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“Haught!” came Nedley’s gruff shout across the bullpen, causing Nicole’s pen to go skittering off the page. Jeez, she thought, remind me not to fall into this damn paperwork so much. Frowning at the ruined form, she set aside her irritation as she closed her pen and straightened up in her chair.

“Sir?” She swiveled to face her boss.

The sheriff was leaning up against the door of his office with that half-rumpled slouch he had, clutching a single piece of paper. His mustache twitched; Nicole saw it as a possible warning, that something might have ticked him off. “Thought I told you to sign up for this health and wellness training,” he drawled, “the city’s requiring it now.” He squinted angrily at the sheet like it had done something to personally offend him, before flipping it over and holding it out to her. “I’m not seeing your name on the roster.”

Nicole sighed. Eight hours of city-mandated training was a waste of time, she knew it and what’s more she knew Nedley knew it, but this was a losing battle, the city supervisors already set on their latest round of ‘improvements’. They’d hired some sort of wellness coordinator to teach a class, and develop individual plans for both the police and fire employees. Nicole was not impressed, thinking it was pretty redundant. Seriously, she was already a little bit obsessive about her workouts and ate what she considered to be a reasonably decent diet, so it wasn’t likely a single-day class would teach her anything she didn’t already know. God, she wanted to skip signing up. Maybe she could pretend she forgot. “Must have been the amnesia, sir.”

Nedley snorted. “You need to stop running into walls, Haught. Anyhow, I expect you to get this done.”

Two days later Nicole woke up to a quintessential spring day, birds chirping merrily outside her window and soft dawn sunlight throwing bright bars across her gleaming hardwood floor. She stretched luxuriantly, then stopped with a jolt, remembering today was that goddamn mandatory training day.

Rolling out of bed with a disgruntled huff, Nicole shuffled through her bathroom routine. She yanked her curtains open for another rueful glance at the pristine day she’d be missing out on by spending eight hours in the classroom, then pulled up the course schedule on her phone. Ah, okay. The first half of the day would be a physical performance test. As the only PSD employee attending, Nicole would have the dubious pleasure of working out with a mixed bag of city employees.

Nicole dressed quickly and grabbed some toast and peanut butter for the road, along with her water bottle and an apple. With nothing in the fridge, she decided to reward herself with a really good lunch, and headed out, steering her cruiser for the high school where the course would be held. How bad can this be? Nicole thought, I’d work out anyhow this morning. I’m getting paid to exercise, that’s all. With a firm nod, Nicole resolved to improve her attitude and make the most of the training. She pulled into the parking lot with a bright, intentional grin on her face, only faltering slightly when she observed that almost all of the other participants that day were Purgatory Fire Department employees.

“Ugh, hose jockeys,” Nicole scoffed under her breath, as she parked her car and made her way to the school track. A couple of the fire fighters stretched out near the edge of the track, while four of them play wrestled like puppies, pulling each other off the climbing rope with loud, dopey guffaws. The final few city employees sat morosely on the bench alongside the track, scrolling through their cell phones or sipping coffee from travel mugs. Nicole nodded politely to her classmates and peeled off her sweatshirt, revealing a tight fitting Purgatory Sheriff’s Department sleeveless compression top. She’d just looked down to loosen the knot of the comfortable low slung sweatpants she’d tossed on over her running shorts, when a cheerful voice interrupted her reverie.

“Good morning, everyone!”

Nicole looked up, the pants untied and sagging at her hips.

The woman striding purposefully towards the track was young and fresh-looking, a sliver of tight abs visible under the knotted up hem of her retro logo’d tee shirt: “Crossfit” in purple splatter paint above an angular pink and turquoise design. Matching brightly-patterned, cropped running pants and pink sneakers completed the outfit, and both a whistle and stop watch hung from her neck. Nicole stood a bit taller; maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad day after all.

“I’m Waverly,” the woman smiled, waving a clipboard at the group. “I’ll be leading your course today. It’s a new program the city is doing and we’re very excited to bring positive change to our employees.” Waverly’s eyes scanned the group, settling on Nicole, and she quirked an eyebrow before continuing. “I’m just really excited be a part of helping our employees stay at their peak performance level.”

Nicole reached absently for the back of her neck, scratching at it and wondering at the warm feeling in her cheeks. It wasn’t often that a girl had the ability to make her nervous, simply by existing. She looked around at the group and caught a couple of the firefighters smirking, elbowing each other as they tipped their heads towards Waverly. Nicole’s eyes narrowed. Okay then, she thought, if anything this will be worth it to put a couple of guys in their place.

Waverly went through the basic overview of the class, then brought the group towards the grassy area at the center of the track. She explained the first exercise would be pushups, and called for the participants to pair off. Nicole looked around, quickly discovering that everyone else there had been smart enough to sign up for the class with a colleague or friend.

“Looks like you’re an island,” Waverly smiled, appearing in front of Nicole and interrupting her train of thought.

Nicole cocked her head. “How’s that?”

“An island,” Waverly laughed, gesturing with her hands, “like…alone in the ocean? No partner.”

Nicole blushed. Was it that easy to tell--?

“All the fire guys buddied up,” Waverly continued cheerily, “but no sweat, I can team up with you for this. Go ahead and assume the position.”

Nicole dropped into a pushup position and Waverly squatted in front of her. She raised her voice, catching the attention of the room. “We’re going to start with the pushups on my count. Your partner will place their fist on the floor, and your chest must touch their fist for the pushup to count. We will do the maximum number of pushups you can complete in three minutes!”

Waverly squatted down in front of Nicole, pulling up her stopwatch and hovering her thumb over the button. “On your mark--” she called, “Go!”

Nicole settled into a steady rhythm of pushups, definitely not noticing how nice Waverly’s hair smelled this close to her face, or how, even through the tight material of her shirt, she was hyper aware of each time her cloth covered breasts brushed up against Waverly’s curled fist. She tried to distract herself by looking around at the other participants, but her eyes immediately caught on Waverly’s hand. Oh man, she decided, this woman is freaking adorable. Each neatly trimmed fingernail was painted a different color, in shades of yellow and blue and green.

No straight woman would manicure her nails that short, Nicole mused, even as she methodically pressed up and down, her muscles now warming to the task, skin reddening slightly with the effort.

“That’s sixty, Nicole,” came Waverly’s voice, “you’re doing fantastic!”

Nicole smirked slightly, hiding her face under the bit of hair that had come loose from the ponytail during her exertions. She picked up the pace just a bit, enjoying the burn in her muscles, deliberately dropping just a bit lower for that tiny bit of contact with Waverly’s fist.

Waverly’s timer beeped to signal the end of the three minutes and the trainer bounded to her feet, calling out for the participants to stop. As she walked around the room documenting names and number of pushups completed, Nicole rolled herself onto her back and took a moment to stretch out before the sit-ups commenced. These too she was able to complete at the top of the class, without much effort, taking a certain satisfaction in watching the fire guys grunt and huff as they watched her out of the corner of their eyes, trying to match her pace.

“As you can see,” Waverly explained to the group, having noted that several of the city employees were still prone on the ground, panting hard as they recovered from their exertions, “keeping yourself fit through regular exercise is an important part of a total health regimen. Studies show that employees who are allowed time to exercise during the work day are more productive, happy employees.”

“Okay, let’s grab some water, everyone,” Waverly called, holding up her brightly colored bottle and sipping obviously from the straw. “Hydrate or die!” she added, smiling around the straw with a twinkle in her eye, and Nicole found herself feeling very thirsty indeed. The group wandered to the edge of the track, chatting idly amongst themselves about this and that, and Nicole found herself in step with a couple of the fire guys.

“You’re Haught, right?” a muscular fellow with large, black tribal tattoos adorning both shoulders asked. “Nedley’s newest deputy?” Nicole nodded politely, as the thickset guy continued. “I’m Dory. Yeah, my buddy Cutter went through the academy with you in the city. He told me to watch out for you when you got here.”

Nicole’s eyes lit up. “Oh yeah! Brian! He’s a good guy. How’s he doing?” The small talk continued as Dory cracked worn out jokes about Brian becoming a cop because he couldn’t hack the fire service, until the group had collected around Waverly, waiting at the base of the track.

“Everyone feeling good?” Waverly asked happily, not waiting for an answer. Nicole had to admire the fact that she remained so positive, even in the face of some of the most overt scowls Nicole had ever witnessed. It was obvious that several attendees were taking it very personally that they had to work out on their off time, and were too childish to get over it already. Nicole felt a pang of sympathy for Waverly, saddled with the task of leading a mandatory adult learning program on a weekend day.

“We’re going to run a mile and a half now,” Waverly announced, ignoring the few loud groans that rose from the group. “All I ask is that you complete the distance, no matter how you have to do it. I will be timing you, so those of you who want to know how they did can ask. Can I get everyone to line up here?”

Nicole bounced on her toes, rolling her neck as she waited for the start. A mile and a half is nothing, she thought, half the distance she typically ran each morning. Out of the corner of her eye she noticed Dory checking her out, and of course he would, his buddy Brian had been a pretty persistent guy until she’d told him flat out that she was gay, and birds of a feather…

Well then, she thought, let’s make this fun.

At the sound of Waverly’s whistle, Nicole was off, long easy strides just stretching her out along the track. She set a smooth pace, not too fast, and waited for the tell-tale sound of another runner coming up on her. If she was any judge of character, and after all she was a cop, it would be too hard for Dory to resist the temptation to show off a bit. Sure enough, a couple minutes later Dory pulled up next to her, his heavy upper body flexing above comically thin legs. He looked her way.

“S’up, Haught,” he greeted with a toothy grin. “Not too far of a run to the donut shop from the Sheriff’s, eh?”

“Good one,” Nicole snarked back. “Hopefully we don’t have to do the rope climb because you fire guys definitely have me beat on rescuing kitties out of trees.”

Nicole upped her effort ever so slightly, keeping her eyes high, breathing in through her nose and out her mouth, watching Waverly grow closer as she rounded the track. The instructor really was lovely, she decided.Her petite toned body was built like a dancer’s, with strong, obvious glutes and firm looking hips. As Nicole passed Waverly her stride faltered for a moment because wait--was she looking at my legs?

Waverly’s eyes flicked back up and Nicole saw the start of a blush tint her cheeks as they passed each other, because I caught her, Nicole smirked. She suddenly realized that Dory, who had been keeping up a stream of chatter as they ran, had gone silent. She looked over at him and caught his flushed, sweaty face distorted into a grimace as he tried to keep up with her. Nicole shrugged. “Last half mile, buddy, time to kick it into high gear.”  By the time she crossed the finish line, Dory was a full turn behind her, and Nicole had time to jog up to Waverly and flash her a large dimpled smile before grabbing up her water bottle and drinking deeply.

“Nice one, Nicole,” Waverly called, writing on her clipboard. “10:40!” She glanced up at Nicole once again Nicole found them holding each other’s gaze just a beat too long, until Waverly startled with a “Fudge!” and looked quickly at her stopwatch. She’d just missed Dory crossing the line.

*****

All the physical activity of the morning made Nicole feel a good bit less guilty about her choice to hit up the new taqueria, “Super Mariscos”, for lunch. Sure, maybe it was technically fast food but it wasn’t terrible, was it? And fish tacos were certainly much healthier than scarfing down a greasy burger and fries or something. A few other members of the class had gotten the same idea; she fell into line behind them, nodding a friendly greeting. The delicious smells of the fish grilling in the back, mixed with the fresh scents of the chopped tomatoes and onions and cilantro at the salsa bar, hit her with the force of a full-blown craving, and she realised just how ravenously hungry she was. By the time she reached the front of the line, she’d made her selection. “I’d like the mahi mahi taco plate, please, grilled. With rice and beans.”

“Are you sure?” came a voice at her shoulder. Nicole turned to see Waverly standing close behind her. Her heart gave a tiny leap, but then she noticed the young woman’s brows were creased with concern, and her lower lip pulled between her teeth. Waverly went on after a moment. “I mean, that’s a pretty bad fish.”

It was a microsecond of confusion before she recovered herself. Wait. Bad seafood? No, she must be joking about…something. “Yeah,” smirked Nicole, playing along, “it’s the worst.” She couldn’t help the big sparkly shit-eating grin on her face, because the cute instructor she’d been staring at all morning was standing right next to her and that was a pretty good lunch, no matter what else happened today. She finished paying for her order and politely stood aside while Waverly made her choice, the #14 plate, tofu tacos with quinoa as the side. She raised an eyebrow; Waverly just shrugged, mouthing, vegan.

“I wouldn’t mind eating vegan,” Nicole muttered to herself, as she eyed Waverly up and down, her glance lingering on the lovely shape of her hips. Then she laughed, even as she blushed a little at the boldness of her interior monologue. Calm the fuck down, Haught, she thought. That’s a bit much even for you.

She grabbed her tray when her order was ready, dawdling at the salsa counter to see where Waverly intended to sit. When it became clear that Waverly was sharing a table with one of the city administrative honchos, a fellow named Gaspar who was a close political ally of Bunny Loblaw, Nicole decided it wasn’t the best opportunity to chat up the brunette and gave up on the idea. She found a seat at a small table against the wall, and dug into her meal.

The tacos were good, really good, the fish grilled to perfection, the shredded cabbage with a satisfying snap, and she was happy she’d opted to dress it with the tomatillo salsa and a lovely crema. Baja-style tacos were one of her favorites. She gave a happy little sigh, maybe more of a pleasured moan, uhhm, as she bit into the drippy, messy treat, catching the crema from the corner of her mouth with her thumb, licking it away again, and then - holy fuck.

Waverly was watching the whole performance from two tables away, staring in what looked an awful lot like rapt attention, her mouth barely open and her eyes aglitter. Nicole thought she might want to disappear through the floor as embarrassment pulsed through her, but then Waverly’s gaze flickered upward and their eyes met, recognition jumping like a spark between them, and the curiosity there was plain. Emboldened, Nicole took another bite, her tongue licking into the folded tortilla in search of creamy deliciousness, and Waverly’s eyebrows gave the smallest of jogs upwards, an unmistakable ‘oh, really’ before they both looked away.

Oh my god.

Oh my god.

She’s…kind of into it.

Nicole could barely contain the smile that twisted up the corners of her mouth, for the rest of her lunch.

*****

For the afternoon portion of training, the group reconvened in one of high school classrooms. The room had been neatly laid out for them by the time they straggled back from lunch, each desk holding a narrow spiral-bound booklet (“Healthy Choices And YOU!”) and a cheap ball-point pen stamped CITY OF PURGATORY.

The guys from the fire department took all the chairs near the windows and Nicole was happy to let them. Sitting in the narrow wooden seats seemed to bring out a forgotten adolescent boyishness in all of them, and the mildly crude jokes and the roughhousing was simply not to her taste. She sat down on the other side of the room, a little apart from everyone, not joining in with the idle chatter as people seated themselves. She flipped through the first few pages of the booklet and groaned internally; it looked like quite basic information about portion control and appropriate serving sizes, eating a balanced diet, that sort of thing. Nicole determined to endure the afternoon with some grace and without complaint, but jeez she was going to beg Nedley to get her excused her from this section, come hell or high water, the next time it came around.

Waverly’s voice drifted in from the hallway, rising over the murmurs in the room as she followed the last few people in. “Are we all back?” she asked as she closed the door behind her. “I think we’re ready to get started.”

Nicole’s gaze trailed after Waverly as she moved to the front of the room. Interesting, she thought, noting the change of clothes. Nicole had brought a change, of course, and had cleaned up and donned a fresh outfit when the workout had finished. Waverly had done the same, and now she was wearing a flowing flower-print shirt, loose and gauzy, and her hair done in half braids framing wavy cascades of honey-brown tresses. She almost looked like a sweet hippie child of some bygone era, or an angelically beautiful island girl, with her soft bronzed skin and the sunshine smile that continuously graced her lovely face. And that shirt. It looked like something best thrown over a bikini at a warm summer luau, or at least evoked a feeling of relaxed, easy living. Nicole startled, realizing that Waverly was speaking and she wasn’t paying attention.

“…your lunches today, and I am not calling out any one in particular, but I did see some good things and some bad things, so maybe we can discuss those. I mean, a lot of this material will be quite familiar to some of you,” -- Nicole would have sworn Waverly flicked a glance in her direction, accompanied by a slight grin -- “so let’s see if we can make it a little bit fun, okay?”

“You could let us go early, that’d be fun,” offered one of the firefighters, to the laughter of his comrades.

Waverly shot a cram it, buster look in his general direction but otherwise ignored him. “So on page four of your handout, you see a diagram about portion sizes…”

Oh god, it was hopeless. Nicole had never particularly enjoyed sitting in lectures, had always imagined herself as someone who learned best by doing, but here she was, stuck for the afternoon with a topic that couldn’t hold her attention. She had a belly full of food, and the temperature in the room was just a smidge too high, and she worried that she would start yawning. She did the only thing she could to keep herself awake: she focused on Waverly. The elegant line of her jaw, the way she curled her fingers as she tucked a stray bit of hair behind her ear, how her clear bright eyes swept the room. Nicole noticed that Waverly was wearing a bracelet made with seashells, cowries strung on a leather thong, which only reinforced the island image. I bet she looks good on a beach, thought Nicole, sliding into a daydream. Or even better, a boat. She imagined Waverly in a small skiff, no, maybe a windsurfing rig or an ocean kayak, no, a paddleboard! She’d look like a goddess on a stand-up paddleboard, proudly skimming the surface with the longpaddle in her hand. Nicole could see it all play out perfectly in her mind.

She is swimming, some distance off from the pristine white beach, long strokes pulling her steadily through saltwater. She is approaching the bright orange of the board bobbing in the gentle sway of the sea, approaching the slender beauty rising strong above it, clad in a bikini, a sarong tied loosely at her waist. Pull, pull, pull, she enjoys feeling the work of her muscles and the power that comes from her strong shoulders, and then she is finally close enough, treading water, close enough to hail. “Hey,” she says.

“Hey,” replies Waverly.

“Do you mind if I grab on?” She knows better than to hang on to the board without asking the paddler beforehand.

“Let me sit first,” says Waverly, “otherwise I’ll fall off.” She sits, graceful through the change of balance, and dangles both legs off one side.

She grabs onto the nose of the board, thankful for the tiny bit of rest, and breathes deep. “Nice out here, huh. You’re a ways out.”

“You know.” Waverly smiles. “I like to go far, far out in the ocean.”

She smiles in return, wide. “See anything good?”

Waverly tips her chin up and sighs happily. “Was snorkeling earlier, saw a few things. Some fish, a turtle.” She looks down curiously. “What are you looking for out here?”

“This,” she says easily as she moves hand-over-hand to slide down the board, and then her chin is at Waverly’s knees, and Waverly’s legs are parting, the sarong falling open to reveal strong, smooth thighs.

“Ohh,” Waverly breathes out, “oh yes.”

She is clinging to the board as they bob together on the sea, as she presses forward between Waverly’s legs. The salt of the ocean and the salt of Waverly are a heady, potent mix, making her mouth eager, and she lazily kicks her legs, keeping herself afloat enough to reach. Her fingers draw aside the swimwear, finding heat, and Waverly responds with a delicious arch of her back and a low, guttural moan.

Encouraged, she presses in strong. “Like this, baby?”

“Oh my god, yes,” gasps Waverly. “Just like that, oh god, Nic-”

“Isn’t that right, Nicole?” said Waverly, her eyebrow popped in question.

Her knee thunked painfully off the underside of the desk as Nicole jolted back into awareness. “I, um, what?” she stammered out stupidly as she felt heat flood her cheeks, her blush burning the tips of her ears.

Waverly smirked, obviously amused. “Are you with us there?”

Nicole took a deep breath, wondering if her wildly inappropriate thoughts were written all over her face, and whether or not Waverly could read them there, as she desperately tried to pull herself together. She coughed, gaining a sliver of time. “Sorry. I’m really sorry,” she finally said, feeling a little more in control. “I, uh, I missed the question.” At the patter of laughter that came from the room, she shrugged, and offered Waverly her best please-forgive-me wan smile.

“I was just saying,” Waverly’s hazel eyes made a circuit around the classroom before settling on Nicole once more, “that it’s important to pay attention when you’re choosing seafood to eat, not just for your own health, but for the planet, too.”

The memory swam up, and Nicole blurted out, “Bad fish.” She could see by the wide grin that crinkled Waverly’s cheeks that she’d nailed it, but she still didn’t understand what she’d gotten right. “You said ‘bad fish,’” Nicole continued, “but I don’t really know what you meant.”

“Mahi mahi is generally considered a bad fish because of unsustainable harvesting practices. The way they’re caught hurts the species and the ocean.” Waverly threw her hands up, a gesture of appeal, as she looked around the room again. “But once we find out that information, it’s easy to seek out another seafood to eat, one that is sustainably harvested or responsibly grown, as a replacement.” Waverly went on to recommend the app from SeafoodWatch.org as an easy way to find out which seafoods to avoid, which to be cautious about, and which were considered safe. “I’m not telling you that you should or should not eat fish, or which fish you should always eat, or never eat. I’m just asking that you be aware, and know that the choices you make matter, okay?”

*****

The class dragged on through the rest of the afternoon, the boredom mitigated by Waverly’s sunny smiles, at least. Nicole managed to keep a tighter leash on her wandering imagination. It wasn’t that she minded it any, and the swirled heat of her daydream was still a vague echo in her body, but whoa nellie, was she getting ahead of herself here.

See, she’d decided that this wellness instructor, this Waverly, was someone she really wanted to get to know better, and the proper thing would be to ask her out on a date. Nicole was sure, too, that she’d seen enough interest returned, so it wasn’t out of line in the least.

Her chance came as the class broke up and everyone scattered, exchanging casual goodbyes and see-you-laters, free for the rest of their day. Nicole, walking down the high school hallway, lengthened her stride to catch up to Waverly walking in front of her. “Hey,” she greeted.

“Hey,” replied Waverly, looking up into Nicole’s face.

“Thank you for teaching the class today,” said Nicole. She hooked her thumbs in her belt as they walked, unconscious habit, and they both slowed their paces a bit until they matched.

“Did you enjoy it?” asked Waverly, but casually. It didn’t sound like she was fishing for compliments.

Nicole paused. “Well. Parts of it I knew already,” she confessed, “but parts of it were mighty interesting.”

Waverly’s giggle made Nicole think she didn’t need to be told what parts Nicole had found so interesting. “Well, that’s good,” she said cheerfully.

“And I was wonderin’,” Nicole dipped her chin as she spoke, feeling the nerves rattle through her once again, just being in Waverly’s presence. She steeled herself to her question, and plunged forward as they reached the parking lot, “And I am hoping this is okay to ask, but. Would you like to go out with me sometime?” They stopped and faced each other, and as Waverly’s open, smiling face invited her onward, she continued, “But maybe not seafood. Bad seafood on a date is kind of terrifying, right, so, maybe we could stick to cappuccinos or something?” She broke out her most dazzling smile, and felt her heart swell as she saw the gladness that flooded Waverly’s face.

“Yeah, Nicole. Yes. I’d really like that.”