The house grew smaller in the distance. Far too big for the three people who occupied it. Two, now, came the unbidden thought.
Her fists clenched silently. Her fingers itched to fiddle with something. Things at home hadn’t been pleasant, but it was at least home. Nicole Haught knew nothing else.
“How you doin’, kid?”
Nicole unclenched her fists with difficulty. “Fine, sir.”
A barely-there chuckle. “Horse shit.” Nicole averted her gaze from the mirror with its ever-smaller home and focused instead on the Sheriff.
“You gonna be able to sleep tonight?”
Nicole shrugged, looking out the window. “I guess.” She thought for a second before letting out a humorless laugh. “No,” she corrected herself.
“I’ll get you something when we get to the home.” At Nicole’s alarmed, wide eyes, he chuckled and said, “Melatonin! Geez, what did you think I meant?”
Nicole couldn’t help a small smile. “Shot of whiskey? It’s the country, right?”
He just laughed, shaking his head as he watched the road.
Nicole resettled with her eyes looking out the window, eyes soon transfixed by the white line on the right side of the road. She remembered her father teaching her that, in a heavy fog, one could follow that line while hugging the right, instead of following the yellow line and being blinded by oncoming traffic. You didn’t need that in the city but where she was going she probably would.
Good advice from a shitty person.
Nicole heaved a sigh.
“It’s all right, Nicky,” Randy Nedley said from his seat next to her. “We’ll get you settled, and enrolled, and you’ll have everything you need with me and Chrissy. I promise.”
Nicole smiled despite the hole in her stomach. “Thank you for taking me in, sir.”
She could practically hear the fatherly quality of his awkwardness. “Don’t mention it. And stop callin’ me that. You live with me, you need to call me Randy.”
“Can’t do that, Sheriff.”
“Well, Nedley at the very least. I’m not Sheriff when I’m home.”
Nicole finally looked over again from the window.
“All right, Nedley.”
He nodded, gruff, not looking at her.
“Well, all right, then.”
“We can get you some things to spruce it up, make it your own.” Nedley put down Nicole’s large suitcase. “But it’ll do for now.”
The drive had gone by in near silence, Nicole eventually falling asleep for the nearly hour and a half it took to get from San Francisco to… here. Purgatory. Now Nicole stood staring around at Nedley’s guest room.
It was… not decorated by a teenager. The bedspread was floral and various shades of pink and brown. It looked at least twenty years old. The walls, too, were covered in floral wallpaper. It was definitely decorated by his ex-wife, likely when they bought the house. But the carpet was clean and the desk tidy, and there was – magically – a lock on the door. And the bed was a queen! And the comforter, while ugly and dated, would be warm in the winter.
And she could stay here. She could stay, and finish high school, and apply to college, all without having to move in with her grandparents in Florida and have to explain to them just why her parents kicked her out of their house while she was still a minor.
“Thank you, Nedley,” Nicole said, suddenly choked up. “I don’t… I don’t know what I’d do if…”
“Hey now, no need to cry,” he gruffed, clearly uncomfortable. His hand landed on her shoulder, his pats awkward. “I’m just glad you thought to call me.”
Nicole wiped the tears from her cheeks. “I wouldn’t have if you hadn’t visited Dad the other day.” Her throat tightened again when she said “dad.”
“Yeah, well. You’re welcome here as long as you need. And listen.” Something about his tone got serious, and Nicole turned to look him in the eyes. His other hand landed on her other shoulder. “I mean as long as you need. If your parents never get their heads out of their asses – or if they do but you don’t wanna go back – you can stay here. All right? I’ll drive you to your college orientation m’self.”
Nicole nodded, solemn, floored by his generosity.
“You… you really don’t care I’m gay?” she whispered.
Nedley’s smile was small, but genuine. “Course not. Just don’t bring trouble home, all right?”
Nicole nodded immediately. “Of course.”
Nedley chuckled, dropping his hands from her shoulders. “Had enough to worry about with one daughter. Don’t know what I was thinking bringing another in.” He went for the door, pausing before leaving. “You okay for the night?”
“Yes, s- Nedley. Yeah, I’m good.”
He nodded. “Good. Melatonin’s in the medicine cabinet if you think you need it. We’ll take you to the school and get you enrolled tomorrow.”
Nicole nodded. “Yeah. Okay.” Weird that school had already started out here. She was used to it starting after Labor Day, not before. But at least that meant finals would be before Christmas for the first time in her life. Winter break not studying would be fucking fantastic.
Nicole did opt for the melatonin in the end. She also pulled out her CD player, putting on an Alanis Morissette CD. The melody was haunting, the lyrics cryptic, and applicable to any situation. As Nicole pulled her clothes off and climbed into the bed in just her boxer briefs and undershirt, her mother’s words came to her unbidden.
Dyke. You want to be a man. But you’re not. God made you a woman and you will live how a woman should or you will not live in this house.
Nicole grabbed a pillow and pulled it into her stomach. She didn’t want to be a man. She also didn’t want to be with a man. She just wanted women. One would suffice.
But that was against God’s plan and so she was kicked out. Just like that. Pack a bag, gather your shit, find somewhere else to go, you can’t sleep here any more.
The tears came again, and, finally alone, Nicole let them fall, soaking into the unfamiliar bedding. She could stay here, and that was almost everything, but she still needed to mourn. She’d lost her parents. She’d lost her family. What was she gonna do?