“I just love being in here,” Taylor told her with a smile. “Oh, I see Danny!”
Katherine looked around the ice for Cooper. When she spotted him she noticed him wink at her through his facemask. Her insides fluttered.
The seats quickly filled up and before Katherine knew it they had formed the “girlfriends section.” It was the area of the rink where all of the girlfriends of the guys on the team ended up sitting. All the other girls knew exactly who Taylor and Katherine were, and exactly who they were there to watch play. “Hi, I’m Kristie. I’m dating Tommy. He’s number 39.”
“Nice to meet you. I’m Katherine.”
“Hey, I’m Taylor.”
Introductions went all around and Katherine thought to herself that it was the first time other girls were actually being nice to her when it came to Cooper. She relaxed her shoulders and attempted to watch the game she knew nothing about.
The crowd went crazy when the team skated onto the ice but nothing was louder than the cheers for Cooper when they introduced him over the loudspeakers. Katherine felt a glow of warm pride inside her.
Cooper skated around on the ice effortlessly. The way he moved and stopped was as easy for him as walking. This was a side of him she didn’t see everyday. Being a hockey player brought out his tough edges. He couldn’t walk around and punch people on campus but on the ice it was a different story. He could be rough, aggressive, and powerful. And he was. She watched him slam people into the sides of the rink and wondered how they didn’t get hurt.
She noticed the other team was always very aware of where he was and they tried their best to stop his every move. But no one could stop Cooper Donovan on the ice. He made goals, assisted with goals, and led his team to victory. Now she understood why people treated him the way they did. He was like a god when he played and it was incredible to watch. People wanted to be part of it because it was special.
After the game the girls followed the other girlfriends downstairs into a secluded tunnel area. There was a door that led to the locker room and it was the only way in or out.
Katherine turned to Taylor and whispered, “Do you think Cooper’s parents are here?”
“I didn’t even think about it, but I bet they are,” Taylor looked around.
The door swung open as Danny and Cooper walked out together, smiling widely. Cooper’s eyes darted into the crowd as he looked for familiar faces. He spotted Katherine and his face softened. She started to walk toward him when she noticed a couple motion him over. He kissed the short, dark-haired woman on the cheek and gave the older, gray-haired man a hug. He looked back at Katherine and waved her over. She started to shake nervously with each step.
“Mom, Dad, this is Katherine.”
“Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Donovan. It’s nice to meet you,” Katherine said with kindness.
Cooper’s dad welcomed and greeted Katherine with a warm hug, “It’s nice to meet you too, Katherine. I’ve heard a lot about you.” Katherine shot Cooper a surprised look.
“Yes, Katherine. Nice to meet you,” Cooper’s mother reached out her hand to greet her with a firm shake. Her tone of voice was cold and unfriendly. Katherine noticed Cooper’s eyes narrow in disapproval.
He turned to Katherine before his mother could do any more damage and said, “I’m going to grab some dinner with my parents. I’ll call you later. Thanks for coming to the game,” he bent down and kissed her lips with longing.
Katherine blushed. Embarrassed, she quickly responded, “Of course. It was a lot of fun. ’Bye, Mr. and Mrs. Donovan. It was nice to meet you.” She spotted Taylor and rushed over.
“Oh hey. Dad, this is Taylor’s roommate Katherine. She’s also Donovan’s girlfriend.”
“So, you’re the lucky girl? Nice to meet you, kid.” Danny’s dad shook her hand and then pulled her in for a hug.
“Nice to meet you, too. Are you sure you’re not Danny’s older brother or something, you look so young!”
“Oh, I like this girl,” he winked.
“You can have her,” Taylor joked.
“I’ll take you both.” The girls giggled and Danny shuffled his feet.
“Dad! We’re gonna get some food. Do you want to come?”
“No. You two go. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Taylor offered.
“Are you sure?” Danny asked again.
“Of course I’m sure. Plus, you guys need time alone. You can see me anytime. It was nice to meet you, sir,” Taylor smiled.
“You too, beautiful. I’ll make sure he takes good care of you.” He threw his arm around his son and squeezed him tightly, “And if he doesn’t, I will.”
Danny pretended to choke and his dad just squeezed him harder. He squirmed out of the choke hold and ran over to Taylor. He gave her a quick kiss before he headed out of the rink with his dad’s arm draped over his shoulders. Katherine and Taylor walked toward their dorm.
“So, did you meet Cooper’s parents?”
“Yeah. His dad was so nice, but his mom...” Katherine couldn’t hide her hurt feelings.
“What about her? Was she mean?”
“She was kind of mean,” Katherine explained. “She was super cold and not very friendly.”
“Don’t read into it, Kat. A lot of the moms out here are overly protective of their baby boys.”
“Oh, I’m not kidding. They all claim they want their sons to find good girls but the truth is...no girl will ever be good enough.”
“So, she hates me because her son likes me?”
“First of all, she doesn’t really hate you. She just doesn’t think you’re good enough for her precious Cooper,” Taylor laughed.
“Well that’s a relief.” Katherine understood, but she wanted Cooper’s parents to like her. She jumped when her phone rang.
She looked at the screen and answered, “Hey, Coop. Aren’t you at dinner?”
“Yes. I just wanted to apologize for my mother’s behavior and tell you I’m sorry. She’s like that with everyone. I think it’s an Irish mom thing. It just takes a while before she warms up to people. I should have warned you. I just didn’t want you to feel bad or take it personally, okay?”
The phone was quiet. “Okay? Katherine?”
“Okay. It just sucks,” she moped.
He let out a quick laugh, “I know. But it’s not you. I have to go.”
“Okay. Hey, thanks for calling.” Katherine hung up and looked at Taylor, “Well, you were right. Some sort of crazy Irish mom thing.”
“Told you. But that was really sweet of him to call you.”
“Yeah. He’s good like that,” Katherine agreed.
Katherine walked into the dining hall on campus and looked around frantically for her friends. She hated standing alone in a crowd. Her eyes darted from table to table before she spotted Taylor waving her arm wildly in the air.
Cooper elbowed Danny, “Slide down a seat so Katherine can sit next to me.”
“So bossy,” Danny yawned before moving over.
Cooper pulled the chair out slightly and Katherine sat down. He leaned over and gave her a quick peck on the cheek before returning to his food.
Katherine looked at the plate in front of him and her eyes widened. “How can you eat all of that?”
Cooper looked down, “I’m hungry.”
“How are you not five hundred pounds?” Katherine shook her head.
“Oh Kat, speaking of food—I keep meaning to ask you, are you going home for Thanksgiving?” Taylor wondered as Cooper instantly perked up.
“Huh? Oh no. I can’t fly all the way to California for Thanksgiving. But I’ll go home for Christmas. Why?”
“Were you ever going to tell me that?” Taylor chastised her.
“Um, probably when it got closer,” Katherine told her politely.
“Katherine, it’s in two weeks! How do you not know this?”
“Okay, sheesh. Taylor, I’m not flying home for Thanksgiving. I’m staying here. Happy now?”
“I’ll only be happy if you agree to come home with me.” Before Katherine could answer Taylor added, “It’s not really a question because you don’t have a choice.”
“She could always come home with me,” Cooper interjected.
Cooper Donovan had just invited her to his house for a holiday meal. She just about choked on her food. “Oh yeah. I’m sure your mom would love that,” Katherine blurted out. She tried to recover and quickly added, “I mean, I really want to meet Taylor’s family.”
She stumbled, “Not that yours isn’t great, it’s just that I think I’d feel more comfortable at Tay’s house, you know?”
“It’s fine, California. I get it.” He threw his arm around her and gave her a squeeze. “My family isn’t good enough for you. It’s okay.”
“Don’t say that. That’s not what I...” He cut her off with a kiss.
“I’m teasing,” he comforted her. “And what did I tell you about my mom?”
“That she’s like that with everyone,” Katherine sighed.
“Exactly. So please don’t take it personally. She’ll love you soon enough.”
Katherine smiled, but she wasn’t so sure.
“Don’t worry, Kat. My mom will be nice to you,” Taylor said snidely, and looked in Cooper’s direction. Cooper made a face at her and she stuck out her tongue.
“Don’t look at me like that, Donovan. It’s not my fault your mom’s mean,” Taylor said through her laughter.
“My mom just loves me more than your mom loves you,” Cooper noted.
“Well, that’s probably true.”
The laughter faded into the background as Katherine’s thoughts drifted. She found herself excited at the idea of leaving campus for awhile.
“I’m really excited Taylor. Thank you,” Katherine beamed.
Cooper and Danny came over to see the girls off and say their goodbyes. This was going to be the longest they’d been apart since they started to date. Katherine was amazed at the amount of people in the parking lot. It almost felt like the first day of school. She looked around and noticed that no one glared in her direction. It seemed as though Cooper Donovan having a girlfriend wasn’t front-page news any more. She was thankful.
Danny squeezed Taylor, “I’m going to miss you so much.”
“You can’t miss me if I’m dead,” she choked out. He loosened his grip and then kissed her sweetly.
Cooper and Katherine were engaged in their own public display of affection. They looked into each other’s eyes, and didn’t speak a word. She put her hand on the side of his face and rubbed her thumb near his eye with the speckle.
“I’ll miss this eye,” she said and then kissed just above it.
“Only this one?” he smiled at her.
“Uh-huh. I totally play favorites.”
“Me too.” Cooper picked her up and kissed her. His soft lips brush against hers. “I’ll miss you.” The words came out so sweetly that she knew he genuinely meant them.