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Said I Wanted to Fly (So I Went and Got Some Wings)

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Wind invaded the car through the open windows, Nicole’s shoulder-length hair slapping viciously against her sunglasses along to the beat of her travel mix playlist. A “Welcome to Purgatory” sign depicting a nuclear family greeted her as she entered the town’s outskirts.

On the horizon loomed enticingly climbable mountains that sparked a memory, one of falling and a hospital room. Rock climbing used to be a comforting hobby, a grounding passion despite the heights she would reach. Each new anchor was a test of will and determination, small victories in comparison to standing at the top. Breathing in clean mountain air was a bonus. She would savor its calming effects every chance she had.

Not even the air could calm her as she had fallen. Nothing prepared her for the accident, her heart ceasing to exist in those agonizingly panicked seconds. Her hand wrung steering wheel leather in response to the memory, a small huff of laughter escaping her at the thought of how she once considered it her biggest mistake, how that was definitely no longer true.

Acre upon acre of grassy fields vanished from view as she drove steadily along the highway. Earthy smells swirled around her and she welcomed the overtones of nature with a deep breath. Despite her climbing mishap, she was still rejuvenated by the resetting effects of the country. She preferred rural life to city life, but the city had provided more opportunities for her career, so she had stayed, fulfilled by protecting and serving a dense population.

That didn’t matter anymore though.

Familiar opening notes of a guitar and violin crooned out of the car’s speakers as she swiped a frisky wisp of hair out of her face. Depressing thoughts drifted off to be replaced with childhood nostalgia, her index finger bobbing against the steering wheel, following the down beat of the drums.

“She needs wide open spaces, room to make her big mistakes…”

Humming along with the lyrics, she smiled. Life wasn’t all doom clouds and dreariness. Sometimes, it was open fields of endless opportunities. While The Chicks serenaded her with optimism, she decided to view this job in Purgatory as a new beginning, hopefully one without big mistakes. She just needed to give it a chance.

***** 

Purgatory was everything Nicole expected in a small town. The architecture of buildings she drove past screamed rustic charm, residents walked the sidewalks with zero urgency, and the air still smelled like freedom. All of it contrasted so jarringly with the rushed inner workings of city living, but she hadn’t realized how much she needed this change until she parked in front of a bar called Shorty’s, exited her car, and instantly dialed into the slow and steady energy of small-town life.

The energy carried into Shorty’s when she pushed open a heavy oak door, the bar silent during the mid-day lull. She wandered down two steps—honest to god tripping hazards for drunks—into the bar proper and snagged the first available barstool, not that there was much competition in the empty establishment. No one manned the bar, so ordering an appropriate pre-interview drink to calm her churning almost-interview-time nerves wasn’t an option. Instead, she studied her surroundings, shifting around on her barstool to take in the oak accents, scuffed round tables, and sturdy handcrafted chairs. A pool table sat in a corner, noticeably well-loved by the marks and stains that tarnished the felt top. Two slot machines were slightly out of place along the far wall. In the opposite corner, a piano looked like a landing zone for dust rather than an instrument. Nicole also noted a staircase that led up to god-knows-what, the bar seeming too small for a second floor from the outside.

The most interesting décor in the entire place littered the walls behind the bar. It was preserved history, every yellowed news article and dog-eared photograph framed with respect. A “drink where Wyatt Earp drank” sign hung as the centerpiece of the historic collage. Just as she was dredging up the niggling memory of Wyatt Earp from a high school history lesson, a voice shattered her focus.

“Hey, sorry I’m late!”

Barstool feet dragged against floorboards as she whipped her body around, startled limbs flailing, the momentum tipping her seat at an angle that jammed her back into the bar’s edge. Pain shot up her spine, but a well-placed foot saved her grimace from turning into embarrassed horror. Yeah, this will get me the job. Nothing like a jumpy, accident-prone security guard, she thought.

“Whoa, sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you,” the owner of the voice said, his hands held up in a nervous surrender. He then offered a hand. “We spoke on the phone. My name’s Jeremy. I’m the manager of the band. You probably guessed that already though. Or you can read minds, which would be super cool,” he said, laughing anxiously at his own bumbling introduction. Before shaking his hand, she righted the barstool and stood.

“Nicole,” she said, the full power of her dimples in play. She believed in her ability to seal the deal on this job but flashing treasured family genetics couldn’t hurt.

“Right, so, as I was saying on the phone yesterday, we’re interested in hiring you as private security. It’s not exactly how security would function for a band, but we’re willing to pay extra for any inconvenience that might include. We even have a place for you to stay if you want the job,” he explained.

“What kind of inconvenience?” she asked.

Worry lined his features, intensified by fidgeting hands. “The band received some threatening fan mail recently at a venue. They have a decent following in the city, but fan mail of any kind was new. Then more of it showed up at every other gig, all of it directed at our singer.”

“So I’ll be babysitting?” she asked, a small smirk curling her lip.

“Sort of.” He smiled apologetically. “The Earps have a certain… reputation. It’s not quite as simple as that. There’s a real threat though, on top of regular security duties during events, so I’ll understand if you don’t—”

“I’m an ex-cop, Jeremy. I can handle it,” she interrupted.

“You definitely want the job then?” His eyes gleamed with hope.

Nicole nodded in response. If she couldn’t be a cop anymore, this was a decent second option. They needed her skills, and her chest tightened at the thought of being needed again.

Jeremy absolutely beamed at her, the weight of whatever worry he carried dissipating instantly. “Awesome! Welcome to the team! The band should be here soonish, hopefully, and we can do introductions.”

“Can’t wait,” Nicole replied. “What kind of band are they anyway?”

“Alternative? Punk rock? Metal? Wynonna likes to play genre-roulette just about every day. It’s hard to keep up,” he answered, shaking his head fondly. “Waverly insists they’re an emo band though.”

Emo? She shuddered. The worst.

“Can I ask why you quit being a cop?” Jeremy wondered.

Nicole’s jaw clenched immediately, but she smoothed her features just as fast. He was her new employer; he didn’t need to know how deep her wounds were. “Wanted to do something a little less dangerous, but still use my skills from the academy. I think security work will be just what I’m looking for.” The half-lie branded itself on her conscious.

“Yeah, sounds like it’ll suit you,” Jeremy encouraged. He checked his phone for the time while his free hand drummed a beat on his thigh. “Gosh, where are—”

A leather boot bashed open the front door of Shorty’s, heavy oak meeting solid wall like a shotgun blast. The leather boot’s owner entered the bar, wearing an entire leather collection on her thin frame; her jacket, leather, was frayed, obviously well-worn; her pants, leather, stuck to her legs as if they were skin; her door-kicking boots, leather, had metal buckles along the side securing them to her feet. Even her belt buckle, studded with silver bullets, had a leather-looking texture. The only leather-less piece of clothing she seemed to possess was a band t-shirt Nicole couldn’t decipher.

“Whiskey, stat!” the newcomer demanded. “I’m not going to make it,” she added with dramatic flair, a hand clutching at her heart as she pretended to wither away due to lack of alcohol consumption. Once her eyes met Nicole, all dramatics switched off, and she glided down the drunk hazard steps with practiced ease. A swagger in her step carried her straight into Nicole’s personal space.

“Wow, Jer. Why didn’t you tell me we had a new brand of whiskey in stock?” she asked while eyeing Nicole, notes of flirtatious suggestion in her voice.

“Wynonna, we talked about this. Her name is Nicole and—”

“Nicole? Well, now that we’re on a first name basis…” Wynonna’s arms boxed Nicole in, gripping the bar’s edge with purposeful hands. Nicole leaned back as far as she possibly could without cracking herself in half. “How about you and I take this upstairs so we can taste test what’s on tap?”

“I’m a big fan of water nowadays,” Nicole replied, the pitch of her voice higher than normal. “And that would be inappropriate.”

One of her captor’s arms swung away in response to the rejection, freeing Nicole, but Wynonna continued to lean against the bar next to her. “Shame, Red. I’ve won awards for my taste testing abilities.” Wynonna smirked at the memories. “They’re more moans than trophies—”

“Jesus Christ, Wynonna,” a gruff, feminine voice scolded. An older woman appeared behind the bar, hair short, grey, and curly. “Could you stop hounding the poor girl? For Waverly’s sake?”

“Sorry,” Wynonna murmured, suppressed anarchy in her eyes.

“Name’s Gus,” she said to Nicole, no room for nonsense in her tone. “I own the bar and I’m this one’s aunt.” She casually gestured to Wynonna.

“A pleasure, ma’am,” Nicole responded respectfully.

When Nicole turned back around to face Wynonna, a tall, broad-shouldered man had somehow infiltrated their little group at the bar, and Nicole noted his attentive posture. Dark shirt, dark jeans appeared clean and functional. His presence radiated a stoic calm that telegraphed ‘bass player of the band.’

“Dolls,” he introduced as he shook Nicole’s hand.

“Nice to meet you.” She sent a smile his way, then faced Wynonna. “So, are you the singer?” An entrance like hers screamed emo diva.

“Nope. I’m a sidekick in this band of misfits. She’s the main attraction.” Wynonna pointed to the top of the steps where an ethereal goddess stood watch over the peasants below, a lit cigarette between her fingers. “Waves, get over here, meet—”

Nicole stopped listening. The singer was dressed similarly to Wynonna: band t-shirt, leather jacket, ripped jeans, calf-covering boots. Her hair was nearly shoulder-length, pinned back, and just as black and thick as her eyeliner. When she raised her cigarette to take a drag, the small glow from the embers highlighted her pale cheekbones and a simple, thin septum piercing. Nicole blinked a few times, confirming she was real.

As the gothic goddess descended the treacherous steps, a few adjectives ran through Nicole’s mind to describe her jawline: sharp, rigid, hot—

Hot?

Then the singer’s hand was offered to her, and, while flustered, she said the first thing that came to mind.

“Hot.”

Wynonna’s face twisted in disbelief. “Sure, and that’s appropriate,” she scoffed.

“Haught. Nicole Haught,” she corrected, shaking the singer’s hand and mentally shaking herself.

“Waverly,” the singer said, apathy drenching every syllable of her name. Despite her cool complexion, Waverly’s hand was pleasantly warm.

“Cool, now that everyone’s here and names have been shared,” Jeremy began, “let’s get down to business. We all know about the threatening fan mail. Nicole is here to provide Waverly with extra security. She’ll essentially be her personal bodyguard during gigs and Rage on the Homestead. Any questions?”

Wynonna half-heartedly raised her hand. “Yeah, how do I get a solid 8 on the hotness scale to be my bodyguard 24/7?”

“Are there any actual questions?” Jeremy clarified.

“Why is this necessary?” Waverly asked.

“Waves, you know why—”

“Nothing has happened. I don’t need a paid stalker, especially not someone who’s about as intimidating as a skittish puppy,” Waverly argued, the cigarette flaring in agreement.

“I’m an ex-cop. I’m more than qualified to protect you,” Nicole defended. “So I’ll stalk you.” Wynonna raised an eyebrow. “Appropriately.”

Waverly ignored her. “I made sure nobody would fuck with this family, and they won’t.”

“C’mon, babygirl,” Wynonna started.

“Don’t fucking call me that, Nonna,” Waverly said sternly. She smashed the butt of her cigarette into the gloss of the bar top, extinguishing it, and whipped out of Shorty’s like an unnatural storm.

“Waverly Earp!” Gus scolded, voice booming.

Wynonna released a soul-deep sigh and collapsed onto a barstool. “Sorry about that, Haughtstuff. Earps are stubborn, and she’s definitely an Earp.”

“What did she mean by all of that?” Nicole asked, taking the seat next to Wynonna.

Wynonna picked at a nick in the bar. “Legacy. The Earp name has been cursed for generations. Waverly was fixing it.”

“And she was doing a fine job of it until you came back,” Gus said, uncompromising.

“I just wanted to see how she was doing.” Wynonna slumped farther into the bar. “I’d been gone seven years. I knew she was working at Shorty’s part time, but when I got here, Bobo Del Rey got in my face and demanded money for the ‘sins of my father.’”

“Trouble has a nasty way of following you, girl. Inherited that from your daddy,” Gus noted.

“Trouble can’t resist an ass like mine,” Wynonna responded, a smirk patching the stinging bite of Gus’ comment. “And my inheritance was a loaded right hook that started a bar brawl. Then there was a shotgun blast, and everyone stopped to watch Waverly descend the stairs like a freaking emo angel on a mission.” Wynonna smiled at the memory, concern peeking out at the edges. “She was beautiful. And terrible. She threatened him, shotgun aimed at his ugly face in a bar full of people and told him not to fuck with our family. Everyone in town knew the story by morning.”

“Now there are two crazy girls with guns in the family,” Gus grumbled.

“So she thinks nothing can touch her,” Nicole whispered.

“Yep,” Wynonna answered, ignoring Gus. “She’s right, no one has fucked with her yet. But legacy’s a bitch, and eventually the bad stuff comes knocking,” Wynonna elaborated, concern finally overtaking her features.

“You’re on board with me being here then?” Nicole asked.

“My sister is always priority number one. I’m good with anyone who has the same priorities, even if we’re paying them to have said priorities.”

“Having extra eyes around wouldn’t hurt either,” Dolls added. “We just want Waverly to be safe.”

Nicole knew she would protect Waverly even without monetary incentive, but she simply nodded instead of sharing. “Can you give me more info on Bobo del Rey?”

“Waverly would be the one to talk to about him. She’s had a lot more time to deal with him,” Wynonna admitted.

“He’ll definitely be at the sign up for Rage on the Homestead tomorrow. Might be a good time to do a little recon on him, get a feel for who he is,” Jeremy offered.

“I’ll do that,” Nicole confirmed. “Where will I be staying?”

“There’s a room upstairs. It used to be Waverly’s apartment, so it’s nice enough,” Gus said. “Wynonna, show her the room and, for the love of Curtis’ tomatoes, behave yourself.”

“We’ll meet you tomorrow for Rage on the Homestead sign ups,” Jeremy said with a grin.

As Jeremy and Dolls headed out of Shorty’s, Nicole followed Wynonna up to the mysterious second floor where a few rooms hid from the bar below. Wynonna unlocked the first door on the right, opening it to reveal a fairly spacious bedroom, furnished with a bed, dresser, and desk; a kitchenette was tucked into the side, and there was a door next to it that likely led to a bathroom. Wynonna grabbed Nicole’s hand and slapped the keys into her open palm.

“There, it’s the only key I own for this room. No one will bother you up here.”

“Thanks, Wynonna,” Nicole said with genuine appreciation, her dimples popping into existence as she smiled.

“Don’t mention it. Sign-ups are at 11am. Don’t be late, newbie.” And with that, Wynonna walked backwards to the doorway, executed an awkward mock-salute that was somehow cool, and left, the only sound of her departure being durable leather boots scraping hardwood floor.

After a few more moments of exploring her new room, Nicole ventured outside to fetch her bags out of the car, hefting them upstairs easily. Admittedly, there wasn't much to carry--she had donated or given away what possessions she wasn't able to sell, choosing to truly leave most of her old life behind in the city.

Once everything had a place in her room, she laid on the bed and studied the ceiling’s insecurities. There was a tiny spot of old water damage just outside her direct line of sight, paint flaking away from the wound. Feeling insightful, she related to the ceiling; her past mistakes were clearly visible to her and anyone who cared to look closer, yet she remained, like the ceiling, fully functional and able to defend against whatever the world would throw.

But the past didn’t exist here, and her mind required more room for the current problems plaguing her chance at a fresh start, so she buried the memories in favor of more current mental debris; Waverly had adamantly rejected her services. For an ex-cop, protecting a disgruntled emo singer from unknown dangers felt like hitting the jackpot, even if she didn’t want Nicole’s protection. How could she convince Waverly that she was necessary? Was there any chance of having a normal conversation with her? Then there was the fact that said singer was ridiculously attractive—

Everything would be fine: this job, her new acquaintances, everything. She just needed to stop picturing a very sharp, very rigid, very hot jawline.