Warnings: Coarse language.
Courtney tossed and turned all night; she had a feeling that something wasn’t right, and her sister’s weird attitude early that night hadn’t helped. She decided counting sheep was futile, so she jumped out of bed and scurried down the hall to her sister’s old room, which had been converted into an office with a daybed for when she came to visit. Courtney tapped lightly on the door and, upon getting no response, gently pushed it open.
“Katherine?” She whispered. Her sister was sitting at the desk and staring out the window at the mountains. “Kat?” Courtney repeated.
“Have you ever made a mistake that you didn’t realize was a mistake until it went too far?”
Courtney’s mind flitted to Oliver, and how badly she’d fucked their friendship up. “Yeah, I have,” she croaked.
“Fifteen thousand dollars too far?” Katherine choked out. She spun around in the desk chair to face Courtney. She started to breathe heavily and erratically, her shoulders heaving up and down with her sobs without any sort of steady rhythm. “A fucking family heirloom too far? A ’til death do I part’ too far?!”
Courtney knelt in front of her sister. “What’s happened?”
Katherine snorted out a laugh between her sobs. “What’s happened? Nothing. And that’s the problem. I don’t – I don’t – I can’t – I don’t think I want to spend the rest of my life with Frankie but I don’t have a good reason not to go through with this fucking wedding because nothing’s happened to change how I feel, I just… I just woke up one day and looked over at him and thought about how I didn’t want to do this. And I thought it was a one-time thing; but then it kept happening. Almost every morning. I’d wake up, and I’d look at Frankie, I and I’d think, “today I’ll be in love with him,” and then… nothing. I’d feel absolutely nothing.”
Courtney bit her lip. She didn’t know what to say. What could she say?
Katherine wiped the tears from her eyes. “Can you do me a favor?” she asked, standing up and grabbing her bag, which, Courtney noticed, was already packed, “can you drive me back to St. Claire before Mom wakes up?”
“Are you sure, Kat?”
“Yes,” she said, “I’m sure.”
Courtney nodded. She slipped her sneakers on, grabbed her keys and snuck out the side door without a second thought. She realized she was still in her pajamas after they’d already driven out of town.
“I’m here if you want to talk,” Courtney said, turning on the radio, “but I get it if you don’t. I’ve got a 6-hour drive’s worth of music on this playlist.”
Her sister nodded, leaning her head against the window and closing her eyes.
After a while, she’d grown bored of her playlist, so she turned on the radio. Most of the stations were playing Christmas music, with it being December 22, and Courtney had always liked how cheerful the songs were at Christmastime.
She was humming along to Mariah Carey when her sister suddenly turned the volume down. “I don’t want to hear any love songs,” she muttered, “it’s all a lie.”
Courtney bit her lip. They rode for a long time in silence. She was thankful that they’d both turned their phones off before they’d left, and she wondered how many missed calls she’d have. Probably not quite as many as Katherine. She wondered if she’d disabled her voice mailbox. That’s probably what Courtney would have done, if she were Kat.
The silence gave her a lot of time to think. Inevitably, her mind drifted to thinking about the only friend she had at Goth and how she’d probably royally fucked everything up with him and didn’t he say he was from St. Claire? She felt like he’d said he was from St. Claire at some point… oh, not that it mattered, he was probably still at his apartment near Goth… but what if he was in town? Wouldn’t she like to see him? Could she stand to see him? Could she even get ahold of him? Where would she find him?
Fuck, why are you so worried about this? Worry about your fucking sister! She’s the one you should be focusing on right now.
She bit her lip and focused on the road.
Courtney was relieved to finally pull up at Katherine’s building in St. Claire five hours later. She stepped out of the car and stretched. Hesitantly, she turned her phone on.
She had 148 text messages and 32 missed calls from her family. There was only one message from her sister-in-law Lily:
“Call me, we want to make sure you’re both safe. We love you both.”
She quickly typed out a message in response:
“We’re safe. At Kat’s apt in St. Claire. She can talk when she’s ready.”
The rest of the messages were from her mother and brother, all various degrees of freaking the fuck out, asking where they were and what was going on. She ignored them. She figured if there would be hell to pay if she got them marked as “read” and didn’t respond.
Courtney followed Katherine up to her apartment. “You can stay as long as you want,” Katherine told her, “but I figured you might want to go home for Christmas.”
“And leave you here all alone on Christmas? Nah, I’ll stay ’til then, at least.” Courtney plopped down beside her sister on the couch.
“I’m not going to be a very good host right now,” she warned, grimacing, “but if you need a few days to recharge for the drive back, that’s fine. The couch isn’t very comfy, sorry.”
Courtney shrugged. If she was being honest, she’d rather be here and bored out of her mind than at home dealing with the fallout of Katherine leaving Frankie at the altar, especially now that she was an accomplice. Her mother would be losing her shit right about now, raging about how her daughter had given up on such a “good prospect” as Frankie. Her father had probably locked himself in his office to avoid the whole debacle, leaving Lily and Carson to calm Mom down.
Their mother would be raging, wondering what the neighbors would think and how it would look for her eldest daughter to leave such a well-established man at the altar. Mom worried about such silly things and had been pushing Katherine and Courtney towards “suitable” men since their teenage years, hoping to cement their status as “rich” instead of simply “new money.” It made Courtney wonder if their parents would have married if her dad hadn’t won the lottery jackpot. She knew that Katherine was worried about the money, but that would have been the least of Courtney’s worries. Their parents could almost easily spare the cost of Katherine’s now-canceled wedding.
Courtney’s phone rang, sending a sudden shriek through the quiet apartment. Courtney pulled it out to see who was calling. “It’s mom,” she told Katherine.
“I’m not ready to talk to them. Just tell them it’s off.”
“Hey, Mom,” Courtney said hesitantly.
“Oh my God, you finally picked up,” her mother said, her voice biting but tinged with a slight touch of relief.
“Yeah, we’re in St. Claire right now and -”
“What the hell is going on, Courtney?”
“Well, I mean, I’m not sure, she just asked me to drive her here and… she told me to tell you it’s off.”
“Oh for heaven’s sake… put your sister on the line.”
“I can’t do that.”
“Courtney Ann Peters, you do as I say and put your sister on the phone right now!”
“She doesn’t want to talk to you.”
Her sister shot her a look and mouthed “hang up.”
Her mother huffed. “I don’t care if she doesn’t want to talk to me, I am her mo-”
Click. Courtney set the phone to silent and set it down. “So,” she exhaled, looking to her sister. “What now?”
They spent the next few days in a haze. Courtney left the apartment a few times. She bought a few meager decorations for the place to try and bring at least a tiny bit of Christmas cheer to her sister’s life. For the most part, Katherine just laid around and slept. Katherine called their mother once, and Courtney didn’t catch much of the conversation, but she could hear the sobs coming from the bedroom after Katherine hung up.
Courtney felt awful for Katherine, who kept joking that Mom was going to disown her for walking away from this marriage. “She told me that love doesn’t matter in a marriage, that I should’ve gone through with it anyway,” Katherine sighed. “She said she doesn’t want to speak to me right now. I don’t know if she ever will again.”
“Do you think she loves Dad?” Courtney asked. She knew the answer, but she didn’t want to hear anyone say it out loud. Katherine just gave her a sad look and said, “I think Dad loves her.”
“Why else would he have stayed?” Courtney admitted wearily.
Courtney was getting antsy by Christmas Eve, but she didn’t want Katherine to be alone on Christmas so she stayed on her lumpy old couch.
Katherine gently nudged Courtney awake early Christmas morning. “Merry Christmas,” she whispered. Katherine was actually smiling a little bit, and she handed her sister a small box. Courtney noticed that her sister was dressed today, and she looked like she’d finally taken a shower. She wasn’t as made-up as she usually was, but this was a marked improvement.
Courtney rubbed her eyes and mumbled a half-conscious “Merry Christmas” in response before she opened the gift. Inside was a little ornament of a girl with a soccer ball. Courtney chuckled. “I’m sorry it kind of sucks, I know you haven’t played soccer in years,” Katherine admitted, frowning, “but it’s really hard to find a good gift on Christmas eve.”
“It’s great, actually. Reminds me of the good old days,” Courtney chuckled. She reached over and placed the ornament on the small tree that she’d erected next to the sofa; it was the only space anything new would fit in the cramped apartment.
Katherine extended a hand to help Courtney up and said, “C’mon, I’ll let you borrow some real clothes. Get dressed and we’ll go out for breakfast.”
Courtney raised an eyebrow. “On Christmas?”
“The bagel shop down the street is Kosher and the owner assured me they’ll be open today. C’mon, I’m starving.”
It was nice to see Katherine look alive after feeling so lethargic and upset the whole time Courtney had been in St. Claire. They sat in the bagel shop and talked long after they’d finished breakfast, just talking. They talked like friends who hadn’t seen each other in years, and even though they’d seen each other plenty of times in the past few months, it still felt like they were catching up.
There was so much that Courtney had missed in the haze of the last few years. She’d known her sister had graduated from law school, but she didn’t realize that she was working for an environmental law firm. Courtney had just assumed that Katherine was just a normal attorney.
“What about you, Courtney? What’s your ambition?”
“Well…” Courtney stirred her coffee for a long moment, trying to muster up the courage to admit that she had no fucking clue. “I’m a sports marketing major but I don’t really feel like it’s my calling, you know? I just feel like I chose it because… sports.” She frowned. “I kind of hate my classes.”
“I totally understand. I started out thinking I’d major in English. I realized that I hated it. So I switched to philosophy. Way better match for me. You’re smart, you’ll figure it out. You have plenty of time, it’s not like you’re going to run out of money for school.” Katherine made a face that Courtney couldn’t quite read.
“And what about your social life?” Katherine probed gently.
Courtney looked up at the ceiling. “Nonexistent. But that’s my own fault, really. I’m going to work on that this coming semester.”
“That’s really good to hear. For a while there it seemed like you only talked to that one girl, what’s her name? Elsie?”
“Elisa,” Courtney corrected her.
“Oh, yeah, Elisa. I’ve never met her, sorry.”
“Yeah, we still talk,” Courtney said, “but it’d be nice to make some friends who don’t live a thousand miles away. I mean, I know a couple people there, but… I dunno. I’ve been in an awful place and I’m finally coming to terms with everything that’s happened… with Fatima and everything.”
“I know it must have been hard these past few years, but… I want you to know I’m rooting for you. We all are, kiddo.”
Their conversation had reached a natural lull. Courtney glanced around the shop and found her gaze fixating on a figure whose hair was tousled in an eerily familiar way. Her stomach dropped as she strained to get a better look. She felt both a flood of relief and dread at the prospect that she might have run into him so randomly….
“Um, Earth to Courtney!” Katherine laughed, pulling her out of her reverie. “See something you like?” her sister teased.
“Um, no, I just thought I saw someone I knew from school.” She glanced back over to where the figure had been a moment before, but the door had already swung shut and there was nobody to be seen. Courtney shrugged. “It probably wasn’t him.”
“Yeah, probably not. It’s a huge fucking city.” Katherine stood up and excused herself to get another cup of coffee.
Courtney took the opportunity to check her phone. She had two messages, from an unrecognized number.
“Wish I’d told you Merry Christmas last time I saw you.”
“It’s Oliver, by the way.”
She bit her lip. A flood of conflicting emotions washed over her. Relief, shame, embarrassment, hope, and some others she couldn’t quite name. She responded:
“I’m sorry I’ve been such a jerk.”
Her phone buzzed again.
“It’s cool. I get it…”
“Got any big plans for Christmas?
Her stomach flipped as she read his next text.
“In St. Claire with the family. Just picked up the Xmas bagels, as tradition dictates.”
She stood up so fast that her chair toppled over. She stopped to pick it up before she ran out the shop’s door. She looked left, then right, straining to find a familiar set of green eyes or dark head of hair. She sighed in frustration. Her stomach was doing all sorts of flips and her chest felt tight. She didn’t know what she would say to him if she found him; she didn’t even know what she was feeling.
Fuck it, she thought as she pressed the button to call the number. The phone rang once, twice… this is stupid, Courtney! He probably doesn’t want to talk to you! She started to pull the phone away from her ear to hang up when Oliver’s voice came on the other line.
“This is going to sound super weird, but where do you get your Christmas bagels?”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. She could feel the smile in his voice when he finally responded, “I thought that girl looked like you, but I couldn’t believe that there was any way you’d be in St. Claire.”
Relief filled her chest at his tone of voice. Maybe he wasn’t pissed at her after all. “I couldn’t believe you still had my number,” she admitted.
“I’ve never deleted a single number off of my phone.”
“Why?! Do you just have a ton of old project partners from undergrad on your contacts list?” she asked. She walked towards the corner, looking around for Oliver’s familiar face.
“Well, yeah. You never know when they might come in handy.”
She felt someone tap on her shoulder, and she turned around, finding herself face to face with Oliver. Her stomach knotted.
“For instance,” he continued, putting his phone in his pocket, “you never know when you’ll find an old friend in the most unexpected of places… I hear Courtney Peters and a runaway bride have been let loose on St. Claire?”
“It’s, uh… it’s a long story.”
As if on cue, Katherine grabbed Courtney’s arm. “What the fuck, Courtney?” She panted, out of breath, “You can’t just bolt out of a restaurant and into the streets of St. Claire!”
“Oh, yes, the big, bad streets of a St. Claire, where I’m going to get mugged in broad daylight… on Christmas!”
Oliver snorted, holding back a laugh. Katherine let out an exasperated sigh. She turned towards Oliver, looking from him to Courtney and back. Her brow furrowed. “Wait… is this actually your friend from school?”
Oliver and Courtney both nodded. Katherine extended a hand. “Katherine Peters, pleasure to meet you, sir.” She turned to Courtney and said, “We’d better get going, sis, I have to find a store that still has turkeys… and learn how to cook a turkey…”
Courtney nodded. She turned to say goodbye to Oliver, but he spoke first. “Would you two like to come over for Christmas dinner?” Courtney stammered a moment, looking from Oliver, who looked 100% serious, to her sister, who looked relieved at the offer. “Zach and Rena are both here, if that makes it sound more appealing. Oh, and Nacho, of course.”
Courtney’s face lit up. “If that’s okay with Katherine… and your family, I’d hate to intrude…”
“Nonsense, Mom complains about how many leftovers there are every year and I’d love to pawn them off on someone else for a change. A man can only eat so much turkey in a week.”
“That sounds lovely,” Katherine chimed in.
“Yeah, just text me the address,” Courtney said.
Oliver’s face was as bright as a Christmas tree. “Yes, I will, definitely.”
Courtney and Oliver stood facing each other, awkwardly, for a moment longer. She didn’t know what form of goodbye was appropriate. She felt that they still hadn’t talked through what had happened and therefore a hug would be too familiar, but a handshake or something would be too formal. She finally managed a small, awkward wave before Katherine ushered her away.
Courtney couldn’t hide her smile. Once they were further down the block, Katherine giggled. “He likes you,” she noted. Courtney looked at her sister, blushing. Katherine was eyeing her, her mouth in a smirk. “You like him, too.”
“I – uh – I mean… ugh! I don’t know! It’s so complicated right now and I really would just like to drop the subject.”
“Oh, no, sister,” Katherine stopped and turned to Courtney. “You’re going to tell me ev-er-ry-thing, and we are going to ‘deck your halls.'”
“You mean, like… a makeover?”
A sparkle lit up Katherine’s eye. “Bingo,” she said. “Poor bastard won’t know what hit him.”
A/N: this chapter was originally going in a completely different direction, but I decided introducing yet another man in Courtney’s life would veer us off into a completely unnecessary direction!
Also, Kat’s apartment is my literal favorite place I’ve ever decorated. Damn. It still looks good to me, even like a year later!
I know that Courtney and Oliver having a chance meeting is almost too big of a coincidence, but I really don’t care. 😀