Warnings: Strong language.
The address Oliver had sent her was shockingly close to her sister’s apartment, and Katherine had insisted that they didn’t need to drive. Courtney was starting to regret agreeing that it was well within walking distance. She shivered in the frigid December air and pulled her coat tighter around her shoulders. Her sister sauntered merrily down the street with nothing to protect her from the elements but a light jacket. Surely she must be crazy! That, or Courtney had been spoiled by the warmer western climate while she’d been away at college. Nope, the problem had to be Kat, she decided.
“Stop chewing on your lip, you’ll ruin my handiwork,” Katherine chastised, bringing Courtney’s attention to her nervous tick. She compensated by wrapping her arms around her even tighter, hoping her sister would just think she was being a wuss about the cold. “Nervous?” Kat asked, eyeing her from the side. Ugh. She couldn’t hide from her sister.
“Yeah,” Courtney admitted. She’d filled her sister in on the gist of the story while she’d forced her to try on dress after dress after dress – who the hell needed so many fancy clothes anyway? – and then as she’d sat and let Katherine give her a “messy bun, like she wasn’t trying too hard” that had still taken about an hour to perfect according to Kat’s standards. After the whole ordeal was over, Courtney had to admit she looked good – no, amazing. “Maybe being high maintenance has its perks after all,” she’d teased her sister, who proceeded to swat her with a hairbrush.
They had to be nearing the house now, as the street came to an end about a block up, at the edge of the peninsula. She forced herself to look out over the bay and not at the houses. Her sister was counting as they walked, and she finally came to a stop at the last townhouse in a row at the end of the street. “This should be it, sis,” Katherine said as she stopped on the sidewalk. “You ready?”
Courtney nodded, but she really felt like she might either vomit or faint before they ever reached the front door, which her sister nudged her towards. She couldn’t feel her legs as she approached the stoop, but somehow she made it to the door. She turned back to look at her sister, who motioned for her to ring the doorbell. Before she had a chance, the door swung open.
She was relieved that it was Rena, not Oliver, at the door. “Wow, don’t you look stunning,” Rena said with a wink. Courtney blushed, and Rena pulled her in for a hug and whispered in her ear, “if you’re trying to make an impression, it’ll work. Trust me.” She pulled away and gave Courtney’s arm a squeeze before Courtney introduced her to her sister.
“Is that them?” a loud female voice called from somewhere inside the house.
“Ooooh, how rude of me, not even there to greet my own guests!” another one cried as she rounded the corner into the foyer. She had the same warm smile and green eyes as Oliver, and somehow that made Courtney feel instantly at ease. “Welcome! Oh my, you look positively frozen, dear!” she remarked to Courtney as she ushered them further into the house. “Come in, come in, away from the door! It’s so drafty in here, come, sit inside! Did you walk here?” she asked, noticing their flushed cheeks and Courtney’s runny nose.
Courtney nodded as she fell onto the sofa. Katherine perched daintily on the edge of the cushion and said, “Oh, it was only about two miles, it was nothing, really.”
“Oh my, well, two miles in this cold air is a lot! Liza, do we have any warm coffee left?” the nice lady called towards the kitchen.
“Yeah, I’ll pour some,” the other woman, Liza, poked her head around the corner. She had long, gray hair and an outfit that suggested that she was something of a hippie at heart. The idea of Oliver being related to someone like that made Courtney smile. “Would you girls like cream or sugar?”
“Both, please,” they said in unison, prompting a chuckle from the woman named Liza.
Oliver’s absence was making Courtney’s anxiety grow with each passing minute. She realized she could barely feel her fingers, so she excused herself to the bathroom. “In the foyer,” Oliver’s mom instructed. Inside, she took a few deep breaths before she examined herself in the mirror. She’d thought she’d looked amazing back at Kat’s apartment, but now she thought she looked a little bit like a clown – too much makeup. She frowned. What if Oliver didn’t like it??
What if he didn’t like it? So what? Why did she care? It wasn’t like she was trying to impress him… right? Right. She sighed heavily and tried not to think about how she was lying to herself.
Truth was, she was curious about what could happen with them. What the fuck even were they? Sure, it’d been a couple of years since they’d had a real conversation, but damn it! Those eyes… she found herself daydreaming about them all the time, how she got lost in them that first time they’d danced together at the ice cream shop. It felt like forever ago. She thought about how, that day, she’d had to remind herself that she was still in love with Keegan.
She’d been lying then, too. Really, that day, all she’d wanted to do was close the gap between her and Oliver, to feel his lips brush hers, even for a millisecond… if she could go back to that day, somehow travel back in time, she’d run to that ice cream shop and scream at herself to kiss the stupid boy.
Part of her was convinced she’d since ruined her chance. But there was another part, a small part, that reminded her that she could probably repair the damage. After all, he’d taken the initiative to invite her to Christmas dinner. That had to mean something, right? But then again, she didn’t want to make mountains out of molehills… it could have just been a friendly gesture.
She turned away from the mirror and exited the bathroom only to find herself face to face with a warm smile and deep green eyes.
She tried to speak, to say, “hi,” but it came out all scratchy, so she cleared her throat. She said, “I’m sorry.”
He smiled. “I’m sorry, too,” he said in a low voice. “What I said… what we talked about, last semester, that was… completely out of line, and I’m sorry.”
She felt like she’d suddenly deflated, and she finally broke eye contact. “Yeah, well, it’s over and done with.” She meant the semester; she meant that he wasn’t her professor, she meant… oh God, she had expected too much.
“Yeah, it is,” Oliver echoed. His voice sounded far away. Laughter crept into the foyer from the living room, snapping them both back to reality. “Sorry I wasn’t here to introduce you to my mom and everything.”
“It’s okay, Rena did a fine job.” Courtney shuffled her feet, looking down at her shoes that were too high and pinching at her toes.
After a long, silent moment, she looked up to find Oliver studying her.
“Aren’t you hot? You still have your coat on,” he remarked.
“Yeah, I do… but… I’m a tad overdressed,” she admitted, fiddling with the coat’s buttons. “Kat insisted I play dress-up.”
“Nonsense,” Oliver assured her, “my mom will love it. She’s always harping on Rena and Aunt Liza to dress nicer for the Christmas photos.” He laughed and moved to help her remove the coat. “May I?”
She nodded, blushing. “I’m perfectly capable of removing my own coat, though, you know,” she asserted.
“I know,” he chuckled. His fingertips brushed her neck ever so slightly as he pulled the coat from her shoulders, prompting her to shiver involuntarily. Oliver paused. “Are you still cold?” he asked, concerned.
She turned a deeper shade of scarlet before she managed to stammer out a “no.” He held the coat behind her as she pulled out of it. She could feel that her cheeks were still burning as he hung the coat in the closet, so she didn’t turn to look at him.
After a second, she heard him clear his throat behind her and say, “Well, uh, Courtney, I think… I think dinner’s almost ready…”
She turned around, slowly, like the girls would do in the movies after their big makeover. Well, in the movies they’d be coming down a staircase, but it was the best she could do in the current situation. She didn’t know how he’d react, but she found herself hoping that she’d have some sort of an effect on him. She tried not to think about how she probably looked like a complete fool.
She saw him take a sharp breath. He ran a hand through his hair and looked down at the ground, trying not to stare, but his eyes kept coming back to her and now he was blushing and she couldn’t help but smile. It wasn’t one of those coy, flirtatious smiles, either, not like in the movies; it was a real smile.
“You don’t think I’m overdressed?” she whispered shyly.
“You look…” he paused, and Courtney couldn’t tell if he was struggling to find the right word or simply afraid to say what had already come to mind. “You look beautiful.”
She smiled and turned her face away to hide it. Her cheeks grew hot as she imagined herself closing the distance between them, melting into him. She bit her lip as she realized that that would probably be far too forward; they still had a lot that they needed to talk through first. Still, she found herself wondering how soft his lips were, how his arms would feel around her, what he tasted like…
Zach popped his head around the corner and announced that dinner was ready. Saved by the bell. She looked at Oliver and he gestured for her to go ahead of him. She sat next to her sister (“guests get first pick,” as his mother had announced), and she noticed with disappointment how Oliver made a point to sit at the opposite end of the table.
His mother produced the turkey; Aunt Liza produced a vegetarian substitute, which looked kind of nasty but Courtney decided to try out of politeness. Everything was passed around and nobody waited to dig in. Nobody said grace, which was different, but not unwelcome – grace at family gatherings had always felt forced to her.
“So Oliver,” Katherine asked, turning towards him, “Courtney tells me you’re a grad student at Goth? That’s quite an achievement in itself.”
He nodded and shifted uncomfortably in his seat as his mother gushed, “oh yes, we’re all so proud of him! He’s working with a team on what I’m told is some very exciting, cutting-edge research!”
“Oh?” Katherine raised her eyebrows. “What is your research?”
Courtney noticed Oliver’s eyes flit to her before they focused back on Katherine. “I actually can’t disclose anything right now,” he said. “And I honestly don’t think it’s something I’m interested in continuing.”
“This is the first I’ve heard this,” his mother said, confused. “You know that the only way that you can continue at Goth is if you work on this project!”
He turned towards his mother. Courtney noticed how weary he looked when he said, “I’d rather give up on my PhD than finish this research. It’s really not meant for me to mess with. Can we please drop it now?”
His mother threw up her hands in surrender and asked Courtney to pass the potatoes. Courtney grabbed the dish and handed it to her without taking her eyes off Oliver, who was pushing peas around on his plate without taking a bite. She remembered how excited he’d been to head off to Goth at his Sims U graduation. Her sister was right – getting into grad school at Goth was an accomplishment in its own right. Courtney wondered what could have happened to make him want to throw that opportunity away.
Something furry brushed against her leg, and she peered under the table to find Nacho lying down at her feet. She smiled and whispered, “good boy.” She reached down to scratch under his chin right as Zach jerked his hand off of Rena’s thigh.
Courtney sat back up and Rena shot her a wide-eyed look and shook her head ever so slightly. Courtney nodded in silent understanding, prompting Rena to relax back into her seat. Courtney pretended not to notice when Zach’s arm once again moved ever so slightly towards Rena.
The wine flowed freely through dinner and into dessert. Oliver’s mother retired to bed shortly after she served the pie, saying to “leave the dishes, I’ll get them in the morning,” while stifling a yawn. Aunt Liza left a little bit after that, citing a burning desire to have a “smoke.” Courtney didn’t bother asking what kind of cigarette she’d be having; she assumed it wasn’t quite of the legal variety.
That left five of them, but Courtney didn’t talk much, and she noticed that Oliver wasn’t talking either. Her sister and Rena were dominating the conversation, having found some common ground around some obscure environmental issue. Zach would ask a question every once in a while, obviously unfamiliar with the topic. Courtney was happy that someone else was asking questions, because it meant she only had to listen. After a while, the conversation turned to lighter topics. After much begging on Zach and Rena’s part, Oliver pulled out his guitar. He began strumming a medley of Christmas tunes, and before long they were all drunkenly singing along.
After a while, he passed the guitar off to Rena with the instruction to play something they could all dance to. Rena started to play “Twist and Shout,” which Courtney initially thought sounded distinctly un-Rena. Oliver stopped her, saying “No no no, no Beatles. Courtney doesn’t like the Beatles!”
Courtney laughed and said, “It’s fine, really, I don’t care!” This prompted Oliver to pull her up off of the couch and spin her around in his arms, humming something that she thought sounded like… Elvis? She wasn’t sure.
Rena, who was lounging on the couch with her head in Zach’s lap, noticed her brother’s humming and started to play along. “I know this one! I know this… I think…” Katherine’s face contorted into a look of pure confusion as she tried to remember the lyrics in her inebriated state. Everyone was humming along because nobody could remember the words to the song, either, except Oliver, who was singing under his breath.
“I didn’t peg you for an Elvis fan,” Courtney whispered as they danced.
“I didn’t peg you for an Elvis fan,” Courtney whispered as they danced.
Oliver smiled. “Inherited it from my mother.”
“You, sir, are just full of surprises.” Courtney laughed. It was true, though – the first night she’d met him, she’d thought he was one of those loner bad-boy types. Turns out he only dressed like one.
Rena stopped playing and yawned loudly, breaking the pair out of the moment. “It’s getting late,” she said, “I’m gonna head to bed. Heads up, Courtney, it looks like your sister’s turned in for the night, too,” she motioned to where Katherine had passed out on the couch.
“Me too,” Zach said, stretching. “I’m assuming you’re staying up, Oliver, so I’m going to take the liberty of sleeping in your bed. Wake me up when you come upstairs.”
Oliver agreed. Everyone said their goodnights and final “Merry Christmas”es as Zach and Rena headed up the stairs.
Oliver turned to Courtney and rolled his eyes. “They think they’ve got me completely fooled. He’s not going to be sleeping in my bed just yet,” he sat down on the other couch that was now vacant and Courtney sat beside him.
Courtney snorted. “She looked positively terrified when I caught them getting all touchy-feely at dinner. I figured you didn’t know.”
“I’m smarter than I look,” he said with a wink. “But I’m playing it cool. I figure if they want to make it official they can tell me, and if not…” he shrugged. “They’re worried about how I’ll react to my baby sister sleeping with someone, but to be honest, I’m more worried about Zach. Poor guy can’t do friends with benefits, it’s not in his nature.”
Courtney’s stomach turned slightly as she wondered if friends with benefits was in Oliver’s nature. She didn’t have the courage to ask him. The thought kind of terrified her, if she was being honest, probably because sex was something she had yet to experience. She’d always been of the opinion that it was something special, but it seemed like fewer and fewer people these days were of a similar belief. She glanced at Oliver out of the corner of her eye. He was older, she knew, not by much. She guessed he wasn’t a virgin. Her cheeks grew warm as she wondered if he’d thought about having sex with her, which made her think about what it might be like to have sex with him…
She forced herself to look at him. She smiled awkwardly, certain that her face must give her thoughts away. Oliver furrowed his brow and looked up at the ceiling. They sat like that for a few moments, listening to Katherine’s drunken snores, both lost in the awkwardness of being alone together for the first time in months. It was agonizing, and Courtney felt the ball of anxiety that was in her stomach growing.
She wanted desperately to talk about the unspoken issues that hung in the air between them. She guessed he did, too, but that wasn’t enough to make her say anything about it. Neither of them wanted to be the first one to speak.
“I’m really glad you came,” Oliver whispered, nearly making her jump with the unexpectedness of him speaking. “I wasn’t expecting that you’d ever talk to me again.”
“I wasn’t expecting you’d ever want to talk to me again, after how I acted,” Courtney countered, biting her lip. “But next year I’m turning a new leaf. Gonna try to make some connections instead of isolating myself. I’m done being in mourning.” She paused. “She wasn’t even that great of a friend.” Oliver tentatively reached out a hand and touched her shoulder. She looked up at him through sad eyes. “That makes me sound like an awful person,” she admitted, holding back a sob.
Oliver shook his head. “No, it doesn’t. You can be sad that someone’s gone and still acknowledge that they weren’t perfect. Nobody’s perfect.” He brushed a strand of hair out of her face and she sniffled.
“I’m sorry about what I said last time we talked, about how I would have chosen her. But I would have, then; not because I’d have wanted to but because she’d demand it. She needed my complete loyalty and to always get her way. Thinking back, she was pretty toxic. I’m just sad that I didn’t realize it in time to tell her off.” Courtney laughed bitterly and wiped a tear away with her palm.
“You still could tell her off, if it’d be helpful for you. I mean, I dunno what you believe as far as ghosts or the afterlife or anything, but if you go outside and shout about it loud enough maybe she’ll hear you.” Courtney knew it was a joke, but she couldn’t tell if it was funny or if she actually thought it was a good idea.
She stood and said, “Alright, let’s go.”
Oliver shook his head and laughed at the absurdity of it. “Really? Right now? On Christmas?” He stood up to follow her.
“She was Muslim, so I’d rather now than on Eid.” Courtney shrugged as she walked into the foyer and grabbed her coat out of the closet. “And if there’s anyone you feel the need to yell at, you’re welcome to join me in cathartic shouting-into-the-void.”
They made their way out into the frigid night, and Oliver led the way down a path to the beachfront. It was a long walk, a little too long for the cold, but Courtney didn’t mind it too much. She was too busy formulating a speech. She wondered if Oliver would take her up on her offer and yell at someone too, or if he even needed to.
They stopped at the water’s edge. Courtney looked out over the bay. She was able to make out lights on the other side, from the town across the water. It was a cute little town, she’d been there a few times; it was really where the rich folks lived around here, so it was pretty bougie and all around a nice place to be. “I’d like to live in a place like that one day,” she breathed, “wouldn’t you?”
“I could probably be happy anywhere but there,” he admitted with an edge to his voice. She turned to find him staring out across the bay, too.
“You joining me?” she asked.
“I figured we could take turns,” he said. He grabbed her hand, which sent a flurry of odd but not at all unpleasant sensations through her stomach. “Close your eyes,” he instructed, and she did. “Now, as you’re speaking, I want you to imagine that she’s right here, listening. And I want you to tell her everything you want to tell her, and will that she’ll hear you, okay?” He squeezed her hand and murmered, “and I know you probably think this is total bull, but we’re doing this for your benefit, not for hers.”
She nodded. She took a deep breath in, and then out. “Tima,” she began, her voice small against the icy wind, “for the longest time I felt responsible for your death. I thought, if only I hadn’t wanted you to come to that party, to meet my friends, you would have stayed at that frat house and not… be dead. And at first I wished to God that I could give something, anything, to bring you back. Ended up giving up two and a half years of my life, and you’re still dead,” she snorted. “Hell of a lot of good that did.”
“I was even going to give up Oliver, in your memory, because you liked him. But then I realized that you had done this almost every time I’d met a guy. You’d decide that you liked him, too, and then you’d convince me that he didn’t like me and I shouldn’t waste my time, and then you’d swoop in and snatch him up for yourself.” Her voice grew stronger. “Well, you know what, Tima? That was shitty! That was a shitty thing to do to someone who considered you a friend. You manipulated me out of almost every potential relationship I had in high school. And I’m not happy that you’re dead – I’d never wish that on anyone – but I’m glad that I finally realized how fucking awful you were at being supportive of me. I’m not going to live in your shadow anymore. It’s time for me to let you go.”
She stood there for a long time, keeping her eyes closed. It took a while for her to realize that she was crying, and that she had Oliver’s hand in a death grip. He didn’t say anything. She relaxed her hand in his and opened her eyes. “How was that?” she asked. “Was that good?”
“More eloquent than mine will be,” Oliver assured her, “I’ll probably get overwhelmed with anger and start kicking sand everywhere.” Courtney wasn’t sure whether she should laugh, but she gathered from his expression that he wasn’t joking. He closed his eyes and exhaled sharply.
“Dad… God, I want to get a megaphone and go stand outside your house across the bay and just tell all your picture-perfect neighbors what an asshole you are. Maybe I will, one day. You packed up and left and didn’t call. I thought I’d done something awful, that it was all my fault.” He snorted. “Mom told me that you didn’t realize you didn’t want kids until you’d already had two. But then I saw you with your little daughter – YES, I SAW YOU! Does she even know she has two other siblings? Did you ever tell her? I never told Rena.” He paused for a moment. Courtney heard him sniffle but kept her eyes closed. His voice sounded hollow and small as he said, “We thought the world of you and then you just… left us.”
Oliver let go of Courtney’s hand and collapsed into the sand. She put an arm around him and noticed he was shaking, and she assumed it wasn’t only due to the cold. “I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I just – I feel like I know so much about you. I wanted you to know something about me, too. Sorry.”
“S’okay,” she murmured, rubbing his shoulder, “I get it.” He brought his hand up to touch hers and she laced her fingers through his. He traced his thumb across her knuckles. She rested her head on his shoulder and sighed. “If it were warmer I could stay here all night,” she admitted, suddenly noticing the cold.
“Yeah, we should probably head back,” he said, standing up and brushing the sand from his pants and jacket. A few flurries began to fall from the sky as he helped Courtney to her feet. One landed on her cheek and he brushed it away with his finger. “It’s snowing now.”
“So it is,” she said, look up towards the sky. “Maybe it will be a white Christmas after all,” she mused.
“Too late for that, it’s already tomorrow” he said, glancing at the time on his phone. He turned back to her and held out his hand. She took it, taking care to lace her fingers through his once again as they set off back towards the house. “How’d that feel?” he asked as they walked.
“It felt…” she struggled to find the right word. “…it felt freeing. Like I was letting go of this huge weight that I was carrying and suddenly it’s a lot easier to breathe.” She looked at him, but he was looking at the ground. “What about you?” she chanced.
Oliver exhaled. “I still feel like shit,” he admitted, “but at least I’ve said something out loud, and that’s progress.” He shrugged. “It’d be one thing if he just didn’t want to be a father. But it’s entirely another that he didn’t want to be my father.” He kicked a pebble on the sidewalk, a little more forcefully than he probably intended.
The snow began to fall faster as they approached the house. Courtney could see the lights from the Christmas tree through the front window, but all the other lights were off. They stepped up the walkway but Oliver stopped before they reached the door. “I want to show you something,” he said, fishing around in his coat pocket.
“Can’t you show me inside?” Courtney shivered. She could barely get the words out through her chattering teeth.
“Yes, but I’ve always wanted to – Ah! There it is,” he pulled out a little bundle of leaves. In the low light, it took Courtney a second to realize that it was mistletoe. “I’ve always wanted to kiss someone in the snow,” he admitted, looking at the plant dangling from his finger and not her.
“That’s cheating, though,” she chuckled, gesturing towards the mistletoe.
“You’re right. This was mostly a backup plan, for if I got too nervous,” he muttered, moving to put it back in his pocket. She stopped him, gingerly taking the mistletoe from his hand.
“You’re in luck, though,” she said as she walked towards the house and affixed the leaves to the roof of the porch. “I’ve always wanted someone to kiss me under the mistletoe.” She smiled at him. A million fireworks went off in Courtney’s stomach as he looked from her to the mistletoe and back. His lips looked so soft and warm, she noticed, and she was suddenly dying to know what they felt like. Her eyes flitted to his muscular arms, which were tentatively moving towards her. She took a step in, and he placed his hands on her waist. A fire flickered to life somewhere below her stomach. She moved closer to him still, and he she shivered from something other than the cold as his arms enveloped her, his hands moving to her back.
Their eyes met. Oh, she could get lost in those eyes forever! She chewed lightly on her lip as he brought a hand up to cup her cheek. She nuzzled into his palm, her eyes once again focusing on his mouth. He leaned his head in, closer, and she did the same, closing her eyes.
He kissed her gently, running his fingers through her hair with one hand and pulling him closer to him with his other. She gasped into his mouth at the sensation. She nearly swooned, but he held her tight enough that she couldn’t fall due to her weak knees. She felt him smile.
One kiss, two kisses, three, four… she lost track of how many they shared. As they stood there, snow falling around them, she felt the fire below her stomach grow. It ached for something – anything – more, and it cried out in protest when Oliver finally pulled away.
She left her eyes closed for a moment after, savoring the feeling of the whole experience. Her eyelids fluttered open, and Oliver was smiling down at her. He leaned in and kissed her forehead, his hands still combing gently through her hair. “Nobody’s ever kissed me like that,” she breathed.
“Then I’m happy to be the first to kiss you properly,” he chuckled. Her face grew hot as thoughts popped into her head of him being the first to do other things properly.
“Merry Christmas, Oliver,” she whispered.
“Merry Christmas, Courtney.”
A/N: This is probably my favorite chapter so far. Can you guess why?
UGH, MY BABIES!!! 😍😘
Also, pardon that weirdly-ReShad-ed post in the middle of the chapter. I’d changed my ReShade preset and I had to go back and re-shoot that one shot, so it looks out of place in between the others. The saga of Lauren and her constant annoyance and dislike of her presets. Ugh.
3 more chapters until I’m done spamming and get this blog all caught up! 😋