Nicole Haught jogs up her driveway, tossing her duffel bag onto the porch swing as she jumps over the steps and lands by the door. She’s reaching for the handle when the door swings open and she’s shot in the chest by a NERF dart.
She stumbles backwards off the porch, her hand over her heart.
“How could you?” she gasps. “Betrayed by my own son?”
She makes an overdramatic noise of pain and distress and collapses onto the ground.
Brendan Earp giggles and runs outside, falling on top of his mother. “I saw you from the window.”
“So you shot me? You are too much like your Aunt Wynonna.” Nicole stands, picking her son up as she goes.
“Carson wants’ta race you in his Jeep.”
“Sounds good.” Nicole kisses him on the side of the head. “Maybe first I can see your mama and sister? And I heard a rumor that you’re a big brother again.”
Brendan grins. “Yeah.”
“Brendan John Earp, what did I tell you about opening the front door?” Waverly Earp yells as she storms onto the porch, a two-year-old girl on her hip.
“But…” Brendan pokes Nicole in the cheek. “Mom.”
“Oh.” Waverly grins. “Hi.”
“Hi, honey.” Nicole steps back onto the porch and kisses Waverly slowly, smirking into it when Brendan whines at them. She kisses the little girl on the top of the head. “Hey, Morgan. How are you, baby?”
“Good!” She giggles. “The boys’re in timeout.”
“Oh, really?” Nicole squints at Brendan. “Are you?”
Brendan blushes. “No…”
“Hm. Doubt that.” Nicole sets him down and ruffles his hair. “Go tell Carson I’m home.”
As the little boy runs off, Nicole takes Morgan from Waverly and rocks her back and forth, letting her play with the tie of her sweatshirt. “So,” she says slowly. “Can I see her?”
Nicole leans on the edge of the crib, staring down at her sleeping newborn daughter. “Waves, she’s gorgeous.”
“Ryan Paige Earp. That’s what we agreed on, right?” Waverly bites her lip, idly playing with Morgan.
“Yes.” Nicole turns and leans with only a little of her weight on the crib, folding her arms across her chest. “Baby, why didn’t you call me? I would’ve been home as soon as I could. Screw the competition.”
Waverly kisses Morgan on the side of the head, setting her down on a nearby chair as she drifts off into a nap. “I considered it. Wynonna tried to convince me to. But I didn’t want that, Nicole. I didn’t want to distract you before your race, and I didn’t want you to drop out just to come home.” She gives a dry smile. “I’ve already had three kids. One more wasn’t going to be a big deal.”
“I know you’re capable, Wave, but I don’t want you to have to do things alone.”
“I’m never alone.” Waverly links her arms around Nicole’s waist and kisses her. “That’s why we can do this, remember?” She rests her head on Nicole’s chest. “How did you find out, anyway? I was planning on calling you before you came home tonight. I didn’t think you were leaving so early.”
“I left sooner than I planned to. I was worried.”
Nicole rests her chin on top of Waverly’s head. “Because I only found out that you had Ryan when a reporter told me.”
“I won. I won the enduro race. And when I was being interviewed, one of the reporters asked me about the child I didn’t know anything about.”
“Oh, God, baby, I’m so sorry.”
Nicole sniffs and looks away, reaching into the crib and gently brushing her finger over Ryan’s arm. “I was worried. That you hadn’t called me because something had gone wrong.”
“I would never do that.” Waverly kisses the underside of Nicole’s jaw. “I would never do that to you, baby. Okay?”
Nicole nods. “Just promise me that next time you’ll let me be there, no matter what?”
Waverly smirks and pokes her side. “Who says there’s going to be a next time? How many kids do you want, Haught?”
“I’m thinking we start our own basketball team,” Nicole jokes.
“Yeah, well, if you want that, you’d better start getting involved in the pregnancy part, because I just finished, and I’m not planning on going again any time soon.”
“Fine, be that way.” Nicole smiles and kisses her. “If it’s any consolation, you’ve done a really good job.”
Waverly snorts and pushes away, turning to pick up Morgan. “Uh huh. Flatterer.”
Nicole lightly smacks Waverly’s ass before she can leave the room. “Am I not allowed to hit on my wife?”
“If you wake the baby, you’re going to be introduced to a whole new definition of ‘hitting on your wife’,” Waverly warns, pointing at her.
“Yes, ma’am.” Nicole raises her hands in surrender, gives one last soft look at the sleeping baby, and follows Waverly downstairs.
Carson Earp tackles Nicole when she reaches the first floor, sending her tumbling backwards onto the steps.
“Ow,” she groans. “You boys are going to be the death of me.”
“Mom, can we race?”
“Your mama put you and Brendan in timeout.” Nicole sits up, balancing her son on her knee. “Care to tell me why?”
Carson shrugs and looks away. “Playin’ a game,” he mumbles.
“We were just playin’ a game.”
“Mhm. What kind of game?”
“… A slidin’ game.”
“Your sons,” Waverly says icily, “were going to ride their snow saucers down the stairs.”
“Oo.” Nicole presses a kiss to Carson’s temple. “Not a good idea, buddy. That’s dangerous.” She squints at Waverly. “And, hang on, why are they my sons whenever they get in trouble?”
Waverly shrugs. “Because you’re the one who rides motorcycles over sharp rocks for a living.”
“Excuse me, I ride motocross bikes over boulders, tires, water, logs, and other hazards for a living.” Nicole stands up, resting Carson on her hip. “Mama’s just jealous,” she whispers loudly, grinning when the boy giggles.
“Mama’s just hungry,” Waverly corrects. “We were going to order pizza. Is that okay?”
“That’s perfect. Want me to take the kids and pick it up? Get them out of your hair for a bit?”
Waverly rubs Morgan’s back softly. “I think this one’s out. But you can take the boys. Thanks, baby.”
Nicole kisses her. “Of course. Just relax, and we’ll be back soon.”
“Relax?” Waverly asks wryly. “You don’t remember much about having a newborn, do you? It’s five o’clock.”
Upstairs, Ryan begins to cry.
Nicole stares at the ceiling. “What, do have her trained?”
“I think she has me trained,” Waverly sighs. She pats Nicole on the cheek. “Veggies. Lots of veggies.”
“You are lucky I love you,” Nicole teases.
“Honey,” Waverly says seriously. “Don’t play that game when there’s a crying baby in the house. I might throw something at you.”
Nicole winces. “Right. Sorry.” She sets Carson on the floor and ruffles his hair. “I think we should get going, buddy. For our own safety. Go get Brendan.”
“Yeah, Mom!” He runs off, and Nicole gently takes Waverly’s arm. She kisses her slowly.
“I love you.”
Waverly kisses her back. “I love you, too. But I need to go, because that crying will reach decibels that we do not want to hear.”
“Okay. I’ll get a pizza just for you; I promise.”
“You do know the way to my heart, don’t you?” Waverly laughs, heading up the steps.
“Only because you were kind enough to show me, my dear.”
“Carson’s touchin’ me!”
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are!”
“No, I’m not!”
“Yes, you are!”
“Boys!” Nicole glances in the rearview mirror. “Everybody stop touching everybody!”
Carson pouts and crosses his arms. “Ya always take his side.”
Nicole rolls her eyes and sighs. “I love you both. But I am a little disappointed.”
Brendan’s voice gets quiet. “Why, Mom?”
“Sliding down the stairs? Come on, guys, you know better than that. You promised me you’d be good for your mama while I was away.”
Carson lightly kicks the back of Nicole’s seat. “We were bored. S’no fun when you’re not home.”
Nicole turns down the street the pizza shop is on. “Your mama is fun.”
“Only when you’re home,” Brendan mutters.
She parks in a spot and turns to look at them. “What?”
Carson hits his twin’s arm. “You’re not s’posed to tell!”
“Boys,” Nicole says softly. “You can tell me anything, okay? You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Mom,” they say in unison.
Nicole shifts in her seat and taps her hand playfully against Brendan’s foot. “Come on. Talk to me.”
Brendan shrugs and plays with one of the straps of his booster seat. “Mama always seems sad when you’re gone. She hides it ‘cuz she’s busy takin’ care of us, but we still see it.”
Carson nods. “We only get in trouble ‘cuz we wanna make her smile.”
Nicole shakes her head and gets out of the car. She opens the back door and unbuckles the boys, motioning for them to step onto the sidewalk. “Come here, guys,” she says, crouching down. They hug her tightly, and she says, “There are better ways to do that than getting in trouble, okay? I’m sure she’d love it if you cleaned your room.”
She can hear the frown in Carson’s voice. “But Mom…”
“I’m not wrong, buddy.” Nicole stands up, running her hand through his dark brown hair. “Come on. Let’s go get some pizza, and we’ll talk more about this later, okay? It’ll be alright. Your mama is pretty tough.”
Brendan’s brow furrows. “She cried when we watched The Tigger Movie.”
Nicole pokes him in the collarbone. “That is a sad movie. You two are just heartless.”
The boys both giggle. “Last one to the pizza place has’ta pay!” Carson yells.
As they run towards the door, Nicole rolls her eyes. “Neither of you has money!”
Brendan looks over his shoulder. “Yeah, but you’re slow.”
“Oh, is that how it is?” Nicole runs after them, laughing as they both scream and start running faster.
“Oh, God, do you hear that?” Waverly asks, lying on the couch with her feet in Nicole’s lap.
“The engines have possibly blown out my hearing, because I don’t hear anything, love.”
“There’s nothing to hear. The house is full of wonderful, blessed silence.”
Nicole chuckles as she sets her Corona down and starts idly rubbing Waverly’s feet. “It’s been a bit hectic around here, huh?”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Waverly mutters. She sets her water glass aside and sighs, sinking back against one of the couch cushions. “You can keep doing that.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Nicole says with a grin.
“I love the kids, but they can be a handful sometimes. It’s nice when Wynonna can bring Alice over and just distract them for a little while, though I think the boys give her bad habits.”
“Mhm. Apparently, Alice tried to climb on top of the monkey bars during recess last week. She wanted to walk along the rungs, instead of using them properly.”
Nicole snorts. “Are you sure she didn’t get that from Wynonna?”
“I would think that if two weeks ago, your sons weren’t trying to get Morgan to walk along the top of the fence posts.”
“… I’ll talk to them.”
Waverly laughs. “I’m sure you will. After you try walking on top of the fence posts, right?”
“It’s just so tempting.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever believe that those two don’t have your DNA.”
“Honey, I’m pretty sure I remember you being pregnant with them. In fact, I’m certain I remember you being pregnant with them, but at one point you screamed at me for getting you pregnant with twins. And then you threw a wrench at me when I reminded you that, technically, I had nothing to do with it.”
Waverly gives her a guilty smile. “I was stressed.”
“Mhm. And I still hadn’t learned when to keep my mouth shut.”
“I’m not sure you’ve ever learned that, baby.”
“Excuse me? What are you implying?” Nicole shifts, setting Waverly’s legs aside and moving forward on the couch. She lies on top of Waverly and kisses her slowly. “I thought you liked how I use my mouth.”
“That was terrible.” Waverly kisses her, fingers tracing up the length of Nicole’s spine. “How long has it been?” she whispers.
“Too long,” Nicole murmurs.
The baby monitor on the table next to them erupts with the sounds of crying.
“You definitely trained that kid,” Nicole says, pressing another short kiss to Waverly’s lips.
“If I did, she would’ve waited at least another half hour.” Waverly sighs and starts to sit up.
“No, honey, stay there. Enjoy your drink. I’ll get her.”
“Baby, I appreciate it, but she’s not on a bottle yet. You’re a bit useless here.” Waverly kisses Nicole’s cheek. “Wait here for me?”
“Of course. Do you want me to come with you? Keep you company?”
“I doubt it’ll be anything that exciting,” Waverly says hesitantly.
Nicole rests her forehead against Waverly’s. “I missed you. All of you guys. Anything with you is exciting.”
Waverly smiles and takes her hand. “Come on then, you big sap.”
Morgan laughs gleefully as she jumps and Nicole carries her over a railing in front of the Cop Shop bike store. Nicole sets her down and kisses the top of her head. “Stay close, baby girl, okay? Don’t leave your brothers.” She pokes Carson and Brendan. “And you two both need to stay with me.”
“Aw, but Mom, Uncle Randy has video games!” Carson tugs on Nicole’s jacket. “Can’t we go play with them?”
“Do you think you can play video games and keep an eye on your sister at the same time?”
The boys exchange a glance. Brendan shrugs. “… Yes?”
“I don’t think so, boys. If you behave, you can play for a bit before we leave, okay?”
They both groan, but they each take one of Morgan’s hands and follow Nicole into the store.
“Well, I’ll be damned, look what the cat dragged in.” Randy Nedley walks out from behind the counter and pulls Nicole into a tight hug. “I haven’t seen you in a while, kid. You getting too good for us locals?”
“Not at all, old man. I had a lot of races and training to take care of.” Nicole points her thumb over her shoulder. “Has Waverly brought the kids by?”
“Yeah, they stop in.” Nedley holds his fist out for all three Earp kids to bump their hands against. “It’s nice to have kids around sometimes.”
Nicole scoffs. “Oh, don’t start. Chrissy will kill me if you get itchy about grandkids.”
“That’s her decision,” Nedley sniffs. “But I would not complain.” He grins and ruffles Carson’s hair.
“If you want mine, you can have them,” Nicole says, deadpan.
Nedley laughs. “Need some time with the missus?”
“It would be nice, but I can’t say I’m mad about having time with these guys.” Nicole takes out her phone, grinning, and shows Nedley a photo of Ryan. “Or this one.”
“Would you look at her,” Nedley says softly. “We haven’t met yet.”
“I’ll check with Waverly, see if she’s feeling up to it. We can have some people over for dinner. I’m sure the kids would love to have some company.”
“Will he bring video games?” Brendan asks.
Nicole sighs. “Is Jeremy here, boss?”
“Yeah, I think he’s at the other register.”
“Think he’d mind making sure these three stay by the televisions back there for the next few minutes.”
“Nah; not at all.”
Nicole turns Carson’s head so that he’s looking at her. “You tell Uncle Jeremy that you’re back there, and you stay there. All three of you. Understood?”
The three run off, and Nicole shakes her head. “Waverly’s gonna kill me.”
Nedley shrugs. “Probably.” He leans on the counter. “What brings you in? That fancy bike of yours finally break down?”
Nicole snorts. “You wish. I actually wanted to talk to you about something important.”
“Yeah?” Nedley laughs. “You gonna retire and work for me again?”
Nicole doesn’t respond.
Nedley straightens off of the counter, immediately sobering. “Nicole.”
“Can we just go to your office and talk?” Nicole murmurs.
He sets a hand on her shoulder. “Sure, kid. Whatever you need.”
Carson climbs into his little electric Jeep– painted like one of the ones from Jurassic Park –and turns the key to start it. “Don’t cheat, Mom.”
Nicole sits on her bike and crosses her arm. “I’m already at a disadvantage here, using a mountain bike instead of the motocross bikes I usually use. What more do you want, kid?”
He giggles. “Thirty second head start.”
“What?” Nicole looks over her shoulder at Waverly, who’s sitting on her porch with Brendan, Morgan, and Ryan. “This is a scam.”
“What’s wrong, honey? Afraid of a little competition?”
Nicole rolls her eyes. “Alright, fine.” She points at Carson. “Don’t think I’ll take it easy on you, kid.”
Carson grins. “Don’t want ya to. Ready? Go!” He pushes down the ‘gas’ pedal on his Jeep, moving it forward.
Nicole rests her elbows on the handlebars of her bike, watching the slow-moving Jeep head towards the basketball hoop they’re using as the halfway point of their race.
“C’mon, Carson, beat her!” Brendan yells from the porch.
“Yeah, come on, Carson!”
Nicole looks back, offended. “My own wife is rooting against me?”
Waverly, smiling, shrugs. “Kids come first, babe. Sorry.”
“You’re traitors. All of you.”
“And your thirty seconds are up, honey.”
Nicole mumbles a curse under her breath and takes off, easily catching up to Carson’s Jeep. She slows down, peddling to match his pace. “Hey there. How’s it going?”
Carson frowns at her. “You’re cheatin’, Mommy!”
“How am I cheating? You got your head start.”
“You’re just mad that your Uncle Jeremy wouldn’t soup up your Jeep to make it go faster.”
“He said he would when I was bigger.”
“Hopefully that means driving age.”
Carson’s eyes widen. “But that’s so old. Like as old as you and Mama.”
Nicole stops her bike. “How old do you think your mama and I are, Carson?”
“Like... three hands many?”
Nicole rests on her handlebars, laughing loudly. “Oh, buddy. No.”
Nicole looks up, realizing that she stopped her bike when she and Carson were only a few feet from their finish line. “You…”
His Jeep drives over the broom handle before she even starts moving again, and Brendan gives a screech of victory, jumping off the porch and running to meet his brother. Nicole shakes her head and gets off the bike, leaning it on the kickstand and walking over to them as Carson gets out.
“I won, Mom!”
Nicole picks him up and carries him towards the house. “Mhm. You’re a little cheater, too.”
“Am not! You’re just dumb!”
“Oh, am I?”
Waverly’s laughing so hard she’s lying down on the porch when Nicole gets there.
“Hi,” Nicole says, setting Carson down next to Waverly. “This one’s yours now.” She picks Morgan up, resting her on her hip. “Were you rooting for me, little one?”
Morgan stares at her for a moment, sucking on her thumb, then nods.
“I knew you were my favorite,” Nicole says, kissing her on the forehead.
Brendan and Carson both pout at her. “No fair!”
Waverly walks down the stairs and yawns. “The kids are asleep. Finally. I’m not sure the boys think they ever actually need to sleep.”
Nicole laughs softly, sitting on the couch with Ryan dozing in her lap. “They’re five years old, honey. They’re going to have more energy than either of us for a good while.”
Waverly sits next to her, gently stroking the back of Nicole’s neck. “I’m glad you’re here. They missed you. I haven’t seen them this happy in a while.” She kisses Nicole’s cheek. “I don’t say that to guilt trip you. They’re happy. They just like when you’re home. So do I.”
“What would you think about… seeing me more often?”
Nicole smiles as Ryan grips one of her fingers in her sleep. “I’ve been thinking about it for a while, and then thinking about it more once I talked a bit with the boys. And I… I think I’m going to stop racing. After this season finishes up.”
“But Nicole, you love racing.” Waverly shifts closer, wrapping her arm around Nicole’s shoulders. “You’re good at it.”
“I know I am.” Nicole kisses the side of Waverly’s head. “Waves, I know this might not make much sense, but I just can’t do this for the rest of my life. I don’t want to. I don’t want to miss my kids growing up.”
“You aren’t, baby,” Waverly says softly. “You’re here. They know you’re here.”
“I appreciate the comfort, but I missed the birth of my child because I was at a race. And I know why, I understand why you didn’t call me, but I don’t want to miss that kind of stuff anymore. Carson and Brendan are going to start preschool in the fall, and I won’t be in the state on their first day. I don’t want that to be my life. To be their lives.”
Waverly rests her head against Nicole’s. “What do you want to do?”
“We have a lot of money saved up from races and your inheritance. I have that practice track out on the property. And I’ve been talking to Nedley. I was thinking maybe I’d train people. Teach them how to ride when they’re just beginning on a bike. Teach them how to race when they’re better at it. Nedley said I could run it through his shop, and I can work for him in other ways too, so that I’m not solely relying on teaching for income.” Nicole brushes her fingers over the thin wisps of hair on the top of Ryan’s head. “I’d be around a lot more. I’d be able to be with the kids. When they’re older, if they want, they could even come with me out to the tracks sometimes.” She turns and meets Waverly’s gaze. “If you’re okay with that? It… It won’t exactly be as glamorous or as sexy as being married to a racer.”
Waverly traces her fingers along Nicole’s jaw and kisses her slowly. “I think you’re plenty sexy no matter what you do, Mrs. Haught. And if this is what will make you happy, I am all for it.” She grins. “And I guarantee that the kids will be excited about it.”
“You think so?” Nicole murmurs. “I might not be cool anymore.”
“I’m pretty sure your kids find you plenty cool, baby. And if they stop, well, that just opens up some opportunities for me to sneak some points in for myself.”
Nicole laughs. “I knew it. I always knew you were selfish.”
Waverly grins and straightens the collar of Nicole’s flannel. “Completely selfish. You’re still going to wear those racing suits, right? Because those are hot, and it might be a deal breaker for me if this new job doesn’t include them.”
“I’ll wear them whenever you’d like me to, honey.”
Waverly bites her lip. “We probably shouldn’t flirt while you’re holding our sleeping baby.”
Nicole looks down at Ryan and snorts. “What’s she going to remember?”
Waverly punches her shoulder. “You’re terrible.”
“I know.” Nicole kisses her and stands up, holding Ryan close. “I’m going to go put this one to bed and then come back down.” She winks. “I still owe you the rest of that massage.”
Waverly groans and flops on the couch. “Please do.”
Nicole pauses in the doorway, whispering nonsense to Ryan as she rocks her back and forth. “Hey, Waverly?”
Waverly opens one eye, squinting at her. “Yeah?”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.” Waverly rolls over with a tired sigh. “Now put the baby to bed.”
Nicole laughs quietly and walks up the stairs, stroking her fingers across the back of Ryan’s head. “I love you, too, little one,” she whispers as she puts Ryan in her crib.
She peeks into Morgan’s room and the twins’ room to check on them, then heads back downstairs to her wife.