Nicole pulled into her garage and shut off the engine of her 2016 Twilight Blue Subaru Outback, the dance remix of Troye Sivan’s “My My My” fading out. She was exhausted and her head was throbbing. The songs were catchy until the synth beats intermingled with the cacophony of college girls singing loudly along at three in the morning. For a Sunday night, she had been unexpectedly busy. She mentally tallied the number of pickups she’d taken over the shift, thinking she was in pretty good shape. But pulling out her phone to do some quick calculations, she realized she was coming up short. The weekend was over and now she was going to have to drive twice as much to make up for the dearth of drunk kids needing an Uber back to their residence.
“Shit…shitshitshitshit,” she hissed, rubbing her temples and closing her eyes, when the app dinged at her loudly. “Oh great, and I forgot to turn You off,” she chastised.
Nicole looked at the address just as a reminder popped up on her screen that a payment was due in three days on her…well, everything. Things that she once took for granted, her nice house and her nice car, seemed more like a curse now, and she wished the market was better so she could sell. Her thoughts were honestly a clusterfuck over it all.
“Focus…” she soothed herself. At this early hour the pickup must be a “ride of shame” or an early morning out-of-towner, easily located half a block away with less than a fifteen minute trip across town. She growled in frustration as she cranked the car and punched in her robo-response to the requester: her name, the car’s make and license number, with an ETA of three minutes.
Waverly Earp stood outside her condo and shuffled two heavy bags on each arm so that they didn’t unbalance her small frame in the few minutes she’d been anticipating the Uber pickup. She looked expectantly at the circular drive around her complex and just as she was about to topple over with the photographic evidence log she kept pushing back into the canvas, the blue Subaru appeared and slowed to a stop in front of her. She gathered herself and her heavy accoutrement, and pulled for the door, never looking at the driver.
“You’ve got a lot to handle there. Need some help?”
“I do this every day. I think I’ve got it,” she huffed as she yanked the last bag into the seat beside her and sighed.
“Suit yourself,” was the only reply from Nicole as she pulled slowly away from the curb.
“If you take Montauk to Liberty, you miss the traffic on Lincoln.”
Nicole looked down again; she hadn’t actually paid attention to the destination, just that it was a pretty quick ride. She scowled and immediately regretted her decision to take this fare. She pulled onto Ferry Street, heading towards Lincoln as if she’d never heard her passenger.
“Nicole. I’m not sure you heard me, but taking Montauk to Liberty is faster than this route.”
“I know where I’m going, no worries,” responded Nicole, flat and despondent.
Waverly opened and closed her mouth no less than three times before they came to a stop sign. Nicole placed the car in park, knowing the roads were pretty barren before dawn, and turned slowly in her seat, narrowing her eyes at a very frustrated Waverly.
Waverly shifted and avoided Nicole’s direct stare. “Go ahead and what?”
“Tell me again how I should have gone down Montauk to Liberty. You might die if you don’t.”
“It’s just the fastest route I’ve found and I hate to waste time. The reason I leave so early is that I want to make the most of the ride and the time before classes start.”
“You teach at the Academy?”
“Yes, I teach Arrest Control and Victimology. Right now, I’m also conducting a course on Unusual Occurrences.”
Nicole whistled low and steady. “That’s pretty impressive. How much preparation does it take to tell the recruits to set a wide perimeter and call EOD? Not like they’ll do a better job when they get there.”
Nicole let the last sentence ebb out of her subconscious, staring past Waverly and the present moment into some hazy memory. She heard a loud “humph” from the back seat and refocused, the golden warmth returning to her eyes.
Seeing Nicole’s attention return to their present quandary, Waverly rolled her eyes in the face of the uncalled for insult that Nicole had just lobbed at her. She took short breaths, crossing her arms tight across her chest, but pressed her lips together in order to restrain herself from returning an equally asinine retort. Instead, she focused on the real objective: getting to work. Nicole took the hint. She smirked and turned back around in the driver’s seat, hand going to the gear shift.
“Alright…we’ll do it your way,” Nicole acquiesced, shifting into drive and letting the car roll for a moment as she admitted to herself that she had gone off-book. There was nothing Nicole could say to erase that sarcastic jab. Pressing her foot to the brake, she looked in the rearview mirror, willing her passenger to look back somehow. It didn’t happen, and she couldn’t keep stalling. The car inched forward and Nicole steered it into a right turn so that she could redirect their course. Waverly didn’t move for a good minute but then realized the motion, the hum of the motor through the floor breaking through her inertia.
“Wait,” she spat suddenly, reaching towards Nicole’s seat, her hand pressing into the cushion, so close to the driver that she could feel the heat radiating from her shoulders. “You’re sure you know a faster route?”
Nicole didn’t turn around this time. She felt the tug of the upholstery in Waverly’s hands and leaned towards it subconsciously.
“I made this trip every day for almost ten years. Trust me?”
“I have no reason to trust you; I just met you,” Waverly whispered. She looked at the denim of Nicole’s shirt, her fingertip making the slightest wisp of contact, certain the redhead would never feel it. She wasn’t even sure why she needed to touch her-- if only for a millisecond, but Nicole shifted and Waverly yanked her hand away from the touch and the seat as if it were suddenly on fire. She pushed her back deep into the bolster and pulled the agenda from her bag, opening it upside down. “No matter, act like you know what you’re doing, Waverly…” she muttered to herself.
“Hey! If you’re talking to me, speak up? I can’t hear so well sometimes.”
The blush rose immediately across Waverly’s cheeks, but she planned to play this part to the end. “Oh…no, I was…never mind…I suppose we can try your way this time, seeing as how we’ve lost any scant difference arguing over it anyway.”
Nicole shook her head and just turned around, proceeding on her original route of choice. The club beats droned low on the same playlist Nicole had been using all night. She spent the next ten minutes of the ride sparing as many glances into the rearview mirror as possible at this woman who was defiant, and obviously smart, and kind of funny. She chuckled to herself when she saw the quick flip of the planner to right it for actual reading. She relished the seriousness of the study that lasted a few minutes before it was snapped shut and deposited back in the main attache beside Waverly. She turned her eyes back towards the road in the same instance Waverly finally looked at her in the mirror. The next time she dared glance back, Waverly was looking out the window as the sun peeked over the horizon. Nicole could literally see day break across the defined cheekbones, shining like a halo around the braids so meticulously gathered from the brunette’s face. She was a little in awe and now realized what an ass she had been during their first communication. She didn’t care about the five-star rating she’d likely lost. She cared about the insult she’d directed at this incredibly qualified woman who was using Uber to give her more time to be a better instructor. There was nothing Nicole could say to erase that initial error, but she wanted to try.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply you weren’t doing a great job teaching. I admire someone who spends a lot of time preparing for all the different things that can go wrong. I actually understand a lot about that, so I hope you don’t take my ramblings personally.”
Waverly didn’t move. She certainly didn’t look into the mirror to verify she had heard anything of the sort of apology Nicole was attempting to make. In fact, Nicole was sure she hadn’t heard her at all until she politely replied.
“Why did you drive to the Academy every day for ten years?”
“I didn’t drive to the Academy per se, but I did drive to the main precinct beside it after I graduated. I was an officer, and then an EOD tech and sometimes more of a detonator than a disposer…which is why…anyways,” she veered, disengaging her personal history and moving back into Driver mode. “We’re here.”
“How did you...? I somehow missed the shortcut,” Waverly questioned, disappointed in herself. She didn’t consider that she didn’t see the shortcut because she couldn’t always read the signs until she was on top of them, or that a quick turn was something her brain skipped when it couldn’t see it happen. She was actually angry at herself yet again for something being so stupidly out of her control.
“Do you need help with the bags this time?” was the only answer Nicole volunteered, warm and confident, almost bounding from the car as she circled and opened the passenger door for Waverly.
“I’ve got them, thank you,” she replied, attempting to assemble them on both arms, but Nicole pulled them from her grasp and shouldered both as Waverly angled down from the rugged vehicle.
When her footing was steady, Waverly reached graciously for the bags and her eyes widened as she looked up to see Nicole fully…to really see her, Waverly told herself later. Nicole was tall enough to shadow Waverly from the early morning sun, the glow emanating through her red curls, her eyes filled with another kind of warmth, something that said she had a good heart and a pure intention was what Waverly decided as she smiled down, a dimple popping from Nicole’s cheek.
“Maybe someday I’ll get lucky and you’ll be my driver again and you can give me the cheat code for this fast trip across town?” She flirted lightly.
“Maybe,” Nicole shrugged, “I’m actually working nights and you happen to be my last patron for this shift. Somehow 0500 snuck up on me today, but for good reason, it seems.”
There was the smile again, the dimple, and Waverly couldn’t help but return it this time. Nicole handed off the bags and closed the door to the Subaru.
“Thank you again for your understanding. I hope you have a great day, Corporal!”
Nicole backed away from Waverly and slowly climbed into the Subaru. Exhaustion was starting to fall on her and sleep would come as soon as she hit the bed. But she fastened her seatbelt and fumbled with her cell, sitting for a moment, so that she could make sure Waverly got inside. It was barely light outside, she told herself, and it was just the responsible thing to do.