Waverly was staring at the magazine, studying the model’s cheeks and the slant of her jaw. The redhead was beautiful, but then again, all the magazine’s models were beautiful. They were all lean, tall, and had hair like a mare with a Hollywood stylist. All of them were breathtaking in their own way.
There’s something different about this one.
“Hey, baby girl,” Wynonna said as she walked into the room and peered over Waverly’s shoulder. Wynonna was Waverly’s middle sister and favorite person. “Is that who you’re going to make gorgeous today?” she asked, tilting her head for a better look.
Waverly was a makeup artist and often worked on fashion shoots. There were a lot of times that she would have to cover dark circles, sunken cheeks, and signs of a hard life lived etched on their faces. But not today. The model was seemingly perfect, and little effort would be required of her.
“From what I hear, Nicole doesn’t need a lot of makeup to make her gorgeous,” Waverly said, sounding longing and broken.
Because Waverly was broken, or at least she was in her mind. The youngest daughter of Ward and Michelle Earp. The daughter that no one wanted. Michelle had left when Waverly was four, and Ward drank himself to death before Waverly turned twelve. They were shadows in her mind, dark clouds of memories that haunted her because she wasn’t enough. But, Waverly’s brokenness was more than all of that.
Tracing the picture with her fingertip, Waverly wished for things that would never happen, or maybe it was that she hoped for things she could only dream of. The model was wearing a dark navy suit with a crisp white button-down shirt, leaning against a fancy sports car, smirking as if the whole world was hers.
And at the moment, the world did belong to Nicole. She was one of the top models, and everyone wanted her to sell their products.
“She’s hot,” Wynonna said as she winked at Waverly and then walked around the kitchen table. She grabbed her bottle of whiskey and a glass, filling it to the rim. “Like, really hot.”
Wynonna was right in more ways than one. Nicole was beautiful. She was tall with bright red hair and a face that the camera loved — sculpted by the sculptor. She was noticeable, unlike Waverly.
Waverly snorted. “You’re right. Her last name is Haught. H-A-U-G-H-T.”
Downing the whiskey in one gulp, Wynonna blinked a few times, and you could see the wheels turning in her mind. Waverly couldn’t help but smile at her sister. Wynonna’s lips twitched, holding back whatever thoughts she had conjured inside her brain, but it was as if she couldn’t hold herself back any longer.
“Haught? So many jokes,” she finally replied with a smirk. “Can I go with you to the set today? I think I need to meet Haught Pants.”
Wynonna had gone with Waverly to photo shoots a few times, but there was no way she was going to let her mischievous sister near Nicole Haught. There was too much at stake. Doing the makeup for someone with Nicole’s status was a major career boost for Waverly, and she wasn’t going to take any chances.
“Why not?” Wynonna whined annoyingly. “Please? I really really want to see Haught Potato.”
Shaking her head and closing the magazine, Waverly pushed her chair back and stood up. She had been sitting in the small kitchen of their shared apartment, drinking tea and trying not to have a panic attack, when Wynonna had wandered into the room.
So much for peace and quiet.
When Waverly moved from their small hometown, a nasty place called Purgatory, to Los Angeles, Wynonna was traveling around Greece. But, as soon as she heard that Waverly was living alone in the big city, her big sister jumped onto a plane and moved back to “protect” her.
She was glad to have Wynonna with her, but sometimes Waverly needed a freaking minute to herself. She needed a minute to think and plan. A moment in time to let her dreams move from the darkness of night to the daylight.
“Wynonna,” Waverly started with a huff. She crossed her arms over her chest, holding the magazine in her fingers and glaring at her sister. “I can’t let you go. This job is too important. I can’t let you go and say all of your funny puns, okay? I mean, I’m going to be enough of a bumbling fool. I don’t need you being all badass.”
Wynonna held up her hands, eyes narrowing and lips turning down in a frown. “Chill your tits, baby girl. I was joking. And, you are no fool.”
Dropping her arms to her side, Waverly tilted her head back and stared at the white ceiling. She knew Wynonna was joking, but she was stressing over this job. Waverly was worried about being around Nicole. There were stories about the woman being difficult, and Waverly didn’t want to screw up.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
Waverly was still staring at the ceiling when she heard Wynonna moving around the kitchen. Waverly moved her head, watching her sister as she walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out the leftovers from the previous evening. She opened the microwave door, threw them inside, and then slammed it shut.
“Why are you so nervous about today?” Wynonna asked, sounding more like a demand. “She’s not all that special.”
But Nicole was special. She was everything Waverly wanted to be, or maybe all Waverly wanted. Waverly wasn’t sure. She was definitely attracted to Nicole. There was no doubt about that part, but Waverly wished she was the one in front of the camera and not the little girl with the makeup brush.
“Yes, she is,” Waverly whispered. “She’s beautiful.”
When Waverly was a little girl, she dreamed about being a model. She wanted people to notice her and think that she was special. Waverly wanted to draw people in and not be the girl that everyone left.
She had craved attention and praise but mostly went unnoticed throughout her life. Yes, Waverly had been top in her class, head cheerleader, and had dated the captain of the football team, but she had done all of those things in a small town. A town with limited options or opportunities. A town that allowed her to be bigger than she could ever be in the real world.
A big fish in a small pond.
And Waverly knew it was true. She had tried to do some modeling when she arrived in LA but was told that she looked too much like the girl next door. She was too short, her hair was too brown, or her eyes crinkled too much when she smiled. All the things Waverly had once thought made her unique were suddenly ordinary.
“Waverly,” Wynonna said quietly but loud inside Waverly’s mind, breaking her out of her spiraling thoughts. “You’re beautiful too. You know that, right?”
Waverly was shaking her head as she walked toward the door, trying to escape the words she knew Wynonna was going to say. Waverly had heard the pep talk from Wynonna a hundred times. She had heard people say she was beautiful. Champ had said she was sexy, but all of those words were obviously lies. Waverly wasn’t sexy enough to keep Champ from cheating, nor was she enough to make her parents love her.
“Don’t say it!” Waverly called over her shoulder as she stormed to her room. “I’m the girl next door. Nothing special.”
Even Wynonna was gorgeous. She was taller than Waverly. Wynonna’s hair was darker, and her eyes were the same shade of blue as a summer sky. And her ass was top shelf. Wynonna had told Waverly that so many times that she couldn’t count them.
Walking into her room and slamming the door behind her, Waverly leaned against it for a few seconds. She hated when she let the doubts and worries fill her heart and mind, spilling out of her eyes in the form of tears. With her free hand, she roughly rubbed them away.
Cover girls don’t cry.
Or at least girls that made-up cover girls don’t cry.
Waverly blew out a long shaky breath as she walked toward her bed, tossing the magazine onto the nightstand before digging through the drawer. Once she found the scissors, Waverly grabbed the magazine and flipped to the picture of Nicole.
She carefully cut the picture out of the magazine and then walked to her bulletin board, adding to the row of photos. They were all pictures of models that Waverly had worked with at some point, or photos of models she wished she looked like. It was her woe-is-me board.
Waverly caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and sighed heavily. Her long brown hair was pulled up into a tight ponytail. She was wearing black pants and a beige sweater. So very plain. Waverly looked at the scissors, thinking about chopping off her hair, but she never could bring herself to do it.
Maybe shorter hair would make me look sexier.
Taking a step back and gripping the scissors tighter in her hand, Waverly shook her head and returned her focus to the picture of Nicole Haught. There was something in her brown eyes that was different from the other models. Waverly could see a warmth there or maybe a light that had yet to be extinguished by the hard life.
Whatever it was in those honey-brown eyes, it made Waverly’s heart beat a little quicker, and she couldn’t wait to meet the woman that belonged to those warm eyes. Even though there was no way that Nicole Haught would ever notice someone as simple as Waverly Earp.
Nicole was staring at the tiny tank top and boy shorts that she was supposed to wear for the photo shoot. They were all black and would be form-fitting, but she had modeled worse. At least it wasn’t bikini underwear this time.
She sighed heavily, then looked around the small dressing room. Nicole had been modeling for years. She had been blessed with long legs and bright hair. Her features were strong and unique. It was the only good thing that she received from her parents.
Wolf and Wildflower Haught were hippies, and they had dragged her all over the world until she was sixteen. Wolf and Wildflower weren't their real names, of course, but Haught was her father’s surname. Nicole was sure they were high when they named her Nicole Rayleigh Haught, but it had helped her in her career, so maybe they actually gave her two decent things.
When she was sixteen, the Haught family was camping near a beach in LA. Nicole was swimming in the ocean when a photographer took some pictures of her. The photos led to an agent, which eventually led to numerous magazine covers and years of living under the lights of the big modeling circus tent.
Nicole hated it. She was tired of watching what she ate. Nicole was sick of exercising three hours a day. She was exhausted from fighting off advances from people she wasn’t interested in and offers that she would never consider. Nicole was tired of being envied and was ready to fade away. She was ready to disappear.
Good thing this is the last job.
While the world didn’t know, Nicole’s contract was ending, and she knew she had no plans to renew it. She had done her time on the runway and in front of the camera. She wanted to settle down in some small town and disappear.
A small fish in a big pond.
Nicole was tired of being beautiful. She wanted to be more than what was on the surface — something deeper. As soon as the shoot was over, Nicole planned to pack up her things and drive east, searching for a place where she could belong. A place where she could teach and coach basketball.
Maybe find someone to love.
All of these years in front of the camera had made Nicole hard and cold, and she was tired of trying to protect herself. She had learned early on that most people wanted to be near her because of her looks and the things she could do for them. But now, Nicole just wanted someone to love he.
She pulled the simple white T-shirt over her head, then unbuttoned her jeans and slipped them down her legs before pulling the new underwear from the hangers. Nicole quickly finished undressing and then pulling on the new underwear.
Once she was dressed, Nicole walked toward the mirror and looked at herself. She looked good in the boy shorts, and the tank top displayed her toned back nicely. She turned around, looking at herself from all angles, and she couldn’t deny that she looked good — almost perfect.
“Ms. Haught,” someone called as they knocked on her door. “Would you like some lunch?”
Hell yes, Nicole wanted lunch. She was starving again — she was always starving. But as her manager had told her a million times, beauty is pain. Then again, this would be the last time Nicole had to be beautiful.
You don’t have to be hungry anymore.
Opening the door and looking at the young person staring up at her, Nicole opened her mouth to say yes, but before she could, her manager rounded the corner.
“No, she doesn’t want anything to eat. Look at that body. We don’t need to wreck it.”
“Lucado,” Nicole mumbled, cursing under her breath. “I don’t think a salad would wreck my body.”
Lucado waved away the sweet human that was offering Nicole sustenance, then walked into the dressing room, pulling Nicole inside the room with her. Lucado slammed the door, turning to look at Nicole. The woman was dressed in a white suit. Her hair was pulled up in a tight bun, and her makeup was meticulously done.
Nicole knew that Jeannie Lucado was a model back in the day, and she could still see how much her looks meant to her. Nicole narrowed her eyes, and she tried to see if there was anything behind the beauty. But all Nicole could see were hard lines and a cold heart.
“I have your new contract,” Lucado said as she held the folder toward Nicole. “It’s a great deal, Haught. You better take it. You’re getting too old to model. Your looks will be gone before you know it, and all of this will fade away.”
“Good,” Nicole breathes out and means it.
Anger flashed in Lucado’s eyes, and the look made Nicole clench her teeth. They had had this fight numerous times over the last few months. Nicole was nothing but money to Lucado and her modeling agency. She didn’t care that Nicole was dying inside. It was only the surface that mattered, and they needed to cash in while the surface still looked good.
“Haught,” Lucado spat, sounding frustrated and resolved. “You are signing this damn contract, or the agency is going to sue you.”
Nicole laughed loud and hard. She knew better. Nicole had her attorney friend look at all of the agreements Nicole had signed, and Dolls assured her that once she finished this shoot, she could walk away into the darkness.
“Whatever, Jeanie. You know you can’t sue me. I have fulfilled all of my contractual obligations. I’m done. I’m retiring.”
Lucado’s arms fell to her side, letting the folder dangle from her fingers. Her eyebrows furrowed together, and she pursed her lips. Nicole could tell she was formulating a new argument, but there were no words that could make her stay.
“What if,” Lucado started. “What if we donate all your salary to,” she waved her hand around. “One of those charities you like so much.”
Nicole’s reputation was bad. She had purposely acted distant on sets and tried to keep to herself as much as possible. She knew that people in the industry thought she was a demanding bitch, but she was generous with her time and her money, helping as many people as she could along the way.
She would find new ones to help. Nicole had been taking classes online and had recently received her degree in education. She was going to teach math and coach. Nicole was going to help kids see they were more than what they could see in the mirror.
“No,” Nicole said firmly.
Lucado didn’t move, standing and staring at Nicole as if she was running through a million other suggestions. Nicole wondered if her head might explode.
“Ms. Haught.” Someone knocked hard on the dressing room door, causing Lucado and Nicole to jump. “Makeup is ready for you.”
Neither Nicole nor Lucado moved. The set around them was noisy, filled with people and clatter, but there was only silence between the two women.
Then there was another knock on the door. It was more urgent, breaking the tension between them.
“Come in,” Nicole called, still glaring at Lucado. She could feel the anger starting to press inside her chest. Nicole needed Lucado to leave before she exploded in front of everyone. “I think we’re finished here,” she said harshly.
“I don’t think so, Haught.”
“Ummm,” the makeup artist stuttered. She was standing in the doorway, holding a big bag and looking between Nicole and Lucado. “Do I need to come back later?”
Lucado turned, looking at the makeup artist, and Nicole thought flames were going to come out of Lucado’s ears.
“No, mouse,” she growled bitterly. “Come in and try to make Haught perfect. She doesn’t need to be late for the shoot.”
“Don’t call her mouse,” Nicole demanded, feeling the fire inside burn even more. “Say what you want to say, Jeanie.”
“I can’t say what I need to say in front of plain Jane. Who the hell are you anyway? Can’t they at least send someone who knows how to put makeup on themselves?”
The makeup artist stood near the door, fidgeting with her bag and looking nervous. Her cheeks were bright red, and with every hurtful comment from Lucado, the woman seemed to shrink. She was cute, and there was something fresh and innocent about her. Nicole suddenly felt the need to protect her.
“That’s enough,” Nicole erupted, pointing toward the door. “We can talk later.”
Lucado threw the contract onto the sofa and then stormed past the makeup artists, knocking her bag out of her hand. Nicole wanted to chase after her soon-to-be former boss. She wanted to make Lucado come back and apologize, but Nicole wanted the bitch to leave even more.
“Are you okay?” she asked, moving to help the makeup artist gather the things that had spilled out of the bag. “I’m sorry about her.”
“It’s okay. It was my fault. I shouldn’t have been in the way. I’m always in the way. Crazy day,” she rambled, collecting her things. Her eyes were wide, and Nicole could see that her hands were trembling.
Nicole picked up the last makeup brush and stood. She looked at the woman, and it felt like her heart beat for the first time in years. She was much shorter than Nicole. Her brown hair was pulled away to display her lovely face, and her hazel eyes twinkled like the stars.
“No, it was definitely Lucado’s fault,” Nicole said softly, holding out the brush. “I’m Nicole. Nicole Haught.”
The makeup artist, seemingly flustered, stared at Nicole’s outstretched hand for what seemed like an eternity before she adjusted her bag and accepted it.
“And you are….” Nicole asked, not letting go of the other woman’s hand.
“Oh! Sorry! Waverly. I’m Waverly Earp,” she said as she pulled her hand away and gave a jittery wave. “Of course, you’re Nicole. I mean, everyone knows you are around here. Quite the popular girl. Oh, is it okay if I say, girl? Probably not. Fudgenuggets.”
The hand that had been waving covered Waverly’s heart, and the pink blush that touched her cheeks was precious. Nicole’s heart beat a little faster, and for the first time in a long time, her smile was big enough that her dimples made an appearance.
“Yeah, that’s fine, Waverly,” she chuckled lightly. “It’s nice to meet you.”
Nicole could feel Waverly’s eyes roam her barely clad body. It was far from the first time that she had been ogled, but there was something different about the way Waverly was looking at her, and by the time the hazel eyes found Nicole’s face, Waverly’s pink cheeks had turned a bright red.
“Oh, shit. You have dimples!”
Her modeling face had always been serious and sexy. Lucado had told Nicole early in her career that dimples were a downfall and to keep them hidden, so she had.
Dented and damaged.
“Yeah,” Nicole nodded, the smile falling from her face to the floor, landing at her feet. “Sorry about that. Are you ready?” she asked as she grabbed her robe.
“Yeah. Umm, just give me a minute to set up, and I’ll be ready. Not that you need much work, you know, because you’re a ginger goddess,” Waverly rambled as she moved toward the dressing table. “Like perfect.”
Nicole snorted. “Ginger goddess?”
“Oh my gosh. I need to stop talking. Can you make me stop talking?”
Nicole’s first thought was that if she kissed those perfect lips, Waverly would have to stop talking. But instead of expressing that thought, she walked to the chair and sat down.
“Actually, I like to hear you talk. Please continue. Tell me about yourself, Waverly Earp. How long have you been a makeup artist?”
Waverly’s eyes widened as if she couldn’t believe Nicole wanted to know more about her. She moved nervously around the table, pulling out brushing and makeup before looking at Nicole again.
“I’m nobody,” Waverly said, placing her hands on either side of Nicole’s face, turning it from side to side. “Not long. The regular makeup artist was sick, so they called me yesterday to fill in. I hope that’s okay. Lucado gave me very specific instructions, so I shouldn’t be able to fudge it up.”
A sadness settled inside Waverly’s eyes, and Nicole hated it. She instantly missed the brightness that was there when Waverly first walked into the room.
Damn Lucado. Damn world and its perfect mirrors.
Grabbing Waverly’s wrists and giving them a squeeze, Nicole smiled and shook her head. “Waverly, do whatever you think needs to be done. Just cover up the scar.”
The damn scar that made Nicole flawed — imperfect.
After Nicole had signed the modeling contract, she had gone out with some friends to celebrate. There had been a fight at the bar, and Nicole took a punch to the face. Lucado had a meltdown and added to every contract that the scar had to be covered.
If she were honest with herself, Nicole would have to admit that she loved the little mark under her left eye. It reminded her of the last time that she was wild and free. A time when she didn’t have to be beautiful. A time when she could just be Nicole and life was more than her appearance.
“I like it,” Waverly whispered, using her fingertip to trace the scar, studying it. “It makes you even more perfect. And, I like your dimples too.”
Nicole’s broken soul mended just a bit. No one had ever admired her imperfections. No one had told her that they liked the things about her that everyone else seemed to hate.
“You do?” Nicole asked, quiet and unsure.
Nicole had forgotten what it felt like to be seen. But hopefully, now that all of this was about to be over, she could surround herself with people who cared about her and not about the money she made for them. Maybe, she could even get to know Waverly Earp a little more.
“Thank you,” Nicole said softly. “Where are you from, Waverly? I know you aren’t from here. You don’t seem to be tainted.”
Waverly leaned back, looking at Nicole as if she couldn’t believe she would be interested, or maybe like she was scared out of her mind. But regardless, she was intrigued by Waverly Earp and wanted to know everything. Nicole wiggled her fingers, asking Waverly to spill all of the details.
“I’m from a small town in Colorado called Purgatory. Ummm, I’ve been here a little over a year. I live with my sister.”
“Oh, that’s nice,” Nicole ran her fingers through her hair. Family was such a touchy subject for her. She hated to discuss hers and was curious if everyone was like her. “You get along with your sister?”
Waverly nodded her head, then shook it as if she wasn’t sure. “Well, I get along with Wynonna, but my oldest sister, Willa, is kind of a bitch. What about you? Do you have any siblings?”
“No siblings. I haven’t seen my parents since I turned eighteen and cut them off.”
Waverly’s lips turned down, and Nicole held up her hands in defense. She knew that sounded bad, but it had been the right thing to do, and it was so much more than the money. They were bleeding the life out of her.
“They were terrible parents. Terrible people. I was discovered when I was sixteen, and they basically turned me over to Lucado but took all of my money.”
“Oh,” Waverly whispered. “My parents were terrible too.”
Nicole reached out and almost brushed her fingers along Waverly’s hand but stopped herself. They stared at each other for a moment, but then the door swung open, causing them both to turn toward it.
“We need you on stage in five minutes,” the photographer said as she stuck her head inside Nicole’s dressing room. “Hustle it up. Time is money.”
“Shoot!” Waverly dropped her hand and started applying makeup to Nicole’s face. She moved quickly, stepping back every few seconds to inspect her work. “I’m almost finished. I’ll have you on set in a jiffy.”
“Jiffy? Waverly Earp, you’re kind of adorable.”
Waverly’s hand stopped moving, and her eyes looked at Nicole’s as if she was searching for a lie in the words. Then, it was as if whatever she found sparked something, and the twinkle that had been in the hazel eyes returned.
“My sister says I’m an adorable psycho,” she finally said as she returned to her work. “Which is probably true.”
She stepped back again and smiled so big that her eyes disappeared, reminding Nicole of a crescent moon. “I think you’re ready.”
“Can I tell you a secret?” Nicole asked softly.
Nicole felt as if she could tell Waverly everything, or maybe she just desperately wanted to have someone to tell her secrets.
“Yes.” Waverly nodded and took a step closer. “You can tell me.”
Blowing out a long breath, Nicole nodded once, and she couldn’t stop herself from smiling. “This is my last photo shoot. I’m retiring.”
“What?” Waverly asked, sounding alarmed, crossing her arms over her chest. “Why do you want to retire? You’re at the top. Everyone wants to be you or be with you. Hell, I’d love to be beautiful like you.”
Every word that fell out of Waverly’s mouth crushed Nicole’s soul. She had thought this woman was different. There was something about Waverly that had made Nicole feel things, but obviously, she was wrong. Waverly wasn’t unique. She was just like everyone else that wanted nothing from Nicole but to look at her.
Nicole bit her bottom lip, trying to fight the tears that would ruin her makeup if she let them fall.
Cover girls don’t cry once their face is made.
She took a few steps toward the door, stopping before she walked out of the room. Nicole turned and looked at Waverly. The brunette was looking at the chair that Nicole had just left, her arms still crossed over her chest, and her lips were turned down.
When Nicole cleared her throat, Waverly turned and opened and closed her mouth a few times as if she wanted to say something. Her arms dropped to her side, and there was a sadness to her that tried to work inside Nicole’s heart.
“Waverly, you are beautiful. And if anyone has said otherwise, they’re wrong. You have a light….” Nicole said softly, shaking her head. “But I am more than just beautiful.”
She dropped her chin to her chest, trying to find the hope and excitement she had felt only moments ago. There had to be hope waiting for her in the dark. Nicole needed to believe that there was someone out there who would see beyond her skin and into her heart.
But it wasn’t Waverly Earp.
Nicole walked out of the room.
Waverly was staring at the photo of Nicole, wishing she could go back in time and correct her mistake. But she couldn’t. She had felt sick the moment Nicole walked out of the room. It was as if a little piece of her had walked out with the woman, and it had been lost ever since then.
Nicole had been so much more than what Waverly had expected. She thought Nicole would be like all the other models, haughty and mean, but the redhead had been kind. Nicole had even been nice during the shoot, complimenting Waverly’s abilities as a makeup artist and telling everyone on the set that they should hire her as their next model.
She had tried to talk to Nicole after the photo shoot, but Lucado had whisked her away, ignoring the “mouse” as she stood in the corner. Then, after the agency announced Nicole’s retirement, the redhead disappeared. She had even deleted her Twitter and Instagram accounts. It was as if she had fallen off the face of the earth.
“Whatcha doing, baby girl?” Wynonna asked as she walked into the room, peeking over Waverly’s shoulder. “Still looking at Haught Body?”
Wynonna wrapped her arm around Waverly’s shoulder, pulling her close. She leaned into her sister’s strength. Waverly had told Wynonna what happened, which resulted in a very long lecture from her big sister about how Waverly was beautiful but stupid.
“Yeah,” Waverly hummed sadly.
Digging into her pocket, Wynonna pulled out a piece of paper and held it out for Waverly. She looked at the bright yellow post-it note, reading an email address that was written on it.
“I hear there’s a new math teacher at this small school outside of Vegas,” Wynonna said as if she wasn’t giving Waverly a gift. “I hear she’s pretty Haught.”
Waverly snatched the note from Wynonna’s hand and stared at the messy handwriting that belonged to her sister. Wynonna was a private investigator, and Waverly had considered asking for her help in locating Nicole, but Waverly thought that would be crazy. They had only shared a few minutes, and while Waverly didn’t believe in love at first sight, she had wondered if Nicole could mean something to her.
But, mostly, Waverly wanted to tell Nicole that she was right. Nicole was more than beautiful, and Waverly had stopped looking at herself through other people’s eyes. She was beautiful too. Just the way she was.
“Email her,” Wynonna demanded as a smirk eased across her face. “I’m sick of you lusting over that hot picture of her in her underwear.”
Sitting at her desk, Waverly opened her laptop and turned it on. Her heart fluttered in her chest, and her palms felt sweaty. She didn’t know why she felt so nervous about sending an email, but she did, and she wanted the words to be perfect. She studied the screen for a moment before she began typing.
Let me first start by saying I’m not a stalker. Okay, maybe I am a little bit, but I promise that I will only stalk you through email.
I’ve thought a lot about your last photoshoot. I feel as if I hurt you with what I said. I mean, you are beautiful, but I’m sure you are much more than that. Anyway, I just wanted you to know that I am sorry and I hope you are enjoying your retirement.
She reread the email again. It wasn’t much but maybe apologizing would let her move on. Maybe it would help Waverly forget about Nicole Haught.
Waverly took a deep breath and hit send. She stared at the screen for a few minutes but clicked the start button and turned off the computer.
An hour later, Waverly was sitting at the kitchen table, talking to Wynonna. Her sister was trying to convince her to go back to school and get her degree in history, and for a change, Waverly was listening. She was tired of LA and sporadic jobs. She wanted something more.
“I feel like you’re wasting that brilliant brain of yours. You could teach or work at one of those boring museums.” Wynonna shrugged. “I just think you should think about it.”
“I know, Wynonna,” Waverly agreed as she opened her phone. “I’ll start applying.”
She almost dropped her phone when she saw an email from Nicole. Waverly quickly opened it and read, feeling better than she had in weeks.
Thank you for your email. One day, you’ll have to tell me how you found me. I guess it is okay if you stalk me via email.
I appreciate your apology, but I probably should apologize to you too. When we met, I don’t know why, but I felt some kind of connection with you, and I wanted you to see me as a person, not a model. That probably sounds weird, but it’s true. Anyway, thanks again for the email. Apology accepted, and I hope you will accept mine.
Before Waverly could read the email again, she received a notification from Instagram.
NRH started following you.
Waverly hit the follow back button, then started scrolling through Nicole’s page. She smiled at the recent pictures of Nicole. Her page was no longer filled with pictures of professional photos but only displayed candid pictures of Nicole — pictures of her living her best life. She no longer looked like a model but more like a high school coach.
Scrolling through, Waverly noticed that Nicole was tagged in dozens of photos with her students. Nicole tutoring. Nicole helping to clean the local park. Nicole and some of the kids volunteering at the local food bank. Nicole being more than beautiful.
Her thumb hovered over one precious picture of Nicole and a group of students, but before Waverly could click like her notifications went off again.
Nicole was liking and commenting on every one of Waverly’s posts. All the pictures that Waverly had always hated. All the times that she thought she looked like a mouse or plain. Nicole liked them all.
You look gorgeous in this picture.
You look perfect. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Waverly was staring at Nicole as she moved around the gymnasium, showing her team a new play. The long red hair had been cut, and it now barely touched Nicole’s shoulders. She was sweaty, and the locks were stuck to her forehead. Nicole was wearing baggy shorts and a hoodie. Her face was without any makeup, and her cheeks were red from exertion.
She laughed at something one of her players said, and her dimples deepened. There was a lightness to Nicole now that wasn’t there all those months ago.
Nicole was beautiful.
Waverly and Nicole had exchanged emails and comments on social media. There had been a lot of flirting and deep conversations over text messages. Then text messaging wasn’t enough, and they started calling each other, talking for hours. Nicole had encouraged Waverly to go back to school, and Waverly had been Nicole’s biggest cheerleader. But they had yet to see each other in person.
When she had woken up that morning, Waverly asked Wynonna if she wanted to take a road trip. Wynonna didn’t even have to ask where they were going. She had been telling Waverly that she needed to make a move before someone else snatched up Haught Pocket, and Waverly agreed.
“Coach, we got company,” one of her players yelled as they pointed toward Waverly.
Waverly looked down at her jeans and smoothed out her Taylor Swift T-shirt. Her hair was longer, flowing around her shoulders, and while she had touched up her makeup on the ride, Waverly knew she didn’t look her best. Still, the way Nicole looked at her made her feel beautiful.
“Alright, that’s enough for today. I’ll see you tomorrow. You all did amazing today. I’m proud of you.”
There were snickers, and the players were looking between Nicole and Waverly, but after a few seconds, they all disappeared.
Nicole walked toward Waverly, and a small smile curled onto her lips. She stopped a few feet away, not nearly close enough for Waverly, and tilted her head.
“Waverly Earp. What are you doing here?” she asked, sounding surprised and maybe a little excited.
Hopefully a little excited.
Waverly crossed her arms over her chest, trying to stop her heart from beating madly and freely inside her chest. She had practiced what she wanted to say on the ride but now seemed to have lost all of her words. So, instead of talking, she dropped her arms and walked toward Nicole.
Pressing up on her toes, Waverly placed a soft kiss on the corner of Nicole’s mouth. She wanted to do more. Waverly wanted to kiss Nicole. She wanted to touch her. She wanted to trace the scar that was no longer hidden, but mostly, Waverly to know Nicole.
She dropped down onto her heels, biting her bottom lips and trying to remember how to talk. Instead, Waverly held out her hand.
“I’ve been meaning to introduce myself. I’m Waverly Earp, and I’m beautiful.”
Nicole dipped her head, chuckling softly. When she looked up, she smiled so brightly that it almost blinded Waverly.
“I’m Nicole. Nicole Haught, and I am more than beautiful.”
Waverly’s hand trailed Nicole's arms, and then she brushed her finger against the scar. Every part of Waverly’s body tingled, and she needed to do what she had been dreaming about for weeks.
She wrapped her hands around Nicole’s neck, pulling her down and capturing her lips in a kiss that Waverly felt all the way to her toes.
“Woohoo! Way to go, coach!”
Obviously, the kids hadn’t really disappeared after all.
Waverly and Nicole both laughed, pulling away from each other and turning to look at the kids who were standing near the basketball court. They were clapping and cheering, and Waverly pressed her face into Nicole’s neck, giggling.
“Alright, that’s enough,” Nicole said, humor lacing her tone. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Once they were gone, Waverly leaned back and looked at Nicole.
“Will I see you tomorrow?” Waverly asked softly, brushing her lips against Nicole’s. “And maybe the day after that?”
Waverly hoped Nicole felt what she felt. She hoped that Nicole wanted to be with her. There was a time that Waverly wanted to be a model, but now, more than anything, Waverly just wanted to love a retired model.
“You can see me whenever you want to see me, beautiful.”
Capturing Nicole’s lips again, Waverly couldn’t help but smile as they kissed. They both had their scars and imperfections, but none of that mattered.
No one is perfect. You just need to find the person or people that support you and love you for what’s on the inside.
Because you’re beautiful just the way you are.