“I’ll miss you, too.” Even though part of her heart was somewhere else, other parts of it were reserved exclusively for Cooper Donovan and Katherine recognized that. She loved the way she felt when she was around him.
The guys grabbed the bags that were on the ground and packed them into the trunk of Taylor’s car.
“You have enough gas right?” Danny peered in to look at her gas gauge.
Taylor swatted at his head, “I’m not an idiot. I know how to drive. God, you’re annoying.”
Cooper leaned into the window and gave Katherine one last kiss before he paused to look into her eyes. “Out of the car, Donovan, before you lose your head,” Taylor lipped.
Taylor started to back out and was about to hit the gas pedal when she heard, “You know I’m totally in love with you, Taylor Dailey!”
Danny had just yelled the “L” word...in a parking lot…at school…in front of a bunch of people. Taylor slammed on the breaks, put the car in park, jumped out and hopped into his waiting arms.
“I love you too,” she admitted.
Cooper jogged over to Katherine and laughed. Her body tensed. She hoped and prayed he wasn’t going to tell her the same thing. She wasn’t ready for that. She knew she cared about Cooper Donovan, but she wasn’t sure she loved him. She wasn’t sure she could. How can you only give part of your heart to someone and call it love?
“Please don’t say it, please don’t say it, please don’t say it,” she repeated in her head.
“Danny’s crazy. That kid has no shame,” Cooper huffed.
Katherine watched as his heavy breathing made his chest go in and out. Sometimes she found it hard to get past that body.
“I just wanted to tell you one last time that I’ll miss you.” He hesitated, “And steal another kiss.” He put his head through the window and desperately clutched a fistful of her hair. He kissed her like her needed her. His mouth searched for comfort in hers. She felt dizzy with desire.
Taylor hopped back into the car, stopping their kiss cold. Katherine’s lips suddenly felt empty. “See ya later Cooper,” Taylor hinted. Cooper backed out of the car as Taylor hit the gas. Katherine locked eyes with him as he faded into the background.
“So, how’s it feel to be in love?” Katherine teased.
“Ha! That was crazy! I can’t believe he did that. He’s such a dork. But I’m on cloud nine right now if you want to know the truth,” Taylor glowed.
The girls laughed, sang and talked while they drove the mere hour and a half to Taylor’s house. Taylor didn’t say much about her family. The whole “I love you” thing had sent her down a different path. Katherine sang along with a song on the radio as she felt the car slow. She noticed a long, dirt driveway up ahead. Taylor turned onto it and pulled behind the house.
“We’re here!” Taylor jumped out of the car as the front door opened.
An attractive older man with brown hair and twinkling blue eyes suddenly appeared. “Katherine, this is my dad, Jack. Dad, this is my roommate, Katherine.”
“Nice to meet you,” Katherine smiled and held out her hand.
“We hug in this family. Come here, girl.” Taylor’s dad gave her a giant bear hug. Katherine immediately liked him. “And you can call me Dad, too. Or Jack. Whichever you prefer.”
“Thanks, Dad.” She looked at Taylor and informed her, “It’s just easier to call him ‘Dad.’ Plus it’s more fun.”
“It’s totally more fun,” Taylor agreed.
“You never told me your dad was so hot. Why were you holding out on me?”
“Gross. You would know, you’re the one who was dreaming about him, remember?” Taylor joked.
“I’ll get your bags, girls...go inside and say hello to your mother and brother.”
“Thanks, Mr. Dailey!”
The girls ran inside the house and yelled for Taylor’s mom. They found her in the kitchen. Her short brown hair and kind eyes lit up at the sight of the girls.
“Oh, hi girls! Taylor, you look too skinny! Have you been eating?” she quipped.
“Yes, Mom. Jeez. I do eat, ya know. Katherine, please inform the woman of my eating habits.”
“Oh, she eats. It’s a wonder she isn’t three hundred pounds.”
“Mom, this is my roommate slash comedian friend, Katherine.”
“Hi, Mrs. Dailey. It’s really nice to meet you. Thanks for letting me come over, I really appreciate it.”
“Oh Katherine, call me Janice, please. And we’re just so happy to have you.” She gave Katherine a quick squeeze before she turned to Taylor. “Your brother is out back in the barn. Go find him will you and let him know you’re here? Maybe you can get him to go out with you girls sometime this weekend? You think he’ll go?”
Katherine noticed the tone of the conversation changed and she wondered if something was wrong with Taylor’s brother. She imagined he had some sort of deformity or clinical issue where he never left the house.
“You have a brother?” Katherine asked through her confusion.
“Yep. Let’s go see him,” Taylor pulled Katherine by the arm into the back yard.
“Taylor, your back yard is amazing. I can’t believe you have a barn. And horses! You never told me you had horses!” She glanced to her left, “And a trampoline?” Katherine got excited, “What else don’t I know?”
“Plenty. Let’s go find Blake first.”
Katherine wanted to ask her if there was something wrong with Blake. She wanted to be prepared for what she was about to see or experience. She wanted to brace herself and not give away whatever she was going to feel with her expression. “Wait, Taylor...is there…” They rounded the corner into the barn before Katherine could ask anything.
“Sis!” Blake stood up from a makeshift poker table where he sat with friends. He was taller than Taylor and had the same sandy brown hair as his mother. He was cute for a high school boy. He had an athletic build and a familiar face.
Katherine thought to herself, “Huh. Doesn’t look like anything is wrong with him. Weird.”
“Hey, little brother,” They hugged and their bond was immediately apparent.
“Blake, this is my roommate, Katherine. Katherine, this is my little brother, Blake.” Taylor looked around at the rest of the guys in the room, “And these are all of his degenerate friends.” The group of guys all started to talk smack at Taylor, but she dished it right back.
“Hi, Katherine. It’s nice to meet you.” Blake was more reserved when it came to Katherine.
“Hi, Blake. It’s nice to meet you.”
“All right, B, I’m going to show Kat the rest of the house and stuff. We’ll come back out to see you later…and kick your butts in poker!” The girls started to turn and walk out of the barn.
“Tay?” Blake called after her. Taylor turned around and looked at him. “I’m glad you’re home,” he said sweetly.
“I missed you too, Blakey-Face.”
“He seems sweet. You guys have an amazing relationship,” Katherine commented.
“When our brother died we only had each other. Our parents could barely get through the day, let alone deal with us.”
“What? You had a brother who died? I had no idea. Taylor, when did this happen? I’m so sorry.”
Katherine was shocked she knew nothing about this and wondered why Taylor had never told her. She thought maybe she should have been warned of what she walked into, but she couldn’t blame Taylor. I mean, how do you bring up the fact that your brother died? When is that ever the perfect story to tell?
“It was a little over two years ago. Austen, that was his name, was sleeping in the passenger seat and his friend Tony was driving. It was a really stormy night and there was this big rig. The driver hit something in the road and he lost control. He cut off their car and there was no time for Tony to react. They said he didn’t even have time to hit the brakes, it all happened so quickly. Tony and Austen died instantly.”
Taylor took a breath before she continued. “Our parents fell apart. Our town fell apart. I know you wouldn’t know it, but my parents are just now starting to get some sense of normalcy back. Blake and Austen were close. And when Austen died, Blake was never the same. He stopped playing baseball. He stopped going out. He stopped living his life. And I’m so worried that he’ll never be the way he used to. And I don’t know how to fix him.”
She got emotional and Kat put her hand on her shoulder. “I was a wreck for so long, but I knew that I couldn’t just curl up in a ball and die, right? Austen wouldn’t want me to give up on my dreams of going to college. But it’s hard. Every day is hard. He was my older brother and I looked up to him and admired him and I miss him more than I can ever tell you.”
Katherine cried while she listened and Taylor cried through it all. There hadn’t been nearly enough time to get over a loss like that. Katherine reached over to hug Taylor and the embrace made them both cry even harder.
“I’m sorry, Katherine. I know I should have told you sooner, but it was never really the right time.”
“It’s okay. I totally understand. I’m happy to know now.” Katherine realized that Taylor’s behavior toward guys suddenly made sense. She couldn’t get hurt or deal with loss if she didn’t let them in.
The girls walked together and wiped at their tears. Taylor showed Katherine around the simple four-bedroom house. She told her she could sleep in the guest room, but Katherine opted to sleep with Taylor in her room. She liked the way Taylor’s house felt. It was comfortable. It felt lived in and loved. It reminded her of home.
That night at dinner, Taylor’s parents asked about Danny. Taylor’s face lit up. “He’s so great, Mom. You’ll love him. He’s cute and funny and he totally adores me. And Dad, he’s a hockey player.”
Her dad just smiled and said, “Of course he is, dear,” and he patted her shoulder. Blake sat there and looked at Katherine, but never said a word. He listened to the girls talk and smiled every once in a while. Katherine thought he looked familiar, but she couldn’t place from where. She tried not to stare.
“What about you, Katherine? I heard you’re dating some hockey stud, or something. Isn’t that right, Taylor?”
“She’s dating THE hockey stud of New Jersey, Mom, get it right,” Taylor added.
“Oh, sorry. So what’s he like?” Taylor’s mom asked a lot of questions.
Katherine noticed the deep sadness that clouded her eyes. She couldn’t imagine how painful it must be to lose a child. She wondered if you ever got over something like that, or if you were always damaged beyond repair. Katherine assumed it was the latter.
“He’s really great. He’s super nice and confident and ridiculously hot,” Katherine laughed when she said it. The conversation flowed as Taylor told stories about how the girls on campus acted around Cooper.