I need to get out of this car.
It had been nearly seven hours - including an hour-long stop off at a roadside diner - and all Waverly could think about was how desperately she needed to be outside the car again.
Seven hours of near-constant exposure to Champ Hardy and his friends chanting, swearing, making innuendos, and yes, farting. Waverly had had Chrissy with her for moral support, but even that was not much of a buffer.
Boys are all terrible.
Apparently though, they were not sufficiently terrible to stop Waverly agreeing to a post-graduation vacation with them. Mostly, the lure had lain in the thought of getting out of Purgatory for a while. Waverly had never gone further than the big city, and she had caved to the temptation of just more than a month in the cheapest beach town within driving distance.
Even the thought of all that time listening to Steph Jones bitch, Carter Landry make dick jokes, and Champ Hardy try to flirt with her hadn’t put Waverly off in the end. Admittedly, it almost did sway her decision, but Chrissy had made a lot of strong points to the contrary.
Mostly, these had been along the lines of: ‘but you’re always saying you want to go on vacation’ and ‘I know how much you want to see a beach’ and ‘please don’t make me go on my own, it won’t be half as fun without you’ and ‘what if something truly epic might happen to you, except it doesn’t because you just stayed at home all summer?’
There were several counter-points Waverly could have given her friend, but her heart wasn’t entirely in it.
When Waverly had spoken about seeing the beach, she had sort of meant one that backed onto the ocean, and by ‘vacation’ she had kind of been hoping for a stretch of white sand in Mexico or Spain or the Maldives. Bora Bora maybe. She hadn’t meant that she wanted to stay in the same province and drive seven hours north with a group of people she could barely stand even when she had no choice but to socialise with them at school.
But she also knew that something, anything in fact, was vastly better than nothing, and at any rate she couldn’t afford Mexico or Spain or the Maldives anyway. Bora Bora was out for sure. Shorty was generous but he didn’t pay that much, and besides - Waverly was saving for college.
So it had been between staying at home all summer, or taking at least something of a break. Plus, Chrissy was right. Something epic might happen at the beach. Waverly privately thought it was very, very unlikely, but nothing would happen for sure if she simply stayed in Purgatory alone.
All the same, she was starting to question her own wisdom as their little three-car convoy finally pulled up at their planned destination. Carter’s driving had been bone-rattlingly terrible and Champ had not stopped dropping chat up lines since they set out that morning. Waverly had tried her best to sit in any car but his, but the others seemed to fill up miraculously quickly. She suspected Champ had engineered this on purpose, and vowed that, if needs be, she would simply slink off on her own for the next few weeks if it meant avoiding his flirting.
Waverly supposes she has made things worse for herself recently.
Since Champ had decided that he wanted to do a total one-eighty from what could arguably be called remorseless bullying to open flirting instead, both Waverly and Chrissy had found themselves invited to more and more social events throughout their time as seniors.
At first, they had turned the invites down, suspicious as they were that it was all a big joke, but in truth things had evened out for a lot of people by the time they were due to graduate. Waverly had gone from the freak kid with the dead father and the murder house to someone confident and friendly and genuinely well-liked. Chrissy had gone from the kid that no one could really invite anywhere on account of her dad making Sheriff when they were all thirteen, to much the same status as Waverly. Things often had a way of coming out in the wash by senior year; stress over exams and general future life plans were great social levellers and gradually most of their grade had started mingling on a more even footing.
There had been a party at Sonja’s house a week ago and, tired of hiding from Champ’s persistent presence as living, breathing, beer-guzzling shadow, Waverly had actually sat in a corner of the garden and let him talk - slur - at her for most of the night. She had thought her total lack of interest or reciprocity might show him that he was fighting a losing battle. Instead, the evening had only really served to create an enormous rod for her back, because everyone was now adamant that, since Champ and Waverly hadn’t been seen for half the night, the two of them must have hooked up. The truth of the matter is that, despite Champ’s best efforts, they never even kissed. Waverly just doesn’t like him like that.
Hell, she doesn’t even like him at all. He’s a bully at worst and just plain ignorant at best. Waverly would rather be alone than date him.
She had hoped that she could show him this, or that she could reason with him and demonstrate beyond any doubt that she just couldn’t move past all of the terrible things he had said and done during the rest of their time at school. She didn’t even truly believe that he had changed on any deep and meaningful level, she just thought he wanted something from her. It was obvious what he did want, but initially Waverly had thought she could handle it.
Only now, things were coasting towards being unbearable. Everyone except Chrissy seemed to want to pair her off with Champ - in the car, at the diner, via the group’s sleeping arrangements - and no one would listen to her protests.
So, as soon as the cars pull up at their final destination, Waverly all-but throws herself out of the backseat and as many paces away from Champ, Carter, and Billy Lee as she can without looking completely absurd.
The weather has already been swelteringly hot and, with August on the horizon, it is only threatening to get worse - or better, depending on how you looked at it. Perpetually cold as she is, Waverly is always glad of any rising temperatures and rarely has any sense of an upper limit on what might be deemed too hot.
They have pulled up in a circular clearing amidst a wooden copse, but the beach must be nearby because Waverly can smell it, a distinctive but ineffable combination of scorching sunlight, freshwater, and sand. Waverly has never experienced it before, but she can somehow identify it immediately.
Through a fairly democratic process, the entire group had more or less agreed that camping would not be their ideal form of accommodation. Waverly had no express desire to sleep in a hot tent and give herself a back ache for days on end; she had wanted to come here to relax. So instead they had found out about a small cluster of cheap cabins for rent, which would sleep up to four people each.
They still seemed pretty mercenary, almost à la summer camp, but Waverly was happy enough with the prospect of a bed and slightly less terrible toilets and showers. Plus, they were a group of ten, and she had fought hard - and won - for the two-person accommodation. She had no desire to share a sleeping space with anyone but Chrissy, much to Champ’s immense chagrin.
He seemed to honestly think that the two of them would hole up together and, well…
Waverly could think of nothing she wanted to do less. It actually kind of made her skin crawl.
They are met by an attendant who hands them their keys and rattles off a long list of ground rules, mostly around drinking, smoking, and other such activities. The group all nods along, but no one present really believes that they have any intention of following the rules.
“Right,” Billy says, clapping his hands together as if he really means business. “Dump our shit in our rooms and then beers out here, yeah?”
His suggestion is met with a few nods and even a couple of ironic little cheers.
Waverly, however, shakes her head. “I think I’m gonna scope out the beach. You guys do you though.”
There is a tote bag full of as-yet unread paperbacks calling to her from the trunk of her car, and she has no real desire to drink beer in this heat. She is enjoying the warmth, but not how she already feels pretty sweaty and dusty from the dry earth of the parking area. The best remedy is surely a swim in the lake.
There is a moment of hesitation as people consider this alternate suggestion until Chrissy is the first to nod.
“I’m actually kind of desperate to see the beach too. We can go on our own if you want, let you guys know what it’s like yeah?”
Waverly quietly hopes that it will be just the two of them, but she knows deep down that she will have a shadow for the duration of the trip.
Standing next to her, Champ nods too.
“Sure, beach. We can sneak some beers with us.”
Waverly crinkles her brow. “I don’t think…”
“It’ll be fine,” Champ protests before Waverly can speak, and even the way he interrupts her like that is grating. She suspects he is trying to both cajole and placate her, but it is really of little consequence to her. She does not feel particularly reassured by his blind conviction, but nor is she especially worried if the others get called out for drinking where they shouldn’t.
She shrugs and pulls a face. “Okay, whatever.”
Champ nudges her arm slightly and flashes what she assumes is meant to be a winning smile.
“C’mon, let’s live a little.”
Waverly privately questions what exactly about taking crappy, weak beers onto a beach in the searing afternoon sun can reasonably be defined as living a little but she does not want to prolong the conversation by asking any questions that aren’t absolutely essential.
Instead, she simply removes her stuff from the trunk of the car and rifles through it, pulling out a beach towel, bathing suit, and the first book she can find. The rest of her stuff gets flung into her cabin and the door locked behind it. She is far more interested in sunbathing than she is in unpacking, and as soon as Chrissy has sorted out her own things, they both beat a hasty path in the direction of the beach.
Champ, God bless him, follows hot on her heels, but the path is narrow and Chrissy was quicker, and the whole attempt on his part looks just a little silly. Waverly ignores him - she just wants to get to the beach.
The website for their accommodation had stated that the lake was only a few metres away and it had not lied. A few paces through a sparse cluster of trees and they reach the sand. Waverly pauses for a moment, dimly aware that even though her dreams had always hinged around seeing the ocean, this was still pretty close to everything she had imagined.
The sand, while not quite as white as the pictures on some of the websites and Tripadvisor reviews, is still a pale yellow even accounting for the tint in her sunglasses, and the water is a shade of bright blue that seems to invite the descriptors cheerful and alluring.
It is pretty busy both in and out the water, but Waverly cannot bring herself to mind. The air is full of chatter and laughter, and she already feels pretty blissed out here, even if she has not yet stepped onto the sand.
“Look, there,” Chrissy says, grabbing lightly at Waverly’s wrist and pointing with her other hand. “There’s a big spot where we’d all fit.”
By silent assent, they both beeline over for the space Chrissy had seen, Waverly not caring whether the others follow or not. The two girls are laying out their towels when the others catch them up, and Billy and Austen are already complaining about the location.
“Why did you have to choose a spot right by the lifeguards?”
“You don’t have to sit here,” Waverly points out sweetly, although she feels anything but. Austen whines and bitches almost as much as Steph does, which is probably why they keep hooking up so much; they’re a match made in heaven (or, in Waverly’s opinion, hell). “But good luck finding space anywhere else.”
“Here’s fine,” Champ says quickly, laying his towel out beside Waverly’s. He chances a glance at the pair of lifeguards sitting nearby and on instinct Waverly follows his gaze. She hadn’t taken any notice before now, but they are stationed pretty close by. There are two of them; they both look to be young, perhaps not that much older than Waverly, and she assumes they will not be bothered by the arrival of yet another crowd of sunseekers. There are already so many other people to keep track of.
Waverly is surprised then, to find find both of them watching the group set their towels and cool bags out on the sand. She glances first at the guy - dark eyes and hair, and even sat down he is pretty obviously tall and muscled - and then at the girl. Here, Waverly’s gaze lingers for a moment. She finds the female guard looking back with an odd, unreadable expression on her face. She is pretty and somehow manages to look effortlessly cool in her standard-issue bathing suit, a set of silver aviators balanced on her head. She is red-haired and pale, and Waverly wonders what compelled her to take a summer job that must surely send her through at least one bottle of sunscreen every day.
Waverly stares a moment, shocked and a little awkward when the lifeguard doesn’t look away either. They are interrupted only when the girl’s companion jabs her in the arm with one finger and says something in her ear. The girl schools her expression into one of deep disdain, elbowing her colleague hard in the ribs. Whatever he had said, it must have been a joke and it breaks the moment well enough. Waverly is half grateful for it, because she had been staring with absolutely no sense of why.
Shaking her head a little, she sits down in the middle of her towel and kicks her sandals off, watching as everyone else settles in for the duration too. Most of the group make a great show of stripping off shirts or shorts, and Waverly is just contemplating changing into her own swimsuit when, beside her, Champ pulls his t-shirt up and over his head in a rather gratuitous way that seems to take far too long.
Objectively, Waverly understands that he is hot in a purely aesthetic sense. Years of neglecting his education had not gone entirely to waste, because he seems to have skipped classes for the gym. He is easily the one who has trained the most, although Male Lifeguard manages to make him look pretty underwhelming. He has just started getting tattoos as well, and it does add to the visuals as far as Waverly in concerned. But Champ is also kind of a dick, so that more or less negates any of the decent aesthetics going on. More than that, the thought of being any more undressed in front of him than she already is in her tank top and cutoffs immediately sends a twist of anxiety into her belly.
She goes to settle down with her book but feels just as awkward in her current state of dress, so eventually opts to switch into her bikini top and leave her shorts on. She does not miss the look that Champ sends her and it sort of makes her teeth itch. Of all the boys in the world - hell, of all the people in the world (because she was already secretly aware that gender was not a prerequisite) - why did it have to be Champ Hardy?
She makes a concerted effort to get comfortable on her stomach and open her book, studiously looking anywhere but at Champ. She wants no part in anything that might give him the wrong idea.
Her disinterest only seems to spur him on, however, and Waverly can all but hear the cogs ticking in his brain because it is painfully obvious when he starts striving for her attention. He moves closer on their towels right as Waverly starts reading, and strikes up a few poor attempts at conversation to which Waverly responds with only a soft hum of agreement or a single-word answer.
Perhaps sensing that his master plan to woo Waverly at the beach might need some upgrading, Champ eventually suggests that they start up a frisbee game and receives mixed responses to the offer. The majority of the boys agree, and Sonja and Rach also stand up, but just less than half of the group declines. Waverly knows that this will not phase Champ, who will be just as happy trying to get Waverly to watch him play as he would have been had she decided to get involved with the game. This is an excuse to show off, and Waverly wants no part in it.
With a small sigh, she turns to the first page of her book.
A little mantra sets up in her head as she does. I will enjoy this vacation somehow. I will.
This is only the second time all afternoon that Dolls has spoken, and Nicole finds herself trying not to jump.
Genuinely nonplussed, she turns to her friend. “What?!”
Wearing the kind of shit-eating smirk that heralds nothing good whatsoever, Dolls tilts his head towards the group of seniors who had settled on the beach barely half an hour before.
“Looks like they’re setting up a for a game,” Dolls says unnecessarily. Nicole can see the frisbee that one of the boys - muscled, tattooed, generic-looking face - had plucked from one of the many bags they have brought with them. By now, Nicole can spot the first-timers anywhere. They have probably just graduated. This is her third summer working the lifeguard stand, but her first as a college student. She is no less desperate for money than in her senior years at high school, and although there are probably better-paying gigs out there, this one was pretty relaxed and it allowed her to spend all day outdoors, even if that was at the risk of severe sunburn. This is the first year that Dolls has worked here though - they have classes together and Nicole had dragged him along when he said that his usual summer job had let him down.
She narrows her eyes at her friend, momentarily forgetting that the effect is lost thanks to her sunglasses, which found their way from her crown to her nose after she realised that the new kids could actually see her watching them when they arrived.
“What’s your point?”
Dolls grins again. “Looks like the one that’s got you all distracted won’t be joining in. I’ll take a moment of silence for you.”
“You know,” Nicole begins, affecting a put-upon sigh, “you think you’re cute but you’re not.”
Dolls snorts. “Oh please. I know I’m cute.”
Dolls had already decided that Nicole had spent too long looking across at the group; of course the asshole had noticed when something - or rather someone - had caught her eye. It was impossible to avoid really. The girl had long brown hair, left wavy as though she had already been swimming and not just arrived here. (Nicole already feels fairly certain that she would have noticed this girl around before). She is wearing a sweet little crochet-style tank top that looks almost deliberately like she’s thrifted it from its former flower-power-child owner, but it is deliberately too short and even from a small distance Nicole can spot the definition on the girl’s belly.
It doesn’t get any better when the girl switches her bra out for a bikini using the armhole of her top, and it is worse still when she loses the shirt altogether. She keeps her painfully short cutoffs on however, which is probably for the best all round.
The new girl is pretty in an unassuming way, and even Nicole can tell that she is not at ease yet here. All the same, Nicole cannot stop her gaze from darting over occasionally, even when the other girl produces a book from her bag and seems content to do little more than lay down and read. Nicole is glad of the reflective surface on her glasses, but would not put it past Dolls to sense the direction of her gaze anyway.
He had a quiet but very assured air about him that seemed to intimidate most of the classmates and irritate the rest, but Nicole had always liked Dolls. Yes, he can be a bit of an ass in moments like this, but surely that is what friends are for. Yes, he has his moments of arrogance but he truly does have a heart of gold and Nicole genuinely likes his company. She just wasn’t entirely convinced that he wasn’t completely omniscient because his knack for just knowing things was a little unsettling sometimes.
With little more to say, they fall back into silence and, despite Dolls’ comment, they both find themselves watching the frisbee game unfold a few feet away.
It immediately becomes obvious that the guys are trying to impress the girls, and it is all a bit stereotypical and tragic as far as Nicole is concerned. She checks the cute girl’s line of sight and finds her staring resolutely at her book, despite Generic Face’s best attempts to the contrary.
It is obvious that the girl is not reading because she forgets to turn her page, and Nicole wonders whether she herself is overthinking things too much, or whether the cute girl really is uncomfortable there amongst her companions.
Dolls nudges her. “Not to interrupt your mooning but we got a couple of kids heading out too deep over there.”
He points and Nicole quickly spots some kids bobbing about in a flimsy blow-up boat.
“Firstly, I resent you calling my observation duties mooning. I am a consummate professional. Secondly, you spotted them, you can have them dude.”
“It’s only observation duties if you’re scoping out the whole beach. You haven’t looked around in ages. Plus, I got the last dumb kids. It’s your turn - it’ll do you good, stop you being a perv.”
Not for the first time today, Nicole elbows him in the ribs. “I am not being a perv.”
All the same, she hops down onto the sand with a sigh and starts jogging towards the water, flipping Dolls the bird over her shoulder as she goes.
All the noise and theatrics coming from Champ’s frisbee game kind of make it hard for Waverly to concentrate on her book. She had packed a decent mix of history books and trashy romance novels, but even the light-hearted content of her stereotypical summer love story is not distracting enough. She can sense the way Champ hovers nearby, can see out of the corner of her eye that he is doing enough stupid trickshots to attract half the beach’s attention, but she won’t give him the satisfaction of looking up.
She has told him more than once that nothing is going to happen, now she half-believes he is just trying to wear her down.
Although it is mostly annoying and uncomfortable, and although it sucks that everyone just seems to be waiting for her to say yes to him, Waverly does also derive a small amount of satisfaction out of knowing that her almost standoffish disinterest is probably only riling him up.
Champ has never really been told ‘no’ in his life, and she is almost gleeful at the idea that she is bothering him as much as he is bothering her. It is all the semblance control that she can really scrabble back for herself in this situation.
Eventually, the game devolves a little, and although they keep playing someone also opens some beers. Waverly declines an offer of one from Steph, right as a shadow crosses her page, the same one she has been trying to read for what now feels like hours.
She is expecting Champ again, always hovering nearby, when an unknown voice says,
“You guys do know you can’t drink these here, right?”
Waverly glances up so fast her neck pops, and finds herself staring at the female lifeguard, obviously on her way back up to her station from the lake, if the water drifting down her legs is anything to go by. Her costume is only wet up to the slim line of her hips, suggesting she had probably only waded in a short way to sort out whatever misdemeanour or crisis had passed Waverly by entirely.
The lifeguard’s position blocks out a lot of Waverly’s sun, but the perspective of the rays shining out from behind her is almost ethereal. Their eyes meet briefly, and Waverly feels an odd blush creep over her cheeks in spite of her momentary reprieve from the sunshine.
Waverly immediately scrambles to sit up, feeling abashed at being told off even though she is one of the few not drinking.
“Oh, okay, sorry we’ll - “ Waverly begins but breaks off when she sees a playful smile on the lifeguard’s face.
“You’re fine,” she says breezily. “The others need to stop though.”
This wins a few groans from the frisbee game behind them, and Billy even ventures to ask, in a petulant, embarrassing tone, why they can’t drink their beers here.
“From my experience, beer and the lake don’t really mix,” the lifeguard says, unperturbed by the dim hostility expressed by the rest of the group. “And while I’m the one on duty, I say no getting drunk on the beach.”
“So what, once you’re not here it’s fine?” This from Champ, who has an odd and somewhat suspicious look on his face. Waverly can see him taking in the sight of the lifeguard; of her strong shoulders and toned legs, water still dripping down to her bare toes even as the sun dries her costume remarkably quickly. She is undeniably hot (meteorological conditions notwithstanding), so trust Champ to notice immediately. Watching him look at someone else like that makes Waverly’s temper flare; she is sick of seeing the guys here treat women so poorly. She feels weirdly defensive of the girl in front of her, and it must show on her face in some way because she sees the precise moment that Champ notices her expression. Whatever the appearance of it, he reads it wrongly, because she once again hears the cogs grinding slowly in his brain.
She cannot say how, but it is obvious to Waverly what Champ is thinking. It becomes more obvious still when he slips on what he thinks is his most charming grin and turns it to the lifeguard. He thinks Waverly is jealous. He wants to try and play hard to get.
Christ, he really is an idiot.
“Once I’m not here, I can’t stop you,” the guard answers, either not noticing the shift in Champ’s demeanour or not especially caring. “But I don’t get paid enough to drag your sorry, drunk ass out of the water, so cut the beers out now. I’m not kidding.”
Ignoring the order entirely, Champ instead asks, “promise it’ll be you and not your friend up there who’ll come and get me if I drift out to sea?”
“It’s a lake,” Waverly points out icily, before mentally kicking herself. She is only reinforcing what Champ misguidedly thinks. He looks far too self-satisfied, but Waverly quickly loses interest when the lifeguard turns back to her and flashes another smile.
“What the lady said,” she replies before giving Champ a disapproving once-over. “And I can’t guarantee either of us will rush out to get you. We play three rounds of paper, scissors, stone for the drunk ones.”
It is obvious she is joking, but Waverly hears the sense in what the lifeguard is saying. She isn’t about to get banned off the beach on her first day because her classmates are idiots.
“Guys, just put the beers down already.”
Everyone grumbles, and Austen even calls her a traitor, but eventually each of them carefully stands their open bottles in the coolbox, looking concerned at the possibility of wasted beer if any of them falls over.
“Plus, it really, really shouldn’t need saying,” the lifeguard adds as she turns to leave, “but no glass bottles here either. You can drink as much as you want at your campsite.” She shakes her head to herself and makes to leave with one final smile in Waverly’s direction.
Unsure of what compels her to do so, Waverly calls after the other woman.
“Is there somewhere around here we can get other kinds of drinks?”
The lifeguard pauses and turns back around.
“There’s a couple of stands a little way over there,” the woman points to their left. “You can get like water or sodas, as well as ice cream and hot dogs.”
She watches as Waverly struggles to see through the throngs of people, and says,
“I can show you, if you want,” right as Champ asks,
“Maybe you could walk us there.”
Waverly watches as a little flicker of indiscernible emotion passes over the lifeguard’s face. She wants to kick Champ for this new onslaught. It is such a stupid idea to try and make her jealous, and there is something incredibly crass and insensitive in using a woman they have just met to enact such a plan.
The only relief, Waverly supposes, is that the lifeguard does not look remotely bothered by Champ.
“Sure, I could use a coke anyway,” she says eventually, before fixing Waverly with a look. “You wanna come too?”
Waverly hops to her feet without really considering her answer any further.
The lifeguard takes them on a detour via her seat. She and her partner have a sort of raised pseudo-stand, but nothing anywhere near as official-looking as some of the things Waverly has seen in the movies. The red costume seems to be universal, however, and it really does contrast rather wonderfully with the woman's pale skin.
By the time Waverly has come to stand near the lifeguard, she works out just how much taller the other woman is. Her legs are long and slim, and seem to go on endlessly, making Waverly feel rather short indeed. Even so, the lifeguard still has to call up to her partner on their slightly elevated station.
“Dolls! The new kids need to know where to buy water. You okay if I show them real quick?”
Waverly watches as the man levels a solemn stare at the three of them.
“That’s very nice of you,” he says evenly, but there is something in his expression that suggests there is an undertone to the conversation. Without waiting for the woman to speak, he turns to Waverly and says, “she likes doing her civic duty, this one.”
“Do you want a coke or not, idiot?” the woman demands, playing at being annoyed and impatient. The two of them clearly have a good rapport.
“What was that?” the woman calls up. “Please? Thank you. Yes of course. Oh, you’re welcome.”
The man rolls his eyes but says nothing more, just goes back to surveying the beach.
“Dolls is an asshole, I’m the much more popular one here,” the lifeguard says, loud enough for her friend to hear. He remains stoic and does not react, so the woman collects some change from her rucksack and leads Champ and Waverly off across the beach.
“He’s called Dolls?” Champ asks. He strides close to the lifeguard but destroys any chance of it appearing casual by looking over his shoulder every so often to gauge Waverly’s reaction to his behaviour.
“It’s his surname. A lot of us call each other by our last names anyway, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone use his first name.”
“A lot of the lifeguards?” Waverly asks, and the woman turns quickly to look at her. Their eyes meet for what must only be the fifth time, but Waverly feels her breath catch in her throat a little.
“Ah, no. Me and Dolls are at college together. Law enforcement, first year - just finished. Hence the formalities.”
“You’re gonna be a cop? That’s cool. My dad was a cop,” Waverly says in lieu of anything better to say. She had half-expected Champ to make some kind of joke about women being cops, and is as keen to keep him from talking (he will only embarrass Waverly by association) as she is to keep speaking with the lifeguard. She seems nice.
“Except that didn’t work out so well,” Champ points out, and then rather quickly blanches at the look Waverly sends him in response. “What? Too soon? Over ten years.”
"Just cut it out Champ,” Waverly mutters darkly. This guy somehow expects her to suddenly and miraculously fall for him. Jeez.
“So you ask about Dolls but they call you Champ, huh?” the lifeguard asks, and it takes Waverly a minute to realise that the other woman has almost certainly changed the subject on purpose. She is unspeakably grateful for it.
“It’s for all the rodeos I do,” Champ says, puffing out his chest a little and speaking in a way that Waverly assumes is supposed to sound impressive. He forgets that outside of their rural community, being into rodeos is probably not that cool. Seemingly as an afterthought he adds, “I never lose.”
“Rodeos,” the lifeguard repeats, raising her eyebrows and doing a credible job of looking mildly impressed. Immediately Waverly wonders whether she is being sincere or not. “Small town kids?”
Yet again, the other woman returns her gaze to Waverly and seems to direct her questions to her alone, as if Champ is not there at all.
“A little town a few hours out,” Waverly supplies. “It’s called Purgatory, no one’s ever heard of it.”
“And it’s small?” the woman asks, sounding more interested now.
Waverly nods quickly. “Very small.”
“Out in the Rockies by any chance?”
“Not far off.”
“Cool. I’ll have to Google it later,” the woman concludes, sounding genuine. At Waverly’s disbelieving look she adds, “no, for real! I like rock climbing.”
“Oh, me too!” Champ says, and Waverly is forced to do a double-take. Champ gets vertigo going up a few flights of stairs.
“Funny, I’ve never known you to do that,” she says quickly, before reminding herself that she is doing a terrible job at convincing him she is not jealous. She is coming across as standoffish whenever he speaks to the lifeguard and it is probably giving him no end of satisfaction, but really. Champ is so full of bullshit that she cannot always contain herself.
Ignoring this exchange, but looking faintly amused by it nonetheless, the lifeguard keeps her attention on Waverly.
“So they call him Champ. What about you? Any hobby-specific nicknames I should know about?”
“Oh, I’m Waverly,” she answers, feeling oddly shy. “No other names, just Waverly.”
“That’s a pretty name,” the lifeguard says boldly, her eyes twinkling with something confident and playful that Waverly cannot quite parse out. The woman holds her hand out. “Nicole.”
Feeling oddly self-conscious when their warm palms touch, Waverly shakes hands with Nicole.
By the time they finish their introduction, they have found the refreshment stands.
They seem to be pretty rudimentary and in rather short supply if the number of customers lined up is any indication, but it would seem that other beach workers get perks, because Nicole guides them away from the back of the line with a gentle hand at Waverly’s elbow.
The touch seems to tingle on Waverly’s skin, and for the first time something like understanding starts to click into place. Waverly had known that Champ's behaviour did not make her jealous, but it irked her nonetheless, and it was taking some consideration to work out why.
“My friend will hook us up, don’t worry. What are you guys getting?”
Champ and Waverly place their orders with Nicole who passes them on via hand gestures and the exaggerated mouthing of words to a pretty, dark-haired girl at the drinks stand. She seems to be handling the crowds well, her long ponytail and large hoop earrings bobbing in motion as she moves about handing out cans of soda and bottles of water with ease.
She slides two cokes and two waters to the end of the counter and wags a mock-stern finger in Nicole’s direction.
“Exact change only, I know what you lifeguards are like.”
Collecting cash from Waverly and Champ, Nicole puts down a few notes and coins before picking up their drinks. As she hands them out she says,
“Rosita likes everyone to thinks she’s mean and scary, but she’s a softie really.”
“Hey!” the woman called Rosita barks, pointing an admonishing finger at Nicole. “Don’t go spreading those kinds of rumours or I’ll lose my other job and you know what happens then. We all suffer!”
“She does the soft drinks here by day, but bartends in town by night,” Nicole clarifies. She watches calmly for a moment as Waverly throws her a questioning look.
“But how would that affect y - ”
“There’s not a lot of places to buy booze here,” Nicole adds smoothly, not missing a beat.
Waverly lets her mouth drop slightly in an affected look of shock. “And I thought you were gonna be a cop.”
“Sure,” Nicole says with a shrug, indicating that they should move out of the way of the drinks stall. “But I’ll have you know I’m not a total party pooper.”
She waves at Rosita and starts on her way back to her station. Automatically, Waverly follows.
“So, there are good spots to party around here?” Champ asks from Nicole’s other side, and Waverly has to stop herself from jumping. She had completely forgotten he was there.
“I mean, it is what it is," Nicole states ambiguously, voice a little more bland and disinterested than last time. “Most of us summer workers hang out in the town, or at the campsite. Where are you guys at?”
As ever, she directs the question to Waverly, but this time, Champ jumps in to explain. Quickly enough, Nicole twigs onto the location of the group’s home for the next few weeks, although this place is pretty tiny so it cannot have taken much working out.
“Not campers then huh?” she asks as they make it back to Dolls. Nicole deftly tosses one bottle of coke up to him and opens her own to take a sip. “I quite like it myself.”
“Yeah, me too. But some of the girls didn’t want to,” Champ says quickly, leaning against the elevated lifeguard chairs in what Waverly assumes is meant to be an alluring posture. He smiles winningly at Nicole, but the effect is lost entirely when he glances quickly at Waverly again to see whether she might take the bait.
She simply bites her cheeks against a snippy retort about how Champ had been one of the ones to vote against camping. Probably there wouldn’t have been enough space in the tent for all his hair gel. Waverly desperately wants to wipe the smile off his face, but she cannot think of a way to do so that would not leave him thinking that his asinine plan to flirt with another girl was working. More than that, she wants to tell him to leave Nicole alone. She seems nice and she doesn’t deserve Champ doing this just to make Waverly jealous.
It is not that Waverly thinks Nicole would be particularly heartbroken to find out that she was not really the object of Champ’s affections, it is more that it is just an objectively shitty thing for him to do, whichever way you sliced it.
There is a pause when Nicole does not bother to respond, and just as it threatens to grow awkward the frisbee the rest of the group is still using flies towards them. Champ stoops down to pick it up, making a great play at exaggerating his movements to show off. Perhaps sensing his next opportunity, he bids goodbye and jogs back to the game, managing to stumble in the loose sand as he goes.
Nicole snorts as she watches him, looking completely unimpressed. It makes Waverly feel another odd flash of relief that Nicole does not seem remotely perturbed by Champ’s attention. It would have been much worse to watch his strange, sad plan pan out if he had picked a girl who might actually reciprocate, but Nicole seems far too collected and sensible for that.
As it is, she has a job to get back to, and Waverly is reminded of that as Nicole starts to hoist herself back into her chair.
“Sorry,” she says with a winning, playful grin that does not look especially contrite. “Duty calls. Or whatever.”
“No worries,” Waverly says, realising too late that she is at eye-level with Nicole’s bare legs. She has very impressive, very visible definition in her thighs; strong muscles showing themselves at the backs of her legs. Waverly swallows.
Nicole pauses, halfway up to her seat when she leans back down, and Waverly is almost certain that the way she does so is deliberate. It brings their faces far too close together, and Nicole even drops her voice when she says,
“About those parties, we usually let some of the vacationers come hang out. We’ll be in town the next few nights, and at the campsite nearest your place at the end of the week.” Nicole pauses, and her face splits into that easy, confident grin again. She is close and the sight of that smile and the way her tongue starts to poke playfully between her teeth makes Waverly’s stomach swoop.
“You should come,” Nicole says, voice oddly serious when compared to her expression. Then, however, she adds, “you can bring your boyfriend too if you want,” and it is obvious that she is teasing.
“Oh. No, he’s uh,” Waverly falters. Even if Nicole is very evidently joking, Waverly is adamant that the other woman should not think she is in any way interested in Champ. “He’s definitely not my boyfriend. I don’t have a boyfriend.”
“No?” Nicole says, sounding amused and not at all surprised. She bites lightly at the tip of her tongue for a moment before starting again on her ascent. At the last minute she glances over her shoulder and says simply, “that’s good.”
“You’re actually insufferable, you know that right?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Nicole says innocently as she settles into her seat. She watches as the cute girl, Waverly, retreats back to her beach towel and settles again on her front to read her book. Nicole had thought from the off that the other woman looked far too smart to be interested in the big dumb guy running about like an idiot, but it was good to have definitive confirmation.
Nicole wonders idly how long it will take before the Champ guy realises he is barking up the wrong tree entirely by using her to win Waverly over. After all, it is obvious to everyone what he is doing.
“Yes you do,” Dolls says back with a knowing smile, his eyes seemingly pointed out towards the water. Just in case there is any doubt, however, he adds quietly, “flirt.”
Behind her glasses, Nicole rolls her eyes. “I’m not that bad.”
Dolls snorts exaggeratedly, and evidently deems this response enough.
“You’re just jealous I flirt with more girls than you,” Nicole teases.
"Don’t flatter yourself, Haught.”
Nicole lets the comment slide, and instead glances back down at Waverly.
It is kind of hard to get a read on the girl. Her friends all have straight written on their foreheads, and in theory Waverly maybe should too. But there is something there - at least, Nicole hopes there is. For all she and Dolls joke, she rarely tries for more than a flirtatious comment here or there, and in all her time working this gig she has hooked up a grand total of twice.
But Waverly was something else. She was pretty and sweet and there was just something about her. Nicole wanted to know more, that much was for sure.
For the next few days, Waverly ensures that she sets up a station at the beach, right by Nicole and Dolls’ seats.
It takes her the rest of that first day at the beach, stealing what she hopes are furtive glances up at Nicole to really be sure.
After all, she had known she was bi for a long time (the physiological reaction to half the shitty romcoms she watched at the age of fifteen was evidence enough of that) but she had never actually had a crush on a woman before. Not in this sense. Not on a real one, on one sat right in front of her.
But it makes sense. It makes sense now because Champ’s comments really had riled Waverly, not because she wanted him but because she wanted him to leave Nicole alone. Because she wanted Nicole instead.
And of course she doesn’t have an actual crush on Nicole. They’ve only just met - they don’t know each other. But Nicole is attractive - beyond attractive, actually - and she is outgoing and charming, and her energy is strangely magnetic. Plus it kind of felt like she was flirting, and Waverly cannot say she has any problems whatsoever with that.
She had liked the feeling of Nicole’s interest, of her attention lingering on Waverly the way it seemed to. Almost immediately, she wanted to experience it again. And again. And again.
It doesn’t take a particularly creative leap to get there. Waverly simply lays her towel out again the next day in the very same spot as before, slowly and deliberately covers herself in sunscreen, and stretches out on her back to try and sunbathe. And if she knows that Nicole looks out for her occasionally, it is because she is looking at Nicole too.
But of course, she is not the only one looking at Nicole. Champ is too. Once all the puzzle pieces have clicked into place, however, it doesn’t bother Waverly quite so much. It is much easier for her to simply ignore Champ as he makes at least a daily call to the lifeguards, striking up a conversation that Waverly usually cannot hear. He does not stop checking for Waverly’s reaction, and seems completely impervious to Nicole’s utter disinterest in him. Rather, it is Waverly’s impassive demeanour that seems to rattle him more.
She is not giving in to him, and that is that. His persistence even starts to bother her less and less as Waverly finds that her own interests are increasingly being diverted.
Perhaps thankfully, there are a lot of people on the beach, and a good deal of them do not seem capable of swimming or bobbing about on inflatables in the designated areas. This means that Nicole certainly earns her paycheck.
Nicole and Dolls alternate their trips into the water, but Waverly still ends up witnessing Nicole at work on many occasions per day. The only real drawback to such a vista is that it means that, since that first day, they have scarcely interacted at all.
They share the odd wave or smile, and on Waverly’s second morning on vacation they had shouted ‘hi’ to each other as Waverly set up her station on the sand, but there is not time for much more than that. Nicole is usually actively lifeguarding, and Waverly still feels as though she has to fulfil some social obligations regarding the rest of her group - most especially when it comes to Chrissy.
So she lets Chrissy lead their activities a bit, although her friend is mostly happy to alternate between chatting as they sunbathe, cooling off in the water, or seeking out the shade of the small wooded area by their cabins.
For the first five nights, the group spends the evenings sitting and drinking in the clearing outside their accommodation, or on one occasion they migrate to a cabin due to an unexpected summer storm.
Waverly broaches the subject of them checking out the bars in the town, but it is not quite within comfortable walking distance and the shuttle buses stop running pretty early. No one wants to be the designated driver, so she gets outvoted every time. Not wanting anyone to ask why she is so keen on the idea, she lets it drop.
By the time Saturday arrives, however, Waverly is more optimistic about seeing Nicole again. She had said on that first day that she would be near the cabins and the beach during the weekend, and Waverly does not especially care if the rest of the group does not want to join her tonight. She is close enough to walk, and could use a break from everyone except Chrissy anyway.
Her only real misgiving is whether or not she is still invited out with Nicole and her friends. Any doubt on this matter, however, is wiped away in the early afternoon, when Waverly has retreated to the water for a swim.
She has long since given up on worrying about being in her bikini around Champ and the other boys. Yes, they are all really obvious and disgusting, but Waverly is too hot out here to care.
Most of the others had ventured off to buy food from the hot dog stand, but Waverly’s options as a vegan here are as limited as she had imagined. She had planned by packing accordingly, and was free to take a swim by herself while the others went to line up for lunch.
She is paddling about aimlessly, sculling her arms at her sides, when a voice from behind her sends her heart into her throat.
“Careful! Much closer to those flags and you’ll have a lifeguard coming to tell you off.”
Waverly just about manages not to jump in surprise, propelling herself round one hundred and eighty degrees to find Nicole treading water a few feet away and wearing yet another smile. She always seems to be smiling, and it has sort of started making Waverly’s chest constrict.
Waverly glances down for a moment then looks back at Nicole again, feeling coy.
“I’ll be sure to keep that in mind.”
“Good, because I’ve just come from scaring a few kids back into the right areas. I’m very scary when I want to be.”
Privately, Waverly half-thinks that Nicole has the air of an earnest, overeager labrador puppy. In fact, she isn’t all that sure Nicole has a scary bone in her body. But then again, if she’s going to be a cop, there must be quite the force of nature bubbling away beneath the surface.
On second thoughts, Waverly thinks that maybe she can imagine that to be the case. Still, this does not stop her wanting to tease Nicole.
“Sure, I believe you,” Waverly says, sounding deliberately sceptical.
“And yet you sound so insincere,” Nicole teases, chuckling slightly to herself.
“What?” Waverly cries, playing at innocent but losing her battle against a grin that pulls on the corners of her mouth. “I said I believe you!”
Nicole laughs a little more and they both drift about in the water, bobbing closer together and then a little further apart again in the current.
Nicole simultaneously quirks her brow and bites at her bottom lip, and Waverly would swear she’s doing this on purpose.
“I guess I’ll let the cheek slide if you tell me you’re actually gonna hang out with us tonight,” Nicole murmurs eventually, eyes roving slowly over Waverly’s face. It should make her uncomfortable but it really, really doesn’t. Nicole has a way about her - a gentle, warm way of making Waverly feel appreciated, admired even, without the attention being too much. Champ could take a hundred notes off her.
Waverly feels her stomach twist a bit.
“Hey! I’ve been trying to get them into town but no one would drive. I didn’t think I should walk it on my own.”
“Smart girl,” Nicole says approvingly, nodding her head slightly. “But for the record I’m happy to walk people home. Well,” she amends quickly. “Some people. You not-boyfriend is on his own.”
Waverly laughs at this, and her reaction draws another smile from Nicole. “I’m glad you’ve remembered."
"Well, I couldn't possibly forget a detail like that," Nicole points out, before raising an eyebrow and adding, "plus he's really quite, uh, something ."
"Yeah," Waverly says quickly, feeling a little hot pulse of embarrassment beneath her skin. It dissipates quickly, but even the ghost of it is unpleasant enough. She does not want Nicole to judge their group based on the crappy impression Champ has no doubt made. "I'm sorry about him. He doesn't know when to quit."
At this, Nicole's brow crinkles and her demeanour changes.
She grows serious suddenly and says quietly, "you have no reason to apologise for him. You know that right?“
“Yeah," Waverly says again, voice just as hushed as Nicole's,"but you know," she adds ineloquently, with a little shrug of her shoulders that sends water rippling out in a circle around her. She hopes Nicole does know.
"Hey, I get it," Nicole replies kindly, but she is still solemn and thoughtful. But you're fine, I promise."
"I, however," Nicole goes on, letting the atmosphere around them shift into something a little less serious, "need to get back to work or I won't be fine, because Dolls will give me grief for slacking. Are you…?"
She lets the question drift easily into silence, but the implication is enough. Waverly had intended to stay in the lake a little while longer, but has no qualms with extending her time with Nicole.
"Sure, I'll be shrivelling into a prune if not."
Nicole pulls one hand out of the water and waggles her fingers. “Ah. Occupational hazard.”
Waverly chuckles and they both swim towards the shallows, eventually standing and walking towards the dry sand.
They walk in a silence which is almost comfortable until Waverly, striking around for something to say, asks, “so, tonight?”
“Oh, right yeah. We go into town on the nights Rosita is working to keep her company, but we’re at our campsite tonight since she’s not at the bar. I have the day off tomorrow so I actually get to be involved a bit. You want me to text you directions or something?”
Waverly pauses for a moment, impressed at how effortlessly Nicole had weaved this into their conversation. Inwardly, she leaps at the opportunity, but keeps herself as laid back as she can manage.
“Sure, you got a good memory or…?”
“Pretty good,” Nicole says, smiling as they reach Waverly and her friends’ towels and bags. “But let’s not take the risk yeah? Don’t want to forget your number.”
She darts smoothly away to her own chair and bag and pulls her phone out of her rucksack before returning and letting Waverly input her own details as a new contact.
“Oh, what about you?” she asks as Nicole takes her phone back and looks ready to depart.
“I’ll text you,” Nicole says confidently, flashing a grin over her shoulder.
The sight raises goosebumps on Waverly’s arms, completely at odds with the blue sky and scorching sun.
For the first time all week, Waverly considers that she might have it a little worse for Nicole than she initially thought.
“You really are one smooth bastard huh?” Dolls says, seemingly never tiring of providing a running commentary on Nicole’s best efforts to win over Waverly.
Over the past week, Nicole had been subjected to a veritable routine of torture as she desperately tried not to watch Waverly turn up at the beach every morning, slowly undress and cover herself in sunscreen, and lay out to sunbathe her days away.
Either this girl was doing it all on purpose, or she was painfully lacking in self awareness.
Nicole suspected the former. She also thought she deserved this small win in getting Waverly’s number. After all, the last few days had been an exercise in self-restraint. She had not wanted to push too hard or too far with Waverly - it was obvious that Champ Generic Face did enough of that. Waverly was sweet and she didn’t deserve it, not from Champ or Nicole.
In fact, Nicole had decided by day two of Waverly’s vacation that if the other woman wanted to flirt then she would, and she had done her best to leave it at that.
Admittedly, having Waverly not turn up in town at all so far had been something of a kick in the teeth, but Nicole was at peace with it. Well, mostly. Indeed, she had fully intended to pass Waverly by in the lake entirely just now, but it is like some string had pulled her across the water. She figured that if Waverly didn’t want to speak, she would cut the conversation clean just as she had been doing relentlessly to poor old Champ. Nicole had not been subtle in the water, and she had not been subtle about winning Waverly’s number over.
The other girl’s reciprocity in both of these situations, as well as her interest in making plans for later, had cheered Nicole up no end. In fact, she was sufficiently bolstered that she manages to ignore Dolls’ comment entirely.
For once, he takes the bait and, following Nicole’s silence, prompts, “you get her number for any special occasion or what?”
“I think she and her friends might come by the campsite tonight,” Nicole says, resolutely keeping her eyes fixed on the water in front of them. She has no idea if anyone else but Waverly will turn up tonight, and she does not especially care, although the one girl that Waverly seems able to bear does actually appear to be pretty nice too.
“Oh,” Dolls says, trying and failing to sound disinterested. “That’s a turn up for the books then.”
“If you say so dude.”
Dolls laughs to himself at Nicole’s feigned nonchalance. “Oh, I do ‘ dude’ . I definitely do.”.
Waverly had done her best to mention her plans for the evening casually enough. She had thought she made it sound sufficiently spontaneous and completely unremarkable, but as soon as the rest of the group hear about the possibility of a gathering elsewhere, it immediately opens up the whole issue for debate.
But Waverly isn’t interested in debate, she just wants to slope off on her own to meet up with Nicole.
She is hardly especially well-versed in this sort of thing - she had only had a few trifling relationships in high school, and never with a girl - but she is pretty sure she knows where this is all heading. Or, at least she knows to a degree.
She is sure that, unless her ability to read between the lines is severely compromised, Nicole has been flirting. Certainly, Waverly herself has been flirting back.
Even without an exceptional amount of experience, she knows how this goes. More than that, she wants it to go in that direction. She just needs to escape her friends.
At the very least, she needs them to stop debating on whether they’d like a change of scenery for their nightly drinking experience. And as Billy debates the merits of a new setting and Steph only has a care for the drawbacks, Waverly finds she wants to figuratively bang their heads together. Or maybe she literally wants to resort to mild physical aggression. This is a yes or no question, and Waverly just wants to leave.
Nicole had texted Waverly some very rough directions to the campsite she uses and it can only be about ten minutes away on foot. Surely it cannot be this hard a decision for her school friends.
Of course, Champ is already geared up and waiting to go. Because of course he is. Eventually, the rest of the group decides to follow suit, because apparently the fear of missing out on something good happening is more of a draw than being able to simply stay put and drink within convenient distance of their own accommodation and bathrooms.
Champ immediately trots along behind Waverly as she leads the way through the sparse copse, doing his level best to make conversation.
“So the lifeguards invited you?” he asks. It is the fourth time he has posed the same question.
“Just Nicole,” Waverly amends without much thought. “I haven’t spoken to Dolls much. He seems okay though.”
“Yeah,” Champ agrees, eyeing Waverly carefully. She tries to work out his line of thought. He has been no less persistent this week, he has simply resolutely stuck to his plan that he can flirt with another girl and eventually win Waverly over. Even if Waverly would ever be swayed to him, his tactic of using someone else would have confirmed to Waverly that her initial instincts were on point and that Champ was not a good guy. Now, though, she is trying to work out if Champ thinks she might be interested in Dolls, or if he has worked out where her attention really lies.
Champ has never been especially bright, but he has really been outdoing himself this week. As it is, Waverly has been doing her best to deny him even the merest opportunity to stick to her like a limpet and the walk to Nicole’s campsite is no exception. It is not long enough for him to push too far, and as soon as they arrive Waverly is on the lookout for anyone she recognises.
The site itself is quite small, and seems to be populated mostly by people Waverly has come to recognise as summer workers; almost immediately she spots Rosita from the drinks stand, lounging by a steadily growing campfire alongside a couple of girls from the other stands and lifeguard stations.
The light is just fading fully now, and as such it makes Waverly’s search harder in the unfamiliar environment. The tents all seem to be pitched a safe distance from the makeshift firepit, which is surrounded rather appropriately (if not entirely safely, Waverly supposes) by some old felled logs that were doubling for many as benches. The high temperatures had reversed all effects of the earlier storm, and the wood must be bone dry. Waverly makes a mental note to at least be somewhat sensible here.
In the end, after Waverly spends a few long moments squinting into the half-light of the dusk, it is Nicole who spots them first. She is stood twenty feet away, bottle in hand, chatting animatedly with Dolls and a couple of the other lifeguards. She seems to spot Waverly by total happenstance, but her face splits into a rather lovely grin when their eyes meet and she is quick to tip the group a cheery wave.
A moment later, she very obviously makes her excuses to her companions and makes a slow, easy beeline for Waverly and her friends.
“Hey! You made it,” she says brightly when she is within earshot, glancing at the rest of the group with a smile as if to extend her greeting to everyone. She selects Waverly as the sole recipient of an unexpected but very welcome hug, and if the embrace is a little too fleeting for Waverly’s liking she still is not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. It was nice to be so close to the other woman, even for a second, and it reinforces on a physiological level a lot of Waverly’s internal thought processes from the past few days, not that she especially needed any further confirmation that was she really, really into Nicole.
“I hope it’s okay that there’s so many of us,” Waverly says quietly, a little bashful and feeling somehow strange to be in Nicole’s company away from the easy and obvious boundary of her work station. It is almost as though they have been contained within an almost-professional borderline that had prevented any real chance of, well, much of anything happening. Here though, in the midst of the growing darkness with the smell of woodsmoke in the air and the sounds of party music filtering through the chatter, it felt as though all rules were off.
It felt as though anything could happen.
“No way,” Nicole says kindly, “the more the merrier - seriously. We always have these evenings here for certain people from the beach. Just don’t mention it too much - we’re not really supposed to.”
She makes it sound casual, and Waverly would almost worry that it was Nicole’s way of putting some distance between them, but there is an expression on Nicole’s face that is at complete odds with her nonchalant demeanour. Nothing whatsoever about the way she looks at Waverly makes it feel as though Waverly is a casual invitee.
Then, as if as an afterthought - although it is obvious she has thought her words through carefully enough - Nicole adds,
“I don’t invite people all that often though, so I’m not usually culpable.”
Waverly finds herself swallowing around a lump in her throat and changes the subject.
“We uh, we bought some drinks. We’re a little bit low though, we need to restock.”
“You’re fine. There’s a little plastic camping table over there,” Nicole explains, pointing to the right, in the opposite direction of the fire and many of the tents. Instinctively, Waverly and her group all turn to look. “We all just share, so you can leave your stuff there and pick something else. Or drink what you brought. We’re pretty chilled.”
“Okay, cool. So we’ll go put our stuff there and, what? See you guys in a sec?”
“Yeah, sure,” Nicole says casually, before dropping her voice so that only Waverly can hear, “you better.”
There is no force in her voice, just an impressively well-placed heat and a scratchy whisper that makes Waverly’s stomach bottom out.
She catches Nicole’s eye, trying not to watch as she grins and playfully flicks her tongue over her canine.
If nothing else, Waverly supposes she can now be even more sure that Nicole really is flirting.
Now, she just has to work out what the hell she’s going to do about it.
Initially, Waverly seems to have no choice in the matter. Initially very little happens that can reasonably deemed positive.
The group drops their beers and a half-finished bottle of JD off with the rest of the booze, and Waverly pours herself a strong measure of vodka, trying to swirl her plastic cup around when she adds orange juice from an open carton in an attempt to mix the drink up a bit.
She tests it and tries not to recoil. She does not especially like vodka, but she wants the kick from it. She still feels a little out of sorts because of the smoulder left on her skin by Nicole’s easy flirting. Another part of her is still struggling with her Champ-shaped problem. Regardless, she needs the liquid courage.
She is surprised Champ did not speak with Nicole earlier, and more surprised still when he suggests the group takes seats together, as if they have not done enough of this all week.
She wonders if he is starting to suspect something, and feels her stomach clench. She has never especially worried about her identity, but she knows that no one here but Chrissy will be especially kind about it. Simply put, her whole life is easier when they don’t know certain things about her, but equally she is not entirely invested in hiding her attraction to Nicole either.
Plus, if it has the dual effect of putting Champ off then great. Somehow, however, Waverly does not think it would do so. He seems like the kind of guy who holds some pretty predictable preconceptions about bisexuality.
Instead of bringing up Nicole, however, he seems to double down, sitting close to Waverly in a way that is completely unnecessary.
Without thinking, Waverly casts about over her shoulder for Nicole, but cannot pick her out now around the glare of the fire.
“I think we’ve been replaced,” Steph says when Waverly turns back to the group, and the look on her face does not bode anything good. “I think Waverly’s upgraded us for a cooler model.”
This earns a few laughs from the circle, but no one else seems especially bothered by Waverly’s behaviour.
“We’re being antisocial, sitting around together after they invited us here,” Waverly protests, but even she does not believe herself.
“She invited you,” Steph counters, still grinning icily across at Waverly. “If we’re not good enough to hang out with anymore just say.”
Feeling her temper spark, Waverly opens her mouth to protest when Chrissy quickly cuts in.
“Why don’t we play a drinking game? Get a bit more drunk before we socialise? Something classic like spin the bottle maybe?”
Waverly wants to both kiss and kick Chrissy for this intervention. It briefly removes attention off the brewing argument, but it is also carte blanche for some awkward situations if the wrong people get a misplaced dare.
“I’m in!” Champ says quickly, confirming what Waverly had suspected.
Chrissy seems to realise her error a moment later as she flashes a horrified, apologetic look at Waverly who shakes her head. It had been a genuinely well-meaning act after all.
All the same, good intentions mean nothing when, barely three rounds in, Waverly has been dared to kiss Champ. Her heart seems to stop, and for a brief moment she contemplates kissing his cheek as a get out of jail free card. She was lucky as it was that Rach hadn’t specified what kind of kissing.
“Pretty sure kissing was off the table,” Chrissy says quickly, only to be met with a round of slurred jeers.
The drinking game really had done its job rather effectively. Most of Waverly’s drink was still in its cup because she did not want to get too drunk too quickly, but everyone else was already pouring at least their third drinks. Nevertheless, Waverly is happy to down her entire cup if it gets her out of this situation, relative sobriety be damned.
“I’m good to tap out on this one,” she says, already preparing to tip her drink back. “I’ll take a forfeit.” Naturally, this is met with more protests, Champ the loudest among them. At the sound of the others egging her on, Waverly feels her patience slip. This is the opposite of what she came her for.
“Seriously,” she maintains, “I’m not kissing anyone.”
Not anyone sitting here at least, she thinks sullenly to herself.
The encouragement around the circle continues and she even hears Champ whisper something to a similar effect in her ear.
Very carefully and slowly, she stands and regards everyone beadily.
“Whatever. I’m not playing if you guys can’t deal with boundaries. I said no.”
Without bothering to see how this has gone down with the rest of the crowd, she extricates herself from the circle, ignoring the boos and cries of there’s no need to be like that about it.
As she heads away to find a quiet spot, deciding that she will calm down and then perhaps try to find Nicole, she thinks she even catches Steph saying the words stuck up bitch and thinks she’s better than everyone else.
Waverly ignores it. She is tired of all of this. She is tired of entertaining these people, when she knows they hold no loyalty to her (or, indeed, vice versa). She is more tired still when Champ also stands and follows her into the trees.
“Waves, hey Waverly c’mon!” he jogs after her and grabs at her wrist. “I’m starting to take this personally now. You’re gonna give me a complex.” He tries for a chuckle as if to pass this all off as a weak joke, but Waverly isn’t laughing. She hasn’t once laughed about Champ's advances for the months that they have been going on.
“I’m not trying to do that,” she says quietly, coming to a halt. “I’m just being honest.”
“But I don’t see why we couldn’t just - ”
“Because I don’t want to.”
“You don’t know what I was about to say.”
“But I’ve said already Champ. I’ve said a hundred times that I don’t want to kiss you or go on a date or sleep together or whatever.”
Champ makes a noise that is perilously close to a whine. “But why? You’ve never told me why.”
“I’ve told you plenty of times that I don’t feel that way. That’s why. That’s more than enough of a reason why, not that I need one.”
Sighing, Waverly turns back to face Champ. She watches as he processes her response, and sees the exact moment he resolves to try yet again to kiss her. She is ready, prepared enough to shove him back as her blood boils. He leans in a few inches, but gets no further. She pushes back so hard that he has to take a small step to retain his balance.
“Champ no. How many more times? I’m not interested, and I’m no more interested now that you’ve tried to drag someone else into this. So leave Nicole alone because I see what you’ve been doing all week and it’s not working.”
Champ opens his mouth to protest, but Waverly simply narrows her eyes and adds,
“Just... don’t, okay? Please don’t. I’m done Champ. It’s done. Don’t follow me this time.”
She turns again, and thinks for a moment that Champ is going to try to pursue her again. But she takes a few steps and then a few more, and he does not bother to come after her.
She goes back to the table of booze after a few hazy minutes regaining her temper amongst the trees.
She is not especially interested in drinking more now, but she has sort of cast off almost everyone here she knows and is loathe to be wandering around without friends or any sense of direction.
So she mixes yet more cheap vodka into her cup, switching to lukewarm cola from a bottle when she finds all the orange juice gone.
She gingerly takes a sip before starting on a cagey walk around the perimeter of the fire. She does not especially want to be spotted by the rest of her group, but also does not want to look like the only loner here.
She is just starting to wonder whether coming here was a good idea at all, when someone shouts her name and for the first time all night, Waverly feels herself exhale slightly.
She squints in the direction of the sound, eventually picking out the shape of someone waving her over.
She picks her way through small duos and trios of people sitting together within safe distance of the fire, many of whom seem to have gone old school and started toasting marshmallows and making S’mores.
Nicole appears to be sitting on the ground with Rosita, who seems to magically find an excuse to leave for the bathroom as soon as Waverly appears. She smiles kindly enough, but Waverly still wonders if she should read anything into Rosita’s sudden departure.
“I’ve been looking for you,” Nicole says sweetly, and Waverly cannot help but beam. “Do you want to sit down? Rosita’ll probably be back in a bit, but you can steal her spot, she won’t care.”
Waverly sits carefully down, digging her plastic cup into the dry dirt to very little avail. Still, it balances enough and stays upright.
“Sorry,” Waverly murmurs. “I did want to join you, but my friends decided to subject me to spin the bottle.”
“Ouch,” Nicole replies, sounding genuinely sympathetic. “Talk about a throwback.”
“Yeah. It didn’t age too well. Not for me anyway.”
“You okay?” Nicole asks in concern, perhaps picking up on the residual negative, anxious energy still coursing through Waverly.
“I’m fine, I just haven’t been having the best night so far.”
“Ah,” Nicole says, somehow understanding immediately. “The not-boyfriend.”
“You want me to arrest him for something?” Nicole asks seriously, but there is a mischievous twinkle in her eye, the firelight dancing across her pupils.
Waverly finds that she cannot help but laugh at the offer.
“Can you actually do that yet? Arrest people?”
“No,” Nicole admits, her grin bashful, “but if you say the word I’ll work it out.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“I’m sorry,” Waverly says after a pause. “For saying I wasn’t having a very good night after you invited me here.”
“Well, you can’t help that you’re not enjoying yourself. If you want me to walk you back I can.”
“No, thank you. It’s not the party. If I hadn’t been with them it would have been fine. I wanted to hang out with you.” She lets herself meet Nicole’s eye for a moment, pleased with herself for pitching her reply well enough to make Nicole smile fully again.
"You did, huh?" she asks, voice lilting as she once again falls into that easy, teasing nature she seems to have.
"Well, you invited me here," Waverly replies, trying to match Nicole's tone. "So I figured you wanted to hang out too."
It is probably kind of a shitty response, but she feels most at ease with the ball in Nicole's court. She is so new to this stuff when it comes to girls, and she isn't sure she could handle the embarrassment if she has read this all completely wrong.
Nicole laughs, holding up her hands in mock surrender.
"Oh, you got me," she says, not sounding remotely like she has been caught out.
Waverly finds herself laughing too. She likes the way their laughter sounds twined together beneath the moonlight. She thinks she could get used to hearing it.
"But," Nicole goes on, still wearing a smile, "that's because things are a little unfair between us right now."
Waverly crinkles her brow, glad that Nicole manages to keep her voice playful, otherwise she might believe she had made some glaring social transgression.
"What do you mean?"
"Well," Nicole begins, before promptly pausing to take a sip from a glass bottle of cider. It is obvious she has chosen her moment for effect, but Waverly cannot seem to stop herself from craning in and hanging on whatever these next words might be. "You know that I'm just out of my first year at the Academy, you know I do this for my summer job. But I feel like I know pretty much nothing about you, Waverly."
There is a strange thrill in the way Nicole says her name, a mixture of the generic intensity that can come from hearing one's own name on the lips of someone else, and something specific in the way Nicole bends the syllables in her mouth.
"Well, that's not entirely fair. At least you know where I'm from. I don't know that about you."
"Edmonton," Nicole says smoothly, grinning again. "Your turn."
Here, Waverly hesitates. Nicole is interesting. Nicole comes from the city, and she's a year older, and she's in college, and she's gonna be a cop. Waverly is nobody, not really, and anything remarkable about her comes from her family's chequered past and, now that she comes to think about it, that really sucks.
She picks up her cup and takes a slow and deliberate sip, buying herself time.
The drink is too warm to be pleasant and she has to bite back a grimace.
"Well," she says eventually, avoiding Nicole's curious, patient gaze for the first time that night. "You know already that I'm from Purgatory..."
"I do," Nicole agrees eventually when Waverly fails to come up with something else to say. "And I've been meaning to tell you that I did actually Google it, although the first few times it thought I meant to search the actual between-heaven-and-hell biblical place. But yeah, I got there eventually. And wow, it sure is tiny. I hadn't realised you meant quite that small."
"Yeah," Waverly says, feeling almost embarrassed that she has nothing more interesting to add. "It's pretty crappy."
The problem, she thinks, is that she just hasn't had time to do anything yet, and as it happens she does not yet even really know what she wants to do to remedy the years of stagnation in Purgatory. A few times, she had considered reaching out to Wynonna. The last she'd heard, her sister was travelling Europe. Waverly could stand to join her for a while, but she isn't yet sure it's the path for her. She isn't sure she'd enjoy being away from Gus and Curtis for so long. In her mind, college would be different. College could be just a bus or train ride away, and if she was too far away to go home for the weekends, she could still visit after the end of each semester.
"Really? You don't like anything about it?"
Finally, Waverly looks back to Nicole, finding that the other woman looks genuinely curious. There is no judgement in her voice, and Waverly gets the sense that, under the right circumstances, Nicole was a person to whom you could offload everything.
"Not really," Waverly admits. "Just that it's where my family is. There's not a lot I can do in Purgatory - not a lot of opportunities now that I've graduated from high school."
Nicole nods, accepting the tiny tidbit of information. Waverly assumes that Nicole is astute enough to work out already that she and the rest of her group were younger, but she hopes it won't put Nicole off. It is only one year, after all.
"Okay," Nicole says, seizing on Waverly's last comment and, seemingly able to put anyone at ease about any topic, she asks, "so what would you want to do, if the opportunity arose, Waverly-from-Purgatory?"
Waverly smiles. It is impossible not to when she is sat next to Nicole like this.
Waverly does not mean to, but in no time at all she sort of starts waxing lyrical about the history course she wants to do. She forgets herself, and by the time she realises she has been conducting a monologue for goodness knows how long, it is too late.
Coming to a somewhat abrupt halt, she checks Nicole's reaction to her one-woman exposition on niche Greco-Roman history. She expects her to look bored or underwhelmed, or even to be searching for an escape route. Instead, she finds Nicole's soft brown eyes locked on her, looking as though they are ablaze in the firelight.
"Sorry, I kind of got carried away there."
"Don't apologise. That was pretty wonderful."
Waverly is nonplussed for a moment. No one had ever really said that about her before.
The conversation that follows is the kind of getting-to-know-you conversation that puts them both back on even ground. Like a river it flows ceaselessly, drifting from big currents to tiny tributaries and back again, until Waverly is forced to conclude her ongoing commentary on the lack of food options for her here in favour of something more pressing.
"Sorry to change the subject, but do you think you could tell me where the bathrooms are?"
"Sure," Nicole says immediately, rising and collecting her empty bottle. "I'll show you, it's just a little hard to describe when it's dark."
Sure enough, Nicole leads them easily past the party, through one part of the small campsite and around a mostly unlit clearing. There is no way Waverly could have followed this route on her own, but she wants to believe that Nicole has deliberately engineered some additional privacy for them too.
After all, Nicole waits while Waverly locks herself into a stall, using the light from her phone to find toilet paper. It is not as gross in here as she’d have imagined, and it is far enough from the party that the sounds of music and chatter seem far-off and muted. It is easy for to take a moment longer than needed to centre herself and take stock. Perhaps, she thinks as she lets herself out of the stall and washes her hands alongside one other girl from the party, I could suggest we do something else. We don’t have to go back to the party.
It is only as she makes her way back over to Nicole’s waiting silhouette that she realises that she doesn’t have any suggestions for where else they could go.
Nicole, however, is one step ahead of her.
“So, totally your call,” she says when Waverly is within earshot, “but there’s this kids’ playpark thing super close by. I’m pretty sure it’ll be deserted, and a perfect excuse to fool around for a bit.”
Waverly is silent just a beat too long, the booze catching up with her just as fast as the realisation that this might be it.
“Or,” Nicole goes on quickly, something like doubt tinging the edges of her voice, “we can just head straight back to the party. We don’t have to go anywh- ”
“No, I definitely want to check it out.”
“Great,” Nicole says, a smile evident in her voice. “So, shall we go?”
Even in the dark, Waverly sees Nicole hold her hand out. Unhesitatingly, she takes it.
It turns out that Nicole is something of a big kid. Waverly thinks she probably could have guessed it, but it is nice to have the firsthand evidence.
In the dark, with only the pale light of a waning crescent moon above them, the empty playpark should be creepy, but Waverly can still hear the faint strains of sound from the party and it is comforting, in a way, to be near to everyone else but still so wholly alone with Nicole. The night is warm and still in spite of the cloudless sky, and the air seems full of something a little like anticipation.
Together, they goof about for a while on the swings and Nicole makes Waverly laugh when she spins them both around, fast, on a tiny, rickety old roundabout. Breathless with laughter and exhilaration alike, Waverly clings to the railing as they whirl round, Nicole’s hair a fiery blur in front of Waverly’s eyes.
When they stop, Waverly is as unsteady as anyone would be when she finally steps to the ground. She grabs at Nicole’s arm with both hands, hoping she might steady her for a moment. However, Nicole’s own trajectory is a little off course too, and they stumble for a moment, full of mirth and cheer.
Their movements bring them beneath the low-hanging branches of an old tree, one that looks as though it has been standing for a while, but perhaps might not be around for too much longer.
They both pause, regaining their balance as the world stops spinning, and perhaps their eyes focus at the same time, because it seems that their laughter dies in their throats in complete unison.
Waverly feels her chest tighten as Nicole steps in, just a little shift of their feet to bring them even closer together. Waverly had known this moment was coming, had known they both had it on their minds when they agreed to slope off together, and she is ready - more than ready, really - when Nicole leans in.
The second before her mouth covers Waverly’s Nicole pauses, and Waverly’s heart stops as she wonders what is supposed to come next.
Then, ever so quietly, Nicole whispers, “yes?”
Nicole’s voice is just a slim scratch in the back of her throat, and if her words are compressed by the weight of the moment then Waverly does not trust that she would be able to speak at all.
There is barely a gap to close, not really, but Waverly is the one to finally erase the last millimeter of distance between them.
Nicole tastes sweet, kind of like apples from all that cider, and she smells like sun cream and woodsmoke.
Waverly thinks that this combination might be what summer means to her from now on.
Nicole is a good kisser, a great kisser in fact, and after a time it isn’t enough anymore to be stood around out in the open.
They sneak back to the campsite, hand-in-hand as they stop every few paces to steal more kisses.
Careful not to be seen by anyone else milling around, they creep into Nicole’s tent and fall amongst the nest of her surprisingly comfortable camping mat and somewhat superfluous sleeping bag and blankets. It is cramped and stuffy beneath the canvas, but Waverly cannot bring herself to care. Besides, her shirt soon ends up balled up somewhere behind her, although she cannot quite remember how or when that came to be.
She finds herself beneath Nicole, who settles easily into the cradle of Waverly’s hips and puts those clever lips of hers to good use on Waverly’s neck and jaw.
They are once again back in close proximity to the party, and the noise of the music is a somewhat less desirable ambiance than before, but it is perhaps a blessing too, because Nicole’s hands and lips wander in a way that already has Waverly sighing and keening quietly, and they have barely even touched each other yet.
The spark between them, set to kindling as they finally kiss and touch and explore, feels like more than Waverly had imagined. She had known she was attracted to Nicole - Lord, she had been watching her in that swimsuit for a week already - but the intensity of feeling coursing through her takes her by surprise. The heat of Nicole’s soft hands on her hips feels like a brand, like it is leaving an imprint on her skin. The feel of Nicole’s lips on her own, of her tongue in Waverly’s mouth, has every nerve ending in Waverly’s body lighting up.
Almost of their own accord, Waverly finds that her fingers start unbuttoning Nicole’s shirt, pushing it off her shoulders until Nicole’s hands finally pause their own exploration mission for long enough to take her top off and toss it carelessly to one side.
Everything feels right, perfect, until Nicole’s hands find the waistband of Waverly’s shorts. There is no intent there, somehow Waverly can tell as much, but it sets a small bolt of panic shooting through her.
All portents point to Nicole having done this, having had sex with a woman, before. Waverly decidedly has not.
Perhaps her thoughts show outwardly, perhaps the strain between wanting and fearing she will make a fool of herself is tangible, because as soon as the thought enters Waverly’s head it is almost as though Nicole slows down.
Her kisses are just as full of fire, her hands just as attentive, but it is like something shifts quickly and suddenly. Waverly wants to kick herself, wonders if she has somehow given off the wrong signals.
A moment or too later and Nicole’s lips leave her own, drifting again to the column of Waverly’s throat, and she uses this to break the silence between them.
“Sorry,” she murmurs, only realising her error when Nicole pulls back to look at her. Waverly wishes she could say that she wants Nicole’s lips back where they were, preferably as quickly as possible, but Nicole is looking at her ever so carefully, her brow wrinkled in a silent enquiry, and her lips plump and wet.
“I don’t know,” Waverly says, suddenly feeling silly. There was nothing to indicate that Nicole had even picked up on Waverly’s sudden bout of hesitation. “For being nervous, I guess.”
Nicole chuckles, the sound all soft and warm to Waverly’s ears.
“You can’t tell that you’re nervous,” Nicole says gently, “but it wouldn’t be something to apologise for anyway.”
“I just haven’t, y’know,” Waverly says, leaving the sentence unfinished.
It takes Nicole a short moment, but when she understands her eyebrows climb slightly. She does not look particularly shocked or concerned by this, but it heartens Waverly that maybe her inexperience hadn’t shone through too terribly.
“I don’t mean,” Waverly begins, thinking to clarify her point before realising that she has absolutely no idea how to word this. “I’ve known that I like girls - you know. I’m not just exp- there just hasn’t been any situation before now where - ”
“Not a thriving LGBT scene in Purgatory, huh?” Nicole asks, flashing a playful, lopsided grin over at Waverly. “It’s fine, whatever it is you’re actually trying to say.”
Waverly feels the temperature of her cheeks rise, this time more to do with embarrassment than any flush of excitement or passion. All the same, Nicole’s words aren’t remotely cruel, just gently bantering.
“Not exactly, no. And you’ve seen what the dudes are like, so…”
This makes Nicole laugh, louder than before, and Waverly’s nerves settle again.
“That I have,” Nicole agrees, shifting from between Waverly’s legs and dropping herself onto the thin slice of her camping mat still left empty. She props her head on up one arm, using her free hand to tuck Waverly’s hair behind her ear.
They lay in silence for a moment, smiling and drinking each other in for a while before Nicole, her voice soft as gossamer, says,
“How long are you here for?”
"Just less than a month,” Waverly replies, picking up on the quiet hush in the tent, totally at odds with the riotous noise outside, and dropping her voice. They are close, close enough to hear the slightest whisper pass between them. “Assuming you mean the beach, not here specifically. Although I think I’d gladly stay here just as long.”
Nicole huffs out a little breath of a laugh. “Longer, even.”
The words make Waverly’s heart beat faster. “Forever maybe?”
“Yeah, that sounds pretty damn good.”
Waverly has no idea of exactly when she drifted off to sleep, but she wakes in a panic, struggling to sit up until she places her location and lets out a breath.
She swivels to check on Nicole, who she finds stirring, no doubt roused by Waverly’s sudden movements.
“You okay? Nicole asks, voice thick and muffled with sleep.
“Fine, sorry. Couldn’t work out where I was for a sec.”
Nicole smiles but says nothing more, instead indulging in a luxurious-looking full body stretch. As she does, Waverly scrabbles about for her phone, flopping back onto the camping mat when she eventually finds it.
It is somehow still mercifully alive, although her battery is low. This might well be because of the countless texts and missed calls from Chrissy.
She hadn’t even stopped to think that she had disappeared so early in the night, and hadn’t even shown her face again later on to let everyone else know she was okay.
She calls up her message to Chrissy and rapidly sends a text to let her know that everything is fine.
Despite the fact that it is barely eight o’clock, Chrissy comes online immediately.
Waves. Thank FUCK. I thought something had happened.
Waverly feels guilt twist in her stomach. She sends back a long message filled with sincere apologies. She really hadn’t meant to scare her friend.
It’s fine, it’s fine. Don’t worry Waves - sign of a good night maybe. Where even are you, anyway?
At this, Waverly falters. She had anticipated on her way to Nicole’s tent that she would have to grapple with this question. In the end, there seems to be no other way to answer it but to admit that she is still at the campsite.
Chrissy’s response is absolutely the opposite of what Waverly expects.
Waverly answers back with an affirmative, because she cannot bring herself to deny things to Chrissy. All of them, Nicole included, deserve better than that.
Yes! I should have called it! Good for you Waves.
Waverly reads the message once. Then she reads it again. And again. She had never expected it to be as easy as that.
“Your friend?” Nicole asks after Waverly has stopped typing for a while.
“Yeah, she worried.”
“I’m not surprised, we should have thought to tell someone.”
“She’s okay about it though,” Waverly says, feeling relieved, and it means multiple things at once.
Being pulled out of a deep, dreamless sleep to the sensation of Waverly shooting up into a sitting position was something of a rude awakening, but Nicole finds that she does not mind.
She is forced to bite back a smile at Waverly’s disorientation - it is really quite sweet - but cannot quite tear her eyes away from the sight of Waverly’s bare back. Admittedly the night’s sleep had not been the most comfortable of Nicole’s life, but she wouldn’t trade it now.
They had stayed in their underwear, Nicole having found Waverly a spare pair of cotton sleep shorts as their conversation had stretched into the night, well past the expiration of the party, and it became clear that they had no intentions of parting.
Nicole thinks they could have kept playing at getting to know each other until the sunrise, but by about three o’clock Waverly had started losing the thread of her own words. More sweet, garbled nonsense had started to spill from her lips, quite literally as though she had no control over it. Then, eventually, conversation had petered out entirely and it was obvious that Waverly was asleep.
It was far too warm for Nicole, pressed against Waverly at every possible point where their bodies could meet, but Nicole had still slept well, perhaps comforted by the pleasant sound of Waverly’s even breathing.
Once awake, however, Nicole is forced to unzip part of the tent. The sun is up and it is hot already, and she simply runs too warm to deal with the stuffy air.
Waverly texts her friend at the same time, and Nicole cannot help but feel guilty that they must have caused some amount of worry given the length of time Waverly had been gone.
Waverly does not seem to mind though, and neither does her friend if Waverly’s reaction is anything to go by.
Silently, Nicole wonders whether any of Waverly’s group of school buddies actually knows about any of this stuff. She would hazard a pretty good guess that it was all Waverly’s secret, but would never venture to ask. If Waverly wants to talk about it, then she, Nicole, would be happy to listen.
In fact, truth be told, she would be happy to listen to whatever Waverly might have to say.
This whole thing simply doesn’t really feel like hooking up with someone for a few weeks in the summer, it feels like the kind of thing you stretch out as long as possible, even if that just means keeping a dialogue going once the sunshine starts to fade and it is time to return to normal life again.
Nicole loves the summer, loves the magic of this weightless feeling that every day is a vacation. She loves the liberation of spending her days on the beach, and her nights camping out in the most untethered way possible. She loves the freedom of it all, the escapism, but last night hadn’t felt much like escaping. It felt like she was walking towards something, not away from it.
Because Waverly is more than just cute. She is smart and driven and funny. She is interesting too, although Nicole suspects that the other woman does not particularly see that quality in herself yet.
She also slots almost too well into Nicole’s side, which rather makes things feel a little fated, especially when she sets her phone aside in favour of directing all her focus on dotting soft kisses against Nicole’s neck.
They lose themselves like that for a little while, until Waverly’s pulls back as if caught in sudden realisation.
“Crap, don’t you have to get to work?”
With a smile, Nicole shakes her head. “Day off, remember?”
This wins a huge, beaming grin from Waverly, who looks perfectly delighted at this reminder.
“I’d forgotten! Okay, so. What do you want to do today?”
Nicole loves that, the easy assumption that they are going to spend the day together.
By the time Nicole’s day off draws to a close, Waverly struggles to think of recent time when she has been happier.
It is not that they do anything that is specifically exciting or exhilarating. It is that they do lots of little things together.
Mostly at Nicole’s insistence, they extricate themselves from the tent as quickly as possible, and even Waverly has to concede that it is uncomfortably close and stuffy inside. Outside, however, is not much cooler, but at least the air moves slightly more there.
A shower follows, and Waverly would be lying if she said the two of them actually parted ways to wash up. It feels odd to be so intimate without anything actually happening, but it sets Waverly’s mind at ease (as well as forcing her to stop herself from openly gawping, because holy Christ, Nicole is beautiful) after her hesitations last night. Perhaps that was always the intention on both their parts, even if Waverly hadn’t realised it right away.
She is more worried about how they will avoid being caught when they leave the stall, but Nicole points out that the campsite is almost entirely populated by seasonal workers. Either they will all be at their stations now, or they will not get up for hours. They have the amenities to themselves, and they can take their time - in the least explicit way possible - without worrying about a line forming. Even at the cabins, Waverly has been rushing every day, because the rest of her party complain endlessly about having to wait to nab a stall of their own.
It feels wonderfully indulgent to take a long, cool shower. That she also gets to watch Nicole’s skin, lightly freckled shoulders and all, gleaming in the water is a very happy bonus.
She comes out of the water smelling of Nicole’s shower gel and shampoo, and she wears fresh clothes borrowed from Nicole to go with her own denim shorts and sandals, because she hasn’t got the heart to show her face back at the cabins just now. Chrissy would be fine, but she doubts anyone else would respect her privacy. Whether intentionally or not, she suspects she may have burnt some bridges last night, but she cannot bring herself to care at all.
After that, the day throws itself wide open. Nicole finally shows Waverly the little beach town, and really it is as small and dimly underwhelming as Waverly would have expected. Still, Waverly is happy wandering around with Nicole. They helpfully visit a little store so that Waverly can stock up on food and drinks, her own supply of booze having run completely dry the night before. The selection is limited but Waverly is nothing if not resourceful.
They visit an ice cream parlour, and Nicole buys herself a mix of chocolate and peanut butter, and she gets a cone of the only vegan option - mango sorbet - for Waverly too. They visit the gimmicky little beach-themed shops, the kind with all the racks of fake surfer jewelry; lots of plastic beads and fake shark teeth. Tongue firmly in cheek, Waverly buys herself a little beaded bracelet with a unicorn charm and on a whim picks up a second one for Nicole.
She doesn’t really expect Nicole to even take it from her, because it is tacky and not an especially nice adornment to wear, but Nicole accepts one of the bracelets without hesitation, and carefully puts it into her rucksack, zipping it away into an inside pouch.
Best of all, Nicole holds Waverly’s hand as they wander through the town, and she doesn’t let go even when they tire of the shops and all the tourists milling about, and elect instead to head back in the direction of the beach. They sit close on the little shuttle bus, hands clasped between them as they steal covert glances, looking away almost shyly when the sight of the other staring makes them grin. After they alight, Nicole pulls Waverly into the shade of a tall poplar tree and kisses her until she forgets that there is anything else in the world but the feel of Nicole’s lips and the heat of the sunshine and the smell of the summer.
If there is any question about how Waverly is going to broach this new development with her travel companions, she sort of gives up pondering it before the day is out.
She hasn’t bothered to show her face at the beach all day, feeling particularly unrushed by dinnertime, when some of the kids at the campsite get a barbecue going. There is little for Waverly to eat, but she contents herself with some warm salad and an early drink that seems to be sweet, flavoured rum mixed with lemonade.
Gradually, anyone who was not fortunate enough to have a day off starts returning to the campsite in time to grab some food, and Waverly and Nicole are eventually joined by Dolls and Rosita. It is the first opportunity Waverly has had to speak to either of them properly, but they both turn out to be pretty easy to get along with, even if Waverly does not actually have a lot in common with them. If they are remotely surprised by her prolonged presence at the camp, then neither of them shows it and this leaves Waverly to wonder at whether Nicole had actually mentioned anything to her friends. It is kind of a thrilling thought, although Waverly tries to remember not to get too ahead of herself.
By the time the sun is starting its descent to the horizon, Chrissy calls and asks if it is alright for her to call by for a moment. Waverly checks with the others, but needn’t have bothered, as they are all far too laid-back and welcoming to really bat an eyelid at extra company. It is something of a wonder to Waverly, how she is at ease with these people after less than a week, when she feels only out of sorts around everyone from her own group of peers - excluding Chrissy of course.
When she arrives, Chrissy helpfully brings with her some supplies from the camp - food, drinks, and even a portable charger for Waverly, who had been leeching off Nicole’s power supplies all day - but she also brings news.
“They know,” she says somewhat sourly, at a moment when Nicole, Dolls, and Rosita are deep in a separate discussion. “I don’t know how, guessing someone from here mentioned it - probably didn’t even mean anything by it.”
The announcement takes a moment to sink in, and initially Waverly cannot really work out how she feels about it all.
“What did they say?” she asks quietly, wondering if this might not be a case of ignorance and blissfulness. Still, she thinks she would rather know what she will be up against.
“Not a lot, to be honest,” Chrissy admits, “but I don’t know if it’s because I was there. Champ’s been the most vocal, but I guess that’s because he had a vested interest in you not finding someone better to get with."
“And you?” Waverly asks, biting on her lip slightly because really, the only person here whose opinion matters is Chrissy.
“And me what?” she asks, her confusion appearing genuine. Then, a moment later, realisation hits and her eyes grow a little wide for a second. “Oh! I see. Well… I mean…”
Chrissy pauses, and for a second Waverly feels as though her stomach is doing an unpleasant bout of rhythmic gymnastics. She watches as Chrissy casts about for something to say and sees the precise moment when an expression best summed up by the words oh, fuck it passes over her friend’s face.
“Waves, I just don’t know how to put it because like, I really don’t care? Like I care, obviously. I know it’s still tough and obviously I’ll support you and everything if you ever need. And I’ll damn well tell any of that lot what for if needed,” she jerks her head in the very general direction of the cabins, presumably to indicate Champ and the others, “but it’s just. I don’t even want to say I’m okay with it because that makes it sound like I get a say in the first place, or that I’d have an opinion on it. You’re still my best friend yeah? That’s pretty much what I should have started and ended on. It literally doesn’t change anything.”
As she thinks back on her friend’s response in the hours and days to follow, Waverly comes to the conclusion that it was so typically Chrissy, who had never once thought to judge the Earps for anything, to fail to bat an eyelid now.
In many ways, getting the ‘hi guys, I like girls’ out in the open with her small-town, not-so-understanding ex classmates is both daunting and freeing at the same time.
It is obvious when she returns to their cabin with Chrissy that night to find the rest of the group sitting around outside with yet more drinks that the revelation has not gone down particularly well with some. The biggest surprise is that most of the guys barely seem to notice it, but Champ, Steph, Sonja, and Rach all send Waverly ugly, probing looks when she returns.
However, no one actually explicitly says anything about it all either, so Waverly elects to follow their lead.
It all just means that, as the days of the vacation drift by like a slow, lazy cirrostratus, Waverly does not think too long or too hard about anything on this topic. She does not overthink when, the very next morning, the group arrives at the beach to find Nicole already at her station and temporarily without Dolls. She does not think too much when she climbs up the raised booth to sit beside Nicole, or even when she leans in to kiss Nicole in plain view.
It is just the same when some of the group make an evening visit to the town’s little arcade, and Nicole and some of the seasonal workers meet them there. They play on the machines together, Nicole winning a dumb stuffed toy for Waverly, and a few members of the two groups even mingle slightly.
By then, there have been a few more bonfires at the campsite, and those of Waverly’s group not openly hostile to Nicole had actually made an effort to integrate whenever they could.
In fact, a few other cross-group partnerships have even sprung up too, which helps Waverly out and keeps her from receiving the sum total of the attention.
Being the subject of gossip is absolutely no fun, but time with Nicole always makes up for it by being endlessly exhilarating. Even when they are only laying on their backs, bodies tangled together as they stare up at the starry sky, it seems to leave Waverly breathless.
In fact, everything is so wonderful that, after weeks of dragging our her decision to come on this vacation, by the end of the summer Waverly does not want to leave.
On her last night, both she and Nicole end up on the beach under the cover of darkness in the small hours. There is a full moon above them, high and bright, and it illuminates the sand in a way that is entirely new to Waverly, who has never ventured to the water after dark before.
It seems that most others also steer clear, because they have not seen another soul all evening. Even so, Nicole has chosen a particularly sheltered, secret spot for them and they walk hand in hand with their bare toes digging into the cool, rough sand.
"I wish you weren't going," Nicole murmurs after what feels like an eternity of silence.
"I wish I wasn't going too," Waverly says, and if the lump already forming in her throat is anything to go by, then this parting will be a particularly tough one. They have already agreed on multiple occasions to keep in touch and Waverly has no doubt that they will both stick to their word.
After a weighty pause Nicole stops walking and, still gripping Waverly's hand tight, comes to stand so that they are directly facing each other.
"I uh," she pauses and clears her throat, and Waverly does not think she has yet seen Nicole struggle for words before now. "Listen, I know we're not too far apart and visits are possible, and I don't know where you're at right now in what you want going forward. But I wanted you to know that it's okay with me if, after tomorrow, you want to see other people but uh, I don't think I will be. You know. Looking to do that. So yeah. That's my cards."
Waverly blinks, and it takes her a moment to understand that, on this warm summer night, Nicole was effectively asking Waverly if they wanted to keep seeing each other. Exclusively. In truth, Waverly has not thought about it too much, mostly because she had not wanted to let herself fixate on her feelings. She hadn't wanted to think on just how much she wanted to keep being with Nicole, or to worry that Nicole might want things to end once Waverly went home again.
But in truth, Waverly thinks that the idea of seeing anyone else now is a little marred, almost as if she knows she has struck gold already and has no need to keep digging right now.
Nicole waits for quietly for Waverly's response, and she does her best to look impassive but her deep, honest eyes give her away completely.
"Snap," Waverly murmurs, taking a step closer so that it will be easier to kiss Nicole in a moment. "I guess our cards match."
It takes Nicole a moment to fully parse out Waverly's implication, but when she does the force of her smile makes her face shine almost as brightly as the full moon above them.
Waverly leans in for that kiss then and she understands in that moment that things are ending but they're not really ending at all.
"As a lifeguard," Waverly whispers, breaking the kiss after a long, long stretch of time, "how averse would you be to coming into the water with me now?"
Oddly enough, in all the time they have spent together they have barely spent any of it swimming in the lake.
They are on the beach when Nicole works, and usually off exploring something elsewhere when Nicole is not on duty. There has only been the brief moment before the first bonfire, and one other occasion when they had taken to the water at sunset.
Nicole considers the question a moment.
"I mean, it's not the best time to - "
Waverly cuts Nicole of with a wordless retort, raising her eyebrows and sending Nicole a pleading expression which seems to do the trick pretty quickly.
"But," Nicole goes on, "we haven't really been drinking and there's no reason why we can't be safe."
Waverly grins and gives Nicole a quick kiss.
"That's what I was hoping you'd say."
They leave all of their clothes a safe distance from the water, and Waverly supposes she can now tick something else off her bucket list.
The water shimmers beautifully on Nicole's face after she ducks her head under and slicks her hair back, and little droplets travel down the curve of her neck and shoulders. Waverly paddles closer so that she can kiss them away, teeth scraping at Nicole's soft skin as she explores the topography of the other woman's body for the umpteenth time that summer.
Even beneath the water, Nicole's hands are like fire as they reach everywhere; across Waverly's hips and atop her beasts and between the apex of her thighs.
Eventually, they creep back out of the water and wriggle awkwardly into their clothes, sneaking quietly to Nicole's tent.
They lay quietly together after a time, their bare bodies both sated and wanting at the same time.
"I feel like I'm just going to spend all my time after tomorrow waiting," Waverly announces eventually. "I'll just be waiting until I see you again."
"Me too," Nicole murmurs, sounding sincere but tired. "But there's all this other stuff too, you have college and all that other stuff to think about too."
Waverly hums her assent, thinking that it is so very Nicole to also remind Waverly of the rest of the potential out there waiting for them both.
And when it comes down to it, Waverly can only really thank her lucky stars that she decided to leave Purgatory and got to meet Nicole.
After all, Chrissy had been right.
It she'd stayed she would have missed something truly epic.
She and Nicole fall asleep together, knowing that the shape of summer has been forever redefined for the both of them.
Summer is wrapped up in the feel of each other now, and neither of them would have it any other way.