Authors: J. Sterling
She got emotional and Kat put her hand on her shoulder. “I was a wreck for so long, but I knew that I couldn’t just curl up in a ball and die, right? Austen wouldn’t want me to give up on my dreams of going to college. But it’s hard. Every day is hard. He was my older brother and I looked up to him and admired him and I miss him more than I can ever tell you.”
Katherine cried while she listened and Taylor cried through it all. There hadn’t been nearly enough time to get over a loss like that. Katherine reached over to hug Taylor and the embrace made them both cry even harder.
“I’m sorry, Katherine. I know I should have told you sooner, but it was never really the right time.”
“It’s okay. I totally understand. I’m happy to know now.” Katherine realized that Taylor’s behavior toward guys suddenly made sense. She couldn’t get hurt or deal with loss if she didn’t let them in.
The girls walked together and wiped at their tears. Taylor showed Katherine around the simple four-bedroom house. She told her she could sleep in the guest room, but Katherine opted to sleep with Taylor in her room. She liked the way Taylor’s house felt. It was comfortable. It felt lived in and loved. It reminded her of home.
That night at dinner, Taylor’s parents asked about Danny. Taylor’s face lit up. “He’s so great, Mom. You’ll love him. He’s cute and funny and he totally adores me. And Dad, he’s a hockey player.”
Her dad just smiled and said, “Of course he is, dear,” and he patted her shoulder. Blake sat there and looked at Katherine, but never said a word. He listened to the girls talk and smiled every once in a while. Katherine thought he looked familiar, but she couldn’t place from where. She tried not to stare.
“What about you, Katherine? I heard you’re dating some hockey stud, or something. Isn’t that right, Taylor?”
“She’s dating THE hockey stud of New Jersey, Mom, get it right,” Taylor added.
“Oh, sorry. So what’s he like?” Taylor’s mom asked a lot of questions.
Katherine noticed the deep sadness that clouded her eyes. She couldn’t imagine how painful it must be to lose a child. She wondered if you ever got over something like that, or if you were always damaged beyond repair. Katherine assumed it was the latter.
“He’s really great. He’s super nice and confident and ridiculously hot,” Katherine laughed when she said it. The conversation flowed as Taylor told stories about how the girls on campus acted around Cooper.
“They treat him like that?” Blake finally spoke up. “He must love it.”
“Actually, to be honest, I think it kind of bothers him,” Katherine responded. She felt like she knew Cooper well enough at this point to speak for him.
“What? Why?” Blake’s eyes squinted and his mouth smirked. “Girls throwing themselves at you everywhere you go? People giving you things, treating you like royalty? What’s the problem?”
Taylor interjected, “Oh little brother, you would think that stuff is soooo cool. But it’s actually kind of annoying. I feel bad for him whenever we’re out. You can tell that he just wishes people would leave him alone.” She gawked at Katherine. “Well, most people.”
Katherine flinched. “I think he just wants to be treated like everyone else.”
“Well, I still think it sounds cool,” Blake imagined.
“You should come visit us one weekend and hang out,” Katherine suggested. “Cooper would love to show you around,” she added.
“Definitely!” Taylor agreed. “Why didn’t I ever think of that?”
Blake smiled and nodded his head while their parents shared a look of relief.
The girls insisted on doing the dishes and Blake went back out to the barn. Katherine turned to Taylor and asked, “So, does he hang out in the barn a lot?”
“Yeah. His friends are always over and I think it’s easier to be out there than in the house, you know? Especially when I’m away.” Taylor knew it was hard for Blake to be in the house around their parents. Everything brought back memories of Austen. It was still a painful topic. “I wish you could have met him, Kat. You would have loved him. Everyone did.” Katherine was sure Taylor was right.
The girls headed out to the barn to play a couple of hands of poker with Blake and his buddies. One of his friends, Matty, had a huge crush on Taylor. He was adorable with short black hair, tan skin, and dimples to die for. He watched Taylor’s every move and would touch her whenever she’d let him. “Okay, Matty, enough.” Taylor looked at his dimpled face and pinched his cheek. “If only you were older,” she flirted with him.
“I’m getting older every day, Taylor.” Matty was cocky. “You know we’ll end up together one day.”
Taylor laughed. She loved this kid like a brother and she wasn’t blind. He was good-looking and it would be a lie if she said she didn’t like the way he crushed on her.
“Gross. I’m sitting right here,” Blake interrupted the potential love fest. “That’s my sister and you’re my best friend.”
“Which means we’ll be brothers someday,” Matty winked at Taylor and she started to laugh.
“I win! You guys suck.” Taylor threw her cards down and stood up from the table. She kissed her brother on the cheek and bent down to tease Matty a little. Then she gave him a peck on the cheek too. “Goodnight, guys.” The girls got up and walked out of the barn.
“Katherine’s cute,” Blake said, once the girls were gone.
“Yeah, so is your sister.” Blake punched Matty in the shoulder. “Whaaat?” He laughed and Blake gave him a dirty look.
The girls got ready for bed separately Katherine looked around Taylor’s room while she waited. Taylor had books hidden everywhere…on the bookshelf, in the closet, on her dresser, on the floor. Katherine tried to take it all in when she noticed a picture of Taylor smiling and laughing on the back of a boy who was doing the same. The picture was taken at the beach.
Katherine’s heart stopped. She did a double take. She grabbed the picture to get a closer look. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t possibly be. She knew those eyes. She knew that smile. Taylor walked into the room as Katherine struggled to calm her nerves.
“Taylor, who is the guy in this picture with you?” Katherine stuttered.
“That’s my brother Austen. He was gorgeous, wasn’t he?”
Katherine felt light headed and dizzy. The sound of her heart raced in her ears.
“Kat? What the heck is wrong with you? Are you all right?” Taylor asked.
Katherine stumbled to the edge of the bed and fell onto it. Taylor sat next to her, “What is it? Kat, you’re white as a ghost. What is going on? Are you okay?”
Tears streamed from Katherine’s eyes as she shook her head. She mumbled something about “this can’t be” and “I don’t understand.” Her hands trembled as she gripped the picture.
Taylor pleaded, “Please. Katherine, what it is?”
Katherine slowly lifted the picture and handed it to Taylor. She tried to explain through her sobs, “That’s him, Taylor. The guy…in the picture with you.”
“My brother Austen? He’s who? Who, Katherine?!” Taylor’s eyes widened as the realization crashed into her. She rose from the bed and took three steps backward, almost falling over.
“The guy from your dreams?” Taylor asked it so softly, Katherine barely heard her.
“Yes. That’s him!” Katherine pointed at the boy in the picture.
“That doesn’t make any sense, Kat.” Taylor paced around the room. “It can’t be him. There’s no way. Look again!”
Katherine knew she didn’t need to look again, but she wanted to appease Taylor. “That’s the boy from my dreams. I’m positive.”
Taylor plopped onto the floor, her head shaking. “No. I just...it can’t...”
Katherine didn’t know what to do or what to say. She watched Taylor go through various emotions and felt guilty for inflicting them.
Taylor talked softly to herself as she cried. She glanced toward Kat and said, “It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“I don’t understand it, either.” She longed to comfort Taylor, but didn’t know how. She was suddenly scared that this realization was going to ruin everything. “Taylor, please don’t be mad. I’m sorry.” The thought of losing her closest friend terrified her.
“Why the hell would I be mad at you, Kat? It can’t be my brother. I mean, why would you dream about him? He doesn’t even know you? Or he didn’t even know you. And...this whole thing is just crazy.”
Katherine cut her off, “I don’t know. But I promise you that the guy in this picture with you right here is the guy I’ve been dreaming about.”
Taylor breathed in deeply and slowly exhaled, “I believe you. But I’m a little weirded out right now. It’s a lot to take in and I just don’t understand.”
“Is there anything I can do?” Kat asked.
“I don’t think so,” Taylor looked away and stared at the wall.
“Do you hate me?”
“Why would I hate you? Stop it.” Taylor fell silent. “I’m just trying to make sense out of something that makes no sense at all.”
Katherine knew she couldn’t do anything but wait for the shock and disbelief to wear off. But what if it never did? What if Taylor was weirded out forever? She didn’t realize it yet, but amid all of her confusion, there was a small spark of happiness.
She finally knew his name.
They sat in silence for a long time. “I just don’t understand,” Taylor grabbed at her head. “My head hurts. My heart hurts. My brain hurts,” she rubbed her temples. “I think we should just call it a night. Maybe if you see my brother you can ask him just what the hell is going on?”
“I’m really sorry, Taylor. I feel like this is all my fault.” Katherine didn’t want to cause Taylor pain.
“You didn’t do anything, Kat. Let’s just go to sleep.”
Katherine did her best to think of the beach and the bench as she drifted off to sleep. She saw Austen’s shadow in the distance. She stayed on the bench and watched as the shadow grew closer. Brody bounced up to her and wagged his tail. She planted kisses on the top of his nose. She heard Austen’s footsteps as he approached, but she was too nervous to look.
“I should have told you,” he sat down next to her.
“Why would you do that to me? To Taylor?” One look into those eyes and she knew she couldn’t stay mad at him.
“I’m really sorry. Let me try to explain.” He took her hands in his and looked deeply into her eyes.
“I’m listening.” It was pointless to try to fight his requests. Everything about him compelled her.
“Obviously, I watch over my family. I keep an eye out for them. I wasn’t ready to leave when I died, but I had no choice. I went to visit Taylor and I saw you there. I couldn’t believe it was you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I recognized you instantly. All of our lives flashed inside my mind in a split second. I felt a pull so strongly toward you that I almost couldn’t stop it.”
“Wait. Lives? What do you mean our lives?” She searched for answers as to why he called to her with such intensity.
“We’ve lived many other lifetimes together, Katherine. Think about it.” He urged her to explore a concept that her mind could barely wrap itself around.
“Other lifetimes? You mean, like reincarnation? Past lives and stuff?” She wanted to understand what he meant, so she listened to every word he spoke as if she’d never get the chance to hear it again.
“Exactly. If you really think about it, it makes perfect sense. Why our feelings are so intense. How we’re drawn to each other in ways we can’t explain. Why we know certain things about one other without them being said. Our souls are connected,” he tried to explain.
“I want you to understand all of this, but I know I’m probably only confusing you,” he added with a hint of desperation in his voice.
“I’ve never really thought about it before,” Katherine admitted. “Past lives I mean.”
“Before this life—the one we’re living right now, there was a different life. It was years ago and in another state, but we were together. And before that life, there was a previous one. You and I have spent many of our lifetimes together, Katherine.”
”When you say it like that, it makes sense. Like, it feels logical to me.”
“Really?” Austen’s face brightened.
“Well if we lived other lifetimes together, then our souls would recognize each other, right? I mean, even if our minds didn’t.”
Austen smiled, “Exactly.”
“Is that why I feel the way I do when I’m around you?”
“How do you feel?” he pressed.
“I feel things I’ve never felt before. I can’t even put the emotions into words because I don’t know how. It’s like you call to me. But it’s deeper than that. I don’t know how to explain it,” Katherine struggled.
“I understand completely.”
“Of course. Katherine, I tried to fight the urge to communicate with you, but it was pointless. I wasn’t strong enough to stay away. The moment I saw you, I was drawn to you like a magnet. We’re not supposed to interfere like that. You know? It’s really not allowed,” Austen informed her.
“What do you mean, not allowed?”
“Well, we’re allowed to communicate with our loved ones. But we’re not supposed to interfere in a way that will mess up their lives. We’re not supposed to upset your path. What I mean is, I’m not supposed to put you in a position where you will want to live in the past, and not move forward. I’m not making any sense, am I?” Austen tugged at his hair. “It’s hard to explain this to you. It’s different once you’re here…on the soul level. Things are clearer.”
“I think I understand,” Katherine nodded, but her eyes were still clouded with confusion.
“Katherine, when I saw you…I almost lost my breath. I tried to tell myself to turn around and walk out of that room, but I couldn’t.” Austen paused for a moment and looked into her eyes.
“I just wanted to be near you. My heart felt like it was about to explode inside my chest, it was filled with so much love at just seeing your face. So I told myself that I’d try to reach you one time. I’d try to see if I could get into your dreams that night. I didn’t know if it would even work. But I got into your mind so easily at first.”
Her eyes lit up.
“I wasn’t sure you’d remember the dream,” Austen continued. “But you did. When I saw how affected you were by it—how you could sense me around you even after you were awake—it was almost too much for me. When I saw that you couldn’t let the idea of me go, I couldn’t either. It would be like asking the waves to stop crashing onto the shore. The water is pulled toward the sandy shoreline in the same way I’m pulled toward you. You are my shore.” He touched her face and her stomach flipped.