Waverly quietly pushed open the backdoor to the homestead. It was just past midnight and she didn’t want to disturb her sister and get the third degree about why she wasn’t out having fun with her friends.
She had told Wynonna she wouldn’t be back for the night, but that turned into a joke. Waverly didn’t even want to think about it. She just needed to lay in her bed.
Two sets of laughter erupted and piqued her curiosity. Was Nicole still here? She and Wynonna had been drinking when she left earlier.
“Come on, Haughty. How many girls have you turned?”
Waverly could practically hear the deputy rolling her eyes from the living room and she smiled. Nicole was so the opposite of her sister sometimes and their friendship was pretty entertaining.
“Shut up, Earp. You can’t turn girls. You can only show them what they weren’t seeing before.”
Wynonna giggled and hiccupped. “Bet you’d love to show Waverly what she hasn’t been seeing before.”
Waverly’s smile dropped like a cement block.
“How you can talk about your own sister like that?”
“What? I’m not blind.”
Waverly quietly slipped off her heels and padded closer. She peeked around the entryway and saw Wynonna sprawled out on the couch, feet dangling over the back. Nicole was sitting on the floor, one arm resting on the sofa cushion with her legs kicked out in front of her, peeling the label off her beer.
She looked much more sober than Wynonna who was cradling a bottle of whiskey, looking glassy-eyed and ready to fly off.
“Come on,” Wynonna pushed. “You like her, right?”
Nicole’s brow furrowed and Waverly’s heart sped up. Nicole?
The smile slipped off Wynonna’s face.
“Hey, I’m not making fun of you, Haught.”
“I know, Wynonna. Don’t worry about it.”
“Are you going to tell her?”
Waverly felt uncomfortable and exhausted and overwhelmed at the thought of that possible conversation.
She couldn’t handle Nicole confessing feelings for her on top of every other guy in Purgatory chasing her like she was a prize to be won. She couldn’t take another person springing themselves on her. People just needed to slow down and let her breathe for a goddamn second.
Waverly blinked. What? No? Why not?
“Why not? She’ll probably figure it out with how you’ve been staring at her.”
“I didn’t realize I was so obvious,” Nicole murmured.
“Yeah, like she’s the fudge to your sundae.”
“I’ll tone it down.”
“But she’s vegetarian, wait, vegan, maybe she’s into other v-things as well.”
Nicole laughed. “I don’t think that’s how that works, Wynonna.”
Sometimes Waverly wanted to strangle her big sister.
“Okay. But why not try? You’re like the only person in this town who would treat her right.”
Nicole looked over her shoulder and smiled gently at Wynonna. “You’re a sweet drunk.”
“Shh, don’t tell anyone I’m a secret softy. I got a badass rep to maintain.”
Nicole knocked her head to the side of Wynonna’s. “Wouldn’t dream of it, Earp.”
“So?” Wynonna asked.
“So…why won’t you tell Waverly? She deserves to know all her options.”
Nicole snorted. “Believe me, Wynonna, I think Waverly is well aware of her options. All the shitheads in this town flocked to Shorty’s when she worked there and harassed her. I think she’s just trying to figure herself out, you know?” Nicole shook her head and gestured with her hand and maybe she was a little more buzzed than Waverly had assumed. “She’s just so nice to everyone and she never wants to make people feel like they’re bothering her, but I think she just needs to be Waverly first.”
“What does that even mean?” Wynonna slurred, taking a swig off the whiskey bottle.
“I don’t know, Wynonna. I just want her to be comfortable with me and she’s been really welcoming and nice and I like the easiness I have with her. Why inject all that tension in there?”
“Tension is good though, makes the sex better.”
Nicole coughed and sputtered her beer mid-sip. A smile caught the corner of Waverly’s mouth.
Waverly went to the backdoor, opening it loudly and while not slamming it, she made sure it was heard as she pushed it shut.
The house fell dead silent. When she walked into the living room, shoes still in hand, she had to hold back her laughter at the sight of Wynonna sitting properly on the couch with Nicole perched next to her, posture upright and eyes a little round from surprise.
“Hey, babygirl! We weren’t talking about you!”
“Hah,” Nicole laughed nervously, ripping the bottle of whiskey out of Wynonna’s hand. “This one has had a lot to drink!”
Wynonna tried to get her liquor back, but Nicole was quick to her feet, holding the bottle high over her head. Her impressive height made Wynonna grumble and snatch Nicole’s beer instead.
Shaking the bottle at Waverly, she asked, “Why are you home, thought you were at Stephanie’s bachelorette thing tonight.”
Waverly huffed. “Yeah, and what a mistake. She ditched me, Rach, Sonya and Chrissy in the city so she could go screw a stripper. She’s cheating on her fiancé and none of our friends would say anything to her. I’m done with it. I’m going to bed, I’d like to forget this night happened,” Waverly said, passing by the pair and heading up the stairs.
She dropped her shoes and her purse on the floor, locking the bedroom door behind her. She slumped against it. “Holy shit sticks,” she whispered. She wasn’t touching that situation with a ten-foot pole.
Waverly was coming out of a meeting with Deputy Marshal Dolls when she saw her ex standing by the front desk with a bouquet of flowers.
Her forehead creased with irritation. “Champ,” she muttered. This wasn’t the first time and she was tired.
Officer Lonnie was looking awkward as he gestured with his hands. “You have a visitor, Miss Earp.”
“Hey, Waverly, can we talk?” Champ asked, looking boyish and hopeful.
“Nope!” came a voice from behind them. Waverly turned to see Wynonna stomping into the police station, donut in hand with Nicole trailing behind. “No failed law enforcement recruits in the precinct! Also, are you harassing my baby sister at her place of work, Champ, because while I do not know the law too well, you can bet your bull-riding ass my best friend here has something to charge you with!”
Wynonna smacked the back of her donut hand into Nicole’s chest and Nicole grimaced, batting her hand away and brushing the sugar dusting off her uniform shirt.
The deputy looked between Waverly and Champ.
“Is Hardy here harassing you?” Nicole asked her directly.
“Uh, no, all good here.” Waverly definitely did not need Champ in lockup. He was persistent, and was the straying sort, which brought on their breakup in the first place, but he’d only ever ask for her forgiveness and a second chance, then leave when she rejected him.
She worried sometimes that he thought if he just kept showing up, she’d get worn down enough to take him back.
The notion terrified her if she dwelled on it too long.
Nicole grabbed Wynonna by the scruff of her coat and hauled her towards the breakroom. “Come on, Earp,” she muttered as Wynonna flailed, still trying to take a bite of her jelly-filled. “Waverly can handle herself, you still owe me lunch.”
Waverly found herself staring curiously at Nicole’s back.
“So,” Champ interrupted, forcing Waverly’s gaze back on his bashful face. “I was hoping I could take you down to the steakhouse tonight, it’s my parents’ anniversary and they’ve been asking when you’d come around.” He held out his flowers and Waverly pushed them back into his chest.
“Champ, please. Just tell them we broke up already. It’s not fair, and the next time your mom catches me at the grocery store, if you haven’t told her we’ve separated, I’m not doing you any favors and playing along like we’re still together.”
Waverly turned on her heel to leave, but then whirled around. “And the next time you come bother me here, where I work, I’m letting Wynonna loose on you.”
A wounded look crossed Champ’s face.
“Waverly! I’m sorry! It’s just, ever since you quit Shorty’s, I never see you. How else can I get your forgiveness?”
“I forgave you already, Champ. The first time and the second time and the third time you asked for it.”
She grabbed his hand and dragged him towards the BBD offices that were unoccupied, realizing that Lonnie and a few other officers were starting to notice them. She pushed Champ into an empty interrogation room, but left the door open since this area was off limits and Dolls was locked away in his office. “Why do you keep insisting on more than forgiveness? I’m not holding a grudge.”
Champ dropped the bouquet on the interrogation table, resting his hands on her shoulders. “And that’s why I love you, Waverly. You’re forgiving and you never hold grudges. I made a mistake, but you always forgive me. There’s no one in this town like you. I need you, babe.”
“No!” she snapped, pulling back and away from his hold on her. “You just want some dummy who’s gonna look past it every time you mess up. I’m done being that girl, Champ!”
“Don’t say that about yourself, Waverly. You’re not dumb, you’re a really good person.”
“Thank you, but the answer is still no. And please stop showing up here. I’ve only been working with Black Badge for a month, and if my boss finds out that you’re coming here, he’s going to have a problem with my personal life interfering in my work life and I don’t need that right now, Champ! This job is important to me.”
Champ put his hands up in surrender, like he understood, and yet, “Just like you’re important to me, Waverly! I think I get to fight for us. We’ve been together since High School, we can’t just throw it all away!”
“You can’t fight for this, goddammit! I don’t want you to!”
Champ sighed and looked over mournfully at his flowers. “You don’t know how much this sucks for me. The guys at the rodeo treat me like a laughingstock. Ever since you broke up with me, all I get are jokes about how I’m the fool who fumbled the ball with the best thing in Purgatory.”
“I’m not a thing!” Waverly growled. “God, this town just pisses me off sometimes! Do you even think before you open your mouth! You may be a laughingstock now, but do you know how many jeers and jibes I took from my sister, from my friends, and at Shorty’s when Sheriff Nedley found you half-naked in your truck with that floozy! How many I-Told-You-So’s I had to take, and let me frickin’ tell you Champ Hardy, it was no fun for me. You got off and I got left holding the bag. At least have the decency to leave me in peace after everything you put me through!” Waverly yelled, putting her hands up in prayer. She didn’t know how many more of these conversations she could really take. They all ended the same with Champ.
Champ’s mouth opened and closed before he nodded. He picked up his bouquet and held it out. Waverly sighed and took it. He ambled out of the room and left the station like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders.
Waverly pressed the palms of her hands into her eyes, surprised to find they were wet with tears.
“Oh, Earp,” she heard softly. Her boss walked into the room a moment later.
Waverly blinked and tried to keep the wobble in her voice from surfacing. “I’m sorry, Deputy Marshal Dolls. I won’t let that happen again. I’ll file a restraining order if he doesn’t stop coming here. I don’t want my personal life interfering with my work. I love this job.”
The normally distant man crossed his arms and looked in the direction of where Champ had walked off.
“Hey,” he said, walking further into the room and smiling gently. “You handled that well. It’s not your fault he doesn’t respect professional boundaries. Go talk to Lonnie, he’s on reception duty right now, tell him to add Champ Hardy to our Do Not Admit list. If he comes back, he’ll be escorted out of the station and you won’t have to go to the trouble of filing a restraining order.”
Waverly was overcome with relief and felt the urge to hug her boss, but she held back because she didn’t want to make him uncomfortable. He didn’t seem like the hugging type.
“Thank you, Sir.”
He sighed and walked over, holding his arms out. “Come on, you get one and we never talk about this again.”
Waverly beamed and inserted herself into his embrace. Xavier Dolls was safe. So married to his job, so respectful of his employees, she never worried about an unwanted advance from him and it was nice to be hugged without it having to mean more than what it was.
“Heyo – incoming!”
Waverly flinched as she entered the breakroom, seeing Wynonna hurl a pack of M&M’s at the back of Nicole’s head.
Nicole sidestepped, causing the little package to bounce off the wall above the coffee machine. She caught it, tucking the candy into the pocket of her black uniform pants without comment before she continued to pour water into the coffee machine.
“Never gets old,” Wynonna murmured reverently.
Nicole laughed. “You don’t go through high school and the academy as the only out lesbian and not develop quick reflexes.”
Waverly’s heart dropped and Wynonna’s mouth tugged into a frown.
“Man, teenagers and overcompensating jerkoffs are the worst, Haught.”
“Tell me about it.” Nicole grabbed a coffee filter and looked over her shoulder, pausing at the sight of Waverly in the doorway. “Hey,” she said, eyes going soft. “Everything okay?”
“Babygirl!” Wynonna waved her into the room. “Do I have to kick any rodeo clown butt?”
Waverly rolled her eyes. “Considering Champ can wrestle a steer to the ground in under a minute, I’m not sure you could.”
Wynonna’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me, I’ll have you know I have wrestled many a formidable foe in my time.”
“Mudwrestling strippers at Pussy Willows doesn’t count,” Nicole said, smirking at the affronted look plastering itself across Wynonna’s face.
“Wow,” she said, glaring between the two. “Didn’t realize it was pick on BBD’s best agent day.”
“You mean BBD’s only agent?” Waverly questioned.
“You know what?” Wynonna grumbled, getting up. “I do not have to put up with this.”
“We’re sorry,” Nicole said, pulling the M&M’s out of her pocket and tossing them to Wynonna. “A token of my apology.”
“But this was the lunch I owed you.”
Nicole filled the coffee filter with fresh grounds, shut the lid and flipped the switch on before turning around, dusting her hands off.
“Don’t sweat it, Earp. You’ll owe me lunch tomorrow, preferably something I can actually subsist on.”
Wynonna ripped open the package. “Dammit,” she mumbled, pouring a couple of M&M’s into her hand and tossing them into her mouth.
“You want some coffee, Waverly?” Nicole asked.
“Uh, I was going to make myself a tea, actually.”
The deputy nodded and moved over to the rarely used electric tea kettle. She picked it up and carried it to the sink, rinsing it out before filling it to the one cup mark, then went to plug it in and turn it on. Nicole grabbed a folder and sat herself at the end chair of their cluttered breakroom table.
Waverly found herself staring at the officer’s movements, noticing the ease with which she moved through a familiar space, cataloguing just how long her limbs were, and the way she casually crossed one leg over the other as she read through her file with an attention that was delicate, her index finger trailing the length of a sentence, as though she were committing the information to her memory.
Wynonna on the other hand was scrolling through her phone, probably studying images of their latest BBD case, munching away, looking wired and in need of her morning caffeine.
Waverly was still getting used to being part of the team. Mostly she worked with Wynonna and Dolls as their consultant, but she still often found herself in the communal areas, chatting with cops and getting a feel for what it took to protect and serve in the name of a greater good.
Everyone in this building had had a brush with death and still came back every day. She was beginning to really like the goodness within their characters, even with the solemn knowledge that one day she might walk in here and someone else might not.
It was definitely a step up from serving pints at Shorty’s.
The coffee pot filled and the tea kettle whistled. Nicole quietly rose to pour two mugs of coffee. Waverly took care of her tea and felt strange standing side by side with Nicole while she added sugar and cream to Wynonna’s cup. Waverly fidgeted with the string of her teabag.
Nicole paused, glancing over at Waverly and catching her stare. Her mouth quirked up in a questioning smile. Waverly didn’t look away.
Nicole’s brow furrowed and she looked back down at the coffees she was preparing. She turned to face Waverly fully.
“Sugar?” she asked, holding out two packets.
Waverly accepted them and watched the steam swirl from her drink.
Nicole picked the mugs by their handles and set one down by Wynonna before returning to her chair.
Wynonna mumbled a quiet, “I love you,” which could have been directed at Nicole or the coffee she hummed over, eyes never breaking from the screen of her phone.
Nicole continued her perusal of the file she had been studying and Waverly sat across her, rummaging through her purse to find her own phone.
She had four texts from Champ, one from Stephanie, and two from Chrissy. She read Champ’s first then deleted them.
Stephanie was asking if she was still joining them shopping for bridesmaid dresses and Chrissy was pleading for her to come along. Waverly could feel her stress levels rising. She didn’t know how to get rid of this instinct to always yield to her friends. She often found herself wondering if there would come a time in her life where she could tell them she would like nothing more than to never be bothered again.
But breaking up with Champ was drama enough, so she ignored the texts and hoped she would find the fortitude to answer them later.
Just as she went to put her phone away, her screen lit up with a new text.
Curiously, she unlocked her phone.
"You okay over there? You seem a bit unsettled." – Nicole
Waverly looked up to see Nicole staring back at her encouragingly.
That was all she needed to start typing away furiously on her phone.
"The more I grow as a person, the more I notice just how immature my friends are. I don’t even know how I had a boyfriend for so many years who’s turned out to be nothing more than a muscular man-child who tries to butter his way back into my life with some cheap flowers and a guilt trip every month. I’m so tired of people wanting things from me, or making me feel complicit in their poor choices. My friend who is getting married, the one I mentioned the other night, she cheated on her fiancé! How can I go to that wedding and sit there and then sip champagne, knowing that that poor guy she’s with is being made a fool? I’ve been made a fool and it’s terrible! I just wish I could ignore all of it, but I can’t." – Waverly
Waverly watched as Nicole read over the text message and then felt guilty for venting. Nicole looked up across the table and shot her a sad smile before she typed out a response.
"I’m so sorry you’re dealing with that. Friendship should feel good. Should come with no strings and a lot of laughs. A shoulder to cry on and a person to share the good stuff and the bad stuff. I can’t tell you what to do, but I think you’re well on your way to knowing what you want out of future friendships. I know me and Wynonna hang out a lot, but if you need a friend, I can be that for you, too." – Nicole
Waverly felt panicked. Knowing Nicole’s feelings and then this offer of friendship. Nicole was nice, was kind, she didn’t want that getting complicated, or confusing, especially for Nicole.
God, the last thing she wanted to do was make Nicole think she was interested and then have to hurt her feelings.
"That’s a very kind offer, Nicole. Thank you. I think with all the stuff I’m dealing with, I just need to be on my own with it until I feel more settled." – Waverly
Waverly winced. Nicole’s expression remained neutral as she read over the text. She went to respond, but her radio crackled to life. Nicole answered the dispatch and stood up.
“Call me if you see anything weird out there, Red.”
Nicole drained the last of her coffee, tucked her file under her arm and nodded. “Sure thing. See you later.” She looked at Waverly and her gaze was unreadable. She rapped her knuckles on the wooden tabletop and murmured a soft, “Take care, Waves,” before strolling out of the breakroom.