Nicole’s 13 and Waverly Earp is laughing at something she said.
A boy in their class who’s name Nicole don’t even remember anymore is bein’ a punk to this other kid Nicole also can’t remember the name of, but he had glasses and he wore hand-me-downs and lived on a farm out of town.
Waverly stepped in to tell the punk boy to take a hike, and the punk boy told her to take a hike, and Nicole was willing to let it all slide until right that second.
Then she figured it was about time she taught him a thing or two about a thing or two.
“Maybe if ya gonna pick on a kid who likes button-up shirts,” is what she starts with, “you might wanna check the mirror after your mama dresses you in the mornin’.”
The kind of burn only a pre-pubescent loner could come up with.
Honestly, not even that effective.
But it makes Waverly laugh, which makes Nicole feel like she’s won something.
That might have been it, really.
If Nicole had to guess.
It’s the first thing that pops into their head when they do any reflecting on the topic, anyways.
As good a place as any.
But not the only place.
Not even close.
Nicole is 15 and Waverly Earp is teaching her what hate is.
They’re eatin’ lunch and she’s talkin’ a lot about some fella named James Hardy.
James Hardy plays baseball.
James Hardy calls himself Champ.
James Hardy’s takin’ her to junior prom.
Nicole hates him, for no reason she can put her finger on, or for too many reasons for eight fingers and two thumbs to keep track of.
The day Waverly buys her dress, it occurs to Nicole most girls wouldn’t hate James Hardy the way she hates James Hardy for the reasons she’s got.
Nicole’s 17 and Waverly Earp has lightning in her eyes.
“It don’t matter,” Nicole tells her, embarrassed and ashamed and all other kindsa things. “Let’s just go to class.”
“No,” Waverly says, thunder and rain already. “Screw that. Give me your bag.”
Nicole glances down the hall like she’s checking for something. Not sure what. Just feels like she kinda stands out all of a sudden, in a way she ain’t sure she likes.
Waverly grabs at her backpack, pulls it open, digs around for one of the markers she knows Nicole keeps to doodle on her sneakers or her folders or her skin.
Drops the bag, uncaps the pen.
“What’re you doin’?”
“Look for teachers.”
Nicole does a sweep of the hall again, glad to at least have a reason this time.
When she turns back to her locker, to Waverly, to the scene of the stupid, stupid, stupid crime, every emotion imaginable rises into her throat and her eyes.
That’s what they wrote. What it says.
Ain’t even false. Don’t matter, like she’s told Waverly a hundred times in the past ten minutes.
Unfair, ain’t it, how even the words we choose for ourselves can be used against us by folks who don’t care to handle them the way they deserve.
“Ya gonna get in trouble,” Nicole says, lamely, trying to see what Waverly’s even doin’ and just wishing she’d hurry the heck up and do it.
“Not if you focus on being the lookout,” Waverly responds, concentrating.
Not long later, she’s done.
She announces so proudly, and when Nicole looks at the door of her locker again, Waverly flourishes, marker still capped in one hand, smiling, pleased with herself.
DYKEs do it better!!
Nicole’s mouth hangs open.
Until she snaps it shut, lest her heart fall out.
It’s meant to be a chastisement, a reprimand. There’s too much adoration in it, is the issue.
Waverly can tell. Nicole can tell that she can tell.
She steps to her, tucks the marker in the chest pocket of her flannel.
“What?” she says, mischief and mirth. “Don’t matter, does it?”
And if Nicole weren’t already in love with her, she sure would be now.
Nicole’s 21 as of a week ago and Waverly Earp is listening intently.
They promised they were gonna do this before they said goodbye to their teenage years and then it was before you’re 21 and now it’s like if they don’t get it out soon they’ll be 30 making promises about turning 40.
“Hey,” Waverly says, her hand still wrapped around theirs.
They’re sitting together on the customer side of the bar at Shorty’s, where Waverly worked before she started that correspondence course and got a job at the library.
Nicole came in to talk twenty minutes ago and so far they ain’t done much of it.
“Is everything okay, Nicole?”
The real difficulty is, when you’re tellin’ a story, you tend to wanna start at the beginning. And Nicole ain’t sure where theirs is. Where to begin. Where it began. It’s just…
Always has been.
Makes it easy, come to think of it.
Not so hard to get a handle on things when handles are everywhere ya look.
Which, for the minute, is in Waverly’s eyes.
This girl is full of things that keep Nicole Haught nice and steady.
“I’ve been wantin’ to tell ya somethin’,” they say. “Somethin’ about… me.”
Waverly fits as much encouragement into one little smile smile as she possibly can.
Which is a lot.
Nicole slips their fingers between hers, so it’s less about Waverly holding Nicole’s hand and more about them holding each other’s, and they say it.
“I ain’t like, a girl.”
Just like that.
“Or a woman,” they add.
Just to be clear.
“Or a man,” they… add add.
No harm hittin’ the nail on the head more’n once.
Then they wait.
For Waverly to say something.
Which she does not, for a long time.
So Nicole says more, for fear of the limitless possibilities in her silence.
It’s a mirror, that kinda silence. Reflecting you back to yourself in agonising, flawed detail. Nicole ain’t prepared to look at it.
They talk and talk at her, all kinds of clarifications and connections and context. Justifications, like they’re arguin’ some kinda court case.
Waverly interrupts their ramble about masculinity but softer by getting off her stool and pulling them off theirs and hugging them tighter than they’ve ever been hugged in their life.
“You don’t have to explain,” she says, once she’s loosened her grip enough that they can breathe but not so much that they can move. Where on earth would they go, anyways. “You don’t have to explain anything at all. I’m just… I’m so glad I get to know who you are.”
Nicole wants to point out Waverly Earp has long been the only person with that particular information.
They concentrate on gettin’ hugged, instead.
She does that a lot, Waverly. Hugs them. Holds them together.
When they talked to their mom and it didn’t go so well.
After that waiter at Wynonna’s birthday dinner, who did nothin’ other than look at them funny between the entrée and the main.
The day their old dog, CJ, started sleeping a lot and eating a little, and it was time for one last walk round the park.
But that’s the first thing they think of, that time at Shorty’s, all cheap beer and nerves and a big-hearted girl with a beautiful smile.
Not the only thing, though.
Not even close.
Nicole’s 23 and, uh…
Twenny… twenny two?
Twen - twen…
Twen - ty - three.
Nicole squints. At darkness. They’re lookin’ at… darkness.
“Oh, thank God.”
“Hallelujah, you massive jerk.”
“Hey, can you hear me? Cole? You can hear me, right?”
Nicole squints, again. Waverly’s face, this time, her hair hanging down towards them like gravity’s gotten involved. She’s leaning over them. Leaning over them with wide eyes.
“They’re fine, they’re fine – Do you have any idea how hard their head is?”
“You didn’t see them go down.”
“Babygirl, I saw the whole entire thing and I’m just bummed I don’t have a recording I can replay to infinity when I need a boost.”
Nicole wants to tell them both to shut up, but can’t manage it.
They groan instead.
“See?” Wynonna says, like they’ve just recited the alphabet backwards. “Totally fine.”
Waverly drives them to the hospital, frowning at the dash and sayin’ all kinds of things to keep ‘em distracted and awake.
“Don’ speed,” they mumble, head resting against the passenger window.
“Shut up,” she responds.
Later on, they’ll piece together how it was they came to crack their noggin on the basketball court at the park across the road from Wynonna and Doc’s apartment building, and won’t be able to look any of their friends in the eye for several days.
Wynonna will recall, with a unnecessary amount a detail, how Nicole’s first ever attempt at a lay-up in the newly-instituted ritual of playing one-on-one with Doc ended as ridiculously as it did, and Waverly, placated by the fact they ain’t gonna die by this point, will join in with some gentle teasing of her own.
Even later, Doc will hand them a little bundle of flowers and apologise for his part in it all, and Nicole will realise they ain’t ever been given flowers before, and think how odd and nice and right it is that Doc Holliday’s become the first to do it.
But for now all they gotta do is survive five hours in emergency with a pissed-off Waverly Earp and sore head.
“You scared me,” she says, like it ain’t obvious even to them and their dented skull.
“Sorry,” they say, with as much volume in it as they can pull off.
And Waverly kisses them.
On the mouth.
It’s quick, soft, unforgettable.
“Whoa,” they say, with their eyes closed and everything.
Her fingers brush their cheek, their chin. The gentlest caress they’ve ever felt.
They open their eyes and wonder if it’s a concussion symptom these days to imagine the girl you’ve been in love with since forever kissing you without any preamble or if they’re like, really injured.
“You scared me,” Waverly says again, quieter.
They hang onto her wrist. Slot their thumb over hers. Grin at her.
“Not sure m’sorry anymore.”
“Haught,” she laughs, lip trembling, her other hand clutching theirs. “God.”
Nicole sighs. Rubs at her thumb with theirs and tugs at her arm.
Their second ever kiss happens twenty seconds after the first, the breath out after the breath in. Can’t have one without the other.
Kinda obscene it took them this long, Nicole thinks.
But what’s timing matter in a story that ain’t got an end.
Nicole’s 27 and Waverly Earp is Waverly Gibson, turns out.
Nicole sits up with her one night, a few days after an out-of-the-blue phone call from a drunk mother undoes a thing that might not-a needed undoin’.
Waverly pours over old diaries and birthday cards and photos on the bed they share, sifting through memories for the thread she missed, the clue she overlooked, a way to make sense of the senseless.
Nicole pushes their jeans down to their ankles, folds them up, puts them away. Stands in their boxers and their binder, choosing their moment. Worry eats at their edges. Worry and fear.
“Darlin’. How ‘bout we put all this aside and get some sleep, huh? Start fresh in the mornin’?”
Waverly don’t answer.
Nicole leans over the bed to kiss her head.
“M’gonna get set up on the couch, okay?”
Waverly startles like she’s woken up.
“The - What? Why?”
“Not – Just - Ya’ve… kinda taken over the bed.”
She looks down at the spread-out pile of papers and problems as if seeing it all anew. Sighs, and hides behind her hands.
“Shit. I’m… sorry.”
They kneel on the side of the bed, rubbing her back. “It’s a lot. S’fine to feel anything ya feel, for as long as it takes. Ain’t that what ya always tellin’ me?”
Waverly tilts toward them. They wrap her up nice and good, shifting to sit so their legs curl around her, too.
“Sorry,” she says again.
“Hush. Promise I don’t mind.”
“I just – I feel like I don’t know who I am anymore,” she whispers, shaking and folding against them, into them. “I - I keep forgetting and then I remember and I can’t breathe and – and Wynonna’s lookin’ at me all different and–”
“Waves, no, she’s just – She’s worried, baby. We all are.”
“It’s different. Everything’s different. Most of all me.”
“Okay, come on. Lookit me. Please.”
It takes some doing, but she does. They wipe the tears off her cheeks, out the corner of her eyes before they can fall.
“You,” they say, with a gentle prod into her shoulder, “are Waverly Earp. Ya make an incredible vegan chilli, ya read to me when I can’t sleep, and ya always help Mrs Kennedy get her groceries up the stairs on the weekends even though ya hate seein’ all the plastic.”
“She buys so much bottled water, Cole. So much.”
“Ya ain’t any different,” they go on, holding her to them again. Rocking them both, side to side, just enough for it to mean something. “Not in any way that matters.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“That’s alright. I’ll believe it enough for the both of us.”
Waverly don’t answer, but she don’t argue, neither.
They stay as they are, Nicole hoping all the affection and certainty in their heart might seep into her if they only hold her long enough.
That’s all loving is, ain’t it.
Reminding each other who you are, every single time you forget.
Nicole’s 31 and Waverly Earp-Haught is not amused.
Nicole frowns into the corner of his vision, pretending to think on it.
“Funny,” he says. “Don’t recall doin’ anything much like that.”
Waverly turns back to him, arms folded, eyebrow raised.
It’d be scarier if she weren’t biting a trembling lip like she does when she’s trying not to cry.
“I said I didn’t want a fuss,” she mumbles, voice wet already.
He chuckles at her cute brand of overwhelm, moving gently into her space to rest his hands on her hips.
“Ain’t no fussin’ to be seen here.”
“I said I didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”
“Ya said ya wanted something small. Look at them carrot sticks. Didn’t even cut ‘em myself.”
“I said I just wanted like, a quiet meal with my favourite people.”
“Unfortunately, Wynonna will be here, soon, but–”
“How many times does a person’s wife get to turn 30?” he asks, rhetorically, for probably the hundredth time that month.
“Once,” Waverly mutters, fiddling with their collar. “Thank God.”
“It’s real cause for celebratin’, yanno it is. No-fuss, small-sized, favourite-people-only celebratin’.”
“I hate you.”
“Of course ya do,” he says, safe in the knowledge it could not be further from the truth. “I’m a awful husband.”
“Think you’ll like ya present, then.”
“Why? Did you get me a divorce?”
“Darn. Ya too smart.”
Waverly bursts into laughter.
Nicole kisses her one more time.
They’ve been kissin’ Waverly Earp nearly ten years now and some days they still ain’t sure if they’re used to it.
S’only been three years of doing it as her husband, so maybe that’s it.
(That is not it).
“We didn’t do anything for your 30th,” Waverly says, a last-ditch attempt at winning back a little ground.
“That’s different,” he says, prepared for it. “I ain’t half as special as you.”
She shakes her head and slips her hands around his torso in a hug that makes him think of hospital-grade bleach and headaches for reasons he can’t place in this moment.
“You’re lucky you’re so handsome.”
“Gets me outta a lotta trouble, it does.”
“Your luck’s gonna run out one day, buddy. You know it will.”
“But not today, right?”
Waverly twists in his grip to look round their little apartment at the fairy lights and the party hats and the lone gift in the middle of the four-seater dinner table. It’s a necklace.
“I can call Wyn and tell her it’s off,” he tells her, sincere and quiet. “If that’s what ya really want. We can eat ice cream and watch that house-building show ya keep talkin’ about and that’ll be it.”
She plays with the dip of his throat, runs her fingers over the skin there. Another little habit of hers.
“How long have you been planning this?”
Nicole just shrugs.
The answer is somewhere between two weeks and my whole life, but he ain’t sure how much sense that’d make.
“Not long,” is what he goes with. “Ya worth every second.”
Nicole’s 35-and-four-months, and his wife won’t talk to him.
He’s tried everythin’.
“Face it, Haught Topic,” Wynonna says, squinting up at the balcony they both know is theirs – three up, three across. “You’re gonna be extra crispy before this is over.”
Nicole whines at the building, like if they do so pathetically enough they might be allowed back in it.
“She won’t even talk to me,” he tells her.
He’s real stuck on that part.
Can’t recall a time he rang and she didn’t answer.
“She said you’re, and I quote, welcome to go to the pet store and find a dog house to sleep in.” Wynonna chuckles. “Forgot how funny she is when she’s plotting a murder.”
“I was only tryin’ to…”
He stops himself.
Wynonna ain’t gonna get it.
Hell, he ain’t sure he gets it.
His wife finally receives a letter from the biological father she wrote to over a year ago and he sees it, panics about it, reads it, hides it.
Weren’t even that bad, the contents. He just knew it ain’t what she wanted to hear.
It was only meant to be a week, if that. He was gonna pick the right moment, ease her into it. They was gonna do it together, like they do everythin’.
Waverly found it stuffed in his old raincoat when she was doing her spring clean.
Too bad it arrived in the fall.
“Thought I was doin’ the right thing,” he mumbles.
Not gonna save him now, no matter how true it is.
Wynonna claps him on the back. “I know you did, you beautiful dum-dum. Which is why I’m out here helping you have your Streetcar moment and not in there brainstorming the best ways to hide your body.”
“She already knows the best ways to hide a body.”
“Then you’re doubly lucky I’m on your side, aren’t you?”
He huffs a short, bitter laugh, filled with all the humour a person wallowing in self-hatred can muster.
Wynonna catches the mood shift. Grabs his shoulder.
“Come on, man. Enough of this Stella crap. You’re sleeping on our couch tonight, and in the morning it’ll have blown over and you’ll be back to being the most absolutely disgustingly in love lesbians on the planet. Okay?”
“Waverly’s bisexual,” he mutters, out of habit.
Wynonna drags him to her truck without another word.
Nicole’s 35-and-six-months. Waverly answers on the second ring.
He tries to play it cool. Clutches his phone and stares at the dark ceiling of the living room.
She doesn’t speak, but he can hear her.
“Hey,” he whispers.
Wynonna and Doc went to bed hours ago.
“Thanks for calling,” she whispers back.
It’s only the third time he’s heard her voice in a little over two months, outside of those nights he tortures himself by watching videos on his phone until Wynonna confiscates it.
He swallows down the lump in his throat so he can respond proper.
“Thanks for textin’.”
Her sigh rushes at his ear a second, a wave breaking over a rockface.
“Jeez,” she mutters. “How much time do you have?”
He smiles at the ceiling. “All the time in the world.”
Waverly tells him about the museum, and what exhibit she’s planning for the summer.
About the new walking track she found with Ginsberg, and how she keeps barking at the little birds that perch on the trail markers.
About how the toilet’s stopped workin’ again.
“Ya just gotta take the lid off and jiggle the-”
“I tried that, and it doesn’t work.”
“Does when I do it.”
“If it worked, you wouldn’t need to do it more than once.”
“I ain’t gonna let it beat me, Waverly. I’m smarter n’ bigger than that stupid thing.”
“I know, I know, I know,” she says, her smile lacing her words. “I do believe in your ability to eventually thwart our toilet.”
Nicole can’t believe he spends the next three seconds thinking she called it our toilet and tryin’ real hard not to break down.
“I know I messed up.”
His voice gives him away, it must do. His eyes are hot and blurry and his teeth grit together.
“Baby, I know. And I’m so - God, I can’t begin to tell ya how sorry I am.”
“I messed up, too.”
He scoffs. Rolls his leaking eyes at the ceiling and sniffs. Can’t imagine a single thing she gone and done that comes close to his transgression.
“Oh yeah?” he asks. “How’s that?”
“It’s not fair of me to… I’ve been punishing you. This whole time.”
“Most folks tend to think a crime deserves a punishment.”
“You didn’t commit a – You thought you were doing the right thing. I know you thought you were doing the right thing.”
He nods, forgetting she can’t see him.
She feels so close, finally. So near.
“Yeah,” he says. “Baby, I did. I know now that I – I did it all wrong. I was just… scared. Real scared. For you.”
“I don’t need you to be protecting me all the time. I know you know that.”
“I do know. I swear. Guess I just… forgot.”
“Temporary insanity, huh?”
“Yeah,” he agrees, allowing himself a weak laugh. “Somethin’ like that.”
They go quiet then, the two of them.
Nicole rolls onto his side on Wynonna’s couch, hugs the blanket to his chest with the phone against his ear with the other.
He sighs when he settles, comfortable in a way he ain’t been for weeks and weeks and weeks.
He listens to her breathe.
She listens to him breathe.
It reminds him of when they was younger and she did a semester in Prague, and he called her every night to hear her fall asleep, and she messaged him every morning to remind him to eat breakfast.
“Haught,” Waverly says, breaking their little spell. “Come home and fix the toilet.”
There’s a rhythm to it.
Moments within moments, circles within circles.
A waltz, with hand-holding and turning, turning, turning.
The two of them, joined together in a certain kind of choreography, respondin’ to a melody only they can hear.
Almost like they wrote it themselves.
Which is maybe the point of it all.
If circles had points.
Nicole is 43. His other half is still asleep.
He lets Ginsberg out into the yard, makes enough coffee for two.
Stands on the porch with his mug to watch the sunrise.
Likes knowing that the sky only changes colour like this because everything’s moving around just so, the earth and the sun and whatnot.
Waverly’d explain it better. Might ask her when she wakes. When she finds him out here and steals his mug and drinks deeply and asks where Ginsberg’s gone off to.
Nicole smiles at the sky, at the blue-dark of a new day full of sure things.
Around and around and around and around.