“His name’s Cooper. He’s a big-shot hockey player.”
“Hockey player, huh? Is he nice? Smart?”
“Yes, Dad. He’s all of those things. You’d love him.”
“What’s the problem then?”
“What?” Katherine was shocked that her dad could read her so well.
“Come on, kid. I know you better than that. What’s wrong with him?”
Katherine looked at her dad and laughed. “There’s nothing wrong with him, Dad. It’s me.”
“Well, what’s wrong with you, then?” He gave her a weird look and stopped at the back of a small white Lexus. He tossed her suitcase in the trunk and hopped into the driver seat.
“Nothing. I’m just not sure what I want.”
“Well, you’ll figure it out, honey.” He smiled at her before he directed the car’s phone system to call home.
“Hello?” A woman’s voice asked pleasantly.
“Hi, hon. We’re on our way,” he said cheerily.
“Great! See you guys soon. Hi, Katherine!”
“Hi, Mom!” Her mom’s voice sounded so excited, it made Katherine smile.
Katherine looked around from the passenger seat at everything she’d missed since being away. She smiled when she saw the familiar palm tree lined streets of her childhood.
When they rounded the corner she saw her house down the street on the left. The single story, light blue bungalow with the weathered white trim sat a mere three blocks from the beach. Colorful flowers dotted the front ledge and Katherine realized how dreary and colorless winter could be on the East Coast.
Her father pulled into the small driveway that led to a one-car garage behind the house. Katherine hopped out and noticed all the additions to the backyard. “The yard looks so nice, Dad.”
“Kat?” she heard her mother’s voice excitedly say her name as she ran out of the back door and smiled.
“Hi, Mom,” Kat met her mom with a big hug. “I love the fountain! And the yard looks so pretty.”
“It does look nice, doesn’t it? Finally got my fountain,” she winked at her only daughter.
The yard had been transformed into a sanctuary. “It’s so peaceful,” Katherine commented, as she imagined spending all her time there.
A three tiered fountain stood in the middle of the courtyard, surrounded by gorgeous light gray paver stones. A wood table that sat six sat dead center, surrounded by three oversized chairs with brightly colored cushions. Large white candles rested inside mason jars hung from the painted white patio slats.
The three walked into the kitchen through the back door and were immediately greeted with the smell of Italian spices. The smell reminded her of Dom’s restaurant. “It smells amazing, Mom. Thank you.”
“Of course,” her mom replied with a smile.
Katherine walked toward her room at the back of the house. She tossed her suitcase on the bed without turning on the light and walked back out to help set the table. Her mom placed the manicotti, salad, and homemade garlic bread onto the center of the table.
“How’s school? You look tired,” she commented.
“It’s great. And yeah, it’s been exhausting lately,” Katherine answered.
“How’s Taylor?” Katherine had told her mom all about her roommate during one of their phone conversations.
Katherine’s face dropped a bit at the sound of her name. “She’s awesome.” She made a mental note to text Taylor once she was done with dinner. She’d only been gone a day, but she missed her friend.
“And Cooper? Are you two still seeing each other?” her mom asked.
Katherine’s dad looked up from his plate and whined, “You knew about this guy? No one tells me anything.”
“Awww, Dad,” she got up and gave him a quick squeeze before she sat back in her chair. “Kind of. It’s hard to explain.” The last thing Katherine wanted to do was try to explain Austen to her parents. Mostly, she didn’t want them to worry, but she also knew they wouldn’t understand.
“Well, what happened? Did you two have a fight?” Katherine’s mom always saw things in black and white, as if life wasn’t filled with shades of gray.
“No. It’s nothing like that. I’m just not sure how I feel about him,” Kat said as she shrugged her shoulders.
Her mom stopped eating and looked at her. “You’ve always been extremely picky, Katherine. I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t live up to your expectations.”
“It’s not like that, Mom. Jeez.” Katherine was already irritated and she had only been home for five minutes. She felt like her mother could never relate to anything Katherine felt or thought.
“Oh, Kat, I don’t think Mom was trying to upset you,” her dad said as he tried to keep the peace.
“I’m sorry, honey. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just thought you really liked him?”
“I do.” Katherine really wanted to stop talking about Cooper Donovan. She had to deal with Cooper conversations at school and the last thing she wanted was to continue them at home.
Her parents looked at each other and shrugged their shoulders. They had stopped trying to figure out their only daughter years ago. She often made decisions that didn’t make any sense to them.
Her mother cleaned up the dishes from dinner while Katherine unpacked. Her room looked like something from Coastal Living Magazine. The walls were painted a shade of blue that looked like water, and the crown and base moldings were painted white. Her carpet was the color of sand and she liked the way it felt on her bare feet. The dresser, nightstand, and bed frame all matched in white, weathered wood. A large mirror held movie stubs and pictures of Katherine with her high school friends. Photographs she had taken hung in various frames along her walls.
She sat on her bed and sent Taylor a text. “I miss you. I’m sorry for everything lately. I’m going to try to get better.”
Less than a minute later, she got a response. “I miss you too. Come back normal, k? Thanks. lol” Katherine laughed out loud when she read it and set her phone aside.
The time difference quickly caught up to her and before she knew it, she had nodded off. She told her parents goodnight and headed back up to her room.
She sat on the bench and traced a carved heart with her finger. Austen turned around when he sensed her and jogged in her direction, his face full of smiles. He took her by the hands and pulled her off the bench. They hugged and he kissed her passionately. She ran her fingers through his sandy brown hair and then ran her hands across his muscular frame.
“Austen, I’m never going to be able to tell you goodbye if you keep kissing me like that.”
He smiled at her and she couldn’t help but smile back. “I’m sure you’ll find a way. Happy to be home?”
“It’s nice. But it’s also nice not being here, you know?”
Katherine was aware that—even in her dream state—she needed to get her life in order. There was no way she could go back to school the same way she left.
“What’s the matter?” he sensed her distance.
“I’m just thinking about how we’re supposed to be letting each other go. But the idea of not being with you seems wrong. Why would I want to purposely cause myself that much pain?”
“We don’t have to do it today, or tomorrow.” He leaned in and kissed the tip of her nose. “But the time will come.”
“How can you be so calm? How are you totally okay with not being with me?” Whenever she thought about not being with Austen, she could barely function.
“Not being with you is the hardest thing I’ll ever have to do. But I’ll always do what’s best for you, Katherine. Even if it’s not what I want. Even if it hurts me so deeply I’m not sure I’ll ever truly get over it. I’ll do what is best for you and your life, no matter what the consequences are for me.”
“Don’t we have any other options? Isn’t there anything else we can do? Why is it all or nothing?” Katherine longed for a compromise.
“Saying goodbye is the only option. It’s the only way,” Austen was firm.
Her eyes filled with sorrow as he tilted her mouth gently up to his to kiss her.
“I love you,” she whispered.
“And I love you,” Austen smiled at her and…
…she opened her eyes. She sat up in bed and held on to her covers tightly.
There was a quick knock on Katherine’s front door and then she heard it open and slam shut. “I’m here! Where are you?”
“Soph? I’m in my room.” Katherine’s best friend and neighbor since childhood ran to the back of the house.
“Still in bed? It’s eleven o’clock, ya sack! Get up!” Sophia jumped in Katherine’s bed and gave her a hug. Sophia was a petite brunette with blonde highlights. She had brown eyes and full lips.
Katherine laughed at her hyper best friend before she said, “Hi to you too! You look so good! How’s Arizona?”
“It’s awesome. I love. What about you and the E.C.? Isn’t it freezing there?” Sophia scrunched her nose at the thought.
Katherine thought for a minute and quickly realized that the “E.C.” stood for the “East Coast.” Sophia often made up her own language. “It is freezing. But I love it.”
“For real? I’ll never understand why you wanted to get so far away from here,” Sophia said, with a look of confusion.
“I just wanted something different. You know that.”
“Katherine Johns, the girl who has everything, but still wants something else.”
“Shut up.” Katherine rolled her eyes.
“So where do you want to go? What do you want to do?” Sophia asked.
“I really want to walk around Venice. I miss the beach and the weirdos.”
“Awesome! I need some new sunglasses so that’s perf.”
The girls walked along the sandy pathway in Venice. Sophia stopped to look at sunglasses and tried on at least fifty different pairs before deciding on one. She spotted the row of tarot card readers ahead of them.
“Oh, Kat, let’s get our cards read. Like old times! Come on,” Sophia pleaded.
“Why not?” Katherine smiled and then wondered, “Which lady should we go to this time?”
“Um,” Sophia looked around, “How about her? I’ve never seen her before.”
Katherine looked at the woman. She wore large turquoise gemstone jewelry around her neck, ears and wrists. Her curly gray hair hung at her shoulders and a baby blue bandana fit snug against the top of her head. Katherine noted that the woman’s lipstick was an awful shade of pink and that she wore glasses which were rimmed in gold.
The woman’s table was covered with a multi-colored sheer cloth. Various sizes of dark blue candles burned and she glanced up as Katherine watched her.
“Come here, child,” the woman spoke in Katherine’s direction.
Katherine smiled nervously and walked toward the woman. “Shuffle the cards. Make sure you don’t let them touch anything but your hands. The cards need your energy.”