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Homestead Hope: Hometown Heroes Edition

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Looking at the file in her hands, Nicole was pretty sure her producers had lost their minds. They’d scheduled two weeks for filming, but from the pictures, the Earp Homestead would probably need a month’s worth of work before it was truly livable. Years of abandonment had left the house in such a state that the inspector had a laundry list of concerns, and the barn was in such disrepair that it looked was ready to fall in on itself at any moment. When Nicole got to the interior pictures of the barn, she thought the support beams might be salvageable, but that was about it.

At least, the land around the house had been cleared of trees, obviously laid out for farming, but it looked like it hadn’t been worked in ages. That could be both a blessing and a curse; the ground would be fertile, so almost anything would grow there, but there was just the small problem of turning out the fields in the middle of March. Daytime temperatures in Purgatory were hovering just above the freezing mark, so the ground would probably still be frozen from the winter. Tilling fields by hand was back breaking work as it was, but add in frozen earth and it was pretty much impossible; or at least it would be, without access to modern farming equipment.

Owning her own well-drilling equipment, Nicole knew that machinery like that didn’t come cheap, not even as a two-week rental, so if she was going to leave the Earp’s with useful land, they were going to have to hire a bunch of locals to get the job done. That wasn’t exactly ideal either, because she never knew who the producers were going to get, but there was just too much work for her and Dolls and Jeremy to get done on their own. Even getting those extra hands hired on took some finagling, but Nicole eventually managed to get everyone on board.

At first, the show runner, Mercedes Gardner, wouldn’t even hear of hiring more people, but when Nicole earned Perry Croft’s support, Mercedes agreed much more easily. After all, as the executive producer, it would be Perry’s money that they’d be spending, and luckily, Perry was a bit of a pushover. When Nicole mentioned the ratings boost that was associated with that ‘convincingly happy ending,’ Perry simply asked her how much she needed and then wrote Nicole a check.

Even with the extra help, Nicole was worried about getting everything done, but thankfully, the Earp sisters would be involved in the entire process as well. Their headshots were next in Nicole’s prep file, and from just one glance, Nicole thought Wynonna looked like she could hold their own. She had that ‘rugged, but beautiful’ thing going on; all flowing locks and piercing eyes, but her profile also listed her as a ‘temperamental drunk with a chip on her shoulder.’ That seemed a bit harsh, but the fact that Wynonna’s headshot also doubled as a mugshot, said a lot about who Nicole and her team would be dealing with over the next two weeks.

Consequently, the younger Earp sister, Waverly, seemed like the quintessential girl-next-door; her notable achievements including co-captain of the cheerleading squad, and valedictorian of her senior class, but there was something about her headshot that seemed… off. Her smile seemed genuine; her cheeks were rosy and flushed, and the corners of her eyes were crinkled from the force of her smile. Her teeth were straight and shiny teeth, and her nose had a little crinkle in it too, but when Nicole focused on Waverly’s eyes, the darkness that she saw there was both frightening and heartbreaking. She couldn’t help wondering, ‘How does a sweet face like that hide pain that deep?’

A little further on into the file, and Nicole found a couple of police reports that answered that question. The first one told the story of Michelle Earp, formerly Michelle Gibson, who had disappeared in late December 1998. An exhaustive search ensued, complete with the paperwork to prove it, but in the end, no sign of Michelle was ever found. Her absence left Ward Earp to raise their three daughters all by himself, and if that wasn’t bad enough, the next report detailed an even more brutal tragedy.

Less than two years after Michelle’s disappearance, Ward’s war against the criminal element in Purgatory finally seemed to finally catch up with him. On September seventh, in the year 2000, her and his oldest daughter, Willa, were killed in a shootout, one that took place in the front yard of the Earp Homestead. Six-year-old Waverly, and twelve-year-old Wynonna were hiding in the house when it happened, so at least, it seemed they didn’t actually witness the tragedy, but even after they were taken in by Michelle’s sister, Augusta McCready, and her husband Curtis, the hits just kept coming. Not even two years after that, Wynonna was institutionalized because of an incident involving several other students from her high school. It seemed that the other students got away with slaps on the wrist, but as the ringleader, Wynonna was sent off to a mental facility until her eighteenth birthday.

By the time Nicole finished reading through those reports, she was nearly in tears, but all that tragedy just made her more determined to do right by the Earp’s. Honestly, it made sense that Wynonna was bitter and angry; trauma like that could twist even the gentlest person into a hardened monster. It seemed like Waverly was just trying to make the best of a shit situation, working at her aunt’s bar and getting a bachelor’s degree online, but Nicole doubted that was what Waverly really wanted out of her life. From her transcripts, she was studying everything from linguistics to physics; she obviously she had her sights set on bigger and better things, something better than the mundane anonymity offered by a backwater town in rural Canada.

Maybe there was a reason why Waverly had stuck around Purgatory for so long; Nicole couldn’t be sure without getting to know her, but fortunately for her, she was going to get two whole weeks to do just that. And, Nicole certainly wanted to get to know Waverly. She wasn’t too proud to admit that she’d always had a thing for the ‘cheerleader type,’ (that was everybody’s thing, right?), and that’s not to mention, Waverly obviously had the brains to back up her beauty. The fact that she could probably talk circles around Nicole just made her that much more interesting.

Of course, with their busy filming schedule, Nicole probably wouldn’t get a lot of time alone with Waverly, but Nicole also knew she could learn a lot about a person just from working alongside them. Things like, what kind of work ethic they had, and what their strengths and weaknesses were, and if she was lucky, whether Waverly was straight or not. As she finished with the file in her hands, Nicole really hoped for the latter there, because she was already hooked, and she hadn’t even met Waverly yet.

 

~~~

 

Out of the black comes a panoramic view of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, complete with snowcapped peaks and majestic, purple slopes. Next, the screen cuts to a rolling river bubbling along through a lush green valley. Following that, are shots of the ‘restored’ Ok Corral, interspersed with images of modern-day Tombstone, Arizona. After that, there are some more aerial shots: endless wheat fields, golden yellow for harvest time, and cornstalks standing tall, fronds waving in the wind. Lastly, a herd of American Bison stampedes across an open plain. The trailing shot features a rickety, old house, and a dilapidated barn, marked by a busted mailbox that says, ‘Earp’ alongside the side. The ‘Homestead Hope’ logo superimposes over that shot, holds for a few seconds, and then the screen fades to black once again.

The narrator’s voice overlays all that imagery, his voice deep and rich as he announces, “This season on Homestead Hope, we’ve already visited the families of so many of America’s Hometown Heroes. From Fredrick Douglass and Daniel Boone to Clara Barton and Betsy Ross, we’ve been all over the US, but for this episode, we’re traveling to the far north. All the way to Alberta, Canada, to the home of, none other than, US Marshall Wyatt Earp, hero of the OK Corral.”

His words pause there, seemingly to add gravity to his statement, but it’s only a few seconds before he continues, “After years of serving his community and his country, Wyatt finally retired in 1911. Over the course of his life, he owned property in California, Montana, and Arizona, but he and his wife eventually settled in the sleepy little town of Purgatory, Alberta. And, in one incarnation or another, the Earp family has lived on the same property ever since.”  By this point, the screen is beginning to lighten, revealing an old family photo of the Earp’s, but when the narrator continues, his voice matches the morose tone of the photo, as he says, “That is, until 2003, when a brutal tragedy took the lives of Wyatt’s oldest living descendent, Ward Earp, and his oldest daughter, Willa. The remaining Earp children, Wynonna and Waverly, were taken in by their aunt and uncle soon after, meaning the Homestead itself has been abandoned for nearly twenty years.”

The narrator pauses again, letting his words reverberate with the audience, but again, he continues on shortly after that, saying, “Recently, Wynonna and Waverly have tried to take back their ancestral home, but with one problem after another, it’s been slow going. That’s why we’re sending in the team, hoping they can restore this hometown hero’s homestead to its former glory. It won’t be easy, of course. The house is in desperate need of an upgrade, and the surrounding ranch is in total disrepair. Yes, Nicole and the gang will certainly have their work cut out for them, this week, on Homestead Hope: Hometown Heroes Edition.”

The show’s logo comes up onscreen again after that, but it’s soon replaced by the image of a man in uniform, sitting in front of a bland, blue background. He’s older, maybe forty-five or fifty, but his greying hair and bushy moustache, make him seem even older. His name and title come up on screen, introducing him as ‘Purgatory Sheriff, Randy Nedley,’ but when a producer’s voice comes from somewhere off camera, subtitles run along the bottom of the screen instead, as she says, “So, you’re the one who called in the Homestead Hope team, right?”

The Sheriff’s smile widens, displaying a row of straight teeth underneath his moustache, and his cheeks heat up in bashful sort of way, when he replies, “Well, yeah. I watch the show every week… So, when I saw that you folks were looking for new homesteads to help, I just had to call in.”

When he doesn’t immediately elaborate, the producer pipes up again, subtitles accompanying her quite voice as she asks, “And, why’s that? What’s so special about the Earp’s?”

That seems to throw Nedley off a little bit, like he isn’t expecting the question, but after a little bristle of his moustache, he finally says, “Those girls have had it rough, too rough if you ask me, and I figure if anybody deserves a break, it’s them. Waverly’s just ‘Waverly,’ you know? Always got a smile for me when I head over to Shorty’s for my afternoon coffee… Always waves when she sees me in the grocery store or out on the street.”

He pauses there, as if considering what else to say, but eventually, he continues with no further prompting, “As for Wynonna, well, she’s more the ‘prodigal son’ type, but just because I’ve had to put her in cuffs before, doesn’t mean I’m gonna have to do it again. I mean, I will if I need to, but it’s not like I want to. Everybody’s got a job to do, and this one’s mine… at least, for now.” Sheriff Nedley briefly pats the breast pocket of his shirt, right over his badge, before the screen goes dark once again.

 

~~~

 

By far, Nicole’s least favorite part about her job was actually getting on location. Filming for the show as easy, if a little tedious, but flying just wasn’t for her; she’d never much cared for confined spaces, and that feeling only got worse when she was flying at 300 miles an hour. Going over land wasn’t exactly practical though; sixteen hours of driving time would easily turn into a three-day drive, so instead, she nervously made her way to the airport. It didn’t help that Jeremy would be flying separately, because while Dolls was one of her best friends, he wasn’t the best travelling partner. Jeremy would talk the whole time, distracting Nicole from her nervousness, but Dolls would probably sleep, or pretend to sleep, the whole flight.

At least, Nicole had prepared for that. The last time she’d been by the dispensary in Boulder, she’d picked a pack of gummy bears specifically for this flight. They’d been more of an impulse buy really, but the time release factor was what sold her on the idea. The dosage wasn’t very strong either, only ten milligrams per bear, so they wouldn’t get her ‘too high,’ but she knew a couple of those gummy bears would do wonders for the anxiety she could already feel building inside her chest.

With her frequent-flyer status, it only took her a few minutes to check-in, and with her TSA Pre-Check, she waltzed through security too. From there, it was only a short walk through the terminal to her gate, and she smiled when she found Dolls already waiting the first-class seating section. He seemed engrossed in something on his phone, but when he finally noticed Nicole standing there, he looked up and smirked as he said, “Cutting it a little close, aren’t we?”

Dolls’ gaze went back to his phone before Nicole could answer, but she answered anyway, trying to chide him when she said, “Come on, you know I hate flying, and I hate waiting to fly even more.” He nodded, acknowledging that he’d heard her, but when he didn’t say anything, Nicole just settled into the seat beside him as she said, “I’m, uh, actually trying something new this time, so just… keep an eye on me, would ya?” Dolls nodded again, agreeing without really responding, but Nicole knew that he wouldn’t let anything happen to her if he could help it, so when the flight attendant stationed at gate called for the first-class passengers to board, Nicole slipped two of those gummy bears into her mouth and got in line.

They took about a half-hour to start kicking in, but by the time the plane was taken off, Nicole was halfway to ‘Happy Town,’ and once they finally pushed through the clouds, she felt like she’d reached ‘Cloud Nine’ too. It was the heady kind of body buzz, making her feel a little floaty at first, but as the effects settled in, Nicole just felt relaxed. Being in the front row of first class helped; she had plenty of room to stretch out her legs, but as it turned out, having Dolls as a seatmate made her feel even better. He didn’t partake, which was fine, but he also wasn’t opposed either, so Nicole didn’t feel the need to keep up any pretense of sobriety.

Dolls even gave her the outside seat, so she could stare out the window, let her mind drift without needing to worry about interacting with anyone else. He acted as a buffer with flight attendants, ordering for her during the drink service and the dinner service, and then, again when the flight attendants came around for another drink service. She gratefully accepted the water that he’d ordered for her, and the in-flight meal was surprisingly good too: roasted chicken seasoned with dill and thyme, buttery mashed potatoes, and a small portion of steamed green beans. The yeast roll that came with dinner was a little dry, but the soft, warm butter packet that Nicole found rolled up with her silverware made the roll better.

With her belly full, Nicole started to feel even more groggy, but she stayed awake long enough to drink half her hot chocolate before she finally let her eyes drift closed. After that, she got the best five hours of sleep she’d ever gotten on a plane, but waking up as they touched down wasn’t nearly as pleasant. She meant to set an alarm on her phone, so she would have a little time to get woken up, but at least she still had ten or fifteen minutes to get herself together before she and Dolls were supposed to meet the film crew in the terminal. When she found Dolls’ seat empty, Nicole figured he was probably shaving in one of the lavatories, so she grabbed her little bathroom tote out of her backpack and made her way towards the other bathroom.

One of the flight attendants gave her a dirty look, probably for being up and about while they were still taxiing, but Nicole just slipped into the lavatory anyway; she’d done this on pretty much every flight she’d ever been on, and not once had she fallen and hurt herself. Her cavalier attitude about it probably made her seem like an asshole, and she felt a little bad about that, but she didn’t let that stop her. If she showed up in the terminal looking like she’d just been passed out on the plane for five hours, Mercedes would have her head.

As always, once she was inside the lavatory, it was a little touch and go, the plane bumping along under her feet, but Nicole managed to get her hair brushed out and pulled back with minimal stumbling. She nearly poked herself in the eye while she was washing her face, and brushing her teeth got a little rough too, but when Nicole left the bathroom a few minutes later, she felt refreshed, ready to take on the day.

Turning the corner to head back to her seat, Nicole found Dolls standing in the aisle, speaking sharply with the same flight attendant that had given her ‘the stink eye.’ Even from nearly ten feet away, Nicole flinched when she heard him say, “Just think, in less than ten minutes, you’ll never have to see either one of us ever again.” At that, the flight attendant visibly deflated, and the conflict seemed to resolve itself, but Nicole still approached with caution. With good reason too; as she came up behind him, Nicole heard Dolls grumble under his breath, “I mean, honestly, do I look like an idiot?”

Hoping to alleviate some of the tension, Nicole smirked as she popped up behind him, surprising him when she said, “Well, you do have toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe.” Several things happened at once then; Dolls’ eyes snapped down, as one of his feet left the floor, but the plane also bumped over a seam in the pavement at the same time. Off balance and jolted, Dolls nearly tumbled over; his quick reaction time was the only thing that saved him from going ass over teakettle right down the aisle.

Several other people in first-class laughed, but once Dolls righted himself, his eyes flashed back towards Nicole, and for a second, Nicole could swear his eyes had actually turned red; he was that angry. In fact, Nicole didn’t think she’d ever seen him so pissed off, and that was saying something. They’d known each other for seven years; she’d seen him deal with cranky contractors and lazy inspectors and drunken fans, but she’d never seen him act like this before. He stormed back to their seats, wrenched his bag out of the overhead bin, and then perched on the edge of his seat like he couldn’t get off the plane fast enough.

Dolls’ silent irritation persisted all the way to the terminal, and even after the cameras were rolling, his grimace was still more grim than usual. Thankfully, all that the film crew needed was an arrival shot, so after backtracking through their gate a half-a-dozen times, they were released. After that, riding to their hotel with Dolls was just as pleasant, but as their car pulled into the hotel’s parking lot, Nicole couldn’t stand it anymore. She felt bad that she’d so thoroughly ruined his mood, but when she tried to apologize, Dolls cut her off with a wave of his hand. He spoke softly too when he said, “No, I’m sorry… I just didn’t think I’d ever be back in Purgatory again.”

That was news to Nicole; that Dolls had ever even been to Canada was surprising, but the fact that he’d been to Purgatory specifically raised some red flags as well. She wondered if they’d end up having to contend with some crazy ex or something like that, but really, she knew better than that. She didn’t think Dolls had any friends other than her, much less a significant other. Come to think of it, they hadn’t ever talked about there being ‘anyone special’ in his life: not friends, or family, or otherwise. Not that that was a big deal; Dolls was naturally reserved, but that meant that rather than pry, Nicole just said, “Well, I’m pretty excited… I’ve never been to Canada before.”

From Dolls’ expression, her enthusiasm went over like a fart in a jam jar. The grimace he’d worn since they’d landed turned even more sour, and now, his brow was furrowed too. The tone of his voice was grating and harsh as well, as he replied, “That’s great. Just do me a favor, don’t go out in the woods alone… I’ve lost people in those woods.” The cryptic words definitely matched his serious tone, but those words were also the last thing he said to her.

When their SUV pulled into a parking space, he immediately made a beeline for the main office of the hotel. Then, before Nicole could even begin to wrangle their bags out of the trunk, he was back. He tossed Nicole the key to her room and grabbed his bag, then without another word, he turned back to the hotel and marched off towards his room. Knowing better than to chase after him, Nicole made her way towards her room instead, hoping that Dolls’ mood would improve at some point; otherwise, the next two weeks were going to be rougher that she’d originally thought.

The hotel used old-fashioned keys, for old-fashioned locks, and honestly, ‘old-fashioned’ was the nicest word Nicole could think of to describe her room. The duvet had probably been bright yellow at one point, but now it was colored more like butter, creamy and faded. At least, it was clean, and stain-free, so there was that, but when Nicole perched on the edge of the mattress to take off her shoes, she realized the bed was on its last legs as well. Trying to distract herself from the rough nights to come, she moved over to the little luggage stand to lay her suitcase out, but along the way, she noticed the shoddy table and chairs in the corner.

The tabletop had some seriously deep scratch marks in the surface, and one of the chairs had a few strips of duct tape running down the middle of the seat. The edges of the tape weren’t peeling up yet, but just from the color, Nicole really didn’t want to think about what she would find if she lifted that tape. The walls of her room weren’t in much better shape; the lower half was covered in dented cherry-stained wainscoting, while the top half held yellowed, smoke-stained wallpaper. There were some thin decorative columns separating the entryway from the rest of the room, but they reminded Nicole of an 80’s staircase railing, instead of The Great Colosseum of Rome.

Thankfully, the Wi-Fi was decent, when she finally got connected to it, and while the TV was older, the cable seemed to work fine too. The most surprising thing about her room was the bathroom. It had obviously been renovated in the last twenty years, which was definitely more than Nicole could say for the rest of the room. The bathroom sink was built into a white faux-marble countertop; Nicole thought it looked like composite. The white counter blended into the white subway tiles that ran along the walls, but the floor was a big checkerboard of square black and grey tiles. All in all, it was a little too modern for Nicole’s tastes, but it was certainly serviceable.

Once she actually got in the shower, the water pressure proved to be more than serviceable. Hot and pounding was just how she liked it, especially after being on a plane all night. Sadly, she couldn’t take the time to really luxuriate in it; according to their itinerary, filming would resume in a little less than an hour. It was just for testimonials, but Nicole knew better than to keep the crew waiting; their time was just as valuable as her own, if not more.

Still, she barely made into the trailer before the camera was on her again. The line producer did at least give her a quick look-over before she called for quiet, but then, it was question and answer time. Thankfully, Nicole had spent some time the day before preparing. She knew the key points that she needed to hit, the buzz words she needed to use. They did two takes, anyway; they always did, but once that was over, Nicole was ushered out and Jeremy was ushered in after her. They only got the chance for a brief, “Hey,” “Hi!” exchange, but that was alright; Nicole knew she’d be seeing him again that afternoon.

Unfortunately, even when Nicole did see Jeremy again, they only got the chance to chat in between shots. In fact, the rest of Nicole’s afternoon was just as busy as her morning had been. There were building plans that needed inspection and approval, both by Nicole and the city’s building inspector. At least, he seemed like an alright guy, a little enthusiastic, but in a genuine sort of way. He only had a few questions, like the exact location of the new well and the type of solar panels they planned on using, but Jeremy got through those answers easily enough.

They already had three possible locations for the well, all vetted that they were clear of any buried lines that ran across the property. Of course, with the site survey laying out in front of her, Nicole figured they could take their pick if those three locations didn’t show signs of water. As it was, there were only four lines that they’d have to worry about, and those all seemed to cross under the main house. Which made sense; a power line running in from the road, a water line out to the old well, a line that led out to an ancient TV satellite dish, and a fourth line that probably used to run to an underground heating oil tank. At the end of that line there was just a big hole in the ground, but apparently, the Earp’s had already hired someone else to replace the tank.

When asked, Jeremy produced the schematics for the solar panels that had been donated to the project. Well, they were ‘donated;’ a little product placement, a discount on add space, and Jeremy had some top-of-the-line panels to install. The inspector quibbled over a few of the details there, asking about the lifespan of the panels, and how much each one cost, but in the end, he joked, “I’ll have to talk to the wife about it, but maybe you guys wanna do my place next?” That earned him a round of laughs, ending their meeting on a pleasant note, and that gave the producers a nice, happy tableau shot that they could use.

A few ‘rubber stamps’ later, and Nicole was quickly herded out onto the street, so the film crew could shoot some filler shots around town. Unfortunately, when she and Jeremy met up Dolls, his mood was still sour, but as they moved from shot to shot, he started to loosen up a little bit. Jeremy’s presence probably helped with that; his youthful exuberance had a way of making even the sourest lemon taste sweet. The fact that Jeremy practically worshipped the ground that Dolls walked on didn’t hurt either. In Jeremy’s eyes, Dolls could do no wrong, and honestly, Nicole didn’t think Dolls made many mistakes either, but obviously, something had happened to him the last time he was in Purgatory, and whatever that was still haunted him.

However, as his mood improved, Nicole decided not to question it, or him; she just smiled when he smiled, and laughed when he laughed, and tried to make things easier for everyone. The crew took a few shots of them walking down the street in Purgatory, and they staged a few tableaus: one in front of the local bar, one in front of the Purgatory sheriff’s station, and one in front of their hotel. By that point, Nicole felt like she’d never be able to fake another smile in her life, but it seemed there would be no rest for the wicked. According to their shooting schedule, she’d be needed in front of the cameras again soon enough.

Just like every other episode that they’d filmed so far, the producers had arranged a little meet-and-greet dinner, so the team could ‘get to know’ their local counterparts. Nicole knew what they were really after, though; the crew recorded the whole thing, so they could then use those shots for the finale of each episode. Apparently, nothing said success like everyone crowded around the dinner table, sharing a celebratory meal together, laughing and smiling like they didn’t have a care in the world. Perry called it, ‘the illusion of television,’ but Nicole knew what that meant too; ‘the bullshit of television.’

At least with nearly two hours to get ready, Nicole finally got the chance to enjoy the fantastic shower in her room. She washed quickly, going through the motions with practiced efficiency, but once she was done, she decided to indulge a little bit. The heat and density of the water just felt too good. She stood under the spray for another ten minutes, letting her muscles relax, but then, she forced herself to get out, already feeling selfish for how much water and energy she’d wasted.

At home, her hot water heater was electric, and it ran on solar power, but the hotel’s hot water was probably heated by the building’s boiler. Of course, that system also provided the building with heat, but ultimately, it all ran on burning heating oil; there was no mistaking the insulated oil tank across the parking lot from Nicole’s room. If it was a cleaner fuel, like natural gas or propane, she might feel differently about it, but as it was, she would just have to resign herself to five minutes or less for the rest of her stay.

As she dried off, Nicole started to feel even guiltier, knowing that her carbon footprint had just gotten that little bit bigger, so she decided she’d just work that much harder over the next two weeks to make up for it. She already knew they’d be reusing whatever they could on the Earp Homestead, but if they could repurpose more materials from the broken-down barn, then she’d be saving trees with every board she salvaged. She made a mental note to do some scouting in the woods as well; maybe they could harvest limbs big enough to use as broken fencepost replacements, without killing those trees either. With some irritation, she realized that she’d need to take someone with her too, remembering Dolls’ foreboding warning from earlier.

After that, all Nicole could think about was what Dolls meant when he’d said that he’d ‘lost people in those woods.’ Were they lost, or were they lost? Had they even been found, or were they still out there, somewhere? Answers to those questions, and all others that her brain came up with, were well out of reach, but that didn’t stop her from wondering. In fact, she was so distracted that she didn’t realize she’d put her undershirt on backwards until she’d finished buttoning her flannel over top of it. By that point, she knew she was running low on time, so she quickly stripped off her top layer again, and then fixed the undershirt, but before she could get her over-shirt buttoned back up, there was a knock on the door.

Thinking it was probably Jeremy or Dolls, Nicole answered the door with only two buttons done, but when she saw Waverly Earp standing in her doorway, she immediately clasped her shirt closed. She wasn’t usually bashful about her body, but the way Waverly’s eyebrows shot up made Nicole feel sort of self-conscious. Obviously, Waverly was embarrassed too; she stuttered an apology, and stumbled as she started to back away, but before she could get too far, Nicole managed to gather herself together enough to say, “Hey, you’re Waverly, right? Waverly Earp?”

The recognition stopped Waverly in her tracks, but her brain and her mouth seemed to keep going, as she muttered, “ye-yeah, that’s me, Waverly. Waverly Earp.” As she spoke, her eyes flicked up a few times, trying to meet Nicole’s eyes, but every time, she seemed to chicken out at the last second. And, damn, if she wasn’t the cutest thing Nicole had ever seen. The top edges of her cheeks were flushed a dusky pink, and Nicole smiled at the way Waverly’s eyes all crinkled up at the corners. Clearly, she was barely containing the big grin on her own face.

Suddenly needing to see that smile for herself, Nicole hastily buttoned another couple of buttons, and then stuck her hand out as she said, “It’s nice to meet you, Waverly. I’m Nicole, Nicole Haught.” Waverly hesitated for a moment, just staring at Nicole’s outstretched hand, but when she finally looked up, her smile was everything Nicole thought it would be, radiant yet bashful. What she wasn’t prepared for, was the zing that shot down her spine when Waverly took her hand. It was like an electric charge was rapidly racing along her nerves, making her fingers tingle and toes buzz.

Apparently, Nicole wasn’t the only one who felt it either; Waverly gasped when their skin touched, and her hand immediately tensed in Nicole’s grip. The filter between her brain and her mouth must have short circuited too, because Waverly immediately blurted out, “I’m in a relationship… with a boy— Man!" The awkward admission made Nicole want to laugh, but at the same time, she almost wanted to cry. Here was this literal angel standing in front of her, but of course, she was straight, and taken.

Still, the look in Waverly’s eyes told a totally different story. Her pupils were dilated, making the hazel of her irises thin around the edges, but when those eyes subtly shifted down, focusing on Nicole’s lips, Nicole realized that Waverly was into her, even if she didn’t know it yet. That was a hurdle all by itself, but the ‘Boy-Man’ would be a problem too. Nicole wasn’t in the habit of wrecking happy homes, so for the moment, she decided to just play it cool. She tried to brush off some of the awkwardness, when she said, “Yeah, I’ve been there… It’s the worst,” and when that made Waverly snicker, Nicole figured that would work for the moment. Trying to distance them from it further, she changed the subject too, when she added, “Anyway, did they send you to fetch me for dinner, or is there something else I could help you with?”

At that, Waverly let out a relieved sort of sigh, but when she started to shake her head, Nicole grew confused. Surely, someone from the production team had sent Waverly to collect her: she wouldn’t put it past a few of them, sending a beautiful woman to her room just to mess with her. Kate, from Costumes, was a likely suspect, and Nicole knew that the new PA, Rachel, liked a good practical joke too, but with Shae acting as the team’s medic, it could have been easily any of the three of them. And, if anyone on the crew knew Nicole’s taste in women, it was Shae; after all, Shae was her ex-wife.

Their relationship started as a showmance, when Shae had to stitch Nicole up one too many times. Their obvious flirting lead to a great first date, and the first six months were great too, but for their anniversary, Shae planned a long weekend in Vegas. They were supposed to do some rock climbing out in Clark County, and maybe do a little gambling, and a lot of drinking and eating, but unfortunately, what happened in Vegas, hadn’t stayed in Vegas. Their first night there, they got drunk on the free casino drinks, and Nicole hit it big on the roulette table. Then, somehow, they ended up in one of those open-all-night wedding chapels. When she woke up the next day, Nicole didn’t remember much about the night before, but she figured it out when she found the receipt for the ceremony in her pants pocket.

A week in, they realized what a mistake they’d made, and after that, their marriage only lasted another month, long enough for them to get an annulment through the mail. The experience didn’t tear them apart though; if anything, it basically cemented their friendship. Shae admitted she’d actually never intended to get married, claiming the practice was archaic and sexist, but ever since the day it was legalized in The States, Nicole had been dreaming of having a wife, having someone willing to make that kind of life-long commitment to her. They decided they were much better off as friends after that, but that was also the last time Nicole had had even a drop to drink. She’d never been good with alcohol to begin with, but after that night, she knew she’d had enough, and honestly, after the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, she didn’t even miss it.

Of course, lost in her own thoughts, Nicole nearly missed Waverly’s response, but she clued in just in time to hear Waverly say, “It’s just… the cameras make me kinda nervous, and I hate that, so I wanted to go around and meet everybody before they turn the cameras on… Otherwise, I’ll be a total wreck later.”

It was a little hard to believe that being on camera would make Waverly nervous; clearly, she was the center of attention everywhere she went, but rather than question it, Nicole just smiled wider as she said, “Well, there’s no reason to be nervous. Tonight is gonna be easy, just be yourself and you’ll do fine.” Her words didn’t seem to help Waverly much, so Nicole reached out and put a hand on Waverly’s shoulder as she continued, “Really, you’ll barely even notice the cameras. They’ll probably set them up in the corners of the room so they can get shots of everyone at once.”

When Waverly shuddered at the contact on her shoulder, Nicole nearly retracted her hand, but then she felt Waverly push up into the comfort, so she held still. It was an odd sort of moment too, like being in limbo, but eventually, Waverly sighed again as she said, “O-ok, I’ll do my best.” That seemed to be Waverly’s MO, faking until she was making it, but Nicole just tried to offer her a reassuring smile as she finally pulled her hand away. Waverly still seemed a little lost, her nervous smile faltering again, but Nicole didn’t get a chance to say anything about it, not when Waverly quickly started stuttering again, “Sorry… I— I’m sure I’m bothering you… You’re obviously trying to get ready. I’ll just see you out there?”

After such an abrupt withdrawal, it took Nicole’s mouth a few extra seconds to catch up with her brain, but by that point, Waverly was already walking away. Nicole called out after her anyway, “Yeah, ok… See you later, Waverly,” but Waverly just kept going like she didn’t even hear her. Nicole at least expected a ‘turn and wave,’ but the snub didn’t sting as much as it should have, not with such a great view of Waverly’s backside. Unable to stop herself, Nicole took it all in, scanning Waverly’s body with her eyes. Her toned thighs lead to even firmer buttocks, and there were flush hips resting just below her narrow waist. Her strong shoulders supported her lightly muscled arms, and with Waverly’s hair swept forward over her shoulder, Nicole eventually focused on the most important detail: the hot blush covering the back of Waverly’s neck. Yep, Waverly was definitely into her; now, all she had to do was accept it.

 

~~~

 

The Homestead Hope logo fills the screen again, partially covering a shot of the team walking through the terminal at Calgary International Airport. As they approach the camera, Nicole is all ‘smiles and waves,’ but Dolls seems to be his usual stoic self. After a few moments, his grim smile widens ever so slightly, when Jeremy joins them. As they greet each other, Nicole’s voice overlays the scene as she says, “I’m really excited about this week’s episode. I mean, nothing says Hometown Hero like Wyatt Earp.” When the screen shifts away from the group, Nicole is featured instead, sitting on a stool in front of a nondescript blue background. She beams at the camera as she continues, “So, the Earp Homestead has been abandoned for the last fifteen years, and that’s a bit intimidating, but that’s why we’re bringing in some local hands to help us get everything done on time. We only have two weeks out here, so we’re gonna have to make every day count.”

The screen shifts away from Nicole then, displaying a montage of images instead, including an aerial of downtown Purgatory. In this shot, a small slip of the Sheriff’s station is visible along the left-hand side of the screen, while the sign for ‘Shorty’s Saloon’ hangs in midair along the right side. Nicole and Dolls and Jeremy come walking onscreen, sipping coffees from the local coffee shop as they stroll down the sidewalk. Nicole’s voice accompanies this shot too, her tone soft as she says, “Really, Wyatt couldn’t have picked a more picturesque town. Purgatory certainly doesn’t live up to its name.” Closeups of the property surrounding the Earp Homestead follow that, but Nicole’s voice can be heard throughout, as she adds, “Still, we’ve got our work cut out for us. First, we need to put in a new well, and then, Jeremy wants to add some solar panels to the roof of the house. If we can make the Homestead self-sufficient, it’ll go a long way towards making the property livable again.”

A computer-generated drawing films the screen then, showing the possible placements for the new well, and outlines of the solar panels that will be installed. Zooming in on the panels, a brief blurb pops up along the bottom of the screen, proudly stating, ‘Solar Panel Technology donated by ‘Solaris Inc.’ A World Leader in Innovation and Invention.’ When the frame zooms out again, a dotted line slowly appears around the perimeter of the Homestead, as Nicole continues, “Water and power aren’t all we’re tackling while we’re out here. Dolls and I are gonna have to spend some time actually securing the property too. With recent wolf sightings in the area, the holes in the fencing are a major concern, and, from what I’ve seen, there’s plenty of them that need to be filled.”

More detailed interior images of the house follow that. First, there’s an outdated kitchen, featuring a sink full of dirty dishes and a cracked countertop. In the living room, there’s an uncomfortable-looking couch, a thread-bare rug, and a soot-covered fireplace. The next shot features a messily made bed surrounded by piles of dirty clothes, and the image of a small, old-fashioned bathroom follows that, complete with a chipped, claw-foot tub shower.

Then, the screen shifts to more exterior shots, showing bits of broken siding and squeaky porch floorboards, before cutting back to Nicole again. She’s smiling even wider this time though, as she says, “Actually, it seems like there are holes all over this property, including a few in the siding on the house, but if we’ve got time, Dolls and I wanna do something about the barn too. As it is, the building’s barely more than shack; without our help, I’m afraid it might just collapse in on itself.”

The final shot of the segment shows an open field, covered in browned grass and patches of snow. Once again, Nicole’s voice overlays the shot, but a bit of trepidation finally slips into her tone as she says, “With all that land, it’d be a shame not to use it… so last on our list, is plowing the upper two acres of the property, giving the Earp’s a little space to farm on. Of course, mid-March probably isn’t the best time of year to try turning earth, but come Hell or Highwater, we’ll find a way. We always do…”

The screen starts to fade then, the fields growing dimmer and dimmer with every passing second, but soon, the Homestead Hope logo brightens the screen again. The narrator’s voice is bright too, when he adds, “This week’s episode is sure to be filled with its ups and downs, so stick around after the break for more ‘Homestead Hope: Hometown Heroes Edition.” As he says the words, the show’s logo completes itself, but it only stays on screen for a few moments before the screen blacks out.