Everyone wears a mask, in one way or another. Some people wear one to hide their flaws, while others wear one to fit in. Masks can hide deep, emotional trauma, or they can allow others to see only what you want them to see. Waverly Earp is familiar with masks, because her mask has allowed her to survive.
Waverly stands in the middle of the Purgatory High School hallway, carefully straightening out her freshly laundered cheerleading uniform while staring at her worn reflection in her locker mirror. Her eyes reflect the sadness that her heart feels. She brushes her hair behind her ears and stares straight ahead. An unremarkable girl stares back.
Waverly's childhood is one that she can't forget, and yet one that she wishes others would. The Earp name has become synonymous with damaged, tragic, and even worse - cursed. Her curse was thrust upon her by the blast of a gun when she was four years old, and the whole town witnessed the aftermath. Waverly had been asleep when a gunshot ripped her from the last sweet dreams she would ever know. The images from that night are painted across the canvas of her life with vivid, harsh strokes. Angry, crimson lines are splattered across the memory of her childhood courtesy of a man her father had owed. Ward Earp – gunned down in his own home for failing to pay a debt years after his wife had abandoned him and the three Earp sisters. Willa, having never been much of a sister to them, left the first chance she had. Wynonna is the only one left; she is Waverly’s one true saving grace.
A locker slams, pulling Waverly from her musings. She stands taller, pulling her shoulders back, and shakes her head. Lips curl into a tight smile, forcing a happy expression onto the girl in the mirror. Waverly sighs and shuts her locker, exhaling sharply as she heads toward the gym. It’s the last game before the Spring Fling dance, and Waverly knows that she just has to make it through this game and the dance tomorrow night and then she will have a break. She will be able to spend precious moments at the Homestead recharging her socializing batteries which are very nearly depleted.
Loud cheers and pumping music float down the hallway, leading Waverly into the chaos that she so easily disappears into. She passes by a small group of students huddled together, giving them her patented smile and wave, giggling loudly as they make whooping noises at her. It’s all part of her act, and she cannot afford to lose this role. Turning the corner, she crashes hard into a steady force, gasping loudly as she struggles to regain her footing. Strong hands grip her shoulders, and a lilting laugh fills her ears. Waverly glances up into the deepest brown eyes she’s ever seen, and her jaw slackens. She hears the laugh again and she leans back, finally seeing the person clearly.
“Oh,” she begins, surprised by the feeling of her own heart pounding in her ears, “Nicole, right?” She asks the question like she doesn’t already know the answer. Of course, it’s Nicole Haught, star basketball player. Waverly has been cheering for her, and the rest of the Blue Devils, since the season began.
“And you are Waverly Earp,” Nicole says, a smirk ghosting her lips. “I’ve seen you around.”
Waverly smiles at the idea of being seen by this girl, really and truly seen by her. She thinks Nicole might be the first person to ever look at her this way; she’s looking at her like she’s something special, rather than something tragic. Nicole’s eyes seem to trace over the lines on Waverly’s face, stopping and admiring the crinkles around her eyes.
“I-I’ve seen you too,” Waverly whispers, swallowing hard in an attempt to rehydrate the desert that has formed in her mouth. Her eyes glance to where Nicole is still touching her shoulder and she revels in the warmth that now permeates her body. It’s like she never even realized what she was missing until the tall redhead awoke a flutter of butterflies in her stomach. Her smile falters under the sharp gaze, a moment of worry seeping through that she doesn’t deserve this adoring observation.
Nicole releases her grip on the shorter girl and steps back, pulling her ponytail tight as she glances around the hallway. She clears her throat and stares hard at Waverly, as though deciphering a puzzle in her head. Waverly smiles her usual smile, the one that won her the honor of Nicest Person in Purgatory. Instead of the normal response, Nicole simply pulls her mouth tight and a sigh escapes her lips. “Well, it’s nice to be seen.” She winks, and then she’s gone, leaving Waverly with a hollow coldness where warmth previously was.
Her heart sinks like a stone into her stomach and she watches the redhead high-five her awaiting crowd as she enters the gym. The moment of happiness gone, Waverly steels herself and follows the pack. Chrissy Nedley grabs her by the arm and drags her to the rest of the squad, none the wiser that Waverly had just experienced something she thought had long died within her – hope.
The game passes as all games do, a series of cheers and boos, baskets and fouls, performances and periods. The Blue Devils win, the squad cheers, Nicole celebrates, Waverly watches. Nicole doesn’t glance her way again.
The morning comes much too quickly for Waverly, awareness pulling her from her sleep without its typical gentle touch. A heaviness is anchored to her today which, if she thought about it, is generally the same size as the brightness she felt yesterday. Wynonna, fresh off of her most recent hangover, has her head pressed firmly against the kitchen table. Waverly starts a pot of coffee and grabs a banana, gently sitting down at the table. The silence is unbearable, and Waverly is glad when the coffee is finally done. They do this dance nearly every morning, yet for some unknown reason, this morning feels different to Waverly and she aches for the sound of her sister’s voice. However, knowing Wynonna’s penchant for whiskey, Waverly also knows that verbalizing before caffeine is a serious faux pas. She slides the cup over to the lifeless brunette.
Wynonna takes a hearty sip and sighs, “You always know what to do, baby girl.” She inhales the scent of coffee deeply, sparing a moment to glance at her younger sister. “You look good, Waverly. Try not to let Chump get his dirty paws on you today. You are so much better than that ass.”
Waverly smiles softly, “Thanks Wy.” Part of her is glad that Wynonna didn’t notice her sour mood, but another wishes that her sister, the one person in the world she is close to, could see beyond the mask. She is simultaneously proud of herself for hiding her feelings so sufficiently, and angry at everyone else for not seeing her pain. Waverly wants to believe that she is worth seeing, but maybe it’s easier for others to accept the lie that she tells them; that the broken girl whose father was murdered can rise above the drama in her life and never look back.
Wynonna pushes her chair back, wincing when the legs angrily scrape the floor. “By the way,” she starts, her voice cracking slightly, “I know your dance is tonight. Not sure if you have a date, or whatever, but thought you might like Mama’s old dress. It should fit you.”
Waverly feels love for her sister bubble up, pushing through the sadness. “Wynonna, are you sure? I know she left her things for you…”
“She left them for both of us, I’m sure of it,” Wynonna reassures.
Waverly sighs, “Those boxes are yours, Wynonna. Mama left them…”
“Mama left, Waverly. If those boxes are mine, then I’m giving them to you.” Her eyes soften and she leans down to Waverly’s level, “It’s just us, baby girl. You are my family, and I say you put on that fancy dress and dance the night away.”
A shudder expels from Waverly’s lips and she propels herself into her sister’s arms. “Ok, Wynonna. Thanks.” Waverly doesn’t want to ruin the mood and tell Wynonna that she is dateless for the dance tonight. The knowledge that Champ dumped her weeks ago to date Stephanie Jones will only make Wynonna mad, or worse, pity her. So, she pretends that everything is fine, and hopes that Chrissy and Perry will take a photo with her, so she doesn’t look so alone.
Wynonna rubs her eyes, “Great. I won’t be home later but have fun baby girl.” She briskly leaves the room, as though her emotional limit has been met and she must remove herself from the situation before it becomes too much. Waverly supposes Wynonna wears her own masks, for Waverly’s sake, and perhaps her own.
The Purgatory hallway is awash of streamers and posters, the perfect amount of chaos to distract anyone from Waverly’s current less-than-cheerful mood. As she approaches her locker, she feels her phone vibrate in her pocket. Pulling it out, an unknown number simply writes:
Hi, I got your number from a friend. I just thought you should know that I see you, and you are extraordinary.
Extraordinary? She looks around again, hoping for some clue as to who sent her the message. She doesn’t see anyone obviously on their phone. Chrissy and Perry are chatting a few lockers down, staring deeply into each other’s eyes. Nicole is with her basketball team, no doubt celebrating their most recent victory. Champ has his arm around Stephanie’s shoulders, but he winks when he catches Waverly’s eye. Her stomach drops and she pulls out her phone, quickly sending a reply.
That’s not very nice, Champ. What will Stephanie think?
She looks up at him, but he doesn’t pull out his phone. She waits another moment for a response but doesn’t receive one. Her thoughts are interrupted by Chrissy, who pulls her into a hug and squeals into her ear about the perfect dress that she got for the dance. Waverly forces a smile on her face, choosing to ignore the text and move on with her day. Champ has taken up enough of her time.
The next text comes through at lunch:
Not Champ. I doubt he knows the definition of the word extraordinary. And he definitely doesn’t see you. If he did, he would never have let you go.
Waverly’s surprise is instant and evident on her face. She knows it. If anyone were looking at her at the exact moment that text came through, they would have seen a full array of emotions pass over her face. Shock, elation, wonder, curiosity. Waverly Earp was truly speechless.
Ok, so if you aren’t Champ, then who are you?
She looks around the cafeteria, hoping to catch the person who is texting her. A foolish endeavor, she realizes, as she notices that everyone is on their phone. Her phone dings and she rushes to open the message.
I’m just someone who has seen who you truly are. You shouldn’t hide behind a fake smile, Waverly Earp. Your real smile is truly beautiful.
A blush spreads across her face and she pulls her bottom lip into her mouth, fighting the smile that she knows her admirer witnessed.
Chrissy and Perry sit down next to her and shake her from her reverie. “Whoa Waves. Who made you so happy?” Chrissy wonders. “I haven’t seen you smile like that in…well, I’ve never seen you smile like that!” Perry nods his head, dutifully agreeing with his girlfriend.
There is no holding back the joy that these simple texts have created. She doesn’t even know who it is, but the thought that someone can actually see the real Waverly Earp is enough to make her head spin. Her mood from that morning is quickly engulfed by the joy she feels at this moment. Waverly’s smile is out in full force now. Her phone dings again:
There it is.
The mystery texter is quiet after that, not even responding to Waverly’s repeated questioning about their identity. She can almost let this mystery go; almost accept that someone, somewhere knows who she is and thinks she’s worth something. Waverly can live off of this feeling for the rest of her Senior Year.
Except, she doesn’t want to. Waverly wants to know this person, just as they know her. She wants to drop her mask and just be free from any expectations, and she wants to know that she can do that because this person, whomever they are, have made her feel alive for the first time since she was a child. So, when the bell rings to signal the end of the school day, Waverly doesn’t plaster on a fake smile and walk to halls saying happy platitudes to her classmates. Instead, she pulls out her phone, takes a deep breath and jumps.
Meet me at the dance tonight?
The reply happens quickly, and Waverly wonders if they were expecting her to text when school was over.
You don’t even know who I am.
Waverly giggles softly, pushing her hair behind her ears as she responds. The chattering from her classmates in the hallway form a white noise that calms her. She doesn’t notice a particular pair of eyes watching her from the other end of the hall, waiting with bated breath. Waverly simply stares at her phone, smiling widely as she hits send.
I want to.
So here she is, clad in her mother’s blue dress, standing at the entrance of the gymnasium. Her last text gone unanswered, and yet she hopes. Waverly hopes with every last ounce that she has that she’s finally found someone truly for her in this town. She checks her phone again, but still no word. The dance has been in full swing for a half-hour, and Waverly’s nerves are at a breaking point. She feels a tap on the shoulder, and without a lick of grace, she turns.
“Hey Waves, Perry and I wanted to take a group picture with you. I know you usually leave these things early, so do you want to go now?” Chrissy asks, clearly not aware of the immense disappointment that now radiates from Waverly’s aura.
She recovers as quickly as she can, pushing forth a smile, one that resembles a grimace rather than a grin, and follows her best friend to the photographer. After entirely too many shots, due to everyone deciding that they wanted to jump into a group photo at that exact moment, Waverly excuses herself and heads to the bathroom.
She stares at her reflection and exhales. Her shoulders fall, her jaw slackens, and her expression slips. She feels her body fold in on itself as though a weight is placed on her back. She can see her eyes glisten and her lip tremble. It’s pathetic. She’s pathetic. Of course, no one in this town really wants to be with her. They like the version of her that’s happy and nice – the sweet Waverly Earp who was dealt a bad hand but still walks on air. They want the girl that doesn’t really exist. Maybe whoever sent the text realizes that she’s not worth the effort. Maybe…
“Waverly?” a soft voice interrupts her contemplations.
Waverly jolts and sniffles, quickly wiping her eyes before turning and facing the intruder. She should know that the bathroom at a school dance is not the best place to have a breakdown. It is just Waverly’s luck that the voice belongs to Nicole Haught. “Nicole, hi,” she swipes her hand across her eyes, rubbing the tears into her cheeks. “Sorry, I was just leaving.” She moves to brush past the redhead, but an arm reaches out and stops her.
“Are…Are you crying?” Nicole prompts gently, worry etched on her face.
Waverly huffs, “Of course not. It’s allergies, or something,” she explains poorly, “You know me!” She forces a smile for show’s sake, clenching her jaw to stop the tremble that threatens to escape.
“I do,” Nicole begins, “I do know you, Waverly Earp.”
It’s the way she says it that causes Waverly to pause. She says it like it’s a code, that it should mean something greater than the words state. That it should mean something to Waverly. “Nicole,” she starts, hope wavering beneath the surface, “Are you…?”
Nicole grasps her hand, playing with her fingers with such a gentle touch that Waverly can almost believe it was a dream. “I got nervous. I never expected you to want to meet.”
“But you’re Nicole Haught.”
Nicole chuckles, “Yes, and you are Waverly Earp.”
Waverly feels her heart hammering but feels like her brain is still five steps behind. “I don’t understand.”
Nicole sighs, “I’ve always noticed you, but I just never thought you might be interested in me. I don’t even know if you are into girls and…”
“I am,” Waverly chimes in, laughing softly at Nicole’s surprised expression.
“Well, good to know,” she begins, biting her lower lip. “It’s our senior year and I always assumed that you were happy with Champ, but then you broke up and I noticed that you didn’t seem changed by it. You still smiled the same. You spoke the same. I thought, maybe you weren’t really happy with him. And then, when you bumped into me before the game the other night, I saw it.”
“What did you see?”
“You, Waverly. I saw you. You were looking up at me and you had this smile that reached all the way to your eyes. I always thought you were beautiful, but at that moment, it was like a whole other level of beauty.”
Nicole’s eyes meet hers, and Waverly knows she never wants to look away. “Then why did you walk away from me? I did, you know, think we had a moment. But then you left. I know you had a game but…”
Shaking her head, Nicole smiles, “Because I saw you slip on your fake smile. The one that you give to everyone, and I thought maybe I had imagined it. But after seeing how sad you looked after the game, I wondered, hoped really, that you felt the same.”
“I did. I do.”
“So, I got your number from Chrissy, and I sent you that text. I just wanted you to know how amazing you are, Waverly Earp. Even if nothing came from my feelings, I had to let you know that I see how truly wonderful you are.” Nicole holds Waverly’s hand tighter, as though anything less would cause Waverly to disappear.
Waverly takes it all in, and it’s more than she had ever dreamed she could feel. To feel truly seen, to be truly wanted is all she’s ever wanted. And for the first time, it’s within her grasp. She looks up into Nicole’s eyes and feels that same warmth spread through her body like a freight train. She can feel her smile form, knows how wide it is by how limited her vision has become. Nicole releases her hand and gently touches the creases by her eyes with the pad of her thumb, smiling in return. “You really are so beautiful,” Nicole murmurs. A magnetic force pulls Waverly closer to Nicole, forcing her onto her toes as she leans up. Their lips are millimeters apart when the door bursts open.
Chrissy charges in before halting abruptly. She looks between the two blushing girls and smirks. “So that’s why you wanted her number, Haught.” She makes a ‘tsking’ noise with her teeth, “Sneaky.” Chrissy turns her attention to her best friend, who is a puddle of embarrassment. “But I guess if you can make my best friend this happy, then I’m behind you 100 percent.” She shakes her head and turns to leave, “But maybe you two should find another place to hang out. Kissing in a bathroom is just plain skeevy,” and with that, she departs.
Waverly’s blush has reached an all-time high and she turns to apologize to Nicole, who just laughs softly. “She’s right, you know. Our first kiss shouldn’t be in the same room as a toilet.” She tilts Waverly’s chin up and kisses her softly on the cheek, burning a hole through Waverly’s already warm face.
“What did you have in mind then?”
Nicole holds out her hand and opens the door, “May I have this dance, Waverly Earp.”
As Waverly allows Nicole to lead her back to the gym, and a slow ballad plays in the background, she thinks that’s she’s never been this happy. And when Nicole’s lips finally touch hers, she knows it.
And when this night ends Waverly knows, without a shadow of a doubt, that she doesn’t have to wear a mask anymore. Because her mask helped her survive, but life is about more than just surviving, and Waverly can’t wait to experience it all.