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What You're Worth

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Waverly had never slept in a real bed alone in her life.

When she woke up the next morning, after a good night’s sleep, she realized that the sun was already well in the sky. Panicked, Waverly scrambled out of the bed and put on the same clothing she had worn the day before.

She headed out into the main area of the house and found it empty. A paper note was set on the table in the sitting room, and Waverly picked it up hesitantly.

Scrawled in a neat handwriting was:

 

Waverly-

I leave for work before the sun rises, so I won’t be here when you awake. I apologize that I won’t be able to get you more familiar with your new home.

There is plenty of food in the pantry and the icebox. Help yourself to whatever you need.

I will be home at some point after the sun sets, most likely. I apologize, but my schedule is not very set in stone.

-Nicole (Colonel Haught)

 

Waverly sat down on the couch, frowning slightly in befuddlement. The note didn’t make much sense to her. Why wasn’t the colonel angry with her for not being awake to make her breakfast before she left? Why did she call it “[Waverly’s] new home”? Why would she give Waverly freedom to eat what she wanted?

Why apologize?

She ran her finger over the last words, the signature at the end. On a day when she didn’t still feel ill, she would probably laugh at the fact that the colonel felt the need to clarify who she was, as if Waverly wouldn’t remember her name.

It was a small note of personality that was, even just in the small moment, something that at the very least let her know that Nicole Haught had a better sense of humor than Ward Earp.

Waverly walked into the kitchen and opened up the pantry, and her jaw dropped.

The stock of food was reasonable for someone who had recently been single and rarely home.

It was still more food than Waverly had ever seen at one time.

She hadn’t intended on eating anything in Nicole Haught’s house. Not until she had been given verbal permission.

The hunger clawing at her insides convinced her otherwise.

Waverly pulled out some bread and a fruit she didn’t recognize, and she opened the icebox slowly.

Meat.

Cheese.

Butter.

Waverly made a desperate grab and, in mere moments, had assembled a sandwich that she was pretty sure normal people would find disgusting. A strange combination of buttered bread, slices of cheese, whatever meat had been in the icebox (too expensive for Waverly to know anything about), and a green vegetable she had found in the pantry.

She devoured the sandwich like a starved animal, and she was grateful that Nicole was not there to see it.

She was grateful that she had a few minutes to eat like it wasn’t a burden to feed her.

When she was finished, she hastily cleaned up and took the piece of fruit into the sitting room. She fished a book, one she had read about fifty times, out of her bag, and started to read it as she sat on the couch, the fruit sitting on the table next to her.

It was a silly dream, but it had been one she had always had.

To be able to read with food nearby, ready for her when she wanted it, and to be able to leave it alone without desperation taking her over.

 

+++++

 

When Nicole returned to the house, Waverly was still sitting on the couch, book abandoned, staring at the piece of fruit.

“Uhm.”

“What is it?”

“What?”

Waverly picked up the piece of fruit and held it up, excitement lighting up her face. “What is this? I’ve never seen it before.”

Nicole walked over and half-sat, half-fell into a chair. She pulled open the buttons of her uniform, revealing a smoky gray t-shirt. “That’s a pear.”

“Pear,” Waverly repeated in a whisper. “Are they good?”

“I’ve always thought so. You’ve never had a pear before?”

“No. We couldn’t afford any fruit other than apples and one orange a week.”

Nicole sat there in silence for a long moment, frowning and studying her. That was when reality snapped back into Waverly, and she jumped to her feet. “I-I-I’m sorry,” she stammered. “I should’ve gotten dinner ready for you before you got home. I’m so sorry.”

“Waverly.”

Her rambling apologies broke off with a nervous swallow.

“Come here,” Nicole said softly.

Waverly started to shake, her heart thudding in her throat. She stepped forward and stood in front of Nicole, bracing herself for the inevitable blow.

“You were wearing that all day yesterday,” Nicole murmured. “Do you not have other clothes?”

“I-I-I have this dress, and I have one set of a shirt and pants,” Waverly stammered. “I wouldn’t want to waste water by washing something I can just as easily wear another day.”

“There’s no need for that here,” she said. “You can do you laundry whenever you’d like. But you know, you… You also don’t need to only have two outfits.”

“I’m fine.”

Nicole stood, and Waverly flinched, but the colonel neatly side-stepped her without ever touching her and walked over to the mantle above the fireplace. She picked up a wooden box and held it out to Waverly.

“Go to the market tomorrow. Buy yourself a few things. Whatever you like. Something nice.” She waited until Waverly took the box, and then she headed off towards the kitchen, yawning. “And do me a favor and go to bed, would you?”

Once she was out of the room, Waverly opened the box hesitantly.

It was full of more money than Waverly had every seen in her entire life.

She swallowed, reaching out shakily to skim her fingertips over the coins. “Gods,” she whispered.

 

+++++

 

Waverly made the decision to do as Nicole had requested, but she did not buy as many clothes as she was tempted to. She had no interest in pushing her luck, but she also was still suspicious about why Nicole had wanted her to get ‘something nice’.

She knew it was only a matter of time before Nicole took what she had paid for.

When she returned from the market, she changed into one of the nicer outfits she had purchased. She set the better portion of the coins she had taken that morning back into the box above the mantle and headed to the kitchen to make dinner.

Nicole stepped into the house about an hour and a half later. “Hey,” she murmured, running a hand over her face.

“Hi,” Waverly greeted through a strained smile as she left the kitchen. “I made a stew.”

“Good,” Nicole said, distracted as she pulled her uniform jacket off. “You deserve one.” She grabbed a roll and a piece of cheese, then headed into the bathroom.

Waverly blinked after her, baffled.

Nicole stuck her head back out, frowning slightly. “You went to the market today?”

“Yes.”

“How many outfits did you buy?”

“Three.”

Nicole snorted. “I can afford more than that, you know.” She disappeared, then reappeared again. “That one looks nice, though.”

This time she headed back into the bathroom and stayed there, the sound of water being dumped into the tub echoing out through the door.

Waverly stared at the door for a long moment before turning and heading back into the kitchen to eat some of the stew.

“I don’t think I understand that woman,” she muttered under her breath.

 

+++++

 

Waverly wasn’t sure why it made her so anxious that Nicole Haught refused to touch her.

She didn’t speak to her much aside from some politeness when she initially got home.

She never ate the food Waverly made.

She always slept on the couch.

She wasn’t having sex with the wife she had purchased.

Waverly appreciated the payment that Nicole had made to save her family from living on the streets. She appreciated having a home and food and clothing. It just made her nervous and sick to constantly feel like she wasn’t holding up her side of the deal.

When Nicole sat down on the couch, wearing sleep clothes and eating a sandwich instead of the stew Waverly had made, Waverly, seated in a chair watching her, finally snapped.

“Why haven’t we had sex?” she demanded.

Nicole slowly lowered a piece of bread from her mouth, looking stunned and baffled. “Uhm. Because. You don’t… seem to want to?”

Waverly sat back in her chair, her entire body going slack with befuddlement. “Why would that matter?”

“Gods, Waverly, what do you take me for?” Nicole set her plate down on the table in front of her. “You don’t owe me sex just because you’re my wife now.”

“No, I owe you sex because that’s what you paid for.”

“You say that like I see you as a whore,” Nicole said, her voice low.

Waverly shrugged and stared down at her lap. “I might as well be,” she murmured. “My father sold me off for money.”

Nicole shifted forward in her seat and rested her elbows on her knees. “Waverly. Look at me.”

She lifted her eyes cautiously and was surprised by how gentle Nicole’s gaze was.

“I’m not going to touch you like that if you don’t want it. Understand? That’s not who I am. You don’t owe me anything.” Nicole picked up her plate and carried it towards the kitchen. She stopped in the doorway and glanced behind her. “I’m sorry. That you don’t trust me. I understand why, and it’s okay. But you don’t need to be scared here, Waverly. This is a place where you can be safe.”

She disappeared into the kitchen, and Waverly slumped down into the chair, completely drained and exhausted.