As the bar grew more crowded, Waverly started to regret accepting her classmates’ invitation to go out after lecture. She spent five nights a weeks dealing with various drunks and hooligans at Shorty’s, so on her days off she preferred going to yoga or holing up in her apartment with a cup of tea and a good book. But Waverly liked the idea of making a few friends in the Big City, where she didn’t face the same expectations and prejudices she did in Purgatory. Being an Earp came with baggage, and she thought it would be nice to be free of it for a night. So Waverly enthusiastically accepted when Jackie, a girl in her anthropology class with whom she’d become friendly, asked if she wanted to join a group of people for drinks at The Bullhorn.
The Bullhorn had dark interior, a square bar in the center with pool tables and dart boards toward the back. Waverly ordered a whiskey at the bar, then found Jackie and some of her other classmates and chatted for a while. Slowly, people started to melt away as they were recruited to play pool or darts or went to greet other friends that arrived. While meeting new people was exciting, it was also something Waverly did not have much experience with beyond the surface-level chatter she used with visiting patrons of Shorty’s. Suddenly alone, Waverly became anxious and decided to grab another drink.
She sidled up to the bar and grabbed an open barstool. The bartender gave her a glance and she ordered another whiskey. As she waited, Waverly studied the dents and scratches on the well-worn bar. The Bullhorn, she had been told, was an institution in the Big City, having been around for decades. Perhaps Waverly would have been more impressed if she didn’t work in one of the oldest bars west of the Mississippi.
“There you are,” said a low voice behind her. She turned to see Mitch, one of her anthropology classmates.
Waverly gave a polite smile. “Hello.”
She’d never really spoken to Mitch one-on-one; he seemed rather quiet. He was tall and thin and cute in a boyish way. Mitch ordered a beer and sat on the empty barstool to her right. They chatted amiably about school. He was a junior, a full-time student, and planned to be an accountant. Waverly explained that this was her first semester on campus after taking classes online the year before. She was taking just two courses this semester because she worked full time and had a lengthy commute to school.
The bartender dropped off a beer. Mitch grabbed it with his right hand, and as he took a sip, he leaned back and draped his left arm across the back of Waverly’s chair. They continued to chat about school. After a few minutes, and without preamble, Mitch leaned in close, his breath hot and sour.
“So I have two tickets to the football game tomorrow night. I think we should go.”
Waverly was not unaccustomed to a being asked out, though it was usually by a drunk old man at Shorty’s so Waverly would just roll her eyes and ignore it. If Gus overheard she would swat the perpetrator upside the head and scoot him out the door. But here, Waverly was on unknown turf and without reinforcements.
“Sorry, but I work every Friday.”
Undeterred, Mitch leaned closer and shifted his arm onto her shoulders. His touch sent a chill up her spine. “Surely you switch with someone?”
“That’s pretty hard to do on such short notice.” Waverly decided on a hasty exit, spinning on her barstool and out of Mitch’s embrace. “Excuse me,” she muttered. Waverly grabbed her drink and purse and scanned the dark bar for a familiar face. Jackie was standing by one of the pool tables, waving her over. Relieved, Waverly crossed the room.
Jackie was racking the balls. “I saw you talking to Mitch. Did he ask you out?”
“How did you know?”
“Just a hunch. He’s got a bit of a reputation.” She nodded at Waverly, who grabbed a stick off a rack on the wall.
Waverly lined up her shot and broke, without success. “A reputation as what?”
“Persistent,” Jackie replied as she sunk a striped ball into the corner.
As they played, Waverly noticed that although Mitch had stayed on his barstool, he watched their entire game intently from across the bar. Jackie and Waverly were evenly matched, but Jackie ultimately prevailed.
Waverly said she was game, but she wanted to use the restroom first. She snaked her way through the pool tables to the hall at the back of the bar that led to the facilities. There was, of course, a line for the ladies’ room. Waverly leaned up against the wall behind a duo who were chatting enthusiastically about an Instagram post. When it was their turn, the two girls went into the bathroom together, leaving Waverly alone in the dark, narrow hall. She started to reach into her purse for her phone, when a hand grabbed her shoulder from behind. Waverly jumped and turned.
It was Mitch. “So I was thinking, what about going to a basketball game when the season starts in a couple weeks? If we plan it now then you’ll have enough time to ask for time off.” He was leaning over her, uncomfortably close.
“You know, I’m just not really into sports.” Waverly had been a cheerleader in high school -- head cheerleader in fact -- but she was never very interested in the actual games. She just enjoyed the dancing, camaraderie, and cute outfits. “And you know I've got a boy-”
“Then how about dinner sometime? Or a movie?” He suggested insistently. The door to the ladies’ room opened, and the two girls exited.
She tried a different tact. “You know, I’ll think about it.” Then she stepped back toward the open door, but Mitch stepped forward and grabbed her wrist.
“What’s there to think about?”
From behind Mitch came a high-pitched voice that Waverly did not recognize.
A tall redheaded girl emerged. Waverly had no idea who she was, but the stranger pushed back Mitch and gave Waverly a quick hug. After she pulled back, she said “Can I come in with you? I’ve got to tell you what Jimmy just did.” The girl raised her eyebrows and tilted her head.
Catching on, Waverly exclaimed loudly that she couldn’t wait to hear all about it and then pulled the redhead into the bathroom with her. Waverly closed the door and turned, leaning against the door and locking in behind her. The other girl stood in the middle of the bathroom, looking concerned.
“You okay?” She asked in a much lower register. Her tone in the hallway must have been part of the act.
Waverly exhaled. “I am now.” She took in the stranger -- she was even taller than Waverly had realized, had a heart-shaped face, framed by shoulder-length red hair and big brown eyes. She was smiling at Waverly, her grin punctuated by a pair of adorable dimples.
“Sorry for the random intervention but that guy sounded a little creepy, and then when he grabbed you I just couldn't stand there and do nothing. Kinda signed up for the opposite.”
“It was definitely a little creepy, so thank you-” Waverly stuck out her hand.
The redhead gave her hand a firm shake. “Nicole.”
“Waverly. A pleasure to meet you.” They dropped their hands. Waverly noticed an embroidered patch on Nicole’s grey polo shirt, which she read aloud. “Big City Police Academy.”
“Yup, I’m a cadet. What about you? Student?”
“Yes, at City U.”
“Figured. I graduated from there a couple years ago.”
There was an urgent knock on the door. Waverly eyed the door nervously. “Do you think he’s still out there?”
“How about I go out first and you follow me?” Waverly nodded as Nicole continued, “Want me to take you back to your pool table?”
Waverly narrowed her brow. “How did you know I was playing pool?”
“Let’s just say you caught my eye.”
Did she just wink at me? (She definitely did.) But before Waverly could react, Nicole had opened the door, grabbed Waverly’s hand and led her out of the bathroom. They streaked down the hall and back out into the bar. Waverly didn’t see Mitch, but she did see Jackie, who was leaning up against their pool table, checking her phone. Nicole was taking her that way, but Waverly tugged away her hand, causing Nicole to stop and look back.
“I think I owe you a drink.” She glanced over at Jackie. “But I don’t want to ditch my friend. Can I invite her to join us too?”
Nicole smiled. “Of course.”
“Great. Where are you sitting?”
Nicole pointed to two large high-top tables pushed together near the windows, where a handful of people dressed in polos just like Nicole’s were sitting. One of the guys noticed Nicole and gave her a wave.
“In that case, let me go get Jackie, grab some drinks, and we’ll join you in a few. What’ll you have?”
Before Nicole could reply, a large bearded man suddenly stumbled into Waverly from behind. She lurched into Nicole, who caught her in an embrace. Waverly looked up, and Nicole gave her a sly grin, learned in and whispered in her ear.
“Whatever you’ll give me.”
Nicole steadied Waverly, then released her and walked over to where her fellow cadets were sitting. Waverly remained rooted to the spot, her body tingling, her mouth slightly agape.
“Waverly!” She turned to see Jackie. “Where have you been? Who was that?”
Waverly was glad it was dark so Jackie couldn’t see her blush. “The bathroom line was a nightmare, but I got talking to that girl and she seemed nice. She invited us to have a drink with her and her friends.” Waverly gestured toward the tables where Nicole and her cadet-mates were sitting. As Jackie glanced over, Waverly continued her sales pitch. “They’re police cadets. Some of them look pretty cute.”
“Oh why not. But now I have to hit the bathroom. I’ll meet you over there.”
“Okay. Should I get you another beer?” Waverly asked. Jackie gave her a thumbs up as she retreated toward the bathroom.
Keeping an eye out for Mitch, Waverly ordered a couple whiskeys and a pint at the bar, then made her way to the high-top tables. Nicole was sitting on the window side, facing toward the bar. As Waverly approached, Nicole patted the open seat to her left. Waverly put the drinks down on the table and slid onto the open chair. She looked out at the bar -- no Mitch in sight. Thank goodness.
“Is your friend joining us too?” Nicole asked. Waverly nodded, and Nicole asked one of her friends to grab an unused chair from a neighboring table. They all shifted to make room for the additional seat. The squeeze left the pair sitting so close that Waverly could smell the other girl's perfume.
Nicole turned to Waverly. Their knees knocked painfully. "Oh sorry," Nicole said as she reached over and gave Waverly's knee a quick rub. The touch sent a charge up Waverly's leg, and she looked away bashfully. Nicole pulled her hand back up onto the table and grabbed one of the glasses in front of Waverly. “So what are we drinking?”
Grabbing the other glass, Waverly looked back with a challenge in her eyes. “Whiskey,” she replied.
Nicole’s eyes widened and she let out a low whistle. “I think you,” she lifted her glass and fixed her gaze on Waverly, “are trouble.”
Waverly smirked. They clinked glasses, and drank.