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The Black Turtleneck

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Nicole woke up for the third time that week to Jeremy doing jazzercise in the next room over. She threw a pillow over her ears, trying to ignore the way the light filled the room through the very thin and poorly hung curtains, enviously eyeing Waverly and her ability to sleep through anything. And she guessed she technically had an apartment across town she could sleep at even though she was on night #126 at Casa Earp and Chetri, but despite her actual apartment being soundless (Dolls was so quiet Nicole swore sometimes he didn’t even make footsteps, just hovering above the ground) and having an actual bedframe rather than a mattress on the floor (the landlord had yet to deliver on his promise of a bedframe despite Waverly and Jeremy living there for more than two years) Nicole didn’t like to think about a night in her bed alone, so she would (for now) put up with the 80s pop songs and the rather too perky instructors voice wafting from the TV; And now! High knees!

She sighed, feeling her back crack, reaching for her phone. 7 am. She had to get up for work soon anyway. She had graduated into a real cop, with a real uniform that Waverly had a little too much appreciation for. She rolled out of bed, taking a moment to look at Waverly asleep, her hair spilling across the pillow. She’d been so stressed, her masters required her to research seemingly from dawn to dusk (though she’d always been overly thorough), and it seemed she was finally able to get a moment’s rest, Nicole wasn’t going to break it, she was sure as soon as she was back awake it would be back to the books. She’d even started taking ancient Greek lessons on the side because she didn’t trust anybody else to translate the texts, Nicole didn’t think dedicated even really began to cover it.

She made her way downstairs, throwing an old t-shirt on over her underwear and slipping Waverly’s old bunny slippers onto her feet (don’t let anybody tell you she didn’t know about fashion.) Jeremy greeted her with an overly enthusiastic hello considering the time of morning, still in his workout gear, a bowl of muesli in his hand.

“What are you so chipper for?” she said, picking the milk out of the fridge and drinking it straight from the bottle, ignoring Jeremy’s judgemental look and moving to put the kettle on,

“Just having a great day!” he said, finishing his cereal and moving to grab an apple from the fruit bowl.

He’d really made a turn around in the last couple of weeks, everybody knew he was more of a butter croissant (with extra butter) and a black coffee kind of guy, but recently he’d started eating fruit? And muesli? And smoothies? Practically unheard of for a student. Nicole wrinkled her nose, pouring slightly more coffee granules into the bottom of her (unicorn) mug than were strictly required.

“It’s only seven in the morning,” Nicole groaned. Nicole was more of a I-don’t-function-before-my-second-cup-of-coffee kind of girl.

“The day starts when you start it!” Jeremy said earnestly, taking a bite of his apple, and earning a scowl from Nicole. He grinned, throwing his bag on his shoulder and leaving out the back door.

Nicole narrowed her eyes. Something was definitely going on with him.

~

“Do you think Jeremy’s changed recently?” Nicole said to Waverly whilst marathoning old episodes of queer eye.

“Huh?” Waverly said, not taking her eyes off the screen where Tan was again suggesting another buttoned-up shirt, Waverly nodding with a noise of approval. You just can’t go wrong with a buttoned-up shirt?

“Jeremy, what’s going on with him?” Nicole said,

“I don’t what you mean,”

“He’s started exercising, eating healthy, he’s so happy all the time,”

Waverly tore her eyes away from the screen raising her eyebrows at Nicole,

“And that’s a problem why?”

“It’s not a problem I just wonder what caused it,”

“I think you’re just jealous,” Waverly grinned, queer eye still running forgotten in the background,

“Why?” Nicole raised her eyebrows, sitting up a little bit more.

“You’ve gotten lazy since you became a cop, no more mandatory training, I heard you get out of breath at the library the other day,” Waverly chastised, smirking, teasing her.

“That was ten flights of stairs!”

“Still,” Waverly said moving closer as if she were challenging Nicole, their lips almost meeting before Nicole flipped her, all thoughts of Jeremy and his annoying aerobics habits forgotten.

~

Nicole had all but forgotten about Jeremy’s somewhat odd behaviour by the next time she saw him. She’d had a tough week at work and Nedley had been hounding her for some paperwork she hadn’t turned in, leading to yet another late night at the office. Somebody in the office (Lonnie) had brought back a rather annoying cuckoo clock from his holiday and so now every hour Nicole heard annoying chirping and had to stop herself from taking a hammer to the damn thing. It was a not a calm work environment. Suffice to say by the time she got home she was ready to flop down on the sofa and watch something mindless, and, making eye contact with Waverly staring hopelessly at the laptop in front of her on the kitchen table as if just looking at it might make the words jump from her brain onto the page in front of her, she could tell she needed exactly the same. Which is why when Jeremy bounded down the stairs, all bright-eyed and bushy tailed Nicole’s cop senses started tingling. Jeremy was also doing a masters, in quantitative analysis no less, he had no business being this awake.

He span on his heel when he saw them, pulling his coat tighter around himself. He was trying to sneak out the back door at 9pm on a Friday night. He was more than definitely up to something.

The pair of them span around, raising their eyebrows at him like parents cornering their child.

“Where are we going?” Nicole said in a sing-song voice, as Jeremy blinked like a rabbit in headlights,

“Out,” he mumbled.

“Out where?”

“A friend of mine is having a party,”

“Which friend?” Waverly said,

“I’m allowed to have other friends,” he rolled his eyes, “goodnight mums,” he said, and with a small salute the door was shut.

“He’s up to something,” Nicole said pointedly, removing her police issue cap, and running a hand through her hair as she leaned against one of the (nearly broken) dining chairs,

“You’re too harsh on him,” Waverly said with a soft smirk, moving to grab a (very cheap) bottle of wine from the fridge, “film night?” she said, and Nicole had to concede, taking all of five minutes to get into ridiculously fluffy pyjamas that Waverly had convinced her to get (and that she would never admit she actually loved).

~

Jeremy skipping out on the bake off final, was maybe the last straw for Nicole.

All their friends were gathered in the living room, bottles of liquor lining the coffee table, a distinct lack of chairs. Chrissy was already trying to set up the rules, each year they got more ridiculous than the last, drink every time someone looks at their oven, drink every time Paul gives out a handshake. Even Dolls was partaking in the fun. Everybody was a fan of Mary Berry, she brought people together. Chrissy was already several drinks deep although Nicole blamed this on nerves, she was introducing Perry to them for the first time, and Nicole remembered what an intimidating group they could seem at first.

“You’re not joining us?” Nicole said, having slipped into the kitchen to grab another beer from the fridge (they were mostly lukewarm as she’d put them in too late.)

“Umm I have a thing,”

Jeremy,” Nicole stressed,

“I have a work interview, okay!” he said.

“It’s 7 at night!”

“It’s for a quirky firm, you know the kind, they don’t stick to the rules,”

“there are no ‘quirky’ companies in statistical analysis’, Nicole said, placing her hands on her hips and looking Jeremy up and down, “ah-hah!” she said, as if she were a detective on a case who had just found a vital clue, “that’s your date turtleneck! You have a date!”

“This is just a regular black turtleneck!”

“No, that’s your date outfit!” she said, her eyes sparkling now as Waverly wandered in, attracted by the ruckus going on in the kitchen,

“Jeremy’s got a date,” Nicole said, swinging around to face her, her eyes bright,

“I have not!” he said, his cheeks now bright red,

“Leave the poor guy alone,” Waverly said, placing half a chocolate muffin into Nicole’s mouth,

“Goodbye,” Jeremy said, shutting the door behind him,

“Have fun on your date!” Waverly said, dragging Nicole back into the living room. Jeremy only shook his head.

~

Jeremy still hadn’t come home by the time the last dregs of people were disappearing from their house, after their neighbour had knocked very loudly, complaining about all the noise, Chrissy now needing to be propped up by Perry, her speech slurring and range still simmering that Candice had won bake off over Andrew, angrily throwing a sausage roll at the television. Soon all that was left was Nicole and Waverly standing in the ruins they had created, their living room littered with empty bottles and rogue sausage rolls and cupcakes adorning the floor, a rather dubious looking stain underneath their bean bag. How five people could make that much mess Waverly would never know. They shared a look, mutually agreeing to clean it up in the morning, despite how much their morning selves would hate them, their night selves were pleased with the decision.

They fell into the bed, Waverly more than a little tipsy and struggling to get her dress over her head, it got stuck around her shoulders, and as she flailed about, Nicole was no help at all, in stitches laughing on the other side of the mattress before finally pulling it off her head, revealing a grumpy faced Waverly.

“I hate you,”

“You don’t really,”

“I do,”

“You’re sure?” Nicole said, leaning towards Waverly and pressing her lips against Waverly’s, grinning and springing away as soon as she heard the door open downstairs.

“He’s back,” Nicole whispered,

Waverly rolled her eyes, “Oh my god you’re obsessed, is life as a rookie flatfoot really that boring?”

“ssh,” Nicole said, placing her ear against Waverly’s bedroom door, “I think I can hear two voices,”

“I’m right here,” Waverly said, sitting up on the bed, now in just her underwear,

“Definitely two voices,” Nicole whispered again as Waverly folded her arms, Nicole leaned down trying to peep through the lock in the door, “they’re coming up the stairs,”

“you’re way too obsessed,” Waverly said, pulling the duvet on,

“No,” Nicole grinned, “I was right,”

“Right now come here before we have to listen to sex noises from next door,” Waverly rolled her eyes, gesturing for Nicole to come lie next to her,

“I was right,”

“And you’re cocky,”

“And you love it,”

“Maybe,”

~

“What are you doing?” Waverly said groggily, barely awake and walking a fine line between facing the day and being dragged back under. Nicole was tapping furiously at her phone, the noise and movement waking her up.

“He had blonde hair,”

“What?” Waverly said, wondering if this was the day Nicole had finally lost it, she moved to lean against Nicole’s shoulder, watching her scroll through Jeremy’s Instagram followers.

“Are you stalking that guy who was here last night?”

“Insta stalking isn’t real stalking,” she said without looking up, “I know these things I’m a cop,”

“You’re also crazy,”

“Ah bingo,” she said, landing on a profile.

“Robin,” Waverly read from the page. His picture showed him in a woollen hat in the middle of the forest and from his pictures he appeared to be some kind of park ranger.

“This explains it,” Nicole whispered to herself,

“What?” Waverly said tentatively almost too afraid to ask,

“He had a book on his bedside table, ‘American Canopy: Trees, Forests and the making of a nation.”

“Do I even want to know how you know that?”

“I just saw it from the landing,”

Waverly raised her eyebrows,

“I promise!”

“Listen I know you miss some of the more detective elements of the police academy-“

“That’s not true,”

“But you always knew you’d have to put some time in as a flatfoot, get some experience,”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,”

“This Jeremy thing, you’re trying to solve it like it’s a mystery,”

“It’s just interesting to me,”

“Uh-huh,”

They heard a stir next door, and a single pair of feet walking downstairs. Nicole moved to sit up on the mattress, placing her feet into Waverly’s slippers.

Waverly raised her eyebrows,

“What? I was just getting hungry,”

“Sure,” Waverly shook her head and smiled as Nicole passed her her dressing gown, “am I ever going to get my slippers back?” she said, slipping her hand into Nicole’s.

“Probably not, no.” she grinned back at Waverly, “they’ve been permanently acquired for police inspection,”

“Uh-huh, and your inspection requires you to wear them every morning?”

“You bet.”

~

Nicole practically ambushed Jeremy when he was sitting alone eating Kale (this was a clear sign he was possessed).

“Is this him?” she said, sticking the phone in his face,

“I apologise,” Waverly said, grabbing the milk and swigging it directly from the bottle as she watched the scene unfold in front of her.

“How did you even find that?”

“Some impressive Instagram stalking,” Waverly rolled her eyes, moving to grab the bread from the freezer and sticking it in the toaster, it jamming several times before eventually starting up.

“It’s not real stalking!” Nicole said, still waiting impatiently for her answer,

“Whatever you say,”

“Yes that’s him,” Jeremy sighed in defeat, taking another mouthful of his kale (how anybody could eat the stuff – let alone on its own – was beyond Nicole.)

“When can we meet him?” Waverly said, spreading jam on her toast and sitting down opposite Jeremy at the table,

“Not yet,” he grinned, “but it’s nice to see you slowly turn insane, Haught,”

“Admit you’re impressed,” she grinned, flicking the kettle on,

“Mildly,” Jeremy smiled, placing his dirty dishes in the sink with an intent to wash them at some point in the next few days, “now if you excuse me I have to go to yoga,”

“Ugh,” Nicole said, “he’s already changed you,”

“Whatever,” Jeremy said, shutting the door behind him as Nicole made herself a coffee and a peppermint tea for Waverly, placing it in front of her, a big grin plastered across her face,

“Are you proud of me?”

Waverly rolled her eyes, “Sure,” she glanced to the clock, “but now, I have to spend all day studying the same text and hoping it’ll tell me something different,”

“Come on let me take you somewhere,”

“Nicole,”

“Please,” Nicole flashed her best pleading eyes and Waverly melted a little,

“I really have to do this,”

“You can do it tomorrow; besides we can go to that roman baths you’re always talking about,” Nicole wriggled her eyebrows, she knew how to lay an irresistible offer on the table.

“The one with the original stone work?”

“That very one,” Nicole said and Waverly jumped up to place a kiss on her cheek,

“You do know how to make a girl swoon,”

~

A week later Robin was stood in their kitchen, adjusting his tie like a nervous twitch and Nicole was eyeing him up like a defensive father. Nicole had become very protective over Jeremy – and all of them really, and she was certainly less trusting than Waverly; Robin had arrived bearing vegan cupcakes and thus he’d already scored points with her. It would take a little more than non-dairy really delicious cupcakes to win Nicole over (although it certainly did help.)

Jeremy was busy trying to cook a meal and Robin had been left in the living room, on a sofa facing Waverly and Nicole like a very awkward meet-the-parents situation. He shifted in his seat and Waverly offered him a small smile.

“So what do you do for a living?” he asked Nicole,

“I’m a cop,” Nicole said bluntly, “so don’t get any ideas,”

“She’s joking,” Waverly said, and Robin nervously laughed,

“Kind of, she could totally take you,” Jeremy shouted from the other room,

“Oh it wouldn’t be that difficult,” Robin laughed, “I’m not in the best shape,”

“I thought you were a park ranger?” Nicole said, taking a deliberate sip of her beer,

“I am,” he laughed, somewhat nervously, “the fitness part just doesn’t necessarily agree with me, not like Jeremy here, gym rat that he is,” he laughed and Waverly had to hide her laughter behind her hand, for the last few weeks maybe.

“Jeremy doesn’t do too well with nature,” Waverly smiled,

“Oh really he told me he loves it,” Robin said,

“Oh really he’s horribly allergic to pollen, he gets terrible hay fever every year –“

Jeremy’s eyes widened as he entered the room,

“I think that’s enough of that conversation,” he said hurriedly, “any more drinks? Nicole? No, okay –“ he was interrupted by Robin,

“You have hay fever?” Robin looked up at Jeremy, a slight smirk on his face,

“No!” Jeremy said, shooting daggers at Waverly who shot him an apologetic glance, Nicole attempting to hide her laughter behind Waverly’s shoulder, “Fine, yes I do,”

“Oh god me too,” Robin laughed, looking relieved,

“A park ranger with hay fever?” Nicole said, looking sceptical.

“I’m mostly just doing the park ranger thing as a job to get money to help my dad,” Robin said earnestly, “I’m actually more of an indoors person,” he smiled guiltily,

“Oh god me too,” Jeremy said, sinking into the sofa in relief,

“Really you seemed so outdoorsy? We went on all those hikes…”

“I was pretending for you!” Jeremy laughed as Robin shook his head,

“God we are a pair,” Robin laughed, and Jeremy leaned in, giving him a small kiss,

“Yeah me and Waverly were always picked last for PE at school,” Robin laughed and Waverly’s eyes went wide, feeling Nicole’s eyes trained on her.

“You know Robin?” she said slowly, disbelief coating her voice and Robin’s eyes widened as Jeremy shot him daggers,

“Oh god I’ve really put my foot in it now,” he said, looking like he was starting to wish more and more that he could evaporate into thin air.

“Here why don’t you come help me in the kitchen,” Jeremy said, dragging Robin off to stir a far more literal pot.

“You’ve known this whole time?” Nicole said, her eyebrows raised,

“Maybe,” Waverly squeaked,

“I knew you were being too laid back!” Nicole exclaimed, “I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”

“Jeremy made me promise, he’s my best friend,” Waverly protested,

“I’m your girlfriend,” Nicole countered,

“It was a pinkie promise, Nicole. A pinkie promise,” she emphasised, a grin lighting up her face, flashing her classic you-can’t-stay-mad-at-me eyes. Nicole only shook her head, smiling a little and taking a swig of her beer. “Besides you were so happy doing your detective work, and so cute,” Waverly pouted,

“Flattery won’t get you anywhere,”

“Won’t it?” Waverly tilted her head to one side, practically batting her eyelashes at Nicole,

Fine,” Nicole resigned, “but you’re in trouble,” she joked,

“I can make up for it,”

“You better,” Nicole grinned,

They followed into the kitchen where Jeremy was stirring the meal, Robin leaning against the back wall.

“Sorry for not telling you, Nic, wanted to make sure it was something first,”

“and now it’s something?” she said, smiling,

“and now it’s something,” Jeremy confirmed, smiling across the kitchen at Robin.

“Damn we’re getting out-cuted,” Waverly joked,

“Well if that’s all sorted, let’s get this BGD on the road,” Jeremy exclaimed, moving to put some music on his tinny little speaker that was holding on for dear life, it had definitely seen better days.

“BGD?” Robin asked,

“Big gay dinner,” the three of them said simultaneously, shaking their heads as born this way started playing,

“Do you have to be such a cliché?” Waverly grinned,

“When it’s a good cliché, I do,” Jeremy said,

“You can’t go wrong with some gaga,” Robin added and as Nicole looked at them all laughing, Waverly leaning over Jeremy’s shoulder to make sure he wasn’t burning their only food for the evening, Jeremy trying to shoo her away, she offered a smile to Robin. She could already tell he was going to be a great addition to the family.