“Well after all your tanning and driving today, we were wondering if either of you got seat belt tans.” Katherine started to crack up uncontrollably and she turned to Cooper to try to lift up his shirt to see.
“Seat belt tans? I don’t get it,” Danny responded, confused.
“If you want us to take our shirts off, ladies, all you have to do is ask. You are the ones who told us to put them on in the first place. You two are giving us mixed messages. How are we supposed to ever know what you really want?” Cooper asked sarcastically.
“Show us. Lift up your shirts so we can see!” Taylor demanded.
The boys did as they were told and faint seat belt lines marked across their chest. The girls burst into hysterics and the guys looked down, shaking their heads.
The group finished their dinner and the guys took care of the bill. The girls gave Dominic big hugs and kisses on the cheek before they left. The guys shook Dominic’s hand before he turned to the girls and said, “I approve, si. They seem-ah like good guys. Ciao, bellas!”
“Ciao, Dominic!” the girls shouted in unison as they walked out the door.
The weather had definitely started to change and Katherine noticed how chilled the evening air had become as compared to a few weeks ago.
“I’m totally going to have to buy a real coat, aren’t I?” Katherine commented as she threw a sweatshirt over her head.
“You don’t own a jacket?” Taylor laughed.
“I’ve never needed one before.”
“You can always borrow one of mine. I have a hundred. Cause we have seasons here. Do you know what seasons are?” Taylor teased.
“We have seasons in California!” Katherine shouted defensively.
“What? Summer and summer light?” Danny interjected.
“You two are made for each other.” Katherine stuck her tongue out at the couple.
“So, what are we up to now? Where should we go?” Taylor wondered out loud. “Oh wait, should we give you guys alone time? Yeah, maybe you guys should hang out by yourselves for a bit? Danny and I can head back to his place if you want?” Taylor looked at the budding couple.
The thought made Katherine nervous. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be alone with Cooper, it’s just that she had a good idea where this headed and once again, her mind drifted back to the boy from her dream. She tried to shut him out, but no matter what she did, the thought of him always lingered. It was as if he existed in a part of her now and if she tried remove him, it would be as useless as if she tried to pull her own arm off. He was a permanent fixture.
“Whatever you prefer, Katherine,” Cooper didn’t want to chase her away by being too enthusiastic, but he did crave alone time with her. “But I do have someplace I’d like to show you.”
“Oh God Cooper, really? Let me guess, the stars in your bedroom?” Taylor said while she stuck her finger down her throat and pretended to puke.
“Do you really think so little of me, Taylor?” He turned to Katherine and said, “It’s nowhere near my bedroom.”
Katherine thought one last time of the boy from her dreams, took a deep breath and turned to Cooper and said, “I’ll go with you.” She gave Taylor a hug who whispered in her ear, “Have SO MUCH fun. Call if you need anything.” Danny gave Cooper some hockey guy handshake/fist bump thing and Katherine smiled as Taylor and Danny walked away from them, hands intertwined.
“Ready?” Cooper grinned. “It’s not far, I promise. Are you cold, California?”
“I’m okay, thanks.”
They walked slowly and she wondered if he was going to try to hold her hand. Part of her definitely wanted that. Part of her screamed for it. But the other part, well the other part was clearly off limits. She wondered if she should throw all caution to the wind, be brave, and grab his hand instead …but she couldn’t do it. She needed to know that if Cooper Donovan’s fingers suddenly found themselves intertwined in hers, it was because he wanted to and not because she had initiated it. This was New Jersey’s royalty after all. The thought made her giggle out loud.
“What are you laughing at?” he glanced over at her and smiled.
“Just hearing Taylor in my head is all.”
“Ah, I understand completely now. I like her, she’s funny. And informative,” Cooper grinned mischievously.
“Informative? What are you talking about?”
“She’s good at answering my questions, that’s all,” Cooper bit his bottom lip.
Katherine’s eyes quickly darted away from his mouth. “Well, yeah. She’s the best. I don’t know what I’d do without her.”
“You two are lucky you found each other. You should send flowers to whoever paired you up.”
“Flowers? Really?” she responded playfully.
“Or a card. I’m just saying.” He laughed and then gave her a little shove. She lost her balance far more than he had intended. He grabbed her by the arm to swiftly pull her back to him. He held her tightly against his body, “I’m sorry, California. Didn’t mean for that to happen.” His heart pounded through his chest against hers. “You okay?”
Warmth raced through Katherine’s body as her heart sputtered. If there was ever a perfect moment for a first kiss this was it and she knew it. “I’m fine, sorry. It’s the shoes…and the feet walking in them.” She tried to regain her composure.
“Come here,” he said as he pulled her toward him. “I’ll help from now on.”
He threw his arm around her and tucked her frame into his. She loved that he was so much taller than she was and she was surprised at how comfortable he was to snuggle into. She half expected a body that looked that chiseled to feel like stone, but it didn’t.
“We’re almost there,” he told her.
They were still on campus, but Katherine’s classes had never taken her to this part of the school before. She saw a gray stone building with columns and arches that reminded her of some sort of church. She still hadn’t gotten over how old everything on the East Coast was. The way the buildings looked were unlike anything she’d ever seen back home. They walked to a large, oversized oak door and Cooper tugged on one of the black iron door handles.
“Is this a church? Are you taking me to church?” Katherine started to get nervous. It wasn’t that she didn’t like or respect church or anything. It was just that, well…she didn’t go.
“I guess you could say it’s my church.” He unlocked the door.
“Wait. How do you have a key to a school building?”
“All the captains have a key to the rink,” he explained.
She breathed a sigh of relief. He walked inside, hit one of the light switches and walked toward the first row of seats closest to the ice. Katherine followed close behind.
She was in awe. She noticed the long wooden benches instead of individual seats. She quietly wondered how uncomfortable those got after long periods of time. “Wow. So this is where you play? It’s so old. When was it built?”
He looked at her and then looked around at everything as he spoke. “They built it in the early 1920s. It’s named after the school’s greatest athlete at the time. It was the school’s sign to potential students that they were ready to get serious about sports.”
She looked around at the championship flags that hung from the ceiling. Cooper continued, “They redid it not too long ago, but it was important to the school administrators, the boosters, alumni, and the team at the time, that the look of the rink was to remain unchanged. You know what I mean?”
He paused to look her in the eyes and let her know that it was important to him as well. She smiled slightly and nodded her head. “There is so much history here that no one wanted it torn down and rebuilt from the ground up. So the majority of the changes are behind the scenes. The locker rooms…the way the ice is refrigerated and cleaned….the lighting and the glass around the rink. All necessary updates, but you wouldn’t know it didn’t always look this way if someone didn’t tell you.”
There were light fixtures that hung in between exposed steel beams. It was bigger than she thought it would be and far less extravagant. He explained to her how he thought the size was perfect because there weren’t any bad seats in the house. He took her around the whole rink and they sat in different areas just to prove it. “See? No matter where you sit, you’re never far from the action.”
She agreed and smiled. She liked to see him talk about the sport that held his heart. He was excited, knowledgeable and passionate. “You’ve seen the rink from every seat in the house. Now come see things from my point of view.” He walked her through a door and onto the ice.
“Am I allowed to be on here? Isn’t this sacred ground or something?” Her shoes were slippery on the ice and she half expected to fall.
He laughed, “Just look around, California. This is how I see things.” She imagined what it was like to be him in a game as she looked at every seat from every angle. She agreed his view was the best.
“Tell me what you love.” He looked at her and her pulse started to sprint. “About hockey, I mean,” she clarified.
He smiled. “I love the smell of the ice. When we first walked in here, did you smell it? And the cold. The sound the puck makes when it’s sliding across the ice or when it hits the net for a goal...as long as it’s our goal,” he smirked.
“I love the sound of hockey sticks crashing against each other. The sound my skates make when I come to a hard stop. The roar of the crowd. The way I feel when I’m playing. I can do things on this ice that I can’t do anywhere else.” He looked at her. “How’s that for an answer?”
“It’s perfect,” she told him.
“You’re perfect.” Cooper looked down and gently tucked a strand of hair that was out of place behind her ear. Then he looked her in the eyes and angled her face up toward his.
She knew what would come next. She closed her eyes and his mouth was on hers. His lips were incredibly soft and his kiss was so gentle. He seemed to handle everything he touched with care. Especially when it came to her.
His hand had moved to the back of her head and his fingers were lightly entangled in her hair. She lifted her hand and placed it on the side of his face. Her other hand was on his shoulder, partly for balance. She felt that kiss from Cooper Donovan all the way down to her toes.
When he finally pulled away from her she kept her eyes closed for just a moment longer. When she opened them, he looked right at her and simply said, “Wow.”
She couldn’t agree more. It was one hell of a “wow.” That was the kind of kiss people wrote books about…or made movies about. “I don’t mean to ruin the moment, but we should probably go,” he apologized.
Her mind was so wrapped up in that kiss, she barely heard him. And Cooper couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. He helped her off the ice and then took her hand in his. He led her up the stairs and out the door. He turned to lock the door and they walked silently for a few minutes before Katherine said, “Cooper, can I ask you something?”