Warnings: Many F-bombs.
“Wait, WHAT?” Elisa’s screeches of excitement echoed throughout Kat’s tiny apartment, prompting her to emerge from her bedroom with her hands over her ears as Elisa shouted, “HOW THE FUCK?! THAT DOESN’T FUCKING HAPPEN IN REAL LIFE!!!”
Courtney laughed. “Yeah, well, I couldn’t believe it either, but…”
“OhmygodohmygodohmyGOOOOOOD!!! I’m like, secondhand in love for you, okay? You two are my favorite straight couple! I have to differentiate because Sarah and I are my favorite couple overall. But you guys… you’re a super close second. AND YOU FINALLY FUCKING KISSED! YESSSSS!” After a few more cries of joy, Elisa took a breath. “So when are you seeing him again? Is he going to show you around St. Claire?”
“No,” Katherine interjected, forcing herself into the frame, “because she’s going home today. This apartment is too fucking tiny for guests to stay long.”
“Boooooo!” Elisa hissed through the phone.
“Oh, boo hoo. They’ve already got a date set for New Year’s.” She rolled her eyes. “You are absolutely too invested in this non-relationship.”
Elisa stuck her tongue out at Katherine, who rolled her eyes once again in response. “Come on, children,” she chirped, mocking Elisa and her sister, “time to get going! Courtney’s got a long drive ahead of her, better say good-bye!”
Elisa mouthed “rude” and rolled her eyes before hanging up. Courtney chuckled. Well, now she knew definitively that her sister and her best friend would probably never get along. Not that she’d assumed they would in the first place; they were nearly polar opposites in almost every way.
Katherine was standing by the door, dangling Courtney’s keys in her hand. “Seriously. I love you, but I need my space. Go the fuck home.” She tossed Courtney the keys as she breezed past her and retreated into her bedroom. Courtney smiled and braced herself for the chill as she left the apartment. “Drive safe, kiddo!” her sister called after her as the door swung shut.
She didn’t do much over the next few days. She mostly played on her phone, which often devolved into her writing a message to Oliver and then being too afraid to send it. She spent a lot of time daydreaming about kissing him. She’d really like to do it again, she’d decided.
He didn’t text her either, which was a bit disheartening. But she reminded herself that he was visiting family that he rarely go to see, so he was probably super busy doing fun stuff in St. Claire with them.
She wished she was there, too, in a small way. Her mother was only communicating with her through frosty glares and icy snarls, her father was locked away in his office finishing his latest novel that nobody would ever read, and Lily and Carson had spirited their little family away to visit Lily’s parents for the holiday. To say she was lonely was an understatement. She didn’t bother calling Elisa, because she knew she was with family, too.
It would have been nice to have been with a warm, loving family for a change. Maybe next year.
The scent of cinnamon wafted through the air, sending a feeling of warmth throughout the festival on the biting winter breeze. Courtney was deeply regretting wearing a dress, but she had taken Katherine’s advice on dressing for a date. She must’ve forgotten to mention that the date was outside. In December.
She sat with Oliver at an old picnic table, at the edge of the fairgrounds. She could hear the singer beginning her set somewhere behind her, signaling that the New Year’s Eve festivities were about to begin in earnest.
“Remind me to take you to the 4th of July festival in St. Claire sometime,” Oliver mused as he munched on his donut. “Although I will freely admit this is the best donut I’ve ever had.”
“You haven’t lived ’til you’ve had a Murphy donut,” Courtney sang the old jingle she’d heard on the radio endlessly as a child, eliciting a chuckle from Oliver. She twirled a strand of hair in her fingers, feeling awkward and unsure of what to say for about the twentieth time this evening. Not that she was counting.
It was strange, being on an actual date. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been on one. It seemed to her now that she had never really even gone on one with Keegan. So this was almost her first date… ever. The realization made her dizzy and a little queasy.
She realized that he was looking at her, waiting for her to say something. He looked a little concerned. No… hurt. As if he was worried he was the problem.
That hit her like a punch to the gut. She forced herself to smile. Pretend, the way her mother had taught her. But she anticipated that he’d see right through that. He seemed to know her so well, as if their brainwaves were in sync, even though they hadn’t spent that much time together when it came down to it. She coughed a little, clearing her throat.
“Sorry,” she mumbled.
“For what?” Oliver half-whispered in response.
“I’ve never really done this before. Been on a… date,” she admitted, testing the word because even though she was pretty freaking certain where they stood, this outing’s designation had never been explicitly stated between them. “I don’t quite know what to do, or say, and I’m worried I’m gonna screw it up and -”
“Courtney!” Oliver interrupted her, chuckling. “It’s okay! I get it.” He looked at her for a moment before he continued, “I’m actually glad you’re freaking out because you’re nervous; well, not glad… but it means that the problem isn’t me, so that’s a win in my book.”
“I’m sorry I made you think that you were the problem.” Courtney grimaced.
“C’mon,” he stood and offered her his hand. She took it and he helped her up. “Let’s go over there. I hear a Smack-A-Gnome machine calling my name!”
“You really, really suck at this game,” Courtney cackled as Oliver wrinkled his face in concentration on his fourth attempt to win any tickets on the arcade machine.
“It’s an art unto itself; and this one is obviously-” WHACK! ” – rigged!”
Courtney folded her arms and smirked at him. “Just admit that the game is winning!”
“Never! I have to impress -” WHACK! “-the beautiful girl! I have to win her – ” WHACK! ” – all the tickets and trade them in for a -” WHACK! “-huge stuffed animal that she has no use for, like in the movies!”
Courtney laughed and moved towards the skeeball machine. “Please,” she countered, “I am perfectly capable of winning my own tickets to get my own stuffed animal. Or, better yet, let’s subvert the gender tropes and let me win you a giant bear!” She picked up a ball and rolled it down the machine.
Oliver sighed and peeked around the side of the building towards the stage, where the festival’s headliner Lemon Poppy was finally taking the stage. “Tell you what. You win even one ticket, and you can trade it in for a dance with me.”
Courtney snorted as her first ball rolled into the 500 point slot. She raised her brow at Oliver as the machine spat out 3 tickets. “That sounds like the most useless prize.”
Oliver’s mouth dropped in mock offense. “How is a dance with me useless?”
“Because,” Courtney retorted, “you’d dance with me anyway.”
After she’d finished showing Oliver up, he guided her towards the crowd that had gathered in front of the stage. She laughed the whole way, and on the way she managed to shove the pile of tickets she’d won over the course of three skeeball games into a grateful child’s arms.
Lemon Poppy was performing an uptempo, slightly jazzy, slightly ’80s tune, her signature style, which had come and gone into an out of fashion with her one hit single seven years prior.
Oliver pulled Courtney close and swayed in time with his hands on her waist. “This is such an old song!” he said, leaning close to her momentarily so she could hear him, then pulling away.
She immediately missed his closeness, but compensated by leaning in to him to murmur “God, I remember dancing to this at my freshman homecoming dance!”
Oliver laughed. “I danced to it at my senior prom!” She saw a flash of some strange emotion cross his face, but then it was gone, almost instantaneously.
She bit her lip and looked at the stage, suddenly distracted by thoughts of what that could have meant. Oliver snapped her out of it by saying, “Hey, you promised me an epic view of the fireworks. It’s nearly midnight!”
“You sure you don’t wanna stay here and listen to Lemon Poppy butcher Auld Lang Syne?” she teased.
“Absolutely not.” Oliver grimaced at the suggestion.
“Well, can we at least take a spin on the carousel? Those plastic horses have been calling my name all night…”
“Sure, but if we get stuck in line and I have to hear one god-awful riff in her arrangement of that song, you are going to be in for it.”
“Oh yeah? And what does that entail?”
“I haven’t decided yet, but you’ll absolutely hate it. It’s diabolical.”
“See, I told you we’d make it.” Courtney said as they crested the hill overlooking the town.
“You’re right, this is the perfect spot to watch the fireworks.” Oliver smiled, surveying the land below. “Although I can still hear her singing.”
“Somehow she sounds even more tone-deaf all the way up here,” Courtney groaned, prompting Oliver to laugh.
They fell into a comfortable silence as the crowd below them cheered for the end of the final song of the evening. They could hear the crowd growing excited as they began the New Year’s countdown.
“Here we go,” Oliver whispered, nudging Courntey lightly with his shoulder. She nudged him back as they joined the shouts of the distant crowd.
“HAPPY NEW YEAR!”
Unwilling to fight the traffic, they walked the short distance from the town center to Courtney’s house. She held a finger to her lips as she turned the key in the lock, and they tiptoed up the stairs that had never creaked unless she was sneaking in. Typical.
She ushered him into her room and eased the door shut. She kicked off her shoes and peeled off her jacket before she sat on the bed and patted the space beside her, inviting him to join her. She tentatively reached for his hand, and he met her halfway. A little firework exploded in Courtney’s stomach.
“I’m glad we finally got to go on a date,” he whispered.
“Me too,” she admitted. “It was fun! A good, proper first date.”
He chuckled, turning her hand over in his an tracing the lines of her palm with his index finger. It sent a small shiver up her arm. He lifted her hand to his mouth and gently pressed his lips into her palm, lingering for a moment before he dropped their hands back into his lap. “Where do you want to be in five years?” he asked, running his thumb over her knuckles.
“Wow, is this a job interview or something?” Courtney laughed, then stopped to think. She pondered the question for a long time. “I don’t know,” she said at last. “I haven’t really thought that far ahead yet.” She looked at Oliver and nervously reached to push a stray lock of hair out of his face. “What about you?”
He grinned broadly. “Married with ten kids.” Courtney had just opened her mouth to respond when Oliver added, “It’s only impossible if they all have the same mother.” He winked, then burst into laughter.
He stopped after her noticed the look on her face. “You know I’m joking, right?” he nudged her with his elbow, and she smiled. “You just gave me a bogus answer, so I figured I’d give one back.” She stammered in protest and he stopped her. “I meant, what do you want out of life? What are your dreams and aspirations?”
Courtney laid back on the bed and chewed her lip, staring up at the ceiling. “I dunno…” she frowned. “I used to want to be a sports anchor or something, but then I realized that nobody watches soccer in this country. Now I don’t really know what to do.” She shrugged. “I don’t even like my major,” she admitted with a sigh.
“Hmm.” Oliver leaned back on his arm and looked down at her. “Well,” he began, “what classes have you taken in college that you did like?”
“Well… I liked History okay. Especially since I got to see some really old stuff in the library’s special collections.” She thought for a moment, then she added, “I’ve always liked old stuff. I have a ton of my family’s old photographs and Bibles and stuff dating back to the 18th century. It’s in a box in the hall closet, I take the stuff out every once in a while and look at it.”
“So when are you changing your major to history?,” Oliver asked. Courtney laughed, but then she saw that he was serious. “Why would you continue in a major you despise? You’re only going to make yourself miserable,” he advised.
“Is that why you’re considering dropping out of grad school?”
He looked away and sighed. “I’m not dropping out.”
Courtney looked at him, confused. “You don’t sound very happy about that decision.”
“Well, I mean, I don’t hate it. And I’m literally on the cusp of a gigantic discovery with the research team I’m a part of. It could very well revolutionize everything we know about time and space.” He rubbed his temple for a moment before he continued, “I just wonder how far is too far, you know? Like, when do we know too much about the way the universe operates?”
Courtney propped herself up on her elbow. She reached over and rubbed his shoulder. “I’m sure you’ll be able to make that call, if the time comes. You’re not stupid.”
His eyebrows shot up. “I wouldn’t be so sure of that,” he breathed.
“And why is that?” she whispered in response.
“Because I know we’re having a pretty serious conversation right now but I just noticed how soft your lips look and now all I can think about is kissing you.”
“Oh, shut up!” she groaned teasingly before she pushed him onto his back and leaned over him. “You’re thinking too much,” she told him. She leaned down and kissed him quickly, but lingered just long enough that he didn’t open his eyes right away. She smirked at him as his eyelids fluttered open. “You look like a lovestruck teenager,” she teased.
A wicked grin spread across his face, and before Courtney had time to react, he’d rolled them both over, pinning her under him. He bowed his head down and kissed along her jawbone. The sensation sent shivers down her back and she arched away from the bed unconsciously. Once he reached her ear, he pulled away slightly to whisper, “Well, I am lovestruck.”
Courtney giggled. “But you’re definitely not a teenager,” she admitted. She reached up, feeling his strong arm muscles as her hands made their way up them and around his back. She could even feel muscle there; fuck, she didn’t even know people could have muscles there!
Her wonderment must have shown on her face because Oliver said, “I was always picked on for being chubby in high school, so when I graduated I decided I was going to start working out and get buff. And it worked.” He grinned down at her and brushed a stray hair off her forehead. “Now I’m hot!”
“I’ll say,” she agreed without thinking. Once she realized what she’d said, she felt her cheeks grow hot and she covered her face with her hands. She sat up, and Oliver rolled over to sit next to her. He reached to pull her hands down, exposing her nervous expression.
“Hey hey hey,” Oliver murmured, “there’s nothing wrong with finding me attractive. In fact, I think most people would think you were crazy if you didn’t.” He snickered and she snorted.
A sudden thought came over her. “Then why me? I mean, if most people find you attractive, you could date almost anybody,” she asked, her voice wavering slightly. “Why choose me?”
He shrugged and focused his attention on a loose thread on the hem of his jacket. “I’ve tried to see other people since… since I broke up with my ex freshman year. I’ve tried moving past being just fuckbuddies with some people, but every time I’ve tried to get serious with someone it’s felt forced. And I decided to just make it through college without doing anything serious. It was pretty easy, with Tinder and everything.”
“But the first time I saw you, it felt kind of like a punch to the gut. And I thought it might be a one-time thing, but then I kept seeing you… and I kept getting punched in the fucking gut. And then, Do you remember that day we got ice cream?” She nodded. “That day, something changed.”
He looked up at her. She met his gaze, and he could tell in his eyes that he was speaking in earnest. “I realized that you… you just felt so…” he exhaled, searching for the right word. “…you felt so easy. Like, I didn’t have to fake or force anything, I could just be me, and you could just be you, and we could just… be. And it wasn’t difficult to feel… romantic things anymore, like it had been before.”
“I wish I could go back to that day,” she whispered, weaving her hand through his. “I wish I’d given it… this… more thought, then.”
“But then we wouldn’t be the same people we are now, right?”
Courtney frowned. “That’s true.” She sighed. “I dunno, I just feel like… like I’ve wasted so much time, y’know?”
Oliver pulled her close to him. He kissed her forehead lightly, and Courtney closed her eyes and leaned into him. “You didn’t waste any time,” he murmured at last, tracing a circular pattern on her knee with his index finger. “In fact, you’re right on schedule.”
Courtney stirred as a soft knock woke her from a peaceful sleep. She stretched her neck; she’d been sleeping in a weird position and it was sore. The knocking came again, this time more insistent. She sighed and sat up, squinting at the morning sunlight that was shining through the window.
Oliver mumbled something incoherent behind her, turning over onto his side. She smiled; it was kind of adorable, the way he slept. She tiptoed to the door and cracked it open so as not to betray the young man who had very obviously spent the night, in clear violation of the most important house rule.
She poked her head out the door to find her father frowning at her. “Your mother went out to pick up breakfast. You have about 5 minutes to get your friend out of here before she comes back.”
She turned white and started to sputter in response. Her father held up a hand to stop her. “It’s your mother’s rule, not mine,” he explained. “It’s always been your mother’s rule.” He shook his head and sighed. “You’re already on thin ice with her, you know.”
Courtney couldn’t stop herself from rolling her eyes. “She’s ridiculous. Just because she got herself stuck in a loveless -” she cut herself off as soon as she recognized the pain on her father’s face. “I’m sorry,” she whispered immediately. “I didn’t mean -”
“No, you did mean.” He sighed and rubbed his temple. “Get him out of here. That’s not a request.” He turned and went into his study, closing the door so hard a family picture fell off the wall.
Courtney felt like crying. He had to have realized before now that gaining her mom’s love was a futile effort… right? She picked up the photograph that had fallen and gingerly placed it back on the wall. It was a picture of her and her siblings as children, taken at the portrait studio downtown when Courtney was about 5, by the looks of it. Once she determined that it was sufficiently straightened, she turned back into her room.
“Oliver,” she said, nudging his shoulder to wake him. His squinted at her and lifted his hand to shield his eyes from the sun. “You need to get up, now.”
“Whasswrong?” Oliver mumbled, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
“I’m not supposed to have sleepovers, and we have about 5 minutes to get you out of here before my mom comes back and crucifies us. I’m not joking. She’s already not talking to me because I was an accomplice to my sister’s running away from her wedding. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that she never speaks to Katherine again.” Courtney rolled her eyes and put on her shoes.
“Well, that’s….” he trailed off, as if he didn’t want to say what he was thinking.
“It’s petty,” Courtney spat. “Now come on!”
Courtney practically dragged Oliver out of her room and down the stairs. Her father had come downstairs and was reading something in the living room as they passed through. He looked up at them over his book, arching an eyebrow at her visitor. Oliver waved at him awkwardly and said, “Hi, Mr. Peters.”
Courtney’s father looked at her and said, “you are playing with fire here, you know that, right?” He shook his head. “You know that one won’t do,” he added before he turned his attention back to his book.
Oliver turned to Courtney, looking confused and offended. She shook her head, signaling that she’s explain once they got in the car. She grabbed her keys and pushed Oliver out the door and into her beat-up sedan, the one her mother bemoaned as an eyesore whenever she got the chance.
She hopped into the driver’s seat and threw the car in reverse. The tires squeaked slightly as she sped down the street and around the corner. She sighed in relief once they were in the clear. She glanced over to the passenger seat, where Oliver seemed to be contemplating something, focusing on a very particular piece of dirt on her dashboard.
They drove in silence for a few minutes before Oliver stated, “Your dad doesn’t like me.”
“What? Nah, he’s just… stoic.”
“I can’t say I blame him, after I spent the night, even though nothing happened and we are both very clearly dressed in the same clothes we wore last night…”
Courtney grunted. “It’s not him you need to worry about.”
“But I mean, saying that I won’t ‘do?’” he continued as if she hadn’t spoken. “What the fuck does that mean?”
Courtney reached for his hand, which he noticed was balled in a fist. She pried it open with her hand and held it firmly. “It’s not him you need to worry about,” she repeated. “He’ll be fine as long as I’m happy. My mother, however…” Courtney grimaced. “She’s a different beast entirely.”
“So he’s saying I’m not good enough to meet her approval?”
“So he’s saying I’m not good enough to meet her approval?”
Courtney pulled into the parking lot where Oliver had left his car. She put the car in park and turned to face him. “It doesn’t matter whether you meet her approval,” she asserted matter-of-factly, “I’m going to date you whether she likes you or not. And if she doesn’t like it, she never has to talk to me again!”
Oliver looked at her, a slight expression of shock and on his face. It melded from shock to sadness. “You would really give up your own family for me?”
Courtney shrugged. “I mean, just because she’s my mom doesn’t mean she’s not toxic. I’ve kind of come to terms with it over the last decade or so. I knew this would probably happen at some point. I’m not about to live to make her happy. No parent should demand that from their children.”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt… right?”
“I try not to think about it.”
“Don’t,” she said, pulling her hand out of his.
“Don’t turn into one of those people who forces me to talk about my feelings.” She was looking straight ahead, but out of the corner of her eye she saw his mouth set into a hard line.
Oliver reached over and unclicked his seatbelt. She still didn’t turn to look at him. “I know it can be uncomfortable, Courtney, but…” he trailed off and sighed. “Have a good rest of your break.” He ducked out of the car and closed the door without turning around.
What the fuck are you doing?! A voice in her head screamed at her. Are you really going to let him walk away? After everything you’ve been through to get to this point?!
She responded to the voice by throwing the car into drive and returning home, checking the rear-view mirror until he was out of sight, to see if he turned around.
A/N: The ending of this chapter makes me so sad 😦 Obviously Courtney has some shit to work through that’s not entirely related to her friendship with Fatima, and her death. Her mother is a straight-up bitch, y’all. I hate her with every fiber of my being. She really fucked up her kids.
And I am forever proud of those shots of the festival. I built a lot, y’all! Proud mama right here!