bragg, NC. It would be a welcome change from sweltering in ACUs and desert boots if it just weren’t so damn cold I can feel the snot freeze in my nose after five minutes outside. That really kind of sums up my life so far, always jumping from one extreme to another. A tendency born from trying to outrun the past.
I found a nice house to rent without a problem. People aren’t exactly scrambling for real estate around here. I like it, but it’s far too big for me. I feel like a penny rattling around in a tin can, especially after growing up with 6 siblings and spending a four year enlistment in tents and barracks practically on top of other people. It’s nice (REALLY nice, actually) to finally have some privacy, it’s just…a little too quiet and my thoughts are a little too loud. I think maybe I’ll get a cat for company. In the meantime, I’ll do exactly as I was instructed, and write in this stupid journal.
My class graduated from training at what I’ve decided to call “The Firm” 2 days ago. (I don’t think it’s wise to be overly elaborate in explaining the nature of what I do, in case this word vomit ever falls into the wrong hands.) I graduated from the police academy three months before that, a pre-requisite for acceptance into The Firm.
The day before graduating and receiving our assignments, our instructors pulled us all aside, one-by-one, to give us advice as individuals (a singularly bizarre experience, I might add, to see an instructor transform from a hollering hardass to something resembling a human being.) I sat in Instructor Higgs’ office and willed my eyes not to wander around the room and read the certificates for each of his Assignments. I always prided myself on my discipline and self-control, and I believe the intensity with which I adhere to those qualities is (at least in part) the reason he gave me the advice he did.
Instructor Higgs had an unnerving ability to nail someone to their seat with his eyes, and he was doing it to me then. I met his ice blue irises with my hazel ones and with great determination, did not squirm or look away.
“Tomorrow you’ll graduate and become Guardian Haught.”
For a moment, he looked thoughtful. It occurred to me that he was taking this very seriously.
“Remind me how many tours of duty you did in the Middle East.”
That was abrupt. I met his eyes briefly, and couldn’t help the way they flicked down to plain brown file directly in front of him with the label “Haught, Nicole.” Surely this was information he was already apprised of, but it was obviously my job to play along. I cleared my throat.
He leaned forward on his desk and regarded me shrewdly with those piercing eyes. I watched the muscles in his cheeks ripple as he clenched and unclenched his jaw. On our first day of indoctrination, he had served as the ringleader in the traditional “shark attack.” My cohort had quickly taken to referring to him amongst ourselves as, “That Crazy Motherfucker.” Needless to say, I felt a little on edge.
“How many total months were you in Iraq and Afghanistan?”
“30 months, sir. 12 months in Iraq on my first tour, 9 months in Afghanistan for my second and third.”
“Indeed.” He flipped my file open and glanced down. He folded his hands. “You spent a good bit more than half of your four-year enlistment in a combat zone. I understand the operational tempo was high at the time, what with the surge, but for a Military Police unit, it strikes me as excessive.”
“I only spent one of those deployments with my assigned unit, sir.” I looked him square in the eyes when I answered. At that moment, I realized where our conversation was headed. I’d had it before.
“You volunteered for the other two.”
“Yes, sir.” My hands slowly curled into fists underneath the desk. I could feel my fingernails bite into my palms, hard enough to be painful. Keeping my face composed in this moment was of the utmost importance to me. I could feel his perceptive gaze like prying fingers in my head, flipping through my memories.
“Who did you lose on your first tour?”
There it was.
“Three members of my squad.” I paused to arrange my features. “In an IED explosion. One of them was my best friend.” It suddenly felt like an iron band was constricting around my ribs. “Specialist Katie Epperson.” I’m still not quite sure why I offered up her name like that. To this day, saying it is like speaking around a mouth full of cotton.
Instructor Higgs leaned back in his desk chair, reached behind him, and came up with a box of tissues. He pushed them across the desk toward me.
“I’m not crying, Instructor.”
“No, you aren’t,” he said, looking almost…sad? Like I said, the entire experience was Twilight-zone level bizarre.
“My question is, have you ever?”
I sat bolt upright. I hadn’t even noticed how much I had started to sag. I felt my eyes blaze and my cheeks get hot. My Scottish coloring and temper are a large part of the reason I have learned to keep my emotions well in hand. With great difficulty I pried my gritted teeth apart.
“Sir, the death of my teammates was devastating, but if I’m going to complete my mission and succeed as a Field Guardian on Assignment, I have to let my emotions sort of take the back seat.”
To my absolute amazement I watched a hard man’s expression soften.
“Haught, I want you to listen to me carefully,” he began. “I respect your service to this country. I respect the dedication you show to your profession. However, given the reading I’ve done on your background, my observation of you in training, and this conversation, I believe I’m seeing the shadows of a fatal flaw.”
I distinctly recall reminding myself in that moment to trim my nails after I left his office, as I was starting to draw blood. (I really have been single for too long, but that isn’t exactly relevant.)
“Having emotions, especially strong ones like rage and grief and love isn’t weakness or a detriment to the mission, as you clearly have been lead to believe,” he said gently. “Feeling is what makes us human. Being human gives us the capacity to make hard judgement calls, which you will do every minute of every day on Assignment. You have to recognize and respect emotions for what they are, and you have to deal with them, regardless of the toll it takes on your psyche. Bottling them, shoving them down where no one can see them isn’t going to do you any favors. Steam requires a release valve, yeah? Are you following me?”
“I think so, sir.”
“Good.” I heard the steel undertone return to his voice and the wall between us went back up as quickly and suddenly as a blast door. “There are two things I will strongly advise you to do when you arrive on Assignment. The first one is to exercise daily, for at least an hour. I know that seems obvious, but that’s the easy part. The second one is to order a black, leather bound journal and write in it every single day.”
I feel my eyebrows shoot up against my own volition. Seriously?
“Journal, recruit,” he growled. “Write shit down. Record any events that occur on Assignment as they transpire, but more importantly, write what you feel. Get all those thoughts and emotions out of your head and onto paper. Like the old guy’s bowl in the wizard movies my kids like.”
“Yeah, like a pensleeve.”
“Ah…okay. Yes, sir.”
He nodded, flipped my file closed, and stood up abruptly, holding out his hand. Surprised, I stood and took it. His shake was firm and warm. I could feel the sharp rasp of his calloused palm scrape over the hardened surface of my own.
“Good luck in the field, recruit. Enjoy your first assignment.” He paused, looking past me for a moment. “It’s the only one you’ll ever truly care about.” I don’t know why his statement struck me as so profound, but that was the moment that I decided to take his advice on journaling. He was a salty old man, but he spoke like he knew more about me than I did about myself.
I didn’t care much for our graduation ceremony, partially because I had no family there to see me take the Oath, and partially because I was so eager to get my Assignment and move forward. The majority of my cohort would receive assignments to high-level government officials. Some would serve as Guardians to more covert governmental assets, like spies. A much smaller subsection of us (those who “met certain criteria,” whatever that meant) would be farmed off to the highest bidder on a non-governmental contract. That is, we would agree to guard individuals in the private sector, but only those that the authorities deemed valuable, for whatever reason.
After the Oath ceremony, we lined up single-file outside of the Commander’s office. One by one, we stepped through the door and were handed a slim file with nothing but the bare essentials of what we needed to know for our Assignment. As soon as I had the envelope in my hand, I was racing through the building toward my living quarters so I could open mine with some semblance of privacy. I knew how meaningful my first Assignment would be to me, and I wanted to process it alone.
I sat on my bunk and cracked the file open. My eyes flew greedily over crisp, typed pages until they arrived at a small, 3X4 inch black and white photograph clipped on the upper right hand side. I wrenched it free to take a closer look. I didn’t know then, and I still don’t know why my reaction to the woman in the photo was so visceral. From what I could see, she was undeniably beautiful, but it was more than that. Heat spread from the pit of my stomach to the crown of my head. It was the feeling you get when you’re in a public place and you recognize a dear friend in the crowd that you haven’t seen in years. She was familiar to me in a way that I couldn’t for the life of me put my finger on.
I packaged the strange feeling up in my mind and sent it to live with a wide variety of other untouchable topics and continued to read the file.
Name: Waverly Earp
Age: 21 years
Location: Purgatory, Montana
Asset type: Private contract
There was other information, her social security number, her next of kin, height and weight...and at the very bottom of the second page,
Special Instructions: ***Contractor requires that the asset remain completely unaware that she is being guarded. Asset has recently entered circumstances of extreme peril above and beyond what would normally be expected for her demographic. Guardian should have expectation of events surrounding the asset that exceed standard operating procedure.***
I’m still unclear as to what exactly that last sentence meant.
So here I am, sitting on the floor of this big, drafty house, pouring my thoughts into this black rectangular pensieve rather than eat or sleep, though I desperately need to do both. Tomorrow morning I start my "cover" job as Sheriff’s Deputy. I also have to find and hopefully introduce myself to her. Waverly Earp. Purgatory is an exceedingly small town, and it is absolutely essential that I fit in here so as to not raise suspicion. The closer I can get to her, the easier my job will be.
I wonder if I’ll like her.
Somehow I know I will.