“I just miss him so much,” Blake admitted, as a few tears fell. He inhaled deeply.
“He misses you, too. He misses all of you.” She looked directly at Kylie and reinforced, “All of you.”
Kylie stood up as tears soaked her cheeks. “I’m sorry. I just can’t hear this from you. It’s hard and it hurts and there’s no way he loves you. He doesn’t even know you. This is crazy.”
She opened the door to leave the room when Katherine’s words stopped her. “Please don’t go, Kylie. I’m not trying to hurt you. Blake and I can go somewhere else and talk if this is upsetting you. I’m so tired of upsetting you,” she sighed deeply.
“I don’t really have any more questions or anything,” Blake said softly.
Kylie took a deep breath and pulled herself together. Taylor tried to comfort her. “I know it’s hard, Kyles. My brother loved you and we all know that.”
“He still does,” Katherine added.
Kylie asked through her tears, “Does he talk about me?”
“He does,” Katherine nodded. “He told me how much he loved you and how passionate you two were for each other. He said it was crazy high school love, but it was real and it was true.”
Kylie smiled and for once, Kat felt relief that her words didn’t add to her pain.
It was the third time this week Taylor prepared to go to class alone. Katherine had barely left their dorm room since the party.
“Are you really not coming?” Taylor’s tone was clearly disgusted.
Katherine looked up from bed and mumbled, “I don’t feel well. Just go without me.”
“Are you just trying to avoid Cooper?”
Katherine had ignored his calls and barely answered any of his text messages. When she did respond, they were one or two word answers that solved nothing and kept him more and more in the dark.
Katherine’s eyes tightened as she snarled in response, “This has nothing to do with Cooper.”
“So then it’s about my brother?” Taylor snarled.
“What are you even talking about?” Katherine asked defensively.
“Kat,” Taylor’s voice snapped.
“What?” Katherine assumed what was coming next.
“This has to stop. It’s not healthy. You’re freaking me out to be honest. You can’t keep doing this.”
“Doing what, Taylor? Sleeping? I have to sleep! Every night I have to sleep, just like you.” Katherine behaved like a brat and she knew it.
“Right, but I don’t sleep all day. I don’t blow off classes to sleep so I can dream. This is ridiculous! My brother would not want you to do this to yourself. He would not want you to live like this,” Taylor explained.
“Don’t tell me what he would want me to do. If he didn’t want me to be with him all the time, why did he come to me in the first place? Why didn’t he just go to you? Or to Kylie, for that matter? He came to me, Taylor. Me! So don’t tell me what he wants because you don’t even know.”
Katherine was beyond reach. A rational conversation with her seemed as rare as reasoning with a drunk. Her mind was a place where logic failed to live any more.
“Kat, listen to me. All I’m saying is that you have to stop blowing off your life for these dreams. Okay? You have to stop avoiding Cooper. You have to stop avoiding everything. Your life is happening right in front of you, but you won’t open your eyes to see it.”
“Well, we leave for winter break in a couple of days, so you won’t have to deal with it. I won’t be your problem any more.”
“That’s not what I’m saying. You’re not a problem. It’s just that...I’m worried about you.”
“Just leave me alone.”
Taylor grunted and Katherine cursed under her breath as the door slammed. Her head hit the pillow and she fell into her dreams.
She walked along the pathway toward the bench where Austen sat. He didn’t get up to greet her as usual. Once she got close enough he motioned for her to sit next to him. This wasn’t a good sign. She sat down as he slipped his arm around her.
“Taylor’s right, you know,” he said, while he softly stroked her hair.
“About what?” she knew exactly what he referred to.
“I can’t keep doing this to you.” He grazed the side of her cheek with his hand and her heart soared. “It’s not fair to you or Cooper,” he added calmly.
“Don’t make this about Cooper. This isn’t about Cooper. This is about you and me and only you and me,” her voice rose in sync with her defenses.
“This isn’t right. You’re not living your life. And I love you too much to let you do this to yourself.”
Katherine broke down. Her body filled with excruciating pain and each breath felt like a struggle to take. “You can’t leave me. You promised you’d never leave me.”
“I won’t ever leave you. I’ll always be around. But it’s not right for me to keep doing this to you.” His face twisted in pain. “I have to let you go before I ruin your life completely.”
“No!” she said forcefully. “No!” she screamed as her body shook.
“Katherine, be reasonable, please.”
Her body crashed into the sand as she pressed her hands against her face. Her eyes looked up as she realized, “You can’t be the one to leave, Austen.”
“What do you mean?” He tilted his head as his blue eyes gazed into hers.
“If you’re the one who leaves me…if it’s your decision to end things, if you’re the one who walks away...” She took a breath and finished, “I’ll never get over you. I’ll never be okay. I’ll always be broken somehow. You have to understand that.”
He nodded in agreement, “So what’s your solution?”
“I have to be the one who leaves.” She knew Austen was right. She knew they had to stop. “I just can’t do it tonight.”
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy. Being on your timeline means I get more of you. But Katherine, this isn’t a joke. There has to be an end to this and if you stall for too long, I’ll have to be the one who leaves. Please remember that,” Austen explained.
It wasn’t a threat, but his words were like daggers in her already bludgeoned heart.
Katherine’s eyes opened and darkness had filled the room. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten anything. She thought briefly about calling Cooper, but put her phone down before she dialed. What would she say to him? He probably hated her. She wouldn’t blame him if he did.
Taylor wasn’t there and Katherine assumed she was at Danny’s. Or maybe there was a hockey game? She couldn’t remember any more. She reached for her laptop and looked up the hockey schedule online. They had a game, but it was already in the third period. If she hurried, she could still catch the end of it.
She fought with herself. Should she go confuse Cooper even more, or keep avoiding him? Taylor would be surprised to see her. But so would all the other girls. Katherine imagine the plethora of questions. Where have you been? Are you and Cooper okay? Did you guys break up? Katherine wasn’t ready to face any of that.
She decided to pack for home. Katherine hadn’t been back since school started. She couldn’t wait to get home to the sun. Her mind drifted to the things she missed…the beaches, the comfort of her old bedroom, her old friends and even her parents.
The door swung open and Taylor bounced in. She didn’t acknowledge Katherine as she headed to the bathroom to wash her face. The silent treatment didn’t last long. “Packing for home?”
“Yeah,” Katherine didn’t look up from her suitcase.
“Cooper asked me when you were leaving.”
“What’d you tell him?” she stopped folding her shirt and looked in Taylor’s direction.
“I told him I knew you left on Friday, but I wasn’t sure what time.”
“I don’t want to see him.”
“I figured,” Taylor’s tone of voice was slightly agitated.
“It’s not what you think,” Katherine’s voice was on edge.
“Then what is it?”
“I have so much to tell him. There’s so much I need to explain. I just can’t do it right now. I’m not ready.”
“When then? When it’s too late and you’ve lost him?”
Katherine was surprised at the sadness that followed hearing those words. “I hope not.”
“How are you getting to the airport anyway?”
“The school has a shuttle for students. I’m taking that.”
“I hope you figure things out during break. I miss the old you.”
“That’s the plan.” Katherine hoped to come back refreshed, rejuvenated and hopefully a little saner.
Katherine loaded her suitcase onto the shuttle and took a window seat in the back. The engine roared to life and the shuttle rumbled under her feet. As they started to pull away, she noticed Cooper’s Jeep tear into the parking lot. He had tried to catch her before she left, but he was too late.
A part of her was thankful she avoided the confrontation. Another part was comforted to see he still cared. She searched the Jeep for his face. His green eyes caught hers through the shuttle window and locked on. He made a gesture with his hand and his eyes fell. Katherine turned her head and looked away.
Katherine walked off the plane and headed toward baggage claim. She sent her dad a text to let him know she had arrived. When she got downstairs, she saw his face immediately and her eyes started to well up. She hadn’t realized just how much she missed her dad until she saw him standing there. His eyes looked tired, but then his face lit up with his big, happy smile. He looked so excited to see her.
Katherine walked over to him and dove into his arms, “Hi, Daddy.”
“Hey, kiddo. How was your flight?”
“Uneventful. And long,” she yawned.
“You hungry?” he asked.
“Starved,” she replied.
Her dad gave her another squeeze. “It’s good to have you home.”
“Thanks, Dad. Where’s Mom?” she smiled at him.
“At home making your favorite dinner.”
“Yes!” Katherine was excited.
Katherine’s cell phone vibrated in her pocket. It was a text message from Cooper. “Hope you had a safe flight. I really miss you, California.” She took a deep breath and felt her eyes well up slightly.
“Everything okay, kiddo?” her dad noticed her reaction. “Who was that?”
“Just a guy I’m kind of dating. It’s no big deal, I’m fine.” She forced a smile and wrote Cooper back, “I’m here safe & sound. I miss you too.” She wrote him those words because she meant them. But at this point, it still didn’t change anything.
“A guy? Who is he?” Her dad grabbed the oversized brown suitcase from baggage claim and they headed out the doors toward the car.