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we’ll take a goodwill drink of ale for times gone by

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“Auld Lang Syne” Jimi Hendrix, 1974
Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne? 

Auld lang syne means times long past

Nicole turns into the McCreadys’ driveway, tapping the steering wheel to Def Leppard’s “Two Steps Behind.” She waves out the passenger window as Doc eases his Yamaha XS500E down the driveway. He nods at her, wiggling his fingers before he goes for the hand grip and revs the engine a little, his tires letting out a small squeal against the pavement. She shakes her head and turns off her car, pocketing the keys as she steps up next to Wynonna, waiting at the bottom of the front stairs.

“Where have you been?” Nicole asks, lowering her voice and putting her hands on her hips. She tips her head down like her mom, jutting out her bottom lip and wiggling her eyebrows.

Wynonna rolls her eyes. “Okay, Gus .”

“Honestly,” Nicole continues, moving up onto the first step so she’s even taller than Wynonna. “A boy? The Holliday boy ?” She drops her voice to a scandalized whisper. “He drives a motorcycle .”

Wynonna smirks. “I ride his-”

Nicole lunges forward, slapping her hand down over Wynonna’s mouth. “Stop. Stop. Please, stop.”

Wynonna licks her palm and Nicole grimaces, pulling her hand back and wiping it on her jeans. “What’re you doing here?” Wynonna asks.

Nicole points to the second floor window. “Waverly.”

“Figures,” Wynonna mutters, giving Nicole a small smile to take the sting out of the word. “I should be used to it by now, huh? Hey,” she says, clapping Nicole on the shoulder. “Have you always been hanging around me for my sister?”

Nicole shrugs. “No. It was for your charming conversational skills,” she teases.

Wynonna sticks her tongue out at Nicole and stomps up the steps, pulling open the front door. She tosses her coat in the direction of the coat rack, missing. Nicole huffs and hangs up her leather jacket, picking Wynonna’s up off the floor and hanging it on the hook beneath Nicole’s. Waverly’s coat, the leather jacket she stole years ago from Nicole, is there, too. Nicole fingers the worn leather gently, smiling softly as she runs her fingers over the Rolling Stones zipper.

For a second, she remembers dropping Waverly off at college for the first time, reaching out and snagging the zipper between her thumb and forefinger. She pulled Waverly close in the privacy of her dorm room, kissing her until her lungs burned. Waverly had run a hand up Nicole’s front, pressing her fingers over Nicole’s collarbone, right above her heart.

“Do you want it back?” Waverly had asked in a whisper.

Nicole bumped her forehead against Waverly’s, their noses brushing. “My jacket?”

Waverly’s hand twitched against her chest, the tips of her fingers burning through Nicole’s white shirt. “Duh,” she breathed out.

Nicole laughed softly, pressing a finger under Waverly’s chin to tip her head back. She met Waverly’s eyes, unblinking. “Never,” she whispered. “Do you want to give it back?”

“Your jacket?” Waverly asked.

“Duh,” Nicole echoed, pressing her hand down over Waverly’s.

“Never,” Waverly promised.

A cold hand presses against her chin, closing her mouth with a snap . Nicole jumps back, putting a few feet between Wynonna and herself.

“You were about to lose your jaw,” Wynonna said, shrugging. “Gus would have a fit.”

Nicole shakes her head, following Wynonna through the house and into the kitchen. She opens the cabinet while Wynonna checks the coffee pot.

“We need to make more,” Wynonna says, already reaching for the coffee canister next to the maker.

Nicole scans the cabinet, trying to pick out a few mugs. The tomato mug that belonged to Curtis is still there, tucked into the back of the shelf. Nicole’s fingers brush against it as she decides on the matching red and green plaid mugs near the front. She takes them down and sets them on the counter next to the coffee maker, straightening out the coffee filter when Wynonna turns to the sink to fill the carafe with water.

“Where is Gus?” Nicole asks, sitting down at the table.

Wynonna looks around the kitchen, shrugging. “The Patch?” she guesses.”Maybe she took Waverly with her.”

Nicole shakes her head. “No, I talked to her yesterday. She said she was going to be up late, so Gus gave her the morning off.”

Wynonna shrugs again. “She’s nuts, working for Gus while she’s home on winter break.”

Nicole reaches across the table and picks at a small crumb stuck to the tabletop. “She wants to be helpful. And you’re not helping,” she adds in a grumble.

Wynonna clears her throat loudly.

Nicole looks up and shrugs. “Listen. I’m only saying it because Gus says it to me . All the time.”

Wynonna rolls her eyes and finishes adding the rest of the water to the coffeemaker. She closes the filter basket and leans back against the counter. “I’m doing other things.”

“Like the Banditos,” Nicole offers.

“Like the Banditos,” Wynonna says over her. “That’s a thing.”

“It’s a motorcycle gang,” Nicole corrects.

Wynonna crosses her arms over her chest. “You make it sound like we rob people in the middle of the night. Or-or we surround cars and run them off the road.”

Nicole lits an eyebrow slowly. “Do you do those things?”

No ,” Wynonna spits, her lips pulled back in a snarl. She breathes out loudly, some of her hair fluttering. “We just… ride.”

“And that’s better than being here?” Nicole asks.

Wynonna throws up her hands. “Yes!” she shouts. “It’s better than being in this stupid town, doing nothing . Not all of us are satisfied dying in this… this stupid town,” she repeats.

Nicole swallows heavily, her chest tightening for a moment. She rolls her lips inward, looking to the side, back down to the front door. She hears Wynonna sigh and then the scrape of wood against the floor as Wynonna pulls out the chair across from her and sits down.

“That’s not what I meant,” Wynonna says quietly. She picks at the same stuck-on crumb Nicole tried to get up. “I just… there’s nothing here for me.”

Nicole scoffs, crossing her arms over her chest. “There’s everything,” she argues.

“Like what?” Wynonna asks, not looking up.

“Waverly,” Nicole starts.

“Leaving for college again,” Wynonna says quickly.

Nicole frowns. “Gus.”

Wynonna shrugs.

Nicole leans across the table. “Me.”

Wynonna looks up at that. “You have plenty of people in this town,” she says quietly.

Nicole stares at Wynonna until their eyes meet. “None of them are you,” she says softly.

Wynonna laughs bitterly and looks away. “Yeah.”

“And Doc,” Nicole adds, sitting back in her seat again.

Something passes over Wynonna’s face at the same time as the coffeemaker beeps. Nicole looks at the machine and gets up, filling the mugs to the lip. She puts the red plaid one in front of Wynonna. “Don’t drink it right-”

Wynonna lifts the cup and takes a large sip off the top, hissing when the hot liquid burns her tongue.

“Away,” Nicole finishes with a sigh. She sits down, careful not to spill any of her coffee. She blows across the top of it and takes a careful sip. It doesn’t burn too badly, and the second sip is easier. She studies Wynonna for a minute, watching the way she takes another sip of her coffee and swears again. Her eyebrows are pulled in, her mouth is turned down. It’s Wynonna’s thinking face, the one she gets when she’s trying to figure out to spell words like ‘presumptuous, ’ or when she’s got a secret she doesn’t want to share.

Nicole clears her throat softly, catching Wynonna’s attention.

Wynonna looks up and frowns at her. “Oh, what?”

Nicole shrugs innocently. “Nothing. I’m just wondering if you’re going to tell me what’s going.”

Wynonna opens her mouth and closes it quickly. She shrugs one shoulder, looking away. “Nothing,” she finally mutters. “It’s nothing.”

Nicole nods slowly. “Sure it is.”

Wynonna’s eyes dart back to her and she glares. “What?”

Nicole puts one hand up in surrender. “Nothing. Nothing.” She waits until Wynonna looks back down at her coffee cup. “Only, you want to say something and you’re afraid to.”

“Don’t go using your interrogation skills on me, Five-O,” Wynonna grumbles.

Nicole laughs. “That’s not my ‘interrogation’ skills. That’s just me being your best friend.”

Wynonna opens her mouth like she wants to argue, but she looks at Nicole’s face and decides against it. Instead, she shrugs and looks down at her coffee again, silent.

Nicole sings two choruses of “Love Can Move Mountains” in her head, and curses Waverly for making her listen to Celine Dion. She’s about to start a third chorus when Wynonna looks up again, squinting at her.

“Doc got a promotion,” Wynonna says, the words coming out slowly. She frowns like she’s unsure of what she’s saying, but Nicole knows this script. She takes another sip of her coffee and waits. After another minute, Wynonna scoffs. “He got a promotion.”

“That’s great,” Nicole says.

Six years ago.”

Nicole swallows her coffee, wincing as it goes down the the wrong way. She wipes the back of her hand against her mouth and swallows again. “What?” she manages.

“That’s what I said!” Wynonna says loudly. She jabs her finger in Nicole’s direction. “That was exactly what I said.”

Nicole puts down her coffee. “Listen, I’m not, like, Waverly-smart. So you need to try and explain this to me.”

Wynonna hums.

“What?” Nicole asks.

Wynonna shrugs. “I just said the exact same thing.” She narrows her eyes at Nicole. “Did Doc call you and tell you all of this?”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “Honestly, Wynonna.”

Wynonna puts up her hand in surrender. “I’m just asking.” She takes a sip of her coffee before she puts it down. She twists the ring on her thumb around a few times before she opens her mouth agan. “Apparently, when he graduated, Rosita’s dad offered him a promotion. Head mechanic.”

“That’s aces.” Nicole slaps her flat palm down on the table. “That’s… Wait. He’s not head mechanic.”

“Congratulations,” Wynonna says dryly. “You’re, like, top Roller in your class.”

Nicole points her finger in Wynonna’s direction. “I know you’re joking, but I was.”

Wynonna rolls her eyes. “Of course you were, Pointdexter.” She takes a deep breath. “Doc said ‘no,’ by the way. When he graduated. He told Rosita’s dad ‘no,’ just like that?”

Nicole frowns. “Why?” She starts to shake her head. “That garage means everything to him. I mean, the only thing that he likes more than that garage is-”

“Me,” Wynonna finishes. She sighs again. “He said ‘no’ because I hadn’t graduated yet. And he wanted to keep his options open, for when I did. So he told Bustillos to shove it.”

Nicole lifts an eyebrow. “I don’t believe that John Henry Holliday, who tips his hat old ladies on the street, told anyone of authority to ‘shove it”.”

“It could happen,” Wynonna defends.

Nicole shrugs. “If you say so.” She drains the last of her coffee and gets up to pour herself another cup. She takes a third mug out of the cabinet, putting it down next to the machine. She won’t pour Waverly a cup yet, but when she goes upstairs, she’ll take one with her. She makes a mental note to put some sugar in the bottom of her mug; Waverly likes her first cup a little on the sweeter side.

Wynonna looks up at her miserably when Nicole sits back down. “He got offered the promotion again. Four more times, actually.”

Nicole puts down her fresh cup of coffee slowly. “What? And Doc never told you?”

Wynonna holds up a single finger. “After graduation,” she says. She puts up a second finger. “After our graduation. Again when Waverly graduated,” she adds, lifting another finger. “And when I left with the Banditos the first time. Doc came with me, that time,” she adds, her voice drifting off for a moment. She lifts another finger. “And then when I came back from that first run. Right before-”

“Before you left again,” Nicole finishes.

Wynonna stretches her arm out towards Nicole, spreading her fingers apart from each other. “He was offered a promotion five times, total. And that hoser said ‘no.’ Every. Single. Time.”

Nicole squints at Wynonna. “Because of you.”

“Because of me ,” Wynonna confirms.

Nicole’s eyes drift to the end of the table, where Curtis sat years ago. He would know what to say right now , Nicole thinks. He would scoot his chair closer to Wynonna, and laugh when Wynonna acted like she didn’t want the attention. He would put his hand on Wynonna’s shoulder and squeeze it gently, grounding her for a moment. He would tell her that she could talk to him, about anything, and he would never judge her.

Nicole remembers his speeches well. Sometimes, when she turns a corner too quickly in this house, she thinks she can hear him, or catch him disappearing into another room. She always has to remind herself he’s gone. He’s gone, but he made her promise to keep them on track.

She straightens up a little, keeping her eyes on Wynonna.  “So, did he get offered the promotion again?”

Wynonna slumps forward on the table, pressing her forehead to the cool wood top. “Worse,” she grumbles into her sleeve.

“What?”

Wynonna sits up. “Worse,” she repeats. “He got offered partnership .”

Nicole startles a little bit. Bustillos is the only garage in Purgatory and it services everything from Linda Doucette’s Oldsmobile Cutlass Cruiser to Champ Hardy’s ‘83 Toyota SR5 and anything in between. Doc has been there for years, working under Mr. Bustillos ever since he started high school, and he’s good , but Nicole didn’t realize he was partnership -good.

Wynonna nods. “No faking.” She twists her ring around her thumb again. “Old Man Bustillos thought Doc was saying ‘no’ because being head machine wasn’t good enough.” She nods harder, watching Nicole’s mouth drop. “So he said, ‘Doc, you’re the tits. Be my partner so when I die, you and Rosie can run this joint and make it bangin’ like I always wanted it to be.”

Nicole lifts an eyebrow, skeptical.

Wynonna waves her hand. “Whatevs. That’s basically what he meant, okay?”

Nicole whistles, low, and leans forward, resting her elbows on the table. “He offered him partnership.”

“Name change and everything,” Wynonna says.

“And Doc turned him down?”

Wynonna shakes her head back and forth quickly, some of the coffee left in her mug spilling over the sides. “No. Not yet. Doc finally told me about it last night.”

“Wow,” Nicole breathes out. “This is, like, a big time thing to keep from you.”

Wynonna’s lips twitch. “You mean, almost as big as you dating my sister?”

“Wynonna,” Nicole sighs.

Wynonna smiles wide. “I’m kidding. Mostly,” she teases, winking. Her face falls and she looks back down into her coffee mug. “He said he didn’t really care about the promotions all that much. He’d have to get a new set of coveralls, and he likes the way his fit now.”

Nicole takes a slow sip of her coffee. “But he cares about being partner.”

Wynonna nods. “For sure.”

“But he doesn’t want to take it if you’re not sticking around?” Nicole guesses.

Wynonna’s head snaps up. “How did you know that?”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “ Please . He’s been in love with you since, like, the third grade. He’d follow you to the end of the world if you asked him to.” She pauses. “But you’re not sticking around, are you?”

Wynonna narrows her eyes. “I don’t know,” she admits. She shrugs. “I love riding with the Banditos. I love feeling… free. But I love…”

“Doc,” Nicole finishes helpfully.

“And Waverly, and Gus, sometimes.”

“All the time,” Nicole corrects. “You can’t lie to me.”

“Sometimes, I wish I could,” Wynonna grumbles. She throws her hands up in the air, sending droplets of coffee across the room. “But there’s nothing here for me. Besides Doc and Waverly and Gus.” She waves her hand in Nicole’s direction. “And you, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Nicole repeats dryly.

“But I don’t have a job-”

“You can get one.”

Wynonna glares at her. “I don’t have a fancy college degree.”

“No one in this town does,” Nicole argues. She looks at Wynonna for a minute, studying the way Wynonna pulls in her bottom lip and chews on it nervously.

She looks almost like the Wynonna Nicole met in 1978, standing at the McCreadys’ driveway, hanging back when Nicole wheeled her bike up the drive and tried to introduce herself. Wynonna turned and ran then, hiding behind the end of Curtis’s truck, and Nicole sighed and got back on her bike, vowing to come back the next day. She was tired of trailing after Nathan’s friends and she wanted some of her own.

It had taken the week, but Wynonna eventually told her that her yellow and black Puma Clyde sneakers were stupid and she should get a pair of Vans instead.

Nicole leans back in her seat. She opens her mouth, but Wynonna beats her to it.

“I already asked Gus for a job.”

Nicole starts to smile. “That’s great. You can do that for a while and-”

“She said no,” Wynonna interrupts, her voice flat.

Nicole blinks. “She said what?”

“No,” Wynonna repeats. She growls a little. “She said I was better than some waitress. That I should go do something I want to do.” She scoffs. “So, really. What’s the point of being here?”

Nicole knows Wynonna isn’t looking for an answer, but she feels like she needs to remind Wynonna that there’s Doc, and Waverly, and Gus, and her, again . She opens her mouth, but she closes it again, tipping her head to one side as thinks. “Well. What do you want to do?”

“I want to work at The Patch,” Wynonna admits, the words stringing together as she rushes them out. “I always thought… This is so lame . I always thought I’d work there, someday. And when I finally get the nerve to ask, Gus says ‘no.’ Just like that.” She snaps her fingers.

“Maybe you can,” Nicole says, an idea forming in her mind. “But it might take getting one of those fancy degrees you hate so much.”

Wynonna scowls at her. “Nicole.”

Nicole puts her hands up in surrender. “I’m just saying. What if you did something other than waitressing. Gus does so much - the books, the scheduling, the ordering. What if you learn how to do that stuff, too? And then you can work there and stay in town, and Doc can take Mr. Bustillos up on his offer, and Valdez can visit you when she comes back through town,” Nicole teases, nudging the table in Wynonna’s direction.

Wynonna huffs, pushing the table back towards Nicole. She turns her head, her hair swinging down across her face, but Nicole can see the hint of a smile on her face. “She’s staying, too,” Wynonna breathes out.

Nicole crosses her arms over her chest. “For real?”

“For now.” Wynonna shrugs. “She’s going to do security at the bank for a bit until she has some more money put together. And then she’s thinking she might get back on the road, but… we blew through most of our savings.”

Nicole worries her bottom lip between her teeth. “I think you should stay,” she admits. “No, no. I want you to stay.” She scoots her chair closer, her eyes burning a little as her foot brushes the leg of the chair that belonged to Curtis. “I know you want to get out of here, that nothing feels like it’s right here. But, everything is here.”

She feels nine again, breathing heavily into the phone and not being able to ask her dad to come back for the reasons she wants him to.

“Waverly is here and Gus is here. I’m here. Doc will go wherever you want to go, you know that. But he’d just as quickly stay in Purgatory.” Nicole stretches her hand across the table surface, resting it along the edge where Curtis used to drop his elbow, even after Gus told him to get it off the table.

Keep them on track , she hears somewhere over her shoulder.

“If you want to work at The Patch, do it ,” Nicole breathes out earnestly. “I can help you.” She snaps her fingers, trying to put the idea in her head into words. “If you… Okay. You can go to the community college and get your degree. They have a ton of options. Nathan enrolled, you know? I still have the pamphlets on the refrigerator at home.”

“I barely got through school the first time,” Wynonna mutters.

“But you’ll have me again,” Nicole promises. “Just like you did in high school. We can study on my lunch breaks. You-you can ride in the cruiser with me on those really slow Sunday shifts. I’ll talk to Nedley, but I don’t think he’ll mind, you know?” She’s already thinking of ways that she can convince him to let Wynonna ride shotgun. Maybe I can give Rick a few nights off and sweep the station myself , she thinks. Just like I used to .

“Nicole, I can’t even spell ,” Wynonna continues. “I can’t read the orders. I can’t do any of that stuff.”

“You can’t not try,” Nicole fires back. “And you’re good with numbers.”

“So?"

So ,” Nicole breathes out. “So, you can do so much with numbers. When’s the last time The Patch was out of the red? Gus loses a whole day’s worth of profits when she needs to go to Ottawa and Waverly is away at school. You want to work at The Patch, you just need to figure out how to do it.”

Wynonna narrows her eyes. “So, what? Be the money counter?”

Nicole makes a face. “More than that,” she says. “You can figure out better ways to save money, pay vendors. That kind of stuff.”

“How do you know all of that stuff?”

Nicole sighs wearily. “Gus talks a lot.”

Wynonna snorts. “If you weren’t such a Five-O cliche, spending all your time at the counter, slugging coffee.”

Nicole rolls her eyes and sits back in her chair, huffing loudly.

“What’s your favorite donut, by the way?” Wynonna asks. “Oh, nevermind.” She dodges the crumb Nicole throws at her. “I know it’s one of those Tim Horton donuts you get when you guys drive out to Moose Lake in Bonnyville.”

“You eat donuts, too, you know,” Nicole points out.

Wynonna shrugs. “But I’m not a cop.”

“But you’re-” Nicole stops herself, shaking her head. “Okay, whatever.”

“Don’t wig out,” Wynonna says. She looks like Wynonna again, mouth tipped in a smirk. “But,” she stats, picking at the tabletop. “If you have those pamphlets, maybe I can look at them.”

Nicole smiles softly. “Okay.”

Wynonna rolls her eyes and pushes her chair lack, scraping the elgs across the floor. “Okay, we’re done with this,” she decides. She puts her coffee mug in the sink, not bothering to wash it out.

Nicole gets up and gently pushes in her chair, moving around the table to do the same to Wynonna’s. She puts her own mug in the sink, turning on the water for a minute to get the grounds out of the bottom of their cups. She tips them upside down in the sink and moves across the kitchen, pouring a new cup of coffee for Waverly. She stirs in a little bit of sugar.

“Are you going to wake up Waverly?” Wynonna asks, leaning back against the sink.

Nicole nods. “She’s got the afternoon shift so I thought we could hang out this morning.”

Wynonna toes the kitchen floor for a second.

Nicole watches her, still absently stirring Waverly’s coffee around.

“Hey,” Wynonna finally says. “Why don’t we go get Waverly and then go to Mattie’s. It’s not Saturday, but…” She trails off, shrugging. “We haven’t gone together in a while.”

Nicole pretends to think it over. “I mean, I go every week.”

Wynonna twists and grabs the sponge behind the sink, tossing it weakly in Nicole’s direction.

Nicole sidesteps it, still stirring. “Let’s go get Waverly.”

Wynonna pushes off the sink, darting around the table in the middle of the room.

“Last one up the stairs has to ride in the backseat.”

“Like I’m letting anyone drive my car,” Nicole shouts after her. She walks around the kitchen table slowly, her hand trailing along the back of Curtis’s chair. She pauses at the bottom of the stairs, rolling her eyes when she sees Wynonna sitting at the top, her chin in her hands, grinning down at her.

“You’re not driving my car,” Nicole repeats again. She climbs the stairs carefully, stepping high over Wynonna so she doesn’t spill the coffee in her hand. She reaches for the doorknob, hoping to be the first person in the room so that Wynonna doesn’t immediately jump on top of Waverly.

Wynonna slips under her arm, though, twisting the knob and flinging the door open. It hits the wall with a loud bang , nearly closing on them again.

The lump in Waverly’s bed shifts with a groan. Nicole leans up against the doorjamb, smiling affectionately as Wynonna kicks Waverly’s clothes around on her bedroom floor. Nicole loves Waverly in the morning, when they’re hiding from the sunlight under the sheets, too warm, but too comfortable to move. She loves the way Waverly winds her hands through Nicole’s hair, sleepily nosing into Nicole’s shoulder.

“She likes The Beach Boys?” Wynonna asks, her voice colored with disgust.

Nicole looks down, frowning at a t-shirt she doesn’t recognise, but then it’s hitting her in the face and Wynonna is starting towards the blinds. The shirt wraps around her face and she pulls it at it, inhaling a smell that’s not Waverly’s.

“Rise and shine, loser!” Wynonna shouts, pulling the shades open. The shade goes too quickly and snaps up, spinning around the top of the window.

The lump on the bed moves again.

“If you insist,” Wynonna says. She flashes Nicole a grin and then jumps onto the bed, arms and legs spread wide.

The lump on the bed screeches, high and panicked and nothing like Waverly.

Wynonna scrambles back, pulling the comforter down enough for Nicole to see there’s a blonde girl in Waverly’s bed.

Nicole puts down the coffee on Waverly’s desk, scanning the room. She sees Waverly’s shoes under the bed and the sweater Nicole remembers her wearing yesterday is hanging off the hook behind the door.

“What’s your beef?” Waverly asks from the doorway.

Nicole spins, shielding Wynonna behind her.

Wynonna grips the top of her arms and peers around her shoulder. “If you’re there, who is-”

The lump in the bed sits up, pushing her hair out of her face. “What the hell? Are you juiced or something?”

Waverly huffs loudly. “Wynonna, you can’t just-”

“Wait a minute!” Wynonna shouts. She pushes Nicole out of the way. Nicole stumbles a little as she’s forced to the side. “What’re you doing in Waverly’s bed? Who are you?” She grips the end of the comforter and pulls, hard. It goes flying off the bed, landing in a heap at Waverly’s feet.

Nicole snorts when Eliza shrieks and pulls her hands up over her body.

“Wynonna, don’t,” Waverly starts. She tries to cross the bedroom, but Wynonna holds up a hand.

“I don’t want to hear it from you ,” she hisses, her eyes trailing up and down Waverly’s body.

Nicole looks, too, grinning a little at the way her old Rush Power Windows tour t-shirt comes to rest right above Waverly’s knees.

Wynonna jumps forward again, landing with her knees on either side of the girl in Waverly’s bed.

Eliza shrieks again. “Waverly!”

“Who the hell do you think you are?” Wynonna asks, pushing Eliza back against the mattress.

Eliza swings one arm up, trying to connect with Wynonna’s face. Wynonna ducks, catching Eliza’s arm and holding it down against the pillow.

“She’s practically married ,” Wynonna continues.

Nicole feels her face flush.

“If you would let me explain,” Eliza says, her back teeth grinding. “I could-”

“I don’t want to hear it, bimbette,” Wynonna growls.

Nicole steps forward, reaching for Wynonna. She manages to catch one of her arms as Wynonna loses her grip on Eliza, but Wynonna slips out of her grasp, pinning Eliza’s hand back down against the mattress.

Waverly blinks hard, springing into motion and grabbing Wynonna around the waist. She tugs uselessly, looking at Nicole over her shoulder with a face that says, “ help me .”

Nicole sighs. She sticks her fingers in her mouth, letting out a loud whistle.

Wynonna freezes instantly, her head snapping up. Eliza elbows her hard in the stomach, and Wynonna doubles over, coughing and trying to catch her breath.

“Wynonna, meet Eliza. Waverly’s roommate,” Nicole introduces, her hand reaching for Waverly. She laces their fingers together and squeezes gently. “Eliza, this is Wynonna, Waverly’s sister.”

“Oh,” Wynonna says, sitting back on Eliza’s thighs. “Why didn’t you say so?”

Eliza sighs heavily, pushing her hair out of her face as she leans on her elbow. “I tried .”

“Fair enough,” Wynonna says, shrugging. She hums. “You know, you have amazing taste in underwear,” Wynonna says, looking down at Eliza underneath her.

Nicole’s mouth twitches. “Hey, Waves? Why is Eliza in her-”

“It poured last night,” Waverly says defensively. “I tried to give her one of my shirts, but-”

“”They don’t fit,” Eliza finishes. “It was like wearing my cousin’s clothes. And she’s eight ,” Eliza adds.

Nicole frowns a little. “You have, like, nine of my shirts,” she points out.

Waverly tugs on on the hem of her shirt, tightening it around her waist, looking up at Nicole through her eyelashes. “Most of them are dirty, and I didn’t want her wearing your shirt,” Waverly finishes in a mumble.

Nicole pulls on Waverly’s hand until Waverly is pressed against her. “So you let Eliza sleep in her underwear .”

“Well, when you say it out loud like that, it sounds mental.”

Nicole rolls her eyes and kisses the top of Waverly’s forehead. She can feel Waverly’s hands on her hips, burning through her shirt. She’s a little disoriented, this close to Waverly - Waverly, in her Rush shirt, her feet bare, her hair down. Nicole swallows heavily, trying to ground herself. She can feel Waverly tracing hearts into her hipbones, and she focuses on that, taking a deep breath and pursing her lips against Waverly’s forehead one last time before she steps back, their hands laced together and hanging loosely between them.

“Why don’t I go pour some coffee for Eliza,” she suggests. “Who can maybe put on some clothes,” she says pointedly.

Eliza’s cheeks flush a little. “That sounds good. It was kind of a last minute ride up from school, so I didn’t bring much.”

“Your clothes are dry, though. They’re hanging in the bathroom,” Waverly says.

Eliza nods gratefully and slides out of Waverly’s bed, giving Nicole a cautious smile.

Nicole grins back at her.

“And then we’re going to Mattie’s!” Wynonna declares. “Eliza’s in the backseat.”

“So are you,” Waverly says. “I get the front.” She walks her fingers up Nicole’s chest slowly. “Right next to my baby.”

“Are they always this…”

“Gross?” Wynonna finishes. She nods at Eliza. “Yes. Always .”

Nicole rolls her eyes, tipping Waverly’s head back to kiss her softly. “I’ll be waiting downstairs.” She steps back from Waverly, squeezing her hand one last time before she reaches for Wynonna, gripping the sleeve of her shirt. “Come on, Hulk.”

“I want to be Wonder Woman,” Wynonna complains.

Nicole wraps her arm around Wynonna’s neck, tugging her in close. “Wonder Woman would have asked questions first. Hulk definitely would have hit first, asked later.”

“Can I at least be Hulk Hogan?” Wynonna argues.

Nicole shakes her head. “No. He looks better in a leotard than you.” She laughs as she gently pushes Wynonna down the stairs. “I can’t believe you jumped her. What were you going to do? Slap her to death?”

“I was defending your honor,” Wynonna says.

Nicole pauses as they reach the bottom of the stairs. “You were?” she asks, making her voice high and breathless.

Wynonna opens her mouth, but catches sight of the smile on Nicole’s face, and rolls her eyes. “You’re like, my best friend,” she mumbles.

“Oh, Wynonna,” Nicole starts.

“Don’t make it weird ,” Wynonna hisses. “God,” she says, shouldering past Nicole and into the kitchen. She twists on her heel and flips Nicole off.

“Now, see,” Nicole says, pointing a fingering in Wynonna’s direction. “There’s my Wynonna, ” she sings.

Wynonna flips her second middle finger up, raising both hands high above her head as she disappears into the kitchen.

“But you love me!” Nicole shouts after her. “No takebacks!”

 

-

Nicole waves at Cecil Wright, Jr., sitting at the end of the counter, as she comes into The Patch. He tips his hat back at her and she watches his mouth move as he mutters something; probably about women being cops, and how in his Daddy’s day, that never would have happened. Nicole once pointed out that Linda worked under Cecil Wright Sr.; Junior gave her the cold shoulder all summer.

She stomps her feet at the front door, breathing in the smell of fried grease coming from the kitchen and pine from the Christmas tree in the corner. She can hear the neon lights in the windows humming, an undercurrent to Bon Jovi’s “Bed of Roses” coming from the jukebox. The Christmas decorations are still hanging; Gus won’t take them down until after Waverly leaves for school again, and then she’ll make Wynonna and Nicole do it all one night during closing, in exchange for milkshakes and fries.

Nicole scans the dining room, but she doesn’t see Waverly anywhere. She holds her hat against her side as she crosses the dining room and decides on a seat at the counter by the cash register. She puts her hat down on the countertop, draping her jacket over the hook near the swinging kitchen door. She lingers near the lift door that separates the back of the counter from the dining room, eyes on the mirror there.

Gus still has the picture of her and Curtis and Wynonna and Waverly, but she’s added new ones over the years: Wynonna and Nicole at graduation; Waverly in her blue gown and diploma in hand; one of Curtis, younger and with darker hair, sitting on the hatch of an old Ford pickup; Wynonna and Waverly and Nicole, on their bikes at the end of the driveway, all of them frowning slightly at the camera; a picture of Nicole at her academy graduation, one that Nicole knows Waverly took.

Waverly pushes through the swinging door, nearly catching Nicole in the side. Nicole jumps back behind the counter to avoid it.

Waverly frowns. ”What’re you doing back there?”

“Aren’t you supposed to yell something as you open the door?” Nicole asks, smoothing down her uniform shirt. “Like, door!

“I’m the only waitress on,” Waverly says, the corners of her lips twitching. “So no one should actually be in the way.”

Nicole opens her mouth to argue back, but the words die in her throat when she looks at Waverly, taking in Waverly’s outfit. She’s in her Patch shirt, tied into a knot just above the belt on her jeans, the ones she wears that look like she put them on with a paint roller. Waverly looks down at herself and then grins, propping one elbow up on the counter and popping her hip out. She shimmies a little when Nicole’s gaze gets stuck on the small strip of skin between the hem of her shirt and the top of her pants.

Nicole coughs, straightens her shoulders, and slips past Waverly, going back around the counter and sitting down on the stool she likes. Waverly slides in behind the counter, leaning forward on her elbows.

“Lunch break?”

Nicole grins. “A whole hour.”

Waverly sighs dreamily, her chin in her hands. “Remember when you would pick me up from school and we would drive around and then we would-”

Junior coughs down at the other end of the counter, and Waverly snaps her mouth shut, a faint blush across her cheeks.

Nicole laughs a little, reaching across the counter and brushing her thumb up and down Waverly’s forearm, tracing the lines on her knuckles. “Yeah, I remember.”

The jukebox switches songs, clicking as the tape changes. Nicole looks back over her shoulder as Styx’s “Show Me The Way” comes on, echoing through the near-empty diner. She looks back at Waverly, an eyebrow raised.

Waverly shrugs. “Don’t ask me. Bobo front-loaded it. I guess some kids have been coming in before school and playing all of Celine Dion’s songs. He pulled the plug last week.” Waverly grabs Nicole’s thumb the next time it passes over her wrist, turning Nicole’s hand over and laying it flat against the counter. She traces a heart into the center of her palm, smirking when Nicole’s hand closes around her finger.

Nicole leans back, letting Waverly continue to play with her hand. “Can I get an Orange Crush, baby?”

Waverly slaps the countertop with her free hand. “Anything for my baby.” She keeps her hand laced in Nicole’s, reaching for a glass and putting it on the counter. She stretches for the soda gun, barely able to reach it without letting go. When she finally does grab it, she grins triumphantly and fires it into the glass, not even bothering to look as it splashes inside the cup and dribbles down the side.

Nicole takes a long sip, finishing half the glass before she puts it back down. She smacks her lips, satisfied, and starts to think about whether or not she wants a burger deluxe today, or a grilled cheese.

Waverly is still holding the soda gun and she stretches the line even further, filling the glass back up to the top before she holsters the gun again. She reaches for Nicole’s other hand when she’s done, holding them tightly.

“I’m super excited for New Year’s Eve,” Nicole admits. “All of the Orange Crush I want.” She sighs dreamily. “And you, and me, and that jukebox at midnight.”

Waverly opens her mouth to say something, but Nicole keeps going.

“I know you’re, like, super into the Royal Canadians version of ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ even if I can’t understand what your fascination with Guy Lombardo is, but I think I finally found a version of it that we can all agree on.” Nicole pulls her hands out of Waverly’s and beats them against the countertop in a pathetic attempt at a drumroll. “Jimi Hendrix!” She pouts at Waverly’s blank look. “Come on. Even you have to admit he can play.”

Waverly inhales slowly.

“Now, before you say ‘no’ like I can see you’re going to,” Nicole rushes to continue. “I already have a recording of it. So we don’t need to haul ass to get it.” She straightens her shoulders proudly, smirking. “I already talked to Mattie and she’s got the tape sitting at the counter, just waiting for me to pick it up.”

Waverly’s eyes soften. “That’s really sweet of you, baby.”

Nicole nods. “And I’ve got it all worked out, right? Nedley already gave me the night off, but I was going to offer to switch shifts with Diaz so that I don’t have to work the morning. Instead, I’ll work on New Year’s Day , and that way, I can help you set this place up.” She leans forward, lifting her eyebrows suggestively. “You know. Reach all those places where you can’t.”

Waverly smacks her shoulder lightly and leaves her hand there, rubbing her thumb against Nicole’s collarbone.

“I can even slip Jeremy a bill so that he’s in charge of playing the song at the right time, and then you and I can worry about other things. Like that midnight kiss.”

Waverly opens her mouth, but a chair scrapes in the far corner of the diner and her attention goes there. She stretches up on her tiptoes and waves at Rachel Barber and her son, Cody, as they push through the door and into the cold. Her eyes find the clock as they move back towards Nicole and she gasps a little, pulling her pad out of her apron. “What do you want to eat, baby?”

“A grilled cheese,” Nicole says, deciding quickly. “No, a-” She shakes her head. “A grilled cheese. And can you put in an order for Nedley? I promised I’d take him back some of the soup of the day.”

“Oh,” Waverly says. “It’s Lentil Lemon Wednesday. His favorite.”

Nicole nods and slides her hands out of Waverly’s, letting her slip back into the kitchen to put in the order. She knows Waverly will add a side of fries to her grilled cheese and eat most of them herself, but Nicole can’t find it in her to mind. She spins on her stool, leaning back against the counter as she takes in the entire dining room.

She starts making mental notes of everything they’ll need to do to set up The Patch for their annual New Year’s Eve party. It’ll be their fourth year turning The Patch into a dance floor. Gus closes at noon and Wynonna and Nicole stack all of the tables and chairs along one wall of the dining room. She’s not sure what the theme will be this year - they didn’t have one for 1989, but they did a big decade-in-review theme for 1990. In 1991 and 1992, they used a bunch of old prom decorations Principal Moody was getting rid of. This year, whatever they do, Nicole knows it’ll be clutch.

“So, the New Year’s Eve party,” Waverly says from behind her.

Nicole spins back around, grinning at the grilled cheese and fries in front of her. Waverly is already pulling a napkin out of the dispenser, laying it flat on the countertop and taking a large handful of fries from Nicole’s basket. She grabs the ketchup bottle near the register and squirts it into the empty space left behind by the fries.

“Right,” Nicole agrees. “What’re you thinking for the theme? Because Wynonna wants to do something with Nirvana, but I can’t stand that crap.”

Waverly’s eyes sparkle. “You do know that you look a lot like a Nirvana groupie, right?”

Nicole leans back slowly. “Take that back.”

Waverly starts checking things off an imaginary list. “Moody about music, flannels, band shirts, jeans, leather jacket.”

Nicole shakes her head rapidly, side to side. “No, no.”

“Face it, baby. You dress more like Nirvana than Wynonna does.” Waverly pops a fry into her mouth, smiling as she chews.

Nicole stares, horrified.

Waverly picks up her grilled cheese and takes a bite right out of the middle of one of the triangles. Nicole glares at her, snatching the half of her sandwich back and hunching her shoulders over to try and protect it from Waverly taking it a second time.

Anyway ,” Waverly huffs. “The New Year’s Eve party.” She waits until Nicole is looking at her. “I actually have some news about that.”

Nicole drains her glass of Orange Crush, smiling softly when Waverly reaches to refill it.

Waverly hums. “Chrissy and I were actually thinking of doing something different this year.”

Nicole frowns a little, taking her soda back. “Different how?”

Corey Hart’s “In Your Soul” comes on, and Nicole feels herself tapping along against the stool leg.

Well ,” Waverly drags out. “Chrissy talked to Perry, and he said he we could use his house for the party.”

Nicole chews her grilled cheese slowly. She swallows and washes down the greasy aftertaste with a long sip of her soda. “But, we have it at The Patch.”

“I know,” Waverly rushes to say.

“I’m taking the morning off so I can help set up,” Nicole explains. “Gus is having my mom over to your house for a Bette Midler movie marathon, and we’re having our party at The Patch. Like every year.”

“But Perry’s house is so fancy ,” Waverly explains, sighing. She looks over Nicole’s shoulder, her eyes glazed over for a moment. “He has a really long driveway and there’s big windows in his living room.”

Nicole looks back over her shoulder. “We have big windows right here.”

“That’s not the same,” Waverly argues. “He has fancy tablecloths and plush couches and we get to wear fancy dresses and…” She trails off, her bottom jaw falling like she’s just realizing something. “And you get to wear a suit again.”

Nicole groans. “No. No, no, no . Absolutely not.” She leans away when Waverly reaches for her. “I don’t want to go to some Richie Rich’s house in too-tight shoes and sip sparkling apple cider when I could be here, playing Styx and Def Leppard, wearing jeans and one of my new flannels, drinking as much Orange Crush as I want to, and making out against the jukebox when the clock strikes twelve.”

“One,” Waverly starts. “We’re drinking champagne this year. Because I’m old enough now.”

Nicole lifts her eyebrow. “And two?”

Waverly’s shoulders sag. “I want to?”

Nicole starts shaking her head firmly.

“But wait, wait,” Waverly says. “Chrissy told me to tell you that he has a…” She trails off, flipping through her order notebook to the back. Nicole can see a hastily scribbled note in handwriting that looks like Chrissy’s. “He has a stereo setup you’d like. It’s a… a Panasonic-”

Amateur ,” Nicole snorts. Her stomach flops at the lie.

Waverly squints at her, then goes back to the note. “A Pioneer CX-4000, M-4000, CT-W205R,” she reads.

Nicole whistles. “If he really does have one of those…”

Waverly shakes her head. “No, he has all of them.”

Nicole’s mouth opens slowly.

Waverly grins widely. “Yeah, you heard me.”

All of them?” Nicole asks in a whisper. She leans forward across the counter.

Waverly nods. “ And , I’ll let you play your version of ‘Auld Lang Syne’ when it’s close to midnight.”

“What kind of speakers?” Nicole asks carefully.

Waverly looks back down at her notebook. “S-CR4000-K. 3 of them.”

Nicole whimpers softly.  

Waverly looks at her, studying her face. “Does that mean that you’re in?”

Nicole groans, throwing her head back.

Waverly claps excitedly.

Nicole tips her head back up and glares at Waverly. “Don’t gloat .”

Waverly reaches across the counter and taps Nicole on the end of the nose. “I need to go check on Bobo. You have time?”

“A little bit,” Nicole says, checking her new Casio - the sleek, black DW-6500. It still feels a little foreign on her wrist, heavier than her F-91W. “Carl Junger,” she curses under her breath. She looks back up at Waverly. “I can stay a little longer,” she repeats. “And I still need that soup for Nedley.”

Waverly snaps her fingers. “Right, coming right up.”

Nicole absently picks at her fries as the song changes to Rick Astley’s “Never Going To Give You Up.” A kid across the room, sitting in one of the booths with his parents, snickers and suddenly finds his plate of ketchup-drowned french fries interesting. Nicole watches his dad sigh and shake his head, but mouth the words to the song anyway.

“Officer,” Jeremy says, sitting down next to her.

Nicole turns on her stool and smiles. “Hey, Jeremy.” She reaches out in front of him and takes her hat off the counter, putting it on the single stool on her other side. He’s in another argyle sweater - blue and white and yellow lines, and a pair of high-waisted slacks. Nicole peers down and holds back her laugh when she sees he’s wearing Weejuns, with a shiny penny in the slot of each shoe.

“Hey,” he mutters, his voice heavy.

“How’s working at the drugstore?”

“Yeah, totally amped about it,” he says flatly.

“You sound it,” Nicole says. “Dr. Reggie a buzzkill?”

Jeremy sighs. “No, he’s okay. Creepy, but okay. He keeps pushing night classes on me, so I can start working on my bachelor’s degree and become an actual pharmacist, instead of an apprentice.”

Nicole smiles. “Well, that’s clutch, right?”

“I guess,” Jeremy says, his shoulders slowly slumping until his chin is in his hands.

Nicole stares at him for a moment before sliding Waverly’s napkin of fries towards him. “Fries?”

He takes one, chewing on it slowly.

“What’s up, buttercup?” She frowns, the words clunky in her mouth.

Jeremy looks up at her, too, his eyes narrowed in confusion.

Nicole waves him away. “Yeah, don’t tell anyone about that.” She takes a napkin out of the dispenser, tearing it down the middle. “You look… down.”

Jeremy sighs heavily, the way Waverly does when she wants Nicole to notice she’s upset about something. Nicole counts to ten in her head, then sings along with the last few lines of “Never Going To Give You Up” before she turns to face him.

He sighs again as Waverly comes back out into the dining room.

“What’s going on?” Waverly asks, reaching across the counter and resting her fingertips on his arm. She looks at Nicole, but Nicole shrugs.

Jeremy looks up and smiles a little. “I was just at the bank and Chrissy told me all about the rad New Year’s Eve party she’s throwing at Perry’s house,” he says flatly.

Nicole raises an eyebrow at Waverly, but Waverly doesn’t look back at her.

“Karma Chameleon” comes on and Nicole rolls her eyes; Bobo loves Culture Club. She can hear him start to sing from the kitchen.

Desert loving in your eyes all the way. If I listened to your lies would you say: I'm a man without conviction, I'm a man who doesn't know how to sell a contradiction? You come and go, you come and go ,” he sings, pulling out the last note.

Nicole winces.

“It sounds tubular, you know?” Jeremy says, his shoulders slumped and his head down.

“Sure,” Nicole says kindly. “Totally groovy.”

Groovy , Waverly mouths at her.

Nicole glares at her.

“But…” He sighs again. “The truth is, I hate these parties. I never have anyone to talk to. I always get stuck guarding the jukebox so Champ - who snuck in again - doesn’t put on any Billy Squier.”

Nicole frowns. “How does he always get in here? And why don’t we ever kick him out?”

Waverly smirks at her. “You’re usually… distracted .”

Nicole looks away, the back of her neck burning. Waverly is right; she usually loses track of what’s going on - who’s coming and going - by 2230 when Waverly turns down the front lights and lets the leftover Christmas lights sparkle with the neon in the window, presses Nicole back against the humming jukebox, and runs her fingertips along Nicole’s ribcage.

“Exactamundo,” Jeremy breathes out. “Which brings me to my other point. I never have anyone to kiss at midnight. Everyone else gets a kiss, and I’m the noob standing with my arm on the jukebox like I’m introducing her to my Great Aunt Bernice.”

“Well, that’s not true,” Nicole starts.

Jeremy looks at her out of the corner of his eye, unimpressed. “Oh, really? Ms. Found-The-Love-of-Her-Life-at-Ten doesn’t have anyone to kiss at midnight?”

Nicole feels her face flush. “Okay, well-”

“She was seven, actually,” Waverly interrupts, brushing by them with a plate in her hand. She trails her fingers across the back of Nicole’s shoulders as she moves across the dining room towards the table in the back.

“I was seven,” Nicole repeats uselessly. “Though, I’m pretty sure I wasn’t in love with her until I was, like, 13.”

Jeremy stares at her blankly.

“Okay, not the point,” Nicole concedes. “But it’s still not true. Not everyone gets a kiss at midnight?”

Jeremy sits up. “Oh, really?” he repeats, his eyes flashing. “Not everyone gets a kiss?” He motions between Waverly and Nicole. “You two. Wynonna and Doc. Perry and Chrissy,” he lists. “Nathan totally made out with Hetty Tate last year, which was…” He shudders. “ Gross .”

Grody ,” Nicole murmurs under her breath.

“Champ had his tongue down three different girls’ throats before the clock struck 12:01,” Jeremy continues. “Rosita was totally macking on some guy that Fish brought.” He sighs heavily, dropping his chin back into his hand. “And Fish and Levi, too.”

Nicole claps her hand down on Jeremy’s shoulder, squeezing gently. “Hey, listen. The right guy is out there for you. Maybe… Maybe he’s just not in Purgatory?”

“I thought he was,” Jeremy says miserably. He throws his hands up in the air. “But no. He’s not interested in me . So I’ll go to the bitchin’ party at Perry’s house and stand next to his killer stereo system and press play so the Royal Canadians can sing us into the New Year and everyone gets their good luck kiss.”

“Is it really as great of a home stereo system as Waverly said it was?” Nicole can’t help but ask.

Jeremy rolls his eyes, but nods. “It’s better .”

Nicole whimpers again. “Oh.”

“He mostly has CDs, though.”

Nicole waves a hand dismissively. “That’s fine. I’ll bring my own music.”

Jeremy takes another fry and eats it. He starts to straighten up, leaning back away from the counter like he’s going to leave. Nicole looks in the mirror behind the counter, catching sight of Waverly leaning against the booth side, talking to a new table that just sat down. Waverly turns her head, catching Nicole’s reflection in the mirror, and smiles.

“Jer,” Nicole says quickly, reaching out to grab his sweater as he starts to turn. “Hey, listen. If this guy is in Purgatory for the New Year, and he’s unattached, and he’s interested ? You should go for it.” Her eyes stray to Waverly again, at the jukebox now, starting the next song.

There’s a loud note and then the synthesizer coming to life - “Love Walks In” by Van Halen starts; Nicole could recognize that song anywhere. Her stomach flops and something warm spreads through her chest as she thinks about the first time she ever heard that song, and the way the sunlight hit Waverly’s hair. She takes a deep breath, focusing her attention on Jeremy again.

“But how do I know if he’s interested?” Jeremy asks.

Nicole’s eyes go back to Waverly. “You’ll know.” She clears her throat. “I mean, you’ll know because he’ll smile at you differently than he smiles at everyone else. And he’ll find you in a crowd just to show you something cool. And-and he’ll play your favorite song because he knows how much you love it.”

Jeremy’s eyes start to widen, his mouth hanging open.

“Or you could just ask him,” she offers.

“Ask who what?” Waverly pushes up on her tiptoes and rests her chin on Nicole’s shoulder, sliding an arm around Nicole’s waist.

“Thanks, Nicole,” Jeremy says, spinning off his stool. “I think… I think I need to go-”

The bell above the door rings loudly over “Love Walks In.” Nicole turns, catching Waverly between her legs, She grins down at Waverly, thumbing the small stretch of skin underneath where her hand lands.

“Oh!” Waverly says loudly. She turns in Nicole’s arms, leaning back against Nicole’s front. Her arms rest on Nicole’s legs. “I was going to introduce you guys, but I guess I don’t have to.”

Dolls gives an uncharacteristically wide smile. “We ran into each other at the gym. Did you know Eliza can deadlift 60 kilos?”

Waverly groans. “Don’t remind me. She’s constantly using my desk in her workouts.”

Nicole laughs, the noise dying in her throat when she realizes Waverly isn’t kidding.

“Stomped right into the middle of the free weights room and picked up 60 kilos like it was a carton of eggs,” Dolls brags. He grins at Eliza. “It was quite the statement.”

“I do it so guys like Champ don’t bother me when I’m in the middle of a workout,” Eliiza says, shrugging. “Although, he still tried to get my number.”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “Did I ever tell you guys about the time Stephanie Jones’s dad called the cops because Champ-”

“Yes,” Waverly groans, looking back over her shoulder at Nicole. “Baby, you need to find different stories. You’re starting to turn into a real Bore-O-Rama.”

Nicole scowls a little.

Waverly pouts. “Oh, but I still love you,” she coos, smoothing her fingers across the heavy fabric covering Nicole’s knee.

Jeremy deflates a little, his shoulders slumping. “I’m running late for work,” he mumbles, slipping around Nicole. “I’ll see you at the party.”

“Oh, a party?” Eliza asks, clapping her hands together. She grins at Dolls. “I love parties.”

“Me, too,” Dolls chimes.

Nicole frowns. Waverly pulls back a little. “You do?” they ask together.

Dolls scoffs. “I don’t not like parties.”

“I could have sworn that-”

Dolls smiles at her, forced and tight. “Nicole,” he growls gently.

Nicole puts one hand up in surrender. “Take a chill pill.”

“He likes to dance,” Jeremy says, his voice heavy and his eyes on Dolls. “He can do the whole train yard routine from Footloose .”

Nicole stares at Dolls with wide eyes. “You can ,” she whispers.

Dolls rolls his lips in, eyes narrowed. He looks away and shrugs. “I had a lot of time in 1984,” he says, a hard edge to his words. “And Kevin Bacon is an unparalleled talent.” He looks at each of them for a long moment, daring them to say something.

Eliza breaks first. “I liked him better in Tremors .”

Jeremy shrugs. “Later days,” he mumbles, making a wide step around Eliza and Dolls and pushing out the door into the cool end-of-December weather. The door jingles behind him, cutting through the song on the jukebox.

Eliza looks around. “So, tell me about this party.”

 

-

“Haught!” Nedley shouts from his office.

Nicole startles, her pen skipping across the notepad she’s scribbling her notes on. She quickly turns down the small radio on her desk. She curses under her breath, looking down at her notes, grateful that these aren’t official notes and that she’ll transcribe them into the report later. Dropping her pen into the holder on her desk - the one Waverly made for her, with a picture of Def Leppard taped to the cylinder - she tidies up her notes. She takes a few steps away from her desk and pauses, doubling back.

Follow up with Mr. Mortimer , she writes in the margin of her notebook. She’s been trying to nail down who has been moving and damaging Mrs. Dray’s trashcans. She reported to Nicole at the last witness interview that Mr. Mortimer across the street has been vocally upset about the way Mrs. Dray leaves her barrels at the end of the driveway for two days before she drags them back up to the house again.

Once she’s made her note, she caps her pen, slides it into her pocket, and crosses the bullpen.

She checks the clock just as she reaches his office; it’s almost her lunch hour and Wynonna is supposed to be meeting her so they can pick up the balloons they ordered through the drugstore.

“Sir?” she asks, poking her head around the doorframe.

He waves her inside. “Sit. I have a… personal question.”

Nicole sits down slowly, still unused to being in his office. When she would sweep the station when she was in high school, she always waited until he left his office to sneak inside and clean it in a hurry. Something about invading his privacy always gave her a weird feeling, like when she would catch Curtis at the kitchen stove, testing a new recipe.

“What can I do for you, sir?” she asks, sitting stiffly.

He pulls his glasses off his face, eyes narrowed for a moment. “Diaz told me you switched shifts with him this week.”

Nicole feels a rush of fear cut through her body. “Yes, sir. I didn’t think it would be a problem, or I would have asked. Honest. I just need the morning of the 31st off for-”

“This New Year’s Eve party, yes,” Nedley finishes. He steeples his fingers in front of him on the desk. “That’s what I wanted to talk to you about, actually.”

Nicole swallows. “Oh. Okay.”

“What do you know about Perry Crofte?” Nedley asks.

Nicole leans back in her seat, her mouth twisting into a frown. “I’m sorry, sir?”

Nedley straightens out a pen on the side of the file in front of him, even though it looks perpendicular to the file from where Nicole is sitting. “What do you know about Perry Crofte,” he repeats.

“Ch-Chrissy’s Perry?” she asks.

Nedley’s mouth twists into a scowl for a brief second before his lips flatten in a straight line. “Yes,” he says simply.

Nicole scratches at the back of her neck, mind racing. “Well, he graduated in 1988. He works for his father’s company, an accounting firm. He just got a ‘ 93 Mercedes Benz 190 that is totally -”

Nedley clears his throat, cutting her off. “I’m looking for information I can’t find by running his license plate, Haught.”

“Oh,” Nicole breathes out. “Uh…” She looks over her shoulder uselessly. “He’s a good guy,” she finally manages.

Nedley’s eyes narrow.

“He’s funny,” Nicole tries again. She snorts. “He cheats at Life, though, and-”

“He’s a cheater ,” Nedley says, his voice low and dangerous.

Nicole shifts forward in her seat. “Oh, no. No, sir. No, not, like, a cheater cheater. He just…” She sighs. “He somehow always wins at Life, I mean.”

“Those rich types always do,” Nedley growls. He shakes his head. “I knew he was no good for my Chrissy.” Nedley pushes out of his seat, pacing behind his desk. “He invites me to his family dinners, he’s always smiling at me.” He turns quickly, jabbing a finger in Nicole’s direction. “Did you know that my lawnmower broke last summer and he bought me a new one ?”

Nicole blinks a few times, trying to catch up. “Sir, I…” She trails off, shaking her head. “I don’t understand.”

Nedley doesn’t hear her. “Chrissy will just have to break up with him. I can’t trust that boyman any farther than I can throw him. And all those diamonds I’m sure he carries in his pockets would weigh him down if I did try.”

Nicole tries to hold back her snort, but Nedley hears her and his scowl deepens. “You know,” Nedley says accusingly. “Chrissy told me last night that she wants to start looking for an apartment with this fellow.”

“Fellow,” Nicole repeats, snorting. “They’ve been dating for nearly two years.” She looks up, catching Nedley’s glare. “I mean-”

“In my day, you waited until you were married. It was the right thing to do, you know,” Nedley continues.

“Of course, sir, I just meant that-”

Nedley doesn’t hear her. “You don’t live with your girl, do you?”

Something in Nicole’s chest flutters at the words your girl . It pools in her stomach and spreads through her body like the first sip of hot chocolate on Christmas morning. She smiles softly.

“No, sir,” she says quietly. “I don’t live with my girl.”

“And you aren’t going to ask her to move into your apartment with you until you’re married?”

Nicole frowns. “Well, I don’t have my own apartment,” she says slowly.

Nedley pauses. “You don’t?”

“No, sir,” Nicole says, embarrassment hot on her cheeks.

Nedley leans back in his chair, the hinges groaning. “You’re how old?”

“22, sir.”

Nedley hums. “I see.”

“I just… hadn’t thought about it,” Nicole says, feeling something churn in her stomach. “It’s just me and my mom and Nathan, and after his accident, things got tough. Financially,” she adds in a rush.

Nedley nods. “I remember Nathan. A force on the football field.”

“Yes, sir. I just…” She trails off. An apartment had never occurred to her. She spent most of her time at the station or at The Patch, and when Waverly was home she spent nearly all of her nights at the McCready house. She squints, trying to remember the last time her mom had a shift at the hospital that matched up with Nicole’s rotation. She can’t come up with the last time they had dinner together, squashed in at the same kitchen table they’d had Nicole’s whole life.

“That’s no matter,” Nedley finally says. “You wouldn’t have your girl move in with you before you were married, would you?”

Nicole snorts. “Yes, I would. In the time it takes me to list all of the specifications of a Pioneer CX-4000.”

Nedley leans back, his eyes wide. “Well, that isn’t right.”

Nicole studies Nedley for a moment, taking a deep breath. “Sir, that’s a very old-fashioned idea,” she says carefully, testing the waters.

Nedley points a finger in her direction. “In my day, a man was respectable and asked for permission before he-”

Nicole laughs. “ I'm sorry, did I hit my head and wake up in patriarchal bull-” She cuts herself off at the look on Nedley’s face. “What I mean, sir, is that… it’s the 90’s . Women are growing more independent by the month.” She leans forward eagerly. “Waverly read me an article the other day that talked about premarital sex and how-” She stops abruptly, leaning back. “We don’t need to talk about that, though.”

“Appreciated,” Nedley says dryly.

Nicole sighs. “Chrissy is the woman you raised her to be, sir. She’s smart and she’s tenacious and she goes after what she wants.” She shrugs. “Honestly, I feel bad for Perry. Once Chrissy made him jump through all the hoops she set out for him, and decided he was worth it? The poor guy didn’t stand a chance.”

Nedley is quiet for a long moment. Nicole gets through an entire chorus of “Rebel Yell” before he shifts in his seat, looking uncomfortable.

“So you’re saying I should give him a chance?”

Nicole opens her mouth to argue; to tell Nedley that she would never tell him what to do, but he’s got a look on his face that Nicole has never seen before. It looks a lot like Wynonna’s face, when she’s looking for advice, but it’s different; like he’s afraid of the truth and needs someone to say it first.

So she takes a deep breath, trying to steady her nerves, and she nods sharply. “Yes, sir. I think you do. I think... “ She nods again. “I think Chrissy will really appreciate the effort, sir. You’re both important to her.”

Nedley looks at her for a long moment before he picks up his glasses, unfolding them. “That’ll be all, Haught.”

Nicole sighs in relief. “Thank you, sir.” She stands up, her back aching a little. “If it’s alright with you, I’m going to go on my lunch break.”

Nedley waves a hand dismissively. “Just check with Linda and let her know.”

Nicole nods, reaching for the doorknob. “Yes, sir.” She twists the doorknob, pushing the door open a crack.

“Haught?”

Nedley’s cheeks are pink Nicole turns back around.

“Yes, sir?”

“You’ll… you’ll keep an eye on her, right? At the party? Chrissy, I mean.”

Nicole straightens up a little more, setting her shoulders and nodding sharply. “Of course I will, sir.”

“You know,” he says casually, folding his glasses back up. “You’ve come a long way from the kid who mowed my lawn. Or even the kid sneaking in and out of my house,” he adds, his lips twitching in a smile.

Nicole feels her face burning. “Uh, sir, I-”

Nedley shakes his head. “I didn’t say it to embarrass you. It’s just… a comment. On your personal growth.”

“Oh,” Nicole breathes out. “Well. Thank you, sir.”

“Chrissy told me what was going on, back then,” Nedley explains. “Something about girls being dramatic, but you being the most dramatic of them all.”

Nicole tightens one of her hands into a fist, vowing that she’ll have to stop by the bank after the drugstore and talk to Chrissy about what the phrase “in confidence” means.

“I told you once, that I always knew you had the makings for this job,” Nedley continues. “And Curtis knew it, too. But I think you’re finally starting to understand it, now. And I want you to know, I was serious about that mentorship.”

“Yes, sir,” Nicole says quietly.

Nedley stares at her for a long moment, eyes narrowed as he studies her face. “We haven’t done much about it, but like I said, the offer is on the table. I know that girl of yours is nearly done with school, isn’t she?”

“Only a few more months left,” Nicole says proudly. “She’s gonna be the first college graduate in her family.”

“And the whole town is proud of her for that," he says kindly. “Now, I don’t know what her plans are after that. Those Earp girls are just like their mama, you know. Too big for this town. It’s why Wendy left, isn’t it?”

Nicole toes the heavy carpet under her foot. She doesn’t know why Wendy Earp left; only that she did. Waverly gets quiet the second week in November, listening to old Paul Anka records on Curtis’s 1961 Symphonic 1625, curled up in a blanket her mom left behind. Every November after Curtis’s death, Nicole would sneak into Waverly’s room and lay on her floor and let Waverly tell her everything she remembered about her mom. It wasn’t a lot; she left when Waverly was so little, but Nicole knows everything Waverly knows about Wendy Earp.

“If you say so, sir,” Nicole mumbles.

“If Waverly decides that Purgatory is too small for her to stretch her wings in, I want you to know that you have a place here ,” Nedley says slowly. “There’s room for upward mobility, the likes. I meant what I said to you, Nicole.”

Her first name sounds jarring coming out of Nedley’s mouth. Nicole grips the back of the chair she was sitting in, her nails digging into the leather.

“I need people who are going to carry the torch after I’m gone.” He pauses. “And I want it to be you.”

Nicole opens her mouth and closes it again, her tongue heavy and her throat dry. She tries to swallow but her words catch.

“Now,” Nedley starts again, his voice the loud boom she’s used to.

She breathes a little easier; swallows again and sighs when the lump in her throat disappears.

“I’ll do my job if you do yours,” he finishes.

Nicole frowns for a second. “My job, sir?”

Nedley huffs. “You look after my girl, and I’ll try harder with that Crofte boy,” he whispers harshly, his eyes  over Nicole’s shoulder on the door cracked open.

“Right, right,” Nicole exhales. She straightens up. “Of course, sir.” She pauses for a second, taking a deep breath and opening her mouth before she changes her mind. “For what it’s worth, sir? She really loves him. He really loves her . And she’s going to really appreciate you opening your mind up to him.” She tips her head to the side, laughing to herself. “It’s a good way to start the New Year.”

Nedley rolls his eyes. “Get out of my office,” he says gruffly.

Nicole nearly trips over her feet, trying to turn and get out as quickly as possible. When she turns back to shut the door behind her, she sees him smiling down at the report in front of him, shaking his head.

“Come on, loser. We’re going shopping."

Nicole jumps a little, turning with her palm pressed flat against her chest. She can feel her heart beating rapidly under her hand. “Shiz nits,” she curses. “What the hell, Wynonna?”

“Language,” Linda drawls from the counter.

“What’re you doing in the principal’s office?” Wynonna asks, leaning against her desk.

Nicole rolls her eyes and looks at Linda. “You let her back here?”

“Girl came around the counter herself. I’m not in the business of using physical force,” Linda says defensively. “I leave that to you knuckleheads.”

“You couldn’t handle this anyway,” Wynonna says, waving a hand up and down her body.

Nicole steps in, reaching for Wynonna’s arm. She tugs Wynonna up, off her desk. “There’s not a person in the province who could,” she says quickly. “Are you ready?”

Wynonna snaps her fingers. “I’m waiting on you, Norville.”

Nicole rolls her eyes and opens her desk drawer, pulling out the keys to her Bonneville.

Wynonna groans.

“No way am I getting on the back of that motorcycle with you,” Nicole says firmly. “Besides the fact that it’s 2°C out, you’re an accident waiting to happen.”

Wynonna gasps. “I am not .”

Nicole turns slowly, glaring at Wynonna.

“I’m not ,” Wynonna insists. “I’ve driven that beautifully crafted machine across the country. Twice .”

“Remember that time I had to drive to Thunder Bay to pick your ‘beautifully crafted machine’ out of the front of a transport?” Nicole fires back.

Wynonna shrugs. “One time.”

“One time was enough,” Nicole mutters. She jabs her finger in Wynonna’s direction. “Your sister spent the entire car ride - 20 hours, by the way - cursing your entire existence. I was worried I was going to have to perform some sort of witchcraft thing where I brought you back to life so Waverly could kill you all over again.”

Wynonna snorts. “I didn’t die.”

“No shit, Sherlock. Sorry,” she adds, looking at Linda apologetically.

“Valdez got the message wrong, is all.”

Nicole glares. “Valdez is no longer allowed to be your emergency contact,” she says, only sort of teasing.

Wynonna shrugs. “She’s not. You are.”

Nicole feels her chest click and something shifts inside of ribcage. Her eyes burn a little, but she turns, slamming her desk drawer shut and picks her jacket up off the back of her chair. She slides into it, only turning around once she’s zipped the leather up to her chin. The dull ache in her chest fades as the pressure of her jacket settles against her body.

“Let’s go. We need balloons and I need a milkshake.”

“You need Waverly, you mean,” Wynonna grumbles.

“Well, the view doesn’t hurt,” Nicole says, winking back.

Wynonna shudders. “Whatever. Just drop me off at Bustillos after we’re done at Dr. Reggie’s. Doc’s gotta clean my pipes, if you know-”

Linda knows what you mean,” Nicole growls, shouldering Wynonna towards the door.

They round the counter and nearly get to the front door when Nicole sees the big brochure rack right inside the doors of the station. She stops in front of it, her fingers finding Wynonna’s sleeve and pulling her back until their standing shoulder to shoulder. She squints, scanning the rack.

“Nicole, come on ,” Wynonna mutters. “Doc doesn’t have much of a lunch break anymore, because of this whole partnership thing.”

Nicole looks up. “He took it?”

“He’s ‘ testing’ it out,” Wynonna says, her fingers in the shape of air quotes. “He had Old Man Bustillos draw up a ‘Roles and Responsibilities’ page so he could read it over.” Wynonna sighs softly. “He’s so smart.”

“You are, too,” Nicole says quietly, finding the brochure she’s looking for and placing it in Wynonna’s hand.

Wynonna frowns, looking down. “ Get your business education degree at NorQuest College ,” she reads aloud. She looks up at Nicole. “What is this?”

“This is the thing we were talking about.” Nicole takes the pamphlet back, opening it excitedly. “Look. They have a business education program and you can get a degree as an Accounting Technician.” She holds her hands up, trying to hold back Wynonna’s refusal. “Just read the brochure. If you enroll in this, go back and forth for a year or two, and you get your degree? Gus will never say no to you working at The Patch.”

“Nicole,” Wynonna breathes out.

Nicole takes a few quick steps back towards the door, feeling the push bar depress against her hip. “Just think about it. Classes start after the New Year.” She keeps moving backwards, through the door and into the parking lot.

“Nicole,” Wynonna tries again.

“Come on,” Nicole calls over her. “I just got Aerosmith’s Get a Grip cassette, and we can listen to all of side one if we take the long way through town.”

Nicole spins on her heel and slides into the driver’s seat, smiling but pretending to look away when she notices Wynonna slide the NorQuest pamphlet into her jacket pocket before she gets in the car.

Wake up kids, it's half past the youth. Nothing really changing but the date ,” Steven Tyler screams.

 

-

Nicole slaps Wynonna’s hand away as Wynonna reaches for the light fixture outside of Perry Crofte’s house.

Ow ,” Wynonna hisses. She glares at Nicole, using her free hand to hold up the end of her red dress.

“Don’t touch anything,” Nicole whispers back. She goes down one step, tipping her head back to take in the front of the house one more time. She whistles, low and drawn out. “We can’t afford to even breathe in this house.”

Wynonna goes down a few steps, too, looking up at the house. “It’s not that killer.”

Nicole rolls her eyes, looking up again.

Waverly hadn’t been wrong when she said the house was fancy. The driveway is as long as a football field and the house itself is just as wide. The windows are bigger than anything Nicole has ever seen, bigger than she thinks windows need to be, if she’s being honest. There’s big hemlock trees lining the driveway and smaller ones on either side of the front steps. They all have big, red, satin bows tied around them. There’s Christmas lights strung around the outside of the windows and heavy-looking, cranberry-colored curtains drawn across the inside.

Nicole tugs at the sleeve of her white button down, adjusting the careful roll she did before leaving the house. She looks down, holding her arms out in front of her to make sure everything is even. It’s cold, but her leather jacket didn’t settle well over her arms with the sleeves up, so she’s carrying it draped over her arm instead. She stretches her neck up and out, checking the knot of her gold tie.

Waverly had handed it to her this afternoon as Nicole left her at Perry’s, telling her to go home and get changed for the party.

“It matches my dress,” Waverly breathed into her ear.

Nicole shivered a little. “You’re wearing a gold dress.”

“Champagne, actually,” Waverly said, walking her fingers up Nicole’s chest, following the line of an imaginary tie.

Nicole swallowed heavily. “Oh. Okay.”

Waverly winked. “Okay,” she echoes. “Now, go. And make sure you pick up Wynonna, so she has no excuse to skip it.”

Wynonna smacks her, the back of her knuckles stinging against Nicole’s stomach, bringing her back to reality.

Nicole growls and rubs at the spot. “What’s the big idea?”

“Ring the doorbell,” Wynonna says, pointing to the doorbell on the side of the house.

Nicole smiles sheepishly and jabs the doorbell, listening to it echo through the big house. The door opens almost instantly, warm light and the smell of egg nog practically overwhelming. Nicole has to lift a hand to block out some of the light and let her eyes adjust.

“You look amazing,” Waverly says softly.

Nicole looks up and her foot slips off the edge of the step she’s on, sending her backwards. Wynonna catches her, holding her upright. Nicole’s cheeks burn.

Dramatic ,” Wynonna mutters in her ear, shoving her forward. “Can we go inside already? I’m freezing my tits off.”

Nicole moves to the side wordlessly, her eyes still on Waverly.

Wynonna huffs and shoulders past Waverly, pausing in the foyer under the large chandelier for a moment. She sighs and comes back towards Nicole, grabbing her leather jacket with a pointed look before she moves back inside, turns, and heads into the sitting room.

“Hey, handsome,” Waverly says quietly, crooking one finger in Nicole’s direction.

Nicole’s entire body jerks, like she’s attached to an invisible string tied around Waverly’s finger. She moves forward slowly, stopping on the top step just below where Waverly is standing in the doorway. It puts Waverly a few inches higher than her, especially with the heels Waverly is wearing, just barely invisible under the hem of her dress.

Nicole lifts her hand to run it through her hair, suddenly anxious at the sight of Waverly, but remembers at the last second that she pulled half of it up to keep it out of her face. She drops her hand, hesitating as she finds Waverly’s hip, before she lets it settle heavily, squeezing.

“You look beautiful,” she breathes out.

Waverly preens a little, lifting one shoulder shyly. “This old thing.”

Nicole slowly lets her other hand fall to Waverly’s waist, her thumbs brushing against the silky fabric of the dress. The dress ripples under her hands and Nicole watches, mesmerized as the light coming from inside the house catches the shimmery golden color of Waverly’s dress.

It’s not Waverly’s hair in the neon lights, but it’s the closest to that Nicole has ever felt.

Waverly’s hair is pulled back on one side, the other side long and curly. Nicole’s fingers itch to run through it, to pull it back and press a kiss right behind Waverly’s ear. Instead, she slides her hands around, linking her fingers at the small of Waverly’s back. She looks quickly when she realizes her hands are moving across bare skin. She pushes at Waverly’s hip, turning her one way and inhales sharply.

Waverly looks at Nicole over her shoulder. “I know it’s not Metallica shirts and jeans but-”

“It’s…” Nicole swallows. “It’s good.”

Waverly turns back to face her, resting her arms on Nicole’s shoulders. “You sure about that, Officer?”

“Just Nicole tonight,” she murmurs, pushing up on the toes of her dress shoes. Her mouth brushes against Waverly’s.

Waverly sobers for a moment, nosing against Nicole’s cheek. “Of course, baby.”

“Will you two get in here ,” Wynonna hollers, her heels clacking sharply against the hardwood floor as she stomps back into the foyer. “You’re letting all of the heat from this ridiculous fireplace out.”

Nicole pulls back. “You lit the fireplace?”

Waverly steps backwards into the house, pulling Nicole in after her. “Chrissy thought it would be more romantic.”

Nicole shuts the door behind her with the heel of her foot. “Yeah, but did you check the chimney flue?” she asks anxiously. “Perry said no one has used that in years, and it’s the middle of winter. You don’t know what kind of animals could be living in there, or if the flue liner is even-” She stops, looking around at the faces staring at her.

“You’re such a freak ,” Wynonna says, throwing an arm across her shoulders. “Nice to know I’m not the only one.”

Nicole shrugs sheepishly. “Nedley had us do a safety course with the firefighters at the beginning of fall.”

Waverly tugs her out of Wynonna’s arm, narrowing her eyes at her sister before smiling widely at Nicole. “I think it’s hot .” She pauses, looking around the room. “Because... your last name is ‘Haught’ and it’s about… fire…” She throws a hand up into the air. “Whatever.”

“It was funny, baby,” Nicole says politely.

Waverly rolls her eyes. “Because you’re here early, you can help Perry finish setting up the champagne tower.”

Wynonna turns around slowly, eyes narrowed and her nostrils flaring a little. “You mean, we’re early ?”

Nicole presses a kiss to Waverly’s cheek, moving so that Waverly is between her and Wynonna. “I was following orders,” she says over Waverly’s shoulder.

“I didn’t ride with Doc so I could be here early ?” Wynonna asks, stalking towards Waverly.

Nicole flashes Wynonna a thumbs up and slips across the room to where Perry is staring at crates of glasses and an empty table.

He looks up, breaking into a smile as she comes to stand next to him. “Thank God. I have no idea how to do this.”

Nicole frowns. “Don’t we just stack them?”

Perry points at the crate. “There’s a specific number of them and we need to make a pyramid. I don’t know how many need to go on the bottom, and like, I can’t right now.”

“Are you an accountant?” Nicole asks, lifting the top off one of the crates. The glasses are cushioned by hay and Nicole sniffs, closing the lid again.

“I work with numbers that are already on a page,” Perry defends. “And, like, Chrissy turned me into a space case with this whole party thing.”

Nicole grins and claps Perry on the shoulder. “Welcome to the Club, Noob.”

Perry shrugs her off, but she can see the hint of a smile on his face. “I’m surprised Nathan didn’t catch a ride with you,” he says, straightening the tablecloth out.

“Why would I bring him with me?” Nicole frowns. “Is he coming?”

Nathan came to The Patch last year, a bottle of pain medication rattling in his pocket and a beer bottle in his hand. Waverly had been the one to find her and tell her that he was lingering by the counter. Nicole politely excused herself from something Jeremy was telling her and found him by the jukebox, staring at the cover of the Eagles cassette playing.

“Come on,” she said, her voice low.

“I wanted to see what the fuss was about.” Nathan shrugged. “Lame party.”

Nicole clapped a hand down on his shoulder, squeezing. Nathan barely flinched. “Not here, Nathan. Let’s just go outside,” she said, working hard to keep her voice calm and controlled. He didn’t move. “Nathan, don’t make me do something we’ll both regret in the morning.”

It took another Eagles song - Dolls was really not allowed to pick songs anymore , she told herself - before Nathan’s feet unstuck from the floor and he allowed himself to be led outside. She had taken his keys and put him on the back of Doc’s motorcycle and trusted that he would get home in one piece.

“Yeah,” Perry says. “He’s bringing Mercedes. Mercedes Gardner?”

Nicole swallows heavily, a cold rush going through her body. “She’s coming?” she asks, her voice breaking. “With him ?”

Perry shrugs. “They went out a couple of months ago.” He pops the top off one of the crates. “To be honest, I’m just as surprised. He said the date didn’t go that well.”

Nicole frowns. “He never told me that.”

Perry gives her a soft smile. “Nathan doesn’t tell either of us a lot of things.” He looks back down at the crates, his eyes moving from glass to glass as he counts them. “We have 10 in a crate, and we have 14 crates.”

Nicole chews on her bottom lip as she counts. “So, 140 glasses.”

Perry nods. “And we need to make a pyramid that’s even.” He sighs. “Why couldn’t we have had this at The Patch?”

Nicole rolls her eyes. “This is your fault. You gave into Chrissy first.”

Wynonna jabs her in the side, hard. “That’s for bringing me here to set up. Early .”

Nicole puts up her hands. “Waverly was right. You’d convince Doc to skip out and never show up. So really, this was the only way to guarantee you’d be here.” She squints at the table and then at Perry. “So we need to figure out how many need to be on the bottom.”

He nods.

Wynonna looks between the two of them. “What’re you two trying to figure out.”

“This… pyramid thing the girls want,” Perry says. He shakes his head. “It’s going to take forever to build it evenly. We don’t know how many glasses the base should be,” he explains.

Wynonna squints at the crates. “How many glasses do you have?”

“Total? 140.”

“Oh, your base should be 49 glasses,” Wynonna says easily.

Nicole looks up slowly. “What?”

“49 glasses,” Wynonna repeats.

Nicole looks at Perry. “How do you know that?” she asks Wynonna.

Wynonna shrugs. “You just… picture it? I started with 6 rows of 6 in my head, but when I added all of that up, it only made 91. So I added a 7x7 base in my head, and that would be 49 glasses, so…” She looks back and forth between Perry Nicole. “It’s just addition.”

Perry leans back against the table. “Have you ever-”

“Perry, get off that table!” Chrissy yells from across the room.

Nicole flashes Chrissy a smile, cataloging the moment in her head so she can tell Nedley how Chrissy can hold her own.

Perry straightens up, his cheeks flushed. “Have you ever,” he repeats. “Looked into accounting?”

Wynonna looks at Nicole, mildly annoyed.

Nicole puts her hands up. “I didn’t say anything. I swear.”

“You’re just… That was really quick thinking,” Perry continues.

“No Shit, Sherlock. I’m a wizard, okay?” Wynonna crooks her finger in Nicole’s direction. “Can we talk, narc?”

Nicole flashes Perry a quick smile and lets Wynonna drag her out of the sitting room, down a small hallway towards something that smells like the kitchen.

“What did you say to him?” Wynonna asks, her voice dropping to a whisper.

“Nothing, I swear ,” Nicole says. She holds up three fingers. “Scout’s honor.”

Wynonna bares her teeth. “You weren’t even a Scout.”

Nicole shrugs. “Still mean it.”

“Still stupid,” Wynonna fires back. She shakes her head. “Listen.” She takes a deep breath, inhaling and exhaling slowly. “I’ve done a lot of thinking over the last few days and…”

“Yeah?” Nicole asks, her hands shaking. She forces them into her pockets, scratching at her thigh through the thin fabric under her fingernails.

“Don’t make a big deal out of it, but I’m going to enroll,” Wynonna says, pushing the words out in a rush of air.

It takes a second for them the settle, but Nicole grabs Wynonna by the shoulders and hugs her, resting her chin on the top of Wynonna’s head.

“I’m real proud of you,” she murmurs into Wynonna’s hair.

Wynonna struggles for a moment before she lets her body go, melting into the hug. “I just.. I want to feel like I can be good at something,” Wynonna admits. “I want to be the best at just one thing.”

Nicole holds Wynonna’s face in her hands, staring into her eyes. “You’re going to be the fucking best at it. I know it.”

“I told Gus,” Wynonna admits in a whisper. “She said she’d help me pay for it if I use the things I learn at The Patch.”

Nicole whoops, immediately clamping a hand down over her mouth. She looks around the hallway, but no one is flying towards them. She grins widely at Wynonna. “That’s boss .”

Wynonna laughs, the sound watery and unclear. She looks down, chewing on her bottom lip. “I’m gonna need help with the writing stuff.”

“Of course,” Nicole is saying before Wynonna finishes. “Yes. Absolutely. We’ll do study sessions again, just like high school. And-and if you get tired of driving, Doc and I can split shifts or something. Maybe Nedley would let you do some of the station’s budgeting, for practice. We’re always short on money by the end of the fiscal- What?” she asks.

Wynonna is shaking her head slowly, her eyes red and wet around the edges. “Why are you like this?”

Nicole pulls back a little. “Like what?”

Wynonna scoffs, her fingers tangling in Nicole’s collar as she keeps her close. “You just… You just have so much faith in me.”

Nicole reaches up with one hand, her thumb brushing away a tear as it slides down the curve of Wynonna’s cheek. “You make it easy,” she murmurs. “And you’re my best friend. To the moon or bust, right?”

Wynonna laughs. “We were eight.”

“Seven,” Nicole corrects. “And Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins got there way before us.”

“We didn’t care.”

“We still don’t,” Nicole finishes.

Wynonna sighs, stepping in close and pressing her lips to Nicole’s cheek. “Thank you,” she whispers.

“You know that’s the wrong sister, right?” Chrissy asks.

Nicole jumps backwards, wiping at her eyes as she turns a shoulder, trying to hide the makeup she knows is running down Wynonna’s face.

Chrissy takes another step forward. “Hey, is everything okay?”

Nicole moves towards her, cutting her off. “We’re cool, we’re cool. Give us a second and we’ll be right there.” She watches Chrissy disappear into the sitting room and turns back to Wynonna, tipping her head back and rubbing at a line of mascara. She shakes her head. “I think I’m making it worse.”

“If my sister doesn’t marry you, I will,” Wynonna mumbles.

Nicole grins crookedly at her. “Promise?”

Wynonna flicks her in the forehead. “You wish, Kenickie.”

Nicole groans and presses the heel of her palm against her forehead. “Don’t call me that,” she grumbles.

Wynonna hooks a thumb over her shoulder. “I’m gonna go hit the head, wash my face. If Doc comes in, don’t tell him?”

Nicole starts to hold up three fingers, but Wynonna rolls her eyes.

“Yeah, yeah. Scout’s honor. Okay.”

Nicole slips back down the hallway, coming out into the sitting room right behind Waverly. She wraps her arms around her waist, pulling her tight against her front. “Hi,” she murmurs in her ear.

Waverly turns around. “Where have you been? Can you help Perry finish the tower. He doesn’t understand symmetry .”

Nicole winces as she looks at the tower Perry has started. The glasses are leaning precariously to the left. She kisses Waverly’s forehead and moves across the room, taking the glass out of Perry’s hand before he puts it down and sends the entire tower to ground.

“Those aren’t even champagne glasses,” Wynonna complains as she passes by them, her face and eyes clear. She winks at Nicole. “I thought champagne glasses where the thin, oval-shaped one.”

“You’re thinking of flutes ,” Waverly says. “These are coupes . They’re still champagne glasses, but they’re better for stacking, and…” Her voice fades out as she moves out of the sitting room and into the foyer.

It takes her another fifteen minutes - five of those convincing Perry that she can do it by herself - before she has a symmetrical tower of coupe champagne glasses, ready for a champagne flood. Nicole picks up the bottles they bought, all twelve, and lines them up on the table next to the tower. She steps back to admire her handiwork and nods to herself.

“Looks great, baby,” Waverly says, coming up next to her.

The doorbell rings and Chrissy shimmies nervously, straightening the bowtie Perry is wearing. She presses a kiss to his cheek and pulls back quickly, wiping at the small lipstick smudge left behind. “Here goes nothing,” she says brightly, lacing her hand in Perry’s and tugging him towards the door.

Waverly sighs and leans into Nicole’s side, looking around the room. The rest of the house is decorated, but she knows that Waverly and Chrissy put most of their effort into the sitting room, anticipating most people would spend the party there.

“Wow,” Nicole breathes out, her arm low around Waverly’s waist as they stand in the doorway to the sitting room.

When Nicole had left this afternoon, Waverly and Chrissy had everything sketched out: where every swatch of fabric would go, where the lights would be hung, where the table of champagne glasses would sit. Nicole had spent the morning lugging in crates of glassware, filling coolers with beer and wine coolers and sodas, moving Perry’s home stereo system from his bedroom to the ground floor, and organizing her cassettes in the order she wanted them to be played.

The room is warm and bright and it feels too fancy for Nicole. She opens her mouth, ready to make a joke, but she catches the look on Waverly’s face and swallows it down instead, squeezing Waverly’s side gently.

“You did so good, baby,” she murmurs, pressing a kiss to the side of Waverly’s head. “I’m really proud of you.”

“Wait until you see how I decorate our place,” Waverly says, elbowing her gently. “That’ll really make you spaz.”

Our place echoes in Nicole’s head, bouncing from one side of her brain to the other. She thinks back to Nedley asking her if she has her own place yet. She hadn’t thought about it before that, about a place to call her own before she starts the rest of her life with Waverly.

A place to call mine and Waverly’s, when she’s home , Nicole amends. Because she would want Waverly to stay with her, on the few breaks she has left and when she comes home on weekends, like Victoria Day. She starts to lay the town out in her mind: there’s a boarding house off of Main Street, and a few apartment buildings on Rt. 81 on the way out of town. But Gus has that big empty space above The Patch , she reminds herself. And Brad Stokes , the real estate broker, has his cards on the front desk at the station . She frowns, her hand flexing against Waverly’s side.

“What’s wrong?” Waverly asks.

Nicole turns, her idea half-formed and not well-researched, but important. “I’m going to move out of my mom’s house.”

Waverly frowns. “What?”

Nicole nods, feeling more sure of herself. “I’m going to move out of my mom’s house,” she repeats. “I’m going to find an apartment.”

“On your own?” Waverly asks slowly.

“Yeah,” Nicole says. “Yes. On my own. And then,” she says, pulling Waverly close to her. Their hips bump and Nicole dips her head down, running her nose along Waverly’s forehead. “And then, when you have your last breaks, and when you’re done in a few months, and you want to come home, you can come home to me .”

“Oh,” Waverly breathes out. “Oh, you…” She smiles widely. “Okay.”

“It wouldn’t be forever,” Nicole continues. “Just until you’re done with college and we decide where we go from there. But, maybe I can try living on my own and when you stay with me, it’ll be like…”

“It’ll be like it’s real,” Waverly finishes. “Like we’re really living together.”

Nicole’s eyes sparkle. “Maybe I can find a landlord who’ll let me get a dog.”

Waverly squeals, loud and sharp in Nicole’s ear. “A dog ?”

‘I guess you’re okay with that idea,” Nicole mumbles.

“I can help you pick out drapes, and-and you’ll need carpets and Tupperware ,” Waverly breathes out, excited.

Nicole laughs and presses a finger under Waverly’s chin, tipping her head back enough to kiss Waverly softly on the mouth. “I love you,” she sighs.

Waverly threads her hands together behind Nicole’s neck, keeping her close and kissing her again, her tongue sliding against Nicole’s bottom lip. “I love you, too.”

The doorbell rings again and Nicole hears Chrissy squeal, followed by Stephanie Jones’s voice.

Nicole winces, rolls her eyes, and promises herself to stay as far away from Stephanie as possible.

The room fills up fast. It’s nearly everyone they would have already invited to The Patch: Dolls and Jeremy, Eliza tagging along and deep in conversation with Dolls; Doc comes with half of his Blue Devils - Levi, Fish, Tommy and the rest of them - all cleaned up with their hair slicked back and their leather jackets polished; Rosita shows up with Bryce Collins, who graduated in Nathan’s year and played hockey; Valdez comes in black jeans and a tight tank top, a large snake tattoo curling around her arm and a scowl on her face that dares anyone to ask her about it; Nathan and Mercedes, both of them a little stiff as they come in the door together.

“Hey, Loverboy,” Mercedes coos as she walks by. She wiggles her fingers in Nicole’s direction.

Waverly’s hand tightens on her arm.

Champ slides through the front door in a pair of ripped jeans, a flannel with no sleeves, and a denim vest torn through the pockets. He burps loudly, his hands on his belt buckle. “I heard there was a party.”

Doc takes off his hat, passing it to Perry. “I’ll address this,” he says lightly. He claps his hand down on Champ’s shoulder, squeezing hard enough that Champ’s knee buckles a little under the pressure. “Son, I think we should have a discussion outside.”

A few minutes later, Nicole is in the middle of explaining what a ‘pig in a blanket is’ to Bryce Collins, Doc comes back in, slicking his hair back. A truck revs outside, headlights flashing bright through heavy cranberry curtains before the sound of it fades to a soft rumble and disappears into the bass of Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith In You.”

“Officer Haught,” he says sharply, his smile barely visible under his moustache.

“John Henry,” Nicole drawls, leaving Bryce Collins with half an explanation.

Doc winces. “I do hate that name.”

“I know. Remember when they put your name in the paper for that time you helped Mr. Bustillos rebuild that 1963 Triton Cafe Racer, you crossed it out in every copy you could get your hands on?” Nicole laughs. “Gus blew a gasket when she found out no one could read any of the ones at The Patch.”

“If I remember correctly, she threw one of those newspapers at my head.” He rubs absently at the side of head. “I’m afraid that woman is not my biggest fan.”

Nicole shrugs. “Her niece is. I think that’s enough.”

“Says the preferred in-law,” Doc huffs. He’s still smiling, though.

“Curtis would have liked you. I mean, he liked you. But he would have liked liked you, ” Nicole decides.

“Curtis did like me,” Doc agrees. “He did not like catching me in his garage with Wynonna’s hand in-” He stops himself, clearing his throat. “But I do believe he approved of me in some capacity.”

“Then Gus approves, too,” Nicole says firmly. “She acts like she’s a big, bad wall you’ll never be able to get over, but the truth is… The truth is, she just wants them to be happy. She just wants Wynonna and Waverly to be happy.”

“Well,” Doc says, swallowing heavily. He narrows his eyes as he spots something across the room, and then he’s back, handing her an ice cold bottle of Moosehead. He uses a key from his pocket to pop off the top, then hands that bottle to her. He takes the other, doing the same. He holds his bottle up, tipping it towards her. “To making the Earp women as happy as we can. And to our sanity,” he adds.

“Hear, hear,” Nicole mutters, taking a long swallow from her own bottle.

As if on cue, Nicole hears Waverly laugh across the room. She finds her easily, standing near the fireplace with Chrissy. She watches Waverly reach out and grab Wynonna, pulling her in. She checks her Casio - it’s nearly 2300 - and when she looks back up, Waverly and Chrissy are looking at her, eyes wide. She straightens up a little, worried, but then she sees Wynonna, wiping covertly at her face, and she settles back down, taking another long sip from her beer.

Doc taps his bottle against hers and she starts across the room towards Waverly. She’s halfway there when she nearly bumps into Dolls. “Woah, got ants in your pants?”

Dolls looks over his shoulder. “What?” He looks at her, frowning. “No.”

She pats him gently on the chest, adjusting the collar of his button up shirt. “I was kidding. You okay, Ren?”

Dolls sighs. “Jeremy shouldn’t have told you that.”

“Jeremy shouldn’t have told us a story that made all of us realize you’re a human?” Nicole fakes a gasp. “Your cover is blown.”

Dolls rolls his eyes. “Laugh. Go ahead. Laugh at my expense.” He looks back over his shoulder. Nicole follows his gaze, landing on Eliza and Jeremy sitting on the couch, having what looks like a stilted conversation.

“You okay?” Nicole asks again.

“Jeremy is acting weird,” Dolls says. His eyes widen, almost as if he didn’t want to say that. He sighs again. “He’s being… hostile .”

Nicole snorts. “Jeremy? Argyle-sweater, penny loafers, loves Rob Lowe in Youngbloods Jeremy? Is being hostile ?”

Dolls nods slowly. “I don’t know. I’ve never seen him like this.”

Nicole frowns. “I mean, he looks fine from-” She stops as she watches Jeremy scowl at Eliza as she turns her head to scan the room. “Huh.”

Eliza spots them and waves, smiling brightly.

“She’s nice,” Nicole says casually.

Dolls shrugs, putting on a smile and waving back. “She’s cool. I see why she and Waverly are good roommates.”

Nicole nods slowly, head bobbing up and down. “She’s got a boyfriend,” she says. “I mean, the last I knew.”

Dolls twists to face her. “Do you think… I’m interested? In her ?”

Nicole shrugs. “I try not to assume anything about you, Ghost River Country Clubs Invitational Winner,” she teases.

He smiles a little at that.

Nicole turns, backing through the crowd, still facing him. “ Let’s hear it for the boy, ” she sings.

He takes a playfully threatening step towards her, one fist out in front of him. “Time and place, Haught. We’ll finally duke it out.”

“As much fun as kicking your ass would be,” she says, grinning and dancing away when he jabs forward. “I’m in my good shirt. I’d hate to get your blood on it.” She turns and ducks through the crowd before he can follow, sliding over towards the couch. She perches on the edge of the coffee table, smiling wide.

“So, Waverly didn’t actually tell me why you came up for the New Year,” Nicole says conversationally.

Eliza flushes, leaning in. “It sounds stupid now, but… My boyfriend Earl and I got into a mondo fight and we were staying on campus together and I just had to get out. So I caught a bus to Purgatory and, well. Here I am.”

Jeremy’s eyes light up. “Your boyfriend ,” he says.

Eliza shrugs. “Yeah. He called the other day to apologize for being a total wastoid, but I told him he’d have to spend New Year’s Eve by himself. I was coming to a crazy fancy party.”

“Boyfriend,” Jeremy repeats, his voice full of awe.

Eliza leans away from him, her face twisted in confusion. She looks at Nicole. “Is there something wrong with him?”

“No!” Jeremy shouts over Huey Lewis singing about “The Power of Love.” He grins widely, grabbing Nicole’s shoulder and shaking her. “I’m fantastic !”

Nicole smiles, gently peeling his hand off her shoulder. “Tubular!” she shouts over the music.

Jeremy takes off through the crowd of people. Nicole tries to follow him, but she loses track of him when he dips around Bryce and disappears. She ends up near the stereo, sighing and pushing a loose strand of hair out of her face.

“I know I need to do a lot of work,” she hears someone saying.

Nicole turns her head slowly, catching Nathan out of the corner of her eye. She snaps her head back around focusing on an ugly painting on the wall across the room.

“But,” Nathan continues. “I’m just… grateful that you gave me a second chance.

“That’s exactly what this is,” Mercedes says, an edge to her voice that Nicole hasn’t heard before. “After that disaster of a date… A second chance is all that this is.”

“And I’ll take it,” Nathan breathes out, relief clear in his voice. “I was wondering, though, if…” She hears him swallow. “If we could redo that first kiss?”

Mercedes says nothing.

“It’ll be a New Year, a new chance.” He shifts, moving his weight back and forth. Nicole hears him doing it in her sleep some nights and she wakes up imagining him taking pressure off his bad knee and redistributing it as he rocks back and forth. “You don’t have to answer now,” he says. “Just… think about it.” His voice drops to a whisper. “I really like you. I’ll prove it. I promise.”

Someone elbows Nicole and she jumps to the side to avoid going into the end stand. She looks at Nathan and Mercedes with wide eyes.

Mercedes’s eyes, hard and distrustful, instantly soften. “Well, well. How did I miss you standing right there, Loverboy.”

Nicole feels her face flush. “Mercedes. Nate-Nathan.” She nods at both of them. “I heard nothing.” She winces.

Nathan smiles hesitantly at her. “Hey, little sister.”

Nicole eyes the dark bottle in his hand.

He holds it up quickly, turning so Nicole can see the label. “It’s an A&W. Root beer, I swear.”

Nicole shrugs. “You’re a grown up, Nathan.”

Nathan looks between the two of them. “Yeah, well. I’m just saying. Until the doc takes me off those pain meds, I’m staying away from the hard stuff. Scout’s honor,” he finishes, his eyes locked on Nicole’s.

Nicole nods slowly. “Okay.” She looks over her shoulder, desperately searching for a reason to leave. “I’ve got to… stuff ,” she finishes lamely. She starts backing away.

“Loverboy!” Mercedes calls after her. “Think your girl would mind if I was your midnight kiss?” She wiggles her eyebrows suggestively.

Nicole trips over her feet as she tries to turn and move away. “I’ll ask her,” she says, her voice casual despite her beating heart. She hurries across the sitting room, no destination in mind.

She runs into Waverly, grabbing her waist to steady her before she falls over.

“You!” Waverly shouts.

Nicole grins. “Me.”

Waverly laces their hands together, pulling her through the room and into the cooler foyer. Nicole takes a deep breath, laughing when Waverly sags into her. “It’s a good party,” Nicole says.

“It’s so hot in there,” Waverly complains. She pulls open the front door, letting a rush of cool air wash over them. “Are you having fun?”

“I’m having more fun now,” Nicole admits, lacing her fingers together behind Waverly’s back. “You keep leaving me, though. And that’s not fun.”

Waverly leans up, kissing Nicole hard on the mouth. They stumble back a few feet, the banister leading up to the second floor digging uncomfortably into Nicole’s back. Waverly tastes like strawberries and white wine, her tongue cool in Nicole’s mouth. Nicole whimpers, one hand sliding up the bare skin of Waverly’s back, tracing her spine and the muscles under her fingertips.

“I missed you,” Nicole breathes out. “Where have you been?”

“Around,” Waverly says. She runs her fingers across Nicole’s cheeks. “I just wanted to say ‘hi’ to you.”

“Hi,” Nicole says, kissing Waverly again.

“I need to go,” Waverly murmurs against her lips.

No , Nicole groans. She tightens her grip on Waverly’s hips.

Waverly laughs, smoothing her hands down Nicole’s neck and kissing her again. “Yes. I’m a host.”

“There’s two of you,” Nicole argues. She backs Waverly up a few feet until they’re around the banister, hidden from the party. Waverly hits the wall with a soft thud . “Let Chrissy… work the room, or whatever it’s called.”

Waverly’s hips press firmly against Nicole’s, the heat of her body burning through the front of Nicole’s dress pants. She hums lightly. “I wish I could, but I can’t put all of that on-” She stops abruptly, her words turning into a groan as Nicole dips her head and slowly kisses down her neck. “Not fair,” she mumbles.

“Stay here and tell me how not fair it is,” Nicole says. She leans in, her leg moving between Waverly’s. “Or we can go somewhere else…”

Waverly’s body moves against hers for a moment before Waverly starts to shake her head, her fingers digging into Nicole’s sides. “Baby,” she murmurs.

Nicole pulls back, stroking her thumb along Waverly’s neck and the faint mark she left behind. “My car is right there,” she says, dragging each word out and punctuating it with a kiss to Waverly’s face, following the line of her cheekbone. “We could get out of here.”

Waverly runs her fingers up Nicole’s shirt, slipping behind her tie and twisting the buttons under it absently. “After midnight, I might just take you up on that.” She rocks her body forward and Nicole’s eyes flutter shut. “So keep your options open,” she adds with a wink.

She slips out from under Nicole, kissing her cheek as she leaves.

“Christ,” Nicole murmurs, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. She takes a deep, steadying breath, trying to bring down her racing heart. She takes a second behind the banister before joining the party again.

Nicole stands by the entrance to the foyer, breathing heavily and leaning against the doorframe as she takes in the party. One of the younger Blue Devils, a kid Nicole knows goes by Torque, is manning the Pioneer stereo system, swapping tapes in and out so quickly that Nicole barely misses the lag time in between. Wynonna and Doc are in the corner, Doc’s hat pulled low as they kiss.

“Waverly and Chrissy did a good job,” someone says next to her.

Nicole adjusts her tie self-consciously. Nathan is wearing nearly the same thing, swapping in a maroon tie instead of the gold one Nicole has on. Nicole nods at him. “Yeah, they did.”

“I hope it’s okay I came,” he continues.

Nicole shrugs. “Of course it is.”

“I know that last year I was-”

“Nate,” Nicole says sharply. “We don’t have to talk about it.”

He stares at her for the entire chorus of Def Leppard’s “Have You Ever Needed Someone So Bad?” before he blinks. “Okay,” he says slowly. “If you don’t want to, we won’t.”

“Clutch,” Nicole breathes out.

“Clutch,” he echoes.

They stand in the doorway, each of them mouthing along with Joe Elliott.

“I think there’s a new Jim Carrey movie coming out this year,” Nathan says suddenly. “ Ace Ventura .”

Nicole looks at him and nods. “That’s cool.”

“I went to the movies with some guys from the factory a month ago,” he continues. “We went and saw RoboCop 3, right? And they showed a preview for this movie where Jim Carrey is Ace Ventura: Pet Detective .”

Nicole scoffs. “A what ?”

Nathan grins excitedly. “A pet detective ,” he repeats. “He solves crimes that relate to animals.”

Nicole shakes her head. “No way. That’s fake.”

“It’s not!” Nathan insists. “He, like, has to find a dolphin that belongs to Dan Marino. You know who that is, right?”

“I don’t live under a rock,” Nicole says flatly, a smile breaking on her face before she can stop herself. “Of course I do!”

“Okay, so he has to find the dolphin. At least, that’s what the preview looked like.” Nathan grins at her. “I think it’ll be even funnier than In Living Color .”

Nicole shakes her head. “ Nothing is funnier than In Living Color .”

“This will be,” Nathan says confidently. “Just you wait.”

Nicole laughs and leans back against the wall.

“It’s a new year, Nicole,” Nathan says quietly. “I’m going to turn it around.”

Nicole shakes her head gently. “Nate, I can’t-”

“You don’t need to say anything,” Nathan says quickly. “I just want you to know. I’m your older brother and I’m going to start acting like it.”

“Okay,” Nicole says eventually. “Thanks for telling me.”

Nathan smiles crookedly. For a second, he looks seventeen again, fresh off of the championship game against the team down in Edmonton, the game-winning football in his hand. Nicole blinks and reality rushes back in at her. Nathan shifts, wincing a little as he accidently puts too much pressure on his bad knee. She thinks about the nights they spent on the couch, laughing at In Living Color until Nathan snorted Orange Crush through his nose. He’s wearing the same smile now, and Nicole can’t help but smile back.

“Nicole, I-”

“I’m going to go the bathroom,” she declares loudly. She pushes off the wall.

Nathan nods. “Okay. I’ll see you-”

“Around,” Nicole finishes. “Yeah. Okay.”

She slips into the crowd and out into the hallway, locking the bathroom door behind her. She takes a few deep breaths, trying to calm herself down. Nathan has been so angry these last two years and tonight, just a minute ago, he was smiling at her like he was a kid again, laughing with her about Dan Marino and stolen dolphins. She shakes her head, but she can’t keep the smile off her face or the hope budding in her chest.

She comes out of the bathroom, adjusting her tie as she moves down the hallway and into the sitting room. She pauses in the doorway, scanning the room again. Waverly playing host is starting to get old , she thinks for a minute. Her feet ache from chasing Waverly around the house all night. She rubs at the back of her neck, looking from the fireplace to the champagne tower. She’s about to turn and head back into the kitchen, to see if Waverly is pulling another tray of something out of the oven, when she spots Jeremy in the corner, an open wine cooler in his hand.

She slips next to him, silently pulling the Zima out of his hand and putting it on an end table near the couch.

“You’re not old enough to drink that,” she points out.

“What are you, the cops?” he grumbles. His eyes widen and he looks up at her. “You are, though. You’re the cops.”

Nicole forces a smile. “What’re you doing, Jeremy.”

He sighs, his shoulders slumping. “I thought if I had some liquid courage, I could… I could kiss him at midnight.’

Nicole swallows heavily, silently cursing Waverly for leaving her alone. “You don’t need liquid courage to do that,” she argues softly.

Jeremy glares at her. “Easy for you to say.” He folds his arms over his chest. “Not all of us get to spin a bottle and magically end up in a closet with our crush.” He nods at her. “I was at that party, remember?”

Nicole has to think back, but he was there, outside the door, “Counting the minutes,” she finishes aloud. “You know that’s not when we-” She stops herself, paying attention to his glare and the set of his jaw. “But you don’t care about that.”

“This was supposed to be my year,” he grumbles.

Nicole checks her watch. It’s almost 2340 now. “You know there’s only, like, twenty minutes left of this year.”

Jeremy rolls his eyes. “I mean 1994, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Nicole echoes, reaching for the wine cooler she confiscated earlier. She takes a sip and winces at the too-sweet artificial flavoring.

“I was going to start the year right . Everyone else gets to kiss the person they love, or want to be in love with, at midnight,” he whines.

“So do it,” Nicole says simply.

Jeremy stares at her. “What?”

Nicole sighs. “Listen. Does he like you?”

“We’re friends, sure, and-”

Nicole shakes her head. “No. No . Does he like you. Does he sit close to you when you watch movies? Does he get jealous when other people kiss you?

“No one else is kissing me,” Jeremy says slowly.

Nicole groans, letting her head fall back against the wall behind her. “Okay, fine. Does he… does he play your favorite song because he knows you always want to hear it? Does he make you laugh when you’re having a bad day? Does he spend all night on the phone with you because you just watched Pet Semetary by yourself and you’re afraid that your hamster Groove is going to come back to life because you buried him the backyard?”

Jeremy’s eyes are wide. “That’s really specific.”

Nicole waves him off. “Whatever. Does he do anything like that?”

“He came over after my grandma died,” Jeremy says softly, his words almost unintelligible over Rush’s “New World Man” coming from the speakers. “He laid in bed with me and let me cry until I couldn’t anymore. And then he let me watch “About Last Night” twice.”

Nicole looks across the room at Dolls and smiles a little. “Then yeah, Jer. I think he likes you.”

Jeremy follows Nicole’s eyes, his cheeks flushing when he realizes who she’s looking at.

Nicole turns to face him. “It’s nearly midnight. It’s going to be January 1st, 1994 in less than, like, fifteen minutes. I know you want ‘94 to be your year, but… there’s still plenty of time to make 1993 part of your story.” She rest her hands on his shoulders. “ Go. Talk to him. Tell him how you feel. If he doesn’t feel the same way, well…” She trails off, shrugging. “Then he doesn’t. And I will open you a brand new Zima and absolutely look the other way while you drink it.” She grins crookedly. “But if he does …”

Jeremy straightens up. “You’re right.”

“Exactamundo.”

“The worst that can happen is that I lose my best friend and I never leave my mother’s house and I die alone,” he says, his eyes flashing nervously.

“And the best that can happen,” she prompts.

Jeremy’s eyes soften. “He likes me back. And I get a midnight kiss.”

Nicole nods sharply. “Then go .”

“I’m going,” he says, thumping a fist against his chest. He winces. “I’m not going to do that again.”

Nicole watches him stalk across the sitting room, something in her chest swelling. “ Let’s hear it for the boy ,” she sings again.

“Can I have everyone’s attention?” Perry shouts, standing on a chair, high above everyone. “We’re about eight minutes from midnight, and I wanted to just say a few words.”

Chrissy rolls her eyes, coming to stand next to Perry.

Nicole watches Jeremy slide his hand into Dolls’s and tug him to a corner of the room.

Waverly slips up next to her, bumping her hip into Nicole’s thigh. “Hey, you.”

Nicole drops her arm across the back of Waverly’s shoulders. “Hey.”

“I know this isn’t The Patch, but-”

Nicole shakes her head, cutting Waverly off. She thinks about her conversation with Wynonna in the hallway; the way Nathan promised her he was working on his anger; Jeremy taking Dolls by the hand. She rubs Waverly’s shoulder, tracing light circles into her skin. “It was perfect,” she says honestly.

Waverly pulls back a little, staring up at her. “For sure?”

“For sure,” Nicole says firmly.

Waverly smiles and settles back against her side.

“This time last year,” Perry is saying, “Nelson Mandela said that, ‘New Year should be a time to look forward with hope and resolution’.” He lifts a bottle of champagne high above his head. “I could add other things, but I’m pretty sure you all just want to see how this tower thing works.”

He pops the cork on the bottle he’s holding, the champagne bubbling up the bottle neck and over his hand. He pours it quickly into the first glass. It fills slowly before it starts to overflow, cascading down the stem of the coupe glass and collecting in the four glasses below it. Those fill, spilling into the nine glasses below them. He nearly fills them but runs out.

Chrissy hands him a second bottle quickly and he keeps pouring while everyone oohs and aahs around them. Nicole gets bored after the second bottle, kissing the back of Waverly’s neck instead. She nips with her teeth, catching Waverly’s earlobe between her teeth and biting down gently for a moment. Waverly shivers, leaning into her heavily.

It takes all twelve bottles for every glass to get some champagne in it. They get through all of “Life is a Highway” and he’s still not done. About a minute into “No Apologies” by Alanis Morissette before Perry puts down the last bottle, taking the glass off the top and handing it down to Chrissy.

“Grab one, grab one,” he instructs. “Pass it back, okay?” He peers into the crowd, towards the speaker setup. “None for Torque, though. He’s barely old enough to be wearing that bandana.”

Torque grins and flips Perry off.

Perry waits until everyone has a glass. Nicole shakes her head; there’s more than half of the glasses still on the table, but Perry is stomping his foot on the chair he’s using as a stepstool, and she turns her attention to him.

‘Like I said, Nelson Mandela said that the ‘New Year should be a time to look forward with hope and resolution.’ So,” he says, lifting his glass. “To new beginnings, whatever they may be. I hope they’re filled with joy, growth, and love. And that the Blue Jays keep this winning streak going!”

“Blue Jays suck!” Fish hollers, his hands cupped around his mouth.

Perry raises his glass higher. “To a year of new beginnings ,” he calls.

Chrissy looks at the clock. “One minute!” she yells.

Everyone murmurs, moving through the room to find their dates.

“Ten!” Chrissy shouts.

Everyone joins in on the next one. “Nine!”

“Eight!”

Waverly’s hand reaches for hers, their fingers lacing on Waverly’s shoulder.

“Seven!”

Nicole looks around. She finds Wynonna and Doc, Nathan and Mercedes. She can barely see Fish and Levi, pressed against each other on the couch. Rosita, Valdez, and Eliza are nearby.

“Six!”

Waverly bounces excitedly on the tips of her toes. Nicole spots Jeremy and Dolls, each of them grabbing a champagne glass off the table quickly. Champagne sloshes over the side of the glass and splatters on the tops of their shoes. Jeremy grins widely.

“Five!”

All eyes are on the giant glass clock in the middle of the wall in Perry’s sitting room. The second hand ticks impossibly slow.

“Four!”

“Lift your glasses!” Perry shouts.

“Three!”

“To new beginnings!” they all cheer.

“Two!”

Nicole tips her head back, swallowing most of the champagne in her glass in one go. Waverly takes a long swallow grinning around the rim of the glass.

“One!” everyone shouts.

Torque slams his finger down on the play button, Jimi Hendrix blasting from the speakers.

Waverly twists, grabs the end of Nicole’s tie, winding it around her hand, and tugs hard. Nicole goes crashing into her, eyes closed, one hand on Waverly’s hip as they kiss.

Someone pulls a party popper next to her, showering her with confetti. Another party popper goes off, then another, small pockets of noise swallowed up by Hendrix shredding on the guitar.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind?”

Waverly laughs, throwing her head back, as confetti rains down on her.

Nicole’s heart swells, catching in her throat.

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne?”

“Happy New Year!” they all shout together.

“Happy New Year,” Waverly says again, breathing hard against her mouth.

Nicole smiles into the soft skin of Waverly’s cheek. “Happy New Year.” She hugs Waverly tightly, resting her chin on the top of Waverly’s head.

Nathan and Mercedes are near the fireplace, their smiles timid and their cheeks red. She sees Nathan reach down and tangle his fingers in Mercedes’s, and she grins. Wynonna and Doc are near them, Wynonna wearing Doc’s hat and screaming “ Happy New Year” as Doc holds her around the middle. Wynonna sets off another party popper and cheers as it rains down around her. Rosita, Valdez, and Eliza are giggling by the couch, their shoulders pressed together as they tap the necks of their beer bottles against each other’s, swaying to Jimi Hendrix singing. Chrissy and Perry are by the champagne tower, Perry’s hand on Chrissy’s cheek as he kisses her softly. She can see Chrissy smile, tucking her head into Perry’s shoulder as she laughs. Jeremy and Dolls are near the window, their kiss new and hesitant. Jeremy’s hands fluttering nervously in the air before they settle on Dolls’s sides, moving closer as Dolls’s hands move to the back of Jeremy’s neck.

“What’re you-” Waverly cuts off, her mouth hanging open. She looks up at Nicole, eyes wide. “Did you know about that?”

Nicole finally looks away as Jeremy finds a little more confidence, curling his fingers into the front of Dolls’s shirt. She shrugs at Waverly.

“It’s a new year,” she says, the words hot against Waverly’s mouth. “It’s time to do the things we want . The things that’ll make us happy.”

Waverly pulls back a little, her eyes searching Nicole’s face. “I’m so happy,” she admits.

Nicole smiles. “Me, too.”

“Happy New Year!” someone shouts.

“Happy New Year!” Waverly yells back. She looks up at the ceiling.

Confetti builds in her hair, the fire light shines in her eyes, her smile widens, and she presses up onto her tiptoes, her nose brushing against Nicole’s as she kisses her again, slower this time.

Nicole, impossibly , it feels, falls even more in love with her.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot and never brought to mind? Should auld acquaintance be forgot and auld lang syne?”