Her parents had said their farewells after the last box was unloaded into Courtney’s new dorm room. She sat on the unmade bed and surveyed the room: though it was nowhere as spacious as the Sims U dorm, it was a decently-sized single-occupancy room. The closest thing she had to a roommate was the girl she shared the bathroom with.
She lied back on the mattress, which creaked slightly in protest. She was exhausted from the five-hour drive and didn’t feel like unpacking quite yet.
She managed to waste two hours on her phone without touching a single box. A knock on her bathroom door snapped her out of her technology-induced trance.
“Come in,” she called.
A purple-and-blue-haired girl poked her head around the corner. “Oh, you are here,” she squeaked, “I was starting to wonder. Most everyone else has their doors open…”
“Everyone else in this hall is a freshman, too, I bet. Been there, done that.” Courtney snorted as she tossed her phone aside. “I’m Courtney, I transferred.”
“I’m Lizzie. I don’t think the photography major accepts transfers, getting in as a freshman was hard enough. Anyway, I’m heading down to the dining hall to get dinner, wanna come with?”
Courtney bit her lip. Her mother’s plea echoed in her mind: “please try to make friends. You can’t sit alone in your room all the time.” It seemed like Courtney always wanted to be alone these days, but she didn’t mind. It was a welcome respite from being around people who always tried to get her to talk about her feelings or danced carefully around the fact that she killed her best friend.
But this girl didn’t know her. This girl would have no reason to want her to talk about her feelings or have a deep conversation. They’d go to dinner and make some small talk, and more than likely not much would come of their relationship besides sharing a bathroom.
“Nah,” she said finally. “I’m good.”
She wasn’t wrong. As the week progressed, Courtney tried her best to keep to herself, and when she did see Lizzie, it was early in the morning or late at night when she’d used the restroom and forgotten to close the door. Classes were set to start, and Courtney had made a grand total of zero connections with her classmates.
Being alone didn’t make her feel upset. It didn’t make her feel happy, either. It didn’t make her feel anything at all. That was all she could’ve asked for, really.
She just wanted to stay numb inside. That way she wouldn’t have to face the pain.
Courtney rolled her eyes as she listened in on her classmate’s conversations.
No, weird-hair-guy, that party couldn’t have been that lit.
Why would you want to join a sorority and pay for fake friends?
Yeah, dude, I bet she totally wants to fuck you.
She chewed her pen and looked down at her feet. Her physics course hadn’t transferred, and she was being forced to take yet another stupid science class. She’d chosen biology this time; she figured she might as well diversify.
An oddly familiar voice brought her attention up to the front of the room.
“Good morning, I’m sure you’re all thrilled to be here at eight a.m. on this lovely Tuesday morning. In case you weren’t aware, this is BIO 101.”
Courtney shifted forward in her seat at the back of the lecture hall as she strained to catch a glimpse of her new professor.
“Just so you’re all clear, I am not a professor, I am a graduate student here at Goth, pursuing my degree in biophysics. But I can assure that I do indeed know my shit.” Half the class chuckled. “As listed on the syllabus, which I hope you all had time to look over, my name is Oliver Wright. You may call me by my first name.”
Courtney’s stomach churned and she sank into her seat as she watched Oliver survey the room.
“Are there any – ” he paused, and she was pretty sure he’d seen her, because he paused and smiled to himself before he finished asking “- are there any questions?”
As soon as the class ended, Courtney grabbed her backpack and bolted for the door. Next class, she decided, she would be the last one in the lecture hall and the first one out.
Her plan backfired when Thursday came, as the only seat left in the room when Courtney arrived was the one right in front of Oliver’s podium. When she realized this, she trudged down the stairs and sank into the seat. She watched as Oliver prepared for the lecture, engrossed in his computer, but as soon as he looked towards the students in the room she glued her eyes to her desk. She decided that he cleaned up nicely, but she still preferred the unkempt, rebellious look he’d rocked at Sims U.
She didn’t look up from her notebook the rest of class, even to look at the important diagrams that he was outlining on the whiteboard. They were in her textbook, after all. As soon as he dismissed class, she stuffed her notebook into her backpack and stood up. She turned to hurried out of the lecture hall and nearly collided with Oliver.
He smiled. “Courtney!”
Her stomach knotted itself, and she managed a small wave and a meek “hi.”
“You weren’t kidding about Goth, I see.” he chuckled. “Congrats on your acceptance. It’s a great school.”
“You too,” she croaked, “It’s one of the best, for research, I hear.”
“You don’t know how right you are, Courtney! I’m working right now with Dr. Ulner in the Physics department, and we think we’re pretty close to cracking the secret to -” he stopped as a student approached to ask him a question.
Courtney took the opportunity to run up the stairs and out the door. She looked back right before it shut behind her, and Oliver was watching her, a mix of sadness and perplexity in his eyes. She quickly averted her gaze and shuffled out the door.
The last week of August melted into September, but it may as well have been July for how hot it was. Courtney spent most of her time in her dorm room, avoiding people. Even Lizzie had stopped trying completely.
She found herself dreading her biology class, and she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. After all, she didn’t mind Oliver as a person – she even liked him. But something about seeing him again had upset the delicate equilibrium she had so carefully crafted for herself over the past two years.
She still went, most days. She noticed he didn’t look at her, and she made sure to arrive early to get a seat in the back. She couldn’t really learn. Being there, so close to him, even if she was in the back row… it was distracting. She felt sick thinking about it, but damn he was attractive.
Of course, Tima had thought so too, which was why she felt so sick about the whole thing. She couldn’t think that way about someone her best friend liked – had liked.
The third week of classes brought a chill to the air at Goth. Courtney, preferring the crisp autumn air to the sticky summer heat, started to venture out of her dorm room more. She wandered around campus, at first, but by the end of the week, having explored all there was to explore on campus, she ventured into the city.
There was a park just eight blocks from the Quad that was starting to show its brilliant fall colors. She started walking there every day, enjoying the peace and golden sunsets among the trees.
A few days into this routine, her peace was interrupted when a massive Golden Retriever barreled through the trees and came to a halt at her feet. She jumped back out of instinct, but upon realizing that he just wanted to make a friend, she giggled and reached down to scratch his ears.
“Nacho? C’mere, boy!” She heard a female voice calling behind her. She saw the dog’s ears perk up.
“Did you get lost, silly thing?” She asked the dog, grabbing his collar so he couldn’t run away. She turned and called back towards the voice, “I’ve got him right here!”
A young woman emerged from the bushes, tutting at the dog. “You bad, bad, BAD dog!” She knelt down, clipped his leash on him and said, “You scared us so much, baby! Your daddy would have a fit if he knew you’d run off on me!” She turned towards Courtney and asked, “how did you manage to catch him?”
“He ran straight up to me, and I heard you calling after him, so I just grabbed him.”
The woman looked at her like she’d grown a second head. “He just ran straight to you?”
“Yeah? I thought he just wanted to say hello.”
The woman looked bewildered and impressed. “He usually runs from strangers.”
“Did you find him, Rena?” a male voice called.
“Yeah, he’s right here.”
“Oh, thank God,” the man said as he came crashing onto the path through the bushes. “Your brother would kill me if I lost his fucking dog. Like, torturously, gruesomely kill me, not in any sort of pleasant way.” The man grimaced.
“You’ll never fucking believe this, Zach, but she said Nacho just ran straight to her like he wanted to say hi.”
“You’re right, I don’t fucking believe that. Even when I had steak he wouldn’t come near me for a good four months after we moved in.”
“I guess I’m just good with dogs,” Courtney offered, shrugging.
“Yeah, well, whatever happened, thank you for helping grab him,” the woman named Rena said. “He’s my brother’s dog, and he treat the damn dog better than he probably would if he had a human child. Zach’s not kidding when he says my brother would probably kill us in horrible ways if we lost him.”
Courtney smiled at the duo and the dog. “It was no problem, really.” She turned to walk back to her dorm. She’d only walked a few feet down the path when Rena called out, “Hey, wait a second!”
Courtney turned to face her as she continued, “Zach and I just had an amazing idea. Would you like to come take this dog out for a walk around this time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? For payment, of course.”
She thought about it for a moment. She could use the money, after all, and she was already walking out here every day to begin with, so why not bring the cute, sweet dog along?
“Okay,” she agreed. “When do I start?”
“Now,” Rena and Zach said in unison.
The pair gave Courtney a quick lesson on walking Nacho. Of course, she’d walked dogs before, but Nacho was afraid of nearly everything in sight, so he was a bit of a tricky case.
“He was a rescue,” Zach informed her, “so we don’t know the exact circumstances, but obviously it fucked him up hardcore.”
Rena noted that he seemed to relax ever so slightly in Courtney’s presence, which puzzled her. “He hates strangers. Hell, I think he hates me most days.”
Courtney walked with them all the way to their apartment, holding the leash the whole way.
“Why don’t you come up, my brother should be home by now, I wouldn’t want you to take his baby out without him meeting you first.”
They led her up the elevator to the sixth floor. “It ain’t much, but it’s a place to sleep,” Rena contended as she fished out her key, “and the fact that I’ve gotta share it with my brother and his roommate is the icing on the goddamn cake.”
She opened the door and ushered Courtney inside. The apartment was small, poorly lit, and nearly bare of furniture. “Don’t mind the lack of a dining room table,” Zach teased, “we just eat on the couch.”
“It’s – ” Courtney began.
“It’s student apartment, what can we say,” Zach shrugged. “Plus little sister the musician,” he added, and Rena made a face at him. He went to knock on a door on the far side of the room as Rena leaned against the wall.
“Dude, come out, we have a proposition for you,” Zach called through the door.
“A miracle happened today, you won’t believe it,” Rena added. “We found someone your dog isn’t petrified of! And she’s willing to walk him three times a week for you!”
The door creaked open. Courtney froze as a familiar figure emerged from the room.
Fuck. Why the hell was it always Oliver?!
He didn’t look surprised to see her in his apartment. In fact, he looked amused. He reached down to pet his dog and Courtney thought she heard him whisper something to the animal, but she didn’t catch what.
“It’s okay if you don’t me to walk him, I understand,” she assured him. She was still uncertain whether she’d hurt his feelings and whether he’d been avoiding her for his sake or for hers.
“Nonsense, you can walk him anytime you want,” Oliver replied.
“He is a cutie,” she admitted.
“So it’s settled then; we’ll get you the spare key so you can come and take him walking,” Rena said, rummaging through a drawer in the kitchen and producing a key. She handed it to Courtney.
“I have to get back, I have class in an hour,” she lied. She needed an out.
“Ugh, don’t we all,” Zach groaned from the couch.
“It was nice to meet you, Courtney,” Rena said, smiling at her.
“Courtney?” Oliver asked Courtney as she turned to go, prompting her to turn back.
His green eyes were shining through his unkempt hair, which had fallen into his face, and the intensity of his gaze made her breath catch in her throat. She silently cursed how attractive he was.
“Can you come by my office tomorrow or Wednesday? So we can talk about Nacho?” he asked.
“Nacho?,” Courtney squeaked.
“Oh, right. Yeah, I can stop by.”
“Thank you. I’ll see you soon.”
A/N: Hmmm, I wonder why this chapter is called ‘Coincidences?’ Ha! There’s actually a reason why Nacho likes Courtney, but who knows if it’ll stay in the story as I write. I’ve already cut out over 80% of that plot point, so… *shrug*
Also, i’m totally bullshitting about how grad school works with teaching. I am not a grad student (if I were I probably wouldn’t have time for this) so I’m kind of guessing at this point. Just go with it.
And happy 24th birthday to me! 🎉🎈🍰 I’m off to Cheesecake Factory!