“Except burn breakfast.”
“Oh, crap.” He grabbed the spatula and quickly turned to the stove where the eggs and pancakes had burned to a crisp. Cooper tossed the smoking pieces of food into the kitchen sink and waved the smoky smell away.
Taylor bounded down the stairs with Danny close behind. “Oh, good Lord, this kid snores like you wouldn’t believe,” Taylor screeched while she tried to stay away from him.
“Me? It’s you who snores, woman!” Danny teased and then dove straight to her and tackled her onto the couch. He tickled her as she screamed and swatted at him. Katherine looked up at Cooper who laughed and continued to fix breakfast.
“Can we go snowmobiling today?” Taylor asked, as sweetly as she could muster.
“I don’t see why not.” Cooper’s response made her squeal with delight. “But first, we eat.” He put the last plate of food on the table. He had made eggs, bacon, toast and potatoes.
“Jeez, Cooper, this is amazing. Thank you so much,” Taylor said.
“Yeah, Cooper, thank you,” Katherine added.
Taylor looked at Danny and said, “Why don’t you ever burn breakfast for me, jerk?”
Danny stared at her and shook his head. “Always making me look bad, Donovan.”
“What can I say, it’s easy.” Cooper sat down across the table from Katherine and glanced at her between bites.
Katherine couldn’t stop thinking. Her head reminded her that she needed to let go of Austen, but her heart fought the notion every step of the way. A battle raged and she honestly wasn’t sure which side would win.
After breakfast the girls insisted on washing the dishes while the guys prepped the snowmobiles. Cooper gassed them up, found helmets and goggles for each rider and checked the weather online. When the girls finished, they headed outside in their winter gear and the foursome raced off.
Katherine loved every minute of this adventure as the machine rumbled beneath her legs. The only thing she could compare it to was being on a jet ski in the summer waves of the Pacific. She drove fast, but wasn’t reckless. She pulled her snowmobile to a stop at a section of the lake that was atypically warmer than other parts. The ice was thinner, but normally still frozen solid.
She looked around at the snow covered trees that surrounded the lake. The way the white powder sparkled in the sunlight made her smile. She got off the toy she drove and walked softly on the frozen water, taking pictures with each new step. She wanted to share this day with her parents and friends back home.
She took some photos as her friends horsed around and she noticed that no matter where she went or what she did, Cooper always had his eyes on her. It made her feel protected.
She headed back to the snowmobile and scanned through the digital pictures she had just taken. The beauty of it all astounded her.
Suddenly the ice let out a thunderous howl and started to crack under the weight of the machine. Cooper recognized that sound instantly and turned to yell something at Katherine. Before she had time to figure out what was going on, her body crashed violently into the ice cold water.
A horrifying sound unlike anything she’d ever spoken tore from her lips. The water was so cold, it felt like a thousand needles stabbed her all at once. Everything seemed to happen in slow motion. She watched as Cooper’s terrified face rushed toward her. She could make her name as it screamed from his lips. Taylor and Danny were even further in the background shouting something she couldn’t hear.
Katherine instinctively wanted to kick, but the water was so cold, her legs wouldn’t move. She tried to grab the edge of the ice, but she could barely lift her arms. The winter clothing meant to keep her warm suddenly felt like a weighted anchor. Nothing would do what she needed it to. Her body refused to cooperate. She was surprised at how quickly it gave up. Everything betrayed her, even her thoughts. Her brain stopped fighting to keep her alive. It simply wanted to make the cold go away as quickly as possible. Unable to move at all, she went under.
She was surprised at how peaceful she felt. She turned her head slowly to the left and saw Austen’s image there. He gestured wildly, frantically waving his arms and legs. He screamed at her, or maybe he pleaded; she couldn’t hear a thing he said. She just stared at him with love in her eyes and a small smile on her lips.
Austen begged her to fight. His mouth screamed at her to swim. But still she did nothing. He fought with his spirit to lift her, carry her, push her, move her, something! But he was powerless to do anything but watch. Terror was written all over his face. He loved Katherine and wanted to be with her, but not like this. He would never put her life in danger. Desperate, he tried one last time to get her to kick.
Yet she did nothing but watch him. All she could think about was how freezing cold the water was, and how beautiful he looked.
A large splash rippled through her vision and Cooper’s face suddenly appeared in front of hers. She looked into his eyes, which were wide with fear, as he grabbed her jacket and yanked her head above the water. His body splayed out over the ice evenly as Danny did the same in the distance. He gripped onto Cooper’s feet as tightly as he could.
Cooper had to go halfway into the freezing water to reach her and Danny was scared he might fall in, too. They both knew the water this time of year could and would kill you. Cooper screamed at Katherine to kick her legs as he tried to pull her out. She could barely think, let alone move.
“Danny, pull!!” Cooper yelled at him in a tone he’d never heard before, not even on the rink.
Taylor was completely freaked out. “Is she okay? Oh my God. Please be okay, please be okay.” Tears streamed down her cheeks. Taylor barely survived the death of her brother. She wasn’t sure she could live through this, too.
They slowly inched from the break in the ice until Cooper was sure they were safe. He noticed Katherine wasn’t breathing. Cooper was losing his mind, but he went into action. He performed CPR on her while Taylor screamed things in the background. Cooper couldn’t hear anything other than the sound of his heart raging in his ears.
Katherine still didn’t breathe, but Cooper refused to give up. He pushed on her chest in desperation. “Please,” he begged her, “don’t leave me. Not now. Please, Katherine. I just got you back.”
Suddenly her eyes shot open and she coughed out the water lodged in her lungs. Cooper tilted her head and held her in his arms. She didn’t say a word. He ripped off her soaking wet jacket and carried her to his snowmobile. He had to get the rest of her wet clothing off as well, but he didn’t want to waste any more time. He watched as her lips turned blue and her breathing fell shallow.
“She’s breathing, right?” Taylor didn’t wait for a response. “Cooper, is she breathing?” Taylor hysterically asked. Danny ran to her, held her in his arms, and reassured her that it would all be okay.
“She’s breathing. She’s just really cold, Taylor. You guys get home and start a fire and gather all the blankets you can find. I’ll meet you there.”
Danny and Taylor sped off as Cooper leaned Katherine’s frozen body into his. He shivered as he forced his jacket to zip up around them both. Then he drove as fast as he could while he held her tight. He rode the snowmobile as far up to the house as it would go and then he unzipped the jacket, allowing Katherine’s shivering body to slide out. He scooped her into his arms and sprinted up the stairs.
Cooper looked around at the blazing fire and the pile of comforters. “This is good. Taylor, you have to get all her clothes off. She can’t have on anything wet. It will only make it worse.”
“Then what?” Taylor asked.
“Then we start wrapping her in blankets.”
Taylor did as he instructed and then promptly covered Katherine’s bare skin. “Okay. You can turn around.”
Cooper walked quickly toward the only girl he loved. He positioned himself on the floor in front of the fire and scooted Katherine’s body into his. He wrapped himself around her and then piled the blankets onto her. Cooper gently rocked her back and forth and listened to her breathing.
“Is she going to be okay? Do we need to take her to a hospital?” Taylor asked with worry.
“Her pulse is almost back to normal. Her breathing sounds fine and her color is coming back. When she comes to, we can ask her how she feels. We need to keep an eye on her all night.”
“How do you know all of this stuff, Cooper?”
“I grew up on this lake. There are rules that come with that. At least, in my house there were.”
“How are you feeling, Coop?” Danny asked.
“I feel fine. I’ll be fine.” He didn’t feel fine, but figured he simply needed to get warmed up too.
He watched as Katherine’s eyes darted back and forth beneath her eyelids and knew she was dreaming. He assumed she was with Austen. It hurt him more than he had imagined it would to think about. Here he had tried to save her life, and she was most likely out frolicking with her other boyfriend. He gave her a tight squeeze and hoped that if she was in a dream, she’d feel it.
Katherine sat in the sand while Austen paced back and forth in front of her. His eyes were riddled with worry, fear, devastation, and heartbreak. “Did you see me in the water?”
“Of course I saw you. All I could see was you,” she answered calmly.
“Do you know how hard that was for me? I had to sit there and watch you almost die, Katherine.” Austen was anything but calm.
“It’s not your fault. Why are you so angry?”
“Because I can’t keep you safe!” Austen threw his head into his hands and pulled at his hair.
“Well, I don’t need you to keep me safe!” Katherine fired back. “I never asked you to protect me.”
“You could have died today.” He grabbed his chest after saying those words out loud.
“But I didn’t,” she snapped.
“Katherine! I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you. Watching you in that water—knowing that I could do NOTHING to help you—it almost broke me today. Do you understand that?”
“If I’d died, we’d be together right now. Don’t you want to be with me?”
“Of course I want to be with you.” He kneeled down in front of her and took her face in his hands. “But not like that, Katherine. That cost is too great and it’s not your time. I don’t want to be with you if it means you’re dead too.”
“Who made you God?”
“Listen to me.” He sat in the sand and faced her. “Watching you today was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. I couldn’t save you. I couldn’t do anything to help you. Cooper could. And he did. You have a whole life in front of you. And Cooper, he’s a really good guy and he loves you.”
“Why do you always make this about Cooper?” she screamed through her tears.
“Because it is about him, Katherine. He risked his life to save you.” he paused to look at her face. “And you love him too. And that’s okay. I don’t want you to feel bad about loving someone who isn’t me.”