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Strawberries And Cigarettes

Chapter Text

The moment the new school year starts,

Suddenly, we pass by her on my way to school every day.

Dad on the wheels, and I, on shotgun.

We approach the tunnel, and there she is on my side of the window.

Just before the darkness engulfs our car.

The stark red of her hair a contrast to the grey of the concrete wall she’s leaning on.

And then we’re at the end of the short tunnel, the light blinding.

For a split second.

I see her.

Every day.

***

The first time I saw her I believed she was an apparition.

But then she deeply sighed and I realized she was real in the flesh.

***

Weird how she is there every day, but never looks at our direction.

She is always leaning on the opening of the tunnel, a cigarette on her right hand.

I assume the car parked on the side of the road is hers.

It’s always there when she is.

Her gaze is always upward, as if she finds the ceiling of the tunnel interesting.

Or maybe she’s watching her smoke dissipate.

Sometimes her eyes are closed.

And I swear in those times she looked peaceful.

***

A month into the new school year, I start waking up early.

By the time I’m all dressed, Dad hasn’t even finished his coffee yet.

I sit on the living room to wait,

Knees minimally bouncing,

Eyes glancing at the clock.

I won’t admit it to anyone, but the commute to school has become my favorite part of the day.

***

I am at the top of my class.

At senior high, I’m going to graduate valedictorian.

Suffice to say, I’m smart.

But I can’t figure out, for the life of me, why I feel this way about her.

I think she’s very interesting, what with all the air of mystery around her.

I think I might be a little bit… attracted… to her.

And I don’t even know her.

***

Earlier today our eyes met.

And I had a heart attack.

I swear there was a tiny smile on her lips when she caught me staring.

Fuck.

She wasn’t even supposed to know I was looking!

She was supposed to always be looking up at the ceiling!

And then, all of a sudden,

Her smoke hanging suspended in the air between her and our car,

Her eyes snapped straight into mine.

Like she knew I have always been looking.

That thought gave me another heart attack.

Fuck.

***

Her eyes are a deep brown, soft like gossamers in fall.

It complements her red hair.

I want to know her.

***

Fall is nearing its end, but the leaves are still in shades of oranges and browns.

Every time I see her on the tunnel,

A backdrop of red and yellow leaves are surrounding her.

She looks at home.

Fall looks good on her.

***

It’s Monday and Dad is out of town for a business trip.

Mom can’t drive, and so can’t I.

My only choice is to walk to school.

To say that I am excited would be an overstatement.

In fact, I’m scared shitless.

I’m going to walk past the tunnel.

Past her.

And it’s not gonna be just a split second anymore.

I feel faint.

***

I can already see her starting from the bend of the road leading to the tunnel.

A part of me hopes she will miss this day, of all days.

She never missed a single day in four months.

But I also know I will feel disappointed if she did.

Miss a day, that is.

Especially this day.

My steps are brisk, and pretty soon I’m at the tail end of her car.

I keep my eyes strained to my shoes.

One foot after the other, Earp.

I can’t help it so I steal a sideways glance.

I catch her checking her wristwatch for the time.

“Hey.”

Fuck.

I had hoped I can pass by her without any interactions at all.

After all, we don’t know each other, right?

I stop walking and can’t answer for a while.

My heart is in my throat.

I swallow spit to clear it and turn to face her.

“Yes?”

I’ve never been this close to her.

Two feet, to be exact.

She is sitting on the hood of her car, an unlit cigarette dangling on her fingers.

My left shin is grazing the edge of her bumper.

“Light my cigarette.”

Her eyes points to the black metal lighter sitting next to her on the hood.

What?

I debate about picking it up.

People, my classmates to be exact, pass by this tunnel every day too.

And, who knows, maybe my teachers too.

If they see me with someone who looks very much like a delinquent…

It will not be good for my image.

Oh, fuck it.

Before I know it I am picking up the cursed thing.

I lift it close to her face where she put the cigarette between her very, very soft-looking lips.

Her breath is soft on my knuckles,

And for a second I can’t strike the lighter.

I hope she doesn’t notice my shaking hands.

And there is a good chance she won’t.

Because she’s looking straight at me.

My heart’s in my throat.

Even when the fire finally starts, she keeps her eyes on me.

She only breaks it to exhale the smoke to her left, away from me.

From the corner of her eyes, she stares.

“Thanks.”

I drop the lighter back to its place with a nod.

I can’t leave fast enough.

I’ve only taken three steps away before I hear that voice again.

“Hot.”

I look back with a question on my face.

What?

It’s the end of fall.

It’s almost Christmas and everyone is cold.

“I’m Nicole Haught.”

Oh. Haught.

“I’m W-Waverly...” I swallow the lump in my throat. “Earp.”

She exhales another lungful of smoke away from me.

“Where’s your dad?” As if catching herself, she continues, “He is your dad, right?”

Holy shit, we’re actually talking.

And holy shit she knows we pass by here every day.

“He… he’s out of town.”

“Cool.”

I swear there is a smile in there before she blocks it with her hand,

Hitting the cigarette.

“I can drive you, you know.” Nicole knocks twice on the hood she was sitting on. “To school.”

You’re beautiful and all that, but… you’re still a stranger.

“Uh, no thanks. I’m good.”

I flash a brief smile and powerwalks into the tunnel.

I come out of the dark at the other end and take my first real breath in a while.

***

She smells like cigarette.

And of something… sweet.

Her eyes are even softer in close up.

Although I don’t know how it can possibly be soft and bright at the same time.

They twinkle, like she knows something she won’t tell me about.

She has a scar on her left cheek bone.

A half-inch, thin oval-shaped scar.

There is a little dot of beauty mark under her left eye too.

She sometimes licks her lips before talking.

Her voice is a little raspy, just at the edges.

Her limbs are long, and she’s probably taller than me easily by a foot.

Her black pants had holes on the knees.

Under it is a pair of black leather boots.

The key to her sedan is clipped to her belt hoop.

I knew all of these in just under five minutes.

And her name.

Nicole Haught.

***

Chapter Text

I made a fool out of myself that first time.

And now I’m doing it again.

Her car is parked the same way, hood pointing into the tunnel.

Today she’s sitting on her trunk when I make the turn on the bend.

Our eyes immediately meet.

It’s as if she’s waiting for me.

I look down at my shoes and walks faster.

I breeze through the cloud of her smoke.

And catches a whiff of her smell.

That smell again.

She let me pass without saying anything.

I should be relieved, right?

After all, I don’t want her to notice me.

But why do I feel… disappointed?

***

Dad is gone for the rest of the week.

This is the third day I’m walking to school.

Maybe she’s gotten tired of engaging me into a conversation when I turned her down the other day.

It should be for the best, right?

Right, convince yourself that, Earp.

I get these unfamiliar tingling sensations on my skin every time I approach the bend of the road leading to the tunnel.

Today is no different.

I can already tell she is at her usual spot with the way my body reacts.

I keep my eyes on my shoes as I walk briskly, hoping she won’t talk to me again.

Hoping she will talk to me again.

“What about now, Earp?”

My heart does that somersault thing again at the sound of her voice.

Shit. Why am I like this around her?

“What?”

“Can I drive you to school now?”

My feet freeze in place.

She’s leaning on the passenger’s door, an ankle over the other.

There are at least three cigarette butts littered around her boots.

She isn’t smoking, but there is a patch of smoke that hasn’t dissipated yet.

“Why do you want to drive me to school?”

It comes out sharper than I intended.

It’s the first time I see her smile up close.

She has a dimple on her left cheek.

God. As if she’s not hot enough already.

“’Cause you’re a woman and you’re walking alone?”

Wow.

That comment pisses me off a little bit.

“I can handle myself, thank you.”

I turn to walk away but feel her fingers grip the edge of my hoodie’s sleeve.

“Sorry, that came out wrong.” She removes her grip as if burned. “I want to drive you.”

“I don’t even know you. Why do you expect I’ll get in your car?”

“I’m Nicole Haught.”

“I know.”

“See? You know me.”

Her dimple makes a cameo again.

I can’t believe I fell for that.

Mentally smacking myself, I watch her open the passenger’s door.

She gestures an open palm at the opening and smiles again.

Jesus Christ. Keep smiling that smile and I’ll get into anything for you.

“Earp?”

She must see me hesitate, because she assures, “I promise I’m harmless.”

Hesitantly, I sit inside.

She jogs to the other side and jumps into the driver’s seat.

She looks at me for a second.

“Sorry about what I said earlier. I didn’t mean to be sexist.”

I shrug, hands in my hoodie’s pockets.

Upon turning the ignition, a music starts playing in the stereo.

It must have been paused when the car was off, because it starts at the middle of the song.

               Stay and watch the stars come out and then the sun as they all fade away

               I'll sing every song I wrote if it'll make you wanna stay

               And then I'll say that I missed you

               And these words, they'll convince you

“Seat belt?” She offers.

Right. And so I put it on.

I haven’t even clicked it in yet and the car is already jerking forward.

I let out a surprised yelp.

I’m rewarded by her laugh.

Sitting on her right, I realize a right dimple comes out when she laughs.

               And I could call you baby doll all the time

               And you'd whisper in my ears, you'd say

               "I missed you girl"

               So sing it over again, and over again, and over again

“I don’t drive below 60.”

And then we are racing to 60.

“But this is a 50 road!”

Yes. I know my road signs.

“Who cares, right?”

She easily dodges two cars ahead of us as she laughs again.

Keep laughing like that and I’ll let you drive me off to the sun.

I’m too busy hanging on to my dear life to notice that we’re already at my school.

It really isn’t that far from the tunnel, which is why I’m okay with walking.

We come to an abrupt stop.

“Here we are.”

I release the breath I didn’t know I was holding.

I click the seatbelt off me.

Harmless. Right.”

She laughs at my rolling eyes and then purses her lips together, eyes glowing.

I board down the car and face the window as she rolled it down.

“Thanks.”

“You’re welcome, Earp.”

She’s already pulling back when I put a hand on the still open window.

She presses on the brakes.

“Yes?”

I bend at the waist to level with her eyes.

“Why are you… why are you always at the tunnel?”

Her eyes twinkle like she has a secret.

It complements her dimple.

“Waiting.”

And then she’s gone as fast as she came.

Wait… I didn’t tell her which school I attend, right?

***

Did that just happen?

I’m going to think about that smile for days.

***

She has a pack of cigarette on her cup holder.

Littered around it are wrappers of candies.

Strawberry flavored.

Her car smells like her.

The sweet smell is strawberry.

***

When I turn on the bend of the road today my heart drops to my stomach.

She isn’t there.

I look around while passing by the spot where her car is usually parked.

There is no sign of a redhead anywhere, or her black car.

All that was there is the cigarette butts littered all around.

This is the first morning she missed in four months.

I feel faint.

***

I come out of the school properties still feeling faint.

I’m just glad I survived the day.

I think I’m going to fall sick.

I’m not paying attention to where I’m going and walks smack into someone.

I stumble backward.

“I-I’m sorry.”

I look up at the sound of the person’s chuckle.

“What’s so interesting about your shoes?”

Nicole.

She’s leaning on the light post at the corner of the street where I turn.

A very smart place to stay if you want someone to walk smack into you.

My heart sticks in my throat.

“Every time I see you, you’re looking at them.”

I can’t speak.

She leans away from the pole very slowly and walks even closer to me.

I reflexively took the same steps back.

Until I hit someone else behind me.

Shit.

The guy mutters to himself and shoot daggers at us as he proceeds to walk away.

“I’m sorry!”

I call after him.

Because I’m nice.

And I don’t like bothering people.

But Nicole is bothering me.

So damn much.

Since I hit the guy, I’m forced to stop backing away.

When I focus my attention back to the woman in front of me, she’s right in my face.

But she isn’t looking at me.

A first.

Her head is tilted to the side and eyes focused behind me.

I turned my head to follow the direction of her eyes—at the sky.

It’s purple and orange and pink and white and blue.

All mixed together.

It looks immaculate.

“There’s a better view.”

I snap to face her again when I feel her breath on my cheek.

She’s looking at me now—really looking.

Right into my soul.

Like what she said is meant for me.

I back away again.

She’s too close.

I can’t breathe.

I gulp to find my voice.

“W-What are you doing here?”

She leans away now to stand on her heels, hands clasped behind.

“I figured you don’t need me to go to school.”

“I don’t.”

She winces.

“Oh, snarky.”

A shrug.

“But going home, I want to accompany you. ‘Coz it’s getting late, and it’s dangerous.

Strength in numbers, right? Or whatever.”

“I’ve been walking home alone for the past couple of days.”

She smiles that mysterious smirk again.

“Sure you were.”

“Are you stalking me?”

She chuckles.

Nicole Haught actually chuckles.

“Technically? Yes.”

I back away again.

“But not for the reasons you’re thinking.”

I stop at that.

“I just…”

She looks flustered for once.

Cocky Nicole is actually stuttering.

“I-I just want to make sure you’re safe.”

She rubs the back of her neck.

Lick her lips.

“Just get in the car.”

“What? You just admitted that you’re stalking me, and now you want me to get in your car?”

I’m a little incredulous.

“I’m not stalking you. I mean, not that way.”

She sighs, looks to be struggling.

“Fuck. I can’t do this,” she mutters to herself.

“Just… please get in the car, Waverly.”

My knees buckle and for a second I think I’m melting.

Waverly.

My name sounds so good coming from her mouth.

***

I can’t believe I got in her car again.

I rolled my eyes at myself.

Of course I can.

She’s just…

She’s so irresistible.

I’m still at the threshold of our house.

And the car has already sped off.

Mom asks who it is that drove me home.

I’m not given a chance to answer.

I faint.

***

When I come about I am in bed.

A blanket is wrapped tightly around me.

The clock on my nightstand reads 4am.

I have been asleep (fainted?) for a long time.

I don’t feel so good.

My first instinct is to hurl.

And hurl I did.

What little food I ate at the cafeteria yesterday makes it onto the floor of my room.

I’m pretty sure Mom would be glad to have taken the old carpet off when I turned 16.

“Oh, baby!”

Mom is at the door.

She must have heard me throw up.

Within seconds she’s at my side, wiping my hair away.

I let her lay me back to the bed.

I groan, closing my eyes tightly.

A tear rolls down to my temple.

I won’t make it to school later.

I won’t make it to her.

***

Unsurprisingly, I miss my classes.

Chrissy goes to visit me and give me her notes.

I’m starting to feel okay, so I’m able to entertain her.

She only stays for 20 minutes, but it feels so much longer.

I swear it does.

Because my head is somewhere else.

With someone else.

***

Mom won’t let me walk to school alone today.

She believes I would faint again.

And I don’t know what to feel.

Because that meant she’s walking me to school, and we’ll see Nicole at the tunnel.

Will Nicole talk to me?

Will she acknowledge my mom?

Will my mom acknowledge her?

Maybe I’m overthinking.

Maybe Nicole is not even there.

Maybe she won’t even try to talk to me.

Maybe.

***

She’s there.

I know it even before I see her.

She actually is there.

My heart is stuttering in my chest.

However, we pass by her without much fuss.

Mom smiles kindly at her as we pass.

Because she’s nice.

And I got it from her.

After returning Mom’s smile, her eyes dart to me.

She’s not smoking for once.

And there is not a single scent to tell that she was earlier.

She didn’t smile at me or anything.

But her eyes.

God, her eyes.

They look almost… sad.

***

Her eyes from that morning haunt me.

In European History.

In Chemistry.

In World Literature.

Her eyes haunt me.

By the time I reach Cultural Anthropology, I can’t breathe anymore.

***

Dad just returned from his trip, and he’s the one who picked me up.

I have just closed the door to my room,

The bag thrown at my study table,

When my phone beeps.

It takes me a while to find it in my bag.

When I click the screen on, I’m surprised by the unknown number.

“Light my cigarette.”

Before I really know what I’m doing, I’m already running down the stairs.

Mom and Dad are in front of the TV.

“I’ll… I’m just… I left an assignment with Chrissy.

I’ll meet her down the block to get it, and I’ll be back real quick.”

I’m out the door before they could even answer.

This is the first time that I lied to my mom and dad.

I jump the fence and I run.

My heart is throbbing, and it’s not at all because I am running.

What am I doing?

Fuck.

Just stop thinking for once, Earp.

And follow your heart.

I know exactly who it was, and where to find her.

And there she is.

Nicole Haught.

At the tunnel.

I only stop running when the tips of my shoes are a foot away from the tip of her boots.

She gifts me a view of her dimple.

“Why are you running?”

“How did you get my number?”

“Your, uh, friend?”

She must see the confusion on my face.

“The brunette one… the other day? Around my height?”

“Chrissy?”

“I guess. I might have, uh, asked her then.”

“But she didn’t tell me anything today.”

‘’I told her not to.”

“She’s my friend. Why would she listen to you?”

She shrugs.

And there’s that.

I can’t press anymore.

Because her eyes…

Her eyes take my attention.

They are still sad.

We just look at each other for minutes.

“Are you okay?”

It comes out softer than I intended even I’m surprised.

That damned smile returns and it reaches her eyes for the first time today.

“I am now.”

I feel like I just took my first breath at that.

***

She offers me her lighter and I remember her text.

I take it without hesitation this time, closes the gap between us, and lights her cigarette.

“Thanks.”

She puffs the smoke away from me.

It smells with hints of strawberry.

“I’d take you somewhere, but uh… we can’t go very far.”

A lick of her lips, a hand on her nape.

“’Coz I locked my keys in my car.”

She straightens from leaning on her trunk so that she can hook her foot on the bumper and hoist herself up.

She sits on the trunk and stares at my lips.

And I can already feel her kiss.

What?

I snap my focus away from her lips and take a step back.

“It’s-It’s okay.”

I clear my throat.

“I can’t stay anyway.”

I think I see her shoulders drop a little bit.

She takes another puff and I watch the ambers light at the tip of her cigarette.

It stands out in the dark.

She jumps off her trunk and closes in on me.

I’ve never been a fan of the smell of cigarettes before.

In fact, I hate it with a passion.

It makes me cough.

But Nicole…

She smells nice.

She holds my eyes for a little while.

A couple of minutes.

Still too fast.

“I’ll walk you home.”

She walks past me and it takes me a while to register what she just said.

I jog after her and we walk back in silence.

***

She finishes her smoke halfway through the walk.

She doesn’t light another.

Our shoulders are an inch apart.

Occasionally, the knuckles of her long, white fingers brush against mine.

And my chest constricts.

My own fingers are itching to grasp hers.

And so I keep them in tight fists.

“This is as far as I can go.”

She abruptly stops walking.

We’re at least five houses away from mine.

My heart drops to my stomach.

“Oh.”

“I’ll watch you until you get in.”

She offers a smile.

“I don’t think you’ll want your parents asking who’s with you.”

Right.

I momentarily panic.

I lied to them. What am I going to tell them now?

She smirks as if she can read my mind.

And even if maybe she can, she still doesn’t offer any help.

Ass.

“Okay.”

Before I can walk away, something soft lands on my left cheek.

I wipe at it and stare at the melting ice on my fingers.

Snow.

I whip around to stare back at Nicole.

She’s staring right at me.

Eyes twinkling under the soft moon.

And snow is starting to fall all around us.

It’s very few and spaced far apart, but it’s… snow.

The first snow of the year.

“The first snow of the year.”

Nicole looks up briefly, eyeing amusedly the white puffs.

Her eyes follow one as it falls on my hair.

“It’s the end of fall.”

She nods in agreement as her hand lifts to brush the snow off my hair.

I can smell strawberries for a split second.

“You should go back in. You might get sick again.”

Her eyes are soft.

So are her lips.

She smiles and that, too, is soft.

She’s too soft.

“It’s the end of fall.”

She chuckles, tolerating me.

“Yes, it is, Waverly.”

And I… have fallen.

***

Before entering our small gate, I spare a last glance at her.

Her leather jacket and black jeans blends in the dark.

I can only glimpse her white shirt and red hair.

I give her a small wave and she returns a small salute.

I don’t know what to do about the revelation.

I’m in deep, deep shit.

***

Chapter Text

That night was the start of things.

Of our friendship, if it even is a friendship.

Because I’m still not entirely sure what we are.

But it’s definitely a something.

It was the start of many long nights texting.

Daydreaming in class.

Nicole showing off her smoke rings to me.

Said she practiced it for weeks.

Shared laughs.

Through Christmas.

Through New Year.

The perpetually open window on the driver’s side.

Because she broke it that night to get her keys.

Less nerves.

More erratic heartbeats.

More… urges.

Things that I can’t act upon.

Because I don’t think it’s welcome.

Like hold her hand.

Or grasp the bunch of soft hairs at the back of her neck.

Every part of her begs to be touched.

And I cannot.

I’m not sure for how long, though.

My self-control is waning in time.

***

Sometimes she just disappears.

Not talk to me for a whole day.

Then the following day she’d text me like nothing happened.

It’s quite annoying.

But every time she talks to me, that feeling immediately leaves.

Shit. I am in deep, deep trouble.

***

Tonight I am pissed.

She didn’t text me for two days.

When I got her text earlier today to meet at the tunnel,

My initial thought was not to show up.

But I couldn’t help it.

I haven’t seen her for two days.

A long ass time.

But presently I’m spending my time leaning on her trunk.

One ankle on top of the other.

Arms crossed.

“Hey.”

Nicole tries to get my attention.

I look away.

“You’re fuming.”

She stands in front of me, my legs in between hers.

“Did I do something?”

No. It’s what you didn’t do.

I huff.

And I know that’s childish, but I am pissed.

“Are we fighting?”

Her left hand rises as if to grasp my arm.

But she put both hands in her jacket’s pockets instead.

The annoyance in me grows.

I wish she’d just touch me.

She sighs heavily.

 “I’m sorry.”

The leather of her jacket squeaks under the grasp of her fists.

“I’m sorry I was not able to contact you the past two days.”

Her eyes are soft.

I know they are.

Which is why I keep looking away.

Into the dark tunnel.

If she doesn’t know yet that those eyes are my weakness, she soon will.

“I took a couple of shifts at Shorty’s.”

It’s the local grocery store down town.

It’s owned by a nice old man that everyone just adores.

He lets Nicole work there when she wants to.

Tally the inventories and restock.

Run errands, generally.

She’s paid on the daily.

My shoulders slightly loosen.

“Waverly.”

I finally give in and faces her.

“Nicole Haught.”

She raises one perfect eyebrow.

“I don’t know if I wanna punch you, or…”

“Or?”

Kiss you on the mouth.

“Nothing.”

I sock her lightly.

“Ow!”

She rubs at her arm, wincing.

She glares at me but instantly softens anyway.

“Look, I’m sorry.”

She finally grasps my sleeve, albeit reluctantly.

“It’s for tonight.”

“What’s tonight?”

Nicole shrugs one shoulder.

“Well, I just figured it would be nice if we do something different tonight.”

I give her a suspicious look.

For some reasons, Nicole’s intentions always come across as suspicious the first time.

She returns a very nice smile.

Dimple and all.

So naturally I forget to be careful whatsoever.

“Please get in the car.”

I have never protested to that in months.

***

When Nicole pulls into a dark street,

I start having horrifying mental images.

“Where are we going?”

My grip on the seatbelt is tight.

“You’ll see.”

And I do.

She pulls to a stop in the middle of an empty parking lot.

There are a couple of lampposts spaced unevenly apart.

Giving off dull orange lights.

One of them blinks every couple of seconds like an old strobe.

She turns the engine off and the headlights went off.

The orange glow of the posts was not enough to light the wide concrete space.

It takes a while for my eyes to adjust to the new lighting.

The moon is just high enough to provide light into the clearing.

The leaves from scattered trees were swaying to the gentle breeze.

“What is this place?”

“An abandoned mart.”

She points at the far West, and there’s a dark building.

From what I can make out, we’re facing the entrance of it.

The light fixtures where bulbs used to be are now shattered, frames rusting.

The paint has already peeled away from seventy percent of the building.

Graffiti is all over it.

If the old mart had a name, it doesn’t have any mark of it now.

Nicole boards off the car and I follow.

We sit on the still warm car hood in silence.

There’s only the sound of breeze for minutes.

Once I got past the scary first impression,

It actually is calming.

I close my eyes to better hear the earth breathe.

Hear Nicole breathe.

“Well.”

I break the silence after a while.

“This hardly needs for you to work for two days straight.”

She chuckles.

Which she does a lot of around me, apparently.

“There’s food in the trunk, and, uh…”

She stands up and goes back to the driver’s seat.

She turns on the battery to switch on the headlights.

Her stereo starts playing a song a couple of seconds later.

                Young ambition

                Say we’ll go slow but we never do

She jogs back to where I’m sitting on the hood and takes my hand.

Her palms are soft.

In six months, this is the first time I’ve ever held her hand.

Or she ever held mine.

I feel warm.

                Premonition

                See me spendin’ every night with you

She leads me a couple of steps away from her car.

At the wide expanse of concrete.

Headlights, on me.

On us.

                Oh, yeah, under the kitchen lights

                You still look like dynamite

                And I wanna end up on you

“I bought a new car stereo because the old one doesn’t have Bluetooth capabilities.”

Nicole observes me.

“I also made a playlist for yo—tonight.”

What she does next surprises me.

She bends down to remove her shoes and throws it a couple of steps away.

Her socks come after their pairs.

                Oh, don’t need no place to go

                Just put on the radio

                You know what I wanna do

Her shirts are always tucked in at the front, keeping a duck tail of shirt behind.

She untucks it in front of me.

“W-what are you doing?”

Takes off her jacket and almost throws it away too.

Except she notices I’m shaking in my own flimsy sweater.

So she puts it around my shoulders instead.

There’s a two-second pause at the song, and she says,

“We’re dancing.”

Troye Sivan continues crooning.

                We can just dance to this

                Don’t take much to start me

                We can just dance to this

                Push up on my body, yeah

And closer to me she moves.

Her arms are raised and her hips sway in abandon.

                You know we’ve already seen all of the parties

                We can just dance to this

                We can just, we can just

                Dance to this

Her eyes are closed and I can’t move for a minute.

Enthralled.

She’s…

She’s something else entirely.

I’ve never met anyone like her.

                Dance to this

                We can just dance to this

The moment Troye first said dance, her eyes opens.

She takes my hand and gives me a gentle pull towards her.

Giving me a choice.

Move closer, or not?

While also letting me know that she wants me close.

So I move.

                Dear beloved

                Bring those 501s a bit closer, bit closer

                And dear, my lover

                Do that thing we never do sober, sober

Before I know it I’m not shy anymore.

I start dancing too.

Her careless abandon to dancing is contagious.

Our knees bump occasionally.

My eyes are closed.

But my mind can see her bare feet on the concrete under us.

The snow is just starting to melt, winter nearing its end.

Her feet must be cold, but she doesn’t mind.

Her untucked white shirt is as clear in my head.

Slightly raising to the motion of her arms.

Exposing an inch of pale skin.

The rips in her jeans vivid.

The orange light reflecting off her red hair.

A new song takes over and I don’t notice.

Neither is the next one after that.

And after that.

I lose count.

I’m not keeping track.

This is the lightest I’ve felt in a while.

It’s like there’s not a world outside this place.

Waiting for us with their pitchforks.

None of that is present in our own little bubble.

None.

There’s just Nicole… and I.

Just us.

***

A track starts seeping into the crackle of the previous song.

The melody reminds me of an old song, maybe from the 90’s.

                I feel some type of way when you sit next to me               

                And I’m not tryna hide it, hide it

                “You can’t control emotion” is what you said to me

                And I’m not gonna fight it, fight it

                Check it

                I say it the words and they come out wrong

                I know I shouldn’t have left the lights on

Nicole remains sitting on the hood of her car.

Slightly panting.

Feet tapping to the music.

So am I.

The sweat glistens on her neck.

On her temples.

And when she shifts just a little bit, there’s light sheen on her arms too.

Her bumper is cold under my feet.

I’ve long discarded my shoes and socks.

Maybe after the 5th song.

I’m not sure.

Her leather jacket is in between us.

                The night is young, make it last long

                Before it ends, I’m gonna give you the best of me

                I’m getting caught up in the details

                A little nervous ‘cause I might fail

                Don’t wanna deal with another L

                But every time, I need to tell myself

“Nicole Haught.”

Capping off her drink, she raises an eyebrow at me.

“What?”

Just when I think I can’t love her any more, she goes on and does something like this for me.

I don’t know what to feel about that.

She must see the look on my face.

I’m not sure what it’s like, but her face immediately turns serious.

She lifts her right leg on the hood so she can fully face me.

The valley between her breasts has a sheen of sweat too.

My throat closes at the jump of my heart.

I’ve never appreciated low v-neck shirts this much before.

“Nothing.”

My voice squeaks a little bit.

“Waverly Earp.”

Jesus Christ.

The way her lips curve at the “ver” and pops at the “p.”

I’ll never get tired of hearing my name from those lips.

A plump pair that I can’t keep my eyes off of.

I don’t realize I’m staring until she calls me again.

“Waves.”

My eyes drift into her eyes.

She’s watching me watch her.

“Fate.”

“What?”

“Fate.”

My eyebrows crease.

I’m still a little drawn to her lips.

“What about it?”

“Don’t you think it…”

Nicole’s head tilts to the right, finding the right words.

“It hurts so good?”

I’m confused again.

“How so?”

“You can say I’m a little bit of a masochist, because I love the wait.

And fate, well, it takes its time.

For me, the pain in waiting—that hurts good.”

My fingers close in a fist on my lap.

Is she telling me what I think she’s telling me?

“Fate, it makes things worth the wait.”

By the time she’s done talking, the song is in its last beats.

She perks up at the sound of the next song.

                I got a feeling that we got a chemistry

                Gimme what’s on your mind

                Telling me everything, but it ain’t happening

                Wish I could reach your vibe

                Making movements

                And I don’t think you’re looking for a new friend

                Yeah, yeah, yeah

“Oh! I love this song!”

She balances the bottle of water on the slanted hood.

She stands up and holds my hand again.

I’m starting to think she’s right about the waiting thing.

Because how long have I waited to hold her hand?

I don’t know, but it feels good to have it now.

“Isn’t this your playlist? You practically love everything in it.”

I chuckle as I let her lead me.

“Oh. Right. My bad.”

Nicole lets out a laugh.

I’m gifted with both dimples.

I feel like I’m winning.

At the same spot we have been dancing before, she starts swaying.

                Right, if you’re waiting here, can we get out of here?

                Wanna get you alone

                So if you’re into me, I got the energy

                Why are you on your phone?

                ‘Cause the truth is

                I’m not really looking for a new friend

                Yeah, yeah, yeah

Slowly she leads me by our connected hand.

I follow her lead as she twirls me halfway.

So she’s standing behind me.

“Is this okay?”

Nicole’s breath on my ear gives me goosebumps.

And I’m not even cold anymore.

A small fire is ignited on my belly.

“Yeah.”

I literally squeak.

I can’t breathe.

                I don’t see nothing wrong

                With you and me getting along

                I don’t see nothing wrong

                With you and me getting along

Her chin bumps on my shoulder as we sway.

Slowly, she settles her free hand on my hip.

“Is this okay?”

I can’t talk anymore so I just nod.

Move even closer, actually.

I want to say, but can’t.

                Sway with me don’t speak

                Stay with me no sleep

                Are you tied up? I don’t wanna know now

                Are we gonna stay up?

                Are we gonna get out this crowd?

                Sway with me

Fuck.

I keep cursing myself as Trove Styrke continues crooning.

What are you doing to me, Nicole Haught?

I feel like a frog in a boiling pot of water.

It’s too hot.

I want to jump out

Or explode.

But her hand on my hand, and on my hips, grounds me.

                Both of us, kinda shy,

                But we ain’t got the time

                Wanna get out these clothes

                Honestly I don’t get why we go anywhere

                Wanna stay out these clothes

                But the truth is I’m just acting cool,

                It’s kinda useless

                Yeah, yeah, yeah

I feel suffocated.

Like I won’t be able to breathe until I get to kiss her.

Ah! Fuck it!

I turn around so fast my loose hair slaps softly on my shoulders.

The tips of it tickle her left shoulder.

She looks confused.

But I waste no time in closing the gap between our bodies.

Thigh to thigh.

Grips the collar of her shirt with both shaking hands.

Her hips connects to mine.

Foreheads meet.

The tips of my nose brushing hers.

Her breath smells like strawberries and cigarettes.

                Morning is comin’ in.

                Tell me you’re feelin’ it

                Don’t look around

                Got other plans I can make

                If you’re gon’ waste it,

                Then you gotta let me know

                Don’t you waste it

                Don’t be actin’ stupid ‘cause you’re wasted

                Yeah, yeah, yeah

“Nicole.”

I sound so desperate, pleading, and I should hate it.

But I don’t.

I want her so bad.

I feel her palms tighten on the small of my back.

Pulling me impossibly closer.

“Fate, Waverly.”

She moves her head to the side.

Brings her lips to my ear.

Her arms snake around me.

Apparently I’m too small and her limbs too long.

Because her elbows are almost meeting on my back, but not quite.

I feel the rough concrete disappear beneath me.

She’s lifting me off the ground!

Naturally, my instinct is to wrap my legs around her hips.

And that I do.

She groans as she adjusts our combined weight.

I almost combusts right there.

Our shoulders are now level.

And I, safe in her arms.

“Remember fate.”

So I do and we stay like that until her arms give up.

***

I have no idea why I’m giggling.

It might be sugar high.

I mean, I’ve never drank as much soda as I did today.

Which is probably why I’m laughing so much.

And Nicole, sitting next to me in the backset, is laughing as well.

“Did you put something in my drink?”

Nicole looks surprised, but still laughing.

“What? I did not!”

“Why is everything so funny?”

I laugh again.

“Well, it is stupid.”

“Yes, it is.”

The tiny cab once again fills with giggles.

I’m actually scared about what the driver thinks of us.

“We were having so much fun though!”

“I know! And then it doesn’t want to start anymore.”

Nicole laughs in between words, a hand rubbing her nape.

I know this as a sign that she’s a little embarrassed.

“We exhausted your poor car!”

“Well, it is an old car. With an even older battery, so…”

She shrugs, arms lifts to the side, lips turns down.

It’s the third night in the week that we went to the abandoned parking lot.

It’s spring now so the place looks homier, especially in daylight.

We spent all those times alternating between dancing, eating, and drinking.

Nothing alcoholic though.

Nicole won’t let me, and I don’t want to anyway.

As usual, we left the headlights and speakers on, keys in the ignition.

It must have drained the battery.

So we called a cab and left her car in the middle of the lot.

“I’m sorry.”

I caress her cheek briefly, an apology in my eyes.

Baby.

I was always the one who asked to dance in the lot.

She always said yes, but I still feel responsible.

Her eyes soften.

Those brown orbs drifts to my hand settled on the leather seat between us.

A smile.

She contemplates for a second before reaching out.

Her fingers walk in my hand.

“It’s worth it.”

My throat closes.

Skin tingles.

Chest hammers.

I dare not move my hand.

In fear of breaking her trance.

“I still have to get it towed tomorrow, though.”

We explode in fits of giggles again.

***

Chapter Text

Next day, nothing on my phone.

But I can still smell her on my clothes.

I’m always hoping that things would change.

But we go right back to her games.

Nicole suddenly stops contacting me again.

Considering we’re practically inseparable now, this pisses me off.

She can’t just disappear on me all the time.

Make me feel good, and then leave.

I’m just… so tired.

Summer break is coming in a few days.

And she chooses this time to disappear.

***

“Baby girl.”

It’s the last day of school, and Dad is driving me.

I try to hide the fact that I’m looking forward to passing by the tunnel.

So I look at him instead.

“Yes, Dad?”

He’s focused on the road.

“The company is going to host a family day in Ontario.

They decided to do it during summer break so that we can bring our kids.

After that, we’re thinking about us staying with your grandparents in Ottawa for a couple of weeks.

A family reunion for all of us, of some sort.

Would you like that?”

We’re fast approaching the tunnel.

I can’t help it.

I steal a glance.

It’s empty.

I don’t even have to think.

“Sure, Dad.”

I smile at him.

“That would be nice.”

***

The nights in Ottawa are long.

The days I spend daydreaming.

I ran away and I’m supposed to be giving my heart a holiday,

But all I can think about is her.

Nicole Haught.

Especially when I come out to the front porch

Where my grandmother is always sitting.

She’s a heavy smoker, and it’s her favorite spot.

She smokes as she watches people pass by the street.

I think she may even be counting the cars.

Some days I come out and sit with her.

A strawberry candy is always in my mouth.

That way, I feel like I’m sitting with Nicole.

I might be going insane.

Is what I think during those days.

But I do it anyway.

***

There’s something fascinating about fires.

Small fires.

When it makes contact with the end of a cigarette,

I like how it slowly seeps up the stick, leaving a glowing trail,

And then ashes behind.

Medium fires are nice to watch.

It undulates with the wind, as if making love with it.

It flickers, and then brightens again.

If I let go of the lighter’s fork just a little bit,

The gas stops seeping out and the fire die.

“You’re going to consume all my lighter fluid, girl.”

I drop grandma’s metal lighter in surprise.

I totally forgot she’s sitting next to me.

“I’m sorry, grandma.”

I pick it up from my lap and offer it back to her.

She pushes it back to my hand.

“It’s okay.”

She pushes her feet a little bit, making the swing bench move.

We rock softly with the wind for a silent minute.

“Is there something bothering you, child?”

Her voice is hoarse from all the years of smoking.

If I listen just a little harder, I think I can hear Nicole’s gruff when grandma talks.

“Oh, it’s nothing.”

I pick at the dark spot the flint roller has left on my thumb.

I’ve turned the lighter on and off enough times for it to leave a mark.

“Are your cousins giving you a hard time?”

My aunt Jessie came over today, along with my two cousins.

Her and my dad spent hours catching up.

They haven’t seen each other in years.

“No, grandma. They are really nice men.”

Justin and Jericho are really that: nice.

We played Settlers of Catan for hours.

Even if we haven’t talked in years either, we immediately clicked together.

Justin and I are the same age, Jericho just a year younger.

But we got along fine and I actually had fun.

It’s just that… it’s nearing the end of summer break.

And I miss Nicole.

“What is it then? You seem… gloomy.”

Grandma inhales from her cigarette.

I softly click my back teeth against the strawberry candy in my mouth.

I don’t want to crack it.

It will dissolve faster when it’s cracked to pieces.

And I don’t want that.

For a second I thought about telling grandma the truth.

Just pour my heart out there into the air.

Maybe if I let it all out, it will take a physical body.

Come out of my grandmother’s cigarette smoke.

A body of a woman in black ripped jeans and white shirt.

Red hair and soft gossamer eyes in summer.

But I don’t think it’s a good idea, so I white lies.

“I just… I just miss my friends back home.”

She gives me a side eye as she exhales the smoke away from me.

And I’m reminded,

Nicole always did the same thing.

The smell of it combined with the candy in my mouth made my heart ache even more.

I rested my head on her shoulder.

The thin scarf on her shoulders feels soft against my right cheek.

“Is it a boy?”

See, the thing about mothers and grandmothers is that they know things.

They aren’t Jon Snow.

They are Tyrion Lannister.

They take one look at their children and they know things.

So undoubtedly she sees through my white lie.

I blush.

“It’s not a boy, grandma.”

The metal of the lighter is cold in my palms.

Funny how such a cold container contains a hot flame.

“Is it a girl, then?”

My head snaps back up and the candy slips down my throat when I inhaled sharply.

I try coughing it out.

I can’t breathe.

The candy goes all the way down anyway.

I can feel its lump in my chest as I continue coughing.

When I recover, I stare wide-eyed at this strong woman who is a splitting image of my father.

The curve of her eyebrows does the same thing Dad’s does.

When he’s genuinely curious, his right eyebrow raise just a little bit.

Grandma’s eyebrow looks exactly like that right now.

“I-I’m not… it’s not-”

“Thought so.”

She looks away with a triumphant smile on her face.

It only disappears when she puffs another hit.

“It’s okay if you like a girl, Waverly.”

I’m dumbfounded.

She shrugs as if everything is okay.

And I’m not okay.

She just outed me!

“It’s normal.”

“Grandma, I-”

I try coming up with something.

Anything.

She just looks at me with a glint in her eyes.

I can feel her challenging me.

Eventually, I sigh in defeat.

“This is not how I wanted to come out.”

“Oh, hush, girl. In this house, no one needs to come out.

Liking who you like shouldn’t be a big deal.

I taught your father that.”

My heart on my throat eases down but the candy’s ghost remains.

I put my head back to her shoulder.

“Thank you, grandma.”

“So this girl…”

She prompts and I immediately smiles.

“Nicole.”

“Nicole, is she good to you?”

I nod silently.

“Well, that’s great then.”

She throws the cigarette butt away on her front lawn where flowers could have grown beautifully.

Instead, there are hundreds of cigarette butts there.

Patches of weeds scattered about.

“You’ll bring her here for me to meet?”

I stroke her arm.

“I mean, if you want to.”

She slaps my right thigh.

“Of course I want to!”

I giggle.

The last of her smokes starts dissipating.

But she doesn’t light another.

She didn’t light… another.

I straighten in my seat again.

Nicole… hadn’t lighted a cigarette in front of me in a long while.

How could I have missed it?

Her car is still littered with cigarette packets, lighters, and candies as per usual.

Maybe that’s why I’ve always assumed she’s still smoking.

When in fact… she hasn’t been in a while.

***

Chapter Text

This feels like a déjà vu.

Only this time I’m more pissed than before.

I even refuse to come down the car.

The whole drive to the abandoned parking lot was quiet.

For once, Nicole didn’t play any song.

She must be aware of just how much damage she’s done this time.

“Waverly, please look at me.”

She pleads, but I cross my arms tighter to my chest.

I don’t feel obligated to reply to her right now.

Okay, maybe I freaked out a little when she showed up in front of my house.

We’ve known each other for around a year now,

And she’s never visited.

She always says she’s not presentable enough for my parents.

But today she actually went and picked me up.

I haven’t even unpacked my suitcases yet ‘cause we just got back,

And there she was, pressing the doorbell.

She traded her usual black ripped jeans for light blue jeans.

For once I can’t see her knees.

Her white v-neck shirt is still tucked in at the front.

She’s not wearing a jacket, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen her wear white sneakers.

She looks… different.

She must have put an effort into looking presentable for my parents.

Mom answered the door

And I know I’m going to have to tell them something when I get back,

Because she shot me a soft questioning look when I came down from my bedroom.

I appreciate Nicole’s effort here, of course.

Which is why when she asked if I’ll come with her,

I said yes, albeit hesitantly.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s just how far my obligation to her goes.

So I don’t reply.

“Waves, please?”

Nicole tugs at my sleeve and I snap.

“What am I to you, Nicole?”

She falls quiet, and I’m not able to stop my mouth anymore.

My hands start chopping air.

I’m just so, so frustrated.

“One second you make me feel special,

The next second you leave me hanging.

You disappear for days.

I’m always worried!

This time you’re gone for weeks.

Weeks, Nicole!

And you expect that I’d just welcome you back?”

She’s quiet for a few minutes.

Obviously digesting what I just said.

I stare back out the window of the passenger’s seat.

The place really is less scary in the afternoon light.

Although the sky is a little gloomy.

“I know I don’t have the rights to ask you for anything.”

From the corner of my eye, I can see her rub her nape.

“But will you dance with me?”

I hold on to the parts of my body that wants to say yes.

And that means every single inch.

Nicole sighs and then boards off the car, leaving the keys on the ignition.

For a second I think she just wants some air.

But no, she goes around and then opens the door on my side.

She kneels on the side of the car and I can’t look at her eyes.

I know they’re sad and I don’t want to give in.

“Please, Waverly?”

Her hand hangs in the air, waiting for me to take it.

“I promise this is the last time.

If you won’t have me anymore after.”

I know she won’t force to take my own.

Because Nicole Haught waits.

She enjoys the wait, loves it even.

She thrives on the pain it causes, and uses that as a leverage to push herself forward.

So I make her wait.

Just a little bit more.

To test her willingness to do this.

“Waves?”

The last time,

I think.

This will be the last time, so I give in.

Give her a chance to explain.

I stand up but don’t take her hand.

I wait for her in front of the car.

She sighs and puts both hands on my waist when she catches up.

A little hesitantly.

Like she’s poking a bear.

“Is this okay?”

She’s so patient with me, but I still don’t answer.

I keep my arms crossed.

It’s just pride at this point.

Because I am…

I am fucking soft when it comes to her.

“I guess that’s a yes.”

She starts swaying without music.

Slow and tentative.

It’s ridiculous.

But maybe it’s a little… romantic.

“These previous weeks, I was preparing.

I filled up all my applications,

Collected all my requirements,

And passed them all to every Police Academy I could find within the city.

There weren’t a lot, and I’m not exactly the perfect candidate,

As you can see.”

She chuckles.

“But I, uh, I heard back from one.

And by the start of your school year, I would start training too.”

I finally tear my eyes away from the dark patch of cloud in the sky.

Her expression screams shy.

Like she didn’t expect this at all to happen.

Of course I know better.

She deserves everything nice in the world.

Because Nicole Haught is like a lighter.

A cold vessel containing a hot flame.

“Police Academy? B-but you don’t say anything…

About it, ever.”

A shake of her red head.

“No, I don’t.

I guess I just, uh, don’t wanna jinx it?”

A shrug of a white-clad shoulder.

“And I didn’t wanna tell you in case it doesn’t work out and disappoint you.”

It’s my turn to shake my head.

“Why would my disappointment matter, Nicole?”

She chuckles, raising both perfectly-arched eyebrows.

“Because you’re my only friend?”

I stop following her sways right then.

I won’t lie.

I kind of held on to a hope that she looks at me as more than that.

Fuck, my heart hurts.

“No, hey.”

She steels me.

And rightly so, because I want to bolt.

“Listen, you’re my only friend, Waverly.”

She tries to catch my eyes and I let her.

“And aside from that, you are…”

She struggles to get the word out.

Like that first time she wanted me to get into her car.

A lick of her lips.

Her hands tighten on my waist a little bit.

Maybe she needs a grounding source too.

She breathes deep and tells herself,

“Fuck. I can’t do this.”

Her eyelids fall for a second as she sighs.

When she opens them again, they are filled with motivation.

A purpose.

My knees shake at the intensity of her stares.

“Waverly, you are…

You make me wanna be better.

Last year I didn’t know what I wanna do with my life.”

I don’t know her life story before we met.

Mostly because she never seems like she wants to talk about it.

And I didn’t want to pry into whatever it is that she doesn’t want to tell me.

“I ran away from neglecting parents.

The only good thing they ever gave me is this damned car.

They gave it to me and I used it to run away from them.

Maybe they gave it to me for that exact purpose, I don’t know.

But they sure as hell didn’t try looking for me.

Because they should have found me by now.

So I decided to make a life of my own.

I was from two towns over when I ran into this town and never left again.

Because one of those days, I was just at the tunnel.

I was lost.

I didn’t know where else to go.

I lived in my car and I wanted to turn my life around.

But I didn’t know how.”

She falls quiet for a while.

I couldn’t breathe.

She’s pouring all these information and I can feel its weight

Like how it’s weighing her down all these time.

But I accept it.

I accept them all.

“And then you passed by and I just…”

A lick of her lips.

Eyes misting as they hold mine.

“I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.”

She’s breathing hard by the end of it.

Like she ran miles.

Like it took her physical strength to let it all out.

So I hug her.

The tips of my toes the only thing holding me to the ground as I tiptoe to reach her.

I pull her shoulders to me because she’s so brave.

I know it’s not easy at all to talk about what she just talked about.

But she did it.

For me.

“I’m sorry for always disappearing, Waverly.

I’m working really hard to find a way to stay.

And now I’m not going anywhere.”

I let a beat pass before stepping away.

“Except Police Academy.”

She chuckles.

“Yes, except that.

But that’s just a couple of months.

I’ll be back before your graduation, Ms. Valedictorian.”

I smile back at her.

I can’t really still be mad at her after all that, can I?

Plus, I just can’t really get mad at her for a long time.

“Hm, I guess I’ll see you in May then, Officer Haught.”

“Hopefully. If I don’t get thrown out early for fucking up.”

I can see the nervousness in her body even if she’s laughing.

“You won’t, Nicole.”

I hug her again.

Longer and tighter this time.

“I’m proud of you.”

Her arms snake around my torso,

Cutting off my air circulation just a little bit,

And I can’t think of anything else that feels better than that.

“But disappearing was still a dick move.”

I slap her chest when I pull back again.

“Ow!”

She rubs at her chest.

“I’m sorry.

I just wanted to be better for you, Waverly.”

“Stupid.”

I punch her shoulder this time.

But soothed the sting down with a caress anyway.

Whispers,

“I liked you whatever the hell you are. You didn’t have to change.”

“What’s that?”

“I said, you didn’t have to change. You already are pretty good.”

She chuckles as if I said something funny.

“How can you say that? You hated my smoking.”

She actually has the nerve to tease.

I slap her shoulder again.

“I don’t.”

“You do. I can see it in your face every time you smell it.

You were just too nice to say anything.”

I sigh and give up.

“Fine. I do hate it.”

“Which is why I stopped.”

That reminds me.

I’ve realized over the vacation that she hasn’t been smoking in a while.

“You stopped… because of me?”

She shrugs like it’s no big deal.

When I know how hard it is to stop a habit.

I know, because we’ve learned all about it in one course for a semester.

“Yeah. But if you hated it, why do you still believe I’m good?”

I sigh.

“Can’t you see it, Nicole?

Because of this.

You stopped smoking for me.

You say sorry when you know it’s your fault.

You let me do what I want.

You don’t force me to do anything.

And, you called me a woman when I thought I was just—and still is—a girl.”

“You are a woman of your own, Waverly.

And everything I gave you and let you do, you deserve them.

You even deserve more.”

She falls quiet but I know there’s still something she wants to say.

She just stares at my eyes as she recomposes.

Hands tightening on my waist.

I can almost see the emotions running behind her eyes.

Doubt. Fear. And then hope.

And finally—strength.

When she talks again, her voice is quiet.

Rough around the edges.

“You’re too good, Waverly.

And I figured I have to turn my life around if I want to deserve you.”

My heart drums in my chest.

“Deserve… me?”

Her grip on my shirt tightens even more.

“You know I’m not much of a talker.

Unfortunately, especially when it matters.

And I’ve already said a lot right now, so…”

She removes one hand and fishes something out of her back pocket.

She scrolls through her phone and before I know it,

A beat is starting to stream out of her car speakers.

“Can we just listen to the song?”

She pockets it back and returns her hand on my waist.

Her soft gossamer eyes look up at me under her long lashes.

“Even better if we dance?”

I’m pretty sure my heart just moved up my throat at this point.

Although I know that’s biologically impossible.

Because I can’t breathe.

I just nod.

And she pulls me closer to her body.

Chests connecting.

I’m afraid she can feel my heart hammering against hers.

Especially when she tightens her arms around me.

                Why am I mad, I don’t get it,

                It seems like every time you give me signs, and I miss it

                I did it again

                I admit it

                I left you standing there, and now I regret it.

I realize I know this song.

And the hairs on my arms stand up when it finally dawns on me.

“This song…”

She smiles and I swear her eyes are glowing.

“Yes, Waverly.

I want to deserve you because…

I really, really, like you so much.”

I can see a tinge of nervousness on the edges of her smile.

Maybe even fear.

                Seems like every time I get the chance

                I lose my cool and I blow it

                And I get all tongue tied

                Lost in your eyes

                I’m a fool and I know it

“You do?”

My voice is small and unsure.

I’ve wanted her for so long.

But now she’s here.

She’s finally here.

And my heart is beating right out of my ribcage.

“I do, Waverly.”

Spits between gritted jaws,

“So damn much.”

                I should’ve kissed you

                I should’ve told you

                Told you just how I feel

                And next time I won’t stop

                I’ll listen to my heart

                ‘Cause what I feel is real

Now I’m very sure I just died and went to heaven.

Nicole Haught.

Nicole freaking Haught likes me?

My knees buckle.

She must feel it too,

Because her arms tighten around my waist.

                I should’ve kissed you

                I should’ve told you how I feel

                I should’ve kissed you

                I should’ve showed you how I feel

“I really, really, like you too, Nicole.

For the longest time.”

Her smile brightens even more.

If it’s even still possible.

But it really does.

Even the gloomy sky is overpowered.

“Yeah?”

No I did not

                Give you my two cents

                A million reasons why I should have

                And it makes no sense

                So here I am by myself again

                Stopping for green lights and I know

                I wanna be more than friends

 “Yes, Nicole.”

I pull her even closer still until my chin is resting on her shoulder.

And then suddenly, it hits me.

I pull back only far enough to see her face.

“Chrissy knew all this time, didn’t she?

That you like me?”

She laughs, both dimples blooming.

“Yes.”

“That’s how you convinced her not to tell me you got my number from her.”

“Yes.”

“Which means, even as far back as then…”

Her brown eyes soften.

“Yes, Waverly.

As far back as then.”

She pulls me closer and whispers against the shell of my ear,

“Even farther than that.”

                How come every time I get the chance,

                I lose my control and I blow it

                And I get all tongue tied, lost in your eyes

                I’m a fool and I know it, hey

“Back at the tunnel…”

“The first second I laid my eyes on you.”

My brain stops functioning and all I could say is,

“Oh.”

“I’m sorry I kept it from you all these time.

I just wanted a perfect time to tell you.

When everything is right.

When I actually deserve you.”

                I should’ve kissed you

                I should’ve told you

                Told you just how I feel

                And next time I won’t stop

                I’ll listen to my heart

                ‘Cause what I feel is real

“I’ve wanted you for just as long, Nicole.

And it wouldn’t have mattered if everything else is shit.

I want you anyway.”

She pulls away this time to scrutinize the emotions in my face.

She must see the truth,

Because I feel,

More than see,

Her heart lurch into her throat.

The small dip on her neck bobbles as she gasps.

Her eyes mist at the edges as she whispers,

“I really want to kiss you right now.

I mean, if you’ll allow me?

If that’s something you want too?”

                I should’ve kissed you

                I should’ve told you how I feel

I can’t believe she has the audacity to wonder if it’s something I want too.

Couldn’t she tell that I‘ve never wanted more in my life than that?

So when Chris Brown croons,

                I should’ve kissed you

                I should’ve showed you how I feel

I tell her,

“Kiss me, Nicole Haught.”

And she does.

Our bodies connects at our whole length

And breathes

And undulates

Like the fire to the air.

The weight of her soft lips against mine is just right.

Perfect, even.

Like we were meant to be here, connected.

All these years, this is where we’re headed.

And I feel my soul leave my body.

I am flooded still by the light smell of strawberries and cigarettes.

It’s very faint now,

Like something my mind just conjured up,

But it’s there.

And I am intoxicated.

So I pull at her collars even tighter and take in her scent as she does mine.

                So I turned the car around

                And you were right where I left you

                And your smile said you were feeling me too

                And the moon shone bright ‘caue when your lips met mine

                And yeah I finally got it right

                I’ll be leaving with you tonight

                And I won’t have to say

I can’t help but feel like the past moments of our lives just worked us up to this point.

This is what everything else was getting to.

The universe connived with whatever force it can to bring us here.

Bring Nicole to me,

And then finally, I to her.

She arrived at the tunnel first and waited there for me.

Even if she didn’t know yet what she was waiting for.

In fact, all she’s ever done all these months is wait for me.

She waited.

For me.

At the tunnel.

At the parking lot that first night we danced and I wanted to kiss her.

She waited because she knew it wouldn’t be right.

That day I couldn’t go to class because I was sick.

That night I realized I’m in love with her.

She waited.

Because she already was.

And she wants me to return the same on my own accord.

While also letting everything else falls into place.

Nicole Haught is the master of waiting.

And she’s right, again.

Because fate makes it worth the wait.

                I should’ve kissed you

                I should’ve told you

                Told you just how I feel

                And next time I won’t stop

                I’ll listen to my heart

                ‘Cause what I feel is real

All of a sudden, the dark patch of cloud catches up to us

And before we know it, thick droplets of rain are falling on us.

It seems the seasons are supporting us too.

As I met Nicole in fall,

Realized I’m in love with her in winter,

And now here, right at the edge of summer, it rains.

The sky is blessing us.

“Oh!”

Nicole pulls away when she realizes it’s raining.

A smile is on her lips as she looks up at the sky,

As is on mine.

I laugh.

“We should probably get inside the car.”

Before I could untangle myself from her,

Her arms tighten around me.

I shoot her a questioning look.

She shakes her head in response.

And just stares.

Smiles.

And stares.

And then stares some more.

I can feel the promise from those eyes like the wave of raindrops.

“Waverly Earp.”

I’m pretty sure my hair is sticking to my face now and is wet and unattractive.

But she pushes them behind my ears and I forget all about it.

“Even when it’s raining you shine.”

And then she is kissing me again.

I feel like I am lost but also found.

Her scent and taste may be gone in the days that comes,

But strawberries and cigarettes will always taste like her.

***

 FIN