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more than words (is all you have to do to make it real)

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“More Than Words” Extreme, 1990
All you have to do is close your eyes, and just reach out your hands, and touch me. Hold me close, don’t ever let me go.

“Come on, Haught. We’re drawing straws for Prom Duty.”

Nicole looks up from her desk, marking her spot in the new Accident Prevention Plan binder she’s reading through. She turns down the little desk radio Waverly bought her after her graduation from the academy, a small Advance Model 4040 with a digital clock face and a decent FM signal. “Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers is playing, and when she lowers the volume, she catches Pine singing along.

“What?” she asks as she takes a long sip of her coffee. She winces; it’s cold. She’ll have to make some more.

Diaz and Pine snort. Lonnie nods excitedly. “Prom Duty. We pull straws to see who gets stuck on patrol, scooping up drunk high school kids and calling their parents.”

Nicole frowns, tipping her head to the side as she tries to remember if anyone from her senior class ever came back to school after prom complaining about having their parents called, but she’s not sure.

“What year did you graduate, again?” Diaz asks, turning in his chair and reaching for his desk drawer. “We keep a list of everyone we bust.”

“Uh, last year. ‘89,” she says, leaning across her desk to snatch the small notebook out of his hands. She flips through it. It starts at 1985. She scans it, recognizing some names. When she gets to 1987, she snorts. “Ha. Nathan got caught? I remember him the morning after. He looked like he got run down by a school bus.”

Diaz leans back in his seat, kicking his feet up onto his desk. “ I’m the one who called your mom. She was more pissed than that time you accidently ate Linda’s tuna sandwich.”

Linda spins around at in her chair at the counter. “That was your fault for switchin’ the Tupperwares. Don’t think I don’t know what you did. Get your feet off the desk, Carlos Diaz.” She waits until he drops his feet, his cheeks flushed. “If I remember correctly, you spent your own prom night sitting here waiting for your mama.”

Nicole laughs into her hand. She keeps turning the pages. She finds Mercedes’s name in the 1988 pages easily, in Lonnie’s sloppy handwriting. She turns to 1989 and scans through the list of kids she graduated with. Wynonna’s name isn’t there, but only because Nicole had driven her home.

Nicole shudders when she remembers how Wynonna barely got herself out of the car before she ralphed everywhere.

Champ’s name is there, though, which isn’t surprising. And the York brothers are listed, a ‘2 FOR 1’ written next to their names. She remembers Pete getting invited by some girl who didn’t know any better.

“Surprised we never picked you up, Haught,” Pine teases. He throws a balled up piece of paper across the room towards a trashcan.

Nicole snorts when he misses. “Well, you wouldn’t have. I didn’t go.”

Pine’s next shot goes wide. He stares at her with wide eyes. “What do you mean you didn’t go? It’s prom . In Purgatory. Everyone goes.”

“Not me,” Nicole says, scooping Pine’s paper ball up off the floor. She hooks it over one shoulder, but her shot is short. She looks around for someone to laugh at her, but everyone is staring at her, wide-eyed.

“And that girl of yours was fine missing prom?” Linda asks.

Nicole shrugs, twisting side to side to crack her back. “We weren’t really dating yet.” She looks up, but everyone is still staring at her. “Oh, come on.”

Linda is the first one to look away, turning back to her station and pulling her headset back over her ears. “I coulda sworn you two had been together your whole lives.”

Pine shakes his head. “You definitely need to work Prom Duty, then. Get the full experience.”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “You just want me to do it because you don’t like working nights.”

“Damn right,” Pine agrees. “And you know Diaz has been trying to get a date with Mercedes Gardner.”

Nicole feels her face burn as she remembers that day at the Triangle, when Mercedes leaned over and kissed her. She leans against her desk, a hand planted firm on the surface. It’s been nearly two years, but Nicole hasn’t thought all that much about Mercedes. She thinks she might have gone out to the city, to school. She reminds herself to ask Wynonna later.

“Girl rolled back into town lookin’ like Olivia Newton-John at the end of that movie,” Diaz says, his eyes glazing over. “I let her out of a parking ticket last week, so I think my odds are pretty good.”

Nicole narrows her eyes. “You know that’s not how that works, right?”

Diaz blinks. “What?”

“You can’t do a girl a favor and expect to get something in return. Especially a date.”

“No, I just meant,” Diaz starts.

Nicole shakes her head firmly. “You let her out of a parking ticket, that’s a call you make. She doesn’t owe you a date now.” She lowers her voice. “Do you understand me, Diaz?”

“I, uh-”

“Yes or no?”

“Yes,” Diaz sputters. “Yeah. Okay.”

Nicole nods sharply. “If I find out-”

Diaz puts his hands up in surrender. “You won’t. I won’t. She’s kind of… intimidating, anyway,” he mumbles, only loud enough for her to hear.

Silently, Nicole agrees with him.

“This isn’t a frat house,” Nedley huffs from his office door.

They all snap to attention. Nicole’s hand slips off her desk, coming down hard on her Accident Prevention Plan binder. It flips into the trashcan by her desk. Her face burns as she pulls it back out, flicking leftover tuna off the cover.

“Diaz, Pine. Get the patrol routes together. We’re going to do our mid-month switch. Haught,” he says, crooking his finger in her direction. “My office.”

Nicole holds her Accident Prevention Plan to her chest and weaves through the desks and around a table, stopping in front of Nedley’s office door. He’s already sitting back behind his desk, scribbling something on the notepad in front of him.

“Close the door,” he says without looking up.

She shuts it behind her and hovers nervously around the chair in front of Nedley’s desk. She’s been on the job for nearly six months now, but besides a grunt here or there, she’s not sure if she’s making any contributions; if the spot he held for her was worth it.

“Sit down,” he instructs. He waits until she’s sitting, her knees nearly knocking together as her legs bounce. She feels her collar tighten.

I shouldn’t have used so much starch , she thinks.

“Listen, Haught. I know you haven’t been here long, and there’s things you don’t know, but-”

“I can do better,” she says over him. Her hand twitches, but she resists the urge to clap it down over her mouth. “I mean. I can do better. Whatever I’m not doing. I’ll do it. And if I’m doing it wrong, I can-”

“Slow down,” Nedley says. “I’m only asking if you’ll be the department representative at the preschool Career Day thing.” He nods towards the bullpen. Nicole twists in her seat, catching Pine through the blinds as he picks his nose. “I usually send Lonnie, but every year, one of those damn anklebiters convinces him to let them sit in the cruiser. One year, they almost crashed the damn thing.”

Nicole lets out a breath, her shoulder dropping. “Of course,” she says. “Of course I can.”

Nedley nods slowly. “Good. Thank you,” he adds as an afterthought.

Nicole starts to push out of her chair, a ‘welcome’ on her lips.

Nedley clears his throat. “Just… Hold on a minute.” He narrows his eyes, staring at her for a long minute. “I was friends with Curtis, you know.”

There’s a burst of pressure that rushes through Nicole’s chest at the sound of Curtis’s name. It catches her off guard, the way The Eagles coming on the radio does, or when Gus pulls the tomato coffee mug out of the cupboard. She swallows against the lump building in her throat.

“I remember you were at his funeral, sir.”

Nedley nods, his eyes clouded for a moment. “He used to talk about those girls all the time. Wynonna this, Waverly that. He was always afraid Wynonna would end up on the wrong side of the law.”

Nicole thinks about Wynonna, spending her days at the garage with Doc, hanging out with members of the Banditos Motorcycle Gang. She’s been talking about taking a trip with them; Valdez almost has her convinced to get on the back of a bike and take off along the BC-1. Nicole knows she won’t, not yet. Not until Waverly goes away to college. She won’t leave Waverly behind.

“And Waverly, well.” Nedley leans back in his chair. It groans as the springs move. “She’s been Chrissy’s best friend for years now. She’s smart. Curtis always said she was.”

Nicole nods, a smile pulling at her lips. “He was right. But don’t tell her that. She already thinks she’s the smartest person in the room.”

“He was right about you, too,” Nedley says.

Nicole swallows. “He, uh. He talked about me?”

Nedley nods, leaning forward again. His elbows thud against the top of his desk, but he doesn’t flinch. “I used stop for coffee-”

“Every Sunday morning,” Nicole finishes. “I remember.”

Saturdays were for Mattie’s, and Sundays were for helping Waverly and Curtis open the diner for the early birds. She would leave Wynonna asleep in her room, hanging off the edge of her bed with one hand reaching for the radio, and sit in the cab of Curtis’s truck, leaning sleepily against the window as they rode through town to The Patch.

“Before Chrissy made me cut back on the caffeine.” He scowls. “No one made it quite like Gus or Curtis.”

“Waverly does,” Nicole says, unable to stop herself. “She’s been opening on weekends for years, now.”

Nedley snorts. “If only her taste in that jukebox music was as good as the coffee she makes.”

“God, I know,” Nicole groans. “Did you know she actually likes Wham! songs?”

“Your rock and roll isn’t any better,” he fires back. “You think I can’t hear it coming out of that desk radio of yours? Now, if you want to listen to some good music, Roy Orbison is your guy. Rest in peace,” he adds in a murmur. “That new stuff, with the hair and the waxed chests?” He shakes his head. “But that’s not my point, Haught.”

Nicole straightens up in her seat. “Right, sir.”

“My point is that I used to come into The Patch on Sundays. And one Sunday, Curtis starts talking to me about this kid who’s been coming around.” He pauses. “He meant you.”

“I assumed, sir,” Nicole says kindly.

Nedley nods. “He tells me how she got Wynonna to talk, finally. That she hasn’t said a word after her daddy and sister passed, but she wouldn’t shut up once she met you.”

Nicole reaches up to scratch at the back of her neck. She remembers that first summer clearly - riding bikes with Wynonna, convincing Wynonna to let Waverly tag along.

“He said she woke up one morning and sat down at the kitchen table and told him she hated the way he made eggs.” Nedley shakes his head fondly. “That man made damn good eggs, too. But she told him she didn’t like ‘em, and she wanted them made the way her daddy made them, over hard. He asked her why the hell she decided to say something, and she told him it was because of you .”

“She… She did?”

Nedley shrugs. “That’s what Curtis told me. Said, ‘Randy. This girl is special. She’s going to matter to these girls. She’s going to keep them going in the right direction. I just know it,’ is what he said.”

It’s been nearly five years, but Nicole hears Curtis in the back of her head like it was this morning that he left for Ottawa: Keep them on track .

“Through the years, he tells me all these things you’re doing,” Nedley continues. “Teaching Waverly how to ride a bike, keeping Wynonna out of fights. I came in one morning and he already had my coffee ready. He poured himself a cup and told me I had to promise him something.”

Nicole shifts uncomfortably in her chair, tugging at the back of her collar. She looks down at her Oxfords and zeroes in on a spot she must have missed when she shined them last night.

“What’s that, sir?”

“He made me promise that if you were going to keep those Earp girls on track, I had to keep you on yours.”

Nicole inhales sharply, a sudden pain in her chest. There’s a weight on her shoulder, like a warm, familiar hand she hasn’t felt in year is resting there. She shrugs and the weight disappears.

“He… He did?”

Nedley nods slowly. He leans back in his seat again, folding his hands behind his head. “He was a good one, Curtis.”

“He was, sir,” Nicole says quietly.

“I see a lot of him in you.”

Nicole sits up a little straighter, her eyes burning. “You do?” she asks hoarsely.

Nedley leans forward again and steeples his fingers on the desk. “The care you have for other people. Curtis had that same drive.” He shakes his head. “He had the same kind of love.”

The sharpness in her chest is back, digging into her ribs. She bends a little, trying to ease the pressure. She can feel a phone pressed to her ear, Constable Sullivan’s voice so clear after so long. Her arm aches as if Gus and Waverly are still clutching it.

“It’s why I offered you this spot in the first place,” Nedley continues. “You know Champ Hardy wanted to go to the academy? Asked me if there was a job here if he did it and came back. But I need good people on my side. I need people who are going to carry the torch after I’m gone.”

She’s confused for a minute, the memory of Curtis clouding everything. She blinks a few times, trying to catch up to what Nedley is saying.

“Retirement is a long ways off, and you’ll have to continue to prove yourself,” he’s still saying. “But you’ve got the natural talent, and that’s something you can’t teach.” He picks his pen back, touches the tip of it to the page he was writing on before. “That’s all, Haught.”

Nicole stands too quickly, the world tilting for a minute. She grips the back of the chair, the leather cracking under her fingertips. She takes a short, shallow breath and wills her feet to move.

“Close the door,” Nedley huffs as she reaches the door.

She nods sharply and closes it behind her, letting her head fall back against the glass. She takes a deeper breath, letting the world filter back in. She can hear the coffee pot percolating and the switch of the dispatch dashboard. She can smell Pine’s lasagna in the microwave. She opens her eyes and takes another breath, rolling her head side to side as she stretches out her neck.

“You okay, girl,” Linda asks as Nicole drifts by the counter.

Nicole nods, not trusting her voice.

Linda presses a hand to Nicole’s shoulder, squeezing tightly. “It’s near your lunch. Aren’t you picking Waverly up from school?”

Nicole sighs in relief. “Yes. Do you think I can-”

“It’s only a few minutes before 3. Go,” Linda says. She tips her head in Pine’s direction. “Any calls come in, he’s on duty anyway.”

Nicole nods gratefully and grabs her hat off her desk, leaving her jacket on the back of her chair. She pulls her keys out of her desk, spinning the ring around her finger mindlessly. The ‘Someone Who Loves Me Went to Albuquerque’ keychain twinkles softly against her car keys as it goes around and around. She slips into the front seat of her Bonneville, turning the engine over. She leans forward and rests her head on the steering wheel, taking a deep breath before she sits back up. She reaches for the glove box, pulling Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs out.

She remembers Curtis putting on Derek and the Dominos, Eric Clapton’s side band, in the kitchen, turning up the title track until Gus complained about the noise. She puts in Side B and fast-forwards through “Little Wing” and “It’s Too Late” until she finds the opening notes of “Layla.”

What’ll you do when you get lonely,” Clapton croons as she backs out of the station parking lot. She cruises past The Patch and Shorty’s, around the corner and by the Post Office. “ And nobody’s waiting by your side .”

She taps her fingers against the steering wheel, following the rhythm.

You’ve been running and hiding much too long. You know it’s just your foolish pride .”

Layla ,” she sings along. “ You’ve got my on my knees .”

She turns into the school parking lot and pulls up to the curb, putting the car into park. The bell rings loudly, echoing across the property. The front doors bang open and a few kids fly down the steps. Nicole pulls the rearview mirror down, checking her reflection. She fingers the top button of her uniform shirt and bites down on her bottom lip, slipping it out of place. She picks at the collar a little bit, double-checking the crease. Her hair is a little wavy today, the mid-spring cool air curling it at the ends. She tucks it back behind each ear, taking a deep breath and nodding at her reflection.

Darling, won’t you ease my worried mind ,” she mutters. She cranks the volume of the song a little higher and slips out of the front seat.

One of the kids running down the front steps trips when he sees her uniform, barely catching himself before he hits the pavement. He straightens up, tugging on his backpack to tighten the straps. It nearly sends him to the ground again, but he shifts his weight and stays upright.

“Easy, son,” she says firmly.

“Y-yes, ma’am,” he stammers. “Sorry, ma’am.”

Nicole watches him scurry past her to the bike rack, unlock his bike with unsteady hands, and take off on his Haro Shredder. She snorts. “Freshmen.”

She leans back against the side of her car, crossing her ankles and her arms, watching freshmen flood out of the school. She can pick them out easily from the sophomores and the juniors. She watches two girls whispering into each other’s ears, one of their hands drifting down the arm of the other.

“Nicole!”

“Turned my whole world upside down ,” Clapton sings.

Nicole turns back to the stairs as Waverly pauses at the top and calls her name.

She skips down the steps, laughing over her shoulder at something Chrissy says. She’s in her L.A. Gear High Tops and neon yellow laces. Her light blue denim shirt is tucked into her high-waisted, white-washed jeans, the collar popping out from underneath Nicole’s leather jacket.

You got me on my knees, Layla ,” Clapton warbles. “ Begging darlin’, please .”

“Hey,” Nicole breathes out as Waverly comes closer.

Waverly comes to a stop in front of her, her side ponytail swishing around her. “Hey. You on lunch?”

Nicole nods, reaching behind her to feel for the door handle. “Thought I could drive you to work.”

“I didn’t know the Sheriff’s Department ran a taxi service,” Chrissy says lightly, coming up behind Waverly. “Hi, Nicole.”

Nicole’s hand goes to the top of her unbuttoned shirt. “Chrissy.”

“Don’t get prude on my account,” Chrissy says, waving a hand at her. She tosses her side ponytail over her shoulder, her attention on Waverly. “I’ll come by The Patch later and we can put the finishing touches on everything?”

Waverly rests her hand on Nicole’s forearm, lowering her hand away from her collar. “Sounds clutch.” She presses in a little closer to Nicole. “Come before the dinner rush, though.”

Chrissy blows a bubble, snapping her gum. “Got it. Bye, lovebirds,” she calls, heading towards the 1987 Dodge Colt her dad bought her as an early graduation present.

Waverly leans in a little closer, the top of her sneakers edging against Nicole’s Oxford’s.

“Waves,” Nicole warns softly, a hand at Waverly’s waist. “I’m in uniform.”

“I know,” Waverly says, picking at Nicole’s belt buckle. “That’s what makes it so hard to keep my hands off you.” She backs up, though, looking expectantly at Nicole’s free hand, resting on the door handle.

Nicole pulls the door open and lets Waverly brush past her. She shudders when she feels Waverly’s fingertips dragging across her stomach, right above the waistline of her pants. Waverly turns down Eric Clapton, “Layla” in the middle of the guitar solo.

“How was class?” Nicole asks as she checks her sideview mirrors, pulling off of the curb. She goes slowly through the parking lot, avoiding underclassmen on bicycles and upperclassmen in their cars.

Waverly huffs and leans into her side, her left arm draped across Nicole’s legs. “Cryderman assigned us a paper. With, like, less than a month of school.”

Nicole laughs and leans back against the bench, out of the parking lot now. She drapes one arm behind Waverly’s shoulders, fingering the leather of the jacket Waverly is wearing. “He’s such an ass.”

“Yeah,” Waverly sighs. “God, I hope he retires soon.”

Nicole brakes at a stop sign, glancing up and down the road before she turns to face Waverly. “Hey,” she breathes out.

“Hey,” Waverly whispers back, lifting up off the seat a little to brush her mouth against Nicole’s.

Nicole feels the tension drain from her shoulders, melting down her back. Waverly’s hand scratches at the inside of her knee, sliding a little higher and settling, warm and heavy on her thigh. Her tongue brushes against the Nicole’s bottom lip, and Nicole sighs softly.

A car honks behind them and Nicole jumps, her foot slipping off the brake for a second. She slams it back down, the car rocking forward, before she shoots across the intersection. Waverly laughs loudly, pressing her face into the sleeve of Nicole’s shirt.

Nicole’s face burns as she pulls down Main Street and onto the side street that gets her to the lot behind The Patch. She puts the car in park and leaves the engine running, humming quietly under Eric Clapton’s voice.

Waverly shifts on the seat, tucking one leg under her body. She reaches for the ends of Nicole’s hair, pulling it out from behind her ear and twisting it around her finger. “Remember when you had long hair?”

Nicole remembers. The last time it was long was the summer she met Waverly. She cut it a few weeks later, before school started, after she saw Debbie Harry’s hair on the cover of Blondie’s self-titled cassette. I want hair like that , she told her mom. Nathan said she looked stupid, so she got Wynonna to help her tie all of his shoelaces together.

“I’m surprised you remember,” Nicole hums, her eyes fluttering closed as Waverly’s fingers move to her neck.

“I remember a lot about you, Nicole Haught.”

Nicole opens her eyes and smirks. “Do you remember that I have exactly 28 minutes until I need to get back to the station?” she asks, as she leans in.

Waverly meets her halfway, the hand at the back of Nicole’s neck burning hot against her skin. Nicole’s hands land on the warm, worn leather of the jacket Waverly is wearing, and she grips it tightly, trying to hold Waverly as close as possible. Waverly’s tongue brushes against her bottom lip before it eases into her mouth and Nicole can finally feel the lingering ache of Nedley’s conversation melting away.

He was right about you, too .

Nicole nips at Waverly’s bottom lip.

This girl is special, he said .

Waverly whimpers as Nicole’s tongue slides against hers.

She’s going to keep them going in the right direction .

Nicole presses forward insistently, her chest tight. Waverly kisses back softly, slowing her down, her hands on Nicole’s face.

Nicole slides a hand up Waverly’s arm, across the front of her shoulder. She curls her fingers around the edge of the jacket and peels it back. She can feel Waverly’s collarbone under her hand and she sighs, relieved. Her other hand goes around Waverly’s back, pulling her closer.

“Can we reserve the last five minutes,” Waverly starts, breaking the kiss. Nicole shakes her head and leans back in, kissing Waverly pointedly. Waverly lets her for a moment, her fingers weaving through Nicole’s hair. “Wait, wait,” she says, breathless. She laughs and dips to the right when Nicole leans back in. “Hold on.”

Nicole sighs, but smiles and rests her elbow on the top of the bench seat, dropping her head into her hand. “Only 20 minutes, now.”

Waverly slaps her hand down over the dashboard clock. “I just need five minutes. Maybe less if you decide you want to wear a tux, because then we would only have to match your cummerbund to my dress.” She tips her head to the side. “Unless you wanted a vest? Because I saw the vests at the Sears…” She trails a finger down Nicole’s front. “You would look good in either.”

Nicole laughs. “Why would I need to match anything to your dress?”

Waverly pauses for a second. “For prom,” she says slowly.

Her mind flashes back to a gymnasium bathed in red and pink light, Shae’s hands low on her waist.

Nicole stops laughing. “For what ?”

Waverly frowns. “For prom ,” she repeats.

“I’m not going to prom,” Nicole says, snorting. “I already graduated, remember?”

Waverly twists in her seat, planting her feet on the floor, crossing her arms over her chest. “Plenty of people go back for prom. Doc did when Wynonna went.”

“And I’m working that night,” Nicole tries, sitting with her back against the bench seat. The pressure helps to push back against the one building in her chest. There’s that weight of that hand on her shoulder - warm and heavy and fatherly - keeping her rooted in place, even as the weight of someone’s hands wrapping around her waist tries to pull her away.

“You can take it off of work,” Waverly says. “I’m sure Nedley would-”

Nicole looks at Waverly sharply. “I can’t just take work off for prom . We’re drawing straws to see who’s getting stuck calling parents.”

“Nicole, you can-”

“Speaking of, I’m gonna late for work,” she adds quickly, cutting Waverly off. She blinks and Waverly is 13 again, pouting on the front porch as Wynonna pushes Nicole towards Gus’s station wagon, telling her they’re going to be late for the dance. She turns her head, wrapping both hands around her steering wheel.  She can feel Waverly’s eyes on her. “Can we just talk about this later?” 

There’s a pleading in her voice she knows Waverly can hear, but she can’t bring herself to look across the bench seat. She hears the soft crack as Waverly’s jaw snaps closed and the sharp inhale of air through her nose.

“Fine,” Waverly says after a minute. “Later.”

The passenger door groans as it opens.

“I lo-”

Waverly slams the door shut, stomping up the back steps of The Patch. The kitchen screen door bangs shut behind her.

“Get bent, Clapton,” Nicole grumbles as she shuts off the radio.

 

-

Nicole idles outside of the school, watching the last of the students straggle down the steps. She taps the steering wheel to the beat of “Moneytalks” by AC/DC, singing along subconsciously. She hadn’t gone by The Patch last night after all; she called and told Gus that Nedley had asked her to stay on through the next shift, to work some more on her presentation for the Accident Prevention Plan. She hadn’t really lied - she did work on the presentation, but Nedley told her to leave at the end of her shift and then called the station later to yell at her when he found out she hadn’t.

She sees Waverly coming out by the gym doors and she inhales sharply, fumbling for the door handle. She stumbles out of her car, barely catching herself as she tries to get over the curb she parked next to. “Waverly!” she shouts.

Waverly’s head turns and the smile on her face falters for a minute when she sees Nicole. She touches the arm of the person she’s talking to and peels off, heading for Nicole’s car. She stops on the sidewalk, narrowing her eyes against the afternoon sun.

Nicole smiles hesitantly. “Did Gus tell you I ended up staying late?”

Waverly nods wordlessly.

“Nedley wanted me to shore up my presentation. I give it tomorrow, you know.”

Waverly holds a hand up against the sun. “I know,” she says simply.

Nicole turns and grabs the door handle, pulling the door open. “Can I drive you to work?” She pushes her free hand into her pocket and kicks at the curb. “Please?”

Waverly sighs heavily. “Fine,” she says, a smile tugging at the corner of her mouth as she brushes past Nicole and gets in the car, far more gracefully than when Nicole got out.

Nicole slides in after her, settling behind the wheel. She locks her arms, her hands at 10 and 2. AC/DC feels too loud, even with the windows down, but she waits for Waverly to make the first move.

Waverly finally moves, reaching to turn down the volume.

“That was Cora Odam,” Waverly says.

Nicole nods. “Now I remember. She looked familiar. Didn’t she get held back?”

Waverly hums. “She’s nice. A little… boy-crazy, but nice.”

“Right,” Nicole says, remembering hearing about Cora’s date with Champ Hardy. “How is she?”

“Good,” Waverly says flatly. She turns, tucking one leg under her body. “How’re you ?”

“Sorry,” Nicole says quickly. “I should have picked you up last night.”

“You should have,” Waverly agrees. She smiles to take the sting out of the words. “Are you going to drive me home tonight?”

Nicole feels her shoulders drop in relief. “Of course I am,” she says firmly. “My shift is over at 6pm, so I’ll come by and maybe grab something to eat before you’re done?”

Waverly pinches the top of Nicole’s shoulder gently. “So, what? The promise of me isn’t good enough? Now it needs to be me and a free order of fries?”

Nicole catches Waverly’s hand in her own, turning it over and kissing her knuckles. “Baby, you know what I really go to The Patch for.”

Waverly’s cheeks go pink.

“Bobo singing Supertramp,” Nicole finishes.

Waverly shrieks, pushing at Nicole.

Nicole laughs, leaning into Waverly’s hands. She presses kisses to Waverly’s neck and face and hair, pulling Waverly tight against her.

“You suck,” Waverly grumbles.

Nicole kisses Waverly’s forehead one more time. “But, I love you.”

Waverly sighs, leaning into her side. Her hand slips around the curve of Nicole’s knee. Her fingers are hot through the heavy fabric of Nicole’s uniform pants. She remembers the first day she put it on, how Waverly had helped her iron everything - from her socks and underwear to the collared shirt she has on. She remembers standing in front of the full-length mirror in her mom’s bathroom, Waverly sitting on the counter singing her Survivor songs and polishing her Oxfords. She can remember tugging at the high collar of her shirt and the starched lines of her pants and wondering if Nedley was wrong about her; if he held this spot for her and she’s going to fail him; if she’s going to fail Waverly and Wynonna and Gus and her mom and Nathan and Curtis. Waverly had pulled her close, looped her arms around Nicole’s neck, and told her she was proud of Nicole.

They played Scandal’s “The Warrior” on repeat, and Nicole let Waverly talk her out of her wrinkling that uniform after they put so much work into making it look good.

“I love you, too,” Waverly sighs.

Nicole drapes her arm around the back of Waverly’s shoulders, pulling her in close. She presses her face into Waverly’s hair, breathing in deeply. She can feel the tension leaving her body and the phantom hands on her waist that have been there all night start to fade.

“You know, Cora is dating Herman Tate.”

Nicole blinks, thrown by the subject change. She thinks for a minute, remembering Hetty Tate, who followed Nathan around for an entire summer, before she remembers her brother, Herman. She finally nods. “Yeah, I think I heard that.”

“He’s a year older than you,” Waverly continues. She pauses, the silence almost deafening. “She’s going to take him to prom.”

Nicole groans softly. “Baby,” she starts.

The radio is off, but Nicole swears she hears the opening notes of “Crazy For You,” Madonna cooing, “swaying room as the music starts. Strangers making the most of the dark.” She shudders, her stomach turning over. Those hands on her waist are back again, too hot and too clumsy. And then Madonna is gone, replaced by Waverly turning the volume dial back up.

That ain't workin', that's the way you do it: money for nothin', and chicks for free, ” Mark Knopfler is singing.

“I’m just saying, people do it all the time. Doc went with Wynonna. Herman is taking Cora.” Waverly shrugs, walking the fingers of her free hand along Nicole’s arm. The other hand turns over in Nicole’s, lacing their fingers together. “And, like, how clutch would it be for me to show up with a fine, older girl who’s also a cop.”

Nicole snorts. “No one would drink the punch.”

Waverly sits up on her knees, resting her free hand on Nicole’s shoulder for support. She lets go of Nicole’s hand, and brushes back her hair. “You would look so good in a tux,” she breathes out. “A bowtie, right here.” Her fingers dance along Nicole’s collarbone, slipping under the plat of Nicole’s uniform shirt.

Nicole grabs Waverly’s hand, grinning. “I need to go back to work. We never got around to drawing straws for prom night.” She winds her finger into the collar of Waverly’s jacket and tugs her down, their mouths bumping. “I’m pretty sure that they’re going to make me do it, since I’m the rookie.”

“No they won’t,” Waverly says confidently. “I already talked to Nedley, and he said you can have the night off so you can come to prom.”

“You did what ?” Nicole asks, her face burning.

“I asked Nedley about you taking the night off,” Waverly repeats. She twists out of Nicole’s grasp, eyes trailing over Nicole’s face. “What’s the big deal?”

Nicole grinds her back teeth together. “The big deal is that you asked my boss if I could skip work. To go to prom !”

“With me ,” Waverly shouts back.

“This is my job , Waverly. You can’t… You can’t…” Nicole shakes her head, her mouth hot and dry. “You can’t do that.”

“I don’t see what-”

Nicole can only see pink and red heart centerpieces, Shae’s hair teased out, and Wynonna flashing her a thumbs up from across the dance floor.

“No, you don’t see,” Nicole hisses. “That’s the damn problem.”

That’s the problem , Shae’s voice echoes in her head.

“I need to go back to the station,” Nicole mumbles, defeat sinking in. She’s not sure how she’s going to explain to her boss what happened, or why it happened. “See if I can fix this problem you created.”

Waverly opens her mouth to say something, but snaps it shut just as quickly. She presses her lips into a thin line. “Nicole,” she finally says. “I-”

“I can’t drive you to The Patch,” Nicole interrupts. She keeps her eyes on the parking lot in front of her. “Maybe Cora can give you a ride.” She knows she saw Chrissy’s Dodge Colt when she pulled into the parking lot. “Or Chrissy.”

“Nicole-”

“I have to get back to work,” she says, her teeth clenched.

Waverly pauses with her hand on the door. Nicole can feel the pressure in the air, like Waverly wants to say something, but all Nicole hears is the door groan open and shut. Waverly crosses in front of her car, her bag bouncing across the hood of the Bonneville. Nicole flinches with each thunk, but Waverly stomps across the lot, shouting Chrissy’s name as the other girl comes out of the gym doors.

“And we’re going to travel back in time to 1985,” the DJ says over the radio. “With Madonna’s classic, ‘Crazy For You’ coming up, right after the commercial break.”

Nicole stabs at the function button on the radio, pressing play on the tape deck. Rick Springfield comes on, too loud.

“You better love somebody, don't wait. You better love somebody, don't tempt fate. You're gonna push it just a little too far.”

Nicole groans and fast forwards to the next song, peeling out of the high school parking lot and hoping Nedley hasn’t gone to The Patch for his nightly dinner.

 

-

“She doesn’t get it,” Nicole says again. She rolls over on Wynonna’s bed and drops her head back into the comforter. “She, like, just went over my head and talked to my boss .” Nicole pauses, waiting for Wynonna’s response, but it’s quiet. She sits up again and kicks in Wynonna’s direction. “Are you even listening to me?”

“Honestly?” Wynonna asks. She sits up a little more, her back against the headboard. “No.”

Nicole whines and rolls back onto her front, pressing her face into Wynonna’s comforter. She lets out a short scream and lifts her head, breathing in fresh air. “When’s the last time you washed this?”

Wynonna shrugs, thumbing the corner of a Rolling Stone magazine. “1987?”

“Smells like it,” Nicole grumbles.

Wynonna looks up. “I think that was about the same time you started talking about Waverly and never. stopped .”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic.”

Waverly this , Waverly that ,” Wynonna mocks. She rolls the magazine up and brings it down on Nicole’s shoulder. “You used to be my friend. Remember?”

Nicole softens a little and studies Wynonna’s face. She’s tired, Nicole notices. And there’s a look in her eyes that used to be there when Wynonna was younger, angry at everything and sad. She pinches the fabric of Wynonna’s jeans, near her ankle. “What’s going on?”

“Nothing,” Wynonna says quickly, her eyes going across the room and lingering on the desk. She picks at a loose thread on the comforter. Nicole watches her twist the thread around her finger slowly before she lets it unravel.

“Nedley told me he wants to train me. Personally,” Nicole says. She sits up, cross-legged. “Not that I’m taking over. And this has nothing to do with Waverly,” she adds.

Wynonna snorts, but her eyes skate back towards Nicole. “That’s big time.”

“Super big time,” Nicole agrees. “I mean, Pine and Lonnie have been on the force longer than me. Diaz, too. But he pulled me in and told me he wanted me .”

“No duh. You’ve always been Five-O.” Wynonna shimmies down until she’s lying flat on her back, staring at the ceiling. Rolling Stone drops out of her hand and onto the floor. “Makes sense you’d be, like, Chief Five-O.”

“Sheriff,” Nicole corrects. She pauses. “I haven’t told anyone.”

Wynonna pushes up onto her elbows, her hair in her face. “Not even Waverly?”

Nicole shrugs. “Not yet. I don’t tell her everything,” she says defensively.

Wynonna raises an eyebrow slowly.

“Not everything ,” Nicole amends. She elbows Wynonna. “What about you, though.”

Wynonna shrugs. “You know me. I’ve always been a robber.”

Nicole laughs. “No, you haven’t. You were always a cop with me.”

“It sounded more poetic when I was the robber.”

“That was Waverly,” Nicole points out.

Wynonna groans. “I swear to god, if you say she stole your heart, I’ll-”

“I wasn’t going to say that,” Nicole interrupts.

“But you were thinking it,” Wynonna says, pointing a finger into Nicole’s face. “I can see it. There’s lights in your eyes. I bet you’re singing ‘Never Tear Us Apart’ in your head right now, aren’t you?” Wynonna shudders. “God, that song was the worst when they played that at prom. And Doc’s hands were so sweaty.”

Nicole groans. “Prom,” she says, flopping face down into the mattress.

“And we’re back to Waverly,” Wynonna says lightly.

You brought up prom.” She holds up a hand when Wynonna opens her mouth to argue. “But we’re not talking about prom. Right now ,” she adds at Wynonna’s pointed look. “Right now, we’re talking about you.”

Wynonna snorts, looking away. “And then what? We’ll braid each other’s hair and paint our toenails and talk about boys?”

Nicole shrugs. “I can braid your hair if you want. I think I remember how.” She squints a little, moving her hands in a clunky attempt at a braid-maneuver. “But I’m not going anywhere near your feet.”

Wynonna stretches her leg out and swings it in Nicole’s direction, shoving her toes right under Nicole’s nose.

“Gross!” she shouts, pushing Wynonna’s leg away. “God, those smell grody.”

Wynonna smiles proudly.

“Is it Doc?” Nicole asks.

Wynonna blinks and quickly shakes her head. “No. It has nothing to do with him.”

Nicole nods slowly. She picks up the Rolling Stone and smoothes it out. Aerosmith is on the cover, Steven Tyler with his mouth open wide. She flips open to the cover article, Aerosmith’s Amazing Road Back . “Steven Tyler enters the hotel room and strips down to his black cracker – a sort of G-string,” she reads to herself. She shudders at the mental image and flips another few pages further into the magazine. She finds an article about Alec Baldwin.

Fine ,” Wynonna huffs after a minute of silence. “It’s Valdez.”

Nicole looks up, eyes wide. “Are we going to braid each other’s hair, paint each other’s nails, and talk about girls ?”

Wynonna kicks at her weakly. “She wants me to go on the road with her.”

Nicole’s smile stretches.

“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” Wynonna mutters. “She wants me to get a motorcycle and ride across the country- You know what I mean ,” she shouts over Nicole’s laughing.

Nicole gasps for air, clutching her stomach. “It just… got worse… and worse…” she pants.

Wynonna grabs the Rolling Stone out of her hand and smacks her on the shoulder again. “You’re mental.”

Nicole takes a few deep breaths, pulling herself together. “And you’re leaving?”

“No,” Wynonna says quietly. “Not now. Waverly hasn’t even graduated yet.”

Nicole nods slowly. “But you want to.”

Wynonna shrugs one shoulder. “Sometimes I feel like Purgatory has too many ghosts, you know?”

Nicole stares at Wynonna for a long moment. “Yeah,” she breathes out, thinking of Curtis and her dad and Shae. She can’t imagine how many ghosts Wynonna sees - Curtis, her mom, her dad, her sister.

“What’s that word when you don’t like to be trapped?”

Nicole thinks for a minute. “Claustrophobia?”

Wynonna nods. “I’m feeling claustrophobia.”

“Claustrophobic,” Nicole corrects.

“That, too,” Wynonna says distractedly. “Valdez, she found an old 1970 Triumph TR6 that needs a little bit of body work, but it runs. She said it’ll be enough to get out pretty far and all the way back, if that’s what I wanted.” Her voice is so quiet that Nicole has to lean in to hear her speak. “The Banditos might not always do the legal thing, but they’re decent people.”

Nicole nods. “I like Valdez,” she says.

Wynonna goes quiet, digging her heel into the comforter. “I wouldn’t leave now. Waverly hasn’t even graduated. She still has prom. She’s going to go to college soon, and I promised her…” She trails off, shrugging. “I promised I wouldn’t leave her behind. But I think if she leaves me, it doesn’t matter anymore, right?”

Nicole swallows past the lump building in her throat. Waverly going away to college has been on her mind a lot lately. She tries not to think about it; tries not to think about all of the acceptance letters littering the refrigerator in Gus’s kitchen, welcoming Waverly to colleges across Canada. She tries not to think about adding Waverly to that list of ghosts that live in this town.

“I’ll still be here.”

Wynonna laughs, something low and watery. “Of course you will be. Unless Waverly kills you for not taking her to prom,” she adds.

Nicole groans again. “ Prom .” She looks back at Wynonna, ready to push the idea of prom to the side and focus on Wynonna, but there’s something in Wynonna’s eyes that says she doesn’t want to talk anymore.

“What’s your beef with prom?” Wynonna asks. “You didn’t even go to ours.”

Nicole scoffs. “I’m surprised you remember that.”

“Remember? I had to deal with Waverly stomping around the house complaining about the color of my dress, the way I did my hair. Even the car Doc borrowed to pick me up.” Wynonna glares down at Nicole. “She seemed to think you would do a better job planning the night for the two of you than I did for me and Doc.”

“We weren’t together then,” Nicole mumbles.

“Oh, I know.”

Nicole feels her face flush. “It’s just prom. I don’t get the big deal.”

The door opens, nearly slamming against the wall before Waverly catches the doorknob in her hand. “It is a big deal.”

Nicole almost rolls off the bed, grabbing Wynonna’s leg at the last second to stop herself from falling. “What the-”

“Fuck,” Wynonna finishes, her hand pressed flat against her chest.

“Language,” Nicole murmurs.

Wynonna glares at her. “What were you going to say?”

“...Heck,” Nicole finally says.

Wynonna rolls her eyes. “Five-O. I can’t even swear without getting a warning.”

“Next, it’ll be a ticket,” Nicole promises.

Wynonna sits up a little, leaning in. Her eyes flash excitedly. “On what grounds?”

“For indecent-”

“Excuse me,” Waverly says sharply. She’s standing in the doorway with her hands on her hips, her eyes narrowed. “Prom is a big deal.”

Nicole feels a flash of irritation. “So is my job , Waverly. In fact, I’d say it’s way more important than some dumb dance.”

“Prom isn’t some-”

Wynonna starts to stand up. “I’m gonna just-”

“Sit,” Waverly snaps.

“Stay,” Nicole says at the same time.

Wynonna sits down again, pouting.

“You went over my head and talked to my boss ,” Nicole repeats.

“Surprised you didn’t need a stepladder,” Wynonna mumbles. She ignores Waverly’s glare and flops backwards onto her bed and rolls her eyes at them.

“It’s just Chrissy’s dad,” Waverly argues.

“To you ,” Nicole corrects. “To you , Nedley is just your best friend’s dad. But he’s my boss . He’s in charge of hiring and firing me. How do you think it looks for me that you went and asked permission for me to have the night off?” She doesn’t wait for Waverly’s answer. “It looks like I’m trying to use your relationship with his daughter to get what I want. It looks like favoritism, Waverly. Like I’m not taking this job seriously.”

Waverly’s shoulders soften as they fold in. She crosses her arms over the front of her body, her glare fading. “I… I didn’t think about it like that,” she says softly.

“No, you didn’t,” Nicole agrees, her voice hard and her face hot. She takes a deep breath and tries to control the anger she feels poking at the back of her mind. “All you care about is this lame school dance.”

I know you think school dances are totally lame , Shae had said. But I think we should go .

Waverly sighs. “Baby, I just don’t understand why you hate school dances so much. It’s just fancy dresses and tuxedos and terrible music.”

My mom got me a dress in the city and you can wear your new jeans. We’ll listen to bad music and we can laugh when Champ Hardy tries to do the Robot .

“I don’t want to,” Nicole says, her teeth clenched tightly.

Wynonna shifts on the bed. “When was the last time you even went to a dance?”

Nicole crosses her arms over her chest uncomfortably. “Why does that matter?”

Have you ever been to a school dance ? Shae asked. It’ll be fun!

Wynonna slides forward, sitting on the edge of the bed. “You didn’t go to prom.” She lifts a finger. “You didn’t go to any of the spring dances or homecomings.” She puts up another few fingers. “I think the last dance you went to was-”

It’s the Valentine’s Day dance , Shae pleaded. And, you know. You’re my valentine this year .

“The Valentine’s Day dance,” Nicole fills in.

Waverly inhales sharply. “Oh.”

Wynonna snaps her fingers. “Right! With-”

“Shae,” Nicole finishes.

“Right! Wynonna repeats. Her face falls. “Oh.”

Nicole looks at Waverly, scanning her face. She opens her mouth, but Waverly beats her to it.

“So, what?” Waverly asks, her voice rough. “You had such a totally rad time at the dance with Shae that you don’t want to ruin the memory?”

Nicole laughs, hollow. She reaches for her leather jacket, hanging over the back of Wynonna’s desk chair. She picks up the Rolling Stone and rolls it, tucking it into the back pocket of her jeans. “Yeah, Waverly,” she says wearily. “It was such a great night.”

This is going to be the best night ever , Shae had whispered in her ear.

Waverly moves in front of her, blocking her when she takes a step forward. “No, wait. Was it? And now prom won’t… it won’t be good enough?”

Nicole pauses, her jaw hanging open. “You… You think that’s what this is about?”

That’s what this is about ? Shae asked.

“It’s got to be about her,” Waverly says.

Nicole feels a spark of anger rushing through her, boiling in the pit of her stomach. “You know what? Why don’t you get real?” She pushes past Waverly, leaning into the door instead of in towards Waverly. “I’m outta here.”

She slams the screen door on her way out of the house, peels out of the driveway quicker than she should, and doesn’t take a deep breath until she hits Main Street.

 

-

She’s lying in bed in the middle of the day, listening to Van Halen’s OU812 for the third time in a hour when she sits up in bed and swears.

“Fuck,” she breathes out.

Oh, how do I know when it's love ?” Sammy Hagar sings. “ I can't tell you but it lasts forever .”

Nicole goes back over the last conversation she had with Waverly, three days ago in Wynonna’s bedroom. She’d gone to work and taken her lunch at the same as Pine, going to get food at the hotdog stand near the park and then doing a foot patrol around Purgatory Elementary.

“How does it feel when it's love? It's just something you feel together.”

She groans and drops her head back down onto her pillow, pulling the comforter up and into her mouth, screaming around the flannel fabric.

It’s got to be about her , Waverly had said.

Nicole had been mad - furious, really. Furious that Waverly would bring Shae up after all this time; furious that Waverly still can’t say her name; furious that she can’t shake the weight of Shae’s hands on her waist and around her neck while Madonna sings about two strangers in the dark.

She had been fuming , but she was wrong. She shouldn’t have just left. She should have stopped and explained to Waverly that it had never been about Shae; that that was exactly the problem.

She should have said, “ That’s the funny thing, Waves. It’s always been about you .”

That Valentine’s Day dance, she wore her best pair of jeans and the cleanest shirt she could find in Nathan’s closet, rolling the sleeves up past her elbows and trying not to wince at the way the too-big sleeves kept sliding down back towards her elbows. She sat in the back of Gus’s station wagon, afraid of being sick. She had stood on the front porch and nervously stabbed at the doorbell, pushing her sweating hands into the pockets of her jeans.

She had wished it was Waverly coming out the door and onto the porch.

Her prom would have been their chance to do it right. Her prom would have been her chance to ring the doorbell and watch Waverly come down the stairs in a blue and black dress with too many bows.

Instead, she avoided Waverly and prom and lost that moment all over again.

“When it's love, you look at every face in a crowd. Some shine and some keep you guessin'”

Nicole sighs. She could blame it on Nedley, bringing up Curtis out of the blue like she’s suddenly okay to talk about him whenever someone wants to. She could blame it on Shae, if she wanted to, and how she’s gone, but still lingering in old cassette tapes, gathering dust. She could even blame it on Waverly and the way she still carries Nicole’s only secret around like an open wound.

It’s her own fault, though.

“Waiting for someone to come into focus, teach you your final love lesson.”

And she needs to fix it.

But prom is tomorrow , she remembers. She sits up and swears again.

“Fuck.”