The first time Gus McCready meets Purgatory’s newest deputy, the kid's stepping out of Shorty’s, a swagger in her hips and a wide, happy grin dimpling her cheeks. Gus has seen that look before. Giddy and a little bit awestruck. It’s the typical reaction when customers (men most especially, but quite a few women and children too) have had the pleasure of meeting a certain town darling. But there’s something about this particular officer’s smile, the sheer joy in it, that somehow reminds Gus of Curtis and warms the cockles of her old curmudgeon’s heart.
Blissfully unaware of Gus’s approach, the deputy spins once on a thick boot heel and Gus bites the inside of her cheek to keep from chuckling.
“Mornin' that good, officer?” Gus asks, half smirking.
The younger woman startles and stops short, face flushing, dark brown eyes wide.
“Uh, yes ma’am,” she answers. Her hands self-consciously grip the buckle of her utility belt. “Definitely a good morning, um, Mrs. McCready, ma’am.”
Gus lifts one salt-and-pepper eyebrow. “Know me already, do you?”
“Sheriff Nedley pointed you out when we were here yesterday for dinner.”
“You mean happy hour? When the sheriff spies on us all under the guise of,” Gus curls two fingers on each hand and carves quote marks in the air, “socializin'?”
The officer ducks her head, white Stetson obscuring her eyes, before she lifts it back up with a shrug and a small smile. “Yes ma’am.”
Gus scowls good-naturedly and waves her off, already taking a liking to the deputy. “It’s just Gus, sweetheart. None of that ma’am crap.”
“Yes ma… I mean, Gus.”
“Better.” Gus smiles. “And you’re the new rookie from the big city Nedley’s been waxin' on about.”
“Nicole.” She nods and offers a hand. “Nicole Haught.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Nicole." Gus shakes Nicole’s hand, impressed by her firm, yet gentle grip. She yanks her forward slightly. “Whatever Nedley told you about me, don’t you believe it.”
“And what if he told me all good things?”
“Like I said, don’t you believe it.” Gus winks and lets go of her hand. “You meet Waverly?”
The tips of Nicole’s ears redden, darker than her hair, and Gus knows without a doubt that she had hit the bullseye with her earlier guess about Nicole meeting the youngest Earp.
“Yeah, she,” Nicole’s eyes dart toward the entrance, seemingly at a loss of words before she settles on: “She’s sweet.”
“That she is,” Gus agrees. “Well, come ‘round and visit us again sometime soon, ya hear? Don’t be a stranger.”
Nicole tips the brim of her hat forward. “Have a good day, Gus,” she says, continuing on her way down the sidewalk toward the sheriff’s office with even more pep in her step than when she had first sauntered out of the saloon.
Shaking her head in amusement, Gus pulls open the wooden double doors and enters Shorty’s. Her eyebrows shoot up when she spots Waverly in her bra, leaning her elbows on the oak bar top. She’s holding a business card, a wide, happy grin on her face, not unlike the one Officer Haught had been sporting two minutes ago.
It’s a smile Gus has never seen before on Waverly. Not for Champ. Not for anyone.
“I know we said we wanted more customers, Waverly,” Gus drawls, “but last I checked this was still a bar and not a peep show.”
Waverly jolts at the sound of her voice. “The tap busted,” she blurts out, flustered. “Again. Shorty really needs to get that fixed.”
“Uh huh.” Gus walks to the bar and braces her hands on the edge. She can smell the bitter hops from the beer-soaked blouse lying on the counter behind the bar. “And you felt the need to change in front of the new deputy?”
“You, uh, you met her?”
“Bumped into her outside.” Gus drums her fingers. “Haught, right?”
“Totally,” Waverly says somewhat dreamily before she catches herself, “Uh, I mean, that’s her name, yup. Haught. Officer Haught.” She waves the business card pinched between her fingers. “And I’ve the card to confirm it.”
“Right,” Gus says, amused. She watches Waverly slip the card into the front pocket of her high-waisted shorts. “Well, why don’t you go get fixed up and I’ll get everythin' ready for openin'.”
Waverly nods and heads toward the stairs that lead up to her old loft. She’s halfway up when she stops. “Think you could fire up the cappuccino maker? I might bring one by the Sheriff’s office in a bit.”
“For Wynonna?” Gus asks as she walks behind the bar to examine the malfunctioning tap.
“Uh, yeah, Wynonna,” Waverly fidgets with her fingers, a clear tell that Gus instantly recognizes. Ever since she was a kid, Waverly could never be anything but honest, and Gus wonders why Waverly even tries to lie.
From several feet away, Gus can see the blush on Waverly’s face as she scurries up the steps. And for the second time that morning, Gus has to bite the inside of her cheek to keep from chuckling.