Rainwater splashes up and soaks through her knee-high socks, chilling her legs down to the bone. She races through the street, her bag smacking into her hip, and runs up the front steps of the old stone building.
She almost runs straight into Chrissy Nedley in the entryway, interrupting the other woman’s frantic pacing.
“Oh, thank god. There you are, Waverly.” Chrissy grabs her shoulders and steadies her, looking her up and down. “Oh, Christ, what happened to your socks?”
“It was pouring earlier; didn’t you notice? There’s puddles all over the place.” Waverly takes in a slow, stuttering breath. “I had to run here.”
“They’re doing uniform checks this morning, Waves. Lucado is doing uniform checks. You’re fucked.”
Waverly runs her hands over her face and groans. “Could this day get any worse?”
“I have socks you can borrow.”
Waverly turns to look in the corner, at the woman sitting casually on top of the display case for the cricket team’s championship trophy. “What?”
“You need to change your socks, right?” She opens the brown leather knapsack resting on her knee and digs around in it for a moment before producing a pair of dark blue socks. “Here.” She tosses them to Waverly, who catches them clumsily. “Change into those.”
Before Waverly can respond, the woman jumps off of the display case with a purposefully loud thud, slings her knapsack over one shoulder, and wanders off down the hallway that leads to the science and math buildings.
“Don’t put those on, Waverly,” Chrissy hisses, her voice soft as if she expects the woman to somehow hear her.
“Why not? I can’t have Lucado put me on a uniform suspension, Chris, I swear I can’t. I already have a twelve-page paper to write, and if I’m banned from the library…”
“Don’t you know who that was?” She lowers her voice again, conspiratorially. “Nicole Haught.”
Waverly’s stomach plummets. “Oh. Is she… Is she one of those Haughts?”
“The ones you can never speak to? Uh, yeah.”
Waverly looks down, from the socks in her hand to the soaked socks on her feet. “Look, I’m going to change, and I’m just not going to think about it.”
“Seriously? I thought you were the smarter one between the two of us.”
“I am,” Waverly mutters. “That’s why I’m not getting a uniform suspension over a pair of socks.”
Chrissy sighs and loops her arm with Waverly’s as they head towards the bathrooms. “Well, alright then. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
Waverly rolls her eyes. “Warn me about what?”
“You never- ever -trust a Haught. Not even with some loaned socks.”
“You’re starting to sound like Willa.”
Chrissy snorts. “Now you’re just being mean.”
They’re in class on the second floor of the language studies building when they hear the commotion outside.
Rosita Bustillos opens the window and leans out, ignoring the protests from Professor Simons. She cackles as she says, “Looks like Lucado got someone for their uniform.”
“Already?” Waverly heads over to look out next to her. “She only just started. She must be irritated today.”
Chrissy joins her, and a few other students take to the other windows, and they all watch as Lucado marches a student down the main sidewalk, hand gripping the collar of their jacket.
“Oh, shit,” Chrissy whispers. “That’s Haught.”
Waverly’s eyes widen. “What’s she in trouble for?”
Waverly gives a noncommittal shrug.
Lucado looks up at the building too fast for them to back away out of sight. “Let this be a warning, if you’re going to be nosy!” she yells to them. “It is unacceptable to attend classes in socks that are not part of your uniform!” She grabs Nicole’s khaki pants at the knee and pulls them up enough to show off short lime green socks. “I’ll notice!”
Nicole spends the entire lecture looking bored, until the very end, when her gaze meets Waverly’s, and she shoots her a cocky grin and a casual shrug.
“I’ll be back to you all in fifteen minutes. Close those windows!” Lucado drags Nicole away.
Rosita scoffs as she slides the window shut. “What an idiot. Who wears the wrong socks to class? I know she used to go to a college that didn’t do uniforms, but if she’s that stupid, she doesn’t belong here.”
“Class, we still need to finish our discussion on Chaucer. Please get back to your seats.”
Everyone begins to shuffle back, but Waverly grabs Chrissy’s arm before she sits down. “Chrissy, what if that’s my fault?”
“She gave me a pair of uniform socks and then gets a uniform suspension for socks? That can’t be a coincidence.”
Chrissy frowns. “Who cares? It’s Haught.”
She pulls out of Waverly’s grip and takes her seat, leaving Waverly standing uncomfortably until Professor Simons gives her a gentle warning.
The clock hits 9:50 a.m., and everyone stands to leave the room. Before they can, Lucado walks inside. “Hold on. You’re all under inspection before you go anywhere.”
The woman begins to walk through the rows of desks, staring at jackets, sleeves, polo shirts, shoes, pants, belts, and skirts, and making anyone wearing pants lift them to show her their socks.
Rosita, sitting in front of Waverly, turns around just enough to whisper, “I’m surprised she doesn’t check that we’re wearing the correct underwear.”
Waverly chokes out a laugh, slamming her hand over her mouth to try to stifle it, but it’s too late.
“Yes, Dr. Lucado?”
The assistant dean is suddenly at her desk, looming over her. “Is there something you find funny about uniform violations?”
Waverly swallows. “No, ma’am.”
“Stand up, Ms. Earp.”
Waverly does as she’s told, but when she does, she hears Chrissy’s quiet gasp.
Her socks are pushed down into a crumpled mess around her ankles, instead of pulled up to her knees like they’re supposed to be.
Lucado’s eyes narrow. “Do you think the uniform of this school is a joke, Ms. Earp?”
“Not at all, ma’am. It was raining on my way in this morning; they must have gotten wet and fallen.”
Lucado barks out a laugh. “Raining? Raining?” She glances around at the rest of the class. “Ms. Earp thinks that rain is an excuse.” She grabs the collar of Waverly’s navy blue jacket and pulls her towards the door, not even allowing her to pick up her bag. “Enjoy your uniform suspension, Ms. Earp.”
Being physically removed from campus through the front building is not an experience Waverly has ever had previously.
She doesn’t like it.
She leans against one of the stone wolf statues that bookend the front steps, checking the single pocket of her skirt and hoping in vain that maybe, just maybe, she has her house keys or her phone in it.
When all she pulls out is a chapstick, she sighs.
Her only hope now is to wait until lunch, when Chrissy can leave campus and bring her bag out to her.
She’s debating what to do for the next two hours when a wiffle ball hits the sidewalk in front of her and rolls to her feet.
Nicole Haught, jacket discarded, barefoot, pants rolled up to her knees, her short red hair windswept, jogs up to her. “Hey. Sorry. Can you toss me that?”
Waverly glances down at the ball, then back up at Nicole. “What?”
“Can you… uh… I’ll just…” Nicole takes a short step forward and carefully crouches down, picking up the ball. She leans against the statue in front of Waverly, tossing the ball up and down in one hand. “So. What’s a pretty girl like you doing out here with the rejects? I thought you solved your sock problem.”
“I did, but they fell down to my ankles, and Dr. Lucado didn’t like that.”
Nicole shrugs. “She doesn’t like much. Sorry the socks didn’t work out for you.”
“No, thank you for trying to help.” Waverly hesitates awkwardly. “I’d, uhm, give them back, but mine are drying in my bag which is currently…”
“Stuck inside? Yeah. I don’t know how we’re supposed to use this time to reflect and do work if they hoard all of our school supplies.” Nicole holds onto the ball just long enough to shake it. “So instead, we’re playing wiffle ball.”
“You’re not stressed out about your work?”
Nicole shrugs. “Nah. Why bother?”
Waverly scoffs and shakes her head. “Wow. You really don’t belong here, do you?”
“Champ Hardy goes to this school. I think I’ll do fine.”
“Your defense is Champ Hardy?” Waverly rolls her eyes and lowers her voice to a mutter. “Guess Haughts really are stupid.”
“So, you know who I am?”
“Of course I do,” Waverly replies, a bit too quickly.
“Mm, sounds like you’ve only gotten the biased introduction. Allow me to offer one of my own.” Nicole tosses the ball over her shoulder and gives a dorky half-bow, holding her hand out. “Nicole Haught, at your service, mademoiselle.”
“What on earth are you doing?”
“I was trying to be cool and kiss your hand like the old movies. You’re just not exactly cooperating.”
“I’m pretty sure you aren’t going to want to when you find out who I am.”
Nicole raises her gaze, meeting Waverly’s with an intensity she wasn’t expecting. “I know exactly who you are, Waverly Earp,” she says softly.
Waverly hesitates only briefly before resting her hand on top of Nicole’s. Nicole maintains eye contact as she brushes the barest of kisses to Waverly’s knuckles before straightening out of the bow, still holding Waverly’s hand.
“You really believe my parents didn’t tell me to avoid the Earp girls the moment I transferred to this school? Please. They told be a hundred times just the night before my first day alone. I just ignored them, and figuring out who you three were was one of my top priorities.”
“And you still let me borrow your socks?”
Nicole rolls her eyes. “Earp, I’m not going to be an ass to you just because our families both make firearms.”
Waverly pulls her hand back. “You say that like it’s so simple. Our families are the two biggest firearm manufacturers in the world, and we have been feuding since the Old West.”
“What do you mean ‘so’?”
Nicole leans in just a bit too close, the cocky grin from earlier back on her face. “Look, Earp, this isn’t a war. It’s a bunch of idiots who can’t stand to make a few dollars less than a couple other idiots. Forgive me, but I don’t have any plans to continue that trend for the rest of my life.”
“Then why are you here?”
“I wanted to get a degree in geology, and my father said that would only happen if I came to Ghost River and double-majored in that and business. I think he thinks this place will drive my interests out of me. It’s not a bad plan, but it’s not going to work. I refuse to let it.” She wanders over to the road and picks the wiffle ball back up. “The question now, Earp, is why are you allowing it for yourself?”
She jogs back across the street and down a wide alley, where Waverly can see a group of other students starting to get restless without their ball.
She sits down on the steps, brushes her thumb over her knuckles, and watches the game.
Waverly’s watching Nicole bat when a weight strikes her back.
“Here’s your bag.” Chrissy sits on the steps next to her. “You want to tell me what the hell is wrong with you?”
Waverly pulls her bag around and sets it in front of her. “What do you mean?”
“Your socks were fine until Lucado walked into the room. You got a suspension on purpose. Why?”
She shrugs. “Fairness, I guess.”
“Waverly Earp, tell me you did not get suspended for the sake of Nicole Haught.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. It’s just something that happened. I’ll deal with this week and then move on.”
“Uh-huh. What about that paper?”
Waverly hesitates, going pale even before she buries her face in her hands. “Oh god.”
Chrissy pats her shoulder. “Nobility just might kill you, Waves.”
The puddles have dried up by the time Waverly bothers to walk home, her bag slung over her shoulder.
She hears the footsteps behind her just moments before Nicole falls into step beside her, wiffle bat on one shoulder and knapsack on the other. “How was your first day of uniform suspension?”
“Boring. I watched adults play a children’s game.”
“Now, don’t be like that, Earp. Having fun on occasion is a good thing, no matter what some of those assholes inside that school say.”
“How can you have fun when you’re going to have to go home and tell your parents that you got suspended from school over a pair of socks?”
Nicole shrugs. “I mean, my plan is to just not tell them and do my work like I’m supposed to and then go back to school next Monday like normal.”
“You’re going to do your work where? We’re banned from the school grounds entirely. Purgatory’s local library doesn’t have enough hours for us to stay there all day every day.”
“I have places to go.” Nicole raises an eyebrow. “Why, Earp? Are you interested in joining me?”
“Regrettably, I have to be interested in anything that will save me from a week of torture.”
“Okay. Well, if you’re serious, meet me by the lions tomorrow morning at seven.”
“Little early, isn’t it?”
“You have somewhere else to be?”
Waverly sighs. “No. Sadly.”
Fog is settling through the streets as Waverly paces in front of one of the lion statues, irritated. “Where is she?” she mumbles, glancing at her watch.
“Hau-” Waverly breaks off and stops pacing, looking up.
Nicole is sitting on top of the lion statue above Waverly, her chin resting in her hand, watching her.
“Oh, I think I hate you,” Waverly whispers.
“That’s not nice.” Nicole jumps down, landing hard on the soles of her Oxfords. “Did you know how little people at this school look around? You can see some interesting things at this place when you climb.”
Nicole puts her hands in her pockets, unfazed. “You ready to go?”
Waverly stares at her. “You are weird, you know that?”
“I’ll accept that.”
“Where are we going?” Waverly asks, following Nicole down the street.
“We’re banned from school.”
“Are we, though?”
Waverly adjusts her bag on her shoulder. “Uhm… yes?”
Nicole takes her into the alley between the entrance building to campus and an abandoned building next door. “That’s taking things a little too literal, Earp.” She slams her shoulder against a door with a boarded-up window and holds it open for Waverly. “Come on. We should get inside before people start arriving for the day.”
As she ducks into the abandoned building, Waverly tightens her grip on her bag. “I’m not going to regret this, am I?”
“Going into an isolated location with someone who could totally kill me.”
“Christ, Earp, what do you think I am?”
Nicole rolls her eyes and shuts the door behind them. “Come on.”
Waverly puts her hands on her hips. “What? Your great-great-grandfather killed my great-great-grandfather. It’s not like there isn’t a precedence.”
“I thought it was your great-great-grandfather killing mine.” Nicole shrugs and leads them to the fragile-looking steps in the middle of the room. “You really believe that crap, Earp? Our families have been preaching fairytales at us. They have no idea why we’re still at odds. At this point, they just like fighting.”
“Why don’t you believe what they’ve said?”
Nicole suddenly goes stiff, the carefree aura around her vanishing in an instant. “Doesn’t matter.”
“I mean, I think it-”
Nicole jumps up onto the ledge of a window and pulls aside the wood blocking it. She steps out onto the thick windowsill, the wind lightly drifting through her hair.
“Shit.” Waverly grabs the back of Nicole’s jacket and tugs her backwards. They both fall back into the abandoned building, tumbling onto the floor.
Nicole pushes herself up onto her hands, hovering only a few inches above Waverly, a confused expression on her face. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Oh well I’m sorry that it freaked me out when you randomly went to jump out of a third-story window!”
“There’s a fire escape out there.”
Waverly blushes. “… Oh.”
Nicole grins down at her. “You worrying about me, Earp?”
The red on Waverly’s cheeks darkens and spreads to her ears. She lightly smacks at Nicole’s shoulder. “I just didn’t want to have to explain why I was with you when the cops came to investigate your grisly death.”
“Makes perfect sense.” Nicole pauses, staring down at Waverly. “You know, Earp, you have very pretty eyes.”
“Now you’re just being dramatic,” Waverly grumbles. She pushes at Nicole, who easily rolls off of her, resting on the floor next to her.
“I’m not the one who immediately jumped to suicide just because I stood on a windowsill.”
Waverly sighs and stands up. “You’re not going to let me live that down, are you?”
“I will. It was nice to have somebody care.”
“I told you I didn’t…” Waverly trails off when she sees the uncomfortable honesty on Nicole’s face. “Well, you know, I care about most people. Even if we’re rivals, I don’t want you to die.”
Nicole gets up and moves back over to the window. “Nice to know.” She hops back up onto the windowsill and holds her hand out to Waverly. “Do you trust me, Earp?”
“Not really,” Waverly says, taking Nicole’s hand.
“Then I guess you’ll just have to live a little.”
“I mean, I could also leave, but I have nothing else to do.”
“There’s the spirit of adventure.”
Nicole guides Waverly out onto the sill. They step down onto the platform of the fire escape. “The part for the lower two floors broke and was removed when this place was closed, but I’ve tested it a thousand times. It’s solid.”
“And what exactly is it for?”
“Well, you see, when a fire happens in a building, people might need to-” She breaks off at Waverly’s cold, exasperated stare and laughs. “I can’t just tell you all my secrets, Earp. Come on.”
“What are we doing now?”
Nicole grins and pats the railing next to her. “Climbing.”
The wind is a bit stronger on the roof. Waverly inches to the edge at one of the back corners, peaking out and looking onto the campus. “Wow,” she whispers.
She can see everything from her spot up high. The sidewalks stretching from the entrance hall in multiple directions. The undergrad buildings for science, math, language studies, history, engineering, business, and political science. The training rooms for exercise, the cafeteria, the library. In the distance, at the back of the complex, the buildings for graduate studies.
“It looks beautiful from up here, doesn’t it?” Nicole asks, joining her. “Almost like it’s worth being there.” She pats Waverly’s shoulder. “Come on. We aren’t quite there yet.”
Waverly stands and follows Nicole to the other side of the roof, right on the edge, where it juts out a bit towards the entrance hall.
“How good are you at jumping?”
Waverly stares at her. “Excuse me?”
Nicole pulls aside a piece of metal that had been standing in place of a ledge on this section of roof. She gestures at the four-foot gap between the buildings. “You can jump that, right?”
“Are you insane?” Waverly gestures at her bag, her skirt, her Mary Jane shoes. “No!”
Nicole takes Waverly’s bag from her. “Is there anything fragile in this?”
Nicole tosses it across to the other rooftop.
“What?” Nicole laughs. “Dude, come on, I do this like every day. It’s going to be fine.” She jumps across the gap easily and nudges Waverly’s bag safely out of the way. She takes her knapsack off, setting it next to Waverly’s bag, and goes over to stand near the edge. “Come on, Earp. It’ll be fine. I’ll make sure you don’t fall.”
Her breathing is already ragged as she looks down, at the concrete seven floors below. “I-I can’t.”
“Waverly, look at me,” Nicole says, her voice infuriatingly calm.
She raises her gaze and meets Nicole’s eyes.
“It’s going to be fine. I promise. You can trust me.”
Waverly takes a few breaths, backing away from the edge. “I… Let me just take my shoes off, okay?”
“Whatever you’re more comfortable with.”
“Not doing it at all,” Waverly jokes weakly.
“Hey.” Nicole jumps back over and rests her hands on Waverly’s shoulders. “We don’t have to do this. Not if you really don’t want to.”
“Can you give me some idea of why we’re doing this?” Waverly asks, trying to keep the anxiety out of her voice.
“You got suspended, and I kind of feel like it’s my fault. The best way for me to fix it is to help you continue your work. I’m just trying to do that. I come here all the time to study, to just think with some peace and quiet, and I think this will help you, too. I can’t really explain it better without showing you.”
Waverly toes out of her shoes and hands them to Nicole. “Could you put those with my bag?”
“You’re sure?” Nicole asks in a gentle voice.
“Yeah. Thank you for checking, though.”
“Of course, Earp.”
Waverly smirks. “Earp again, huh?”
“Shut up.” Nicole goes back to the other building, tossing Waverly’s shoes into the bag pile. She goes back to her position at the edge and waits.
Waverly hesitates, a few steps back for a running start. “You promised you have my back, right?”
“I swear it.”
She runs and jumps, a bit early, but she puts so much force into it that she lands hard, slamming into Nicole and sending them both sprawling onto the rooftop.
“Sorry,” Waverly pants, lying on top of her. “That was scary.”
“You did it, though.” Nicole pats her back. “What is it with you and getting all tangled up with me on the ground, Earp?”
Nicole just barely brushes her knuckles under Waverly’s chin, lifting her head. “Are you alright?”
“Yes. Thank you.” Waverly reaches up and absentmindedly brushes Nicole’s hair off of her face. “For the record, you have pretty eyes, too.”
“Good.” Nicole gives her crooked grin. “Should we continue on our way, or were you planning to stay like this for a while?”
Waverly scoffs and pushes Nicole’s head to the side. “Arrogant ass.”
“I have no arguments with that.”
Waverly gets up and retrieves her shoes, slipping them back onto her feet. “Where to now?”
“I have bad news and good news.”
“… Good news first.”
“The good news is that this was the biggest obstacle of our adventure. That bad news is that we have a few more roofs to cross.”
Waverly groans. “I should’ve gone with the bad news first.”
They make the trek, a careful journey from building to building, hopping over small gaps or climbing across wooden planks.
“I put these up here a while ago,” Nicole says. “Makes it easier. I can’t bridge that first jump because it’s too big, too noticeable, but doing these ones was simple.”
Their final stop is the roof of the library, and Nicole walks over to a small window, practically a skylight, set just inside the wood. She takes a pocketknife out of her knapsack and pushes it under a piece of metal on the edge of the window. She gives one small, practiced twist, and the metal springs to the side. Nicole lifts the window open and gestures at the open space.
“You should go inside first.”
“Won’t someone hear us? Or see us?”
Waverly cautiously climbs into the window and hops down to the floor below. Nicole climbs after, pulling the window shut behind her.
The room they’re in is empty, a large space with no other windows and no doors.
“What is this place?”
“The original library design used this as a storage space. When they redid everything, this place got boarded up. Now it’s completely unused, and nobody even really knows it’s up here.”
“How did you even find it?”
Nicole shrugs. “I told you. I like climbing.”
“I don’t think anybody should like climbing this much.”
Nicole shrugs again and lies down on the floor, using her knapsack as a pillow. “This one summer, my aunt and uncle took me to this summer camp they were volunteering at. It was like the first time I was ever allowed to be around normal kids. You know, the kind of kids that weren’t the bratty prep school asshole children of rich parents.”
“I think I know the type,” Waverly says with a thin smile, taking a seat next to Nicole on the floor.
“They had this rock wall there, four sides, each a different difficulty, and… I don’t know. I was just fascinated by it. I spent the whole summer working on that thing, studying all the sides, trying to master all of them. I couldn’t do it until the very last day, but I did it. I was so proud of myself, and my aunt and uncle were proud of me, and they told my parents. Care to know what they said?”
“If it’s anything like my father, I’m going to guess that they were unimpressed.”
“Mhm. Told me I was wasting my time and that I should’ve spent the whole summer staying indoors, away from all the other kids, reading some business management books they had gotten me. I was twelve.”
“Yep. For my sixteenth birthday, my father gave me one share of stock in our company.”
“Don’t you guys own the company?”
“Uh-huh. Yeah. I’m not even allowed to access the stupid thing until I turn twenty-one.”
Nicole snorts. “Amazing.”
“So what makes you come here? Why all the effort?”
“Lay down next to me,” Nicole says, patting the floor.
Waverly pauses barely a moment before doing so, resting on her bag.
“Do you hear that?” Nicole asks softly.
There’s music playing, a quiet, gentle piano, a sound that drifts up through the floor.
“What is that?” Waverly whispers.
“A kid in my business classes, Robin, his dad convinced him to go with the ‘useful’ major. But all he wants to do is be a jazz musician and historian. He comes in early every day, goes all the way up the top floor of the library, and practices on a little keyboard he convinced a janitor to let him stash away in a storage closet up there.”
“Yeah, he is. I like to listen to the music. It reminds me not to let go of what I want to do with my life.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Why do you do what they say? You’re over eighteen, right?”
“I’m nineteen. And I guess I just… they’re my parents, you know? They have control over everything I’ve ever had in my life. If I walk away from their expectations, I’m walking away from them, and I know it. I’m not sure I’d know how to start over all by myself.” Nicole turns her head, watching Waverly’s face. “What about you?”
“I turned eighteen just a few weeks ago, but… I don’t think I could leave. It’s not really the money I’m concerned about. I just don’t think I could ever leave my sisters.”
“That’s fair. If I had siblings, I think it would definitely be an even harder choice.”
The clocktower on campus rings in the distance, and Nicole stands. “Ready to go?”
“I don’t just stay up here all day. I just have to wait until there’s more people around, so we blend in.” Nicole slings her knapsack over her shoulder. “Come on, Earp.”
She leads Waverly over to a wood crate that Waverly didn’t notice earlier. When she slides it aside, Waverly sees a trapdoor in the floor.
“What, Haught, did you minor in carpentry?”
“Nah, this is just a leftover from when this was an attic. It’s barely visible from the other side at this point, so it serves me just fine.” Nicole opens it just an inch, squinting through, then opens it fully. “Go ahead down. I’ll shut it behind us.”
Waverly lands on what sounds like a tile floor underneath her shoes. There’s no light in the room, and she feels rather than sees Nicole land hard next to her.
“Where are we?”
“Hold on,” Nicole whispers.
Waverly hears Nicole jump up, and the shuffling of the trapdoor closing again, then Nicole is back at her side.
“Sorry. The light switch is at the door.” Nicole leans against her, arm reaching over her shoulder.
As the lightbulb flickers to life above their heads, Waverly’s eyes focus on stacks of books scattered around the room.
“These guys haven’t seen daylight in years,” Nicole murmurs, running her finger along the cover of one. “I think they’re forgotten up here.” She maneuvers around Waverly and slowly opens the door. “All clear.”
“Clear for what?”
“There aren’t any checks in the library for suspended students. They only check attendance, the general grounds, and the entrance hall.”
Waverly blinks. “What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that as long as you stay off the first floor or two, where it might get kind of obvious?” Nicole opens the door wide, and Waverly sees the top floor of the library. “You can go ahead and work on that paper for as long as you want, Earp.”
“How long did it take you to figure this whole thing out?” Waverly asks, keeping her voice at a whisper as she opens one of the books on the stack next to her.
“I started pretty much the moment I transferred here. It took a few weeks to work out the path into the library, and then from there it took some time just to work up the nerve to try sneaking in. From there it was just calculating the risks involved in doing so.”
“This is probably a pretty big secret for you. Why trust me with it?”
Nicole gives her the same crooked grin from earlier, and Waverly is surprised by the sudden flutter she feels in her chest. “Lonely power is boring, Earp. Surely you’ve noticed that by now?”
Waverly scoffs out a laugh. “Our little secret, then?”
Nicole nods, biting on the cap of her pen as she opens an encyclopedia of igneous rocks. “Our little secret.”
Nicole leans back in her chair, spinning her pen between her fingers as she watches Waverly write. “Can I ask you something?”
“Yesterday, when you were working on this project of yours, you looked so… bored.”
Waverly raises an eyebrow. “Is there a question in there?”
“Yes. You looked exactly like I feel whenever I’m in the classes my parents require me to take. So what is it, Earp? What’s the dream your family is draining from you?”
There’s a quiet moment as Waverly processes the question. They’re sitting across from each other, at a small table in the middle of a floor full of other students, yet she barely notices their presence at all.
“History professor,” Waverly admits softly. “I wanted to study history and become a professor.”
“A noble enough cause.”
“If you say so. I’ll never know if I could do it, though. Not as long as I’m stuck here.”
Nicole leans forward, resting her hand on top of Waverly’s on the table. “Oh, I wouldn’t worry. I have a feeling you could do anything you set your mind to, Waverly Earp.”
Waverly looks down, staring at their hands on the table. She stays silent, the moment lengthening, until she clears her throat and pulls her hand away. “I wish it was that simple,” she whispers.
Nicole waits until Waverly raises her head and makes eye contact. “So do I.”
Waverly walks home with an unfamiliar warmth in her chest.
She’s so distracted that she doesn’t hear the footsteps behind her until a hand falls on her shoulder. “Hey, Waves, wait up!”
“Oh, Chrissy, hey.”
“Didn’t you hear me? I’ve been calling your name for like a block and a half.”
“Sorry. I’ve been a bit distracted.”
Chrissy falls into step beside her. “No wonder. Woman like you is probably losing her mind on a suspension. What are you doing with all the free time?”
Waverly shrugs. “Mostly just doing work however I can.”
“Makes sense. Shame about that paper, though. Think you’ll have time to finish it?”
She’s careful not to betray anything in the small smile that ghosts on her lips. “Yeah. I think so.”
They walk in silence for a few minutes, until Chrissy says, “What does your family think happened?”
Waverly freezes. “What?”
Chrissy stops with her, hands casually sliding into her pockets. “I heard Wynonna talking to Xavier Dolls when they were walking across campus today. She mentioned that she didn’t see you on the grounds all that much. She doesn’t know you were suspended?”
“No,” Waverly says quickly. “And I’d prefer if she didn’t. If no one in my family knew.”
Waverly lets out a strained laugh. “You’ve known me all my life, Chrissy, and you’ve known my father just as long. Is that really a question you need to ask?”
“I’m sorry, Waves,” Chrissy murmurs.
“Yeah, well. Maybe things will be different someday.”
Chrissy gives her a smile that’s just on the wrong side of pity.
Waverly jolts awake, but Nicole’s hand covers her mouth before she can make a startled noise.
“Shh,” Nicole murmurs. “It’s alright. You just fell asleep.”
“How long was I out?” Waverly mumbles, rubbing her eyes and stretching.
“Couple hours. The library’s closing soon.”
“Shit. Why didn’t you wake me?” Waverly gathers the papers in front of her and writes down the page she was using in the book open on the table.
The look Nicole gives her is soft. “You looked like you needed the rest. You’ve been working hard for days, Earp. A nap won’t hurt you.”
Waverly gives a small laugh. “You sure about that?”
“Pretty sure. Besides.” Nicole slings her knapsack over her shoulder and gathers some of Waverly’s books to put away for her. “You looked cute.”
The words linger in a blush on Waverly’s skin as she watches Nicole walk away.
It doesn’t take long for Waverly to realize that she’s gaining feelings for Nicole Haught.
She’s not sure what brought them on. The willingness to take on suspension to spare someone she barely knew- who she had every reason to hate. The softness she used as she led Waverly along their daily journey. The open disregard for a rivalry they had been born into.
The crooked grin that always set off a whirlwind of butterflies deep in the pit of her stomach.
At the end of the day, the why doesn’t matter.
It’s the truth. And she doesn’t know what to do with it.
“Haught,” she murmurs, as they lie in the attic together, the second to last day of their suspension. “Can I ask you something?”
“Of course you can, Earp.”
“Have you ever thought what it would be like? If our families weren’t so stupid with each other?”
“Probably fewer lectures,” Nicole jokes, though she sobers immediately. “I have, though. Who knows? Maybe if I hadn’t been sizing you up and instead was just looking at you, we could’ve…”
“Could’ve what?” Waverly prompts in a whisper.
Nicole picks up Waverly’s hand from where it lies between them, bold in action where she’s hesitant in words. She brushes the knuckles against her lips, just barely, a ghost of a touch that reminds her of their first formal meeting. “Forgive me if I’m speaking out of turn here, Earp, but if I had seen you without the shadows of our families around us, I doubt I would’ve been able to get through the day without asking you to have dinner with me.”
“If I could speak just as carelessly, Haught,” Waverly replies slowly, turning her head just enough to see the look on Nicole’s face, “if I had met you proper without the expectation to your name? I wouldn’t have been able to say no.”
The sight comes close to breaking her heart.
Nicole looks… lost. Just for a brief moment. Hardly long enough for Waverly to truly see it. But she can feel it.
The kind of loss that comes from the realization that maybe, just maybe, there was a lifetime in which they could’ve had a chance.
“We should get going,” Nicole sighs, releasing Waverly’s hand with an air of finality. “It’ll start getting dark soon.”
Chrissy is waiting for her on the morning of her final day.
Waverly edges against a wrought-iron fence. “Oh. Hi, Chris. What’s up?”
“Where have you been going, Waverly?” Chrissy asks, quiet and suspicious.
“I don’t know what you-”
“Don’t try that with me,” Chrissy snaps. “I know you better than your own sisters do!”
Waverly pauses, glancing behind her at her own front door. “Not here,” she whispers. “Please, just… Not here.”
She’s struck by how quickly Chrissy softens. “Sure, Waves.”
They walk to school along a familiar route. Away from the huge houses, the judgement, the pressure.
Just the two of them, side by side, next to a small river.
“How did you know?” Waverly asks.
“I would swear I saw you the other day in the library. I just… guessed? That it was true.”
“I’ve been sneaking in. I can’t tell you how, Chrissy. Please. Don’t try to make me.”
“That’s not my concern. Waverly, if someone had caught you, you’d be… god, Waverly, don’t you see how bad that would’ve been?”
Waverly shrugs. “A part of me just stopped caring.”
“Why? You’ve been acting different ever since you…” Chrissy stops, something between shock and horror on her face. “Waverly…”
“I know what you’re going to say.” Waverly shoves her hands into her pockets and stares down at the pebbles under her shoes. “Chris, I… I need to tell you. I know it’s a dangerous thing to do, but I just can’t keep it in any longer.”
Chrissy sets her jaw, eyes softer than Waverly was expecting when she dares a glance upward. “Go ahead.”
“I think I could fall in love with Nicole Haught,” Waverly admits, voice barely above a whisper. “And it scares the hell out of me.”
“Oh, Waverly,” Chrissy whispers.
Waverly half-staggers to a nearby bench and drops onto it, the weight of her words sinking over her shoulders. “I don’t know how I can even say that. I’ve known her, what, a week? But it’s… I can’t explain it, Chrissy, I just felt this pull to her from the moment I saw her.”
“Sure it’s not the urge to kill her?” Chrissy asks, but it’s light, almost playful, as if she’s trying to make Waverly feel less like she just betrayed everything.
“I know it’s not,” Waverly snorts. “She touched me, and I… God, Chrissy, it was fireworks and butterflies and I’ve never, ever felt like that before.”
Chrissy raises an eyebrow and smirks. “Touched you, huh?”
“I hate to disappoint you, and I’m sure this makes me sound even more pathetic, but she didn’t touch me that way. She kissed my hand.”
“God, what is Nicole Haught, magic? All this stress and she’s only kissed your hand? What’s it going to be like when you have sex?”
Waverly splutters, face flushing red, and looks at Chrissy quickly. “I am not going to have sex with her!”
“No! She’s Nicole Haught. I couldn’t so much as go on one date with her without my father marching her out to the salt flats and shooting her!”
“Then why are you telling me about her at all?”
Waverly covers her face in her hands to hide her tears. “I don’t know,” she moans. “Maybe I thought you’d convince me I’m an idiot?”
“Well, you are.” Chrissy crouches down in front of her. “But not for having feelings, Waverly.”
“What am I supposed to do?”
Chrissy rubs her knee comfortingly. “Talk to her. You owe it to yourself.”
“I don’t understand,” Waverly sniffs, lowering her hands. “You hate Nicole, don’t you?”
“I don’t trust her family. I’ve heard rumors about her. But it’s all just rumor, and I’d rather set that aside if it means keeping you from being hurt.” Chrissy smiles. “You’re my best friend, Waverly Earp. Nothing changes that.”
Waverly bursts into tears again, leaning forward and resting her head on Chrissy’s shoulder. Chrissy puts an arm around her and holds her, and they sit there until Waverly regains herself and pulls back, sniffing and rubbing at her eyes.
“Thank you,” she whispers. “Thank you.”
“Never a problem, Waves.” Chrissy rubs the back of her neck as she stands. “But, uh… maybe you could do something for me in return?”
“Can we switch socks? When I crouched down here I got mud on them.”
Waverly laughs and nods. “Of course.”
When Waverly enters the abandoned building, she finds Nicole pacing with urgency that reads fear.
She stops and spins on her heel when she spots the woman at the door, eyes wide, just a little breathless. “Earp! Are you okay? What happened?”
“Nothing, Haught,” Waverly says as she approaches. “I’m alright. Just ran a little late this morning.” She sets a soft touch to Nicole’s elbow. “Everything’s fine.”
Nicole relaxes almost instantly, the anxiety easing from her eyes. “You’re sure?”
Waverly gestures at the stairs. “Shall we, then?”
Nicole grins and nods. “Absolutely.”
They lie on the floor, listening to the music, waiting for the right time to go down to the library.
“Haught,” Waverly says, voice trembling. “There’s something I need to tell you.”
“It’s not fair of me, I know it’s not, because there’s nothing we can do about it. But I… I just…”
Nicole’s fingers brush against Waverly’s knuckles. “I know,” she whispers.
“Truth be told, I think I knew the first time I ever saw you. I just was able to deny it until I actually met you.”
It’s still unspoken, whatever’s between them, and as much as it aches, Waverly lets it lie there with them untouched.
She’s afraid of it.
“We should go,” Nicole sighs, and when she stands she helps Waverly up.
They leave the unspoken thing on the floor.
“Are you almost done your paper?” Nicole asks as she flips through a few diagrams of volcanoes.
Waverly gives her a humorless smile. “You know how it is. Boring as hell. It’s not exactly my best work.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
She holds out a hand to ease the stiffness that immediately, visibly floods through Nicole’s body as Chrissy sprints up to them.
Chrissy pants, hands resting on her knees to support herself as she gasps for air. “Thank… god. I’ve been… looking… everywhere for… you.”
Waverly pales. “What?”
Chrissy swallows and slows her breathing. “Lucado. She’s checking the library. I don’t know if she got a tip or just felt suspicious or what, but she’s coming here.”
“Go.” Nicole gathers Waverly’s papers haphazardly and shoves them into her hands. “Go. Now.”
“But the books…”
“I’ll handle them, just go!”
Waverly takes off, running for the room they use as their exit. Behind her, she hears Nicole scrambling to set everything aside, arguing with Chrissy as she helps.
She shuts the door and flips on the light switch, jumping up to try to reach the trapdoor.
Even though she knows, deep down, that she’ll never be able to reach it.
She’s in the process of trying to figure out how to make a ladder from the piles of books when Nicole bursts in and jumps up, knocking the door open in one fluid, practiced movement.
“I was getting there,” Waverly grumbles.
“Scold me later.” Nicole’s holds her hands out flat for Waverly to step on, and gives her one quick boost up into the attic.
There’s a knock on the door, more of a banging noise really, and Waverly holds her hand down to Nicole.
“Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
Nicole glances at the door. At Waverly. At the door. At Waverly.
“Waverly,” she says, quiet and calm. “Get inside the attic.”
The use of her first name stuns her more than the cold certainty in Nicole’s eyes. “W-What?”
“Go!” Nicole hisses, and Waverly backs up more out of shock than anything else.
She stares down at Nicole, confused, then Nicole jumps up, grabs the door, and pulls it closed.
Waverly hears Nicole’s shoes land back on the floor an instant before the door to the storage room slams open.
“Well,” Lucado’s voice says, clear and cold and so close that it sends chills through Waverly’s spine. “What do we have here?”
“Dr. Lucado,” Nicole says, and Waverly could laugh at how much bored disdain she’s filtered into her voice. “I’d say that I’m happy to see you, but I think we both know I’d be lying.”
“You insolent little child. Do you think this is a game? We take suspensions quite seriously at this school.”
“Really? Going to have me put in front of a firing range?”
“I’ll have you expelled!”
Waverly’s stomach twists and then drops, but Nicole, somehow, stays calm. “You say that like I’d mind.”
“Your parents will.”
“I’m nineteen. I don’t give a shit.”
“Hmph. We’ll see.” There’s a pause, and Waverly can practically see Lucado pacing around Nicole. “Where is she?”
Nicole snorts. “Earp? Why the fuck would I know?”
“I have suspicions that the two of you have been spending time together on campus despite your suspensions.”
“You do remember my last name, right? The only way I’d spend time with an Earp is if it was a fistfight.”
“Hm. We’ll see. I’m going to search this entire building until I find her.”
“Good luck. It’d be nice to not be the only idiot who gets suspended, I guess.”
The voices fade into distant arguments as Waverly hears the door shut again.
Nicole is gone.
“Maybe this will be for the best, Waverly,” Chrissy says, putting an arm around her friend. “Nicole wasn’t happy here, right? And you were having difficulties with your feelings, and we both know your parents would never let you be together. This would be good for both of you, wouldn’t it?”
Waverly shrugs. “I… I guess. But I think I’d rather see her every day and be miserable about it than feel like this.”
“I know.” Chrissy opens her bag and pulls out a book. “By the way, this is for you. Nicole said you needed it to finish your paper?”
Waverly takes it and freezes. She scrambles to pull out one of the scrap sheets from the day before, finding the page she had scribbled down as reference to go back to.
“I had forgotten.”
“I was using this the other day, and I wrote down the page, but I forgot to go back to it. She must’ve… She must’ve remembered it.”
Waverly flips open to the page she was last on, and her heart thuds painfully.
There’s a small scrap of paper tucked inside.
Just in case.
Tomorrow, the attic, 5pm.
“What’s the attic?” Chrissy asks, reading over her shoulder.
“Ours,” Waverly whispers. She folds the note up carefully and slides it into the pocket of her jacket. “Please don’t tell anyone.”
“You’re going to go?”
“Yes. You don’t think I should?”
Chrissy smiles slightly. “I think I’d be a fool to try to tell you not to.”
Waverly gets all the way to the skylight before realizing she’s made a mistake.
She doesn’t have what she needs to open the window.
She taps once, just to try, and to her relief it opens from the inside.
Nicole is in the attic, waiting, dressed in jeans and sneakers and a buttondown under a thin, soft-looking sweater.
“Hi,” Waverly greets shyly.
“You look, uhm…”
“Sorry,” Nicole says with a grin. “This is all I really have other than uniforms.”
“Don’t apologize,” Waverly says. “You look good.”
Nicole’s responding grin lights up her eyes. “I’m glad.”
“I got your note.”
“I hoped you would.”
Waverly takes a few steps closer. “Why did you do that, Nicole? Why didn’t you just get out with me?”
“She had already seen me. If I had gone up through the hatch, she would’ve known that there was a way out through that room. She would’ve found you, Waverly. I couldn’t live with that.”
“I would’ve rather gotten expelled, too.”
Nicole raises an eyebrow. “No, you wouldn’t. Your father… My parents were angry enough.”
Waverly shoves her hands in her pockets to keep them from twisting anxiously in front of her. “What did they say?”
“That I’m a worthless disappointment. Nothing new, really.”
Waverly sniffs, her eyes starting to water. She stares down at the floor, willing them not to fall.
Nicole is in front of her in a moment. “Earp? Why are you crying?”
“Because you’re an idiot.”
“I mean, I know that, but that’s not something you need to worry yourself with.”
Waverly half-walks half-falls forward, wrapping her arms around Nicole’s waist and hugging her tightly.
“Hey,” Nicole whispers, putting her arms around Waverly’s shoulders. “What’s wrong?”
“You know that thing we never really talked about?”
She feels Nicole swallow, and her arms go tighter around Waverly’s shoulders. “Oh,” she breathes.
“I don’t want you to leave,” Waverly admits, barely a whisper.
They stand there in silence, the sun setting out the window behind them.
“Come with me.”
Waverly looks up, certain she misheard. “What?”
Nicole takes a step back, moving her hands to rest on top of Waverly’s shoulders, and in the dying light Waverly can see a wild, reckless excitement in her eyes. “Come with me, Earp. You’re just as miserable here as I was. I can’t offer you much. I only have the money I’ve squirreled away over the years and kept hidden. But I’m leaving. I’m getting away from my parents and I’m going out to the west coast and I’m going to try to go to school somewhere with a real geology program that I can do the way I want. I’m sure they’ll have history programs as well. You could do it, Earp. You could be a professor.”
“I-I don’t have any money,” Waverly stammers. “I don’t have a car. I can’t exactly take things from my father without him realizing.”
“Fuck it. Fuck him. Just pack some essentials. We’re old enough to do what we want. We can just leave.”
“He’ll kill you,” Waverly whispers, reaching up and resting her hand on Nicole’s cheek. “If I escape his control and you’re to blame? He’ll kill you, Haught.”
“You think I give a damn about that? You’d be free.”
Waverly laughs, a small, strained laugh. “You really are an idiot.”
The excitement on Nicole’s face starts to die, and her hands start to slip from Waverly’s shoulders. “I’m sorry, Waverly,” she whispers, and Waverly’s heart does a painful flip at how sad she suddenly sounds. “I just thought... I just wanted…”
“I know, Nicole,” she murmurs. “But I’m not worth it.”
Nicole rests her forehead against Waverly’s, and Waverly’s heart flips again when she feels her trembling. “You’re wrong about that, Earp.” She steps back, looking close to tears. “Saturday. Four a.m. I’ll wait in front of this school for thirty minutes, Earp, in my Range Rover. If you… If you change your mind…”
As she brushes gently past Waverly, headed for the window to leave, Waverly murmurs, “I think I could’ve fallen in love with you, Nicole Haught. If we weren’t… here.”
“I am here,” Nicole replies, no malice in her voice. “And I think I still could.”
Waverly swallows and turns to respond, but Nicole is already gone.
Waverly and Chrissy sit on their bench, a heavy silence between them.
“She really offered that? To take you away from here?”
“Yeah. Silly, isn’t it? We barely know each other, and here she is getting sentimental.” Waverly stares down at her hands, no emotion in her voice. “It’s like she actually believes it.”
Chrissy tosses a piece of bread to a nearby duck. “Why don’t you?”
“You used to believe in fairy tales, Waverly Earp. What changed?”
Waverly scoffs. “I grew up. The only thing I believe now is that dreams are worthless if you don’t share the ones your parents have for you.”
“Stop it,” Chrissy snaps, getting to her feet and putting her hands on her hips. “Just stop it.”
Waverly looks up, surprised. “Chris-”
“No. Whoever you are, you are not my best friend. The Waverly Earp I know would never be giving in like this.”
“What would you have me do, Chrissy? Leave my family forever? Leave here? Leave you? For, what, a chance that I could build something with a woman I was told my whole life I was supposed to hate?”
“And you never really believed that, did you? Out of all of us, you were the one person who didn’t think it made sense to keep a war on for generations. If you don’t believe that, just ask yourself why it bothered you so much to see Haught get suspended because she gave you her socks.”
“I…” Waverly pauses and frowns.
“There it is.”
“It’s still not a solution. Nicole is still leaving.”
Chrissy sits back down next to her. “Then I have one more thing for you to ask yourself. You need to be genuinely honest with yourself about it, too.”
“What is it?”
“Do you want to go with her?”
Waverly sighs and closes her eyes, bowing her head. “Yes.”
Nicole leans back in the driver’s seat of her car, listening to silence.
Until there’s a loud tapping sound on her window.
She jumps and slams her hip into her steering wheel, startled, but she puts the window down when she recognizes Waverly through the glass. “Earp, what-”
“Sorry,” Waverly says sheepishly. “I thought that would be the best way to get your attention.” She holds up two bags and nods down at a rolling suitcase. “Do you have somewhere I could put these?”
“Uh.” Nicole stares at her, speechless.
“Haught.” Waverly gives her a kind smile. “I need somewhere to put the bags.”
Nicole nods and gets out of the car, walking around to the back and opening the hatchback. She slides the bags in amongst her own with a mechanical motion, still clearly in shock. When she closes the door, she stammers, “W-What are you… What are you doing here?”
Waverly runs her hands across Nicole’s shoulders before linking them behind Nicole’s neck. “Take a guess, Haught.”
It takes another moment, the situation calculating in Nicole’s head.
Then her eyes light up, and the crooked grin forms on her lips, and Waverly practically swoons.
“Oh, god,” Nicole laughs, heavy with relief. “You had me worried, Earp.”
“I know. I’m sorry. I should’ve realized sooner that I knew exactly what I wanted.”
“And what’s that?” Nicole prompts.
Waverly shakes her head, grinning. “You’re not going to make me say it, Nicole Haught.”
“Competitive.” Nicole pulls her in close, and Waverly lets out a short, sharp breath. “I think I like it.”
“I won’t say it. But I will show you. If you’ll let me?”
“Waverly Earp, I think I’d let you do anything if it made you happy.” Nicole rests her forehead against Waverly’s. “But yes.”
The word has barely dropped from Nicole’s lips when Waverly tugs her forward and kisses her.
“God,” Waverly groans. She pulls Nicole in again, a series of kisses only broken by a strangled gasp as Nicole pushes her up against the Range Rover for better leverage.
They’re both panting when they separate, and Waverly sees her own excitement reflected in Nicole’s eyes.
“Trust me when I say that I do not want to stop this,” Nicole says, “but we have to get going if we want to avoid being spotted.”
Waverly nods. “You’re right. But we are definitely doing that again.”
“Oh, darling, trust me, I’m just getting started with you,” Nicole replies with a grin, walking around the car to open Waverly’s door for her.
They head down the street, Nicole driving with one hand, her other idly playing with Waverly’s on top of the center console.
“Where are we headed?”
“Well, this school year is pretty shot, so I figured maybe we’d make our way west and try to get set up with someplace to stay and some sort of work while we start looking into places to attend for next year.”
“Sounds like an excellent plan to me.”
“On the way there, though…” Nicole glances at Waverly briefly. “I was thinking of maybe stopping somewhere that I could teach you how to climb?”
Waverly grins and lifts Nicole’s hand, kissing her knuckles. “That sounds even better.”