Warnings: Strong/coarse language.
“THE DOG BELONGED TO WHO?!” Elisa’s screeches from their FaceTime call echoed around Courtney’s small room. She rolled her eyes as Elisa continued, “And you haven’t told me this yet, why?!”
“Because I knew this is exactly how you’d react.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right. Oliver’s pretty gorgeous – for a dude, anyway. And he’s obviously been into you since your Freshman year. It’s a wonder you haven’t tried to hop on that dick yet!”
Courtney turned beet red.
“Oh, yeah, sorry, sometimes I forget that people can even be virgins…” Elisa laughed and Courtney saw her take a swig of beer.
“I mean, you were once, too,” Courtney reminded her.
“Like, ten gazillion years ago. But enough about me, tell me exactly what happened?”
“Well, I mean, there’s not much to say. He’s my biology teacher and I’ve really just been avoiding him since the semester started.”
“Girl!” Elisa tutted. “Isn’t he, like, your friend?! That’s pretty shitty, to be real.”
“Yeah, he’s probably pretty pissed at me, but that just makes it easier for me to avoid him, because he doesn’t want to talk to me, either.”
“But for real, Courtney, why are you avoiding him?”
Courtney bit her lip. She didn’t say anything for a moment, hoping that a good reason would pop into her head, or at least a reason that would be good enough to appease Elisa.
Elisa sighed. “Girl, I know you’re hurting, but if you keep pushing people away like this, soon there isn’t going to be anyone left.”
“Yeah,” Courtney said, her voice hollow, “I know.” The thought of it didn’t scare her as much as it probably should have, she realized.
“I know you hate when I say this, but if you ever get to a place where you want to talk… I’m here.”
“I know.” Courtney gave her a small smile. “I gotta go do some homework. I’ll talk to you later.”
“No worries, girl. At least try to be nice to poor Oliver. He seems like a really sweet guy.”
Why did I agree to meet him? Oh, come on Courtney, be nice.
Courtney sighed as she turned down the hallway in the old building. From the window, she could see the bright autumn sun and the golden leaves of the trees just outside. She took one step, then another, taking note of the names on every door she passed. At the end of the hallway, she stood and faced a door that read “Graduate Student Faculty,” in lieu of a name. She took a deep breath and knocked.
Oliver opened the door and ushered her into the office. “I didn’t think you’d actually show up. You seem to have been avoiding me.”
Courtney didn’t say anything as he motioned for her to sit down. “You don’t really want to talk about your dog, do you, Oliver?” Straight to the point. Good.
He chuckled, then frowned. “No. I don’t.”
“Then why did you ask me to come meet with you?”
He shifted in his seat. “It’s… hard to explain.”
“You literally just wanted to corner me into talking to you.” She jumped out of the seat and added, “I’m allowed to avoid whoever I want, you know.”
Oliver cocked his head and studied her for a moment. “Do you believe in God, Courtney?” he asked.
The question caught her so off guard that all she could do for a moment was blink at him. Memories bubbled up in her mind of a long-ago September day that they had spent together eating ice cream and dancing and- wait, what had he just asked her, again? More importantly, why? She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it again when she realized she wasn’t sure of the answer. She had believed in God, once, and destiny, but she wasn’t sure she did anymore. God wouldn’t have let Tima die. She stood frozen in the doorway to Oliver’s office.
He looked down at the ground. “I’m only curious because I never did,” he whispered, “but I’m not so sure anymore. Maybe what we call ‘science’ is actually the handiwork of some great creator and not merely a beautiful coincidence.” He lifted his gaze and locked eyes with her, and God, those eyes! They made her stomach flip. “I would like us to be friends,” he added.
She stared at him for a moment. “Why?”
Oliver shrugged and said, “I’m just a friendly person, I guess. We don’t have to be friends anymore, but I really enjoyed spending time with you before, and I’m not completely understanding what changed between then and now.”
Courtney was quiet for a long moment. “It feels like everything’s changed,” she whispered.
Oliver leaned forward in his seat. She could feel him watching her, and she could imagine the intensity of his gaze, but she didn’t look at him. “I know you don’t like when people force you to talk,” he began, “but you can’t just avoid what hurts. Sooner or later you’re going to have to deal with it.”
She looked up at him then, but he wasn’t looking at her, which she assumed was purposeful. She stepped towards the open door.
“Courtney,” Oliver whispered at the last minute, and she turned and locked eyes with him. “I wish….” his voice was strained, and he frowned, then stopped. “I’m really, really happy to see you again,” he started again. “If you ever feel like talking, my door is always open.”
“You sound just like Elisa,” she muttered.
Oliver frowned. “Have a good rest of the semester, I guess, I’ll see you at the exam, hopefully.” He turned back to his computer and Courtney’s heart sank.
She really was pushing people away, and it was hurting them. She felt a tiny twinge of guilt deep inside her. It was the first time in a long time that she’d really felt anything besides numb.
“I….” Courtney began. She knew she should apologize, but she didn’t know if she’d be able to, or if he’d accept it, or if it’d mean anything. “I’m… sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt you. I mean, I didn’t even know you cared that much about me.”
Oliver sighed and swiveled in his chair to face her. “I’m only telling you this in the spirit of honesty and because I feel like getting anything besides snarky comments and avoidance out of you lately has been impossible lately and I appreciate the apology.” He ran a hand through his already tousled hair before he continued, “I was ecstatic to see you in my biology class this semester, because it meant that… that maybe… maybe you won’t have to be my ‘what if?'”
Courtney swallowed. “What do you mean, ‘what if?'” Then it dawned on her. “Oh, you mean like… dating what if?” The preposterousness of this new development made Courtney burst out into a fit of giggles. She tried to stop when she noticed Oliver deflate in his chair, but the revelation had made her a bit giddy and she found it difficult to control her laughter.
“Never mind,” Oliver muttered quickly, “that was out of line.”
“Forget I said it,” he said curtly.
“No, no, I won’t!” She saw him grimace and sink further into his chair. “I mean, I – I’ve never met anyone who fancied me more than -” she stopped and chewed her lip.
“She was so beautiful,” she eventually whispered. “Everyone thought so. She was the pretty face, I was the soccer-team powerhouse. The only real reason I even got Keegan to like me over her was that we started dating before he ever met her. I did that on purpose, because she had that kind of way about her that made everyone fawn all over her and fall in love.” Courtney frowned. “She had a crush on you, you know.”
“Yeah?” Oliver croaked.
“Yeah. The part that makes me feel sick is that… I did – do? – too. And I don’t know how that would have worked out if she hadn’t… but I don’t know if I can try going on a date with you without feeling like I’m betraying her memory.”
“I would have chosen you, Courtney,” Oliver breathed, “even if she’d wanted me not to.”
Courtney shook her head. “See, that’s the thing, Oliver. I would’ve chosen her.”
“…and then he said that he wanted to take me out on a date.”
Elisa’s face lit up and she laughed. “So when are you going out?!”
“I said no,” Courtney asserted.
“Why would you say that?! It makes sense… he likes you, you obviously like him -”
“I do not!” Courtney sputtered.
“Courtney, your face is beet red right now.” Elisa let out a sigh. “We both know it’s true. And I know you feel like you should hold yourself back from pursuing anything with him, but don’t you think Fatima would have wanted you to be happy?”
Courtney bit her lip.
“Look, all I’m saying is, a good friend would let you pursue a guy who’s interested, even if she liked him first. She wouldn’t let him come between you, and she wouldn’t come between you and the guy.”
Courtney thought about it for a moment. A few memories popped up, times when Tima made her choose between a boy and their friendship, times when Courtney gave up and let Tima have the guy she liked. Then it dawned on her. “Boys in high school didn’t like Tima better,” she whispered. “I just never even tried, because she wanted them and therefore I couldn’t have them.”
“I’m sorry that happened,” Elisa said slowly.
Courtney could feel sobs aching in her throat. “I’ll talk to you later, Elisa.”
She cried until her throat ached from sobbing, and then she cried some more.
She didn’t know what to think. Was it wrong to be mad at a dead person? Nobody every seemed to speak ill of dead people, even the really shitty ones.
Once you died, it was like suddenly all of your sins were instantly erased, and nobody could ever remember them. Or maybe they didn’t want to remember, because thinking bad thoughts about someone who hadn’t had a chance to redeem themselves in life hurt. There was never any closure with this sort of thing.
Eventually, she realized that she wasn’t crying anymore. She rolled over in her bed and willed herself to sleep.
Courtney’s life fell into an easy rhythm over the next few weeks. She was skipping every single one of her biology classes, but she kept up with the work and the readings on her own. She’d go by Oliver’s apartment a few times a week to walk Nacho, who was always happy to see her. She never ran into Oliver on those days, but sometimes she’d see his sister Rena or his roommate.
She worried that one day Oliver would make a point to be there when he knew she’d be coming for Nacho, but he never was. She had a feeling that the avoidance was mutual.
There wasn’t a bone in her body that didn’t ache for his companionship, though. She was still processing the shit Tima had put her through in high school, and it would have been nice to be able to talk about it. She didn’t feel comfortable talking about it with Elisa; she was too judgmental. Oliver had never been.
“So everything’s all set? Your dress fits and everything?” By the end of the semester, Courtney’s sister Katherine was in a frenzy of last-minute wedding planning, and because Courtney was a bridesmaid, she got to hear all about her stress when her maid of honor was busy.
“For the millionth time, Katherine, yes, it fits!”
“I know, I know, I’m just… ugh I wish it happened yesterday, you know? Like, I’m simultaneously ready to spend all day living out my dream wedding and for it to be over with already.”
“I am consistently amazed at how much work you’re putting into a 50-guest wedding, sis.”
“Oh, you’ll get it when you get married, Courtney. It’s so exciting!”
Courtney made a face. “it just sounds like too much stress. And too much money.”
“Well, that’s part of the process, but it’ll be a magical day, I’m sure. So when’s your last exam? I thought you were leaving today?”
“I’m leaving tomorrow morning. I have my bio exam in an hour.”
“Oh, you’d better get to studying then! I’ll see you soon! Kisses!”
“Yeah, see you then.”
She hadn’t gone to a single one of Oliver’s biology classes since they’d talked. Luckily, all the test answers for the final were straight from the book. She wondered whether he’d designed it that way on purpose so she didn’t fail. Of course, he probably hadn’t even given her absences a second thought. It was wishful thinking.
After she finished her exam, she set the scantron on Oliver’s podium. He didn’t look up from his laptop.
“Merry Christmas,” she whispered as she passed him without looking back.
The drive home through the mountains was pleasant, but Courtney was relieved when she finally made it home after the six hour drive. Her mother and sister weren’t home when she arrived, and her father muttered something about a last-minute cake situation before he went back to his office to work.
The house was peacefully quiet. She made herself a cup of coffee and watched the family’s boat bob on the lake through the dining room window. She would have loved to take it out on the water, but it was freezing outside and she didn’t want to risk catching a cold so soon before the wedding.
She wanted to relax a little bit before the ensuing storm of last-minute wedding preparations sucked her in. She was overcome with dread as she heard someone turn a key in the front door lock.
To her relief, it wasn’t her sister who walked into the living room. As soon as she saw that it was her sister-in-law Lily, she ran to hug her.
“I heard you were coming back today!” Lily laughed as Courtney practically tackled her.
“Have they managed to rope you into helping yet?” she asked Lily.
“Thankfully, that’s an advantage to having a one-year-old, kiddo, I have a great excuse for being too busy.” Lily winked at her. “I think she’s stressing over it too much, but I completely understand.” She sat down and patted the sofa next to her.
Courtney sat. “Yeah, there’s no way I’d want to have a wedding like this; too many details, too much could go wrong.”
Lily shrugged. “You might change your mind, if the right person came along. I know I had the opposite problem until I got engaged and realized how goddamn expensive it is. Anyway. How’d exams go?”
“They were fine. I feel pretty confident.”
“Yeah? How’re you liking Goth?”
Courtney shrugged. “It’s okay. I wish Elisa were there, I don’t really have anyone there to talk to.”
“Even after a whole semester?” Lily frowned. “That must be lonely.”
“It can be, sometimes,” Courtney croaked.
The front door opened and a gust of icy wind pushed Katherine and her mother into the house. “Courtney!” Katherine squealed, pulling her sister into a hug.
“Hey, sis.” Courtney’s reply was halfhearted, but nobody except Lily seemed to notice.
Their mother kept going on and on about the innocuous details of the next day’s event; Courtney tuned her out and spent most of dinner staring out over the lake through the window. Eventually, Lily headed home and their mother excused herself to bed, leaving Courtney and Katherine alone in the living room.
They sat in silence for a long time, in the awkward silence of two people who had once been close but were now almost strangers.
“How did you know Frankie was the one?” Courtney asked her sister.
Katherine exhaled. “You know, I don’t believe there is such a thing.”
Courtney turned to look at Katherine, confused, but she had already stood and was heading up the steps to her room, leaving a trail of questions and doubts behind her.
A/N: Just to clear up possibly confusing things: Elisa is Courtney’s friend from Sims U, who we’ve met in prior chapters. She’s moved across the country but they still talk often. Lily is Courtney’s sister-in-law, the mother of the baby Courtney was holding in chapter 5.5. Finally, Katherine is Courtney’s older sister. She’s set to get married to Frankie in the next chapter. A Christmas wedding! Sorry if there was any confusion! 🙂
Looking back on these pictures, I could have done a lot better job with Oliver’s office, but I think that just shows growth! We’ll see his office again in a while but it will look drastically different – no boring plain white walls!
Also, I’m participating in Sim NaNoWriMo over at Boolprop! However, I’ve written up through chapter 12, so I’m going to try and get the rest posted quickly before September. Sorry if I clog up your feed!