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Nicole Haught leaned against the BBD conference table for balance. A necessity due to Waverly Earp pressed against her, soft hands coiled around her neck. Their heads dipped in sync with their deepening array of kisses. One minute had turned to five had turned to fifteen. Time blurred, as there was only this kiss followed by the next.

Alternating between sighing and smiling, Nicole almost couldn’t believe this was happening.

An entire lunchbreak: uninterrupted. No Wynonna. No Lonnie. No Dolls. No Nedley. No urgent phone calls or texts or radio dispatches. Nothing.

It had been… heavenly.

There had been a greater, more innocent purpose to Nicole’s visit to BBD. Or, at least that’s what she told herself as her tongue flicked over Waverly’s teeth with a breathless laugh. A stack of files sat behind Nicole, police reports of Ghost River Triangle women killed by wild animals over the past few years (the most recent victim discovered just yesterday).

A “gift” for Dolls, allegedly. An excuse to see Waverly, actually.

Knocking on that glass door, it would be an understatement to say Nicole had been overjoyed to find only Waverly inside. Particularly a radiant Waverly in an asymmetrical white halter top, black mini-skirt and dark leggings under calf-length boots, her long hair tamed back by a teal headband matched by a thick teal belt at her waist. (A definite improvement over a scowling Deputy Dolls or a different-somehow-scowling Wynonna.)

“He’s still off with my sister pursuing some lead,” Waverly had said behind her own stack of printouts and old books fresh from the city library. Purposefully sifting her stack into a trio of piles, Waverly checked her phone. “I thought I’d hear from Wynonna by now, but I guess they’re still wandering around in the woods doing God Knows What.” She had shrugged, a bare shoulder bouncing.

Nicole swore to herself her intentions were purely as a courteous Sheriff’s-Department-to-Black-Badge colleague. Just dropping off some files. Nothing more.

She had even made a small move for the door, an excuse on her lips that she was “just stopping by and didn’t want to keep you from it.” An excuse Nicole never finished as Waverly stalked over to her, freezing her in place with a sway of hips. The sweetness of Waverly’s perfume trailed a second behind.

At least Nicole had had the presence of mind to fumble an elbow behind her to secure the office deadbolt in place… though that was after Waverly wrapped herself around Nicole’s waist. She sighed into that first kiss, her fingertips sweeping down Waverly’s cheek before cupping the back of her head. Nicole felt Waverly’s hands trace up the lines of her uniform in cautious exploration, starting at her belt.

“What if someone—Wynonna… Dolls—comes back?” Nicole had whispered into Waverly’s ear after trailing a line of kisses along her jaw. A dangling hoop earring butted against Nicole’s nose, but she brushed it aside it to place a kiss behind that ear.

Exhaling through her nose in a light laugh, Waverly bounced a bare shoulder again with a shrug. “Then I guess we should probably stop…” She trailed off as she focused attention on Nicole’s lower lip with a nibble.

“Probably,” Nicole had murmured in agreement. Their hands met on the way—Nicole’s down and Waverly’s up—and they threaded fingers with a shared sigh and a shared kiss. Oh, but Waverly tasted of mocha and cinnamon sugar combined with a sweet coffee tang on her breath.

It was Waverly who guided them away from the door, hands still laced, before pushing Nicole against the nearby conference table. Waverly had wrinkled her nose playfully. “There’s not somewhere you need to be, is there?” Hazel eyes flicked to the radio at Nicole’s shoulder before returning. A soft pout started to form on the woman’s face.

Nicole leaned forward to kiss that nose before resting her forehead against Waverly’s. Voice husky, she replied, “Other than right here? No.” A slanted smile pulled at Nicole’s cheek. “I’m off the clock. For a little while, at least.” She winked.

A mock-serious smile from Waverly before she slid her fingers out of Nicole’s grasp and leaned in to claim another series of kisses. Waverly’s hands settled at Nicole’s neck, though they often caressed along cheeks, jaw, chin, neck and the exposed part of Nicole’s collarbone. Those fingertips alternated between gentle and firm in their study, which made Nicole smile.

Blissful minutes had passed, absent of anything other than hitched breaths and exploring kisses.

Nicole had gasped, breathless by Waverly’s intensity, but was determined to keep up with deep kisses of her own. She even allowed herself tentative strokes down Waverly’s hips and up the planes of her back and was rewarded with a teasing whimper.

At some point, Waverly scolded Nicole with a tsking sound when she caught Nicole throwing wary glances at the door. Gripping Nicole’s face with both hands, Waverly pulled away for a moment to cut her eyes in disappointment.

“I’m sorry,” Nicole whispered. “Can you blame me? I’m half-expecting a call or someone barging in or—I dunno—the building to catch fire...” Nicole grinned sheepishly, readjusting herself against the table that was digging into the backs of her thighs.

Those thumbs stroked Nicole’s dimples as Waverly settled herself against the apex of Nicole’s thighs. Waverly held there for a few seconds, gaze flicking down to Nicole’s lips and back to her eyes.

There was something… possessive about Waverly’s touch. It was hard for Nicole to comprehend, other than it made her grip the woman’s waist little more firmly than before. Any other thoughts disappeared when Nicole leaned forward again. Ghosting her lips over Waverly’s, Nicole whispered “sorry” a few times, allowing herself the chase back into the moment.

Two things helped ease them out of this… session. The first was the audible growl of Nicole’s stomach. The second was Waverly’s apologetic laugh as she pulled away, saying, “Oh right, it is lunchtime for you, isn’t it? Well, you’re in luck...” She slowly trailed her hands down Nicole’s shoulders to her arms before stepping back.

Still dazed by the last twenty minutes, Nicole blinked languidly. “Is it? I’d… forgotten…” She couldn’t help stealing another kiss.

Very lucky indeed.

Straightening Nicole’s collar, Waverly beckoned her over to a stack of Styrofoam containers on the side table. She flicked open the lids with a flourish. “Mateo’s Tacos fresh from the city. Wynonna made me promise to get some next time I went… but she’s not here, so…”

One taco happened to be missing from one of the containers. At Nicole’s raised eyebrow, Waverly shrugged yet again. “I got hungry on the drive back,” she explained simply before settling into a chair.

Nicole tucked in catty-corner to Waverly with a thank-you as she dug into the offered box. The tacos were cold, but Nicole didn’t really care. She crunched down one taco and started on a second before catching an amused look from Waverly. “What? What’s so funny?”

Smirking, Waverly leaned over and dabbed at Nicole’s mouth with a napkin. “You’re eating like I’m gonna take it away from you… and you’ve got my lipstick on your face.” There was a red glow to her cheeks.

With a laugh, Nicole traced a thumb over Waverly’s cheek and chin. “You too.” It wasn’t completely obvious, but there was a faint smear of pink outside the lines of Waverly’s lips. Just that slight dishevel to her appearance warmed Nicole the same way that the possessiveness from earlier had. Knowing that Waverly wanted her as much as Nicole wanted her back was… heavenly.

Nicole threw a nod at the stacks of paperwork Waverly had been organizing. She kept her tone light and neutral, despite how eagerly she wanted to probe for answers. “Did you get what you needed in the city?” Her eyes flicked over the names of some unfamiliar history books and scans of very old newspapers.

Hmmmm.

“For the moment, I guess.” Waverly scowled as she checked her phone again. “Hard to know if I got everything if my dumb sister or her dumb boss won’t call me back.” She smiled back at Nicole, but a worry line remained between her brows.

“Does this mean you’re free tonight, then? Need a distraction?” Nicole asked hopefully.

She had been hesitant to bring it up, especially since they’d had dinner at Nicole’s just yesterday… and were having lunch now. Nicole worried about coming on too strong, but that worry faded a little when her eyes returned to the faint smear of lipstick around Waverly’s mouth.

Waverly’s nose wrinkled in apology. “Oh, I’d like to—love to, really—but I can’t. Aunt Gus asked me to help organize some stuff for her move.” Her gaze turned thoughtful (and a little watery). “It’ll be nice to stay in that house one more time before she leaves in a couple weeks. So many memories growing up there.”

With a soft “Wave,” Nicole reached out to touch Waverly’s wrist.

Sniffing, Waverly blinked a few times and her eyes cleared. She returned Nicole’s gesture by tracing her fingertips along the back of Nicole’s hand. “Plus, I have a yoga class at the gym at 4.” With a dramatic neck crack, Waverly rolled her shoulders. “Gotta work out all that stress from being an Earp.” She shot Nicole her fiercest grin.

“It sounds rough,” Nicole agreed with a teasing lilt. She glanced significantly at Waverly’s lips and back to her eyes again with a smile before taking a bite of her last taco.

It worked: Waverly laughed then self-consciously dabbed at her own mouth.

Noting the time on the wall, Nicole sighed inwardly as she finished up her meal. They both spent a few minutes with their cell phone cameras on selfie mode to double as mirrors. It took a few napkins, a few dabs of concealer (and a few laughs) but any evidence of their lunch break antics now hid behind fresh makeup.

Snapping the cap back on her lipstick, Waverly tilted her head at Nicole. “You’re getting off early, yea?” At Nicole’s nod, Waverly leaned forward with her head on her hand endearingly. “Wanna go to the gym together? You work out, right?”

Oh God absolutely. …On both counts.

That warm feeling replaced Nicole’s earlier brief insecurity. “I do. And I was screwed out of my morning run, thanks to Lonnie.” She growled out his name with an eye roll. But Nicole’s smile quickly returned. “GoodLife off of I-80?”

“I think you mean: ‘the only gym in a thirty-mile radius?’” Waverly corrected with a smirk.

Raising her hands defensively, Nicole replied, “Hey hey, don’t forget the Purgatory Municipal Rec Center. It gets the job done for us government lackeys... What with its one treadmill, one pull-up bar and one weight rack permanently reserved by Deputy Marshal Dolls.” Nicole gave a tight-lipped, barely-repressed frown.

Well, that’s not entirely true... On the few days when Dolls is on a case, the rec center is available for rookie flatfoot use. Except for his floor mat or his speedbag, both of which are off-limits.

That was one reason why Nicole had ponied up for a paid gym membership a month ago, especially after her hospital physical therapy following the Jack of Knives incident had ended. The other reason was… Nicole was not entirely unaware that Waverly went to that particular gym.

That had been an actual accident.

It was, as Waverly said, the only gym between Purgatory and the big city. And with Dolls commandeering the municipal building space a lot of the time (training Wynonna, I guess?), Nicole at the very least needed somewhere with a weight rack. Running she could do outside (which she preferred anyway) but she quickly tired of bodyweight exercises on her living room floor (with a judgmental Calamity Jane looking on). And it just so happened the day Nicole had hit up GoodLife Gym off I-80 to sign up for a membership, she had seen a familiar red Jeep in the parking lot.

Checking her phone for a third time, Waverly said, “Well, I guess now’s your chance to break into the rec center, since I know for a fact that Dolls probably won’t be in today at this rate.” Another brief scowl before her smile softened. “But… I would appreciate the company. If you have the time, of course.”

Nicole shot a smile back. “You said your class was at 4?” When Waverly nodded, Nicole gave a nod back. “I’m off at 3. Meet you there at 3:30?”

“It’s a date,” Waverly confirmed before wrinkling her nose and tilting her head back and forth. “…More or less.”

“More or less,” Nicole agreed as she stood up and gestured at the door. “I gotta get back to it. You sticking around?”

A headshake and a shrug from Waverly as she poked at one stack of papers. “Nah. Gotta get back to the Homestead for my overnight bag and change of clothes. And maybe see if Wynonna made it back yet.” Another check of her phone with that worried look.

“Hey.” Nicole leaned over from behind Waverly’s chair and wrapped her arms around the woman’s neck in a high hug. Waverly tipped her head back to look at Nicole above her, eyes expectant. “I’d be more worried about those trees than about Wynonna or Dolls. She’d probably burn the whole thing down to get back to you,” Nicole said, mostly joking.

…I know the feeling—wait, what?

An upside-down smile from Waverly, nose crinkle and all. “You’re probably right. I just hate it when she does this… it sucked when we were younger and she was running off all the time. But now it’s almost worse because that means something might actually be wrong, you know?” That smile turned thoughtful and her gaze far-off, but Waverly refocused on Nicole with a short nod. Her chin came to a rest on Nicole’s forearm.

“I know,” Nicole concurred, placing a light kiss on her forehead. “You Earps are tough as hell, though. I’m more worried about whoever she’s looking for in those woods. …But if you need me to rustle up the troops for a search party, say the word. Plus, I’m kind of an expert at filling out forms so it’s all above board.” She shot Waverly a dramatic, wide-eyed nod and got an exhale-laugh in response.

Waverly mouthed a thank-you as Nicole bent down to kiss her. Nicole had to suppress a grin when she felt a tongue flick across hers. Waverly was not so modest; when they pulled apart, her smile was bright and smug.

“Text me later?” Waverly asked.

“Absolutely.”


Making record time for a change, Nicole was actually early as she walked into the gym, duffle bag in hand. A chilly afternoon gust cut through her light workout pants, but the alternative was strolling up in full police uniform. Instead, Nicole wore maroon running shoes, striped workout pants and a long-sleeve PSD softball Henley leftover from last year’s losing team (luckily in size medium) under her heavy blue jacket.

Next year though…

She tapped out a brief text to Waverly before dropping a pair of quarters into a wall locker. The women’s locker room at GoodLife was pretty empty for a Thursday afternoon in the Ghost River Triangle. Snapping the coiled locker key band around her wrist, Nicole set her wraparound headphones at her neck.

A text message pinged.

[Waverly says: “I scored us prime treadmill real estate”]

Striding past a room of stationary bikes and ellipticals, Nicole quickly found a familiar row of treadmills, about half of which were occupied. Next to the window were a pair of towels draped possessively over two treadmill consoles (the left one also had a rolled-up purple yoga mat). And in front of those machines was a stretching Waverly Earp.

The petite woman was “sitting” on the floor, toned legs splayed out in the splits. She was finishing twisting one side of hair into a matching coiled bun before she pushed herself out of the splits into a deep hamstring stretch. When Waverly spotted Nicole, she broke out in a wide, crinkling grin. “You made it!”

Nicole was staring. Not modestly, either. Full-on, eyebrow-arching staring. She couldn’t help it. A sleeveless, tied up t-shirt and cropped yoga pants accentuated every line of muscle and every curve that made up Waverly Earp.

Clearing her throat, Nicole dropped down to “tie her shoe” to hide her undoubtedly red cheeks. Mostly because that image was seamlessly merging with the memories of their earlier makeouts in Nicole’s mind. That warm feeling from before was turning into…something else.

Not yet. Not til she’s ready.

Her mouth was suddenly very dry, and it took a few seconds (and a few deep breaths) for Nicole to straighten up with a smile. “I—I did.”

Waverly’s head tilted in confusion. “You okay, Nicole?”

“Fine. Just…” Nicole trailed off and took a swig of her bottled water. Clearing her throat again, Nicole changed the subject. She nodded at Waverly’s phone strapped to her wrist. “Uh, what do you listen to on a run?”

A different nose-wrinkle this time: Waverly chewed her cheek uncertainly. “You first.”

Popping the head phone jack out of her phone, Nicole offered the open end.

Waverly unraveled her earbuds and snapped hers into the socket and nodded for Nicole to press play. She smiled as her head bobbed along to the music, a Fetty Wap track. “I love this song.” A slender finger swiped up and down Nicole’s playlist to examine the other song titles. Her approval was a tight-lipped grin. “Not just a country girl, then.”

“I can like other things—genres,” Nicole said defensively before giving an acknowledging shrug. “…not a lot of other things, but they’re there. Especially for working out.” She gestured to Waverly’s phone again. “What about you? …or is it a secret?”

“No, it’s just—you have to promise not to laugh.” Waverly’s expression was stern. When Nicole offered a three-fingered Girl Scout sign in promise, she plugged in Nicole’s head phone jack before pressing play.

It wasn’t music. A female voice listed complex phrases in a foreign language before offering the translation in English. From the inflection of syllables, it sounded like… “Hebrew?” Nicole asked.

“Uh, yea,” she replied with a bashful shrug. “Thursdays and Fridays I do Hebrew. Sunday and Monday are for German. Tuesday–Wednesday Latin. I think I have enough of a handle on French to phase it out of the rotation for a little while.”

“Wait wait wait. You speak Hebrew, German, French and—and—”

“Latin,” Waverly confirmed with a smile. “Fluently.” That nose wrinkle appeared again and she shrugged before confessing, “…most of the time. Still having trouble reading Hebrew. Definitely strongest with French and Latin.”

Nicole was stunned. But her thumb hovered the other playlists in Waverly’s library, and there were indeed several sets of language primers for advanced speakers. “That’s… amazing, Waves.”

“Yea?” That shy smile crossed Waverly’s face as she plugged her earbuds back in then readjusted the phone wrist strap.

Yea,” Nicole confirmed as she settled onto her own treadmill. A few button presses set the machine into motion. “How long did that all take you to learn?”

Still learning.“ Waverly started up her own treadmill and quickly matched pace. “But I started French and Latin in middle school. German and Hebrew around sophomore year of high school. They didn’t offer those at PHS so I had to teach myself on my own til I enrolled in some online college courses. Borrowed and ripped CDs from the library til Uncle Curtis got me a Rosetta Stone account.” Her smile was fond. “He helped me pay for my online history degree, too.”

Nodding, Nicole focused for a few seconds on regulating her breathing before answering. “That’s awesome dedication. I took four years of Spanish in high school and I can barely remember how to count.” She shot Waverly a sheepish grin, body bouncing in rhythm with her running feet.

“I could help you if you wanted to pick it back up! …well, French and Spanish are sort of close. Italian would be closer, which I think I started last year but…” Waverly trailed off as she started swiping through her phone. Her confident suggestion downgraded to an apology. “Damn, I must have deleted it off to make room for the Hebrew. I can check, though!”

With a laugh, Nicole waved her off. “Don’t worry about it.” She considered it though, largely because of the amount of time it would probably take would correlate to the amount of time spent with Waverly. “…Well, maybe as a New Year’s Resolution or something,” Nicole amended with a smile.

Waverly did a jumping skip on her treadmill. “Just let me know! I’m a great tutor!”

“I will definitely keep your number.”

Her answer was a bright grin.

As Waverly started to slowly put in her ear buds, Nicole had one last question. Well, question(s). “Are you going on a big trip or something?” At the woman’s quirked eyebrow, Nicole clarified, “I mean, what made you want to learn all those languages? What do you use them for?”

That bright grin faded. Waverly chewed her cheek as she ran in place, one ear bud rolling in her fingertips. “It’s—uh… for helping Wynonna. And Dolls. You know… Government things.”

“Oh. Okay. Sure.”

Recognizing a sore subject, Nicole gave a tight nod and put in her own earphones. They ran in amicable silence together, their huffing breaths sometimes audible above the blaring music in Nicole’s ears.

Nicole was still struggling to navigate these weird, sticky Earp topics. Especially with her growing relationship with Waverly. But the latent detective in Nicole couldn’t help but mull over the details: she knew Waverly was lying, just not why.

Wynonna Earp had been gone for years. Her employment at BBD was a recent development. Why the government hired a woman with an obvious criminal record, I don’t know.

And Waverly… she said she started studying foreign languages at a young age. So, clearly she had been preparing for… something. Something to do with Wynonna and BBD?

I don’t know.

Could it have something to do with what’s been going on in Purgatory?

I don’t know how.  

Nicole glanced over at the younger Earp, who was staring off ahead out the window as her run got more aggressive. Waverly silently mouthed in response to the tutorial playing in her headphones.

Is she ever going to tell me?

…I don’t know.

Am I okay with that if she doesn’t? Ever?

…I… don’t know.

An elbow tap roused Nicole from her thoughts. On Nicole’s left, Waverly gasped from her (now stationary) treadmill, her smile bright (if a little forced). Beads of sweat dappled the tan skin of her forehead and arms.

Nicole pulled out her earphones and slowed down her pace. She arched her eyebrows expectantly.

“Hey,” Waverly said, throwing a thumb behind her. A purple mat was tucked under one arm. “I gotta run to my class. Did you wanna come?” Her hazel eyes were faintly pleading/apologetic.

Eyes flicking to the door, Nicole shrugged. “Nah, it’s okay. I’ll probably go a little longer then do some weights.” When she saw the hurt look reflected in Waverly’s eyes, Nicole cursed at herself for her stiff tone. She tried to salvage it with a warm smile. “Go work off that Earp stress, yea? I gotta work off my Lonnie stress… on that punching bag.” Nicole made a playful right hook motion.

“Okay, uh… I’ll see you when I’m done, right?” Waverly asked, her voice small and vulnerable.

Nicole stopped her treadmill, wheezing through heavy breaths. She rested her hands on her hips and bent forward slightly. Glancing around the room, Nicole said softly, “I’ll be here. Promise.” She made another three-fingered Girl Scout sign.

When that made Waverly break into a smile, Nicole leaned forward to capture the woman’s lips. There was resistance for a moment, but Nicole felt that smile widen against her cheeks. Waverly whispered another “Okay” before turning on her heel to the adjoining room. At the door, she gave Nicole a small wave then joined her other classmates.

Firing the treadmill back up, Nicole ran like her life depended on it. While she did so, she opened up a map on her phone and started browsing her options. She had an idea.


A tap to Nicole’s elbow again roused her from her thoughts. Waverly’s hands were raised in a defensive position as she smiled back at Nicole. Holding the swaying punching bag she’d been pounding away at, Nicole yanked out her headphones yet again.

“You’re still here!” Waverly announced cheerfully.

“Of course,” Nicole said with a smile. She shook the punching bag’s chain through a borrowed boxing glove. “I had to show this guy what for.”

Surveying the lumpy bag, Waverly gave a tight smile of approval. “I think he learned his lesson.”

“Until next time, then!” Nicole threatened the bag with a final punch before taking a seat at the nearby bench to untape her wrists. She eyeballed Waverly in between heavy breaths.

The woman looked almost as ragged as Nicole. Both of their shirts had damp spots at their necks, back and armpits. One of Waverly’s hair buns had started to come loose in light wisps. Nicole didn’t want to know what her own French braid looked like after nearly an hour of dumbbells plus punching bag.

“How’s the stress?” Nicole asked as she dabbed her white towel at her neck.

Nose crinkling, Waverly shrugged. She waved her phone back and forth. “Could be better. Still haven’t heard from Wynonna. Or Dolls. Left another message.” After a final swig of her water, Waverly resumed chewing her cheek.

“Okay, so…” Nicole started as she reached into her duffle bag hidden under the bench. “…so I know this kind of defeats the purpose of working out, but I thought we could use it.” She placed two small cups on the metal bench. Plastic spoons jutted out of a scoop of ice cream in each.

And maybe something of an informal apology for sulking, Nicole thought to herself. She grinned hopefully at Waverly, brow furrowed with worried expectation.

A few seconds of stunned silence followed. Waverly’s smile was soft at first, then grew teasing. “Isn’t it a little cold out for ice cream?”

“Well, if you don’t want it…” Nicole trailed off as she made a motion to put them back in her duffle bag.

A squawk of outrage. “I didn’t say that!” Waverly narrowed her eyes. “…what flavor?”

Nicole alternated pointing at one cup then the other. “I stuck with the classics. Chocolate chip cookie dough. Double chocolate.” She picked them up and offered them to Waverly.

Another long moment of consideration before Waverly nabbed the double chocolate cup.

“Oh thank God,” Nicole said as she made room for Waverly on the bench. “I was afraid you were gonna take my dough from me.”

“How come you almost let me?” Waverly asked as she sat down, mimicking Nicole’s straddle of the bench. She dug into the scoop of chocolate with gusto.

The metal surface amplified both women’s body heat and made the small room more humid somehow. But it made the cold ice cream taste all the sweeter by comparison.

“A win-win either way,” Nicole said while taking a giant spoonful. “I get something I like, or I get to share something I like. With someone I like.” She winked as she rolled the cool cream on her tongue. “Plus an excuse to ask you what your favorite flavor is. Or flavors… no point in limiting yourself to just one.”

Waverly’s smile was tight and slanted for a few moments as she threw a couple of coy glances at Nicole from under heavy eyelashes. She wrinkled her nose in consideration as she squinted skyward. “Top three, then. Chocolate is a classic. Obviously. I like mint chocolate chip, too. And they have matcha ice cream at this cute shop in the city I like.”

“I’ve never had matcha before,” Nicole said thoughtfully. She stuck her tongue out in playful disgust. “Mint chocolate chip though… blech.” Another wink.

An answering wink back. “Well, no one’s perfect,” Waverly implied sadly before brightening. “We’ll have to go get some matcha some time! It’s super good!”

“Absolutely.”

They finished their ice cream amid giggles and nostalgic stories from childhood. It was also a slightly bashful dance as they returned to the women’s locker room to shower and change.

Ever the chivalrous one, Nicole kept a respectful distance from Waverly while she tended to her own quick shower. They only bumped into each other once, crossing paths on the way to their lockers while wrapped in white towels, hair dripping in loose tangles. But Nicole did spy a mirror reflection of Waverly’s appraisal via a long look up and down her half-dressed form. She smiled to herself.

After parting ways in the GoodLife Gym parking lot, Waverly promised to text Nicole later from Aunt Gus’s. Nicole settled in for the night on her couch with Calamity Jane, a glass of wine and a familiar, worn copy of Little Women. “Property of Michelle Earp” was inscribed on the inside cover.

It was a couple of hours before the first SnapChats trickled into Nicole’s inbox. She had sent Waverly a few pictures earlier of her socked feet, choice of wine, and what chapter she was on. Calamity Jane’s butt also made an appearance with the note [“If I have to look at this, so do you”] to an answering [“lol”] of a text.

Waverly sent back a long story of images recounting her evening with Gus.

In front of a sea of haphazard boxes, Waverly flexed into the camera, squeezing her own bicep with a fierce grin. [“Get your tickets to the GUN SHOW!!!!”] She sported a variation on her workout outfit from earlier, the main difference being a loose sleeveless shirt over a colorful sports bra.

She demonstrated her box labeling and detailed checklists with a smug grin. [“This is how you get shit done”] That long wavy hair was twisted back in a single bun with a pair of Sharpie markers stabbed in like hair sticks.

Gus MacCready stretched out in an easy chair with a beer bottle in hand, an open photo album in her lap. [“I made this for her when I graduated high school”] Gus smiled back at Waverly fondly.

The storage shed was a jumbled nightmare of boxes and loose farm machinery. Waverly was visible in the lower left corner with an animated scowl. [“Nuh-uh. No way. This is how you get tetanus”] (Immediately followed was Waverly’s Google history of local donation and dump pick-ups, her scowl changing to a more determined expression.)

Eventually Waverly migrated over to a closet where it became a stop-motion dress-up simulator. Most of Aunt Gus’s wardrobe involved older, very 70s/80s sundresses and frocks (that Waverly didn’t so much try on as she hung the hanger over her neck for a trial look).

But Waverly did try on a dress that continued into a text conversation.

[Nicole says: “You look like you’re having a good time. Getting a lot done?”]

[Waverly says: “Well, Gus cleared out a lot of stuff after Uncle Curtis died a few months ago, so not too bad”]

Ah, Nicole thought as she took another sip of her wine. She had picked up a bottle of Waverly’s favorite Zinfandel while she was out on rounds this morning. An excuse to give it another try… while actually an exercise in optimism.

A SnapChat came over of Waverly in a black dress waving long-dead strands of glow sticks in one hand. The style was dated with obvious shoulder pads, but it was still a very flattering cut.

[Waverly says: “I can’t believe Aunt Gus wore something like this!! I need to ask if she ever went like clubbing in the city”]

[Nicole says: “OMG I’m dying to know. Please please ask her now”]

[Nicole says: “I NEED to hear this story, Waves”]

[Waverly says: “Can’t. She went to bed like a half hour ago. Early riser/farmer and stuff”]

[Nicole says: “Oh… damn :P”]

[Waverly says: “WE should go out!! Get dressed up and go to the city!!!”]

[Waverly says: “Get that macha ice cream! Srsly itll change your life Nicole”]

[Nicole says: “Oh I bet it will ;)”]

[Waverly says: “Do you have a black dress?”]

[Nicole says: “Like that one? Sorry. Left my shoulder pads in 1990”]

[Waverly says: “:P No like a real one”]

[Nicole says: “Do you?”]

A short pause before a series of winking faces. [Waverly says: “Of course I do. I’ll show you mine if you show me yours”]

That… gave Nicole pause. She leaned back with a smile. [Nicole says: “Why spoil the surprise? I’d rather see in person”]

[Waverly says: “Aw you’re no fun”]

[Waverly says: “I was thinking……”]

[Nicole says: “Whatcha thinking”]

[Waverly says: “Maybe we get dolled up. Little black dress and all. Maybe go out on the town”]

[Nicole says: “I like this plan”]

[Waverly says: “Maybe we end up back at your place. Maybe some candles. I dunno”]

Nicole practically heard the wiring in her brain short-circuit. It came in the form of her choking on her latest sip of wine accompanied by a baleful glare from her cat on the armrest. Fortunately, no errant red drops landed on the open book pages in her lap, though Nicole had to pat her sternum a few times to ease her coughing.

[Nicole says: “I REALLY like this plan”]

[Waverly says: “yea?”]

[Nicole says: “Definitely”]

A sprinkling of heart and kiss emojis followed that Nicole repeated back.

[Waverly says: “Well I’m gonna turn in. Having breakfast with Gus tomorrow and she gets up EARLY”]

[Nicole says: “Okay Waves”]

She paused. Her thumbs hovered over the keyboard. Part of Nicole didn’t want to ruin the magic of the moment, but the other part… [Nicole says: “Did you hear from Wynonna”]

Rapid-fire texting. [Waverly says: “Still no. I’m worried. Gus says Wynonna just got wasted and slept it off in a barn somewhere”] More slanted, unsure smileys.

[Nicole says: “Harsh”]

[Waverly says: “They weren’t BFFs growing up”]

[Nicole says: “Wynonna also didn’t have a Dolls. I’m sure he’s keeping an eye on her. Whether she wants it or not”]

[Waverly says: “I hope you’re right”]

[Nicole says: “Me too. Get some sleep, Waverly”]

[Waverly says: “You too Nicole. And tomorrow: WE GO OUT!!!”]

[Nicole says: “Looking forward to it”]

[Waverly says: “Me too”]

Nicole fell asleep with a deep sigh sitting on her chest (or maybe it was Calamity Jane). That warm feeling was swirling into a hopeful giddiness.

It was… heavenly.


The next morning, Nicole awoke to her phone rumbling on the nightstand.

[Waverly says: “Wynonna finally showed up. Going to meet her at BBD now”]

Oh thank God, Nicole thought with a relieved sigh. Despite her rocky relationship to the elder Earp, Nicole did like the woman (…for the most part). And not just because of Waverly.

[Nicole says: “Everything okay?”]

[Waverly says: “Don’t know yet”]

A few uncertain smile emojis trailed after Waverly’s text.

[Nicole says: “My shift starts at 9, but if you need me let me know”]

[Waverly says: “Thanks. And you said you dropped off some files at BBD yesterday? Something about missing girls?”]

[Nicole says: “Yes. On Dolls’ desk. Goes back decades. Why?”]

[Waverly says: “Just a hunch”]

[Waverly says: “Thank you, Nicole”] and a series of kiss symbols followed.

Closing her text app, Nicole set the phone aside on her night stand and stared at her ceiling for a few minutes. Calamity Jane gently kneaded on Nicole’s stomach before curling up again.

Am I okay if she can never tell me what’s going on?

Nicole still didn’t have an answer. But she didn’t have to decide right now.

Besides, “never” is a very long time.