Nicole hummed as she brushed her teeth, dancing in her socks to the tuneless song. She was preparing to make a dramatic twirl when she froze. She pulled the toothbrush from her mouth as she slowly turned in the direction of the subtle sound that had caught her attention. She crept toward the closed stall door before raising a tentative hand to knock on the door. A gasp interrupted the sniffling. Nicole bit her lip.
“Um…just a second.”
“Hey - are you ok in there?”
“Yes, I’m…I’m fine. I’ll be right out.”
Nicole stepped back as the door opened. A shorter girl she had noticed from Evergreen Cabin stood wiping her eyes. She gave a weak and unconvincing smile. Nicole narrowed her eyes.
“Are you sure you’re all right?”
“It’s stupid, really.” The girl, Waverly, Nicole recalled, toed at the ground with a sheepish look.
“I’m sure it’s not stupid. Maybe I could help,” Nicole said with a kind smile.
Waverly heaved a sigh and confessed, “Champ Hardy threw my toothpaste into the lake.”
Nicole frowned briefly before marching over to the sink and offering her own toothpaste to Waverly. “Here, you can use mine.”
Waverly gave a watery smile but said, “It’s just that my sister gave me the pink bubblegum kind to bring to camp. She knew it was my favorite”.
“Well, can’t you just get her to send you some more?”
The smile melted from Waverly’s face. “She…uh…she went away right before I came here.”
“Went away where?”
“She’s sort-of in a mental institution.” She said it like she was daring Nicole to say something judgmental.
Nicole met her eye and gave a small smile. “You’re Waverly, right?”
Waverly couldn’t resist smiling back and gave a little wave. “Waverly Earp.”
“I’m Nicole Haught. I’m in Pine Cone Cabin. Why don’t you just use my toothpaste just for today. It’s not so bad. It’s peppermint. It tastes like Christmas.”
Waverly took the tube from her and shrugged.
When they parted a few minutes later, Waverly walked toward the mess hall for breakfast but Nicole made a bee line back to her cabin to dig out her phone. Technically it wasn’t allowed, but her uncle Randy had told her to keep one tucked away in case she needed to call him. She had decided this definitely constituted an emergency. She barely knew Waverly Earp but she could not stand to see her cry.
By the time that the campers were finishing a dinner of spaghetti and bug juice, Randy Nedley’s patrol car was pulling up to the camp office. Nicole spied the car through the mess hall window and ran to go meet her uncle.
Nicole threw her arms around him and he gave a gruff “Oof” and an awkward pat on the back but his lips twitched in an affectionate grin.
“Thank you so much, Uncle Randy.”
“Well, you said it was important.” He reached into the car and pulled out a small brown paper bag.
“It’s very important.”
Nicole’s earnest expression had him chuckling as he said, “Well, you better hurry then.”
Nicole went running toward the mess hall as her uncle shook his head in amusement. She found Waverly carrying her tray to the tubs where the campers on dinner clean-up were glumly gathering the dirty dishes.
“What ya got there?”
Nicole’s path was blocked by none other than Champ Hardy. Her eyes narrowed with dislike.
“Get out of my way. This is for Waverly.”
Champ snatched the bag out of her hand. Nicole immediately leapt forward to grab his arm before he could open the bag. They wrestled over it for a moment before Champ dropped the bag and backed away, bent over in pain.
Waverly gave a satisfied grin. “Wynonna says to always go for the insole.”
Nicole smiled at how smug she looked. “Well, this is for you.”
Waverly opened the bag and gasped. “Rollings Reliable pink bubblegum toothpaste! How did you know?!”
“It’s the brand of choice in the big city.”
Waverly beamed at her, “Thank you.”
Nicole flushed with her success and grinned back at her, “You’re welcome.”
Waverly stared for just a moment at the pink tube in her hands before raising her gaze to Nicole once more. “Would you…like to sit with me for the fire tonight?”
Nicole nodded and smiled.
For the rest of camp, Nicole and Waverly were inseparable. When the week ended, they promised to write.
It was late as Nicole let herself in to the dark auditorium. She had meant to come earlier to work on the car for Greased Lightning. She sighed at the thought of how much work she had to do. She wasn’t sure why she had let Chrissy talk her into doing all of the props for the Purgatory Players’ summer stock show. Chrissy was so thrilled to be playing Marty and had gushed to the director, Miss Lucado, about her crafty cousin.
So now Nicole was here, painting plywood to try to make it look like a real car instead of…well, there wasn’t honestly that much for a twenty-year-old with no friends in town to do on a hot summer night. She brushed her hair off her sweaty face and sighed.
After twenty minutes and nothing more accomplished than painting one wheel, Nicole decided she deserved a break and went to go splash some cold water on her face. When she opened the bathroom door, though, she nearly hit someone on the other side.
Waverly Earp, eighteen years old and absolutely furious continued pacing as if Nicole had not just almost slammed the door into her face. Nicole could hardly believe it was her. She froze for the briefest of moments before beaming at Waverly and saying, “We have got to stop meeting like this.”
Waverly finally looked up and stopped moving when she heard Nicole speak. She squinted uncertainly, “Nicole Haught?”
“In the flesh,” Nicole could have kicked herself for her response. She hadn’t seen Waverly in almost ten years and now she was acting like a total dweeb. She felt her neck flushing as she tried to regain her cool, “What are you doing here? Besides wearing a hole through the floor.”
Waverly balled her hands into fists as she remembered her beef and started pacing again, “It’s Lucado. Frankly, this situation is balls.”
Nicole suppressed a giggle. “What seems to be the trouble? Are you in the show?”
Waverly nodded, “I’m playing Jan. But Lucado is a lunatic. She insists that we do everything the movie way. Like, does she not realize that we are doing this play onstage?”
Nicole shrugged, “I guess she’s not exactly a purist. If I’m honest, it kinda seems like she’s phoning it in.”
“Oh yeah. She thinks she’s some kind of big-time director or something. Like she’s too good for the Purgatory Players. As if.”
“So you’re not a fan of Hopelessly Devoted, I guess?”
“It’s not that,” she heaved a sigh and rolled her eyes as she continued, “It’s the stupid sleepover party scene. She wants to do the whole ‘Brush ‘em, brush ‘em, brush ‘em’ thing.”
Nicole laughed, “Is that all? I always thought that part was kinda funny.”
Waverly narrowed her eyes and Nicole sobered.
“I mean…if you like that sort of thing.”
Waverly sighed again. “It’s not even the scene,” she pointed her finger at Nicole accusingly, “Although I maintain that it’s a stupid scene and not related to the plot and there’s no real…”
Nicole wrapped her hand around Waverly’s outstretched finger to catch her attention and released it again with a soft smile.
“Well, if it’s not the scene, then what’s the problem?”
“Lucado has in mind that I have to squirt the toothpaste in my mouth. And she wants me to use the same brand so that the tube looks,” she gave disgusted air quotes, “Authentic. For that, she’s a purist.” Waverly threw up her hands.
“And you prefer the pink bubblegum of old?”
Waverly looked started that she remembered, but then lifted her chin and said, “Well, yes, pink bubblegum is the best flavor. But the fact of the matter is that the toothpaste Looney Lucado would have me used contains glycerin. Which is an animal product. Which is not vegan.”
Waverly shook her head and looked at her watch, “Oh man, is that the time? I need to get home or my Aunt Gus is going to kick my butt. Hey, it was good to see you, Nicole! I’m glad you’re back in town.”
She gave Nicole a quick hug that left Nicole’s heart beating fast long after she said a soft “goodbye” that Waverly surely did not hear as she had aalready hurried from the bathroom.
As soon as she regained her composure, Nicole walked with renewed determination to the backstage phone.
“Jeremy? It’s Nicole. I’m coming over.”
It was a week before the cast worked through the sleepover scene again. Waverly was surprised when she walked into the auditorium for rehearsal to see that Nicole was in a hushed conversation with Miss Lucado. When she was a few steps away, Nicole looked up at her and smiled. She immediately left Lucado in the middle of a sentence and walked over to Waverly looking triumphant.
“By George, we’ve done it this time. Well, not George. By Jeremy, I guess?”
Waverly looked at her, confused, “Done what?”
Nicole extended her hand, “Made you a cruelty-free edible toothpaste substitute.”
Waverly looked from the tube to Nicole’s shining face, “You made me…”
“Well, Jeremy did. I sort-of helped. We just experimented with a few different formulas until we found just the right combination. It’s not pink, sorry, but it looks more authentic if it’s white. And we squeezed it into the authentic tube, so Lucado can’t even object, although she did try.”
“You…literally squeezed the toothpaste into the tube. For me?”
Nicole shrugged, looking pleased and a little nervous.
Waverly threw her arms around Nicole’s neck and squealed. “You are something really special, Nicole Haught!”
Nicole flushed bright red and choked on her reply. When Waverly stepped back and marveled at the package, Nicole opened her mouth to ask if she wanted to get together after rehearsal. Like maybe on a date. But before the words escaped her mouth, Champ Hardy swaggered down the aisle and belched.
“What’s up, Waves?”
Waverly bounced over to him and held up the toothpaste. “Look what Nicole made for me.”
“But you only use Rollings Reliable toothpaste because it’s cruelty-free.”
Nicole’s face fell. She hadn’t realized that. And Champ Hardy knew Waverly’s toothpaste preference. Which had to mean…
“But look, Champ! She and Jeremy made me one that looks just like the regular kind.”
Champ gave an unimpressed, “Hmph” and put his arm around her possessively.
“C’mon babe. We better let the techie get on with her work.”
Waverly gave Nicole a small smile and allowed herself to be led away by her boyfriend. Nicole stood rooted to the spot for a moment and then left the auditorium in a hurry.
She made sure to finish the rest of her work on the props when rehearsals were not in session.
Nicole regretted agreeing to come out tonight. She had only agreed to do so because her fellow cadet in the police academy, Robin, had told her that he needed a wingman to visit the new piano bar. Now she was stuck waiting at the bar for him as he was perpetually late. She was uncomfortable in the heels she was wearing and she would have preferred to be home with her cat, Calamity Jane.
She had just flagged down the bartender and ordered a beer when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She was prepared to deck whoever was touching her but when she saw who it was, she grinned madly instead.
“Hey!” He gave her a warm hug and said, “You must be here for the big opening show!”
“Yeah, yeah. Waverly is singing tonight. Sort-of a lounge singer kind of vibe, if you dig.”
Nicole grimaced uncertainly, “Waverly?”
“Well, yeah. I figured that’s why you were here. I remember you had such a crush on her in high school.”
“What? Dish the details, Red! Who did you have a crush on?” Robin had finally arrived.
Jeremy stared at him for a moment before getting a goofy smile and saying, “Nicole here had a big crush on Waverly Earp.”
“Yes! Hi,” he extended his hand to Robin, “I’m Jeremy. And you are?”
Robin gave him a mischievous grin, “Robin. And I’m also dying for a drink.”
Nicole snorted, “Good luck”. It was clear to her that her wingman duties were at an end as Robin and Jeremy ducked their heads and shyly began to talk about their mutual connection. As Jeremy described their long hours perfecting vegan toothpaste, Nicole huffed and went to find a table. She was perfectly fine not reliving those particular days.
The boys joined her a few minutes later with their drinks.
“So, Nicole, Robin tells me you are both in the academy here. I didn’t realize you were so close by.”
“Yeah, well, my uncle Randy said if I went to the academy in the city here I could come and be a deputy in Purgatory when I graduate. I really want to have the chance to learn from him even if I never get to become sheriff like him.”
“That’s great! It will be so awesome to have you back in Purgatory. I know that Waverly will be excited, too.”
“Don’t hold your breath,” Nicole muttered.
Jeremy looked confused, “I thought you guys were friends. Did you fall out?”
Nicole sighed, “No. We didn’t fall out. I just didn’t want to watch her make out with Champ Hardy left, right, and center.”
Jeremy choked on his drink with a laugh. “Oh man, I forgot she dated that guy. That was such a long time ago. He was a real clown.”
“It can’t have been that long ago, Jeremy, I was there a couple years ago and they were hot and heavy.”
Jeremy shrugged, “A couple years is a long time. Waverly dumped him hard right after Grease closed. She said that he asked her how a girl could be both smart and pretty. She was over him then and there.”
Nicole felt a stirring of hope that she had not anticipated.
“So then, who is she dating now?”
Jeremy gave her a very knowing look as he sipped on his drink, “Absolutely nobody.”
At this moment, the lights dimmed and after a moment, a spotlight illuminated Waverly Earp in full evening gown. Nicole’s breath caught in her throat at the sight of Waverly’s hair cascading over her shoulder. She sat frozen as Waverly began to croon a classic, jazzy number that Nicole could not have named but would never again forget the tune.
Jeremy and Robin got cozy across the table and whispered conspiratorially but Nicole was transfixed. She didn’t even notice that Jeremy disappeared after the opening number until he suddenly returned when the lights came back up out of breath.
“Where did you come from?”
Nicole frowned, “Whole Foods? What did you go there for?”
Jeremy just grinned and handed her a bag that contained…
“A tube of Rollings Reliable pink bubblegum toothpaste?”
Jeremy beamed, “It’s the brand of choice for the hot young songstress.”
Seeing Nicole’s doubt written on her face, he continued, “She told me she really wished she could have thanked you for the toothpaste thing. She brought it up a thousand times. She would want to see you.”
Nicole blushed, but Robin leaned in and said, “You better not muck this up, Haught. Or I’ll tell Sergeant Dolls that he better fail you for failure to act when action was called for.”
Nicole felt a grin stretch across her face as she came to a decision.
“I’ll be right back.”
Nicole headed to the bar as quickly as she could without drawing attention. She spotted Waverly making her way to Jeremy and Robin and ducked her head. She wanted this to be smooth.
When she described the plan to the bartender, he looked at her like she was crazy for a moment and then shrugged and called over a waiter.
Nicole watched as the waiter approached the table with her heart racing. He placed the highball glass in front of Waverly and explained that it was compliments of the lady at the bar. Waverly looked with confusion for a moment at the tube of toothpaste in the glass and then realization dawned on her face. She was already beaming by the time she caught Nicole’s eye. She kissed Jeremy on the cheek and picked up the tube of toothpaste, hurrying over to the bar with the boys grinning behind her.
When she reached Nicole she stopped just within arm’s reach.
Waverly pointed over her shoulder, “When Perry said that this was compliments of the lady at the bar, I knew it had to be you. Do you just carry around tubes of toothpaste now?”
Waverly’s grin was mischievous and unless Nicole was very much mistaken…flirtatious?
“Only if it’s Rollings Reliable. I hear they are the brand of choice,” Nicole turned on the full charm of her dimples as she grinned and Waverly giggled. She looked like she might want to hug Nicole, but she restrained herself.
“It’s really good to see you.”
“It’s good to see you, too! You were amazing up there!”
Waverly shrugged, “It’s mostly in the smile and wave.”
Nicole shook her head, disbelieving, “No chance. Maybe that hack job Lucado made of Grease but this show takes real talent.”
Waverly smiled so brightly that Nicole felt the butterflies in her stomach were getting a little out of control.
“Can I buy you a real drink?”
“I…hope that you’re kidding.”
Waverly gave a deep laugh and said, “Totally kidding. I drank that with Wynonna once. Never again.”
Nicole mimed mopping her forehead and gestured for the bartender.
All through dinner, Waverly had been bouncing her leg underneath the table. Nicole pretended not to notice as they had a leisurely dinner to celebrate their one-year anniversary.
“How about a walk in the park just like our first date?”
Waverly frowned, “But it’s like twenty degrees out. And I’m wearing heels.”
Waverly was confused but Nicole looked determined, “I just thought it would be romantic.”
Waverly felt a sense of dawning comprehension and smiled. “Yes. I think that sounds nice.”
When Nicole asked her about dessert, she shook her head and started bouncing her leg again. That’s why Nicole hadn’t proposed yet. She was planning to do it where they had their first date. It was so thoughtful and sweet. Very Nicole.
By the time they had walked a full lap around the park, though, Waverly was cold, her feet hurt, and she was starting to feel like this wasn’t going to happen tonight. She tried not to be disappointed. She knew that Nicole loved her. Maybe she was waiting to propose on Valentine’s Day.
Waverly decided to be patient and to stop being so worried about it. She was content to walk home with Nicole’s coat around her shoulders and their fingers intertwined. Nicole even gave her a piggy-back ride up the stairs to their flat since her feet hurt. She left Nicole getting changed for bed and went to freshen up in the bathroom.
She almost didn’t notice. She picked up the tube and unscrewed the cap like normal to brush her teeth when she saw it. Tied with a ribbon on the top of the tube was a ring. She turned to the doorway and saw Nicole on one knee.
“I know you were waiting for a proposal tonight. We went to the restaurant and the park where we shared our first date. But that wasn’t when I fell in love with you. I fell in love with you at camp all those years ago. I didn’t fall in love with you over vegan cuisine and champagne, I fell in love with you over Rollings Reliable. I fell in love with your fiery spirit, your fearless determination, your ability to see the very best in people and your tireless efforts to make the world better. You are the sunshine of my life, Waverly Earp. And I hope you will do me the honor of marrying me.”
Waverly released a sob and threw herself to her knees with her arms around Nicole’s neck.
“Of course, I’ll marry you, Nicole Haught.”
They shared a loving kiss.
“And to think, we owe it all to Rollings Reliable.”
As Waverly entered Shorty’s the crowd let up a cheer. Wynonna came over and hugged her tight. She whispered, “Way to go, Baby Girl” before shouting into the crowd, “To my baby sister, Waverly Earp, the published author and winner of the Rollings Reliable baking soda toothpaste story competition.”
Waverly was stunned. She looked around the room to see dozens of her friends and family, practically all of Purgatory, raising their glasses in salute.
She turned a mortified face toward Nicole, who looked guilty. Waverly’s eyes narrowed. She gave Wynonna a smile and the crowd a thumbs-up as she pulled Nicole into a corner.
“Nicole…what does she mean that I won a toothpaste story competition? I didn’t enter one.”
“You see, I ah…I might have entered the contest for you.” Nicole cringed as she spoke.
Waverly still looked confused. “But how?”
“Well, you know how you’ve been trying to send off the story you wrote of how we met to the different magazines.”
“Well, I submitted that story to the contest.”
Waverly stared at her, waiting for more information. When it did not come, she prompted, “But…but, Nicole. There’s nothing about toothpaste in that story.”
“Oh! Well, I took care of that. It was easy.”
“Well, when we were at camp instead of saying that Champ threw your pillow in the lake, I said it was your toothpaste. And then when we met up again in high school instead of saying that Jeremy and I baked up substitute Twinkies, I said that we made toothpaste. And then when we met up at the club I said it was toothpaste that I sent to your table.”
“Nicole. That story sounds terrible.”
Nicole gave her a satisfied smirk, “It can’t be so bad. You won!”
Waverly grimaced, “But I didn’t really, did I? You won. It was your idea to make it all about toothpaste. There is nothing in the story of how we fell in love about toothpaste.”
Nicole shrugged and said, “Maybe there could be.”
Without another word, she handed Waverly a copy of the story. Waverly read through it with a skeptical expression that turned amused. She laughed at some of the references to inside jokes Nicole had added. When she reached the final section, though, her grip on the paper tightened. She read story-Nicole’s proposal with tears in her eyes. When she finished, she looked up to see real-life-Nicole kneeling before her holding out a tube of Rollings Reliable pink bubblegum baking soda toothpaste with a ring tied on just like in the story. Her mouth fell open.
Nicole was flushed bright red, not helped by the presence of Waverly’s notoriously aggressive sister and the majority of the town but she gave a watery beam and said, “Marry me?”
Waverly was silent for long agonizing moments before she squealed and flung herself forward to hug Nicole.
“Is that a yes?”
Waverly held out a shaking hand for Nicole to place the ring and then put both hands on Nicole’s face.
“Of course, I’ll marry you, Nicole Haught.”
And she sealed it with a bubblegum-flavored kiss.