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Where the Heart Is

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The call wasn’t unexpected, but it was still disappointing.

“Sheriff? Is that you?”

There was a pause on the other end of the line. “…Waverly?”

“Yes, this is Waverly Earp. Do you need something? Is everything okay?”

She heard Sheriff Nedley’s awkward, uncomfortable cough. She knew him from the bar, where he was a regular. They got along – at least, she liked to think so. “Is your aunt there?”

Waverly’s heart sank. “This is about Wynonna, isn’t it?”

“I’d really rather talk to Gus –”

“Gus isn’t available right now,” Waverly lied. She glanced to the living room, where her aunt was watching TV, and lowered her voice. “Just tell me what happened. Is she okay? What did she do?”

“Nothing too serious, disorderly conduct, mostly. She’s alright, just hungover. She didn’t do too much damage to anything. Honestly, we took her in to make sure she didn’t hurt herself. She needs someone to pick her up.”

“I’m on my way.”

Waverly was undeniably glad to have her big sister back in Purgatory. At the same time, she couldn’t deny that things were sometimes – a little difficult. Over the years that Wynonna had been MIA, Waverly had almost forgotten: this was what it meant to have Wynonna Earp for a sister. Calls from the Sheriff, drunken mistakes, nights in jail cells. And an unexpected toll, one that seemed to affect no one but Waverly. Whenever Wynonna was around, Waverly did her best to be cheerful and excited, to show her how much she was loved, to stop her from running away again, and it was exhausting. She had started feeling less like Waverly Earp and more like an actor wearing a Waverly Earp costume. She tried to do and say Waverly Earp things, but every day she remembered less about what those things actually were.

She didn’t blame Wynonna, though. She didn’t. Her sister had been through a lot, and she understood that.

She tried not to think too much about Wynonna while she drove. Instead, she thought about cats. She wanted to adopt a kitten. Two kittens, maybe. A little black cat and a gray tabby. She would name them Shadow and Winter. They would skitter around the house and hide in the laundry basket and sleep on her bed at night..

The streets of Purgatory breezed by; Waverly lowered the windows and let the wind whip her hair into a frenzy. No Wynonna. No jail. Just cats.

The kitten fantasy was working well, right up until she entered the police station. Then a new set of problems began.

“Good morning, Ms. Earp. Here to collect your sister?”

Waverly forced herself to keep a straight face. For some reason, her chest felt tight. She stared at the ceiling, the floor, the back of her hands – anywhere but Officer Nicole Haught, who had risen from her desk and was walking over. She was surprisingly difficult to avoid, though. Probably because of how tall she was. She was so tall, and weirdly well-dressed on top of that. Waverly saw officers around Purgatory all the time, but she’d never realized how good their uniforms could look until she’d met Haught. Under her hat, her hair was the color of autumn, or bonfires.

“Morning! Yeah, I’m here for Wynonna. Obviously. Why else would I be at the station? I guess if something had happened at Shorty’s. Shorty’s is all good, though. We miss you around there, Officer Haught. It’s been a while since you’ve dropped by. ” Why did her voice sound so weird and high? Why couldn’t she stop talking? What was wrong with her? She cleared her throat and tried again. “Um, is there anything I need to sign, or…?”

“I’ve got all the paperwork right here. And I’ve told you, you can just call me Nicole.”

Waverly finally glanced up. Haught was smiling, so sweetly and brightly that it caught Waverly even more off guard than she already was. The pen Haught offered her slipped from her fingers and clattered to the floor, and Haught bent over to pick it up.

“No! No, you don’t have to do that, I'll get it.”

“It’s no problem.” Haught dropped the pen back into Waverly’s palm. She smelled like vanilla.

Haught showed up at Shorty’s sometimes with Sheriff Nedley. Waverly had caught her boyfriend Champ eying up the officer a few times, and though she didn’t like it, she couldn’t blame him. There was something about Nicole Haught. Waverly had noticed it the moment she’d first met her. Whenever she was in the bar, it was as though she was the only person there, drawing in all the light and air. Maybe it was her job, or her proximity to the sheriff. Or maybe it was her lovely braids of warm, fiery red hair. Waverly was jealous of that hair. She was jealous of the whole package. She dreaded Haught’s visits to Shorty’s, because every time she was around, Waverly couldn’t stop staring at her. She couldn’t stop wondering what it would be like to be that tall, to have a uniform look so good on her. Nicole Haught stood out, but she didn’t seem to mind it; she moved and talked and breathed with an ease that constantly frustrated Waverly. She wanted existing to be as easy for her as Haught made it look.

“This is everything, right?”

“Yep. If you wait here a second, I’ll go get Wynonna for you.”

Once Haught was out of the room, Waverly let out the breath she hadn’t realized she was holding. She rubbed the back of her neck. It was always sore these days. Now that she wasn’t overwhelmed by her desire to be Nicole Haught, she was back to thinking about her sister. She knew exactly how Wynonna was going to show up – bedraggled, bleary-eyed, unresponsive. Waverly would bug her with questions all the way back home, and Wynonna would lean her head against the window and give evasive, increasingly snappy answers. It was the same every time.

Sure enough, there was Wynonna, with a face of smudged eyeliner and a shirt reeking of sweat and beer, glaring at Officer Haught as she tried to guide her to the waiting room. “I know where I’m going, Ginger Spice. This isn’t my first rodeo.” Her expression softened when she saw Waverly. “Oh. Hey, baby girl.”

Waverly hugged her, because that was the Waverly Earp thing to do. She was at it again, transforming into a marionette on invisible strings. Now scold her, Waverly. Now tell her to stop ignoring you, Waverly. Now let her keep ignoring you. Now ask her what she was doing last night. Now sigh when she won’t answer. Now drive. Keep driving. You can be annoyed, but you can’t be angry. That’s not the Waverly Earp way. If you’re not positive, if you’re not understanding, who will be?

She pulled up to the homestead. “I didn’t tell Gus where I was picking you up from. She doesn’t need to know, right? It’s only going to worry her –”

“She’s already guessed anyway.” Wynonna was out the door before Waverly had fully parked. “God, I’m so tired. I’m going to take a nap. You guys don’t need anything from me right now, do you?”

It’s already such a small fractured family, Waverly. There are so few of you left. Breathe and smile. “No, not right now. Get some rest.”

She was tired too. But she’d promised to come into Shorty’s early for inventory. She watched Wynonna tramp to the front door and rattle the door knob. She’d almost definitely misplaced her keys. Waverly had her own set on her. She hesitated for a moment, wondering if she should get out and help, then decided against it. She wasn’t being petty. She just didn’t want to be late for work. That was all. Really.

Now rub your eyes, Waverly. Now adjust the rear view mirror. Smile at your reflection. Pull a face. Imagine how much better this might be if you were tall and well-dressed and had hair the color of autumn or bonfires. Get annoyed that you’re still thinking about that. Just annoyed, not angry. You can’t do anger. That’s not the Waverly Earp way.