Page 24

“I know. No more apologies,” Taylor waved her off.

“I am so happy to be back here. I totally missed you.”

“Me too.”

The girls were quiet in the car for a few minutes before Taylor broke the silence. “I know this is probably a long shot but, we’re going to Cooper’s lake house this weekend. You should really come with us. The lake is completely frozen over and we can ice skate on it and stuff.”

Katherine didn’t respond so Taylor asked, “Have you ever seen a frozen lake before?”

Katherine laughed, “No.”

“Please come. It will be fun, I promise.”

“Who’s going?”

“Me and Danny, of course…um, Cooper and a couple other guys from the hockey team. I think that’s it.”

Katherine pondered the details of the weekend. It would be the perfect place to finally talk to Cooper. She nodded and asked, “Do you think Cooper will mind if I go?”

“No way,” Taylor answered, overly reassuring.

“Okay. I’ll go. It sounds fun.” Katherine agreed with a hint of excitement in her voice. “Are you sure Cooper won’t mind?”

“Are you kidding? That kid asked about you a hundred times over break. He’ll be fine.” Taylor’s voice hitched.

“You’re positive?”

“I’m positive. Besides, you two have to talk eventually. What better time than this?”

Katherine was grateful that the first week back at school was less than challenging. She had a lot of extra work to make up in her classes since she had slacked so badly before the break. Her parents threatened to bring her home if she couldn’t handle living on her own. And going back home was the last thing Katherine wanted. She was determined to make up all the work she’d missed and get her grades back up.

When she saw Cooper in class, he was cordial, yet distant. Things had definitely changed between them. Long gone were the days when he greeted her with a kiss. He didn’t try to hold her hand or show her any sort of affection. He barely made eye contact and she was convinced he hated her.

Seeing Cooper still tied her stomach in knots. One glimpse into his green eyes and she struggled to remember where she was. Sitting next to him made it hard for her to concentrate on anything other than him.

When class ended, she noticed him turn toward her and then quickly turn away. She looked around the classroom for him, but he had disappeared just like he had on that first day.

She turned to Taylor. “That was…weird?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“He knows I’m coming this weekend right?” Katherine asked, concerned. If her presence was going to ruin the whole trip, she didn’t want to go.

“He knows,” Taylor answered in an annoyed tone.

“Are you sure he’s okay with it?”

“He is. I promise. I talked to him.”

Katherine’s ears pricked up at the last statement. “You talked to him? When? What did he say?”

“He’s happy you’re coming, Katherine. I think he just...I don’t know, isn’t sure how to deal with you right now. You know?”

Katherine looked down at the ground, “Yeah. That makes sense.”

Taylor pointed at Katherine. “Uh-uh. I know that face! Don’t even think about backing out of this trip. You are coming.”

“I’m not...backing out,” Katherine stumbled over her words.

“I know you better than that. I promise it will be fine. You guys just need to talk about everything. Get it all out in the open, you know?”

Katherine agreed.

“Not to change the subject or anything, but do you still dream about my brother?” Taylor wondered.

A huge smile crept over Katherine’s face and her eyes lit up. “I do.”

“What’s changed, then? I mean, not for nothing, it just seems like you want to patch things up with Cooper. Or am I reading this totally wrong?”

“Um...your brother and I have had many conversations about how we have to stop what’s going on. We both know what we have to do, but neither one of us can actually do it. At least, not yet. But it’s coming.”

“So then...”

Katherine interrupted her, “So it’s not about getting back together with Cooper so much as I owe him an apology and an explanation. Your brother talks about him all the time. He makes me crazy with the constant Cooper chatter.”

Taylor laughed, “What does he say?”

“He just always brings him up. Says how Cooper’s a good guy who really cares about me and stuff. He tells me that I should be with him. It’s so irritating.”

Taylor smiled, “That sounds like Austen. He’d push you to be with Cooper because it’s the right thing to do. And because it’s the best thing for you.”

“You sound just like him.”

Taylor’s face softened.

“What’s wrong?” Katherine sensed Taylor’s pain.

“I just…felt bad for my brother for a minute.”

“Why, ’cause he irritates me?”

Taylor chuckled, “No, because I imagine it must be so hard for him to let you go and watch you love someone else…no matter how much he claims to like the guy.”

Katherine sighed, “I don’t know how he can stand it. He’s a much better person than I could ever be.”

“He always has been.” Taylor looked at Kat and quickly recovered, “Not better than you. Just a better person, in general. He was always that way.”

Katherine grinned at her friend reassuringly. “I knew what you meant.”


Katherine shivered as she waited in the cold winter air for Cooper and Danny to arrive. When she saw the black Jeep Wrangler pull into the parking lot, she thought to herself how different it looked with the hard top on. The guys hopped out to grab the bags as Katherine avoided Cooper’s eyes. She was scared to look at him.

“Hey, California,” Cooper’s voice sounded different. Damaged or broken, somehow.

“Hey, Coop.” She couldn’t avoid looking at him any longer. “Thanks for letting me come along.” His eyes revealed hurt and longing that made her feel even worse.

“Any time,” he faked a smile.

Once they were on the road, Katherine wondered where the rest of the guys were. “So who else is coming?”

Cooper glanced into his rearview mirror and locked eyes with her briefly before looking away. “No one anymore. They couldn’t make it after all, so it’s just the four of us.”

Katherine was both relieved and nervous.

When they pulled into the driveway she was immediately happy she’d come. She’d never seen a house more breathtaking. It was three stories of light gray paint with white trim and she counted at least two separate chimneys rising from opposite ends of the house.

Cooper parked the Jeep in the large three car garage. The first level had been converted into a huge game room. There was a pool table, foosball, pinball machine and a big screen TV with three separate gaming systems.

“This is amazing,” Taylor said breathlessly.

“Thanks,” Cooper replied politely and then glanced toward Katherine.

Cooper led them upstairs to the second level, where sunlight streamed in from every angle. Katherine immediately realized why there were so many windows. Views of the lake greeted her from each one. A balcony spanned the entire length of the second floor.

“May I?” Katherine asked.

“Of course,” Cooper responded and then watched as Katherine stepped outside and breathed in the crisp, winter air.

She noticed a matching boathouse down below and smiled. It was perfectly charming. Katherine shivered and instantly remembered she wasn’t wearing a jacket. She turned back into the warmth of the house and found Cooper in the kitchen making coffee.

“There are two bedrooms on this level and three more upstairs. You can look around and take your pick if you want,” he said.

“Thanks.” She fell in love with the first room she walked into. Large windows lined an entire wall and faced the water. Katherine allowed herself to get lost in the beauty when Taylor bounced in and nearly scared her half to death.

“Isn’t this place amazing? My God,” Taylor commented, her voice giddy and childlike.

“It is ridiculous. Did you see the boathouse down there? It matches this house!” Katherine laughed.

“Really? How cute!”

The girls headed into the kitchen and the guys talked about driving around on the ice. Katherine interrupted, “Can we really go on the lake? Like, it will hold us and stuff?” She felt dumb for asking, but she didn’t know anything about frozen lakes.

Cooper looked amused, “Oh, California, you’re so LA. The lake is frozen so thick that we could probably drive my Jeep out there if we wanted too. We have snowmobiles in the boathouse. We’ll take them out later.”

“Really? That is so cool.” The whole concept was foreign to her. “I have no idea where I’d find anything completely frozen over back home.”

“You probably wouldn’t,” Danny sassed.

“I am SO excited!” Taylor squealed. “I love snowmobiling. So.Much.Fun.” She hugged Danny and he twirled her around.

“I love you,” Danny told her softly, but Katherine heard.

“I love you, too.” Taylor tilted her head up and gave him a kiss.

Cooper watched Taylor and Danny with a pained expression. “California, did I do something wrong? What happened between us?”

“Well, that didn’t take long,” Taylor commented, as she looked at Cooper.

“Well I can’t take it anymore,” Cooper admitted. “It kills me not to be with you, Katherine. I can’t pretend I’m fine just being your friend.”

“Danny, let’s go downstairs and I’ll kick your butt in pool.” Taylor grabbed his hand and pulled at him.

“I’d rather stay and listen to this, though,” Danny half joked.

“Come on!” She yanked his arm. “Good luck, you two!” Taylor shouted from halfway down the stairs.

Once they were gone, Katherine looked at Cooper and her heart felt like it weighed a thousand pounds in her chest. “Cooper,” she struggled. “I am so sorry for everything. I know I owe you an explanation. It’s just that what I have to tell you is going to sound completely insane.”

“I don’t care. I just need to know. I’ve replayed every moment we’ve ever spent together over and over in my mind trying to figure out what I did wrong. I can’t figure out what I did. Please just tell me.”

“Cooper, you didn’t do anything wrong. How could you? You’re amazing.”

“Then tell me what happened? Did you meet someone when you were back home over break?” his voice reflected his pain.

“God, no,” the thought alone disgusted her. “There is someone else, though.” She paused when the look on his face nearly crushed her and quickly added, “But it’s not what you think.”

“Is it Austen?” Cooper started to get agitated. “Who is he anyway?” His jaw clenched and then unclenched with each breath he took.