The car shuddered briefly, the engine cutting out for a moment as Nicole stepped on the clutch desperately. She hunched over the driving wheel and tapped the dashboard like that would help. Her shirt clung to her back, sweat dripping down her neck.
“No, come on,” she muttered to herself as the car roared back to life. The car behind her honked and she just waved an apology at them as she put the car in gear and drove it onto the campus. She ducked her head in an attempt to look at the street signs as she passed. The campus map they had sent her a few weeks ago just sat crumpled in the seat next to her. It was no good, really. Just a bunch of lines on a piece of paper, tiny icons indicating certain buildings. Nicole knew what dorm she was supposed to be in and that was about it.
“Arizona State University”, a sign proclaimed proudly as she got deeper into the campus. There were students milling around on the streets and grass that she passed, all off in their own little worlds. Nicole tapped nervously on her steering wheel to the song playing over the radio. The announcer came on after the song and introduced the next one.
“You're listening to KTUF and here's some Glenn Campbell to start off your morning!”
“By the time I get to Phoenix she'll be rising. She'll find the note I left hangin' on her door. She'll laugh when she reads the part that says I'm leavin'. 'Cause I've left that girl so many times before-”
Nicole switched off the radio immediately, her stomach turning. Talk about hitting a little close to home. Her mind wandered to Shae back in Colorado, probably waiting by her dorm phone. She glanced at her watch, it was a half hour after she told her she'd call.
“Shit,” she muttered as she quickly turned down a street with a “Matthew’s Hall” sign at the end of it.
It was fine. She'd just explain that her car had broken down somewhere in the middle of Utah and it had taken her a moment to get it running again. Shae would sigh and tell Nicole that she had warned her about driving the Cadillac that far. It was about fourteen years old at this point and riddled with problems but she refused to get rid of it. It wasn't that bad after all. It even had an Airtemp! Which only worked half the time but...the option was there.
Shae hadn't been happy about her transferring to Arizona, that was made abundantly clear. Despite all the support she had offered, Shae didn't bother hiding her disapproval. But Nicole knew she couldn't spend another day in Colorado. She had suffered there far too long and she needed out as soon as possible. Plus Shae was busy with medical school...they’d probably see each other just as much anyways.
Not only that...but Nicole was kind of looking forward to time away from Shae. Even if she'd only admit it when she really let herself. Things hadn't been easy since...well since her world was turned upside down almost nine months ago now. She had rationalized that they needed the time apart to grow back together. Or whatever bullshit she had convinced herself.
Nicole pulled her car into a spot and turned it off. The engine popped as it cooled, sounding relieved to finally get a rest. She sat back in her seat for a moment, letting the dry heat roll over her body. She plucked at her t-shirt, grimacing when it stuck to her skin before opening the heavy door of her car and sliding out.
All around girls were unloading the back of their cars with boxes and duffles, moving back into the dorms. Some greeted each other like they'd known each other for years, most exchanged pleasantries. Nicole wiped her sweaty hands on the rough denim covering her thighs before reaching into the backseat of her car for her duffle. She was a light packer. She had managed to stuff everything she needed into her brother's old army bag and her backpack.
She grabbed the welcome papers she had been sent and double checked her room number. 259. Second floor. Better than the top floor at least. Stuffing her keys in her jean pocket and closing the car door, she headed for the entrance. She ducked her head and made her way inside, dodging between the other girls who were bringing in their own suitcases. She made her way up the stairs, taking two at a time despite the heat.
Walking down the hall she read through the numbers until she made it to her own. The door was slightly ajar already and Nicole pushed it open cautiously, poking her head in.
“Hello?” she said to a girl who’s back was turned to her. The girl turned around, long ponytail whipping over her shoulder as she did.
“Hey!” the girl said offering a bright smile. Nicole couldn’t help but look over her bright paisley dress, feet bare, “I’m Rosita. Are you my roomate?”
“Yeah, I guess so,” Nicole said stepping into the room, large duffle following behind. “I’m Nicole.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rosita said holding out her hand. Nicole took it with a smile before dumping her duffle bag on the bed. The frame of the cheap bed creaked under it and Nicole grimaced for a moment. “You’re a light packer, huh?”
Nicole shrugged off her backpack and checked the time on her watch again. Now she was almost forty-five minutes late calling Shae. “Do we have a phone in here?” she asked.
“No, an RA has to come by later and set it up. They have the ones downstairs though. Down the stairs and to the left. You can’t miss ‘em,” Rosita said as she continued folding her clothes, “Got someone special back home to call?”
“Yeah,” Nicole said with only a slightly forced smile, “My um...girlfriend.” She blushed, avoiding Rosita’s gaze as she dug in her backpack for some change.
“Ah,” Rosita said in recognition, “Now we have at least one thing in common.”
Nicole turned to look at the other girl who gave her a wink back. She chuckled when she realized what she meant and nodded. It was a relief, really. She had met more than her share of people that were definitely not okay with her being...well, gay. A nickel in hand, Nicole nodded at her new friend. “Thanks for the tip,” she said, “I’ll be right back.”
She slipped back out of the room and down the stairs, taking two at a time. Following the path that Rosita had told her, she found the row of payphones and sat in front of one. She pushed the nickel into the slot, metal clicking against metal as it went down. Her knee bounced nervously as she dialed the number and listened to it ring. She counted them, plucking at her shirt again. With the fans going it was definitely cooler in the building, but she still hadn’t cooled down completely.
“Hello?” Shae’s voice came over the phone.
Nicole let out a small sigh of relief. “Hey, babe,” Nicole said running a hand through her hair.
“You’re late. Did your car break down?”
Nicole grimaced and rubbed the back of her neck. “No,” she lied.
Shae chuckled anyways. “I don’t believe you. How was the drive?”
“Long. Boring,” Nicole admitted, “But I’m here and it’s really fucking hot.”
“That’s what happens when you move to the desert,” Shae said, “I’m just glad you’re there safe after driving in that death trap of yours. Did you meet your roommate yet?”
“My car is not a death trap,” Nicole argued, “And yes, I did. She’s really nice it seems. So far.”
“Did you call your mom?”
“No,” Nicole said quickly, “And you know I’m not going to.”
There was silence over the line for a moment and Nicole picked at a hole in the edge of her shirt. She had switched school partially to get away from her parents. She wasn’t about to call them.
“I miss you,” Shae said softly.
Nicole felt her stomach drop and she closed her eyes, gripping the phone with two hands. She breathed harshly through her nose, and tried to remember what it used to feel like when Shae said things like that. The butterflies...lightheadedness. What it felt like before...everything changed.
She remembered opening the door. An officer in his formal uniform standing there with a somber look on his face. Her mother screaming.
“Nic?” Shae’s voice brought her back from her daze and she wiped a stray tear from her cheek. “Where'd you go? Are you okay?”
“Yeah, sorry,” Nicole said clearing her throat, “I'm fine. I miss you too.”
“I can't believe I'm not going to see you until Thanksgiving,” Shae sighed.
Nicole smiled despite herself. “I'm going to call you so much you won't even get a chance to miss me, babe.”
“Sounds good,” Shae said with a smile in her voice, “Call me tomorrow then?”
“Okay. I love you,” Shae said.
Nicole swallowed a sickness in her throat and croaked out. “I love you too. Bye.”
She hung up the phone and slumped in the seat for a moment. She already felt strained and it was barely noon. Rolling up her sleeves sloppily, she trudged her way back up to her dorm. As soon as she opened the door, she could hear The Doors playing. Rosita had set up a record player on her desk and was arranging albums in a box.
“How's your girl?” Rosita asked with a smile.
“Good,” Nicole said as she unzipped her own duffle. She turned it over and dumped it’s contents unceremoniously on the bed. Shifting through her clothes, she found what she was looking for. A green army jacket, slightly too big for her, with the patch on the right breast that read “Haught”. She hung it carefully on one of the bed posts and started folding her other clothes. “She's in med school in Colorado.”
“Oh a doctor. Nice,” Rosita said with a wriggle of her hips, “Sounds fancy. How long have you two been together?”
“A little over two years now,” Nicole said with a small smile, “We met in one of our English classes Sophomore year.”
“That's really cute,” Rosita said sitting on her bed, “I feel like English classes are like aphrodisiacs for lesbians. I met a girl in mine last year too. Something about reading literature just really gets a girl going I guess.”
“Girlfriend?” Nicole asked putting some shirts in a drawer.
Rosita chuckled. “No. We kinda...have a thing. On and off,” she shrugged, “But not almost two years serious. You know? She's all about that free love right now.”
“Ah,” Nicole said with a knowing nod, “I get that. I think.”
Silence fell over the two as “Light My Fire” ended and the needle fell off the record. The speakers hissed with empty air as Rosita got off the bed to turn the record over. Nicole's stomach rumbled and she blushed, turning back to her roommate.
“Hey, is there a snack cart or...vending machine somewhere near here?” she asked as she threw the rest of her pants in the drawer unfolded.
Rosita bobbed her head along with the music. “Sure. There's a snack cart down the road. Sandwiches and stuff,” Rosita said pointing in a vague direction.
“I'm gonna get something. What anything?” Nicole said tapping her pocket to make sure she had money there.
“Nah, I'm groovy, thanks,” Rosita answered.
Nicole left the dorm again, the sun hitting her hard as soon as she stepped outside. She frowned, wishing she had brought her sunglasses as she continued in the direction Rosita had pointed. There was a large lawn in front of the dorm parking lot, other buildings along the edge of it. There was a road between the buildings and lawn, a steady stream of cars moving along it.
The snack cart was under a large tree and it was fairly cool in its’ shade. Nicole breathed a sigh of relief and looked in the clear case at the selections before walking up to the man behind the register.
“What can I get ya?” he asked as he fanned himself with a paper lunch bag.
“Just a bologna sandwich and a coke,” Nicole said digging in her pocket for change.
“Sixty cents,” he said holding out his hand. She dropped the change in his palm and he went behind the case to get her sandwich. He came back and handed her the sandwich wrapped in butcher paper and her coke.
Nicole took her food and walked the few feet away to sit under the tree. Back against the trunk and long legs out in front of her, she unwrapped her sandwich. She watched as students went to and fro with emotional parents scattered through out.
When her parents dropped her off at college for the first time, her mother cried. She knew her dad had gotten emotional too but he would deny it.
“We’re glad you decided to go to college, sweetie,” her mom had said as her dad and brother carried boxes in from the back of the family station wagon. She was dabbing at her eyes with her handkerchief.
“Yeah, it's the only place for squares to be,” her brother said winking at her from over a box.
“Don't listen to your brother,” her mom said as she fussed over her, wiping some imaginary dirt off her cheek with a thumb, “We’re very proud of you. Just because he's fine working with your dad instead of school doesn't mean you have to be too. You hear me, Nicky?”
Nicole leaned away from her mom's fussing. “Yes, mom,” she mumbled just as Chris came back and put her in a headlock. He ruffled her hair as she struggled to break free.
“Chris!” their mom shreiked, “Stop it. I swear you'd think you two had never grown up.”
Nicole finally broke free and socked her brother in the arm. He rubbed his arm dramatically despite the smile on his face. “Ouch, baby sis, you been using my punching bag in the garage?”
Mrs. Haught had slapped Nicole's hands down just as she put them up in her fighting pose. “That's no way for a lady to act.”
A car honked somewhere in the distance and Nicole blinked herself out of her memory. Had that really been three years ago? It felt like forever and yesterday all at once. Some days she felt like everything had happened yesterday, other days it felt like she'd lived five lifetimes.
A car rolled by, Doris Troy pouring through the windows over the radio and Nicole took a big bite of her sandwich. Something or-...someone caught her attention out of the corner of her eye and she turned. A bright pink bike was riding down the sidewalk but that's not what made her pause in her chewing and time to slow down. Riding the bike was a sandy haired girl, round sunglasses on and hair blowing in the wind behind her.
“Just one look. And I knew, knew, knew that you, were my only one. I thought I was breathing, but I was wrong. Yeah yeah yeah-”
It was hard to tell with the sunglasses on, but Nicole swore the girl looked right at her and smiled. Nicole smiled back and watched her as she passed, wondering how long it would be until she could breath again.
Nicole was sweating. Again. Not that she should be surprised. But sprinting across campus with her backpack in tow certainly didn't help. When she left for class that morning she had been looking at it upside down and...yeah. Now she was ten minutes late and praying she wasn't the only one. It was her European History class and she was sure she would forget everything as soon as the class was over anyways, but she still didn't want to risk her grades.
She practically burst into the building without slowing down. Her Chucks slapped against the linoleum, skidding to a halt when she reached the correct classroom. She reached for the handle but her hand was slapped away at the last moment.
“Hold up there, Red,” a dark haired girl said shoving herself between the door and Nicole.
The other girl held up a finger to silence Nicole as she peered through the small window in the door. If Nicole hadn't been panting from the run she would have protested more.
“Okay, Red, it’s Professor Lucado. We're fine,” she said opening the door and going into the classroom, Nicole following. The entire class turned to look at them and the tip of Nicole's ears tinted. The professor stopped talking, an unamused smile on her face.
“Wynonna Earp,” she said, hands on her hips, “I should have known.”
“Lucado, long time no see,” Wynonna said. She clapped Nicole on the back, forcing her forward a little bit from the force. “Sorry I'm late. I was just showing my new pal Red here the way. She got a bit lost.”
Lucado looked at a paper on her podium. “Nicole Haught?”
Nicole nodded, “That's me. Sorry I'm late, ma’am.”
“Just take a seat, girls,” she said with a tight smile. Wynonna grabbed the sleeve of Nicole's jacket and pulled her to the back of the classroom with her. Nicole slid into a seat, backpack dropping to the floor with a thud as Lucado went back to explaining the syllabus.
“Nicole, right?” Wynonna whispered, leaning over from her own seat.
Nicole pulled a notebook and her book from her backpack, frowning a little at Wynonna. She really has a lot of gall to keep talking even after being late. Nicole just nodded and offered a friendly smile, hoping she'd get the hint and then back towards the front of the room.
“Don't worry about Lucado,” Wynonna continued, “As long as we don't disrupt too much she's fine. It's easier for her to ignore me then get one hair of her tidy beehive out of place.”
Lucado cleared her throat loudly, eyes staring at them through cat eye glasses. Wynonna held her hands up in defeat and slid down in her chair.
“Alright,” Lucado continued, “Our first assignment is a partner one-” Wynonna hit Nicole’s arm immediatly, claiming her as her partner. “-and it’s due at the end of the quarter. So turn in your topics by next class. Now, open your books and we'll talk about The Black Plague.”
Nicole sat on the main quad where she had found a bench under a tree. There were groups of students spread out over the grass, talking and catching up after a summer away. Just watching the interactions made her feel not as lonely.
She had managed to survive her first two classes, and now she was done for the day. It was hot still, surprise surprise, so she had bought herself a bottle of Coke from the commissary. She wasn't quite ready to go back to the dorm yet. She checked her watch and took a long sip of her drink as she checked her watch. Shae would be done with her classes in about an hour then Nicole could call her.
She noticed a class getting out in the building closest to her and watched the students spill out. She spotted Rosita walking out of the building and waved, faltering only when she saw who was walking with her. It was the same girl she saw riding the bike a couple of days ago near her dorm.
Rosita smiled me waved back but Nicole's eyes were still on the other girl and the way her long hair fell over her shoulders, nearly covering the vest she was wearing. Long legs disappeared under the all too short skirt of her dress and Nicole felt her whole body flush with a different kind of heat than the one she'd been used to these past couple of days.
“Hey, Nicole,” Rosita said approaching her roommate. Nicole smiled at her, scrambling to her feet as they approached. “You're wearing a jacket in this heat? That's brave.”
The redhead looked down at the army jacket slung over her shoulders and shrugged, “I-it was cold in the classroom,” she managed, looking between the two girls.
“This is Waverly,” Rosita said putting her hand on the shorter girl’s shoulder. Nicole nodded at her, Waverly smiling back. She was even prettier up close, Nicole couldn't help but notice. “Waverly, my new roommate Nicole.”
“Nice to meet you,” Nicole said, her smile only widening.
“You too,” Waverly said. The two gazed at each other for a moment and Rosita nudged Waverly's hip with her own before looping their arms together.
“Well, we have to go, but I'll see you later, Nicole?” Rosita asked.
Nicole finally tore her eyes away from Waverly and nodded. “Yeah, I'll see you at the dorms.”
“We're going to Shorty’s later if you want to join,” Waverly piped in, “At around eight to celebrate the first day of classes.”
“Yeah it's a bar right off campus,” Waverly explained, “I actually work there too. Part time. So I know the service is good.” Waverly winked at Nicole and it felt like butterflies had erupted in her stomach.
“I'll be there,” Nicole said without thinking.
“Groovy,” Waverly said, smiling even wider, “We’ll see you there then.”
“Yeah, see ya,” Rosita said as the two walked away.
Nicole watched the two girls leave, her mouth dry so she picked up her Coke from the bench and finished the bottle. She whispered under her breath as the girl's finally disappeared from view. “Groovy.”
Nicole had found Shorty’s fairly easily. It certainly wasn't the only bar off campus but it was the most obvious. While the others were polished and new looking, Shorty’s looked like it was right out of an Old West town. Before Nicole headed inside, she straightened out her turtleneck and jacket, making sure it was all in place. She used the streetlight overhead to look down at herself and make sure everything was in order. After all, she was meeting new friends and wanted to make a good impression.
Friends. Just friends.
The muffled bass of “Wild Thing” was coming through the door of the bar and the full song hit her as she walked through it. The smell of stale beer and cigarettes was heavy around her, it felt like she was wading through it. Her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting of the bar as she looked around for Rosita and Waverly. Finally spotting them at some pool tables in the corner, she walked over to them while swallowing the nerves in her throat.
Rosita spotted her first and waved Nicole over. There was a jukebox behind them that clicked over to a new song as Nicole approached. A waitress walked by with a tray of beers and Rosita grabbed one from the top and handed it to the redhead.
“Welcome,” Rosita said balancing the end of the pool stick on the top of her high boots. Nicole took the beer gratefully.
“Thanks,” she said taking a sip as her eyes landed on Waverly who was bent over the pool table, cue in position in front of the cue ball. She really wished she hadn't been drinking then, because Waverly bent over in that short skirt made her choke. She tried to cover up her sputtering, covering her mouth with her jacket.
Waverly took her shot, waiting as the balls rolled over the pool top. A striped ball went in and she stood straight, cheering for herself and turning back to Rosita. “Ha!” she said over the pumping music, “And I'm back in the lead.”
“Not for long,” Rosita said setting her drink on a ledge that ran along the wall of the bar. She walked over to the pool table, purposefully walking close to Waverly and Nicole looked away. It felt like she was intruding on something...private.
“Nicole! I'm glad you came!” Waverly said stepping in the redhead’s eyesight.
The pesky butterflies lit up her stomach again and she smiled at the brunette. “I figured I'd check the place out.”
“I'm glad. It means you can watch me kick Rosita's ass in pool,” Waverly said even as Rosita threw her a look.
“How do you know Rosita?” Nicole asked trying to make conversation. She didn't want Waverly to lose interest and wander away, leaving her alone.
Waverly picked up her drink next to Rosita's and drained the contents, glass clinking at the bottom. “We had an English class together,” she said leaning against the drink ledge.
Something clicked in Nicole's brain and she looked over at Rosita. She had said she was having a casual thing with a girl from one of her English classes…”Ah,” Nicole said taking another long sip of her beer. Something heavy settled in her stomach but she tried to ignore it.
Waverly’s frown was evident even in the dim lighting. “What does that mean?”
Nicole's eyes widened and she shook her head. “Nothing. All I said was ‘ah’.”
“Yeah you said it like you had just figured something out,” the other girl pressed.
“Waves, your turn,” Rosita said walking up to the brunette. Waverly squinted at Nicole for a moment before picking up her cue and going back to take her turn.
The game continued and Waves did eventually win. All three of them several drinks in and feeling it. They had all found stools at the bar, Waverly between the other two girls. Nicole was giggling at...something Rosita had said. She didn't even remember what it was, but it was hilarious. The only one not laughing was Waverly who was staring at Nicole like she was trying to figure out a puzzle.
“What?” Nicole asked as her laughter died.
Waverly had one elbow on the bar, fist holding up her head as she looked at the redhead. Nicole couldn't help the stupid smile that spread over her face at the way this girl was looking at her. This girl that she had known for a handful of hours had wormed her way into a part of her heart she thought had died a while ago. Maybe it was the alcohol making her head feel all fuzzy...maybe that was the feeling she had right now. But she had the feeling that if Waverly looked at her with those hazel eyes and asked Nicole to drive her far away right now she'd do it.
Thoughts of Shae crossed her mind and she felt a sickness roll over her for a moment. But just a moment. After all she wasn't doing anything wrong, just making friends.
“You're interesting,” Waverly finally said as Rosita slipped away to the restroom.
Nicole pointed at herself. “Me?”
“I'm not interesting.”
“Sure you are,” Waverly said frowning, “I think you're interesting so you're interesting.”
Nicole was completely enamored with the way Waverly was slurring her words, even if she was sure her slurring was just as bad.
“An’ why do you think that?” Nicole asked softly.
Waverly leaned a little closer to Nicole. “I can sense it.”
Waverly nodded slowly and leaned so close that Nicole could count every one of her eyelashes even in the low light. “I can sense it here,” Waverly poked Nicole right between the eyes, “and here,” she brushed her fingers along the edge of the name patch on Nicole's jacket, “and here.” Waverly slipped her hand under Nicole's jacket and settled her hand on her shirt just over her heart.
Nicole's breath caught in her throat. It felt like Waverly's fingers were pressing directly into her heart, squeezing it and warming her whole body. Is this what dying felt like? Or maybe just what it felt like to be alive again.
“I can sense it,” Waverly repeated before her hand slid out of Nicole's jacket.
Nicole licked her lips and let her eyes trace Waverly's features. “We'll see about that,” she said just as the song on the jukebox faded out.
“Just one look and I know. I'll get you some day, oh, oh, oh.”