Warning: Strong language & themes of death. Proceed with caution if either of these themes bother you.
“…so anyway, I was so pissed off I nearly punched him, but turns out it was all a huge misunderstanding, and I felt like such an ass afterwords.”
Courtney nodded, her eyes focused out the window, drifting over the figures coming and going on the lawn and the Science “Proving Ground” outside. She thought she saw a familiar dark-haired figure, but there were plenty of boys with messy dark hair, especially in the sciences.
Keegan looked at her, his brow furrow and his eyes serious. “Are you okay? You’re acting weird today.”
Courtney sat up. “Yeah, I know.”
“Are you gonna tell me what’s wrong?”
Courtney took a deep breath and said, “I don’t know if we should… I don’t think…” she gulped, trying to find the words. “I don’t know if we should be together,” she looked at him for split second before hastily adding, “Right now.”
Keegan exhaled and turned away. “This seems… sudden.”
“Yeah, I know,” Courtney croaked, “and I’m sorry, and I feel like an idiot, but I really think we need to take some time to be our own people right now.”
“Yeah, maybe you’re right.”
“I’ll walk you out, then, I guess,” she said, standing.
Keegan put an arm around her. “Hey, look, I really appreciate you being honest with me. I know this is the first time you’ve had to do this, and I… I’m proud of you, for saying what you feel without much prompting. It sucks for me, yeah, but you usually keep it all inside, so it’s good that you’re actually communicating. I just wish this wasn’t what you needed to say.”
She turned to face him once they got outside, and she stood there awkwardly for a moment before he pulled her into a hug.
“Maybe we can be friends, once we’re over any lingering feelings,” he mused.
“Yeah. And it’s cool if you still wanna hang out with Tima. She thinks you’re pretty cool. I mean – I think you’re pretty cool, too.”
He nodded as she pulled out of his embrace. “Take care, Keegan.”
“I’ll see you around.”
“You’re sure you’re okay by yourself, Tima?”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m psyched about this party, it’s gonna be epic!”
Courtney rolled her eyes. “If you say so.”
“It’s not weird for me to go to Keegan’s party, right?”
“What? No,” she was telling the truth. “I just don’t like frat parties, is all.”
“Alright, girl, well I’ll text you when I bail on Keegan and head to meet up with you at your friends’ party. It’s walking distance, right?”
“Yeah, the house is right down the street from Keegan’s place. I’ll text you the address so you can Google Maps it.”
“Sweet. Well, I’ll catch up with you later, I’m gonna go pregame with Heather!” Fatima giggled as she grabbed her wallet and hobbled out of the room on her heels.
Courtney laughed and shook her head.
“Hey, at least I can almost walk in these things, unlike you!” Tima called behind her.
“I don’t think you have what it takes to be America’s Next Top Biddy. I’m sorry, but you have been eliminated,” Courtney shot back through the door.
She left her room shortly after. She ran into Oliver on her way out the door. “Nice costume, Oliver.” She was having trouble keeping her laughter back.
“Yeeeeah… I had to take my Little Brother trick-or-treating and he wanted to go dressed as a hamburger.”
“Well, mustard definitely suits you, for sure,” she teased.
“This has got to be my finest hour,” he mused, “being teased about my costume by a literal Trekkie.” He rolled his eyes. “Come back when you’re dressed as something cool,” he bellowed as he hopped the stairs two at a time
“Hey! You made it, Courtney!” Elisa shouted over the music as Courtney entered.
She smiled. “Didn’t I say I’d be here?”
“Last I heard there was talk of some lame frat party being your first stop,” Elisa wrinkled her nose. “This is Sarah, by the way. We’re the skeleton army.”
“That joke is so old, girl. Get with it.”
“You would not believe the horrors I endured during my service in the Skeleton War,” Elisa deadpanned.
Sarah rolled her eyes. “My girlfriend is a fucking massive dork, ignore her.”
Courtney shrugged, smiling. She could make out Elisa singing “Spooky Scary Skeletons” over the music as she turned away. She decided that Elisa was an even bigger dork when she was drunk than when she was sober, and she was a pretty big dork when she was sober, too.
“Heeeeey girl!” Tabby called out as Courtney danced her way over to her and Andrea.
“Girl, the beer is super warm, but we have some vodka in our flask,” Andrea slurred, offering Courtney a small metal flask. “Drank up, sweetie!”
Courtney laughed and took a huge swig. Mistake number one; it burned. Tabby and Andrea burst out laughing at the face she made.
“You are such a freshman!” Tabby choked out between laughs.
“Come on, let’s get you a beer,” Andrea looked at Courtney pityingly as she pulled her into the kitchen.
“I’m sure she just got distracted,” Elisa assured Courtney.
“Yeah, she’s prone to that especially when a cute guy walks in.”
“Her phone probably died, too,” Sarah added.
“Maybe she went home.”
“Yeah, maybe.” But Courtney wasn’t feeling so sure.
“Where are you, Fatima?”
“How the hell do I have ten missed calls?” Courtney grumbled as she studied her phone. She sat up, rubbing her temples and looked around. The place was a bit of a mess; there were solo cups littered around and a few people who had decided it was smarter to spend the night than to catch an Uber or drive home.
Her phone buzzed again.
Elisa had already been awake and had been more than willing to drive Courtney to the hospital. She’d offered to come in, but Courtney had assured her that Fatima’s parents were already en route, and there was no need. But sitting in the harshly lit waiting room, decorated with ‘calming’ blue accents, she wished she’d taken Elisa up on her offer.
She felt a million things. She felt like throwing up, like fainting, like crying, like screaming, like laughing at the absurdity of it all.
Mostly, she felt like this was her fault.
She looked up every time the doors opened, hoping that it was Mr. And Mrs. Daher. She knew it was a four hour drive from Salmon Woods to Sims U, but she didn’t know how long they’d been driving, and her head was swimming and she just wanted someone to hold her.
When they finally arrived, she locked eyes with Mrs. Daher, and they ran to each other across the waiting room. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry,” Courtney wailed into Mrs. Daher’s shoulder.
Her friend’s mother shushed her. “You did nothing wrong, Courtney,” Mr. Daher assured her. “You could not have prevented this.”
His words only made her cry harder, because the pit in her stomach and the ache in her heart assured her that he was wrong.
They sat for an agonizing six hours. She kept going over the facts in her head.
- Fatima had left the party around 11.
- Someone else had left another party around the same time, in a car, drunk.
- To get to Elisa’s place, Fatima needed to cross the street.
- The driver didn’t have his headlights on.
- Fatima didn’t see him.
- She was in the middle of the crosswalk when he hit her going forty-five miles per hour.
- He left her there to die.
- She was in emergency surgery, but it didn’t look promising.
- If Courtney had gone with her, maybe she would’ve been the one who got hit. She would do anything to be the one who got hit.
- Neither Keegan nor any of Tima’s other friends were here.
“Mr. And Mrs. Daher… I’m sorry.”
She’d helped Mrs. Daher pack up all of Fatima’s things. The small room seemed vastly empty now, even with the boxes littering the floor. Oliver had come by almost as soon as she’d arrived with Fatima’s mom in tow, quietly offering his help and strong arms. She couldn’t think about his strong arms, now, right? I mean, Tima liked – had liked – him. She was thankful that it was nearing winter, because if he hadn’t been wearing long sleeves – the guilt at this thought hit her, and she felt an acrid taste in her mouth. Was lusting after Oliver betraying her best friend? She wasn’t quite sure.
“You okay?” Oliver asked as he hoisted a laundry basket filled with clothes that would never be unpacked.
Courtney nodded. “I just needed a break, is all. These boxes are heavy.” She managed a small smile. She looked around the empty room and sighed.
“It’s hard, isn’t it.” Oliver said it like a statement, not a question.
“Yeah,” She murmured.
He looked at her for a moment before taking his load out to the car.
He was right, it was hard. Even though she’d been through it before, and it still felt different somehow. It felt like there was a 1,000 pound weight on her chest that she couldn’t lift off. She’d lost people in her life, sure, but not this suddenly. Her grandparents’ health had declined for years before they’d passed, but Fatima – god, the last time she’d seen Fatima, she’d been so… alive. Bursting with energy and potential. It made her head spin to try and figure out why that vivacity had been drained from her best friend, why her life had been cut so short.
Maybe there was no reason.
“Well, that’s everything,” Mrs. Daher exhaled as she took one last look at the campus. “Thank you for all your help, Courtney, and Oliver.”
“It was my pleasure, ma’am. I’m so… I’m so sorry. Fatima was something else.”
The corner of Mrs. Daher’s mouth twitched slightly, almost betraying a smile. “Yes, she was,” she admitted.
“This dorm will never feel like home to me anymore,” Courtney whispered, looking up at the drab stone building.
Mrs. Daher pulled Courtney to her and held her there.
“Don’t think that this means you can’t drop by anytime, Courtney. Our home will always be your home. And you too, Oliver, if you’re ever around Salmon Woods please come by for dinner. There will forever be an empty chair now.” She sniffled. “It’s been an honor watching you grow into a remarkable young woman, Courtney. I know things will never be the way they were before, but I know that we will all get through this.”
Courtney responded by squeezing Mrs. Daher tighter. “I’m so sorry.”
“Hey, this wasn’t your fault, Courtney. None of this was your fault.”Courtney pulled away and wiped the tears from her eyes. “It’s just really hard,” she croaked, “if I hadn’t wanted her to come to that party, if I’d only gone with her, if she’d left five minutes earlier-”
“We can’t live our lives in ‘ifs,’ child. We can only live in reality. Promise me you will not blame yourself.”
Courtney bit her lip. She looked at the concrete for a moment before she mumbled, “I promise.”
She knew she couldn’t mean it.
Mrs. Daher pulled out of the parking lot. Courtney watched her drive away until she turned the corner. She turned back to Oliver, who put his arm around her and led her inside without a word.
She was holding back tears, trying not to lose it completely in front of him. How embarrassing it would be for him to see her like that, so weak and vulnerable.
The thought sent a fresh wave of sobs through her, but she managed to hold them back. He must have felt her shaking because he moved his arm in response, rubbing her back ever so slightly. It comforted her, and she was thankful that he was content with her silence.
She unlocked her room and Oliver put a hand on her shoulder. “Do you want to be alone?”
She bit her lip and nodded. She watched him walk down the hall, but he turned back several times to make sure she was okay. She took a breath and opened the door. The sight of their – her – room without Tima’s belongings cut through her like a knife, and she cried out. She very nearly collapsed to the floor, relying on the door for support.
Then she felt arms around her, holding her up and steadying her. She couldn’t see through her tears. She let Oliver lead her to the bed, where he sat with her.
She cried into his shoulder for what felt like hours. He rubbed her back, and then reached up to stroke her hair, tentatively at first, but when she buried her head further into the crook of his neck he responded in kind by squeezing her tighter.
She stayed in his arms there until her sobs turned to sniffles. She “Thank you.” Her voice was hoarse. She felt him smile a bit into her hair.
“Don’t sweat it. And if you ever want to talk, you know where to – ”
He was interrupted by a knock at the door.
“Keegan,” Courtney said coolly, pulling herself away from Oliver.
“I came by to help move Tima’s stuff out,” he said, surveying the half-empty room. His eyes locked on Oliver as he finished, “but I can see you’ve already gotten it taken care of.”
“Yes, you’re late, I texted you two hours ago that Mrs. Daher would be here around noon, and you never responded. Thanks for offering to help, by the way.”
“Why are you giving me attitude? My phone died, sorry that’s such a crime!”
Courtney scoffed. “Yeah, right. I bet you were just having too much fun with your new BFFs at the frat house to bother coming to help move her stuff. Or even to bother coming to her funeral! Yeah, I noticed you weren’t fucking there, Keegan.”
“I had an event I couldn’t miss.”
“Yeah, party of the year, I bet,” she rolled her eyes. “You know, this is your fault too, if you hadn’t invited her to your fucking lame-ass party, she would still be here right now!”
“My fault? You’re such an ignorant bitch if you think this is my fault! She was on the way to meet up with you, or did you forget that? So if it’s anyone’s fault, it’s yours!”
Courtney glared at Keegan. She was dangerously quiet. “You think I don’t know that, Keegan?” she spat. “I realised that the moment I heard she was in the hospital. But at least I went to the fucking hospital. At least I’m a decent enough friend – no, a decent enough person – to do that for my friend.”
“Well, I’m not the cunt who tries to shift the blame.”
Courtney’s mouth fell open. “What did you just call me?”
Oliver stood up and pushed himself between Courtney and Keegan. She realized exactly how close she’d gotten to Keegan. She felt like smacking him. Not hard, just enough to get her point across.
“That’s enough, both of you,” Oliver demanded. “I think it’s time for you to leave,” he told Keegan.
“Oh, so your new boyfriend is already fighting your battles for you, huh Courtney? Disgusting. I’m glad you dumped me, I’m starting to realize just how much of a fucking coward and bitch you are.”
“Get. Out.” Courtney asserted. She was shaking from head to toe. “Really. Before I slap that smirk off your fucking face.”
Keegan huffed and slammed the door behind him.
Courtney sank to the floor, finding herself once again about to break down.
“Don’t worry about him, Courtney,” Oliver said softly, “Worry about you.”
“coming here was a mistake,” she admitted. Saying it lifted a tiny fraction of the weight on her chest.
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Courtney. I’m glad we met, for one thing. But… you know, you don’t have to stay here.”
She looked up at him through tears. “I’ve already spent ten grand on this semester…”
“It’ll transfer. Or maybe you can take some time off, take some classes at a community college back home? Then you can decide whether you want to come back or go somewhere else.”
She nodded. “I didn’t want to come here,” she admitted, “I wanted to go to Goth University, but I didn’t get in.”
“Well, it’s a prestigious school, but if you work hard on your gen eds and get a good GPA, you could have a decent shot.”
He held out a hand and she took it. He lifted her to her feet.
“You know I’ll miss you, right?”
She smiled a tiny bit.
“But just so you know,” he confided, “Goth is on my shortlist for grad school. So with any luck I’ll see you around.”
“I’d like that,” she said. It was the truth.
A/N: This chapter was hard to write. I had ideas of where I was going to take Tima’s death once upon a time, but that plot never panned out. I scrapped it an went in a completely different direction, and you’ll get to see that play out over the next couple of chapters.
And yes, Keegan is being a complete dick here. It’s such a far cry from how he acted at the beginning of the chapter! I’d say he’s in the Anger stage of grief.
As always, thanks for reading, lovelies!