It seemed, to Katherine at least, that all the negatives about Austen revolved around Cooper. She started to wonder if Coop was the reason this was even a problem at all. If there were no Cooper, then maybe Taylor wouldn’t give her so much grief. Maybe Taylor would be happy for her and encourage her to be with Austen.
Taylor pondered the question for a minute before she answered. She looked at Katherine and said, “I think that if there was no Cooper Donovan, it would still be creepy if all you wanted to do was sleep to see my brother. I’d like to think that if there was just dream Austen in your life, I’d still want you to go out and live and I’d be concerned if you stopped doing that. Know what I mean?”
Katherine recognized the truth in Taylor’s words, but she didn’t believe her entirely. “I get what you’re saying, I do. But I still think that Cooper changes things, whether you realize it or not.”
“You might be right,” Taylor admitted. “Cooper probably does change things. He’s real, alive, and a really good guy. If he was a complete jerk it would be one thing, but there’s not a single jerky thing about him.”
Katherine gathered her school things together and headed out the door to the campus library while Taylor stayed behind and napped. Katherine was thankful for the time alone. She needed to be by herself and attempt to sort things out. She started to worry that she wasn’t built to balance two guys. And if that was the case, she knew which one was going to lose. She also knew she’d never hear the end of it from Taylor if that happened. Or anyone else for that matter.
But how could she possibly be expected to choose Cooper when she felt the way she did about Austen? She knew that any rational and sane person would choose the guy who was still alive. But her emotions weren’t derived from rational thought. The heart wants what it wants; it can’t be reasoned with. She wondered how she was supposed to explain that to anyone to make them understand. But then, she knew she couldn’t.
She studied for a few hours at the library before she walked back to the dorm. Taylor was already gone by the time she returned so she washed her face and headed to bed. She looked forward to being asleep and finally seeing Austen.
Sleep eluded her at first, causing her to toss and turn relentlessly. But once she was there, she sat in the sand and played with Brody. Austen stood silently behind her and watched.
“We have to talk about him at some point,” Austen mentioned.
“Talk about who?” She knew exactly who Austen referred to, but she longed to avoid the topic.
“The other guy in your life,” Austen said rationally.
“Why do we have to talk about Cooper? I don’t want to talk about him. I just want to be with you.” She scooted closer to him and dropped her head into his shoulder. He wrapped his muscular arm around her waist and held her tight. His lips brushed against the top of her head as he ran his fingers through her hair.
“A stronger man would walk away from you and let you live your life.”
Her breathing quickened as fear ripped through her. “Clearly I’m not that strong.” He brushed his hand down her cheek, as calm quickly replaced the fear. “We can’t ignore the fact that Cooper’s a big part of your life.”
“He doesn’t have to be,” Katherine hastily retorted. She was so terrified at the thought of losing Austen she’d do whatever it took to keep them together.
“I know that. But he’s there for a reason, Katherine.”
“So,” Katherine whined.
“Maybe I shouldn’t have told you about our other lifetimes? I know it’s affected you deeply and I never meant to confuse you. I just couldn’t keep it from you. But maybe that was selfish of me?”
“Don’t say that. I needed to know why you affected me the way you did. Nothing made any sense before you told me about our history. Everything clicked once you did.”
Austen stared at her and she returned his gaze. She longed to stay in that place with him forever. The blue of his eyes pierced right through her.
“You know how much I love you, right?” he asked.
That was one question she never needed to ask. Even if the words had never left his lips, she still would have known. That’s how deeply they were connected.
Those were the last words Katherine heard before her eyes fluttered open.
“You’re coming to class, right?” Taylor studied her from across the room.
“I’m getting up now.” Katherine tossed off the covers and crept out from the warmth of her bed. She walked slowly into the bathroom.
“If you don’t hurry, we’re gonna be late,” Taylor shouted through the closed door.
Katherine finally emerged and grabbed her bag as Taylor rushed out the door.
“The guys have a game tonight. You’re coming, right?” Taylor asked while she speed walked.
“I guess so.”
“Katherine,” Taylor groaned out her name with a huff.
To avoid conflict, Katherine quickly recanted, “I’ll go. Of course I’ll go.”
“Good,” Taylor smiled.
From the moment Kat’s eyes opened her thoughts consumed her. Her mind constantly compared the two guys competing for her heart. She loved being around Cooper and appreciated the way he made her feel. Her pulse raced whenever he looked or smiled in her direction. When he reached for her hand, or kissed her softly, her knees buckled and she prayed she wouldn’t fall. Butterflies flapped recklessly in her stomach whenever Cooper was near. He made her feel alive, special, and wanted.
But with Austen it was all very, very different. He filled her entire being with a sense of serenity, calm, and her soul soared in his presence. There was a trust between them that existed beyond words. No love could be more genuine or pure.
“Snap out of it, girlfriend. Cooper’s straight ahead.”
Katherine unscrewed her twisted thoughts and looked ahead. God, he was gorgeous. Even in jeans and a sweatshirt, he took her breath away. She figured he could probably wear a paper bag and still look good.
“Morning, ladies,” he said before he looked in Katherine’s direction and asked, “How do you feel this morning?” He tossed an arm across her shoulder and leaned in close.
She tilted her head toward him and said, “Much better, thanks for asking.”
Her defenses weakened when she looked in his eyes. Cooper Donovan seemed perfect. His personality— the way he treated her— not just his words, but his actions as well— they all added up to one unbelievable guy.
When they took their seats in the back of the classroom, Cooper focused on Katherine’s eyes without saying a word. She could barely catch her breath when he did that and the smirk on his face told her that he knew the effect he had on her. He laughed softly and she jabbed at his arm.
“Ouch,” Cooper winced playfully.
“As if. Don’t do that to me,” Katherine whispered.
“Don’t do what?” he feigned innocently.
She glared in response as he just laughed.
Katherine opened the door to her room and Taylor shouted, “That better be you, Katherine Johns!”
Katherine snickered, “Who else would it be?”
Taylor peered around the bathroom door and grimaced, “My boyfriend’s going to look up in the stands and when he doesn’t see me, he’ll probably cry. Right there on the ice. You ruin everything,” Taylor joked.
Katherine shook her head as she hurried to change tops. She hesitated for only a moment before Taylor pushed her out of the door.
“Come on! We can’t be late. Danny will kill me,” Taylor whined.
“Do you want to run, or what?”
“I should make you carry me.”
“Oh yeah, we’ll definitely get there faster if I carry you,” Katherine chortled.
When they walked into the rink Katherine noticed the lack of available space. It was packed full. “Sorry Taylor, I didn’t realize how crowded…”
Taylor cut her off, “Come on. Kristie saved us seats. Thank God.” Taylor pulled Katherine down toward the row filled the player’s girlfriends.
“Thank you so much. Sorry we’re late. Did we miss anything?” Taylor asked while she scanned the players on the ice.
“It just started. You didn’t miss anything,” Kristie responded.
Idle chit-chat filled the air as Taylor blamed Katherine for their lateness. “She hates Cooper, that’s why we were late.”
Katherine suddenly found all eyes focused on her. “She’s kidding! I mean, yes I made us late, but I don’t hate Cooper,” she thwacked Taylor in the arm, “Brat!”
Taylor stuck out her tongue and mimicked her voice, “Brat.”
Katherine still didn’t understand everything about hockey but admittedly, she loved watching Cooper on the ice. She respected and admired how passionately he played the game. Her insides warmed with pride as she watched him lead the team to yet another victory. When the game ended, he glanced up in the stands and smiled at her. She couldn’t help but smile back as her cheeks flushed.
“He is so into you,” one of the girls beamed.
Katherine didn’t know what to say in response so she just smiled. The girls waited by the locker room door for the guys to exit. Cooper and Danny burst through the door and Danny grabbed Taylor and kissed her. He teased, “You were late!”
She pointed at Katherine, “It was her fault.”
Danny sauntered over to Katherine and squeezed her, “You both owe us.”
Cooper grabbed Katherine’s hand and ushered her outside. “I agree with Danny. How are you girls going to make it up to us?”
Taylor and Katherine looked at each other, “With kisses?” Taylor suggested.
Danny laughed and said, “I’ll take that offer.” He leaned down to kiss Taylor.
“Yeah, works for me.” Cooper dropped his hockey bag and lifted Katherine up. She wrapped her legs around him and threw her arms around his neck. Thoughts of Austen rushed in and she instinctively pulled back. “What’s wrong?” Cooper placed her feet back on the ground.
“Nothing. Sorry,” she lied.
She grabbed the back of his neck and pulled him toward her. He hesitated at first before slowly giving into her. Their mouths met and everything else faded into the background.
Taylor cleared her throat and interrupted, “Gonna kiss all night or do you guys want to go to Dom’s? You’re hungry, right?”
“I could eat a horse,” Danny said.
“Don’t say that! I love horses and you know it!” She punched him in the arm. He mimicked her words and she chased him around the parking lot.
“You hungry?” Cooper asked Katherine while he secretly crossed his fingers.
Katherine looked into his eyes and answered, “I could eat.”
He exhaled in relief, “Good.”
Cooper and Danny tossed their hockey bags in the back of the Jeep and hurried toward the restaurant. “Are you cold? Here, take my jacket.” Cooper removed his jacket and placed it around Katherine’s shoulders. He nuzzled her body into his and she sighed at how comfortable it was to be with him.