Dom‘s face lit up as he greeted the girls with a kiss and patted the guys firmly on their shoulders.
“Who won?” Dom asked.
“We did,” Cooper responded.
Dom nodded his head and his face scrunched up as he smiled, “Good-ah!”
Cooper still had his arm around Katherine as she scooted into the booth. He leaned into her ear and whispered, “Are we okay?”
Concern filled his voice and her stomach dropped. She felt terrible that she was doing this to him. Cooper treated her wonderfully and she wanted to push him away. The worst part was, he sensed it and she knew it. She noticed the eye with the speck in it and smiled, “I’m sorry if I’m being distant. It’s not you.”
His eyes narrowed, “Then what is it?”
She shrugged her shoulders and then responded, “I’ve just been kind of out of it since we got back from Taylor’s. Don’t worry, I’m just...” she paused to find the words, “I don’t know…distracted, I guess.”
“But we’re okay? You still think I’m the best thing to ever happen to you and I still have my girlfriend from California who makes me crazy, right?” he smiled, his tone serious.
It surprised her that he could sense things she tried to hide. She wondered how strong their connection truly was and pondered what it was about Cooper that made her feel so secure. She didn’t want to lie to him, but she knew she couldn’t tell him the truth either. It wasn’t the right time or place for her to get into the details about Austen.
“Definitely. We’re good. You’re still amazing and I’m still crazy.”
“Perfect.” He kissed her cheek and rested his hand on her leg.
The days that followed were more of the same. Cooper tried to behave as if everything was normal but Katherine pushed him further away. He stopped asking her if she was ok. He didn’t want to annoy her, but he sensed that something was off between them.
Stupidly, he thought it was something he had done. Or something he hadn’t done. He wondered if maybe she wasn’t into him any more. He couldn’t figure out what had changed. Maybe we got too serious too fast, he asked himself. Maybe I scared her?
He wanted to figure out what was wrong between them so he could fix it. More than almost anything else, he wanted this girl by his side. She completed him. He knew how cheesy that sounded, but it was the truth. Something about Katherine Johns affected him in ways no girl ever had.
Cooper decided to wait it out. If there was something that distracted Katherine, that distraction would eventually have to go away. He’d simply wait until it did.
Kylie picked up Blake and they headed toward the college. She contemplated telling him that Katherine dreamed and talked with Austen. She felt betrayed that Taylor had sided with Katherine and needed to feel as though someone was on her side. But she couldn’t bring herself to involve Blake. He had been devastated beyond repair when Austen died and she refused to put him through any more pain. Instead, she talked to him about school and girls and his friends.
Whenever Kylie’s thoughts drifted to Katherine and Austen, her heart pounded out of control. She decided that if anyone was dreaming about Austen, it should be her… or at least a member of Austen’s family. Not some stranger no one even knew before this past summer. Pain and bitterness consumed her.
“Think we’ll go to any parties?” Blake asked.
“Probably,” Kylie responded with a smile as her mind raced. She wondered if Little Miss Perfect had told her equally perfect boyfriend what was going on. A party would be the perfect place to confront Cooper and find out.
“Cool. Have you met Katherine’s boyfriend?”
“I was there when they first met. He’s really great; you’ll love him.”
Her thoughts drifted back to the party where she first saw Cooper. She remembered thinking how ridiculously good looking he was and how she was just about to go talk to him when she noticed him staring at Katherine. Envy and jealousy coursed through every inch of her body. The way Cooper stared at Katherine was unlike anything she’d ever seen before. It was like no one else was in the room. Kylie shook her head to rid the images from her mind.
“What about Tay’s boyfriend? Have you met him?”
Kylie was thankful that Blake seemed oblivious to the emotional war that raged in her mind.
“Uh-huh. Same party.”
“I’m excited to meet them both.”
“I think you’ll like them a lot.” She glanced toward him, “And they’ll love you.”
“Cool.” He turned to look out the passenger window.
“Thanks for bringing me, Kylie. I really appreciate it.”
“It’s nice to get away, huh?” She reached over and touched his shoulder.
“I didn’t really realize that I never leave my house. It’s funny because I sort of hate being there, but I never go anywhere else.”
Kylie’s face crinkled, “What do you mean you hate being there?”
“It’s just not the same. You know, since Austen. It’s hard living there,” Blake’s voice softened.
“Well you always have me. I’ll come steal you away anytime you want.” She knew how close he and Austen had been and she wanted to be there for him too. Especially now since Taylor had moved away.
“Are we almost there?”
“It’s just up around the bend over there,” Kylie pointed through the windshield.
Taylor was excited to see Blake but nervous to see Kylie. The two girls had barely talked since the big blowout at Thanksgiving. She appreciated that Kylie brought Blake to visit but also wondered what she might have up her sleeve. Taylor knew that with Kylie, nothing was ever simple.
“Do you think she’s over the whole Austen thing?” Katherine asked with trepidation.
“I don’t think she’ll ever get over it, Kat. She didn’t say anything to me about it, but we should avoid that entire subject if possible,” Taylor warned.
She didn’t appreciate having to run interference between her friends for an entire weekend. That kind of stuff irritated Taylor and she lacked the patience for it. She just wanted to have a nice calm weekend with her brother, but Kylie coming pretty much nixed that idea.
“Agreed,” Kat sat down on the bed. “Blake doesn’t know, right?”
“God, no. And you can’t tell him!” Taylor’s voice rose as her eyes widened. She would do whatever it took to protect her little brother. Her heart splintered at the thought of Blake hurting.
“I would never. Kylie wouldn’t either, right? Like, out of spite or anything?” Katherine wondered.
“Kylie can be cruel, but she’d never do anything to hurt my little brother.”
When Kylie and Blake walked through the door, Taylor squealed. She ran over to her little brother and squeezed him tightly.
Kylie refused to look at Katherine. Katherine said ‘hi,’ but Kylie pretended not to hear her. Kylie watched as Blake walked over to Kat and gave her a hug.
“It’s so good to see you! I’m glad you came. How are you? How’s school? Are you excited to be here?” Katherine asked quickly.
Taylor walked over to Kylie and squeezed her. “Thanks for bringing him Kyles.”
“Are we going to any parties?” Blake asked Taylor with a curious look.
“Do you want to?” Taylor teased. She sensed his excitement and her heart palpitated with joy. It had been so long since she’d seen true happiness in her brother’s eyes.
Blake pursed his lips together in a tight smile and shrugged his shoulders.
“Don’t pretend you aren’t excited. We’re going to one in a little. But first, we eat!”
They took Blake on a quick tour of campus and pointed at the hockey rink in the distance. Blake’s face lit up each time he saw something new.
“There are so many hot girls here. College is awesome.” Blake constantly craned his neck to look in every direction.
Taylor laughed, “You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
They stopped by Dominic’s and picked up a pepperoni pie before heading back to the dorm to get ready for the party.
Katherine watched Blake’s mouth drop open as he counted the number of people in his view. He looked at the crowded house party with wide eyes and shook his head in disbelief.
“Crazy, right?” Katherine commented.
“It’s ridiculous!” Blake shouted over the music.
They walked past girls dancing on the lawn, on the furniture, everywhere. The DJ mixed music in the living room as colorful lights danced across the ceiling. Blake noticed a group of girls whisper, then point at some guy.
“Come on, Blake!” Taylor grabbed his hand and headed out back.
Blake watched as a guy walked up to his sister and lifted her whole body off the ground. The guy said ‘hi’ to Kylie and Katherine before Taylor interjected, “Danny, this is my little brother, Blake. Blake, this is my boyfriend, Danny.”
Danny stuck out his hand and gripped Blake’s forcefully. Blake waved his hand back and forth to ease the pain. Danny leaned toward him and said, “Nice to meet you. I’m totally in love with your sister. Sorry about the hand.”
“It’s fine. And join the club. Everyone loves Taylor.”
Blake started to chuckle when he noticed the guy all the girls had pointed at earlier walking in their direction. “Is that Cooper?” he asked Kylie.
“Sure is,” she answered with wickedness in her voice.
Cooper walked over to the group and smiled. He grabbed Katherine by the waist, dipped her slightly and kissed her boldly on the mouth.
“I’m tired of things being off between us. I’m going to kiss our problems right out of you.” He smirked at Katherine before crushing his lips against hers once again.
Kylie rolled her eyes at the public display of affection. Her stomach churned and she actually considered throwing up right on their feet.
When Cooper finished, he tilted Katherine upright and looked into her eyes. “I forget how to breathe when you do that to me,” Katherine admitted breathlessly.
Cooper smiled and glanced around at the group. “Hey, Kylie. Nice to see you again.” He gave her a loose hug and then squeezed Taylor before being introduced to Blake. “So, Blake, what do you think of college life so far?”
“Seems pretty cool.” He shouted.
“Coming to the game tomorrow?”
“I don’t know,” Blake peered at Taylor who nodded. “Yeah, I guess we are.”
“Cool, well I’ll see you then.” Cooper shook Blake’s hand and leaned into Katherine, “I’m going to grab some water. Do you want anything?”
Katherine shook her head no and Cooper started to walk off. Kylie seized the opportunity to talk to Cooper without anyone else around. “I’ll come with you,” she shouted and Cooper stopped walking so she could catch up.
Katherine shot Taylor a look and Taylor shrugged her shoulders.